I am just home from the EMB ministers' conference tired but content, refreshed, enthused, humbled, inspired - it has been a good event, worth the work of printing name badges, handling questions, chasing extra towels for moaning ministers and being left to clear and lock up when everyone else had gone.
When I began to work on the closing worship about a month ago, the theme 'beauty and brokenness' came to me along with some ideas about using pots to reflect the preacher's key texts from 2 Corinthians 4:7 - treasure in clay pots.
As the various sessions passed, with input from Juliet Kilpin (Urban Expression) Peter Hobson (St Philip's centre for interfaith studies, Leicester) and Richard Kidd (Northern Baptist College), some of the themes that seemed to emerge over and over again were about vulnerability, risk-taking, honesty, our own frailty, sinfulness and struggle, our own brokenness - and the God who through all this muddle makes beauty. Wow!
I enjoyed leading the closing worship, enjoyed arranging the chapel to try to help others engage in something that embodied and incarnated some of what we'd shared as we returned our focus to God, and sought sustenance for our own days ahead.
Not everyone will have enjoyed or appreciated what was offered, some were probably troubled by my clay pots, my friend's dramatisation of Jeremiah at the potter's house, the interactive intercessions with pieces of broken pottery built into a mosaic cross, coming forward for communion or the odd word change to the hymns to make them more inclusive. But then worship isn't about pleasing people, but about encountering God whose beauty is revealed in the clumsy and hesitant offerings of God's people.
I can't 'do art' as Richard does, but I can delight in his delight; I would not be able to minister as Juliet does, but I am humbled by her humility and tentative theology; I may never pray with people of other faiths as Peter does, but I am embraced by his inclusivity. I am but one clay pot, chipped, cracked and often broken - but, and here is the real mystery, every now and then the beauty of God can be glimpsed in my relationships, my ministry, my life!
I found this picture on a Google Images search with the phrase 'beauty in brokeness.' It is stolen from another blogger who in turn pinched it from an African blog.
A simple clay pot is decorated with a mosaic of broken pottery, different sizes, shapes and colours. The end reuslt is something simply beautiful - and beautiful in its simplicity.
It is for me a powerful symbol of God's Kingdom where all our fractured, distorted, muddled lives are transformed as together they make a thing of beauty. The Johannine feeding of the five thousand with its note that the fractured pieces were collected up 'that nothing be wasted' find new meaning as the broken bits of pot are gathered into an expression of the fragile, indestrcutible, gentle, powerful, comforting, dangerous beauty of God.
Good conference? Daft question!