I will never understand churches, especially mine, if I live to be a hundred. Actually, based on some of my forebears that's a bit too likely, make that 110. Anyway.
This afternoon we had our re-written service based on the BMS FACE stuff. The first half worked really well - people accepted their coloured slips of paper as they arrived and then chose where to sit. Then, depending on the colour they were given either a banana, a bag containing a cup of rice or pulses or a choice luxury cup cakes; those with banana were then told to give their fruit to those with cakes. (The bananas were fairtrade, in case anyone is checking). We talked about feelings, about injustice and how BMS, Christian Aid, TLM (and others too numerous to mention) seek to address such issues as part of their mission. I then "randomly" handcuffed someone and dragged them to the front to be interrogated with no charge, and shared how BMS sends lawyers to some Arcian nations where such things really do happen. We ended this section with the 'if the world was a village of 100 people' thing and were reminded that the UK acocunts for ~1% of the world's population yet is one of the wealthiest nations.
Then we moved, via a couple of songs and Bible readings, to the dreaded sermon. As suggested by Craig in a comment on an earlier post, I shared some of the thinking about how I'd got to where I was before asserting that I did not think that we as a congregation were free, rather we were enslaved by fear of rejection, by negativity (I'd already had someone shift blame to me because one person didn't have a slip of coloured paper!), by insecurity, low self-esteem, apathy, lethargy, etc, etc. If Jesus said (as John's gospel records), "the truth shall set you free" then we needed to face up to these chains, be honest about them and set about breaking them - which demands vulnerbality, openness and honesty by each and all of us.
People were asked to spend a few moments thinking about and sharing with God the things that they felt bound them, that they could not share with people at church. Then they were asked to dream of a church in which they could share these things without fear of reproach or ridicule but instead in an atmosphere of support, love and respect. Lastly, people were invited to think of one person in the congregation with whom they felt they would be willing to share one thing that was going on for them.
As the service ended I went to the adjacent classroom to be there for anyone who needed someone to pray with - and after 10 minutes as no one had appeared, I returned to the hall.
In the following few minutes something rare happened - lots of people came and thanked me for the sermon. One person shared that she still felt that there was no one she could share with, but maybe she needed to think about why. Another person said she'd had a good whinge (she doesn't whinge, she has mega issues) and felt much better for it. A couple of people said it was a brave sermon. I even had one man who is the antithesis of touchy-feeling saying it had been helpful, and when I passed on some information on a pastoral situation tohim (at the person's request) he opened up with something similar in his own life...
I'm not daft or naive enough to think that that's it, problem solved, nor to deny the reality of one person who said 'am I odd not to have any big issues, to feel I do have people I can talk to...' But I do think that in some small way a bit of 'truth telling' generated a bit of freedom.
Oh yes - on the altered song words - one person said she'd never been able to sing the original words because they were blatantly untrue, so I not only got away with it, I was thanked for it!!
Maybe one day I'll understand how the sermons that make us most nervous are the ones we need most to preach, but for now I just marvel at the little miracle that happened today, so that as I walked back into the hall I saw some unusually deep conversations between unusual pairings going on. The truth shall set you free...