A backlog of recorded sermons have been uploaded to the site from a few months ago right up to Sunday 13th November. They can be accessed here: http://www.wymondhambaptist.org/services/recorded-church-sermons-mp3.html
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I went up to the front on Sunday. It wasn’t the first time I’d been there, but it was the first time I was quite so personal. It felt like it needed doing though.
I was amongst people who love me, who I’ve had ups and downs with, so it was okay. And probably my three best friends were there as well – which is remarkable given that one of them doesn’t even come to our church. It was good to spend time with the three of them over the next 24 hours as well.
So it wasn’t too tough going up. It needed saying, and there were lots of smiles and big-eyed suspense to see how the story ended, to keep me going.
After, though, I got to thinking about what it means to be at the front, and then, more interestingly, what it means to be at the back.
Being in the crowd isn’t just finding a safe place away from everyone’s eyes, it’s also about enjoying a real non-verbal vibe that happens in an audience. All of us sitting down benefit from each other’s company, but experiencing it together becomes another experience in itself.We pick up on others’ squirms when a message is uncomfortable or just too long, and we take reassurance that others are picking up on our own thoughts. It’s a very easy way to feel validated.
But joining the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ is a lazy way to get something out of church, and in a way it’s selfish too, to just be enjoying the spectacle. It’s much better to give something back to the minister and the people around you. (And besides, from the front the minister can see that we’re all in it together. And they’re not.)
So I’ve cobbled together seven things we can do from the back. I bet Alan could easily double or treble this list!
1. Keep eye contact, and smile and nod.The man sitting beside Margaret was doing this wondefully for me – so encouraging, and I don’t even know his name.
2. Speak to the minister afterwards, and say what it was that was useful for you. Even better, drop him a note to let him know it’s stuck with you, and you’re growing from it. Several people spoke to me after church about my 2-minute gush, and it was very reassuring.
3. Show you’re listening. Trisha was on the edge of her seat during my story. It meant a lot to know it was making sense.
4. Give the speaker a hug.
5. Respond. If the speaker asks for prayer, stand up and pray for them. If they ask for an idea, give it. If you say something silly, so what? One thing I love about our church is that we love each other no matter what. The minister will love you for responding; everyone will love you for standing up and answering the question; and we’ll all love laughing together if it comes out wrong. Get some love and some laughs, and do what they ask!
6. Snuggle up. Being in the school room on Sunday gave church a coziness and intimacy I haven’t felt since the Boxing Day service two or three years ago, when we were in the lounge expecting few, and many came. It was like being home when all the family come to visit. Physical distance creates emotional distance, and can even act as a barrier. Pick those chairs up and move closer together!
7. Sit together. A few weeks back when Alan brought seeds and soil into church, I came in to find two tables we could choose to sit at. One had those same closest friends and their children, and they soon scrunched up together (getting snuggly, as #6) to make room for us. But I saw Jack, and Shirley and Michael, and some others I didn’t know at a table beside them with a few free chairs, and I thought ‘They’re my friends too.’ There’s no reason to stick to best friends, when good friends are free. Sit together and get to know each other better. I think I got more out of the day sitting with them and benefiting from some different conversation than I would have with my more familiar company.
If you just come to church, watch what happens, get your coffee and biscuit and chat and leave, you’re not adding anything. It’s not about being on a rota or doing a job, it’s about receiving what’s there for you in a way that it spills over til you give it back and build our church community.