Church, Community and change
Whilst a student in St Andrews many years ago, those of us involved in the Christian Union decided to distribute Gospels to the new first-year students arriving in our Hall of Residence. In those halcyon days, before political correctness eroded our freedoms, the university authorities were perfectly relaxed about giving us the names of new students.
Before distributing these gospels, we decided to meet for a ‘training session’. An older, mature student named Clive, asked me if I would take part in a drama, whereby I would play the part of the one visiting with a gospel and he would play the part of a new student. After the drama we would all discuss how it had been handled. Little did I realise that this was to be one of those occasions when I would learn a very valuable lesson, but only at the cost of public humiliation. I did not know in advance, but the older chap played the part of a new first-year, who was desperately worried because his grant cheque had not come through. Consequently he had nothing with which to pay his accommodation and didn’t know what would become of him.
To my shame, the conversation went something like this:
I knock on an imaginary door and a distracted-looking Clive abruptly asks me what I want.
Me (rather taken aback by the gruffness of the response): ‘Hello, I gather you are new to the university and the hall. I wanted to say a word of welcome’
1st yr (Clive): ‘Oh, come on in. Do you know anything about grants and when they arrive?’
Me: ‘Sorry, no. I’m actually a member of the Christian Union and we are visiting everyone new. Keen to make you feel at home’
1st yr (Clive): ‘I’m supposed to pay my accommodation today, but I’m not sure about what to do since my grant hasn’t arrived. Is there an office I should contact?’
Me: ‘Sorry, I’m not sure. You might try speaking to the office here. I have with me a gospel which we are keen to give to every student arriving. Have you ever read a gospel before?’
1st yr (Clive): ‘According to the stuff I read, if you don’t pay your accommodation before next week, they reserve the right to evict you.”
Me: ‘I’m sure they’ll understand if you have a cash-flow problem. I’ve never heard of them throwing someone out…..The Christian Union is having a meeting tomorrow evening and we would love to see you along. Let me give you the details…’
1st yr (Clive) takes the gospel and shows me out without a word.
It was a conversation that was amazingly badly handled by myself, albeit in the artificial atmosphere of a drama. I recall feeling very nervous, no doubt in large part because the assembled group were all watching, and I was desperate to get rid of this hot potato of a gospel in my hand and get out. In truth, here was an opportunity to actually help someone. My fellow student had played the part of a new first year, who needed someone to simply take him to the authorities and ensure he was offered reassurance that the non-appearance of his grant would not lead to eviction. As someone who knew his way around the university, I should have offered to help him sort out his grant problem. The copy of the gospel in my hand could have waited. Indeed, it was clearly not the right time to thrust it into his hand. Had I befriended him and helped him then he would be far more likely to accept a gospel and even accept THE gospel. Instead, I displayed a disgraceful lack of interest in him as a person.
During the debriefing afterwards, we talked about this among ourselves. We spoke of the importance of not doing what I had done. The purpose of the task was not simply to distribute copies of A gospel but to witness TO the gospel. That might require us to get involved with people, take an interest in them – a much more costly exercise, but one more in keeping with our Lord’s approach to people.
Just as we must learn to do this as individuals, so we must learn to do so as a church fellowship - seeking to explore ways of bringing the gospel to bear upon our community.
Later this year we will be asking the entire congregation to meet with a representative from Tearfund to discuss the process called ‘Church, Community and Change’. This is a process whereby a congregation looks at its own strengths and gifts, but also engages in extensive research to uncover the needs within the community to which we take the gospel. Out of this, we hope we may get a better understanding of the community. Hopefully this may better equip us in our work of mission and evangelism.
This initial meeting will be designed to explain the process to the congregation and to gauge whether there is enough congregational support to undertake the necessary planning and research. It is therefore very important that as many people as possible come along.
A provisional date for this congregational meeting has been fixed for Thursday 2nd November. Please put the date in your diary!
Yours in Christ