retreat to advance

Life is busy. Few people would argue with me on that. Church life can also be incredibly busy. Between services and prayer meetings and toddler groups and social groups and food banks and hospitality and Bible study and home groups and everything else it is easy to find yourself burning out on church and feeling distant from God.

A friend of mine believes many of us run on Christian guilt which makes us unable to say no to anything. Help with holiday club? Sure. Run a prayer meeting? why not. Start a new home group? Love to. Saying no can leave you feeling very un-Christian. Believe me, I’ve been there. I know.

Step back and see who is your community

Sometimes though it is necessary to retreat to advance. You have to step back to be able to look at things clearly and decide your way forward because it’s near impossible to see your way forward in the middle of things.

We all have finite resources in terms of time and energy. There is a limit to what we can do and that may change according to changes in our health or simply slowing down because of age. It’s how we use those resources that is important.

By stepping back, by retreating we can take stock of our resources and our capabilities. Then we can decide how to advance.

How many of us do something because if we don’t, no one else will? And how many of us do that to our own detriment? And most importantly, do we do that thing because it is needed or because we’ve always done it?

When we step back, when we retreat, we can look properly at the season we are coming in to. We can see how the things we do work into our calling. If you are running a toddler group that gets three regular visitors is that the best place to be putting your resources? And if it is important to keep running it, could those three regulars become part of the team rather than just visitors. It’s the same with anything you do. Does it have value to your community and does it give you an opportunity to share your faith in some way? These are questions it is only possible to answer by stepping outside of things for a time.

What can bring a community together?

Retreating also gives you a chance to look at your community. When you started out there may have been lots of young families. Those families may now be mainly school age, there may have been an influx of retirees, or people commuting to work. Communities are not static, they grow and change. Retreating gives you a chance to recognise those changes.

So step back

Look at what you do

Look at what your community needs

Then advance again when you’ve considered these things.

Identity and vision

What is your personal identity in Christ? What you do does not define you. Who you are defines what you do and how you do it. Age/health may demand adjustments but they are not a barrier.

Not knowing who you are is a major barrier. We are each given certain gifts and talents to use.

Eph 4: 11-13

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Romans 12:6

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;

1 cor 12:30

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

What is your Church’s identity in Christ? Who you are should inform what you do. If you do not know who you are then you either do nothing or you throw things at the wall to see what sticks.

What do the people in  your church feel called to? There won’t be one answer but often one answer is dominant.

Do they see themselves as teachers, building disciples and enabling each other to dig deeper into understanding the Bible? (Alpha courses, Bible study groups, teaching seminars)

Do they feel called to be shepherds, looking to the safety and wellbeing of their community? (toddler groups, food banks, coffee mornings)

Do they view themselves as evangelists? Spreading the Word far and wide

Do they view themselves as missional? Embedding themselves in the lives of their local community, living by example.

Or do they feel called to some other expression of our walk with Christ.

You need to answer this question before you start thinking about anything else.

Look also to what your community needs.

What does your community need? Does it need another toddler group or does it need a group for the local elderly? Does your local school need support with a reading club? Does your community have homeless people who need support? Look around and see what connects with your church’s identity. Be prepared to leave your comfort zone.

The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.

This is a cry of virtually every church everywhere but it doesn’t affect your identity, only how you live it out.

Old is not dead, disabled is not dead. What is stopping your people? Are they unwilling to come out of a comfort zone? Are they filled with doubts about their capabilities and abilities? Do they feel they are too old or disabled? Do they feel insecure, like they are not good enough? Each of these things can be addressed once identified.

Most things at my home church are run by one of two  small groups of four people. Sometimes with bigger things others are needed to just turn up on the day and be present, talk to people, serve people. Once we understood our identity those two small groups were able to put into place the things that fitted with that identity.

Young people are not the answer to everything.

Most churches are obsessed with gaining  new people, by which they mean young people and young families, in the belief they will be able to do everything the church needs to do. Most young people are in education or working. They often have little spare time to spend on doing things in church unless that’s where a lot of their friends are. Young families are often even busier with little time to spare. Often both parents are working and juggling a home life, school runs, clubs and more. Young people and young families are not your saviours. And more often than not, like calls to like. Young families will go to churches with young families, young people will go to churches with young people.

Who are you and what have you  got to offer?

