Lord God, you have rained down blessings on us just recently, haven't you? I don't mean to say that it's only recently, you understand, but these last few days have really been amazing. You have given us so much.
|St Thomas' Centre|
We've just opened our new Church Centre. It's been a long time coming; plans drawn up decades ago and things just never seemed to get moving, but now it's here, it's built, it's beautiful and finally, the doors are open. And who opened them? None other than the Archbishop of Canterbury his very self. Dr Rowan Williams. And I got to make him a pot of tea. Ha!
Last Saturday the sense of your presence was really strong. It was a wonderful, joyful day where the sun shone despite the previous week's rain and gales and the crowds came and enjoyed themselves and drank coffee in our new coffee shop.
Which is really what I wanted to talk to you about.
I didn't see much of the celebrations on Saturday because I was working in the coffee shop, and it has to be said that about a million people came in to the coffee shop for cake and a drink and so we were flat out all day. I made coffee after coffee and filled tray after tray and was for the most part completely unaware of who the coffee was for. It was hot and crowded and noisy. Old friends came by and I only had a chance to wave. My family came in and the girls told me excitedly what they'd been doing outside but there was no time for me to go and see for myself or watch them bounce on the bouncy castle. The queue seemed endless and there was real pressure to get people's orders to them as quickly as possible even though it was only the second day that we'd been open for business. It was hard work. By the end of the day I was shattered. My back was aching, my feet were aching and somehow I'd taken a lump out of my right thumb which is still a bit sore.
But none of that mattered.
It was fantastic. The group of us that were working in the coffee shop did an amazing thing. We had been open for a few hours the previous day and only tinkered with the big espresso machine a couple of times. None of us had become acquainted with the till, and yet people came all day with vouchers for special offers on coffee and cake. We'd never worked with each other before Friday afternoon and didn't have any previous experience in cafes.
But none of that mattered.
|There he is. |
With a cuppa and a date slice.
It was really great to be part of a team. We each had a job to do and we depended on each other. If something went wrong we helped each other. I loved the way we fitted together to get all the component parts of the service done and for the most part it went beautifully. I am sure that we'll get better; the coffee will get better and the service too, but to serve up more than 250 hot drinks in a four and a half hour window with the pressure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and hundreds of expectant punters checking out the new place was a pretty special achievement. Thankyou that I am now intimately acquainted with the coffee machine. We are friends. Thankyou that I got to be part of it all, Father God.
Thankyou that you gave us a job to do and then equipped us with all that we needed to get it done. Thankyou that when we asked for crowds you heard our prayers. And they were all in the coffee shop! Thankyou that we worked together so well and you gave us joy of each other as we helped and contributed and fitted ourselves together to make something happen. It was uplifting and inspiring. I went home with a real buzz.
I listened to the Archbishop making his speech as he blessed our centre and cut the ribbon at the door. He spoke of welcome, and of community, and of service. The church should be at the heart of the local community, not separate from it. We want to invite everyone into our centre and we want them to come. To meet us, and to meet you. And you were there on Saturday. You really were. I could feel you. I felt your blessing.
I've been back in the coffee shop a few times since Saturday and each time my sense of blessing grows. Today was a quieter day; brisk business this morning and quiet this afternoon. People from church dropped in for a coffee and a cake and found friends to chat. A group of Mums with small children pulled some tables together and talked while their little ones played. For a long time I've had a vision of a place where you could come if you had half an hour to spare and the chances were there'd be someone to talk to. Do you watch the soaps, Lord? Well, you know in Coronation Street or Emmerdale or Eastenders people turn up at the local pub and there's always someone to sit next to? Well, our coffee shop could be like that. Only with less fighting and scandal, maybe.
Just imagine. If you feel lonely or if you have news to share, if you fancy a chat, you can pop down to the coffee shop and find someone. I know that this is inward-looking but the value to the church I think might be huge. This sort of sense of community could nourish us so much. But what if we could extend that sense to all who come in - that we could create the sort of atmosphere where people feel noticed and cared for? That the feeling of belonging might not depend on existing relationships but on the warmth of the welcome. We are a church coffee shop and we might not have a Michelin starred chef but we do have the Holy Spirit. We might not have an endless budget but we do have our eyes fixed on something more valuable than profit. Please help us make it so. Not just the staff and volunteers in the cafe but everyone who drops in.
This afternoon when it was quiet I saw how wonderful this place could be to come and sit and be quiet. We have a wonderful outdoor space with trees and grass and fresh air. I could imagine myself sitting with coffee and a book and just being. A place away from the hurry for a little while. A place to stop and get off just for a bit.
Of course, the new cafe is only part of the Church Centre and the cafe is only going to be open certain hours. Many, many groups are going to be using the different meeting rooms and the hall and the kitchen and lots of different activities will be taking place. People will come for many reasons. So much potential for opening our arms and reaching out to bring people in to meet you.
Inspiring stuff. It helps that today has been warm and sunny and the doors have been open and the breeze gentle. It's just been wonderful. So much potential. So many possibilities. We've been entrusted with something; please don't let us waste it. Thankyou that the last few days have been so busy that I've had little time to think about me. I've been far too inward-looking lately and I know that you want me to concentrate on looking out much more. Looking up to you I'm still working on; why do I find it so hard to get my daily prayer life in order? More on that soon I'm quite sure.
I just wanted to say thankyou. Thankyou for this place, for being with us on Saturday and for making your presence felt as you did. Thankyou for the sunshine, for the archbishop, for cake and coffee. Thankyou for trusting us with these resources, Father. Help us to enjoy them but not hold them tight in our fists but bring people to taste and see how good you are.
And I wanted to say that I get it. In my small and naive and limited way, I get it. I get that we have something special. I get that we have been given much, and from those who have much, much is expected. Help us rise to the occasion, Lord God. Years ago you drew our attention to a passage in 1 Peter and now the physical bricks and mortar are in place. Our house is built. What about us?
'...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'
1 Peter 2:5
Now, do you fancy a cappucino? Or would you rather have tea, like the Archbishop?