What small churches can do….

I turned up to a smaller church last week to find this outside:-

A few weeks earlier, I had met a family with older children who come to occasional ‘specials’ but wanted to be baptised. There was nothing immediately in the life of that church that was specifically for them; although the church are ‘just’ a dozen people who pray, are anchored in their local community and try stuff. The idea came to have a one off ‘family/all age service’ and then that grew to have them every month for a few months to see what happened.

Someone paid for the above banner and then invited people who had some kind of link with that place to share in what was going on (this is very different to a bigger church deciding among themselves to do something and making people travel the long way into church). People turned up: for the size of the church, lots came-it was amazing the wealth of connections that existed just to get people to this point.

I honestly have encountered another chapel quite like this: church councils mostly feel like parties, stuff is done without me knowing about it and ideas come independently of me. It hardly ever feels like ‘work’ being there!

It was only little…

A few weeks back, someone came and spoke with one of the tiny chapels that I pastor about vision/mission. This set them thinking. Every year they carol sing around their own village and another village close by that lost it’s chapel 20 years ago (its church and school before that and it’s shop after that). Someone wondered- if we carol sing, could we do something else in the summer?

So they planned a Songs of Praise in that village, in the village hall. What was really great was that I found out after the idea and the planning and was just asked to turn up.

They held it two days ago; they invited the people, they sorted out music, food and led the worship; just a nod for me to say a benediction at the end. It was really lovely; totally in keeping with who they were and who came from the village. It was, incredibly, the first act of public worship held in that village for 20 years.

Much much larger churches agonise and plan to do something like this or focus on ‘getting ready for mission’ (sorry- I repeat that phrase a lot- it is one of my least favourite phrases: if you can’t have a church without mission, what on earth are you ‘getting ready’ for? I’ve seen so much ‘getting ready for’ that becomes a perpetual ‘getting ready’) and this tiny chapel had a go.

I don’t often use language like this, but I am so proud to be their minister. I used to love big churches and be patronising to the little ones- more often than not now I prefer the little- much more fragile but poetentially more real and growth or decline much closer together.

Suprising possibilities:2

Monday mornings: I like them slow. Monday mornings are my sanity time- filing from Sunday, putting Sunday to bed…. leisurely reflection on the Sunday coming, praying, planning and getting some focus for the week to come and then a long lunchtime run around the village….

The last thing I want to do on Monday morning is to go out and see people: it disrupts this time.

coffee

 

One of the small chapels that I am minister of is in a community with no big sense of community: the school closed over 30 years ago- there is no shop, no post office, the parish church is down to fortnightly services with less than a handful attending, the pub struggles and on a good Sunday, the Methodist chapel has just over two handfuls. Almost everone drives to the large market town for everything they need or want.

Monthly for about 6-9 months a year a small housegroup meets: over 50% of the church are part of it. Over time it has become a place where people talk about ordinary stuff, pray through it and then see how the Bible touches what has been talked about. It is one of the least ‘holy huddles’ I know.

A year ago, they began to lament the lack of community. One who was on the parish council leafleted the area and began a once a year Christmas tree lighting (the tree was always there- it had never been lit officially- just turned on)- 50 turned up of all ages for conversation, chocolate and carol singing (spontaneous) and piled into chapel. It was fantastic to watch the faces of chapel people as ‘their’ chapel had muddy footprints all over it and cake rubbed into the carpet: they loved it!

Someone else said: ‘Why don’t we start a coffee morning in the village hall?’ and they did. Community is slowly being rebuilt. It’s on Mondays….mornings….. my worst time. This Monday I went again. Slowly I am being recognised and being part of it. Slowly people are being opening up and talking about what other things can be done; can a toddler group be started? I am begining to see people in the community instead of just turning up once a month to run a service and visit church members. My challenge is: could I be more regular there?

Thing is: I haven’t a clue where this is going to lead. It may just ‘stop’ there. Or things may grow and develop. Perhaps worship may start, perhaps informal prayer may start or maybe something else will grow that will bless the community. Perhaps the chapel may grow in numbers. Maybe it will close. I haven’t got a clue and I feel the delicious possibility of not knowing the way ahead.

Stop: looking at it one way it is ‘just’ a coffee morning and I really should be attending to other stuff:- planning meetings, delving into the word…trying to get the group of churches I am part of financially sounder (I am the wrong minister to be able to do this!)or is being there part of it?

Part of me longs to be in a bigger church with a full range of activities and to be ‘known’ nationally. Most of me, however, loves to be in these ‘church, but not church’ situations which by their nature are fragmentary, loose and tenuous where I can watch, look and listen and hear the music of the kingdom playing gently in the background even if I sometimes can’t hear the full melody or if I sing out of tune…..

…where now, O Lord?