This is what it comes down to. Who are you as a church? If the church is a body and you are part of that body you do not have to be able to do everything, to meet every need. Who are you? Once you answer that you can have a clearer idea of what you have to offer. You do not have to offer everything. That’s a good route to failure and burn out. But you were created to offer something built from the gifts, talents, wisdom and knowledge of your people.

Why do people go where they go?

I meet a lot of churches that are desperate to attract young families or young people or some other demographic that isn’t the one that makes up their current congregation. And then I meet a smaller number of churches that are full of Young families and young people and students.

I think there is a difference between the two, which I’ll come back to, but I also think there’s a more fundamental human issue involved.

I think one of the key issues is that like attracts like. Most people want to feel secure going into a new situation and one of the best ways to get that security is by finding somewhere with others like you. So families go where families are, young people go where young people are, students go where students are. Yes, sometimes someone will trail blaze. A family or a young person will feel called to a church and that may lead others to follow. Or that person or family may remain an outlier and eventually depart for a more family oriented church.

The other issue is the style of meeting. Very few young people grew up with hymns in the same way people of my generation and older did. “Be thou my vision” seems terribly old fashioned at best or archaic, like reading Shakespeare cold, at worst. It can be incredibly off putting. On the other hand modern worship music sounds familiar, like the music on Pop Radio Stations. And before you say how that’s a bad thing listen to this…

and this…..

Despite the different quality and age of recordings I hope you can see the similarity in style between these two songs from the 1890s. Hymn and popular music were very similar in style in the 1800s and early 1900s. The difference being that Hymns stayed frozen in time mainly, outside of black gospel churches, and popular music moved on in search of the next big thing. Now once again Worship music (as the hip young things call modern hymns) is connecting with current music trends and for many of us old timers it’s hard to handle. I would sing “Be thou my vision” anytime rather than the latest from Bethel or Hillsong. But I grew up singing hymns in school assemblies. My wife, who is ten years younger than me, loves modern worship, has no history with hymns and cannot deal with them. Most young people and young families are going to be coming from the same place as her. They understand the structure and music style of modern worship. Hymns sound like their great grandmother’s music.

The problem is that it’s not about just updating a church’s songs. Hymns were written by and for classically trained musicians. Most modern songs are written on the basis of, “if you know three chords you can play it.” It’s a totally different and alien musical approach to what hymn focussed churches are used to.

So that’s a whole problem on it’s own. Sung worship is a massive part of most churches services and whichever style you choose is going to feel alien to somebody. Who do you please? The new people you hope to attract or the current congregation? And where do you find musicians who can play modern tunes in the way they are meant to be played?

Then there’s the question of content. A congregation of established Christians may be happy to listen to a preacher on the finer points of The book of Revelation or the correct meaning of the words in Greek and Hebrew translated as brother in the English NIV but new Christians will need something more basic, a grounding in the key elements of the Bible first. How do you satisfy both sides. I know a charismatic church where the leadership banned speaking in tongues on a Sunday morning. It was a church that did pretty well on the family front and she didn’t want to scare new-comers with freaky behaviour. It would be fair to say that a lot of the congregation struggled with this edict. The problems go in all directions.

So what’s the answer? To be honest, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t have started this ramble if I didn’t have some thoughts and I have two.

The first is “be thankful for what you have.” If you have a congregation who are mostly in the 70 to 90 age group find ways to work with that. Reach out to the Saga fraternity, the 50 plus. There’s going to be enough common ground you can build something there. You could even look at having a grandparent’s service where they could invite their kids and grandkids. the 70 to 90 age group have a lot to offer in terms of wisdom, knowledge and experience. They’re not necessarily going to be keen to do Nerf Gun Wars in Messy Church but there’s a lot they can still do. Tea dances, classic movie nights, quiz nights, craft groups and classics like Bring and Buy sales are all things older congregations are doing to connect with older people in their communities. (and do remember there are older people out there who have never had the opportunity to properly encounter the love of Christ, it’s not just the younger generations) All the congregation have to do is be there and chat with visitors. Let them know what else you do and that they are welcome to come to your Sunday meetings. Make friends, walk alongside people, if people tell you their problems offer to pray for them, Not with them at first, and don’t let them think you have it all sorted or that they need to be perfect before they can think about coming to church.

