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Mind The Gap 1

“Welcome back” has been the cry, and it’s been humbling to hear, reminding me of Christchurch’s care for me, and my family. A Sabbatical can be a special time for a minister, and mine was – three months out of church. As someone who grew up in church, always went to Sunday school (I never even rebelled as a teenager, though my Sunday school teachers may differ on that one!), came to faith of my own at 17 and have spent my entire studying and working life in the church, these 3 months out of church have been very eye opening.

I’ve visited loads of workplaces that I’d never otherwise see inside including a call centre, an NHS manager, and an engineer; I’ve been to museums, shopping malls, the city of London, inside people’s homes and many miles on trains; I’ve volunteered at St George’s crypt, and spent a lot of time reflecting outside church. By reading and interviewing I’ve tried to understand the economy (impossible) and the media (much easier); I’ve been ‘moved on’ three times by security men who didn’t like my behaviour or my photographs, I was witnessed to by a Christian on a campsite, and I’ve argued with two very polite and convinced creationists. I’ve sat in the studio and observed my beloved PM programme broadcast in Radio 4, but I think my two highlights have to be a night at the dogs (lost £4.60 – cheaper than the cinema and much more fun!), and a day in a magistrates court – half the people needed a good slap, the other half just needed cuddle. And I have spent a lot of time at home – visiting my family, I’ve got to know my wife and children a bit better than I would had I been working the ‘usual’ ministerial life.

And what have I found? Well, I have much to feedback, many zany new ideas, and some important things I want to share and discuss. This will happen through advertised events throughout the autumn, church meetings, words in worship, many more I’m sure.

I have found this to be God’s world, He is reflected in it in many different ways. I have observed many and varied differences and varieties in Britain - we are a very mixed society, and, I believe, a better and more Christian one for that. But these gaps that exist between people and communities are, I think, the very places we need to be. They are the places where we need to listen most carefully, where the message of Jesus can be most creative, and where human beings bear the greatest responsibilities to each other.

But here’s the crunch – these places are outside the church and throughout our society we need to get out of church more, we need to expend less energy in running the church, we need to downsize the church admin machine in order to free ourselves up to be there, this means letting go of some our ‘sacred cows and holy relics’ in order to discover a new, a radical, a reformed and reinvented Christian faith that is much much more attractive, believable, and credible to people than the one we peddle at the moment.

“Welcome back” many of you have said kindly, as I say thank you, you’ll notice I also come back with a health warning!

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