I had an interesting experience on Sunday morning. The churches in central Colchester did a ‘pulpit swap’ as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the uninitiated that does not mean that we swap our pulpits, lecterns and daises but that Ministers go to different churches. I was at a church whose service starts half an hour earlier than we do, so we finished earlier. After speaking to people at the door of the church I joined them for a cup of coffee and had a bit more of a chat before I walked back to our church.
The service was still going on, and the visiting preacher was into the final 10 minutes of his message (which was good – see below!). I sat in the entrance area and listened. At the end of the service I went into the hall where we serve tea and coffee and refreshments and was first in the queue for the coffee. That is a first for me. I am usually speaking to people at the door of our church and a kind member of our church brings me a cup of coffee after he has fought his way through the crowds for me.
What was unusual was being in the hall the whole time. It was a very different experience because I had time and space to chat to people, which is not really possible when ‘on the door’ because there are so many people coming past.
I am reminded of a role play we did at Bible College where we were set up to be talking to someone who had serious problems they wanted to discuss and people were gathering around to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘where’s the toilet?’ (Ministers know EVERYTHING about their churches. Allegedly). We realised through the exercise that it is almost impossible to carry out pastoral care ‘on the door’. The best thing to do, once we had realised that it was difficult and important was to make an arrangement to go and see that person later in the day or the week. I try to have my diary with me ‘on the door’ now for that reason.
No matter how well-intentioned we are there are limits to what we are able to do. We have a choice. We can seek to exude ‘omnicompetence’ and try to do everything (burning out in the process) or we can accept that sometimes we need to tell people that we cannot help them right at that moment. That is difficult to do, especially because we want to be a servant to those around us. But even the Queen’s servants know that they have limitations of time, resources and ability. We are not helping anyone if we try to do everything for everyone at once. And we are heading for a fall…
And although I have heard great things about the preacher who came to our church I am wondering whether we should not agree next year to tone down our sermons in order to make the congregations happier with the preachers they get week in, week out…
The Baptist preacher just finished his sermon for the day and proceeded toward the back of the church for his usual greetings and handshaking as the congregation left the church. After shaking a few adult hands he came upon the seven year old son of one of the Deacons of the church.
“Good morning, Jonathan,” the preacher said as he reached out to shake Jonathan’s hand.
As he was doing do he felt something in the palm of Jonathan’s hand. “What’s this?” the preacher asked.
“Money,” said Jonathan with a big smile on his face, “It’s for you!”
“I don’t want to take your money, Jonathan,” the preacher answered.
“I want you to have it,” said Jonathan. After a short pause Jonathan continued, “My daddy says you’re the poorest preacher we ever had and I want to help you.”