The second is “Do what you were made to do”. Do what God has given you gifts and talents to do. Don’t worry about what other churches do (unless it’s an idea you can co-opt) and don’t worry if you don’t see fruit from your work. You are planting and watering seeds that will need time to grow and you might not see what comes from it. Besides, this is about kingdom work, not building a particular fiefdom. Each church has an identity, a specific way it is meant to Fulfil it’s commitment to worship God and make disciples of all the world. Some are meant to do it through working as an example, a shepherd, in their community. Some find purpose in meeting physical needs as a way to meet spiritual needs. Others are there to build up those who are already Christians through teaching and discipleship to go deeper into the Word. Others are designed for mission or evangelism. Once you know who you are though you can figure out what you were made to do and bring purpose to your gathering, and purpose will, hopefully, stoke the fires of faith and action. If how we live is worship then we need to find how we are called to worship.

That’s my thoughts anyway. If this resonates with you then lets talk. If I can help any church find it’s identity and find it’s way that’s great. Every church on the Meon Valley Circuit has a specific role in God’s plan, a part that is still vital. If you’ve lost sight of it let’s find it again together.

Blessings

Pete

Wise words from Margaret Thatcher

“Watch your thoughts, for they will become actions. Watch your actions, for they’ll become… habits. Watch your habits for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.”

Margaret Thatcher




I can say, in all honesty, growing up in a socialist family I was never a fan of Margaret Thatcher or her policies or her Government. The woman took my milk away and yes I hold a grudge about that still.

God can speak to you through the most unlikely of people though. I lead a prayer meeting with my home church once a week and I usually start with a quote from popular culture that reflects something in scripture. These prayer meetings have been running for 80 weeks now and I’ve worked with quotes from authors, movies, cartoon characters and musicians and poets and historical figures. I happened to mention that I needed a challenge and was challenged to begin with something from Margaret Thatcher. It was a challenge but while trawling through quotes from her I came across the one above.

We sometimes forget the power of words and actions. And we forget the power of thought to influence our words and actions. It’s kind of like the old song “Dem Bones”, everything is connected. To the world around us we are what we do, we are our actions. If our words and actions do not reflect each other we lose trust. As Christians we speak of a loving God and of His love for us. Do we reflect that in our behaviour, in our actions? Our actions in demonstrating love should become habits and when it becomes habit it becomes second nature, it becomes a part of who we are, our character.

Cervantes, author of Don Quixote

It is an unfortunate fact of life that kind, generous, loving people do not shout about what they are doing that is kind, generous and loving. It is those who are unhappy that shout loudest. You can particularly see this with respect to the church if you look at the news and social media. Barely a day goes by without some revelation about Magdalene Laundries, abusive behaviour by evangelical leaders, paedophile priests and vicars and more. Yet the church as a body is filled with good people doing great things. What do we do?

Primarily we need to encourage each other. When our good thoughts and words become actions which become habits which, in turn, become our character we will be moving in the right direction. When we are aware of something good that the church is doing we need to draw attention to it. Not to ourselves but to the work God is doing through us.

Secondly, growing from that, we need to take ownership of our story. We do that by acknowledging our faults and mistakes, not hiding them or excusing them. When we own and apologise for wrong behaviour, which ever part of the church it happens in, and when we act on that apology we will begin to take ownership of our story and to reflect Christ in it. The world at large does not differentiate between Catholics and Protestants and Evangelicals; all they see are Christians. The horror of the Magdalene Laundries does not just reflect on the Catholic Church in Ireland, it reflects on all of us. Westboro Baptists picketing the funerals of American soldiers reflects on all of us. Subjecting LGBTQIA people to conversion therapy reflects on all of us. And what reflects on us reflects on our God.

I think it is time we owned our own story, we took responsibility for our collective failings and corrected them and repented of them and celebrated our actions that reflect on us being the best we can be. Highlight the big and the small. From welcoming a new neighbour with cake and kindness to fighting against slavery in all it’s forms. Let’s stand as the church Jesus modelled, one that welcomes people in their weakness and brokenness and by doing so opens a space for God in their hearts so God can change what He needs to see changed.

Good words, good thoughts, good actions, good habits, good character all reflect God’s true nature. Do we want to shine a light reflecting God’s true nature?

Art by the wonderful Neil Slorance visit his etsy shop and buy something. I did.

Super active brain

Been doing a lot of reading in the dark evenings the last couple of weeks. Revivals are fascinating. I always thought of them as a revival of interest in Christianity, new people coming to faith. Seems from my reading that it was often more about putting the fire back into Christians and reviving them. More thoughts to come.

