One of the excitements in my new Church is that we do not simply talk about love and then treat people as though we are deeply suspicious of them. If they have come here, our job is a simple one – to help them explore why they are here. Many are students who have heard good things about us from other students – which is great, because as anyone knows, word of mouth recommendations are the best. My experienced colleagues tell me that the vast majority of them have no background in faith of any sort at all, and what little they know makes us suspect to them – so simply coming through the door on a Sunday is a huge step. When asked why they stayed, those who do usually say it is for the fellowship in the first place. They are made to feel welcome. It’s easy to forget how isolating a big city can be to newcomers (as one, I can only say I am happy to have a flat-mate who knows it well, and a church where I have already made many friends). I know that where I went to university, I’d have felt very lonely had it not been for my church community. The journey from that to being members of our church is as varied as the people who take it.
Asking one of our priests, she told me that after a while, they usually ask what’s actually going on in terms of the service, and that’s a way in, as we invite them along to of weekly study groups which provide various levels of teaching; it also, of course, provides another form of fellowship. She told me that most of those who stay say that they did so because there was ‘something about us they can’t define’. Having been here nearly a month, I can’t define it either, but I know what they mean. We’re open all day, and if you just want to come in and say a prayer, you can. My office is just off the vestry and had an endless supply of tea and coffee in the kitchen next door – so I find myself quite often just talking to ‘drop ins’. People clearly find us an accessible place – my paperwork gets done, but when I apologised to my priest recently for not getting something finished on time because I’d spent the afternoon talking to some students who had ‘popped in’, she said she was pretty sure which activity was more pleasing to Jesus. Oddly enough, after that, I spent part of my evening finishing the paperwork. It was a matter of priorities. I am one of those people who needs to finish the task in hand, even if something else is more important, so it was a good lesson about priorities. The accounts from last week would keep, the church would not be harmed by them being done a few hours later, but some young women wanting to talk about God and themselves would not wait – so why did I imagine they would? Because I was prioritising as the world does. My priest knew better – and now I do too.
The Church exists to spread the Good News, it does not exist to support the Church; the Church is a means to an end, and it is towards that end that those of us in it should be bent. That’s not the way the secular world of work operates, so it was good to have the lesson about what my priorities should be. I have even overcome the difficulty created by the fact that talking about Jesus for an hour and a half with a couple of people getting to know him was a pleasure