My previous boss used to spend a good amount of time just "being around" this was christened "vicaring about" by our colleague. I have to say that I think it is a very important part of any ministry job. Obviously it helps to be somewhere where you might meet people which often means being about in town which I often have to do anyway as today when I was buying Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events for tomorrow's film night.
However on my way to youthworkering about the town I stopped off in church to see that everything was in order as I'd left it open for visitors and our verger Hazel had her well-deserved day off today.
Well I was thrilled to have three young lads come into church whilst I was there. Now I think I've seen them come in before and it's possible that they were part of a group who caused a little trouble by running around and making lots of noise. However I could be wrong. Anyway, I was talking to one of the flower arrangers when the boys came in (they were, at a guess aged 9-13 ish) and they asked if they could have a look around and I said that would be fine as long as they respected the building and didn't make a mess or run around. They also asked if they could light a candle and I pointed them to the pricket stand.
I left them to it for a while but when they were having a little trouble putting the candles in the stand (a WHOLE other issue to do with a dodgey batch of candles - the trials of a progressive catholic parish!!!) I went over to help. They asked me about the display that the children who were recently admitted to Holy Communion made as part of their preparation. I explained how they had made a tree to show that we are all part of the family of the church and how the the children then joined us in sharing the bread and the wine.
One of the lads told me that he had put a prayer up on the board before and he started to look for it on the board but I had to explain that we had probably used it in our prayers in the service and so taken it off the board. I left them writing some prayers and went of to prepare our Sunday fellowship group Bible study (about Acts 3 and one of the questions in our material was - "Why do you think the crippled man waited outside the temple?" - freaky!). The lads then had a look around the building and came up to me to ask what "all the cushions and stuff" in the North chapel were.
I explained that it was from a service the young people had done. They listened and then went back there and after a bit more of a walk around they waved and said goodbye and said they'd come back again.
Now when they walked in these boys may well have been hoping to nick some candles or some candle money or to write somethng rude on the board of prayers and I know some parishioners would have been very nervous about them being in church. They didn't swagger in with a yobbish strut but they weren't smart public school kids either. I admit that my first thought was to be a littlw wary but I like to think that I took a leap of faith that they wouldn't (even if it had been their original plan). I kept an eye and indeed I stayed in church when I hadn't planned to, just in case.
I hope that what they saw in our church was a place where they are welcomed, even invited, and not judged or prejudged for their appearance and age. I hope they found a place where they could make a connection with God and see that the chuch may be a huge old building but it is also the loving community that meets in it and makes sure the doors are open.
Going from church I went off in search of Lemony Snicket on DVD and met one of the young people who I haven't seen in ages but who I've been keeping in touch with over MSN. Now sometimes I worry that I'm kidding myself that MSN is alright as the only means of connecting with some of the young people who no longer come to events but the conversation today assured me that we HAD maintained communication and it SHOWED. She had just finished her RS exam that morning and had felt pretty ok about it but missed a couple of questions because she couldn't remember them. I asked what they were and she said the first one was something about what does the Apostle's Creed say about Jesus and the second one asked for the difference between the Catholic and the Orthodox church.
So I ended up in a discussion or rather an explanation of the filioque clause, a brief recitation of a bit of the Apostle's Creed and joking with her that she should have come to Choral Evensong more often (she used to be in our choir) because we used the Apostle's Creed for that!