Monday, March 05, 2007

I don't want to play the numbers game

Jan at Church for Starving Artists has been writing about her new-born service, Holy Grounds, which, just two weeks into life, sounds to be going splendidly. But in her comments she was questioning her own pleasure in a larger congregation in week two than in the (snow bound) week one.
And she made me think.
Even sixteen months into OpenHouse (which only happens once a month) I go through the "What if nobody comes at all?" routine.
No matter how firmly and fervently I believe that it’s not all about numbers (and I truly don’t think it is).
No matter that I understand from personal experience that families are scarily busy units these days, and the chances of people happening to have a free slot just because this Sunday is an OpenHouse Sunday are kind of remote.
At 3.50 on the first Sunday of each month, I’m to be found in the clergy vestry at St M’s jittering for England, emerging at intervals to apologise to the wonderful MU members who are preparing tea, because “this time, truly, nobody is going to come”.
Some months numbers are worryingly low, for no obvious reason and because generally OpenHouse families are those with whom we have little other contact it's hard to find out what has kept them away.
Maybe something is wrong at home? But for the most part we don’t know them well enough to find out, even if we do actually know where home is….
Or perhaps they’ve had some experience that has put them off St M’s, or church in general, or worst of all God…and it’s all my fault….
And then, just as I’m wondering how I’m going to express my contrition adequately (to God and/or to the absent family) it’s another month and everyone turns up at once, and there are 60 people in the church and we run out of whatever the "take home" resource might be.
And there seems little rhyme or reason for it.
Yesterday the publicity had been a bit last minute, and one school had had no flyers at all…and it was pouring and bleak and miserable…and the church was comfortably full, with a happy mixture of new and familiar faces.
By next month, we should have a whizzy banner to fix to the church railings for the whole of the week before, and it will be Palm Sunday – which ought to be a bit of a draw – but perhaps that really really will be the month that nobody comes.
Because most services at St M’s are well established (even Little Fishes has been running for a good 20 years, albeit under various other names) the experimental nature of OpenHouse is something that’s well outside our collective comfort zone…But the thrill of joining those children at the end of each service on the mad rampage around a church which is suddenly full of life and joy (not to mention the sound of a weird and wonderful collection of percussion) out-weighs all the preceding angsts.

And I know that I'm being silly.

Four years ago, I was talking to WonderfulVicar about the possibility of a curacy here and, if I'm honest, I wasn't entirely sure that St M's was the right place for us. But then he handed me the recent parish profile to read while he made the tea, and as I looked at the figures on the page, and reached those relating to children's and family ministry, I had one of those moments when words seem to come out of your mouth without any consultation with your brain first...and in appalled fascination I heard myself say
"I think I've got to come here please..."
So I guess I've always been fairly certain that God wanted me to do something to bring families into the life of St M's,- and, on one level, that something has turned out to be OpenHouse.
Which means that, having done all that we can to make that work, I ought to be able to manage a leetle bit of trust that those families will come whom God wants there.
We've never yet had no takers at all.
And through it all, yes, God is good!

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