On Wednesday, Exchange, our young adults group, together with some visitors (who might claim to be young!) shared a meal with a group of Mennonites visiting from Lancaster County. They had got in touch because the leader of the group had brought another group to visit some years ago, and , back in London, he thought that the current visitors would enjoy meeting us.
They were a delightful group, and there was much lively conversation, sharing of stories, asking and answering questions (and good food!) Once again, I marvelled, as I so often do when I try to talk about this church to people who don;t know it, at just how rich, varied, and sometimes complex our life together is.
The reason for this group coming was, as their leader described it, to explore with us what it is "to be a church in the middle of Babylon" - how we go about being a church in the middle of London, not as an accident, but deliberately; how we engage, what we think we are for, and what difference, if any, we might make. And various people - long-standing, and new - spoke very eloquently about their understanding of who we are and what we stand for. (Incidentally, if you wonder how we phrase it, you might find it interesting to look at the section on "values and what we stand for" on the website) It was heartening, as one of the ministers, who is sometimes told that our identity and vision is unclear, to hear that it isn't - at least as far as those who spoke - and those who listened - were concerned.
We learned a lot on Wednesday evening. We learned a lot about Mennonites, and the issues that they are dealing with (remarkably similar to ours). We learned about the differences and similarities that we share as Mennonites form the USA and Baptists worshipping in London. We learned about Albanian cornbread.
And as I have thought about it after - and particularly about the way in which various people articulated our sense of who we are as a church - I am also learning/relearning how much of the way we know who we are - as a church, as individuals - is not by sitting in our own safe space and trying to come up with a definition, but in conversation and activity with others. And that may be in particular, others who are not like us....for it is in those interactions that our own contours, values, and perceptions of the world come into focus.
And for this introverted minister, that is a useful lesson to take on board...
Especially as I believe it is embedded in the gospel stories. As far as we can tell, Jesus did not spend too much time sitting in isolation with his disciples to help them work out a life plan then to implemented, He told them about God, and therefore about the life of the Kingdom as the life lived in God, and then sent them out to see what would happen if they took that seriously. As they met others, and interacted with them, tried to answer questions and need, worked out how to do this stuff. And they came back and talked to him about it - and then went out again.
This Sunday is the last of the Easter season; the period after the great Day of Resurrection in which traditions recalls Jesus spent time with his friends teaching them. And on Thursday past, we remembered the Ascension, when Jesus was removed from their sight. And they were sent out....
We live in the same part of history - sent out to see how to live this stuff, and what it might look like.
What it might look like in encounters with others.......