coat tails of the unexpected

I was walking through Colchester this morning on my way to take a school assembly. I walked along Crouch Street and then through an underpass under the main road. At the bottom of the underpass are some plaques commemorating different aspects of Colchester’s history: for example one reminds us that Colchester was originally called Camulodunum by the Romans who made it their first capital of Britain.

A Start of a RunnerAnother commemorates the Crouched Friars, after which Crouch Street gets its name. I wondered what had happened in order to give the Crouched Friars this unusual name and decided to do a little research when I got back home in order to find out. Part of me hoped that there was something about them that caused them to develop a stoop. Perhaps they spent so long in a penitent prayer position that they were permanently leaning forward. Maybe they believed that a crouched posture was the most appropriate for someone whose life was devoted to Jesus. Perhaps they only admitted people who had back problems. Maybe they lived a life in the starting block position because they wanted to be ready for when Jesus told them to go somewhere. Perhaps they felt it was important that their coat tails should drag on the ground and walked in such a way as to make that possible.

It got me wondering about other unlikely names for religious orders. Perhaps there could be Tiptoeing Nuns, Hopping Monks, Crawling Clergy, Prostrate Priests, Drenched Baptists…

From the source of all knowledge in the world, a.k.a. Wikipedia, I discovered that the Crouched Friars are so called because they used to carry a staff with a crucifix on the top. ‘Crouched’ is a word that is a derivative of ‘crucifix’*. It was nothing to do with their posture at all. I confess to being somewhat disappointed.

But on reflection I have decided that actually this is not unlike the way some people encounter church. They will have acquired preconceptions about what church should be. Some will expect church to be like Songs of Praise. Others might expect a church to be dull and boring. Some will imagine cold dusty buildings. Others will imagine that the church’s message is summarised as “no!”

Others will have positive preconceptions: expecting to find joyful people who are willing to serve. They might be looking for a community that will welcome them with open arms. Some will hope for a place of safety and comfort. Some might even expect to encounter Jesus among us.

If the Crouched Friars were still in existence in Colchester today I suspect that they would be regularly explaining the origin of the name and the reasons why preconceptions like mine are wrong. I hope that churches do not have to explain why we do not match up with God’s expectations and preconceptions about church. I hope that people coming into a church will be pleasantly surprised – no matter how positive their preconceptions are about what the church will be like.

It would be nice if, after they have encountered us, people’s reflection is, “it was better than I thought it would be.” Wouldn’t it be fantastic though if they reflection was, “it was better than I thought it could be”? That can only take place if we are allowing God’s Spirit to transform us as individuals and as communities so that we are more and more like Jesus: good free samples of him. We need to allow him the freedom to change us, to challenge our prejudices and to open our hearts so that we can see people as Jesus is and respond to then as he would respond.

Be blessed, be a blessing

* kudos to my colleague Susan with whom I discussed this on our way back from the school and who suggested that it might well be something to do with the link between the words ‘crouch’ and ‘crucifix’.

Bigging it up

this does not represent anyone who will be at the conference!

Today I head off to a conference for larger ministers ministers of larger churches*. It is run by the Mission Department of BUGB. I have been before and found it helpful, but this time I have decided that if I prepare myself I might get more out of it.

I am looking forward to it. And have decided that it is best to go with some expectations, hopes, ambitions or wishes. These are:

  1. To be blessed by a fresh encounter with Jesus
  2. To be blessed by meeting old friends and making new friends
  3. To discover new insights and ideas about being a minister of a church our size
  4. To come home refreshed, not exhausted

They seem to be achievable and I will keep you informed about how it goes. I may be able to keep up some sort of running commentary, but it will be sporadic as the programme is quite packed. [Can you have a sporadic running commentary?]

Anyway, my reflection for you, dear bloggite, is to ask you what your expectations, hopes, ambitions or wishes are for this week? Have you turned them into prayers? What can you do to help make them a reality?

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
(Num 6:24-26)

May you sense God’s smile over you today.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(I may have told this joke before, if so, sorry!)

A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.

Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.

“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.

“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”
*Other sized churches are available and are equally important and significant. This is not an elitist group, it is a recognition that churches of different sizes face different challenges.