Also been thinking about worship a lot since reading a definition that said “Worship is bowing down to lift up”. As someone who doesn’t really connect with sung worship this is significant. More thoughts on this later too.

Not the only way to worship

Trying very hard to focus on the idea of identity. We have to know who we are so we can decide what we can/should do. Definitely more to come on this.

Service is a big thing in many churches. The biggest in some. How do you step beyond serving into sharing faith. That’s an important move that would help most churches. Something I’m thinking a lot about.

Also considering the difference between mission and evangelism. They are not the same thing but often get conflated. I am building my own definitions based on what I see rather than what the dictionary says.

Also I’ve been doing a little reading on guerrilla gardening and how that can be applied to the church. Meon Angels is one excellent working example of Guerrilla gardening techniques being applied to sharing faith.

Finally I’ve been thinking about retreating to advance. There is a need to step away to clear your mind so you can see clearly how you can advance. You have to be able to see the road clearly to be able to complete your journey.

Really finally I’ve been thinking about pilgrimages. The British Pilgrimage Trust has a website that provides guides to a number of pilgrim routes in the UK including one called the Old Way which runs from Southampton to Canterbury Cathedral and Thomas Beckett’s shine. Walking a pilgrim trail seems like a wonderfully contemplative way to connect with God.

As I say. Lot’s going on in my head right now. Looking forward to seeing how it all comes out.

A Question of Identity

Do you know who you are? you ask that question of most people and they will start to tell you about their work. That is how many of us define ourselves. But our job is not who we are, it’s not our identity.

Our identity is about the core of our being, the building blocks of our existence. Sometimes a calling will take us into a role that expresses who we are, for many ministers there is probably a close correlation between what they do and who they are. But what about the rest of us? How are we to define our identity?

An example. My late father was a painter and decorator, but that was not his identity. He was a fun loving, adventurous man driven by a desire to make a difference and always ready to stand against injustice when he saw it. (He could also be argumentative and pig headed and creative) That was the core of him that played into everything he did as a father, as a husband, as a brother, as a painter and decorator.

Who you are, your identity, is about your core beliefs and values. it’s the things that make you tick. It is something to think about.

Something else to think about is your identity as a congregation. Vision days and vision nights are incredibly popular among churches as they seek to figure out how they can further the Kingdom and share the Gospel and fulfil the Great Commission. It is very hard to figure out what you should do if you don’t know who you are. If the sorts of things churches do is any indication, very few have a real grasp on their identity. It is vitally important to understand the nature of your identity. In Ephesians 4:11 we learn something of the callings that were put upon us.

“And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers”.

My experience suggests that most churches have a tendency towards one area. It might be pastoral, caring for and serving their community. It might be teaching, delving deeper into the word and building discipleship. It might be evangelism, a desire to be out in the community sharing the gospel. It may be apostolic, living missionaly in a specific area, embedding yourself there and living out life as an example of a follower of Jesus. It may be prophetic, living to share words and images from God, to speak directly into peoples lives.

If you know what area your church is called to you can, more successfully, figure out your place in building the Kingdom. Knowing who you are enables to to know what you can do, to play to your strengths. It saves time and money because you won’t try and do things you aren’t designed for.

I was a part of a church many years ago that desperately wanted to connect with families and young children. It did light parties and Messy Church and parent and toddler groups and all it did was service a handful of Christian families. It had no connections to schools or local families to reach out to. It’s vision was doomed because it didn’t know who it was. Some time later it became more aware of it’s own identity. It was a teaching church, it built on discipleship and took people further into the Word of God. It revived a number of burned out Christians. A few years later it moved premises and became less a teaching church and it’s identity became about the local community. This doesn’t have to be an exclusive focus but the church in question is now maybe 70% pastoral and 30% teaching by those descriptions.

So who are you as a church? What are your core values? What did God call you to be? Figure that out and you can make a difference with your vision.

Blessings

Pete

ps. If this has struck a chord with you and you want help figuring it out feel free to contact me.

National Poetry Day

It’s apparently National/World Poetry Day so here’s a poem I wrote early this morning. (3rd draft)


There’s nothing essential about it

I could happily live without it.

The consultant said “good news”

“It’s not Parkinson’s. So you choose

Meds, or live with for now

I chose to live with it, somehow

Compensating for the shaking,

Things dropped, sometimes breaking.

