This coming Sunday, we will re-form our congregation. After the Apostles Creed, those who are willing will be invited to stand and make a commitment to one another to journey together for the next twelve months. All are welcome: young or old, recent arrival or long-term participant, baptised or unbaptised, strong in faith or full of doubt. For we gather around Jesus Christ’s own table, and he invites everybody: no distinctions, no exceptions, no qualifying requirements. All you need to throw in your lot with us is a willingness to travel with us, and a readiness to give the elements of the commitment a red hot go, as we seek to live into God’s future together.
The last twelve months have been extraordinary. We began a youth group, and now have over a dozen attenders, which include five teens from families not in the church. Sometimes we muck about, sometimes we engage with the Scriptures; and at our last youth Bible hack, our young people enacted the story of the Syrophoenician woman and used their observations to write Sunday’s blessing.
In September last year, the women’s Bible study began. It continues to meet, and I continue to hear good reports from those who participate. We’ve begun opening our building to a local LGBTI+ group, and are making connections with people there. We’ve just begun a fortnightly midweek dinner, and I can report that our first meal, last week, was a time of great conversation and good food: even my beans, which were temporarily locked into a recalcitrant pressure cooker, turned out ok!
Over the last twelve months, more than a hundred different people have come to worship with us. This includes a solid number who do not describe themselves as Christian, but who are curious about who we are and what we’re doing. As one visitor said to me, “You know I’m an atheist. This is the first time in my life I’ve gone into a church voluntarily.” How was it? I asked. “Amazing. Just amazing. You told the story of my life.” Fingers crossed they’re up for another story sometime soon.
The service continues to evolve. We are continuing to work on integrating and engaging children. We’ve changed how we do communion, drawing in our younger members through setting the table, and through the use of question and answer. We’ve found more dynamic music, with rhythms to get those hips wiggling and maraccas shaking. We keep trying new songs, and Timshel has begun bringing his guitar; and there have been other changes.
Through the service and the Lent book, we’ve shared dozens of stories of faith. The review showed how much you value hearing Biblical stories, both as they are and interpreted for our time and place; and we’re beginning to hear more personal stories from members of the congregation. Lucy’s story has been read by a heap of people online, which shows that the world is hungry for real stories of real faith from real people: so let’s keep telling them, and let’s keep witnessing to God’s presence, blessing and action in our lives.
All this has happened because a small group of ordinary but committed people decided to give Sanctuary a whirl. And all this has happened amongst the mess and struggle of everyday life: busy families, sick kids, tricky marriages, death of loved ones, house moves, conflict between members, and sometimes nonexistent prayer lives. All praise, then, to the Spirit, who continues to work in us and among us and through us and despite us, as fragile as we are, to bring health and wholeness, acceptance and integration, love, life and laughter, to our church and to our region.
And well done you who have come this far. I only hope that, on Sunday, you will commit to journey with us for the next twelve months. (The commitment has been emailed to all regular attenders; you can read also read it here.) If you cannot be there on Sunday, but would like to be included, please send me an email before then and I will read out your name during the rite.
A reflection emailed to Sanctuary on 5 September 2018 © Alison Sampson, 2018.