I had the privilege of attending the National Day of Prayer at Wembley on Saturday alongside my husband. As he is a pastor we were invited to the leaders’ lunch beforehand, which I have to say was the part of the day that struck me most. Although when we first walked into the luncheon reception we were quite overwhelmed – amongst the sea of people we knew no one but recognised a few ‘famous’ faces. But having introduced ourselves to a couple on the table we’d sat down at, and been joined by a friendly, familiar face, we then listened to some brilliant and challenging short talks by various leaders from different denominations and organisations. Having spent recent weeks hopefully imparting the vision of a more outward focus in our small groups, it was so encouraging to hear each leader stand up and talk about how mission is so much at the forefront of what they feel the Church should be doing today.
I was particularly impressed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who spoke about what it means to be a Christian in the public eye. He said that what struck him when he first came to England was the “invisibility of the Church”. He challenged us to think about what would happen if our churches wanted to be light in our communities; that for years we’ve been more like invisible salt: “What would that involve? It would involve going out and would also involve hospitality.” He asked whether we are “genuinely open to those who are not like us?”. But he also said that “Jesus is for people but there are times when he is against a culture”, indicating that there are times when we have to say no, not due to our own prejudices, but because of what Jesus teaches. One thing that really struck me personally was when he wondered whether Christian parents have given up on their kids. He said that the biggest problem in Europe is the inter-generational communication breakdown…
Later on, Executive Chair of Crossing London 2013 Stephen Gaukroger again picked up on the subject of reaching our towns and cities. Talking about the initiative based in London for next year he said that we as Christians should give each other the freedom to shout when we want to shout, and be quiet when we want to be quiet. He said that: “only a diverse, united Church is going to reach a diverse city” and that we are going to have to work together if we want to leave a legacy that is not just about maintenance but about mission. That has really come back to me over the last day or so. It can be so easy to get uptight when you don’t agree with what another strand of the Church is doing or saying – but when that is taken to an extreme it does so much damage. I was saddened when I left Wembley Stadium, after enjoying worshipping and praying with 32,000 other Christians, to be met by two guys standing on boxes shouting that what had been happening in the Stadium wasn’t of God because there were Catholics in there. Where was the grace of God – and what message did that give to passers-by?
I’ll admit that often I can get riled by certain debates/exchanges that happen on Twitter/Facebook/blogging sites, particularly on issues that are close to my heart. And I am also frustrated by the misunderstandings and judgements that are passed on the movement our church is affiliated with – Newfrontiers. But I realise I can be guilty of treating others in the same way at times. My mum is currently trying to find a new church and has been going to one for a few weeks that she feels comfortable at. And yet when she told me something the pastor had said it made me uneasy, because it is different to my own experience and understanding of the Bible. But I know that my mum desperately needs to find a church that she can call home, and feel supported by, and it isn’t a ‘salvation issue’ as it were so I’ve been left pondering – is it really important? I think it’s a shame – but I don’t think it is a reason for her not to attend that church. I know there are some big issues that I do need to stand up for, things that others in other parts of the Church don’t agree with me on, and that makes it hard to be united as 21st-century Christians at times. But I am convinced that when we reach heaven we will ALL discover something that we got wrong but thought we were so right about! 😉 I really believe we all need to keep going back to the Bible individually and corporately to see what the reality of the Christian life God has called us to is – and then work together to show the world that the Good News really is good news!
As Ephesians 4 says:
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.