There’s nothing essential about it

I could happily live without it.

The consultant said “it’s an essential tremor,

No one know why but it won’t get better

Are  you left handed? No? A bit

Of good luck, the right is still fit

So it won’t interfere much.”

It won’t interfere much

As I settle for half a cup

of coffee, because the rest was dropped

As I carried drink and sandwich to

The table to eat. What to do?

Make two trips or make it a joke

I need to be able to poke

Fun at myself and this unessential essential tremor

There’s nothing essential and it won’t get better.

Today my right hand was shaking when I woke up.

Shouting into the abyss

Everyone who has to use blogs or social media as part of there work spends time wondering “am I shouting into the abyss?” If what you write doesn’t get likes or comments you wonder is it connecting with anyone? Do my words matter?

The only one in the room?

I think it has to come down to the reason why you write. If it is to have your words praised by the largest possible audience then you are probably going to be disappointed. If, like me, you write because you need to get thoughts out of your head and into the world in a tangible form then you are probably okay. In all honesty, hope is that what I write will touch one person.

When we read of Jesus in the New Testament much of what we read is about his encounters with individuals. Whether changing the life of Zacchaeus or the Samaritan woman at the well or meeting Saul on the road to Damascus, Jesus often affected many by touching one life.

My hope is what I right hear and on Facebook and elsewhere will occasionally touch one person, one soul. If it achieves more then that is wonderful but to touch one soul that then touches others would be wonderful

Blessings

Pete

Thinking more on my last post and how my daughter brought two trans friends to our church when it was holding a baptism service. Afterwards one of them said to her it was the first time religion hadn’t made them feel condemned and I think that’s a very telling statement on the state of the church..

A conversation on my social media recently sprung up around the statement that most churches would be more welcoming to a murderer than to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

These two comments made me think a lot about who Jesus and his disciples spent time with. Jesus spent time with outsiders, people who were shunned by the priestly classes of society. Take tax collectors for instance. Now nobody cares much for the tax-man but in Jesus’ day the tax-man wasn’t just an unpopular civil servant. The tax-man was a traitor to his people who worked for the occupying Romans and to make it even worse he routinely stole from his own people, adding to their misfortune. Jesus ate with Samaritans, which would be like a Pompey supporter being friends with a Saints supporter only a thousand times worse. One of his disciples was a Zealot, essentially a terrorist. Another disciple, Peter, was well known for his anger issues and his tendency towards violence. He spent time with prostitutes and serial adulterers. One of the first individuals to be baptised after Jesus’ death is an Ethiopian Eunuch, someone who’s sexual identity was not really male or female. The first person Jesus promises a place in Heaven to is a robber and probable murderer being crucified with him.

Some of these people would have been classed as “sinners” but Jesus eating with them did not mean he agreed with their sins or wasn’t looking for change in them. Jesus had a welcome for everyone who was willing to listen to what he had to say. His dislike of the Pharisees wasn’t a blanket dislike. His problem was with those who were hard hearted, who placed rules above love.

When I look around church I see people who have been Christians for decades but struggle with the idea of loving your neighbour if it means people not like them. I see people on the beginning of their journey who are there because they have experienced unconditional love and want more. I see people who don’t understand the Bible but have an instinctual understanding of the nature of Jesus and want to be more like him. I see people of all shapes and sizes, all with different levels of Biblical knowledge and understanding, people striving to reflect God’s love and Jesus’s teachings the best they can.

When the Pharisees looked at the company Jesus kept they saw sinners. They saw labels that put those people into specific boxes that made dealing with them very straight forward and simple. Jesus saw people and he taught his disciples to see people.

An approach almost guaranteed not to win converts

Each of us has a type of people we struggle with and they are usually people who are different from us or fail to meet our expectations of what a person should be like. I have groups of people I struggle with. There are groups of people whose mere existence winds me up at times. But I know individuals in those groups as people and I understand them. I’ve looked beyond the label and met them as people and I still disagree with some of them but I understand something of why they are the way they are.

When Jesus said “Make disciples of all the world”, he didn’t exclude anyone. He didn’t say we didn’t have to try with alcoholics or BMW drivers or Pompey supporters or people of colour or LGBTQIA people or poor people or rich people or …………. (add your own prejudice here). He said all the world. How did Jesus go about that himself? He met peoples needs, whether feeding 5000 or saving a woman from being stoned for adultery. He went where they were, whether a temple or a Samarian well. And he did not judge people as individuals. When he met them, he met them with the full force of his love and let that make any changes they needed to make.

