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Close of a Season

Last night I had the privilege of sharing in the final meeting of one of our church outreach meetings.  The main organiser had reached the point where he needed to step down and was wise enough to appreciate that he could not simply assume other would continue what he had been doing.  It was slightly strange saying the last prayer at a meeting I have hardly known - one that began when I was knee high to a grasshopper - and I could feel the mixed emotions of those present.

Back in the early 1970s there was very little available for those on the 'fringe' of polite society.  People who were unemployed (it was high back then, remember) homeless or had addiction problems wandered aimlessly on the streets, cold, hungry and seemingly unloved.  So it was that one of my predecessors, with a loyal core of helpers opened a room at church to offer food and friendship on a Friday.

The format has barely changed in almost forty years, but the world has. Even as we met in one room, one of two support groups for those with dependencies was meeting in the next room.  Even as we shared a tasty repast, it was clear that no one was hungry (a few a tad greedy maybe!).  The appetite for 'magic lantern' shows (even high tech magic lanterns) is long gone and what people really value is a good blether over a cuppa.  Most of those who come along now are elderly, and many slope off early to catch buses home.  It was - is - a healthy, natural end point for this work as it stands.

Over the summer some of us will be giving some thought to what next.  What are the needs of those who still came to the group (about 16 yesterday but sometimes as few as 8) and how can they best be served for the future.  But there are more radical questions too.  Poverty and homelessness haven't gone away, there are still occasional door-knockers and still folk who need a safe place out of the heat/rain/wind to rest awhile.  What the future shape will be, I don't yet know.  Perhaps now is our pruning season, when God cuts back and cleans branches that have been very fruitful so that new shoots can grow?

The person who led the closing worship used three psalms in the Message translation, Psalm 130, 124 and 134

Psalm 130:1 - 2

Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help!
Listen hard! Open your ears!
Listen to my cries for mercy.

Psalm 124

If God hadn't been for us —all together now, Israel, sing out!—
If God hadn't been for us
when everyone went against us,
We would have been swallowed alive
by their violent anger,
Swept away by the flood of rage,
drowned in the torrent;
We would have lost our lives
in the wild, raging water.

Oh, blessed be God!
He didn't go off and leave us.
He didn't abandon us defenseless,
helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs.

We've flown free from their fangs,
free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken;
we're free as a bird in flight.

God's strong name is our help,
the same God who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134

Come, bless God, all you servants of God!
You priests of God, posted to the nightwatch
in God's shrine,
Lift your praising hands to the Holy Place,
and bless God.
In turn, may God of Zion bless you—
God who made heaven and earth!

For everyone involved in the Friday group, there had been times of the bottom falling out of their world and this had been a place where they could be honest about that.  A great and Godly gift of space and welcome.

For many, but not all, let's not deceive ourselves, there had been trust in God, and as the psalmist said, had it not been for God (believed in or not) many would have been overhwelmed by events beyond their control.  There was cause for praise and thanksgiving.

In some way, and with less contriving than the speaker claimed, this had been a 'nightwatch' movement.  Physically, on a Friday night at the end of the week, and spiritually for those in the 'dark night of the soul.'

Some of those involved read this twaddle, most don't, but to all of them, I am grateful for the mission they have undertaken to follow God's call.  What difference it made in the lives of those who passed through the door may never be known, and many will never be found on a church on a Sunday morning, but nothing is ever wasted and that has to be enough.

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