We had a really good service of prayer for Christian Unity this evening. The Methodist minister shared some thoughtful reflections on what it means to "Rejoice always", "Give thanks always" and "Pray without ceasing". She began her sermon by asking us "How are you feeling?" She suggested that in any large gathering there would be all sorts of different emotional states in evidence. For me it was a very poignant question as I was a little emotional. I've been having an "interesting time" lately which I won't bore you with but today I had been speaking with someone who's mother recently died and so I had thought a bit about my mum (who died nearly six years ago) and then we sang one of the hymns we had at mum's funeral so I found myself in tears at church.
I remember the time this first happened when mum was going through her illness and I, like other people I know, felt that it was rather embarrassing. This evening, however, I pondered on how I felt differntly; encouraged by the ministers words (and mellowed through the years!) I didn't mind so much. There's something about the honesty of crying when you're upset in church that seems right. The dealing with other people's reactions to it is probably the greatest difficulty. There are people around who would know one reason why I might be teary at the moment but others might well be very shocked/worried/concerned/distressed. I wouldn't want other people to be upset. However, if church is family, it should be ok.
Interestingly, I found it easier to deal with difficult emotions in front of a group of teenagers than others. I think perhaps because I know them and they know me better. It happened that I was on our church youth holiday a few years ago when I received the news that Brother Roger had been murdered during a service at Taize. I called the young people together and told them that I might be a bit below par as this was a community special to me and I was very aware of all they would be going through. The young people were great. It even led into a discussion about death and grief and all that with some of them.
What is the difference between the communities? Is it merely a size issue or is there something about a level of relationship? How do we get that kind of community built in the wider church? I think there is something to be said for the fact that the young people meet together much more in social ways and spend time away together on residentials as well as being together in worship and Bible study. Could it be as simple as that? I don't know. As a youth worker I'm conscious that I minister to a relatively small "church within a church". True we have our fringe members, our new members and visitors but in other ways our community is smaller and the core certainly more stable. I have opted to spend quality time with fewer youn people rather than aiming for having as many young people as possible pass through our doors. If the adult members of the church had as much personal contact with a minister as the young people do perhaps things would be different. I'm not sure the Church of England could resource that though. Yet I think many of the fresh expressions out there are doing just that. Maybe they are youth groups for adults.