It was a week ago that I threatened to write something about the church and local mission. And my thoughts haven’t really come together much since then so I’ll post it as a rambling stream of stuff and see how it comes out. Most likely as a rambling stream of stuff, I expect.
First of all, I should start by saying that I really don’t know what I think about the entire concept of ‘mission’ in the first place. I may – or more likely may not – enlarge on that another time. But this post is triggered by a Facebook status update I saw recently – which, incidentally, I misunderstood – and a fantastic example I saw just a few days later.
A friend posted this:
Ok, had an idea today walking back from work… Chocolate Ministry. Could there be a way of telling people about God in a non- weird/ street preachy way and loosing any bad stereotypes people have of Christians. With the quirky idea of handing out free chocolate and a frirndly link into the local mission field. Now there’s a random idea to… Digest… Appologies for that… Errr… Thoughts, yay or nay?
The way I read that, I’d imagined the person was suggesting something on the lines of printing bible verses or cheesy evangelistic quotes on chocolate wrappers. And I though Dear God No. How horrid. I mean, I wouldn’t be one to turn down free chocolate, but I was trying to imagine being given some kind of proselytising chocolate and being put off the church just that little bit more. (I must point out that it subsequently turns out that that wasn’t what was meant at all, but my misunderstanding that got me thinking about this stuff.)
A talk from Mike Yaconelli came to mind, in which he told the story of a young guy in his community who wanted to do something for homeless folk in their city. As Yaconelli told it, the guy simply went round collecting blankets, and then walked the streets giving them out. As he said, (quoted from memory from nearly 20 years ago, so may not be word perfect),
He didn’t print “Jesus loves you” on the blankets. He didn’t print the Four Spiritual Laws on the blankets. He just gave ’em a blanket.
I liked that. And it grew into a big homeless support venture of some sort. (Some Mike Yaconelli talks are available here, if you’re interested. He was a great guy.)
Anyhow, I digress. Or do I? To digress, I guess one has to have a point in the first place.
Last week I saw some local mission in action. I’ve already mentioned our great day in Stevenage when the Olympic torch came through town one Sunday. Well, I saw something that day that lifted my heart. The torch’s route took it right past a couple of churches. Our church moved the service time forward an hour so people could get down to the High Street in time to see the torch. And rightly so.
But High Street Methodist Church at the other end of the High Street got it spot on, in my view. They didn’t have a service at all. Instead, out the back of the church, right along the torch route, they had a big barbecue running. And they were simply giving out burgers and hot dogs. There was no obvious ‘agenda’. Just a bunch of people doing a great thing. I saw no sign of any attempt to collect donations or any tracts or leaflets or any such thing.
Just a big barbecue, a table full of sauces (and fantastic fried onions) and a great atmosphere.
And when people remember their day in the crowd celebrating the torch relay, one thing many of them may remember will be the free food being given out by that church they may never have even noticed before.
Stevenage High Street Methodist Church: I salute you.