God of Surprises

One of the things that becomes more obvious to me as I think about the ‘church without walls’ is that the church, as we know it, will be no more.

That may sound a very sad and painful thing to those, who like me, have grown up with and loved a particular model of church.

No one knows at this point who will come back when eventually the restrictions are relaxed and we are allowed to gather again.

I suspect that things like denomination will have a much lesser importance. Big game changers for those who currently attend church like worship style will also become increasingly irrelevant. I believe that God has always been and will continue to be a God of surprises.

Many years ago, when I was working in a parish in Dublin, I was also a part time chaplain in St. Vincent’s Hospital. One Easter Sunday afternoon, I got a call from one of the wards asking me to visit someone who would like to see the Church of Ireland chaplain. As I entered the ward I was greeted by a disbelieving voice – “Jono Pierce, what the heck are you doing here?!” The person I had been called in to see had been in school with me about 15 years before. I remembered her as quite a rebel who read huge scary horror novels, listened to heavy metal music, and who pushed the boundaries when it came to uniform regulations. To be honest, I was a bit scared of her and she wasn’t certainly the sort of person I would have expected to be wanting a visit from a chaplain when she was in hospital. Clearly, from her response when she saw me, I wasn’t the sort of person she was expecting when the requested chaplain appeared! It turned out that her faith had become important to her and, at the time I called, she was quite involved in her local church and teaching a Sunday School class. We shared Holy Communion together and it was a lovely thing to catch up on how God had become an important part of both of our lives at that time.

At this time of crisis, I’m constantly amazed at how people are getting in touch, perhaps from my school days, because they connect into a memory I have shared on this blog. They are hitting the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons and other people are connecting into it who we might know in common. 

In the ‘church without walls’ we can all be involved in passing on things we have found helpful. If you enjoy this blog, or you tune into our services from St. Finnian’s via the website, Facebook page or telephone number, please do pass it on to others.

I had a lovely conversation on the phone with one of our older parishioners this week, who has enjoyed tuning in on the phone line as she doesn’t have the Internet. She has passed the number on to her neighbour when they have a chat over the fence every day.

I’m not saying this to get everyone to follow me or to come to St. Finnian’s, but to encourage all of us to pass on anything we have found helpful in these troubled times. I’ve spoken about marvellous resources I have found through churches that are very different to mine. I’ve been so blessed by their generosity and deep spirituality as they embody what John the Baptist wrote about when he said, “He must become greater and I must become less” when he was speaking of Jesus the Messiah who he was pointing others to.

I want to close today by giving you some important details about 10 days of prayer and focus for a spiritual harvest that will take place between Ascension Thursday 21st May and Pentecost Sunday on 31 May in our diocese.

As we think of a God of surprises, Bishop David was only in office a short time and had planned many big diocesan gatherings for these days, and now we have to meet virtually, or tune into some of these events via the phone line.

Interestingly, you will see events aimed at different age groups and people groups, using different worship styles and I hope, as we circulate these details, you will like and share the information. Who knows, but some of these events may be extremely influential or significant in opening up something of great value and importance in someone’s life?

On Thursday 21st May (Ascension Thursday) there will be a recorded service available from each parish church in the diocese.

On Friday 22nd May the prayer focus will be on young adults with a video message from Bishop David.

On Saturday 23rd May there will be a prayer focus on women with a video message from Hilary McClay, the Bishop’s wife.

On Sunday 24th May the parish worship will include prayers from some church leaders around the Diocese, if we can manage the technology!

On Monday 25th May Worship Rooms will be shared online. This is a gathering filled with contemporary worship and the prayer focus will be a worshipping diocese.

On Tuesday 26th May each select vestry will be meeting and Bishop David will share a video message to them. 

On Wednesday 27th May a video will be shared about praying with the Litany and the prayer focus will be on youth and children.

On Thursday 28th May Zoom parish prayer meetings are encouraged, written prayer resources will also be supplied with the prayer focus – a praying diocese.

On Friday 29th May the prayer focus will be on civic leaders with both a morning and evening video message from Bishop David.

On Saturday 30th May the prayer focus will be on men with a video message from Bishop David.

On Sunday 31st May the Pentecost service recorded in the parish will include a sermon from Bishop David.

Some will be reading this and wondering how to access the video messages, especially if they don’t have the Internet. For these 10 days the diocese will be using a special phone line for these messages, which will play them as an audio recording. If you phone 02891 249395 you can access them there.

I hope you will be able to engage and participate in some or all of these special events as we pray together as a diocese. Don’t be afraid to pass on the information to others. My sense is that the God of surprises may want to touch lives that we might think have no interest at all in spiritual things and yet there is a huge thirst there waiting to be quenched.

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone.

Jono