Talk about time flying! It’s been over a week since the last leg of the Big Hearted Tour in the North West and with a big mug of steaming coffee in hand it’s time to reflect on what actually went on!
First of all, and just in case you didn’t know, like most of our associations the North West Baptist one just feels huge whopping great and big! Phew, I covered some miles! The tour went from Manchester to Liverpool to The Wirral, back to Liverpool, then to The Rosendale valley, then Salford, then Rhyl and finally back to Manchester. I wouldn’t have coped if I wasn’t joined by fellow Baptist minister Neil Roberts from Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church. He did all the driving. (With each of the tours I have had a travel chum to assist me, share in some of the teaching and group work and also sell books at the events… this has proved to be so good. I just couldn’t do what I do without the help of others, and on this occasion to have a ‘presidential driver’ was just the best!
Something that was new to me on part of this tour was speaking at a gathering of Newly Accredited Ministers. (NAM’s) I must admit it was with some trepidation and nervousness that I tipped up at Northern Learning Community in Manchester… it had only been 5 years since I had finished my 4 years of probation as a newly accredited minister. It was there that I wrote the first draft of my book ‘Smack Heads and Fat Cats’ under the guidance of Glen Marshall one of the Tutors at Northern. It felt a bit like coming back to school… but this time I was the teacher. It felt all a bit odd and I did wonder what could I add to the learning experience of these much more experienced ministers!
I went with a bit of a novel teaching slant. The first part of the morning I shared some stories of what I did and then asked them what they had hoped to get out of the morning. After a short time of discussion we broke for coffee and then in 15 minutes only I shaped the teaching and input for the following hour based upon the hopes of the students. Risky, yet it seemed to pay off. One of the hopes was presented as a question: ‘What are you on?… I mean what is it that you are smoking?!’ I can quite honestly say I wasn’t expecting such a question, it was a first! Yet we addressed it in the session after coffee and we discussed the presence of God and being filled with the Holy Spirit as part and parcel of mission.
Some of the practical ‘getting out there’ type projects seemed to work so well… there were 3 in all over the weekend and were proceeded with some teaching. First off was on the Wirral on the Friday morning where teams went out into Morton with ‘Bag’s of hope’ which contained a free coffee voucher for the church cafe, a dairy milk and some information about the Christian faith. Other teams did my rather infamous ‘tray challenge.’ The concept is simple, take a tray and £5 and buy something to give away… it could buy 50 doughnuts from Morrison’s or, one coffee from COSTA… just about. The teams were tasked to think creatively and work out what it was they could offer people for free, and in so doing to see what response they got. One lady was so chuffed to receive a bag of hope she declared…
One young lad asked what we were up to and on explaining he said:
‘It is so good to see the church in the community.’
Another occasion in Liverpool I sent people out into teams to go and place a bet in a bookies. I gave each team £2 each. It is fair to say that they were shocked. However, reflecting on the experience and the uncomfortable nature of being in a different culture, doing something new we began to imagine how people must feel attending our services on a Sunday morning for the first time. It was a challenge to be accessible and to communicate well.
The most enjoyable experience was working with Christway Baptist Church in Salford. Teams went out with the tray challenge or to do Treasure Hunting. It was a first to have children join us in this adventure of seeking to find people who are treasure with clues which we believed God had given us. As the children weren’t old enough to write they drew stick men and pointed with an arrow were they thought God wanted to heal someone. The children were keen to meet ‘old people’ to pray for them and on seeing anyone remotely older one of the boys repeatedly shouted ‘old person!’ Well, it certainly opened up a conversation as to what we were doing! The most extraordinary thing about this particular treasure hunt is that while we met lost of people and even our prayers were gratefully received by some, it was one of the pictures from the children that has just blown me away!
One little boy had drawn a stick man, of sorts. (It really did look a mess if I’m honest) But what stood out of his scrappy drawing was an arrow pointing to the right hand of the stick man. I asked the boy whether he felt we would meet someone who had a sore hand. ‘”No, there is someone who has the top of their pointy finger chopped off!” he confidently declared. Well, we didn’t meet anyone of that description on Saturday afternoon (Surprise surprise you may think!) However, on Monday morning as I returned the hire car I was greeted by the owner who had his right hand ‘pointy finger’ wrapped up with bandages. He explained that the tip had been chopped off in an accident with a chain-saw. After explaining the story from Saturday he looked stunned and told his colleagues about the boy and the picture. ‘Does this mean I am blessed?’ he asked.
The tour in the North West also included lots of teaching (8 different events) which I felt led to emphasize a theme that has been kicking about in my heart: 2013 is time for the church to shine. I spoke about the gifts of healing and prophecy to enable us to beam out for the world to see and experience something of the good news.
The most vibrant event was in Poynton Baptist Church near Manchester. Not only did we have all the reports about other Big Hearted initiates that had been going on over the North West aided by The Light Project but we were also joined by Epiphany music and their beautifully inspired improvised music played over people who gathered. It was simply beautiful.
I could just keep writing and writing as to what happened on this tour. It was such a privilege to speak to over 700 different Christians in different places and share something of my heart with the hope that others too would encounter people who would have felt prompted to question them and ask ‘what are you on?!’