I wonder if you have ever had a really excellent customer experience when you have visited somewhere or attended an event. We recently had a couple of such experiences when we spent some days at half term with my brother-in-law near Dungannon. Our visit coincided with Lucy’s birthday and as I walked past a café one day, I saw a shop called Bumble and Blue that advertised slime making workshops. It was a lovely shop stocking candles and soaps that were all made on site from natural products and when I explained Lucy’s situation, they were very happy to give us a little family workshop on her birthday. When we arrived, we discovered scones and coffee set up for the parents and the staff took away the children to get busy and get messy. All we could hear were giggles and laughter and a wonderful time was had by all. Not only were the staff compassionate and helpful to our children but they really looked after us all and hearing it was Lucy’s birthday, they gave her a candle and soap which was so thoughtful and kind. I also think of the staff at Boulderworld where Conor has been climbing for a couple of years now. We really appreciate all the effort they put into coaching and encouraging the children. They instil really good values in terms of watching and supporting others and organise competitions and travel all around the country to help the participants in these competitions. We could say the same for the wonderful coaches at Malone mini rugby or Special Olympics gymnastics or our Anchor Boys leaders or Sunday School teachers. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. If you have had a great expe How does all of this relate to church you might ask? Well I think if Church is an important part of our lives, we find ourselves in a rather unique position. Church going is no longer the normal practice for those who live in Northern Ireland. Though historically it has been a big part of our culture its not such a big draw anymore in a more secular society. When people do cross the threshold for whatever reasonif you are a regular attender, if you’re attending an event or a concert, if you are popping in for one of the major festivals like Easter or Christmas or maybe coming to a baptism, a wedding or a funeral, your experience counts. How did you find the last service you attended? Were you made to feel welcome? Did you find the experience drew you near to God and prompted you to think or was it hard to follow or understand? Was it the kind of thing you would invite others to experience or would you feel a bit embarrassed if someone you knew showed up and saw you there? I’ve been deeply moved by a campaign on social media throughout the Season of Lent by our neighbouring parish of Willowfield. They called it 40 days of grace and they invited 40 people from their congregation to share their story of faith, of how God is at work in their lives. Some did so on video, others wrote down their experience, there were people of all ages and backgrounds. There were children and people with learning disabilities and what I loved was how simple the stories were. They all pointed to the truth that God is here among us in Belfast, working in people’s lives, touching them at their point of need and like those good customer experiences these are stories to celebrate and share. After Jesus’s resurrection the disciples were ignited by the realisation that he had defeated death and would be with them always. Later, on the day of Pentecost, they received that gift made available to all of us since, of God’s Holy Spirit. They realised God’s love in a very personal way impacted them and they wanted, above all things, for others to experience His forgiveness and His love. It’s a beautiful thing to hear people share these good news stories of How Jesus has become a part of their lives and transformed situations for the better. Can we share those times when God has been especially close and real to us – Maybe in a time of illness or disappointment or loss? Can we remember times when circumstances were so difficult we had no idea how we would manage and somehow He came alongside us through different people and saw us through? The days we are living in continue to be uncertain and the political landscape is very fragile as divisions are heightened over Brexit. In the midst of these challenges Christians have a really important and strategic role in being bearers of Good News of hope and life to those around us as we trust in a God who loves us and rescues and delivers us in our times of trouble. May we be unashamed to make Him known to those around us.
With very best wishes
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)