Beth Tash discusses new adventures in Leeds.
I've lived here for nearly ten years: as a student, in youth ministry and now as a pioneer minister – or 'vicar in the clubs' as people tend to describe me. Even though I'm not a vicar. And it's not just about clubs.
Two months in and the sense of adventure is growing. There is excitement, expectation and a desire to see God's kingdom come… yet at the same time there is the cry of, 'O Lord, what are you going to do here? There are so many people who haven't even heard of you. So many. And there's just me.' This is generally followed by the frequent prayer of 'Help!'
I've had some brilliant meetings and a surprising number of 'open doors' (those are meetings with definite outcomes if you're not familiar with the jargon!). The police, the council, and a couple of bar managers have been helpful, encouraging, provided places on guest lists and even offered funding.
Great people have contacted me and I've popped into some fantastic Christian projects which are already 'doing the stuff'. How incredible to have people who will share their story, massively encourage each other and offer to work together. Thank you, God…
Recurring ideas include Street Angels, Club Angels, prayer walking and prayer space. Logos, money, space and support are tangible offers, while quick chats that have become deeper conversations are developing into friendships and lessons in culture.
I think of many questions – some of them embarrassingly simple – that might accompany these ideas and relationships. 'How do people actually become Christians?' 'What would it look like if they did?' 'Is there a church in Leeds that's OK with having people there that have never sung a worship song in their life?' 'Will the church love these people and accept them on the journey they're on?' I really hope so. But I'm not sure.
At the moment, a lot of the pressure to 'perform' is self-inflicted, but the expectation is clearly evident from others when they say, 'We can't wait to see what will happen with your job.' Well, me too! But what are people expecting and when? Is it bigger numbers for their churches? Is it a new church? They ask, 'So how's it going?' When I say, 'Well I've met some people, had some chats, hope to meet them again, prayed for people in club toilets, etc', the response is often along the lines of, 'Oh, OK.'
And it makes me start to wonder whether as Christians we've stopped celebrating the teeny sparks of light in the dark as well as the glaringly bright flames. I love the big events and there's nothing better than seeing people encounter God and decide to follow Jesus, but I'm learning as we take on board what it means to be mission-shaped – and as we go to places that have very little or no experience of true Christianity – we who have Jesus living in us also need to be celebrating all and any signs of the kingdom that happen as we walk into a room. The smiles, the laughter, the appreciation, the tears as stories are shared, as perceptions of church are broken down, as the wounds and bruises of 'religion' are brought into the open and apologised for. In my ministry that might mean being alongside young clubbers while they vomit, as we pick up broken glass from the streets, as the police are told they're doing a good job, as Christians' hearts and eyes are opened to the 'groans of our world' on a prayer walk … maybe there are reasons to celebrate already.
And yes, there's always more to pray for. We need many more people to intercede with tears and heartache for more to live in relationship with God; for communities to be created in all shapes and sizes; for the transformation of our cities and streets to become places of safety, friendship, worship, love, holiness, purity, hope, faith and purpose.
Yet for now, can we celebrate the kingdom as well as the church? Can we Christians see ourselves as called to be even the smallest of sparklers to the people and places around us that could really do with a bit of lighting up? And can we get good at sharing those glimmers as well as the bright lights?