At last night's deacons' meeting we were discussing the possible uses of our recent bequests, and concluded that although the two practical ideas we'd had were good ones, there was a danger of the suggested equipment not being used effectively. We couldn't think of anything we actually needed, but didn't want the money simply to disappear into paying the rent at school. After a bit of thinking, we came up with the idea of committing to supply the school where we meet with copies of Scripture Union's 'It's Your Move' for all year six children for a period of, say three years. Whether the Church will agree to this, I have no idea, but it sounds a really positive idea to me. So Yay and Amen!
I had forgotten that last Sunday was that great liturgical feast known as Baptist Headcount Sunday until last night's deacons' meeting when my Church Secretary mentioned it. For the third year running, our attendance was 'abnormal' because we had loads of visitors - D+1's folk and a family with a baby for a blessing. So instead of our normal 25 adults, none under 45, we had 63 adults aged from 20 upwards and 8 children! Maybe its as well some churches will have been lower than normal to bring some balance?
We all know the old Sunday School model of three answers to prayer: 'yes', 'no' and 'wait.' Recently, at the foot of one of those utterly twee circular emails we all get, was a subtly different version: 'yes', 'not yet' and 'I have something better for you.' Apart from speaking into my own life at the moment, this seemed a more helpful model - if one that is possibly more demanding theologically.
When we pray for healing - meaning physical cure - we really don't won't to hear God say 'no' or even 'what I have in mind for you is so much better.' But, dare I suggest, the latter is more in keeping with our mysterious and loving God? We ask our parents for our immediate desire to be fulfilled and they say 'no': we feel let down, rejected, less loved. We ask them the same question and they say 'well I could do that but I've got something in mind that would be even better': we are intrigued, what could be better than the latest 'must have' toy? Perhaps it takes us time to work out that what we are given is indeed 'better' (whatever that may mean in context) but it seems a more hopeful response than plain old fashioned 'no.'
On Monday morning, as I set off for my mentor course, for some reason I put my Association directory in my bag. No idea why - I never take it anywhere, it lives on my desk near the phone. On the evening of the first day I switched on my mobile phone - it is off 90% of the time - in case there any were messages. Unusually, no less than three popped up - two to tell me someone had tried to phone me from a number I did not recognise, and one, timed a mere five minutes earlier, from someone I used to go to school with asking for the phone number of a specific Leicester Baptist minister as a matter of urgency. How either of these people got my 'church' mobile number I do not know but they did. Why did I turn on the phone at the right time and have the right information to hand (though I do have the phone numbers of other ministers in my phone whom I could have asked)? Was, this all coincidence, divine prompting or just plain spooky?! Whose prayers were being answered and how? Hmm.
.. is as good as a rest? Not sure! I've just had an intense two days of mentor training right on top of yet another round of "death and serious illnesses" in church. It's been good fun, and good training, reminding me that my learning style is a 'reflective-theorist' or a 'theorist reflector,' that I am an otter (co-ordinator) with a slight preference for beaverishness rather than a lion or a labrador! A lot of it was about self awareness and the dangers of assuming other people are like ourselves. So, as a loyal-perfectionist (enneagram) ISTJ (Myers Briggs) reflective-theorist (Honey and Mumford) otter (unknown) I can be sure all my readers are different from me - think I knew that anyway, but it was fun. And plenty of chocolate too.
Among the devotional material was this, which I really liked:
A candle-light is a protest at midnight.
It is a non-conformist.
It says to the darkness
"I beg to differ"
Samuel Rayan, India
Now I have to go to see the Anglicans plug in their new vicar!
Today was planned as a reflective service on the seven great 'O' antiphons; because it was a joint service with D+1, and a communion service, and because I was off last Sunday, it had been planned a while back, the 14 Bible readings distributed and the hymns, beautifully mournful with Advent longing, selected.
Then came a request for an infant blessing, a little girl, whose great uncle once belonged to our Sunday School. For pastoral reasons, I agreed to slot it in to today's service rather than opt for after Christmas. And so in the midst of our wonderful reflective hymns we had... 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' chosen by the parents as the only hymn they knew. The absurdity of it was stark, but it was a joy and privilege to double our congregation as family and friends came to give thanks for their new daughter. I had to smile when the response to the questions in the promises was 'yup' rather than 'we do,' but was glad to have the opportunity to pray for this little girl and her parents.
It wasn't quite the service I'd planned, and singing 'All Things bright and Beautiful' was so out of place... or was it? Isn't part of the wonderful mystery of Advent the ridiculous idea that God would come as a baby? Isn't part of what we express in the wonderful hymns of Advent a deep longing to be surprised, to discover the joy of new life and new hope in the darkness of winter.
The service wasn't the quiet space for reflection I'd imagined, but I dare to hope that in some way we encountered the God who is with us, and who has the audacity to arrive at a time when actually we aren't expecting it.