I miss regular, meaningful human contact. That is one of the down-sides of locking myself away in my study to read, pray and reflect for 3 months. It is one of the reasons why I am really enjoying going off to visit other churches to talk with them about how God has used and blessed them in their mission and ministry.
It reminds me of a shameful episode in my past. When I was a student at the vicar factory that trained me (Spurgeon’s College) I had very long summer breaks. My wonderful wife, Sally, was working in order to keep us afloat financially. My friends and colleagues at College had dispersed around the country. I got lonely.
Our house was just off Beckenham High Street and on a particularly lonely morning I left home in order to stroll around and just be near people. But I wanted more. I wanted human conversation.
There were lots of shops around, but we had very little money, so I hit on the idea of going into the shops and asking the assistants to demonstrate different products. It was great. I found out about the merits of different TVs and video recorders (ask your parents kids); I found out about different sorts of light fittings and dimmer switches; I tried on different items of clothing (male); I think I even got the relative merits of different sports equipment explained to me.
In the end, however, I had to stop. I felt that I had exhausted the plausible reasons for going into different shops. I felt that I knew all it was reasonable for a shopper to know about the different products on offer (especially to those on a tight budget).*
Little did I know that years later God would call me to a church that is located in a town centre, surrounded by shops. Now if I am honest we have not had the best relationship with the surrounding shops. Some of them, I think, get a bit frustrated by the number of cars that come and go on a Sunday morning, nudging their product stands and A-boards outside (there’s no pavement). In the past I think some of them have been a bit put out by the loud activities that have taken place outside our church without warning.
But I have taken my experiences born of loneliness and applied them to the different shops in the immediate area around us. A couple of them are hairdressers, and it’s a bit difficult for me (see photo in ‘about me’) to justify going in there as a customer. But I have tried to start up conversations with any of the shopkeepers I have met. I go around them all at Christmas and give them a card from our church. When we did ‘Get In The Picture’ last year I spoke with those opposite it and asked if they minded and discovered that they loved the idea (as they also like it when the Salvation Army band play on our forecourt) because it attracted people to the area. I have got to know some of them quite well (and have even had some product demonstrations), and use them in preference to other stores when I need something they stock.
I am still acutely conscious that we could do more.
And I know they are not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about neighbours (Good Samaritan and all that) but they are our geographical neighbours and we need to be good neighbours to them. Who are your neighbours? Who is near you today? How can you serve / bless them?
Be blessed, be a blessing
*There was a bonus to this. Later on, when we had a small amount of money and wanted to buy a colour TV I was able to go back to the electronics store and they remembered me. I bought a 14″ portable TV from them that was an ex-display model for a very good price. It had buttons on the front to push to change channel, and knobs to turn to change the volume, contrast and brightness. (Yes, that’s what we used to have in the olden days).
But I was lazy. I wanted a remote control. I think it was around Christmas because we had some long cardboard tubes that had been surrounded by wrapping paper before we surrounded some presents with the wrapping paper. I had a brainwave and joined two of them together to make a very long tube, and put some tape over the end. Onto that tape I stuck a blob of BluTack (other sticky non sticky stuff is available). This was perfect for being able to sit in a chair or on the settee and reach the TV to push the buttons to change channel, or twist the knobs to change the volume.
Shame it was before the days of Dragons’ Den!