Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Missionary hospitality

Archbishop Barry came into the Parish on Sunday night to visit to 'Pub-Church', the new evangelistic outreach venture run by Church Army Sister Wendy Sanderson and a young probationary Baptist pastor James Karran in an upstairs room of one or other pub venues in Castle Street - either Dempseys or Clwb Ifor Bach, depending on which week of the month itis. Barry faced an audience of several dozen young adults in discussion for several hours. The local media was full of it - a page article in the Western Mail yesterday, BBC weekend web pages, plus a Radio interview this morning. I hope it went well for him, talking to the subject : 'Is religion bad?'

Wendy and her co-worker Roberta were doing tea room duty at St John's this morning, so I had a chance to ask her how it went. Wendy commented that the audience was a little bigger than usual, keen and willing to listen to a real live Archbishop, and on the whole, respectful. Apparently, when it was time for him to leave, many people wanted the chance to speak to him personally, and it took him ages to get away. I imagine how tired he may have been, past ten on a Sunday night when I wouldn't mind betting this was his third public engagement of the day.

Shortly after they began the venture back in April this year, Wendy and James invited me in to share in an open discussion on the theme of the relevance or irrelevance of the church to life today. I found that people listened and discussed politely. I'd been ready for more robust debate, and found it a bit more churchy than I'd expected. It turned out that rather few were non-Christians. Most participants were young adults from suburban churches, so although there were more young adults there than I'm used to seeing in the normal course of a Sunday, it felt a bit like preaching to the choir.

I was pleased there was plenty of publicity for a relatively small event. It's needed, not only to attract new clientèle, but also Wendy's work is under scrutiny by the Church Army, which is expecting her to move towards self-funding, and wanting there to be more to show for what they invest in her. She raises a work team that spends a day a week earning funds for her project in the Tea Room, as part of the effort she makes towards paying her way. It'd be great if Barry came and joined a Tea Room team for a day, as a show of support - as good as a diocesan cash injection in a way. I'm sure Wendy and Roberta would make room for him, as a washer-upper. However, if he came on Friday or Wednesday when the older church stalwarts are on duty, he'd never get near the sink. They wouldn't allow him, any more than they'll let me - unless they're desperately short of help. They just prefer their clergy to chat up customers, something I'm always pleased to do.

The fact is, a great deal of primary evangelistic work is mundane, unspectacular, hidden learning, building trust, earning the right to be taken seriously in a context where Gospel values and church culture have become strangers to peoples' lives. Wendy will have done five years in post this autumn, having arrived around the same time as me. In another five years there may be something noticeable to show for her fieldwork. That's how long it takes. To her credit, she hasn't retired after three years to write up her anecdotes into a PhD, and become an instant mission expert. She's still there, at the grass-roots frontier. No better place to be.

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