It was the first of our ecumenical Lent Group meetings last week. We held it on neutral territory in the Vyne Community Centre in Knaphill in the largest of their meeting rooms. There were 23 of us there: 10 Roman Catholics, eight Baptists, two Methodists, two Anglicans, and one chap from the community with no church affiliation. I was on the door welcoming people. I like being on the door on a Sunday at church. I consider this to be the most important job in church life – new people form an instant opinion of what a church is like from their initial greeting at the door when they arrive.
As well as the Church for Knaphill Lent Group meeting in the Vyne that night there were two other groups meeting: Bingo in one room, and Yoga in another room. I just welcomed everybody who came into the building. I am reasonably well-known in Knaphill these days – primarily because of my stint as Editor of the quarterly Knaphill News (a glossy publication that is distributed free to 5,000 homes in the area and is read by 15,000 people) which carries my photo in the Editor column. I welcomed several people who had come for the Lent Group, and then a lady who had come for the Bingo. She wanted to know why I was there and I tried to explain (as simply as I could) about the Lent Group. Although she was an older lady she didn’t have a clue about ‘Lent’ until I got on to the subject of ‘God’. From that point on I simply asked everybody who came into the Vyne what they were there for, and then explained that it was ‘Yoga and Bingo to the left … God to the right!’ Everybody thought this was very funny … especially when Julia came along and suggested that we combined all three groups and did a combination of Yoga, Bingo and God … all in the same room!
For our ecumenical Lent Group, we are using ‘On the Third Day’ – an ecumenical course in five sessions written by Bishop John Pritchard with an accompanying audio – produced by the York Courses. The first session was entitled ‘Have I Got News for You’ and centred on the various evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We listened to the audio and then split up into five groups with four or five people in each making sure that each group had a good mix of people from the various churches. We were given a dozen or so questions for discussion to choose one or two from, and the group I was in spent most of its time sharing which of the various well-loved Bible passages read at Easter was our favourite Easter reading. Everybody shared something, and the various stories/testimonies were really inspiring and often very moving. The stories of ‘Doubting’ Thomas (John 20:24-28) and the Two on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:28-35) came out top of the pile, but this led us into another question re. places where we had ‘bumped into the risen Christ’ along life’s road. Although we all came from different Christian traditions it was wonderful to realise that so many of our experiences were very similar … especially the way in which each of us had found (or been found by) the risen Christ somewhere along the road.
Comments afterwards (together with emails during the week) suggest that everybody without exception found the ecumenical Lent Group a very positive, enlightening and encouraging experience, and we are all looking forward to this week’s session. Snow fall permitting we will be meeting once again in the Vyne (along with the Yoga and Bingo people) and perhaps we might even have more than 23 of us this time? The subject this week is ‘So What? The Implications of the Resurrection’ and we begin with a great story: In the 1960s the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, was in Moscow over Easter. He went to the Barber Shop in his hotel for a shave (his electric razor had broken). When his barber saw Stockwood’s episcopal cross and ring he asked if he was indeed a Bishop, and when Stockwood answered in the affirmative the barber kissed the bishop’s cross, and then his ring, and finally (with cut-throat razor held aloft with the Bishop’s beard still attached) called out, ‘Christ is risen!’ to which all the other customers in the shop responded, ‘He is risen indeed! Alleluia!’ Mervyn Stockwood thought to himself, ‘Poor old Brezhnev (the then Soviet President): 60 years of atheism and still the Galilean conquers!’