Living Church was a six-month experiment, and the feedback from the services showed that some things worked, and others not so well. However, our hope and prayer were that people felt included, valued, and loved and that it brought the members who came closer together so that we could be encouraged in our own walk with God and reach out to others. We are all now praying for God’s guidance about how we go forward, building on the positives, and learning from the negatives, whilst we build a church where everyone is welcome, always, and God’s is worshipped and adored.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
This was the first in the series, and we explored God’s word, by using drama, to bring the story of Joseph to life, using members of the ‘Open the Book’ team, working with volunteers from the congregation, and by actions to help us think about the power of words. People were encouraged to think about their week past, and the negatives there might have been. They were then asked to crystallise that in one word, write it on a piece of paper, and wrap it around a stone. This was then placed in a bucket in front of the altar in the church, as a graphic way of describing leaving our negatives at Jesus’s feet. We then prayed that God would release our hearts, that he would ‘break up our unploughed ground’ and make our hearts ready to receive his word. (Hosea 10:12). A choice of activities followed – some chose to have a quiet discussion on the themes of Joseph – jealousy, despair and forgiveness. Others chose to decorate a plant pot in which a bulb was planted. Everyone was encouraged to take one away with them at the end, with a verse from the Bible with encouragement for the week ahead.
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13 1-3
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4, 8-10
This was an exploration of what hospitality actually means. Coffee and cake, yes, but also open hearts. We started by finding out exactly how much members of the church know about other families who come. Who is related to who? This broke the ice, and some of our English reserve just a little. Sometimes we can be too insular, and not see what is around us. This Sunday was also Mothering Sunday, so children and adults were encouraged to make posies for their mothers, or those people who had in some way parented them, or in memory and honour of someone special. Meanwhile there was the opportunity to join in a thought-piece on listening, in the St John’s rooms, or alternatively go into the church to visit a number of stations where there were aspects of hospitality to think about – a loaf of bread, a hearing aid, some spectacles, a pile of clothing, a food bank basket, some playdough to create your own ideas. This was coupled with a thoughtful projection of images of Mary, the mother of Jesus, for contemplation. Several ladies were then able to give their own thoughts on Mary, to tie in with our own thoughts of motherhood and practical hospitality.
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7.14
On entering Church, people were presented with a piece of card, on which they were invited to write down an ‘arrow prayer’. Meanwhile, there were projected images of times when we might say arrow prayers: anything from entering an exam to passing the scene of an accident, to times when we didn’t know what to say or were in danger. Everyone then made a paper aeroplane and launched them towards the altar. We explained that all our prayers reach God – unlike some of our nosediving planes! Children were then invited up for individual prayer, in a ‘prayer hoop’ that they could stand in and we all sang the blessing from Numbers 6, 24-26: The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee. We talked about the encircling power of God. There then followed a prayer walk around the church and grounds, starting with the war memorial where we prayed that we could be freed and healed from the sins of past generations if there was any way we were being held back by them, or by things in our own past. We moved to the Memorial Garden where we gave thanks for the lives of those interred there, and healing and peace for those who mourned. From there, we went to the St John’s rooms and gave praise and thanks for all who use the space there, and prayed for a blessing on all who use them. Moving into the vestibule we prayed that we would always be hospitable and welcoming to all who come in. Finally into the hall, we prayed for its completion and a blessing on all who had ever used it, and whoever will use it in the future. Stopping here for a few minutes, we all wrote prayers on paper flowers and leaves – thanks on flowers, requests on leaves, ‘sorry’ on acetate gingerbread men. We then took these into the church. Flowers and leaves were hung on a ‘prayer tree’ in front of the altar, our ‘sorry’s were washed in buckets, to symbolise that our sins are washed away by the power of Jesus Christ. We then sang our final prayers and went for cake. A gentleman came in from the street not knowing if he would be welcome but seeking prayer which it was our joy and privilege to do with him. Living Prayer in action!