He met them with the full force of his love and let that make any changes they needed to make. And that’s the challenge. Human nature is such that we seek to fix what we view as wrong and if we can’t fix it it becomes worthless, worth less. Changing people requires God to have space to work on them. We make that space by treating them with love and respect. Sometimes they won’t be changed and that’s okay. If they’ve had the opportunity and they refuse it, that’s their right. Maybe it wasn’t quite the right time. Sometimes what we think needs changing isn’t what God wants changing and we have to remember that we follow God’s will, He doesn’t follow ours. We need to be seeking his will in everything and see where that leads us. And it might well start with removing the log from our own eye.

Gender and sexuality

There are certain things I believe that go beyond the Nicene Creed basics.

I believe that the Bible has much to say to us today but needs to be read in the context of the time it was written and with an understanding of the lives of the people it was written for.

I believe we cannot pick and choose which parts to work with and which to ignore. We must take the Bible as a whole but, like any text (even God inspired) it can be interpreted in different ways. There will be as many different understandings of scripture as there are Christians, even if it just a matter of nuance sometimes.

I believe God still speaks. The Bible wasn’t the end of God speaking to his people. There are still people moving in the prophetic who hear from God directly in some form. There are still musicians and artists who express what they hear from God in their own ways and connect to the hearts of others. There are still people who hear that small still voice guiding them in their lives.

Above all I believe God is love and our job is to show love to all and leave the rest in God’s hands.

What has this got to do with the title at the top of the page? Good question and let me tell you now. I think one of the things God does is he puts different groups of people on our hearts. Some he calls to work with the homeless, some with toddlers, some with broken families, some with migrants, some with the terminally ill, some with sex trafficking victims, some with their neighbour or the people in their street, some with prisoners and the list goes on. I think God calls us to people in need who we can connect with.

The thing that these and other groups have in common is that it is easy to pigeonhole them, easy to put them in boxes and apply prejudices to them. How many times have you heard someone say “don’t give to beggars on the street. I heard about one who goes home to a three bedroom detached house after his wife picks him up in a brand new VW Passat” or “They’re all run by Rumanian/Polish/Ukrainian gangs who take all the money”. How many times have you heard a group of people stereotyped into being a danger to society. It’s easy to hold prejudices when you’re dealing with a box. It’s easy until you encounter human beings and see that they are people. All of us find some groups easier to sympathise than others. Where’s this all leading?

Well a few weeks ago my daughter asked my wife if she would colour the hair of a friend of hers. My wife agreed and a date was made. She duly turned up with her girlfriend and the house filled with a frenzy of female hormones as they discussed haircuts and hair colours and my wife cut and coloured hair and they discussed fashion and make up and 1001 other thing. The thing that made this “unusual” if you like wasn’t that they were both girls but that they were trans-girls who were pretty much at the start of their journey to transition to women. They were, essentially, men who identified as women and were trying to live as women. Both were still living with parents and getting a hard time over their choices and decisions and both were four or more years away from being able to complete their transition on the NHS.

These were two lovely, polite and honouring women who we made welcome in our house as visitors, accepting their decisions to be identified as women and relating to them as women. They were human beings who wanted to be loved and accepted for who they are, something all of us can relate too.

A couple of weeks later they had stayed over on a Saturday night and my daughter had invited them to come to a baptism at our church on the Sunday morning. To her surprise they said yes. They came and everyone made them feel welcome, one woman invited them to join her at a fantasy gaming convention in London next year and one of the leaders tried to recruit them to help her with the toddler group when it restarts. Afterwards one of the girls said it was the first positive experience of religion she had ever had.

Why have I chosen to tell this story? There’s a lot of talk going on still about God in Love Unites Us, about same sex marriage and where the church stands on it. All I would ask is that, whatever side of the discussion you stand, whether you are upset about the Conference decision or the possibility of the Anglicans following suit, or you are in favour of the church fully accepting and connecting with the LGBTQIA community you remember that these are people we are talking about. They are not labels to bandy around as part of your liberal or conservative ideology or theology so please take the time to encounter people who identify as LGBTQIA+ as people. We are called to love. LOVE, not judge so let’s do what we were called to do in the way Jesus would. Love people and let God work on their hearts for anything He wants them to change.

Pioneer Pete.