I have just posted some photos to Facebook, they are photos of our preparations for this evening when we meet together at North Shore Methodist Church in Blackpool. We will be celebrating Pentecost. We will meet to eat, share stories, talk, pray and worship together. Here are those pictures:
We love symbols, candles, water and oil will all be present this evening. The Icon and the rosaries are also important to us, to add to these we have prayer blankets and paper and pens will also be available for those wishing to write prayers or blessings and leave them in the basket. Interestingly we write more prayers for others and blessings are often prayed for friends and family. I say interestingly because when we meet as a community tonight I will be reminded once again how amazingly priviledged I am, many who I will meet with are struggling to make ends meet, many have been victims of government sanctions, some are desperate, and some are homeless. I will hear stories of the 20p Hilton ( read public toilets) and from a couple who are living in a tent, packing it up every morning and walking the streets of Blackpool with it until the pitch it again in the evening. Everything they own is contained in a suitcase.
This evening we will celebrate with cake, we will share bread and wine and prayers will be said, we know God's presence with us, last week we were overwhelmed by the love and power of God at work among us. We were made aware of a love that knows no barriers of gender, race or status, we are all loved, all valued, all important.
How can it be then that these are a good idea?
How can it be possible that a community might value others so little that they treat the other as vermin, a mere nuiscance to be disuaded from shelter?
How can it be possible in the 21st Century in a so called civilised country for us to have a definite "under-class", a forgotten, hidden ( we wish), marginalised group of people? How can this be? It makes me angry, and week by week as I meet with my friends I am driven to my knees in weeping for the plight of so many, and there are many, and for many it is a small thing that has pushed them over the edge into spiralling poverty.
You can find the story behind the studs here, please read it and let it challenge you, the question it brings to us, "who is my neighbour?" is one that we sorely need to hear, and not I suspect only in this context. Yesterday at Church we welcomed a lovely family and their friends, a father and son were baptised, after the baptism and during a hymn I offered a blessing for any that might choose to receive on, we ran out of hymn as the queue of people coming forward grew, not just the baptism family but the regular congregation too, some of whom will gather with us this evening, all of whom were responding to the love of God.
There are times when I wonder how on earth I became caught up in the wonder of all that God is doing among us at North Shore, people are hungry for God, there are some who have church backgrounds and those who don't, people who have been hurt, confused and even ignored by church and some for whom it is all a new adventure. It is not helpful to categorise folk because " it risks turning people into ecclesiastical 'widgets' or commodities. Categorising or defining people in a way that allows them to be quantified is helpful for particular pieces of analysis but risks depersonalising human beings made in the image of God. It also feels very institutional"1 , and this move of God is not about the institution, not about the survival or otherwise of a particular church in a particular setting but about how people are being wooed by a God who loves them, in this we are simply his co-workers or channels, and I often find that my task is to stand around looking amazed and wonder what on earth will hapen next.
God is with us, this I do know, and as we gather to tell his story, the wonder of creation, incarnation , and spirit power become real in us, as we take and break bread we are nourished by him, as we pour and drink wine we are cleansed, as we bless one another with symbol of water and oil we are healed, and as we light candles our prayers ascend to heaven. We find ourselves enveloped by grace, none is excluded, no humanbeing made in the image of God should be marginalised, there is Good News for the poor, sight for the blind, healing and hope for the outcast, and freedom for the prisoners.
As I baptised baby Oscar and his Dad yesterday I used the wonderful words "All this for you", Jesus shows us clearly with outstretched bleeding hands "all this for all"
1. http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/views/unchurched : Andrew Roberts