It is hard to believe that it was just over a year ago when we opened the doors of the church to the local community. Would anybody come? Would we have enough people on the team? What if it didn’t work – would we simply have to give up and start again?
We had an away day last Wednesday and looking back we can see how the Lord has been so clearly at work. We have learnt so much and we have so much more still to learn. It’s hard to calculate but we reckon at least 70 different people have been through our doors over the year, and we see 20-30 people most Tuesdays, and quite a few of these are not “regular church folk.” We did realise during the day that we needed to make some changes (and we will explain these on the main church website in the next few days) but overall we came away with an immense sense of gratitude and a renewed commitment to the vision for Open Church, namely to be Safe, Loving, Open and Welcoming (SLOW church).
So what exactly has been learnt? Well, we quickly filled up a whole sheet of flipchart paper with the various answers:
- The scale of need – there are so many people confronting so many issues, such as substance misuse, homelessness, unemployment, serious illness, bearing the burden of care, loneliness, and so much more.
- How much we need to shift our expectations – this year has been one of surprise and discovery as the Lord has taken us on a journey none of us ever imagined we would undertake.
- The fact God is in control! Yes, we all know that in theory, but we really have seen the Lord showing again and again He is the one driving the Open Church project.
- Radical acceptance – We all have our moments, and some people are very different from ourselves. So we have had to grow in extending a gracious, loving welcome to all who come through the doors (as well as work out when there are limits to that welcome)
- Unexpected connections – somehow the Lord keeps bringing together people who have known each other in a completely different context and reuniting them,
- The diversity of those present – perhaps best illustrated by the young homeless guy chatting with the church member who had just celebrated her 90th birthday. Where else would such a conversation take place?
- The depth of relationships that have been formed – as we have shared the day not only with ourselves but with those who keep coming back week after week.
- Church growth, but not as we know it! Yes, our Sunday numbers aren’t great at the moment, but we offer prayer to those who come in, and we have had some really deep and powerful conversations.
- Links with the community – the profile of the church is being raised and people are hearing that St Michael’s is open for business.
- We need each other! – we have a fantastic team, but we all face challenges, and we have really had to learn what it means to support one another, cover one another in prayer, and to keep each other going.
- We have learnt new gifts, and seen gifts developed in others – by the grace of God some of us have found new skills and a new confidence to use those skills.
- We need more labourers, especially men – there is so much more work to do, and the team needs strengthening. We also need men who can just keep a watching brief and are prepared for the unexpected.
- We need to share the vision with the wider church – there is a good news that needs to be share with more.
- We need prayer cover as the spiritual battle is fierce – we are aware so many are already praying for the work, but we have seen at least one case of demonic possession, and there are ways the enemy would undermine our work. So we need to put on our spiritual armour in the knowledge others are covering us.
What will happen in the next twelve months? We honestly do not know – but the Lord does. Personally, I am hoping and praying that as we share more and more of our lives, we can build relationships and help others come to know Jesus in a new and personal way. This has become our mission as the church, and if you are not yet part of the story, please do consider how you can get involved!
Not by might, or by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord (Zechariah 4:6)