Since I began full-time church work as a curate in the Church of England last year, I have become increasingly convinced of the need for the church to engage with the local community, to be salt and light, to allow the light of Jesus to shine out in all places. This was part of the reason that the Connect Lads’ Church began to take up a weekly residence in the local pub on Sunday evenings. In our village community space is at a premium, as are opportunities for the community to gather. The village hall and the pubs are the only spaces where people in the community can gather, and the village hall is almost always fully booked. This is why I have been keen for our church building and surrounding grounds to be such a place where people gather. It may not be comfortable, it is a risky business, but we mustn’t forget that, as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
With this in mind, three events were planned in fairly quick succession … a quiz night in April, a Father’s Day celebration in June, and then an event to celebrate the World Cup final – three events where the community could be welcomed. Only the Father’s Day event was explicitly evangelistic, but all three gave God’s people the opportunity to love people through hospitality and through conversation, and also to grow together through teamwork. This last bit is absolutely key, because for all three events people have worked their socks off moving chairs, making and serving food and drink, welcoming and inviting people, and generally working to do all they can to make these events happen. Afterwards, we’ve all been left with a real (and deserved) sense of achievement.
I’m a dreamer, a big picture guy. Details are really not my thing. This can be useful, because generally means I have great ideas (even if I say so myself!), but it also has its drawbacks – I have absolutely no idea how to put them into place! Hosting a World Cup special event was a perfect example. I thought it would be brilliant to host a family-friendly event in our church where people could gather to watch the football. We could precede the match with a barbecue, all-age kick-around and other football-related activities. Brilliant! So, the event was approved, the date was fixed, before we knew how we’d actually screen the football. After all, how hard could it be?
Very hard, actually! The church building was a logical venue for the big match, but the church didn’t have a TV aerial installed. No problem – simply take the signal from the vicarage – we’d only need about 30m of coaxial cable! And then there was the small matter of the massive West window, which would make it difficult to actually see the screen. No problem – let’s black it out with paper! A crazy idea, but one which might just work. But then came the seeming death knell to the event – an email that notified us that FIFA required organisations to obtain a special licence to screen the football in public. When did I find out? 10 days after the application deadline passed. But people knew about the event. We couldn’t pull the plug now
Then my wife, Liz, had a brainwave – put a marquee in the garden and screen it there. It would be on our private property. People would be there on our invitation, so it wouldn’t be a public event. Perfect! All we needed to do was find a marquee, which, amazingly, a member of the congregation happened to own. Brilliantly, it fitted in our garden – just! Another member of the congregation happened to own a gazebo, which was perfect for housing the screen and projector. We were up and running. All we needed was to get the signal from the TV aerial to the digital receiver in the garden, and from the receiver to the projector. Easy … or not! Bought cheap cables from eBay, which didn’t work. Someone donated coaxial cable for us to use … that didn’t work! I did one of the things I do best, which is panic! After panicking, we bought more expensive cable and ready-made coaxial cable, and finally, only six days before the world cup final, all was sorted. Talk about cutting it fine!
As the above demonstrates, I have to work really hard (often with people who have far more than myself) to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible – and even then, things don’t always go to plan. Take the father’s day celebration for example. The timing couldn’t have been worse – it came three days after I returned with my family from a two-week holiday. The day after my return, I went on an ordination retreat for two days and was ordained priest the day before the event. It was a crazy few days. Knowing all this in advance, I did all I could to plan the event meticulously – doing the necessary technology bits, preparing the service, and delegating other tasks. It was all sorted. I was ultra-organised. But then, on my return, I discovered that the guest speaker was unable to make the engagement. Suddenly I found myself writing the talk before the suitcases had been unpacked! I also found myself asking a couple of guys at very late notice to share their testimony. Thankfully they agreed, even though they’d had only a couple of hours to prepare. Amazingly the event all came together and we welcomed a good number of people into our church to celebrate the joys of fatherhood. One guy came along who’d previously sworn he’d never set foot in church again. That alone made all the stress well worth it.
As I write it’s a week after the world cup final event. The gazebo and marquee are still in my garden; the only reminders of the “World Cup Final Family Festival” hosted jointly by our church and one of the village’s community groups. It was a very long afternoon and evening, a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun. A good number of people (the majority of whom were not regular church-goers) came to the event. We had a great time together and were blessed by the weather, which, thank God, remained warm and dry. Everything went smoothly and I was left with a cocktail of emotions once the final whistle blew and the last people left – relief, exhaustion, euphoria, excitement and above all, thankfulness to God. After all, so much could have gone wrong – it could have rained, the technology could have failed, people may not have turned up, people may not have put in the hours of hard work to make the events happen – but it didn’t.
A week on, I’m still pretty exhausted but the sense of gratitude remains, along with a sense of wonder that our amazing God would allow me to have so much fun working with so many amazing people to share his love with the community. I may have been flying by the seat of my pants, but I’ve got by thanks to the overwhelming grace of God.