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105 1-4
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. Isaiah 61, 1-3
The church is decorated with some thought-piece flower arrangements. On arrival everyone is welcomed into the church and given a flower, which they are encouraged to place in an arrangement in front of the altar, then sit, and join in the sung worship in progress as they arrive.
Explanation of the meaning of the Kaleidoscope of Flowers using the story of the West Window of Winchester, smashed by Roundhead troops during the Civil War, and restored as a mosaic afterwards – a kaleidoscope of colour and praise, beautiful in its own right, although not the same as the original. We are creating a praise with flowers, and although we may not be professional flower arrangers, we all have contributed to something beautiful and praising God through colour. Flowers have a breath too! ‘Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord’ – Psalm 150, v6. Songs and Psalms of praise follow. There then follows a pause. People may stay in the church and contemplate the beauty, meaning and symbolism of the flowers, whilst quiet music plays, or may take part in a workshop – ‘Help! I can’t Sing!’ in the hall. This will explore how God delights in the praises of His people, and whilst we can’t all sing like angels, we can make our own joyful noise to the Lord – beauty for brokenness. This will be noisy, and percussive, using wooden percussion sticks, shakers (handmade!), clapping, stamping and shouting. We will all meet back in the Church and experiment with a non-sung praise, then finish more quietly with music. Coffee and Cake!
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.
Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. Mark 4, 30-34.
We live in a deeply visual age. We are fed images via television, video, computer, phones. Much of the time we do not know what is real and what is fabricated. How can we explore the ways in which we can present our faith in a visual way to others? This service ended up being in two main parts. One was a thought piece led by our resident artist, Rob Strange, into how you can look inside a painting, and really SEE what is going on inside – not just with your eyes, but with your perception. Meanwhile, in the hall, others were making part of an outside art installation. Placards had been placed near the entrance to the Church drive, which read ‘Hands Up if you know Jesus loves you’. People constructed hands out of art materials and sticky backed plastic (often with their names on), which were mounted on sticks. These were placed by the placards and became a field of waving hands which could be seen from the road. A further idea, which was not used on the day but could possibly be used in the future was to create a Bible reading from emojis and see if the congregation could work out what the text-speak was saying.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11 1-3.
When we started to look at this service, we realised that the subject of Faith is HUGE! It encompasses so many aspects that we decided to home in on one in particular: Knowing God.
We started the service by singing the ancient hymn ‘Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise’, looking at a number of statements about our Living God. From there, we moved into a short question and answer session with two members of our congregation about what faith meant to them, and what it meant to their daily lives. The first interviewee was a working man and father of three, who challenged us about living out our faith in the working environment. The second was a schoolgirl, who gave us a very insightful account of being a Christian sharing her faith at school and navigating her way through social media, and the world of cyber-bullying.
A change of scene allowed people to stay in the church and have a quiet meditation about faith, or to go into the hall to decorate words describing God from the hymn or to have an open-table discussion about faith. Following that, everyone came back into Church, where the words were pinned up into a ‘patchwork quilt’ of pictures, illustrating our fragmented and imperfect understanding of God’s perfection, and the service closed with a reprise of the hymn interspersed with a meditative time of prayer.
Meet the team:
For this six month experiment, there has been a creative team working away behind the scenes, coming up with ideas, thinking about how we can make them practical realities. This has been John and Sally Durant, Peter and Angela Rich, Ben Mabbet, Philippa Morris, Stewart Smith, Rob Strange, Elaine Day, and Jane Greenhalgh.
Our future hope is to include everyone in the church, making use of all the many gifts and ideas, creativity and energy that we have amongst all of our church family, so that everyone may feel valued, and everyone gets a chance to discover and use the gifts that God has given them. As we get to know each other better, we will get better at noticing and encouraging others’ particular gifts, but in the meantime, please consider if you would like to help, be involved, give suggestions, or practical help. Is the Lord nudging you? Step forward – we need you