It’s been a month now. A month into active ministry, whatever exactly that means, where as a Minister I look to support and facilitate faith in a beautiful town in West Yorkshire. I have to say that it has been interesting (code for challenging) trying to discern where God wants me to be here.
It could be oh so easy to fill in a gap that people expect a minister to be. That traditional stereotypical role where, wearing a clerical collar, ministers lead worship on a Sunday and attend the occasional coffee morning. Someone shouted across the road “More tea Vicar?” last week, which prompted me to recall programmes from the 1980s.
But God called me to go ‘where the people are’ – and they are not all in Church. Where are they?
I initially (and still do) feel called to be with people wherever they are. Hence on a Sunday morning, I have frequented the pub for breakfast (after communion), been at the local park to watch the football game – fortunately the local team have won on all occasions – then popped over to the market to chat to the stall holders and shoppers. I had one walk down the canal to chat to the fishermen :
one said “Shouldn’t you be in Church?”
I couldn’t help to respond that “I was – God is here“.
I’ll often be in town to chat with people, be available in the coffee shops, meet with local people away from traditional church locations. In my expectations of ministry, in the expectations from others, both in and outside of the church, there is a diverse array of roles that could be undertaken. It has to be contextual, we have to meet the needs of the community; however, I wonder if we are trying to meet the needs of those within the church whereas we might not be meeting the spiritual needs of those outside the church.
“But if they had a faith they’d be in church!”
I gave this talk at a service last week:
“Have you heard: The traditional Church is dying? The statistics tell the story, of denominations of traditions which have been around for many a year the number of people attending the churches are decreasing. Studies have been completed, scholars have researched (I’d recommend Steve Aisthorpe’s ‘The Invisible Church’, Edinburgh : St Andrew’s Press, 2017) and found that yes people are leaving the churches but the reasons why they have left were not as expected.
Society has changed. The recognition of the Sabbath, Sunday to us, has gone. The opening of the shops, the array of different sports including Rugby League have offered a different attraction to Sunday.
Where is my Good news?
We may often use that expression “to reach out “ to people, and so if we reach out we may want to bring them back into the fold. Why did they leave? Was it the 5 hymn sandwich, was it the hell and damnation preaching, was it that there wasn’t room for them to speak, to interact? This language of reaching out is antiquated – we may need to change it. Why? Because the research has shown that the faith of the people who have left the churches hasn’t diminished. That image of the coal slowly cooling as it has been drawn out of the fire may not be true for many. They want to find God, to hold onto that faith and here in this valley we know that so clearly as that yearning for spirituality is so strong.
Rather than ‘reaching out’ perhaps we need to build a new church: one without walls. One were we go out and listen to folk, show the gifts of the spirit, the love of God to all we meet, and care for people where they are. This ‘church without walls’ is one where God is the focal point, not the building, where people are seen as equals not as ‘bums on seats’. We can build that Church without walls here in this valley by speaking and sharing the joys of our faith to those we meet in the market, over the back fence, in the cafe not in evangelistic expressions but as part of our everyday conversation. This is exciting, this is to live life as God intended, to focus upon God’s love, to share God’s love. This is good news.”
So we have a description of a church without walls and a minister – where do we all fit in?
I think we don’t all necessarily ‘fit’.
Let me explain. We are all wonderfully different. Yes, we may not all get on at times, but without that difference we would all be entirely the same, which would get boring as we might never see that elusive alternative perspective.
As the stones I see in the dry stone walls that line every Yorkshire lane they fit together but not exactly. By its very nature there are gaps. Over time the stones bed down, gravity and the weather gently ease them to fit tighter together. The stones akin to a jigsaw fit and lock but gaps still remain.
I don’t think we need to fit exactly to lock as one community. We can be one community by accepting that we are all different and we accept the gaps, the odd rough edge. We don’t also have to meet in the ‘church’ – radical I know. Where should those who have a faith or want to explore ‘faith’ go? Perhaps it is where they have always been – the pub, the coffee shop? Do we need to ‘fit in’ to the stereotypes?
As for me, as a minister, I am coming to the conclusion that I don’t need to try to conform – it might be hard as a Methodist to conform – to stereotypes but to focus upon working with all that I meet and not worrying about whether we are fit exactly. Perhaps the gaps are for the Spirit to flow? I need to perhaps prayerfully ponder this some more.
What do you think?