I have a soft spot for small churches, tiny churches even, and I knew when I set off this morning to visit one ouf our 'daughter' churches that she is always small and today may be tiny. So tiny in fact that my presence accounted for 11% the congregatinn. Still, substantially above the smallest I've been in which was three...
There is nowhere to hide in a tiny congregation, and as three of the people there know me, no point trying to be incognito. My tendency to 'sing out' did mean that no-one else could be heard, and I was kindly complimented my singing.
Worship was gentle and unhurried, with songs and hymns I have known for a very long time, and the majority of which have strong (positive) associations, not least my Baptism-cum-Ordination hymn. Gathered in the hall (?) that lies between the front door and the sanctuary, we still rattled around a bit, but there was a nice atmosphere.
The opening prayers were carefully and thoughtfully constructed and, for me, the high point of the service. The sermon was a thoughtful exposition of Mark 8: 27 - 38, though I am not sure the excursus to explore the subtleties of 'confession' versus 'profession' was entirely successful (sorry!). Etymology suggests that con-fession is 'acknowledged - with' and pro-fession is 'acknowledged - forth'... I think if I'd wanted to play with these words I'd probably have looked at the 'con' as corporate and the 'pro' as personal, and to be honest I'm not sure I'd have gone that way at all. Nonetheless, there was good stuff to ponder, notably the paralleling of the immediately preceding story of the blind man whose sight was restored in stages (people looking like trees walking about) with Peter's declaration of Jesus' messianic identity closely followed by his equally strong rebuke. That Peter had a decidedly blurred image of what a messiah might be, that needed to be further developed, was a valuable thread to explore, and to relate to our own ongoing disicpleship. What do we envisage when we say 'Jesus is Messiah' and how much is that actually an walking tree rather than the real thing?
Being the second youngest person present (by a not insubstantial number of years!) took me back. These are good, faithful people, whose hearts are in the right place but, I fear, have become tired and disillusioned over the years. As we drank tea and were offered a good selection of biscuits and cake, I chatted to the three people who moved from their seats - which happened to be the three I already knew. The others took their tea back to their places (maybe they needed to sit down, that's fine) and chatted to those they already knew. I honestly don't think they meant to be unfriendly, indeed they may have been intimidated by this loud-singing she-preacher, but it would have been hard for a real stranger to feel much of a welcome had this been their experience.
When I arrived at the church, deliberately close to start time, the solid front door was pulled almost closed; indeed, a casual on-looker would have assumed it was closed. Pulling it open, I was greeted by a friendly door steward and shown in to the room, he then went to find me both a Bible and a hymnbook. At the end, most people chose to leave by the back door - slipping through the sanctuary and away. I left via the main door, which was pulled closed behind me, just as it had been when I arrived. One of the things that has struck me with the two Glasgow-based visits has been the closing, even locking, of doors, and the leaving by alternative routes that only insiders know about. I will need to give spome more thought to this, but physically closed outside/storm doors do send an undesirable, and unintended message, I fear.
More positively, this church, like ours and like the other Glasgow church I visited, serve tea into the room in which people are gathered - there is no need to 'find' the hall or 'follow the crowd' (who never actually are a crowd) to get your refreshments, so you can't get lost or feel embarrassed if you don't know the system.
It takes a very real call to serve a tiny congregation, a very deep commitment to put to the work week by week and refuse to be disillusioned or disappointed to the extent you give up. I admire the young minister of this congregation, and his willingness to walk with them. Our little daughter is vulnerable and, preversely, older in some ways they we are, but you always love your children... May God bless you, minister and congregation as you continue to witness to Christ, and may God give you renewed energy to fulfil your calling.
I know this may well be read by the minister of the church, and I hope it does not read too negatively, I enjoyed worshipping with you, was given something to mull over and felt welcome. These visits as an 'outisder' allow me to spot thingss I wouldn't notice in my own church, and so give me lots of 'food for thought'.
For any Gatherers reading - so far we still win the 'coffee and cakes' stakes!!