No, not that kind of ashes and cake… I didn’t get around to blogging anything about Ash Wednesday, partly because I was too busy prepping for it and then was trying to enjoy the afternoon with my family afterwards, but a friend of mine blogged about what he was doing here. Interestingly he’s also thinking about how to relate to folks who would be more comfortable meeting and talking in a pub than in a church, which is something that we’re exploring in our local.
Anyway, here’s Rob’s reflections on Ash Wednesday-
It’s been a pretty busy time … a few things to update and for me to reflect on.
So we arrived at the bus stops at 730am on Ash Wednesday. We were both robed. I was a little nervous. We positioned ourselves, with our small containers of ashes and a handful of our postcards which had a lent prayer and explanation attached to them, at each of the bus stops opposite each other and waited.
We did not have to wait long until we were engaged in conversation with a variety of people. Some asked about the ‘fancy dress’ while others told us simply that they knew it was Ash Wednesday and, ‘yes please …. could you ash me and pray for me’.
In all we gave ashes to just over 30 people in the hour we were there. People seemed encouraged and blessed by our presence; even people who did not wish to receive ashes or a postcard commented that they liked to see ‘the church’ out with the people. Lots of people did not wish to engage and avoided any eye contact and it was very right to respect their dignity and give space, but many also wanted to engage and ether connect or reconnect in some simple way with God, their Creator.
Wednesday morning was encouraging.
Then came Wednesday evening.
For a large part of the previous week I had posted a message asking anyone that was interested in birthing a new church on the Greenwich Peninsula to meet me at the local pub on Wednesday evening. I even blogged it here. After much prayer I felt this was right to ‘put out there’ and was convinced that, through this, I would find the first of the new people that would join us to create church here.
I arrived very confidently at 7:55pm.
I waited more.
It seemed I waited an age so I looked at my watch and saw it was only 8:15pm.
I laughed at myself.
8:15 became 9, and 9 became 10.
No one came. No one showed up.
The good beer could only be a scuffed and scratched, rather than silver, lining on the evening.
Whenever you plan or hope to meet with people and they do not show it is hard to take. I was convinced I would meet one key person that evening … and yet the reality was I felt pretty invisible and anonymous in the pub. A few weird looks at the start (obvs I was in dog collar!) dissolved into nothingness. Even in Rochester I was sworn at or the butt of jokes ….. but here … nothing!
It felt harsh.
I wondered if I had got everything wrong.
I questioned whether what I am trying to do here is even possible.
I then I heard a memory …. a memory about presence and being present.
I had to acknowledge that I believe I have been called here by God to work with the people that are here to create something. But …. over and above that calling, God asks me to be present here. Properly present, present and available. We were present and available in the morning and people were encouraged …. I was present and available in the evening and seemingly people didn’t notice …. but it is immaterial …. it changes nothing …. present and available is what I am called to be ….. and present and available is what I will continue to choose to be.
So I go out today …. not too sure where … but wherever …. present and available is what I will be.
As for what we did… rather than ashing by the bus stop, we offered ashing as part of a prayer/reflection space that took place alongside our family coffee and cake morning- so we had a few folks coming along specifically for the service, some members of the church who would be there anyway coming for prayer and some kids and their mums having a good look at what was going on and taking part a bit… a different way of making prayer and the idea of Focussing on God (which was our theme for this year) accessible to folk who’ll come to church for cake but not yet for God.
On the pub front, we don’t have a name for what we’re doing, but we’re going to do something… I guess the difference between what Rob is trying and what we’re trying is that he’s at the stage of connecting with people at the moment, while a small group of us who’re involved at this stage have a list of around 20 people we could invite along… we’ll see where it goes from here…