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New Year, New Hope

One of the more unusual aspects of being a minister in EMBA is the opportunity to lead worship at Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest.  I landed New Year's Day and decided I'd like to include communion in the service.  Based on past experience I knew congregations tend to be around 20 so prepared accordingly.  In the end I had only three people but it turned out to be a very special experience - though I only realised quite how significant it was when driving away afterwards!

At one minute to start time a couple came in and introduced themselves - Rachel and Andrew from Liverpool, who turned out to be Roman Catholic.  We began the service and about 10 minutes later - as is the way of the CP services - another woman came in, who turned out to be a Methodist.  As I finished the 'sermonette' and announced the next piece of recorded music, the Methodist asked if we could do communion now as she needed to get back to give her son his medication.  Rachel & Andrew graciously agreed and we juggled everything around whilst still somehow holding it all together.

As I left, I was pondering this amazing sense of ecumenism, the fact that denominations had been irrelevant and that people had loved enough to allow liturgy to give way to expressed needs.  Then it finally sunk in - that two practcising Roman Catholics had accepted communion from an ordained protestant woman with a Zwinglian theology of communion.  I had chosen my wording carefully, saying "Jesus said 'this is my body....'  '... my blood....'" but even so, it was far, far away from their usual experience.

Whilst at college I had chosen to spend a year working with an RC parish to gain an understanding of that tradition - a very informative and in some ways formative year, strengthening my Baptist convictions and my Zwinglian eucharistic theology!  Above all the exclusion from communion had had a profound and wounding effect.  Yet in this moment, driving away from Center Parcs, the wound was healed and new hope given that one day we will all be one in Christ.

Many despair of tiny congregations or quote the Matt 18 'gathering of two or three' text out of context to make it seem that it's alright really.  But yes, amidst the differences that divide Baptist from Roman from Methodist, in the unconsecrated bread roll and the unfermented grape juice, the medical needs of a child and the grace of strangers, the Shekina glory was revealed!  Our service had focussed on new beginnings and God's promises - but the blessing of strangers I received this New Year was far beyond anything I gave them.  The year ahead is a mystery but God's hope, healing and promises are there where we least expect to find them. 

Thank you Rachel, Andrew and the 'un-named Methodist woman' you have given me far more than you will ever know or imagine.


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