Thursday, 31 December 2015

New year..... New day.

I love new year. Full of nostalgia and resolutions - a pause to look forward and reflect back. A chance to put to bed regrets and learn from mistakes.....

I hate new year. Full of nostalgia and resolutions - a pause to look forward and reflect back. A chance to revisit regrets and wonder why on earth they happened.....

I love new year. High expectations of fun. Party, laughter, dreaming, winning, good friends, family, fireworks. 

I hate new year. High expectations of fun when surely not everyone can want fun. Party going pressure, tears, remembering dreams that never came true, loneliness even in a room full of people. 

I love new year. This last year has been good. I've finished college, been ordained (best day ever), led my first baptismal service, dedicated a beautiful baby, passed all of my masters modules, celebrated with so many friends, adventured and journeyed, created and sparkled, sung and dreamed. Made new friends.....

I hate new year. For too many of my friends this year has been ridiculously hard and I have not known what to do or say to walk with them through it. For too many of them this new year is a hearty goodbye to what has been and a tentative step into the future..... 

I drove down to Derbyshire for new year today. As I drove I left behind howling wind and driving rain and as I came over the hills into the Peak District, there before me was the most glorious sunset. Behind me, darkness, before me promise of an ending and a new beginning that is more beautiful than anything that has gone before. 

I'm a bit ambivalent when it comes to new year. It's overrated, a bit stressful and slightly irritating, but I celebrate it because it makes us stop, pause, reflect and dream. I've had a great year and am looking forward to 2016 which already promises to begin well..... And I'm going to enjoy seeing it in with a good friend.

But, more than that..... the beautiful sun setting on 2015 after the dark remnants of the storm and the fact that it will rise again tomorrow reminded me of this..... That light shines even in the most dark of places...... And that is something definitely worth celebrating.... 

"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn" Isaiah 60:1-3

Monday, 7 December 2015

Tourist church

Last week I was sat talking to some people about the week and what we'd been up to. I mentioned I was the minister of a church..... 

It's amazing the conversations that this sometimes starts. Ranging from 'I'm not into God myself' to 'how do you promote your church' to 'so you baptise adults - are they naked?' 

This time though I was talking to an amazing storyteller. She told me about the time that she went to New York and while they were in New York her and her friend wanted to go to a 'proper' Baptist church. They went to a famous church in the area.... 

When they arrived they were amazed to see the queue - going on for rows and rows of people. At the door were two men (bouncers) dressed in sharp suits. They came down the rows looking at what people were wearing. They stopped at my story teller and looked down - they saw her flip flops and her trousers and said she couldn't go in like that. 

Then they pointed to a stall selling shoes and skirts......

As she got shoed and skirted up her and her friend were asked to stand closer to the people in front so the queue had more space to grow. 

And then, eventually, after a long period of waiting, the doors opened and the bouncers let them in small groups to wait for the service to begin. Gospel choir, passionate preaching.... all those things you'd see on telly....! 

I sat there and thought.... I wouldn't queue. What is this church doing? Bouncers? Flip flop rules? 

Church as tourist attraction. And yes, my storyteller and her friend were tourists. It was a must see for their time in New York. They loved it. It was an amazing experience. Buzzing. 

But church as a tourist attraction? I've always been uncomfortable with paying to go into cathedrals when they should be a place of worship.... but then if I am going in just to look around....? Last year I went to midday communion at York Minster - a calm oasis of worship and thanksgiving in the middle of a busy stream of tourists. In the summer I looked down at the parish congregation in Sagrada Familia and felt out of place as one of the people who had paid to stare. 

A worship service as a tourist attraction? I guess it's become so strange that to have a look-see to experience something strange could be seen as something good. Just as you might go into a cathedral to sense some of the awe and wonder of God, participating in a lively New York Baptist church might help us experience the joy of worship and encounter God through that ..... there is something about the peculiarity of a worship service that people just want to go and see that we should embrace as the church seeks to be light in a dark world.

But, it's not the desire of the storyteller and her friend to go and experience worship that I find difficult (although I've never heard of anyone going to a church like that on the tourist trail) - it's the story of the queues and bouncers and clothes stalls that I find hard. 

What would the King of Kings born in a manger on that first Christmas make of all this? A quiet and subversive entrance to turn the world upside down. Born to a very young couple, far from home, met by shepherds still smelling of the hills, bowed down to by men from far far away. No bouncers, no dress code, no cathedrals, no queues, but the quiet entrance of Emmanuel. 

God with us. 

God..... with..... us.