Last year I wandered into the church offices to pick up a couple of banners for an exhibition that I was taking part in with some colleagues, and was caught by the Communications Department who asked what I was up to. Within hours what was a participation in a local event became at least local news, and a colleague and I were being heralded as instigators of a new practice. We weren’t and on several occasions mentioned that what we were doing was an imitation of others.
In the weeks that followed the event colleagues from other areas of Scotland contacted us for advice, and we shared our leaflets and plans so that for those who were trying something new there was a starting place for them to enhance and develop.
We ourselves have returned to the same event three times now, and will be back again at the beginning of January. The organisers expect to see us, and they have made us welcome. They think it is important that the Church is part of what they are doing, and encourage people to come and chat with us. They also know we can’t make their April event as it tends to fall too close to Easter for us to find a team of colleagues to be available.
So although only three shots in, we feel like old hands and participating is old hat.
The story has reared its head again this year, in part because in another area in Scotland another group of colleagues were attending a similar event and it made news. But the story also gained more ground as an article in “Life and Work” was noticed and then pulled into national papers.
While heading to a meeting this week I received a phone call asking me if I would be prepared to speak on radio about why we do what we do. Not overly keen on being “live” I chatted with “Comms”, and found myself doing something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope that in doing that I represented myself, faith, and our practice as a church fairly.
What struck me though is while I think participating in this particular event is important, it is not the beginning or end of what I or the church does. Its one of a number of ways in which encountering people and telling the Christian story happens. To some it will seem like the most ridiculous place to be talking about opening doors and offering welcome.
Its difficult to be truly welcoming when some are still not welcome. We stand at our event and have to admit that some can have the conversation but at the moment it can be no more than a conversation. There is two-way sadness felt in that conversation.
But welcoming conversations for me are about more than this one event and activity in the calendar of a church’s year. Those conversations include how we encounter and meet the diverse needs of the people and places around our building and the world.
My struggle with the attention on this one activity is that potentially it looks like a one-legged donkey, when instead the faith I hope to demonstrate is a string of ponies – multi legged and diverse in nature and activity.