I hadn't intended to post today but it has been a day that has made me pause and think, so it seemed good to record it before it slipped into obscurity.
Last night's Christingle service was attended by 216 people - I know this because the Anglicans head count every service that takes place on their premises. It was amazing to see people with no church connection streaming in and enjoying themselves. We done good! This morning there were 66 (the Meths are into head counting too!) with a few folk we didn't know among the familiar church folk and 'oncers.' The service went well, fitted together and seemed to connect with people.
One of the 'lighter' introductory bits was an activity where by someone placed lots of items that are associated with Christmas in front of the nativity scene - a visual expression of how the spiritual heart of the season can be obscured by activities and things. What made it powerful was that the person doing it was in his early fifties and his wife died three months ago; one of the items he chose to use was a family photo, taken a couple of years back, of them plus their five children on holiday. It happened - whether by design or chance - that from where I was sitting the photo obscured the manger; powerful and poignant. A brave thing to have done - and he did amazingly well to get through it.
Brave was the word people used to describe my talk too. I'm not so sure it was much that it was brave as that it was right! I sensed a change in atmosphere as I spoke - in a good way I hope - as people shifted from fluffy jollity to a more honest thoughtfulness. One person's mother was in hospital, several had been bereaved, one works for Zavvi and another for Jaguar - it was a God-given moment and I think it connected.
After the service I visited someone just released from hospital, and then taxi-ed a seventy something spinster for lunch out. She is what once would have been termed 'a bit simple' - good-hearted, easy-going and vulnerable. She told me how she'd worked as nursing auxiliary all her life and how she wasn't clever but she was famous. Seemingly at an age somewhere between three and six (age and year didn't stack up) she had been the only child to survive a local outbreak of meningitis (probably the cause of her mild learning difficulties). I was reminded of Herod and the slaughter of innocents, of the present day fear that disease brings, and of the countless children in the two-thirds world who die of dread diseases.
I visited the city hospital where one of my church folk is enduring endless tests which, so far, have failed to uncover any cause - apart from age - for his rapidly declining health and the father of another member is being treated and undergoing tests following a recent emergency admission. Both were glad to be visited, and both were pleased to be prayed with. As I walked out of the building to return to the car park, I heard the sound of a trolley, and turned to see the mortuary trolley making its way towards the wards: for some families Christmas Day ends only in tears.
Tonight many of my congregation - and those in other congregations locally - will be glad simply to have got through the day. For me, I am glad to have shared in some small way in making today honest and God-aware. In a good way, it will be the two silent figures pushing a black shrouded trolley in the still, near silent darkness of a December evening that will stay with me as reminder of Christmas 2008 - cradle and cross, life and death, time and eternity: only ever a hair's breadth apart.