My wife and I were settling to our toasted cheese sandwiches in the Costa in the Mall in Blackburn when we were confronted by a friendly enquiry! “Are you Christians – I thought I saw you giving thanks”.
We had indeed followed our normal practice before any main meal – holding hands across the table, we had said “For this food, and the hands that have prepared it – we give you thanks, O Lord. Amen”. If it had been an afternoon tea, which we had last week at Betty’s near Harrogate (posh place), we had said “ For every cup and every plateful, Lord make us to be truly grateful”. No one spoke to us then – different sort of place!
To our enquirer in the Mall, Gertrude responded “are you a believer?” and our little act of faith produced an introduction to a fellow Christian worshipping at Rishton Parish Church – we exchanged personal news of shared interests, learned of a poorly daughter, promised to pray for her, and she went on her way – taking one of the cards which I always carry which says “Life is only for love – time is only that we may find God” – words from St. Bernard, a founder of Religious Communities.
Our Diocesan eruption “Vision 2026” – expects us to be “witnesses to Jesus Christ” – and this is where regular church-goers fail miserably. When I see a Moslem man or woman I can usually tell that they are people of Faith – we were surrounded with them in the Mall, with their varying degrees of beards and veils. I recognise a Sikh by the smart turban which even bus drivers were allowed to wear because it is so essential to their Faith. But would I – or you – be recognised as a Christian? Sometimes I see a woman daring (after all the unfortunate publicity about jewellery at work) to wear a cross – and if it is not too intrusive I just whisper “I hope that means as much to you as it does to me” – and sometimes a happy and useful conversation follows.
In response to Bishop Julian’s fervent concern for the future effectiveness of our Diocese – “Healthy churches transforming communities” – perhaps we should consider making it evident that we are people of Faith. For either men or women a discrete cross, or fish symbol (if you don’t know why a fish – find out) or a bird in flight symbolising the gift of the Holy Spirit. I dare you to make yourself known as a Christian – the Mothers’ Union often proudly wear their lovely brooch.
It’s worth reflecting on the Bishops prophecy when he first arrived in this Diocese - in effect – “unless something changes, the Church in Lancashire will die as the Cotton Industry has died”.