I hope you have had a good summer! As I write this I’ve just returned from retreat with the Franciscan brothers at Alnmouth Friary. For four days I joined in the life of the friary, with long periods of silence, simple food, no heating, and very basic accommodation. I found it quite a challenge – it made me realise how used to my creature comforts I’ve become!
I did some walking whilst in Alnmouth and one walk took me a long way round to a headland just across the river from the village. Up until 1806 the river had flowed around the other side of the headland to the sea, and so the headland and the Church built on it were connected to the village. But one night a storm came, the river flooded and it changed its course, coming between the headland and the village, cutting it off from the village and leaving the Church isolated. As such, it had to be abandoned and a new Church built on the same side of the river as the village so the villagers could get to it. Today, just a cross on that headland, visible across the river, marks where the old Church used to be.
This story spoke to me about changes in our society that the Church needs to respond to. It used to be the case that most people would find themselves in Church every now and then just through the normal course of life – if nothing else through weddings, christenings and funerals, or at special times of year like Harvest, Easter and Christmas. There they would be reminded of the Christian message they had learned in childhood. But nowadays, you can get married anywhere, not just in Church; funerals are often at the crem, and we do fewer christenings. At special times of year we are ‘competing’ against a whole range of other activities taking place. Of course we work hard at putting on special services which will attract new people to come and hear a simple Christian message, and often new people say how surprised they are at how nice the Church is and what a good experience they had! This is a great compliment, but it shows us that people don’t know what Church is like – the natural ‘flow’ of life no longer brings them into Church. It didn’t happen overnight, like the Church in Alnmouth, but slowly those natural contacts in life that brought people to Church services have changed their course.
But all is not lost! We do have lots of natural contact with our community still! Every week lots of people do find themselves on Church premises – through our toddler groups, lunches group, fellowship and interest groups, children’s work and all the many things that happen. Our task is to find how we can bring more of the good news of Jesus to people who do naturally come to those groups. This fits with Strand 2 of our Church vision ‘Serving in a way that makes our faith visible – offering the chance to learn more’. As such, we are looking at ways that we can offer something which gives people the opportunity to find out about the Christian faith so they can decide for themselves if it is something they want to follow. For parents this might be, say, a parenting course based on Christian principles. For other folk it might be a Christian basics course, like ‘Alpha’ or ‘Start’. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but a number of folk will want to come. Do think and pray about if there is anyone who God is prompting you to invite. Why not come with them on the course? People are most likely to come if they come with a friend, and it does us all good to have a refresher some times!
We are very fortunate at St Luke’s to have contacts with so many local people through all our groups and activities. People who may be just waiting for an invitation to find out more about the faith that means so much to us.