Sunday 26 September 2010

The Big Welcome

This morning my church excelled themselves, and hopefully I did too, as we extended a ‘Big Welcome’ for Back to Church Sunday.

My faith is too small at times like this! I live in fear that none of the invited guests will come along, despite my constant reminders to my congregation that it is our task to invite and the Holy Spirit’s role to get people there. Yet, as a preacher, you can’t help feeling that your inspiring, humorous and challenging message (that’s the plan, anyway) will fall a bit flat if it is only the usual congregation in attendance.

Well, it went brilliantly! Joel led the service extremely well, the music group sounded great, the welcome team were on top form, the sermon went well, the congregation laughed in the right places and the hall where we had tea, coffee and cake afterwards was packed out. I have totted up at least a dozen guests who came due to our invitation, and I have a feeling that I may have missed some. I have reports of at least seven of the guests saying that they will come again. Add to these the new family that came along for the third week running, the return of several members after illness and the arrival at the end of the service of a Latvian couple who were put in touch with me by Hope Now in Latvia, and it was an extremely good morning.

So my faith is small but God’s faithfulness is huge. I’d like to have more faith, and occasions such as this morning do bring an increase. Yet I’ll always be grateful for Jesus’ response to the disciples who asked why they could not help a man who was afflicted with seizures. "Because you're not yet taking God seriously," said Jesus. "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle." (Matthew 17:20, The Message).

A mere kernel of faith can be used by God – isn’t that great? There is nothing we will not be able to tackle – even inviting people to Back to Church Sunday, and letting God do the rest!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Cafe Kindness

Several times a year at my church, we run something that we have called Café Kindness. It’s happening again this week, as we prepare for Back to Church Sunday on 26th September.

What is Café Kindness? It’s a place to which we invite anyone to come and enjoy a free cup of tea or coffee and some cake. We fit out the entrance foyer of our church building as a café, with easy chairs and tables. We open up for about three hours a day. Some of us go out into the nearby streets to invite passers-by to come along. And some do! We welcome them, we listen to them and, if it’s appropriate, having shared our faith through our actions, we also do it with our words. Through it, we have seen a Hindu couple join the church as regular worshippers, we have enlisted a couple of people on an Alpha Course, and we have ministered to many people through simply being there for them.

For me, the beauty of Café Kindness is that it is a non-threatening method of evangelism in which anyone in the church can be involved, whatever their gifts. Some bake cakes for us, some come along and serve tea and coffee, some are happy to converse with our guests, some will go onto the streets and invite and, of course, all can pray. In one or more of these ways, everyone in the church can consider themselves to be an evangelist! Often, too, those who would not think of themselves as gifted in sharing their faith in words, end up doing just that. They might be surprised by that, but not God. I think God knows just how to get the best out of people, and urges us on in ways we could not have imagined.

Thanks, Lord!

Monday 20 September 2010

Pastries and Prayer

Yesterday morning, we had a visit from Chris Duffett, vice-President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Chris brought his own irrepressible personality and sense of humour to the children’s talk and sermon. Even better than that, after the service he took some of us out into Peterborough city centre to offer pastries and prayer.

It’s a simple idea! In two’s and three’s, we went into shops offering a free pastry and also free prayer to shop-workers. In other words, we were taking a gift of grace and of prayer to a group of people who would not normally be able to get to a church service, even if they wanted to. Some of us also offered the same to shoppers in the pedestrian thoroughfare.

The responses varied. Some accepted the pastry, but had no need of prayer. ‘My life is fine at the moment’ seemed a common comment. Others declined the pastry but were glad to pass on a request for prayer. A few were willing to be prayed with there and then. Between the twelve people who went out from my church as ‘saints on the streets’, we must have had some contact with 50 or more people who are not Christians during just an hour! I’m not aware of one of them taking offence at our offer, and many were genuinely pleased at our approach. My partner in the gospel was Chris, and we took prayer requests for a man having problems with the cashpoint, relatives of a woman who had melanoma, women with breast cancer and a good education for a secondary school pupil to name but a few.

It’s said that Christians and non-Christians share the same view of evangelism: neither of them like it! Yet pastries and prayer was non-threatening way of sharing just a little of the love of God. Next week, we will be sharing in the ‘Big Welcome’ of Back to Church Sunday. I doubt that we will have anywhere near 50 non-churchgoers joining us (although I’d love to be proved wrong). We hope the world will come to church, but perhaps we should be cancelling our church sometimes so that the church can go into the world? Now, haven’t I heard someone say that before?

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Seasons of the Cross

It's been a while since my last blog. To be honest, life has been a little busy and I haven't quite got into blogging with the regularity of some.

This time, I thought that a photo blog might suffice. These photographs were taken by the side of Durham Cathedral in April of this year. The first one I took was the cross against the beautiful sunset. From there, I hit on the idea of going back at different times during my week in the city, and trying to retake the photograph from the same vantage point. These are the result.

I used these images in a sermon exploring different seasons of life. There are times when life is just beautiful - this is represented by the sunset sky. At these times, it is often easy to believe in God. Then there are the everyday times, represented by the blue sky (OK, that's a stretch with British weather!), stormy times and dark times. On the night time photo, the cross did not show up at all until I applied some enhancement with the aid of iPhoto. The point, in case you are wondering, is that Christ of the cross is always there, whatever your life is like at that time.

These images were helpful to many in my congregation. I hope they are to you, too.