A Moment of Grace in a Welcome

‘You’re welcome!’ said the elderly lady at the door as I went into a church at the top of my street in Govanhill which I hadn’t attended before. It wasn’t just that she spoke the words but she held out a hand and gave me a firm handshake which only served to reinforce that I was indeed welcome. The other lady standing in the foyer was tasked with taking me in to the church, and helpfully informed me ‘You can sit anywhere’.

I took the one empty chair on the corner of the back row, and the lady beside me took no time before welcoming me as well, and starting a little chat. After the prayers and before the sermon, I was also included in the distribution list for the sweets being passed along the back row.

The welcome at the entrance took me back many years to West Kirk Presbyterian church in Belfast. On the door Sunday by Sunday, Jack Fairfield (literally!) faithfully offered a welcome and a firm handshake to those who entered. The fact that I was a young person made no difference, I was welcomed as eagerly and faithfully as any. Jack F to this day epitomises for me the importance of a welcome into church. The fact that some thirty-five years later I still remember his welcome, and his faithfulness, bears witness to the affirmation I felt through him, and the sense of belonging I felt in the church.

I often hear people speak with genuine concern about the lack of young people in church (quite apart from the rest of the population as well!). When hearing this I am reminded of just how important it is to make sure children and young people (and adults as well) experience an affirming welcome when they are present, and for however short a time they are there.

It would be my hope that their experience is such that no matter where they go and what age they reach, every time they pass a church door (open or closed), they will remember their own ‘Jack F’, know themselves affirmed and feel comfortable about (and maybe even encouraged into!) returning someday.

Should they do so, may they find a welcome and a handshake at the entrance, like I did today; and, maybe even a sweet passed along the back row.

A moment of grace; thanks be to God!

Lord, have mercy.


They will respect my son…

There was little more the owner of the land could have done to leave it in as good a condition as possible for the prospective new tenants (Matthew 21: 33 – 46). They got a deal that included preparation, fencing and tower already in place… later Jesus seems to liken this piece of land to the kingdom of God (v 43)… it was that good.

After handing it over, we are told the owner went away and left them to it. He was not going to stand over their shoulder watching every move they made in his heavenly vineyard. He trusted them to get on with it… and uphold their side of the agreement. After all, why would they not when such a good deal had been made available to them?

Naïve? Gullible? Weak?

They didn’t give him his due, however, and after sending servants who were mistreated and indeed killed, the owner had the thought that if he sent his Son, the tenants would respect him and do the right and proper thing. The essence of the word used for ‘respect’ suggests that they would be shamed into doing the right thing because as they saw the Son so they would see the Father who had treated the land (and them) so well in the first place. It wasn’t just that he was a landowner, he was a father and he was being fatherly to them in giving every chance to respect and fulfill the relationship between them.

Naïve? Gullible? Weak?

The apparent disaster of this approach unfolds as, rather than showing respect, repentance and a fruitful response, the tenants kill the Son and think they can claim his inheritance for their own.

It is hard to imagine God as naïve, gullible and witless and it has to be wondered if it was not possible for God to realize what was going to happen? Yet, still he chose to send his Son. But how could tenants imagine they would get away with it all… not fulfilling the agreement, maltreating (and killing) the servants, murdering the Son and stealing the vineyard of kingdom inheritance? Perhaps, if we need to find who in the story is naïve, gullible and weak, this is where we should begin looking.

If the landowner is guilty of anything, perhaps it is a guilt due to his diligence, trust and patience. Guilty of giving every opportunity to respond to his good grace before he is left with no other option than to return himself in judgement and sentencing; where he uses the measure against them that they have used against others, most notably his Son.

This may have been a story told against the religious elite of the day, but it calls me to remember the grace, gifts and generosity I have received on trust from God, while challenging me to reflect on how I treat (or allow others to treat) the servant poor who have a right to the Lord’s harvest.

But more, it calls me to remember the Lord of the Harvest will ask me to account for how I respond when the Son stands before me.

AMEN: Lord, have mercy.

A Question of Values…

I am currently considering something that requires a bit of thought on values.

A short while back I attended an open conversation between several church leaders and the concept of ‘gospel values’ was mentioned frequently. I am now reading about a card-carrying Christian organisation operating in an international multi-faith context and which is explicit in its commitment to ‘spiritual values’.

So, what are the distinctives?

What would you include in a list of

  1. Christian Values?
  2. Spiritual Values?
  3. Religious Values?

There again, what about plain (secular?) values – what would you include here?