I had initially been invited to lead worship at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Hoylake with Meols and I spent a morning with the folk at this church leading worship and sharing lunch. This is a congregation which says “Our mission is to welcome everyone and to try to show that we all really matter to God” – their welcome certainly confirmed their commitment to the first part of this mission. They are also a congregation which take seriously their responsibility in the world and they show their commitment to the second part of that mission by working towards ‘eco-congregation’ status, collecting food for a local food bank, contributing to Commitment for Life and currently, piling up filled shoe boxes for the annual shoe box appeal. This outward looking ethos was tangible in the buzz of conversation before and after the service.
The invitation to St Andrew’s enabled me to do something further in the Synod later in the day and Howard Sharp – the Synod Moderator – picked up on my interest in Lay Ministry and discussed with the Synod Ministries Committee possible ways of holding an event which would celebrate this aspect of our lives. The result was a tea time meeting bringing together about 40 lay people who told wonderful stories of their ministry both within the church and in their working lives. Witnessing through voluntary work, using skills obtained for paid employment or developed because of leisure interests.
We heard about the use of puppets in worship, the delight of seeing young people develop skills and confidence, the way in which dogs can be used in therapy and we heard the world premier of an Advent song composed by an ‘amateur’ musician. There was much more and everyone who was there was impressed, inspired and challenged by what they heard. If we needed confirmation of the range of ways in which lay people are ministering in their day-to-day lives here it was in (as they say) bucketloads. Most of these were ‘hidden’ stories and I wonder how many more such events we could hold around the country which would uncover even more – please listen to each other, talk to each other and share your stories – you would be amazed!
On Monday morning there was another opportunity for me to see something of an area of work which is also a particular interest of mine. I spent a couple of hours with two of the chaplains from Mission in the Economy (MitE) in the centre of Liverpool – though this organization also works in St Helen’s, Warrington and John Lennon Airport. I visited two of the contrasting retail centres – the old and the new – and heard something of the pressures under which people are working.
I heard too of the way in which this work is supported by the Local Authorities and Chambers of Commerce. Of how important it is to employers who recognize the value-added of having a chaplain regularly visiting their premises. Chaplains are sometimes in the position of being trusted challengers of the status quo and are often at the centre of networks in an area. This is truly working on the margins but after all, that was where Jesus was much of his time.