Showing posts with label service. Show all posts
Showing posts with label service. Show all posts

30 March 2013

Procession in St Neots

This year's Good Friday procession makes me wonder if there might be better ways of reaching people in the town. Rather than trying to engage people in what we are doing, can we find ways of getting them to engage us to ask what we are doing and why?

Good Friday march in St Neots
Every year, Churches Together in St Neots holds a Good Friday procession to the Market Square where a combined service is held.

We'll return to consider how this impacts the local community in a moment, but first I'll describe the occasion.

This year the numbers were significantly lower than usual, perhaps because it was a bitterly cold day. The group of believers gathered outside St Mary's, walked to the church gate on Church Street, turned left into the High Street, and gathered in the Market Square.

The procession involves a simple banner stating who is walking (Churches Together), and a wooden cross as an emblem and statement of the events being remembered, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The walkers are silent because it's a solemn occasion, and there's a police presence because the walk takes place on the road rather than the pavement.

Once assembled in the Market Square there is a conventional church service with hymns, Bible readings and several short messages delivered by leaders from some of the churches represented.

Impact on local people - I didn't walk in the procession although I have done so in previous years. Donna was keen to walk and I took some photos and then joined the meeting in the Market Square.

I wanted to support Donna by walking with her but felt that Papa was guiding me not to. I've been rather uneasy about the walk in previous years; this time I felt more strongly that it was not the right thing for me to do. My sense on this is that by walking we are creating a minor inconvenience to the majority of people in St Neots. Most are not believers and I don't want to be remembered as a person who just gets in the way and holds up the traffic.

The purpose of the walk is partly to witness to those around that we are followers of Jesus, and partly to reach them with the good news he brought. But I feel sure that it is not be very useful and may even be counter productive. Better, perhaps, to try to engage with people in a less traditional and more effective way.

There are other things to consider. What do people make of the banner stating we are 'Churches Together'. I wonder if, rather than suggesting we are united, this doesn't confirm to many that we are a set of separate organisations. It doesn't really emphasise that we are one church, but rather that we are several.

The solemnity of the entire event, although understandable, is not likely to seem attractive to everyday people. To connect with the population we surely need to be more fun, more colourful, more interesting and more relevant.

Some alternatives - I certainly don't intend to criticise. I'm glad that there are people in the town who are willing to turn out on a cold day like this, to stand up and be seen, and to make the truth known to anyone who will listen. But I suspect few pay any attention.

Most people think they already know roughly what Christians believe and they don't see us as attractive or interesting. They typically presume us to be fuddy-duddy and irrelevant to the ordinary lives of ordinary people.

But there are alternative ways to reach people that are much more effective; alternatives that will play on the natural curiosity that is common to all people everywhere.

A few years ago there was a passion play in the town, and that got a lot of attention and made a real impact. I'm glad to see that there's a plan to repeat it in 2014. It's a colourful event full of action and interest and sound and colour. Many people followed the play from place to place in the town and watched.

Another alternative focusses on free hugs and the many other similar activities we can try. Once again these engage people's interest. As far as I could tell not a single person stopped to watch or listen to today's meeting. A few people watched very briefly as the procession passed by. But joining in with the free hugs a few weeks ago I was struck by how many people wanted to ask about it and listen while we explained.

Instead of trying to engage people it may be far better to do something unusual and intriguing so they will want to engage us. We need to spend less time and effort doing what people expect us to do, and put far more time and effort into doing what they do not expect.

Questions:

  • Imagine yourself as an unbelieving onlooker. Which would you find more interesting, a clearly religious meeting in the middle of your town or someone giving away labelled fruit?
  • What could you do locally to encourage people to come and ask you questions?
  • Which will people find the more approachable, a group of forty or a group of two?

See also:

25 November 2012

The place of women

Here are some brief comments on ten points from a magazine article. All of these points aim to keep women in a subsidiary role in church life. We look at them to see if they are justifiable and if not, why not.

Adam and Eve
Charisma Magazine has produced a list of  'ten lies the church tells women'.

This sounds very alarming and 'lie' is a strong and emotive word. Are they right, is it true? Let's take a look at the list item by item and consider it.

