Yesterday saw me at two gatherings of Baptists, one small in a pub, one large in a church. One explicitly an act of worship, one specifically an act of friendship. For me they reflect two equally important aspects of being the church.
The first was initiated by one of my church folk who has a real heart for pastoral work. Half a dozen of us met in a pub to drink coffee or tea (though at 11 o'clock for some the second round involved "purely medicinal" alcohol!) and have a chat. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours, and does seem to me to be the way forward for a lot of pastoral work - the Dibley Lunch Club was born of exactly this kind of idea. Maybe there is the potential here for a regular (monthly? fortnightly?) intentional gathering of folk in a place like this simply to share friendship over coffee. It could, potentially grow into a mini lunch club, if folk were interested enough and willing to pay pub prices for their meals (Wetherspoons, where we were yesterday does some great deals!). All that is needed in the short term though, is a core of folk who are willing to commit to be there once a month, maybe one or two willing to act as chauffeurs, and one or two suitable venues. What I like about this possibility is the fact that the seed is already there, I have not had to 'invent' the idea, simply to see what's there and wonder how to nurture it. No idea if this will go anywhere yet - have not even spoken to anyone but it seems hopeful...
The second gathering was the city-wide Baptist prayer gathering. This happens twice a year, and as we are due to host next time (in August) I felt it was important to go along and see what it was like. With roughly 20 Baptist churches in Glasgow, it isn't too surprising that there were around a hundred people there. And I am starting to grow used to meeting people who know people I know wherever I go. When I was in Dibley people thought I knew everyone in the Baptist world - maybe they were nearer right than I realised! Anyway, I met some friends of one of my friends who has just moved to take up a new pastorate in Kent (J, they say hello btw). The Baptist world is small, and for the most part it is very friendly. I recall one of my college friends observing in her final year that although some of her colleagues drove her mad, and although their theologies and preferred styles of worship were poles apart, ultimately she loved these people and they loved her. She was right. Last night I found myself bemused and amused by a room full of Baptists singing 'good old redemption hymns' in almost drunken tones - never have I encountered such a thing in England - whilst being simultaneously touched by the sincerity of the singers. We also sang songs I love - and not even a tiny hint of that song - so all was well. There were prayers from Tozer and Columba, a couple of Bible readings (which did seem a little random) and a lot of time devoted to praying in small groups for the various churches the Union and the city. Afterwards, of course, refreshments, though I was by then ready for home as it was getting late. It was good to be there, interesting to notice the response when I was introduced as one of the new ministers to the area (simultaneously a loud "Hallelujah!" and a few sharp intakes of breath!), helpful to see how the thing works and how it might be adapted to our context and our quieter, more traditional style. Above all it was good to be out among other Baptists, to be reminded of the diversity of who we are, to sing songs that need a guitar rather than a choir, to step out of routine, and then to come back to the familiar and loved with renewed appreciation.
Where two or three gather... in the pub over coffee or Guinness, in the sanctuary with organ or guitar, in agreement and even in quarrel (check what Matt 18 is actually talking about!) there Christ is present, amidst those funny folk called Baptist.