Yesterday was the first OpenHouse of the New Year, transferred from the first Sunday of January because even I could see that it was unlikely that anyone would turn out on the afternoon of New Year's Day. Unfortunately, though my children returned to school last Wednesday those in Charlton Kings don't start the new term till today, so my usual publicity networks weren't available. I'd plugged the service wildly at all our Christmas family events, where we'd welcomed several hundred children all told, but wasn't wildly optimistic that this would have had any impact. I know by personal experience how horribly easy it is to lose track of practically anything during the Christmas period. Worse still, it was a clammy, damp grey afternoon, perfect for curling up with a good book or an elderly film.
So, I wasn't unduly surprised at 3.45 that the church was empty, apart from the wonderful team who make OpenHouse work at all. Two minutes later, one family appeared (grandparents, uncle and toddler - fast asleep!). They were followed by a couple of adult members of our regular congregation. Being by this stage distinctly paranoid, I decided that they had only arrived to "inspect" us, and would be happy to report that OpenHouse was a clear and unmistakeable flop (sorry....but I do try to be honest on this blog!) .I bolted to the vestry, on the basis that there was no point in torturing myself, and I might as well go and pray. When all else fails!
At 4.00, feeling rather like the condemned man approaching the gallows, I ventured forth...to discover about 30 people, including 5 whole families! Our theme for the afternoon was "Follow that star" so together we followed a star studded trail around the church, stopping to count gold and smell incense, to sing the star back from behind the clouds, to have our fingerprints taken by some of Herod's bureaucrats....TeenWonder played his flute to lead us onwards like a latter day Pied Piper, and everyone travelled together. Toddlers. Grandmas. Babes in arms. And the splendid Mothers' Union members who had arrived to serve tea.
My greatest anxiety about the current emphasis on network church, on a fresh expression for each and every age and/or interest group is that we might lose sight of the joy of belonging to a totally inclusive family. OpenHouse is, undeniably, aimed substantially at young families, and I have no expectation that most of them will ever appear at the Parish Eucharist....but if the regular congregation can, just sometimes, come and meet with this group on their own turf, then we might really begin to get somewhere. Those poor souls whom I'd mentally condemned as "spies" were among the most enthusiastic,- even before they encountered the MU chocolate cake, which is enough to melt even the hardest heart.
As each person returned to their seats after our journey (which ended at the crib),
a shiney sticky star somewhere on them, as a reminder that God could be found in each one of us. Some stars were so small that you could hardly see them, so I suggested that we might need to keep our eyes open to recognise God in each other, (are you listening, Kathryn?) -but being there together has to be a good starting place. And my star stayed attached to my left thumb right until bathtime last night.