The ten points are certainly worth pondering. Are they deliberate lies, are they perfectly reasonable ideas, or are they just careless and unthinking remarks?

I'll comment briefly on each item as we go through the list, but I strongly recommend taking a look at the original article where further arguments are provided. Here, then, are the ten points.

God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands - I'm not sure how widely this is taught, but it's clearly not correct as it stands. If we are to serve anyone it is first Jesus and secondly one another.

Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband - I'm inclined to say, 'Let them be the judge of that!' Paul suggests we might prefer to stay single so we can focus more fully on living for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34), so it's preposterous to suggest that spiritual effectiveness depends on marriage.

Women shouldn’t work outside the home - So... no female nurses, or teachers? Lydia worked as a fabric trader and hosted Paul and his fellow travellers in her home (Acts 16:14-15).

Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations - All situations? Really? What if the husband requires her to renounce Christ? We are probably all familiar with Ephesians 5:21-33, but notice that Paul begins by saying we should submit to one another and ends by stressing love and respect. Does 'do what I say' really equate with love, respect and mutual submission?

A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities - The whole idea of 'ministry activities' is suspect - for both men and women. We live to serve Christ in everything we do and say and think. We dare not think in terms of ministry and non-ministry activities. Anna is a good example of a woman without a man to 'cover' her (Luke 2:36-38).

A woman should view her husband as the 'priest of the home' - Are we not all priests? Peter says that all who believe are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles - Junia was 'outstanding among the apostles' according to Paul (Romans 16:7). (Despite some attempts to argue the contrary, Junia is a female name.) Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Priscilla was a 'fellow worker' (Romans 16:3)

Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting - Paul writes that women are to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34), but he also writes that the brothers and sisters (implied, eg NIV) should each speak or sing (1 Corinthians 14:26). Whatever he means, it's much too simplistic to regard it as a blanket ban on women speaking. It's necessary to dig deeper than that.

Women are more easily deceived than men - There is no biblical basis for this idea. None. Genesis 3 is often offered as proof, where Eve says that the evil one 'deceived me, and I ate' (Genesis 3:13). But this is, frankly, a cop out. Adam also heard the temptation and ate so he was equally deceived.

Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a 'spirit of Jezebel' - This one is just made up. There is no suggestion of anything like this in the New Testament, no support for the idea at all. It seems to me to be both hurtful and offensive, a criticism that is sometimes wielded like a weapon.

There is, perhaps, just one more thing to say; and it's a warning. Be very careful about creating obstacles! (Romans 16:17-19) Let us be both wise and innocent.

May the Father and the Son through the power of the Spirit lead us into all truth and build us into the church, his Bride, pure and complete and perfect in every way. May we so love and encourage one another in everything we do that the world will see his nature represented in us. May the body be one just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one. In Jesus name, amen.

Questions:

  • What did Paul mean when he wrote 'there is neither male nor female'? (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • If you are a man, should you insist on these ten points? If you are a woman, should you listen?
  • Gentleness, love, peace, kindness and patience are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Are these evident in the ten points? If so, how? (Galatians 5:22-26)
  • Truth, authority, service and submission are not part of the fruit. Why not?

See also:

08 January 2012

Christmas lunch at Cornerstone

On 25th December Jim and some of his friends laid on a Christmas lunch for people who otherwise might have eaten alone, perhaps even spent the entire day alone.

Christmas lunch at CornerstoneCornerstone Coffee and Books provided the space, River Church funded the supplies for the meal, Jim and his family prepared and served the food, and the rest of us helped with setting up, waiting at table, chatting with the guests, and clearing up afterwards.

Quite unprompted, Waitrose provided some festive groceries for the guests to take home. Every guest also received an M&S voucher.

Paul and I arrived at 10:30. We spent some time sweeping the floor and setting out the tables (four tables with space for ten people on each). Then, as the guests started arriving we were on hand to welcome them, offer teas or coffees, and chat.

During the meal it was great to sit with the guests, pull crackers, and have some unhurried conversation.

At the end of the meal I had to hurry home as Donna's parents and brother were staying with us, but I think there were plenty of helpers on hand to assist with the washing up and tidying away.

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