Yesterday I attended the Memorial Service (a private, family funeral having taken place earlier yesterday) for Rev Steve Mantle, formerly Regional Minister of EMBA, minister of churches in Derby and Nottingham, mission partner with BMS, and latterly a carer for adults with learning disabilities. It was a lovely tribute to a man whose life has enriched those of others on at least three continents. Several people brought their own tributes, as well as an overall tribute on behalf of his family.
The minister presiding, another "Northern Girl" who has known Steve's encounragement ended with this story, of which Steve was fond, and which speaks much truth. Certainly I can recall him telling it as a NAM reflection day well over a decade, and it has stayed with me.
Here is a version lifted from the web:
May we each learn to fly like geese, honking encouragement to those willing to take on the responsibilities of leadership, supporting any who struggle, and achieving together so much than we would alone.
One of the great things about our church, is the number of people willing to take a turn at leading intercessory prayer. There is always the freedom to use any format whatsoever, but 99% of the time peopple opt for prayers that are spoken. Yesterday the person chose to do something different. Rather than words, a series of carefully selected images was displayed, reflecting the diversity of things in the news over the last week or so. At the end a short reflection was shared.
I really valued these prayers for many reasons and at many levels...
Firstly in a week when there has been a relentless tide of bad news, words are difficult to find, and risk being trite and trivial or ill-considered and unhelpful. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.
Secondly, the choice of images was inspired... we had Andy Murray kissing the Wimbledon trophy and Larry the cat strolling along Downing Street... and we had images from Nice, Turkey and the USA. There were images relating to complex issues on which we as a church may not all agree. There were images that will haunt us, at least for a while. Over recent days, I have wrestled quite a lot about the tension between sharing the serious and the silly on social media;of what, if anything, to say about any of these complex topics... these visual prayers expressed better than I could ever hope to that the tension does hold, that laughter and anger, weeping and celebration may, indeed do, perhaps must, coexist.
Thirdly, and rather selfishly, I appreciated that someone who isn't me did something that wasn't all words. Sometimes I feel we have a false - and unhelpful, maybe unhealthy - split whereby I do 'multi-sensory prayers' and everyone else does 'spoken prayers'. I hope that others may now be encouarged to risk trying something a little more playful.
I know it wasn't to everyone's taste. I know there were some technical challenges due to light levels and seating arrangements. I know there was a lot to try to take in and hold in prayer. For all that, I am glad that it happened, glad that people experienced something a little bit different, glad that they felt able to express their views, glad that we continue to discover the mystery of prayer.
Yesterday we looked at the first part of John 10 and the strange predicated saying, "I am the gate for the sheep"
I paired it with the wide and narrow gates saying from Matthew, and used an idea I'd picked up from PAYG a few weeks back, added some others from years ago and hopefully ended up with something that made some sort of sense!
The picture above shows a narrow gate set in a dry stone wall. The path is also narrow and leads uphill (but is hardly steep, rugged or hard!). But the context is important - the gate is a transit point from one field to another; one broad, green place to another equally broad, equally green. The significance is the size of the gate is not what lies beyond it, but that on order to get through it, a person need to set down any large, bulky items.
Someone once said, the will of God is like a broad meadow, with space to play and explore, rest and take picnics, along the route marked by the path.
PAYG suggested that in order to pass through the narrow gate that leads to life, we must first lay down the burdens that deny life... bitterness, regret, grudges, anger, pride... and maybe also success, wealth, possessions... only by travelling light, or at least lightly, are we able to find life.
And Jesus as gate? Gate here is a threshhold, a place that is crossed and re-crossed in and out of the sheepfold which is, by definition, a place of temporary shelter.
So maybe Jesus is the door/gate/threshold of our own inner and outer worlds as we come in to rest and reflect and go out to live life fully?
Maybe Jesus is the threshold between the church and the everyday, where, with others, we draw aside in a simmilar way, not to hide from reality but to be refreshed to be part of it.
And perhaps the church as the 'body of Christ' is the gate for others, enabling the same sort of shelter, rest and refreshment to be experienced.
Maybe prayer is bringing ourselves and our world to the threshold place that is Jesus Christ, in whose name we offer our petitions...
Not the easiest I AM saying to reflect on, but worth while... and blow me down if the evening service didn't pick up a similar theme "open door" completely independently and based on different readings! "Cue spooky music"