One of our tasks at the moment is searching for a manse - not an easy task. We know what we would ideally like, what would be acceptable if less than perfect, and how much we have to spend. We even know that it is possible, if the right thing pops up, to get ideal and affordable. In the meantime we look at the possible. And I am recalling why it is I dislike house-hunting so much! It is a great gift to be allowed to chose one's own manse, and I am genuinely appreciative, but it has its moments as we are already discovering. And all of this makes me think about 'selling' church too. No, I don't mean the buildings per se, I mean the community of faith into which we hope to attract people which is glimsped and judged through the experience of entering a building.
Yesterday's viewings served as examples of things to think about.
The first was a new build property that was, shall we say, bijou. It was trying to be more than it could deliver - having essentially single bedrooms advertised as doubles on the basis that you could, just get a double bed in. It could have been a lovely two-bedroomed property but instead the developer had gone for three. I wonder if we do that as churches sometimes? Not trying to be a big church if we are small (though some do) but trying to be what we simply cannot be effectively? Do we not quite succeed because we don't realise our actual, innate potential? Are we content to be what are best able to be, trusting that this is actually what God might want?
The second was an older tenement property that, as it happens was unsuitable, but what was striking was the inability of the vendor to grasp what selling meant! I was very glad I had someone with me when the door was opened by a young man wearing only a dressing gown (what the BU make of that!!) and things went downhill from there. The place was untidy, dark, cluttered and smokey. The viewing lasted about 2 minutes, and that was more from politeness than anything else. Surely, I thought, people know that when you are selling you need to up early, cleaning, polishing, hiding clutter, making bread and brewing coffee. But them, what of our churches? I am a bit of a compulsive hymnbook tidier - a trait I shared with a vicar with whom I worked in Manchester (maybe we were anal, maybe we are 'on the spectrum' or maybe we are right) - but more generally what impression do our churches give? They don't need to be state of the art everything with whizz-bang technology and professional musicians. We don't need IKEA or Habitat or Waitrose or whatever it is products. A place that is tidy enough and clean enough, with a sense of care in how things are done; decent coffee (evidently this is a great evangelism tool!!) in proper cups/mugs, the best we can muster consistent with who we are in terms of music and words and, possibly more essential, welcome. A tin tab with an ill-assorted selection of wooden chairs can be as beautiful as the finest cathedral if the attitude is right.
So, the manse hunt continues, and the reminders I'm having about how to do and be church are valuable. And now I must go and practice what I preach, offering the bestest possible to those who this day will cross the threshold of the Gathering Place. As I type the decent coffee is being prepared, the worship space adjusted to express what we wish to express and folk going about their allotted tasks in making this a good place to 'view'.