Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ministry without borders

On such a beautiful summer morning, it wasn't much of a penance to miss ten minutes worth of the BCC's 'Sunday' religious news programme in order to walk into church, rather than take the car, in the absence of my bike. Such a pleasure to celebrate the Eucharist with the sun pouring into church and making the most of the newly white-washed walls. We had more than half a dozen visitors at the 9.30, including three young Indian christian women from Bangalore, all training over here to work in Human Resources for Tesco, back at home, and about to return.

After they'd taken photos of them with me, another young women approached me, clutching one of the Italian language visitor guides (green colour coded - I'd only reprinted a batch yesterday before the wedding, as all leaflet stocks had been virtually eliminated by the steady stream of summer visitors. With her limited English, all she wanted to ask was if I could give her communion from the reserved sacrament, as she'd arrived in church near the end of the service. It's not uncommon for latecomers to present themselves at the altar for communion just as I'm tidying up afterwards.

Rather than refuse, I slip out to the aumbry in the Herbert chapel, and respond to their request. Invariably these late communicants are Spanish or Italian, and they are obviously glad to find a church. They are not familiar enough with different customs and language to realise that ours is not a Roman Catholic Church, and would they understand Christian hospitality if I were to refuse and issue directions to the Cathedral? I live with the memory of black parishioners in my early days in Bristol telling me how the had been in churches where they'd been 'welcomed' with the suggestion there they go elsewhere to a place for 'people just like you'. A partcular insult for a dyed in the wool Anglican from Barbados, Gyuana, Trindiad or Jamaica, for whom ethnic diversity is nromlity. So, I never refuse if someone asks for communion. On this occasion, I asked the young lass to say the 'Padre Nostro' in Italian, gave her a blessing in English and managed to remember to say 'Andate in pace', which elicited the surprised but normal Italian response from her. Her young smile was as good as the sunshine.

On my way home I popped into Central Police Station with the details of my stolen bike - I found the receip after much burrowing through files, and it contained the frame number. Julian was on duty. He brings his mum to church alternate Sundays. It was good to see him. Hearing of my woes, he took me down to the basement where I was astonised to see two car parking bays full of abandoned bicycles, and another open parking area, the size of a minubus filled with more bikes. At a guess there were a couple of hundred of them, retrieved from different ports of the city, mostly in good repair, some of them quite new, most of the discarded. That's the other side of the coin, from absent stolen bikes, which only exist in reports. If only it were possible to match up thieves with discarded bikes - that might help reduce crime a bit.

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