Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The quiet bloke at the back

He came most weeks for about a year. About 2 out of 3, anyway. Mornings only. Used to arrive pretty tight for time, sometimes during the first hymn, and would slip away pretty quickly afterwards. Smiled and seemed friendly enough, but made no effort to involve himself in church life. Seemed to know the songs though, or most of them, and how to find his place in the Bible. But no one asked him about himself; I guess they sensed that it wasn't wanted. Then, quite suddenly, he stopped coming, and has never been back. 

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I went to Longmeadow Evangelical Church most Sunday mornings for about a year. I was spending weekends with a lady in the area; it was she who made me go back to church in the first place - "You won't be sorted until you get the God thing sorted" - and took me to the CofE in her village. It wasn't really my scene, but we went together for a while. Then, one Sunday, she had to work, and I was late for the Anglicans, so I went to Longmeadow. I knew that this was what I needed, but sadly for her it was a bridge too far. She never went once, but still pushed me to go. 

I was at home because the Bible was central. Most of the songs were equally familiar at the CofE, and the liturgical stuff there went deep, but the preaching did not. Suddenly I was back listening to scripture being expounded. I sat through a lot of Genesis with David Power. Ministry that was faithful, relevant and challenging. 

When I was in pastoral ministry, I remember the phenomenon of the quiet bloke at the back. The people (mainly men) who came regularly but not constantly, who shot off quickly after the service, who didn't seem to want to talk much, and, to be honest, to whom I never knew quite what to say. 

I discovered I had become one of those blokes. I was an anonymous, uninvolved, uncommitted but attentive churchgoer. I had a backstory, but nobody ever asked, and I didn't really want to talk about it. There was even one guy there who I thought I recognised from university CU, but I avoided him especially and I'm not sure he was who I thought he was anyway. Sometimes I was shocked or disappointed that people didn't speak to me more, but then I remembered those other quiet blokes at the back, and remembered the aura of "ask me nothing" and I understood. 

Gradually the drip drip drip of the Word and the Spirit started to erode the stony cladding my sin had put up around what was in reality a heart of flesh. I was a backslider, a prodigal who had travelled miles away, and God would not and did not let me be. He used my year as a quiet bloke at the back to bring me home. I finished seeing the lady, and Longmeadow has not seen me since. 

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The reason I write is that in your meetings you too may have a quiet bloke at the back. He won't have the same backstory as I did, but he is there for a reason. Not least, he is there because he wants to be. Be friendly, but don't push him too hard. Pray for him and let the Word do the work. 

You never know what God is doing. 

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