Yesterday was one of those days when it is extremely evident that, warts and all, this is still GOD'S Church - something I forget far too easily in the comings and goings of life at the vicarage.
8.00 is a service for those who want peace, quiet & (on a bad day) minimal challenge...which means that the service itself is often a challenge for me, even without the added joys of an earlier start for one who has never been a lark...
I tend to approach it with minimal expectations. The congregation is small and reserved, a response to the sermon is pretty much unheard of, and while I know that they value this space with God on a Sunday morning, the service rarely makes my heart sing.
Yesterday, though, was quite different.
I'd begun the service by suggesting that as our intention of the day we pray for the Church's ministry of hospitality in all its many forms, and mentioned the hostels for street-children I will be visiting in Bangalore as an example of Christian hospitality literally saving lives. I'd reminded the congregation of the wonderful words of John Chrysostom
"If you cannot find Christ in the beggar the door, you won't find him in the chalice."
Then we went on with the service as usual...the familiar pattern of words almost, but not quite, washing over me...Time for the homily - where the theme of welcoming the stranger was loud and clear.
And then, the church door opened.
And 2 unfamiliar figures made the laborious journey up the aisle to where our small group clustered in the choir stalls for this early celebration.
Christy & his wife.
Sri Lankan Christians visiting their daughter in Stroud and anxious to find a church home for their stay.
Maybe not quite angels unawares - but strangers for us to welcome into friendship, reminders that the Church is always bigger than we think - and maybe a sign that even when I think that NOBODY is listening to my words, God is nonetheless involved in the process.
To see the reserved regulars, who normally depart at top speed, coming over to shake hands and say "Welcome" after the final blessing made me giggle with delight...
The wonders weren't over, either.
At "Together at Ten" we had decided to mark the end of the school year by inviting our Messy Church families to worship with the 10.00, and explore the Experience Eucharist stations we piloted in school back in February.
Clare the curate had done a brilliant job of adapting them so that our less mobile regulars could still be involved - and in the event, though few Messy Church friends came, there were enough children and more than enough engaged adults to make the whole thing a success.
I explained what we were about before the service started - and was thrilled when a positive stream of people encroached on the font, intent on floating their own prayer flower, its petals folded in on those things which need forgiveness - but opening out in the water as a symbol of sins forgiven.
They coped, too, with scattering confetti over maps of the parish and of the world, as we bathed them in prayer...with thinking about the different kinds of remembering "Your keys....Clare's birthday...When I was a child....." as a prelude to remembering all that Jesus did in the Eucharistic Prayer...and they positively thrived on the thought of taking away a small heart as a reminder of God's love and blessing to carry with them through the week.
Then the nucleus of the Messy Church family shared a picnic together. It wasn't the all-singing, all-dancing family fun day we might have envisaged when we first mooted the idea - but there was food in generous profusion, some lovely care of little ones by much bigger boys, and time to chat and nurture the friendships at the heart of our Messy Church.
I love St Matthew's dearly - but sometimes undersell them to myself - so it was wonderful to see the generosity and openness that shone through yesterday. I am blessed to serve this community.