Advent began slightly early here - and I believe it did in Dibley too, where to my delight they have eagerly continued the practice of lunch time prayers for this season.
It felt slightly odd yesterday morning loading my car with food and slow cookers to take to church for somehting I had, for six years, done in my home. I was (and am) pleased that this year it is an ecumenical intitiative and that it is taking place in our Gathering Place, it just made me smile that after five years of doing the car run on a Sunday I was now doing it for lunchtime prayers.
And to a degree that same-but-different sense carried through the day. As I set up the room I founsd myself wondering not 'would anyone come' because several had promised they would but 'would it work.' After six years with largely the same group of (mainly elderly) folk, it has become a familiar and comfortable routine. Sure, we varied the style a little bit according to the books I was using, but we all knew what was what. I had learned how to read silences - companionable, contemplative, agitated, embarrassed - but how I would I do this here? I had come to know who would do what and when and how. And I knew that my faithful few loved the space to slow down, to pray, to reflect, to laugh, to cry, to be served, to serve... What if it all went horribly wrong and people hated it?
I had a lovely time preparing the room, trying to create an atmosphere that was welcoming and warm, that allowed us to worship & reflect, to eat & chat. At the appointed time there were around 18 of us - as many as I've ever had at such a gathering, so I was thrilled, especially as it was a new idea. People generously engaged in the act of guided meditation and prayer and seemed to appreciate what was offered. We then had a lovely time of fellowship over soup and bread & cheese, the donations for Christian Aid were a good start and bode well for the remainder of the series.
As lunch drew to a close I was involved in some deep conversations with a cople of students about connecting with the university in a helpful way. All around I was aware of people busily clearing away, running the dishwasher, folding tables and stacking chairs. Already I have offers of soup for at least one of the future weeks and a snese that peple are willing to give this thing a go.
I guess what I feel a day on is what Ialready really knew: that this offering of a space amidst the hurly burly of life for a short season is something people value, that ultimately it is 'the same but different' in a new setting and with new people. It is hard work to organise these spaces, takes a fair amount of time and not a little planning. But it is always so worthwhile. I feel, as I inevitably do at such moments, that I am blessed.