The end of my first year as minister of Dibley saw the enforced closure of the much-loved sanctuary exactly a week before Christmas. We were forced to make rapid phone calls to other churches to find places we could meet for our Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and then ever after services. I trekked up (and down) the hill where the manse and church stood with a case full of candles, Bible, notes, CDs and whatever else was needed. But the welcome was there and we discovered new insights into the "Christmas Story."
This year some friends of mine in a little (brick as it happens) Tabernacle in East Manchester have been forced to move out into the nomadic existence I had come to know rather well. For them, Sundays are sometimes in their front room, sometimes in borrowed buildings, sometimes as guests of others, sometimes outside. A faithful and courageous little community camping in a city.
And now I am once more in a city, vibrant with life and bustling with people of diverse ethnicity and social group. Once more a church that is camping, tabernacling, albeit in it's own 'back garden', and has been for several years. Here, as elsewhere, people gather week by week, putting out chairs, making a temporary worship space in the room we use for pretty much everything. Once more, I am seeing new slants on an old story.
I know quite a few 'tabernacling' churches. Some have deliberately chosen this model, some have had it thrust upon them. Some are doing it for a reason or a season, others by choice or circumstance will do it for life. Some feel it is second best, others see it is a great opportunity. As for me, I delight in the flexibility and freedom it offers, whilst recognising the constraints and challenges it brings.
I recall, when I was a teenager, hearing a version of the prologue to John's gospel which said that God's word 'came and tabernacled among us.' I guess there is something gospel and incarnational about being a tabernacling church, a church that is a little bit precarious, a little bit vulnerable, a little bit temporary, a little bit on the margins... a little bit like the craziness of God born as a peasant baby who grew into a wandering preacher maybe...?
To all fellow tabernacling churches everywhere (and especially in Dibley and East Manchester)... this Christmas-tide may you find afresh the wonder of the Christ-child who shares your vulnerability and courage, and may you be blessed as your bless those around you.