What is success in my game? I minister at a mainly down town church which has an elderly congregation with few younger people amongst them. When people ask about my Church they generally go on to ask such questions as; "How many services do you have?" "How many people come to worship?" "How many young people are there?" "Is it growing?" ... When these are asked or implied I cringe. On these measures I am a failure and should perhaps have given up. I do wish for a growing, bursting at the seams church! I keep asking "Is there stuff I am doing wrong?". I plug on, trying to be true to Jesus as I understand and experience Him. I wish ... I wish... I could confidently show "success" in these terms.
I have had experiences this week that have encouraged me. I have walked down the street and bumped into what we might term "Street People". These are people often struggling with mental health issues. Each time I am greeted warmly and they tell me their joys and sorrows and we part with warm smiles and encouragement both ways. Two individuals contacted me because they wanted to give to the Night Shelter in different ways. One visited the office, the other rang, but both knew that this church was somehow involved and a natural contact point. I had a woman contact me and she is involved in a professional woman's club in town which wanted to do something for others at Christmas time. "Your name came up, because of the famous Christmas Dinner your church puts on." she said. I went to my dentist and he talked on and on about the community service I was involved in and asked about it, telling his assistant all about what he knew. (He still charged me an arm and a leg for his time!) I visited my chaplaincies and these emergency workers asked about some of the "street people" they have often encountered because they knew that I too was involved in their lives.
As I thought about all these encounters it seemed that "the presence" was telling me something. In the midst of this dog eat dog world the little "failure" of a church that I minister in sits in the middle of the city and waves the flag for caring for others! In the midst of this world where people often find it hard to reach out to others about them, my "unsuccessful" church reminds people that it is possible and offers an example and opportunities for people to try. It is like in the midst of this city, my wee church with its lopsided age groupings, is waving a flag or raising a banner which says, "We care!" ... "God cares!" "Jesus is about caring!" ... and "You too can get on the caring band wagon!" I believe we inspire countless others to reach out beyond themselves, to live less selfishly and to have a wider perspective on life. The fire fighters and brewery workers once presented me with a gift of a van. It blew me away. As one guy talked to me about it as they made the presentation, he said, "This is from your flock outside of the church." That's what "the presence" is reminding me about. This is the unseen reality that is happening. We are a relatively small bunch of people, but outside our circle is a larger group of people who are kinder, more responsible, more understanding, more alive and just a little bit more like Jesus, because we are there doing our thing. I believe we are truly and effectively being "salt and light" and we are not a failure. We are flavouring lives in our community and holding a light up for people to see an alternative way. I still would like more people to be in church tomorrow though.