One of the joys of any time away from work is being able to listen to Woman's Hour. I love Woman's Hour. I love talky radio (so long as it's nothing to do with Brexit)
I managed to listen between Christmas and New Year. I can't be more accurate than that I'm afraid. I tend to ditch my diary around Christmas and all the days seem to run into one until I can get a nice new diary out. The programme was a phone in about how people had spent their Christmas. It wasn't the most imaginative subject but I expect the production team were still in the middle of their jolly hollys. I found one lady's story particularly touching. She explained how she had spent Christmas alone and how difficult it had been. She was 62 years old; widowed for quite a few years but still fit and active. She talked about how she went to clubs and met people, but how, sometimes she felt relegated to the outskirts of people's lives. Her little dog had recently died and no-one had knocked on her door to see how she was. All she wanted, she said, fighting back tears, was for someone to give her a call and say "Would you like to go for a walk this afternoon?" then the killer line - "Maybe even someone from my church". Arrrgh.
If I had a fiver for every time I had heard this. It begs so many questions. Are we really fulfilling our role in our community - whether that is inside or outside church? Are we inclusive? Not just the young and the beautiful but the older and the "ordinary". I recently looked at a church's list of home groups. (Aged parent wasn't sure which one she went to - long story) There were some fantastic things there - surfer groups, 20-30s nights, student evenings etc etc. There didn't seem to be much for anyone over 50. I am a parent of students. I am glad the church is trying hard to hold them. I am slightly concerned that if they went to everything that is available for them in church, they would never get any work done. Apparently, the church is losing a young generation. We need to work to get them back. I am very supportive of this project. I wonder though if we aren't also losing other people. The quiet, the lonely, the people who maybe don't vote with their feet and turn up every Sunday then go home to an empty room and an equally empty week.
I am all for pastoral teams, they do an excellent job. They find the people who are struggling and lost and lonely and they visit and pray. (Quite often anyway) But they are up to their eyeballs in work most of them. And, a pastoral visit is not a friendship. It is a reach out. In some ways it should be a last resort. I don't that that "Community" is the pastor's job. I think it is the community's responsibility.
We often talk about faith nor being an exclusive pastime. I don't just think that is about sharing the gospel - although obviously it is about that. I think it is about not closing down when we have found our tribe. It is so easy when we find like minded people - especially in church. We pull up the drawbridge so we can stay with our friends and the people we love and trust. Unfortunately, if that is your plan then I think you may have joined the wrong religion. We are called to be friends. To support and to love. Not just those we identify with.
I am, of course, certain that this is the plan because Jesus gave us the example. He shunned the wise and the powerful, those who maybe could have done the message he brought a power of good. Instead he sought to be with those who could give him nothing back. He chose to teach them of course but he chose a different way. He chose friendship. He spent time with them. He ate with them. He then told then to do the same, as people, as individuals. If people are looking out of their windows alone. If people are in our churches, praying that someone will want to be their friend, if people mourn their little dogs alone, then maybe we don't wonder if the pastoral team will ever get their finger out. Maybe the command was to us. To me.