I had a rough Wednesday and Thursday this week. I started in my new parish at the beginning of February. I was hired to bring about change and to help the church reach into the local community around them. There are times I wonder if what I am doing is effective and I get filled with doubts. I push getting out and doing things so strongly and then wonder - what if I am wrong to do so? What if it is not what these people are to do? What if, by pushing and sounding like a broken record, I am doing the very thing that can divide a congregation as you have people who are looking for the changes and others who need to maintain the more recent traditional understanding of being church (ie. 1950's style)?
I decided on Thursday that I needed to take a break and get away from it. So early Firday morning I went back home to Biggar. I caught an early ride out with my husband and my son. They dropped me off in Biggar on their way to Landis. I went into the first of my more favourite coffee spots. This is what I found.
In the morning this table is full of men. (The photo was taken in the afternoon lull.) The owner of this coffee shop placed the purple bow (purple is my signature colour) on the wall in memory of my time spent in her cafe.
I knew about this bow before I went in as she had told me what she had done on facebook and my husband and son had seen it when they went in for supper one night. Its presence touches me deeply. It touches me on a personal level - that I managed to make a mark that they want to remember. But most importantly it is a re-affirmation of what I have been preaching to the church for the past number of years. We need to get out of our buildings and get to where the people are. And it may not (and probably will not) translate into more bums in the pews and money in the plate and workers for our traditional projects but it will reach out to the people that God is calling us to reach out to.
These are the people that need to know that God (and the church) cares about them unconditionally. These are the people who need to hear the good news. It is not that we sit there among them and preach ad nauseum. It that we become a caring presence in their midst, sharing their joys and trials. I could tell of experience after experience of reaching people where they needed to be reached all because I was accessible to them. Not because I have any specific talents or even that I have any illusions that I am a super good priest but because I was there. I was there for them to turn to when they needed someone to help them deal with the various events in their lives. I was there when things where going relatively smoothly.
But it wasn't just about my being present. It was very much about my being a representative of a church and, more importantly, of a God that truly cared about all people. One of the conversations I had with a man from coffee row shortly after I announced that I would be leaving Biggar will always be treasured deeply in my heart. This man - a wonderful human being but definitely not a church goer - said to me - you don't know what an impact you have made on this community. When I replied that I hadn't done a whole lot he responded - just your presence among us, your willingness to be there made a difference. He tied it in with the presence of the church coming among them.
I was blessed with a wonderful congregation in Biggar. They could have complained about the amount of time I spent outside of the the church. They could have pointed out that this time was not showing monetary or people in church results and was not time well spent. But they did not. They even gave contributions at Christmas to fund my ministry - pay for my coffee. They did see the results in it in the comments made by the local community and were willing to accept that it was important for the church to be out and among the people and that could best be accomplished in our situation by the priest being present in the various gathering places.
I am going to print the above picture off and frame it and place it in a prominent space in my office. Not because of the honour it does me but as a reminder of the difference we can make when we get out of our buildings and into our the gathering and living places of our communities. Each time I see that picture I will remember the ministry to which God is calling God's church and I will gain strength because God has sent me a very real blessing in the presence of a purple bow on the wall of a small country cafe
Love and Prayers,