Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday - mission

An early start yesterday morning, leaving home by car at five to seven for St David's in Pembrokeshire to preach the Three Hours at the Cathedral, with the sounds of Taviner's 'Lament for Jerusalem' accompanying me for the first hour of the drive - mostly in rain. The west of Carmarthen, the cloud broke and the weather perked up, and the second hour was accompanied by the sound of my dear departed friend Patrick singing his songs of romance and good cheer. I was there in bright sunshine by tend past nine, and had plenty of time to relax, pray, take photos in and around the Cathedral before my midday start.

The sun streamed in as I preached, and people came and went, as they ever do. A audience of completed strangers, apart from the Dean designate and, to my great delight my old friends Bob and Elaine Morgan. They have been living locally since his retirement from Ely, now some fifteen years ago. Bob, along with David Lee, was a mentor and role model of radical priesthood when I was in training and new to ministry, so to have him sitting there listening, when he's heard it all so many times before made me wonder what he'd make of my offering. He was very kind afterwards, as were several others, who asked if I'd published any of my material. I gave them the church's FutureFaith blog site address, resolving to go home and upload the addresses there straight away. Well, why not, if people show a genuine interest?

I was home again by half past five, enjoying home made hot cross buns again - I'd had some last night after the Maundy Thursday evening liturgy, and again for breakfast. An annual treat. Then it was out again from eight until half past eleven for the other Good Friday Vigil at St John's this year. Sister Wendy, Pub Church Leader James Karran and Lorraine Cavanagh the University Chaplain arranged an audio visual prayer experience under the title 'Why Call this Friday Good?' geared to attract night time clubbers and revellers. They had a team of volunteers leafletting passers-by, offering hot drinks and biscuits and trying to persuade them to come in. They worked hard and enthusiastically, but only a couple of dozen came in during the three hours.

There were half a dozen tables arrange with images, lights and texts for reflective meditation. They opted for low lighting, but unfortunately this made it difficult to read the texts, all of which were printed for reading in ordinary light - you live and learn, I guess. There was a huge screen in the chancel displaying images from a digital projector of crucifixion scenes, and a couple of other projectors giving a light show to go with loud disco music being pumped out a PA system, to bring the ambience of the disco into church. The sound was rather taxing for me, so I hung around outside for much of the time, and strolled the streets, where, over the time, I got into useful conversation with several people.

These included a young couple out on their second date, curious at me attempting to take a night shot of the Hayes arcade under construction, one young Irish girl, much enthused by her brief experience of entering the church, another who was having what I'd call a life threatening panic attack, so overwhelmed by painful memories that she wanted to kill herself that day. I took her for a walk to somewhere quieter, and by the time we parted, I'd heard about her terrible suffering, the faith in God that kept her alive, and we'd talked about prayer. He was on her way home with a smile and brighter eyes, by the time we concluded.

I bumped into a couple of the street pastor team, and as we were chatting, a couple of policemen showed up and asked if they had a pair of flip-flops to give out - they carry packs of flip flops to aid women who have broken a heel, lost a shoe or found their latest accessory unwearable after an hour on the dance floor - but on this occasion the flip-flops were for a shame-faced feller who had lost a shoe in a pub, and just couldn't find it, despite a search. We all enjoyed that one.

By the time I got back to church, the final act of worship was drawing to a close, with mostly members of the outreach team present, plus four of our church members, who'd come along out of interest - all of them having also been present for the Vigil during the afternoon - brave souls as they are. It was a good thing to experiment with something like this in the heart of clubland. There's a lot to learn that can only be learned by doing. I'll be interested to hear what the team have learned, that they might be able to apply on another occasion.

I was delighted to hear that Ben, David and Will had done a great job together conducting the Three Hour Vigil at the Cross during the afternoon. I spent much of Tuesday reading and commenting on their seven addresses, sent to me by email. I know how much hard work they put in, to match their enthusiasm for the challenge, and that evidently came across from the appreciative feedback I received.

Having found it impossible to find a single experienced preacher for the Three Hours, once I'd decided to accept the invitation to preach in St Davids, I wondered if working with theological students would be possible, given their term-time work-load. Peter Sedgewick, Principal of St Michael's College was supportive when I ran the idea past him, and I was pleased that Ben was keen to do it himself, and willing to enlist others. It worked. It gave them a taste of preaching to a 'non-captive' audience - quite rare nowadays, when you think of the faithful band of regulars who turn up in Parish churches week in week out. They showed everyone who listened that the church isn't just old guys like me, but that the Gospel still captures young hearts and fires up young minds to take and break the Word of Life for God's people.

That's something achieved I feel really satisfied with - along with the rest of a mighty good day.

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