I do not love the drug taking and dealing in the alleyway next to our house, nor the regular vandalism of anything we try and do in the area. But I do love the reckless abandon with which the young people dance on the roof of our church hall; the informal games of football on our front lawn and meeting six people on the way to the shops.
I am a recently ordained pioneer minister in the Church of England (this is a fancy title for – ‘you have permission to push some boundaries’). I live with my family in an outer estate in Birmingham with many of the pressures we find in our poorer communities.
And I love my church. We meet in a building held together by spit and Blu-Tack. One of the ugliest church buildings I have ever seen on the outside, the inside provokes gasps from visitors because it is, in contrast, beautiful. On closer inspection, you will notice it is filled with knick-knacks that each have a story, including the last vicar’s late mother’s dining room table; a much handed down pot of dry flowers; and two organs, of which only one works. This is a church, which perhaps like a grandmother’s front room, is well past its best but is loved and cherished.
Six months ago I walked back from an open day at our local primary school in tears; not because the school was terrible but because it was so good. It was not our local school and going to it would mean ‘commuting’ out of the area. It was a glimpse into the minds and emotions of people who are struggling to come to terms with a call to attend their local church, rather than the really fantastic one a car ride away.
It breaks my heart when Christians say they cannot come because our worship is too formal; our spirituality too ‘dead’; the place too much of a spiritual risk for their children. How will we change unless you come?
Going back to my school analogy, this was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made. But our local headteacher convinced us of her passion and her commitment and this month our daughter started at her school, within the estate. Yes, we will have to commit right back but this is no sacrifice. This is about exposing our daughter to the values that we hold dear, and I believe this can work for church too. As a minister I will commit to you, if you will commit to us.
It is likely to be hard work to go to your local church rather than one that ‘suits your needs’. If you are socially mobile, attending our church may feel sacrificial. If you are single, you are unlikely to meet the companion of your dreams here. If you are a parent, there is no weekly children’s or youth group. It may be you are not in a place to do this, you may genuinely be too vulnerable right now. But go and visit if you can.
I want you to go to your local church not just to ‘fix it’. Come and hang out in broken buildings with broken people. You’ll only get glimpses into glory but I have found those glimpses into people’s lives and God’s grace at work amongst the most meaningful in my life. You are likely to find the worst coffee you’ll have ever tasted and the warmest handshake you’ll ever receive.
Come join us; dare to love your local church.