I love my church, that is something I hear repeated again and again at North Shore Methodist Church in Blackpool, I too love my church here, a wonderful diverse family of broken and healing people, we locate our worship in one of the poorest wards in Blackpool. A quick scan over the congregation reveals that we are a diverse group, we are drawn from all parts of the Fylde Coast and in our still class bound society are probably a mix of middle and working classes. Some members have postgraduate degrees while others struggle to read and some can’t read at all.
We come from different financial backgrounds too, though probably none would describe themselves as rich, but that does not begin to scratch the surface of our diversities. We welcome, or try to welcome all, rich poor, gay, straight, trans, and all flavours of sexualities around and inbetween. We welcome divorcees and newly weds, ex-cons sit alongside an ex-detective inspector. I could go on, but I won’t because all that I am trying to say is basically if you are living and breathing we will try to welcome you without question, and if we struggle to do so then we will allow the Spirit to challnge our hesitation!
To say that is a real gift, because quite often we welcome people who talk of not being welcomed elsewhere. A part of that welcome calls us beyond the bounds of our tradition to follow the Spirit into an uncharted future. Today we blessed Reiley Lousie, not unusual, in many ways except that Reiley is a doll and not a baby. Her “mum/ carer” is a young girl who has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder , her loving mum’s give her the greatest of care and we as a church are blessed by them. Today we offered a blessing in return, that involved blessing Reiley using a part of the Methodist Baptism Liturgy where the wonderful words ” all this for you” are spoken in prayer.
“All this for you, before you could know anything of it”, surely this statement of prevenient grace – the grace that goes before and surrounds us, is the gospel in a nutshell. God in Christ-Jesus came to show us that all are included, he went to those others would call unclean or outcast, he embraced and welcomed and calls us to do the same. To offer a blessing to a family today meant blessing Reiley as a symbol of love, a gift given in love and cherished through love. A symbol that declares aloud that nothing can seperate us from the love of God (Romans 8), nothing, not our brokenness, nor our doubts, not our pasts nor our imagined futures, for here today we are embraced and loved when we dare to recieve the greatest gift of all declaring the we love because God first loved us (1 Jhn 4).
As I write this post I am dealing with the tears that are pouring down my cheeks because a simple photo of Facebook posted by my friend Lynn who is the mum of the beautiful Belle, Reielys “mum” has drawn so many comments. I want to say that I don’t believe that we did anything extraordinary today, well not in the sense that it might be considered so, what we did was respond as disciples of Christ, we embraced and celebrated love, and life, and we declared that healing is and always will be possible when we walk together in a journey of discipleship accepting, welcoming and affirming one another, and when necessary holding out hope and light in dark places.
I love my church, I love it because it has shown me love, and through it I find myself rooted and grounded in the deep love of God. Here the cross makes sense, here Jesus absorbs all of our hurts and pains, sorrows, angsts , doubts and confusions and holds us gently and lovingly as a prayer. Here the Spirit groans as we meet with poverty, sickness, rejection, lack of self worth and more. Here we speak into a culture that is desperate for the good news of the Gospel. Today the Gospel message, the Good News was shown in a simple sacrament, through prayer and with the symbol of water, but most of all in love.
I end by quoting this evenings episode of Call the Midwife:
“So much can be made bearable by love, by cherishing what is and not condeming fault or flaw, by never locking the doors, by keeping hearts open and holding each other forever in the light.”
All this, all this for you and for me before we could know anything of it….
Waves of grace, painting mine