It’s a small world.
On our recent Ministers’ Spring School in Leeds, we took a day trip to Sheffield to find out about the URC team ministry there. A Church Army officer told us about city centre mission and took us on a prayer walk. Over lunch, it transpired that his wife is now the vicar of St Polycarp’s church in Sheffield – the very church where I was Christened. I remembered the old Church Hall, with its coal-fired stoves and leaking corrugated-iron roof. When it was, unsurprisingly, condemned, we had to have Sunday School in a variety of places including, for a while, the Holly Bush pub.
The pub was great – it had a piano, nice carpets, tables for us to draw on and plenty of space. The landlord was very community-minded – I also went there for ballet classes, the edge of the bar providing the barre. We never, of course, met the pub clients. Opening hours in those days were short and by the time we arrived there was no trace of drinking. Even the beer mats had been cleared away. The only contact between the pub and the Sunday School was the half-crown that the landlord would leave on the bar for the collection (a fortune then, when we collected mostly pennies and halfpennies).
I had a good wallow in nostalgia. But then I began to reflect on this. Two worlds, inhabiting the same space but never meeting… isn’t this a bit like St Andrew’s today? Here we have the church centre, busy and thriving with community activities for six days of the week, and the church, active on the seventh day when the centre is closed. In our recent Lent Discussion Group, we asked ourselves the question, how do we reach out into the community around us? How would people know we care? And the implicit underlying question, how can we do this without adding to the burden of people who are already busy and deeply committed?
Perhaps the answer, which I didn’t think of in the Discussion Group, is to look at what we already have. Take the Toddler Group – small children, yes, but each small child comes with an adult and they represent a whole cross-section of the community, of all ages and faiths, men as well as women. It is hugely popular, thanks to the dedication of Marion and Anita, and if you want to meet people (I never much like the term ‘reach’) here they are. Come and help, or just come and chat. We need people especially after September when Anita is standing down after many years.
Then there’s the Child Contact Centre on Saturdays, again serving children but mainly engaging with the adults. This is a joint venture, and it would be lovely to have more people from the church involved. There’s the Knitting Group on Tuesdays, which has up to a dozen people, half of whom are not from the church – again, a way to meet people over shared creativity.
Last but definitely not least, there are all the people in this church who serve God individually in all sorts of ways, inside and outside the church, including donating to the Food Bank, caring for relatives, supporting charities, engaging in the arts or simply doing their job with integrity.
The truth is, we are all engaging with the community one way or another, every day of our lives. Maybe, instead of looking for new ventures, we need to reframe what we already do as our mission. Then let’s look at how we can serve God wherever we are.