Sunday, February 08, 2009

Not about numbers (reprise)

Generally, try as we might, those of us in "the business" will assume that a colleague heard protesting "It's not about numbers" may well be in a church that is struggling, where there are a few too many empty seats week on week, where the spectre of closure is only just waiting in the wings. We know, all of us, that small churches can be every bit as healthy as their larger counterparts - but it's still all too easy to judge ourselves in terms of the "usual Sunday attendance" - a process that's not made easier by the fact that we have to submit annual "statistics for mission" - which have as their focus...yup, numbers at worship.

However this morning I can say with great and genuine contentment that it's not all about numbers. Though the roads in and around the valley are pretty well clear now, pavements remain disconcertingly icy and the decision to cancel the 8.00 Communion to encourage the older congregation to stay at home felt entirely did the message from the Wardens on the hill that nobody could possibly get down the steep driveway to the church - or, if they got there, hope to leave again. But the 9.30 at Church in the Valley looked viable even after the organist phoned to say that she didn't want to attempt the drive in from her village. After all, I said to the Wardens, if all else fails we can always have a said service in the Lady Chapel.

When I got down there, about 40 minutes beforehand,there were just two ladies waiting. By 9.15 numbers had swelled to around 10 but nonetheless the Lady Chapel seemed a more attractive option than rattling forlornly around the nave. So, we gathered there - and it was just lovely! 30 adults, 3 children on cushions on the floor, hymns unaccompanied (or with the vicar making a dash for the piano)...The warmth and intimacy of the Wednesday morning Eucharist shared by a larger group, who seemed entirely relaxed and content with this change to their established routine. Yes, many stayed at home - the frail, the elderly, those who live up unsalted roads - but we who were there were glad to be together, to wait upon the Lord in silence, to stand and hold hands as we proclaimed "WE are the Body of Christ", to receive the Sacrament and share that gift of love together. The contrast with last week's high excitements could not have been greater, but though this might seem the sort of sudden descent to ordinary time that might produce giddiness, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Two very different Sundays, but both full of blessings of the sort you just can't count.


Mary Beth said...

Thanks be to God!

Erin said...

Last winter we had some major furnace problems so a couple of times we had to move our service into the hall. And it was great! there is something about having to 'camp out' that brings everyone together. Your Sunday sounds delightful!

Cal said...

Ooh lovely.

I went to Evensong where there was about 8 of us in a freezing, freezing small church. Despite the heating being on I could see my breath all through the service* and basically couldn't think or concentrate on anything throughout the service apart from how cold I was!!

Sigh....I'm sure just being there in body was good for my soul in some way even if my mind wasn't entirely present.

*Actually this is quite normal in this building in the winter but yesterday was worse than normal.