Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Church is not a Building - You are the Church!

I have been a bit disorganised in my thinking this week and perhaps there was a little bit of creative avoidance as I pondered the theme of the online service last Sunday.  
Experience the Living Christ – Acts 2.42-47
The Rev John said; “Give thanks for your church and your place in it. There is no better place to find what you are looking for, which is the touch of the “Master’s” hand in your life. I know because I have experienced it. Thanks be to God for church!” … Ultimately the Christian faith is about living in relationship and community.  The Easter legacy is the church of Jesus Christ”.
Instead of my heart hearing the strong messages about “The Good Shepherd” that should have brought quiet assurance, I have been grappling for several days with the whole idea of “the church”.
Yet here we all are not able to go to “the building” or even meet with “the community of faith” and every day seems the same – a bit like that old movie “Ground Hog Day”!   It’s enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  With the endless talk of being “locked down”, has been a feeling of loss about many aspects of our old lives - yet being locked out of our churches has been something quite foreign to us in our country where religious freedom is embraced.
As the cloud lifted in my mind I began to remember a familiar statement that I really like; “The church is not a building – You are the Church”.   At Marsden Road Church we have used that phrase often in our invitations and letterbox drop material. 
These words in the Rev John’s Reflection can turn on a light for us all during these dark days. “Come in, all who are tired and thirsty. The Good Shepherd leads us to grassy meadows and restful waters. Come in, all who are anxious and afraid. The Good Shepherd protects us and leads us through dark valleys. Come in, all who are empty and exhausted. The Good Shepherd fills our lives with goodness and faithful love. Come in, to be refreshed, to rest, and to receive. The Good Shepherd has brought us here.”
Whoever would have imagined that almost everything we know would change so much almost overnight and we would be required by law to draw back even from those we love and deny them a hug or even a handshake.  Of course it was important and just plain necessary, yet I found it worrying to stand back and make no contact with the people in the church as we “passed the Peace” that final Sunday in March when we were able to go to “the church”. 
I know a young woman who lives alone who rang her sister and asked if she could drop by and hug her family’s dog.  It has been reported that all the animals at the animal shelters have been “snapped up” by people seeking company.  I just pray that these pets will all be loved and cared for when the world changes again and their humans are no longer in need of their love and warmth.
In this current climate of sickness and death for many thousands of people around the world there are huge health and financial worries; people are being almost “held in custody” at home or in an hotel room or a nursing home or cruise ship and it can be difficult for us to find our community, peace, joy or hope.   Jobs lost, shops closed, operations cancelled, doctors unable to let patients into their surgery.  At our doctor’s surgery, the doors were locked and we were “told” via gestures to go walk down the driveway and wait.  To our surprise the nurse emerged and there on the driveway we were quickly given our annual flu vaccination and the nurse immediately disappeared inside. 
Life is confusing - even the politicians are agreeing with “those on the other side” some of the time! 
It seems the world has almost stopped and there is no other news than the corona virus – we see pictures of places like the Spanish Steps in Rome without a single person in sight!  London is deserted along with every other tourist hot spot in the world.  It is hard for our minds to process these sights and accept the awful news that each morning 700 or 800 or more people have died from COVID-19 in some countries in the world, in the short time since we went to sleep last night.
However, that sense of community that is the church still shines through and we can see and feel that “The Christian faith is about relationship, it is about love and compassion. In the midst of the comings and goings of our lives, the risen Christ appears, community happens, and the church takes shape.”
It has been on my daily walk every afternoon that I have found “the church” as I have encountered much greater numbers of people who want to interact in some small way.  Families are out in huge numbers every day; walking, riding bikes and scooters, walking dogs, laughing, waving to strangers, and enjoying their restricted lives within the new limitations and ever changing rules.
Now I have found many new acquaintances and we look out for each other and say “Hello, how are you today?”  The Dalmar Heritage Drive is such a wonderful place to walk with the huge 92 year old trees lining the driveway like sentinels as they provide dappled shade and a safe place for children to ride and play.  About 18 years ago I interviewed a lovely lady who was taken to live at Dalmar Childrens’ Home in July 1928 and she told me that when she and her mother arrived, Hazelwood’s Nursery people and some of the Dalmar boys were planting those “tiny trees” along the Driveway. 
The Dalmar Heritage Drive runs into a circular area in front of the original Dalmar Childrens' Home

It is a joy to "walk in the country" each day in 2020 and remember the children who found a good Christian Home there at Dalmar and were made welcome at the Marsden Road Church and Sunday School
In recent weeks, children have been drawing and writing in chalk on the Dalmar drive and in a little lane nearby and one day as I walked I saw a lovely new hopscotch game had been added to the Easter Bunnies, Easter Eggs, Mermaid and writing of encouraging “wise sayings” on the drive and pathways.  Of course I felt I just had to hop along as well as I could and the kids all smiled at the old lady trying her best to jump.  I said “Oh dear! I can’t jump properly any more I am too old” and one dear little boy of around 7 or 8 very sincerely said; “I am really sorry that you cannot jump anymore.”
Yesterday I discovered new messages in the lane after the rain had washed away the originals; perhaps my favourite was; “No matter what people tell you words and ideas can change the world.”
I just love it as the kids sail past on their bikes and wave and smile.  I have a chance meeting almost every day with an elderly Indian lady who wears beautiful bright flowing saris and talks on her phone as she walks; but she always pauses in her conversation to say hullo as she nods her head and smiles. 
People who walk dogs are often ready for a chat about their dog for a moment or two and I sometimes wonder if all the dogs are wondering why they are suddenly being expected to go for a long walk every day.  There is one lady whose dog is usually stopped and refusing to move as I pass and his owner is trying to coax him to move again.  We always laugh as she tells me how many times he has refused to move that day!
Grimes Lane that runs between Alan Walker Village & Rayward Lodge

One day as I walked along Grimes Lane, a walkway which runs between the Alan Walker Village and the Raywood Lodge Nursing Home, I saw a heart-breaking sight as I paused to say a little prayer for the people locked inside and restricted in their visits and I noticed an elderly man standing on the highest piece of grass he could find and straining to look through the window as he spoke on this mobile phone.  Inside there was a lady (almost certainly his wife) talking on a telephone and waving to him.  If a large family of Kookaburras in the magnificent tall gum trees on the other side of the lane had not chosen that very moment to join in laughter with other groups in trees in the surrounding areas, I may well have cried.  Instead I hoped that the laughter of the birds had brought comfort to them as it had to me.  I stopped and looked up and looked around and was amazed by the perfection of the blue sky and the height and the groupings of the trees - and then I moved on.
I feel that I have been “going to church” on my walk every day and as the Rev John has said; “So just pause and reflect for a moment. Easter has come. The tomb has been emptied. The Lord has appeared to his disciples, and the announcement has gone forth: “He is alive!” Jesus is alive! Where do we find him for ourselves?”  Yes, perhaps sometimes it is harder to find Jesus than usual, but if we listen and encourage each other things will improve in time. As the lovely children wrote on the footpath;”It is the little things that matter” and “No rain no flowers” and “You are so lucky to be YOU”. 

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