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Reflection by Stewart Perry

When somebody in a leadership role in the church uses the word ‘Generosity’ it is often associated personal or church finances… please know from the outset that the words I am writing have nothing to do with money. Trust me… 

How the wider church has gathered has been dynamic and challenging over the last 12 months. In many churches things have changed. We’ve seen the introduction of Online Worship in many churches who never contemplated it as an aspect of church life, ours included. We’ve seen small groups and bible studies have to think about when and how they meet, whether food can be shared and whether meeting online is actually something worth considering. Our own Parish Council still meets via Zoom once a month in part because it makes the time more accessible for some and it also does facilitate more open conversation.

Whether we are gathering physically or gathering online, I wonder if we might be able to think about the idea that when we gather we might be conscious of ‘Gathering Generously’… here’s what I mean…

I am in a rush a lot of the time. Far more than I should be. I know that when I rush I become less aware of others and more aware of what I need to get done to move on to the next thing. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Grocery shopping is one task that I will try to do as quickly as possible, although I must admit I think I take twice as much time as Leanne does, she has a list and stays on task… I usually don’t…

I can’t remember the last time as I was grocery shopping that I considered the people I was shopping with. I’ll often smile and say hello to people I pass in the street but you don’t do that grocery shopping, that would be weird right? I only acknowledge others when they’re in my way or I’m in theirs. I know we became more aware of the vulnerability of those who work in grocery stores during COVID lockdowns but I certainly haven’t thought about their well being while I’ve been shopping recently. I do like to get a staff member to put the groceries through the scanner when I have a full trolley but when I only have a few things it’s way easier to use the self check out. But when I do it’s generally just a superficial “how’s your day been?” I even will often shop with my ear-buds in listening to a podcast so it feels like I’m multi-tasking.

My default when I shop for groceries is that I work out what I need, get it and then move on as soon as I can.

What would it mean to be more generous when I shop? Without looking like a weirdo? Maybe it’s as simple as being more observant of those who are shopping at the same time and maybe you’ll be more aware of people who you might know & rather than seeing them from a distance or waving or gesturing your head, you take the time to stop and say “hi how are you?” Maybe it is being aware of those working within the store, stacking shelves or serving at the deli counter and simply acknowledging them as you pass and smiling. Maybe being more intentional with your conversations when you reach the check out and being interested in the person you are meeting. Why not even join the queue of an operator you recognise from last time. 

When you think about it, being generous while you shop is really only about being more aware, more intentional, smiling and using your words more carefully. You still meet your needs, you still work out what you need, get it and then move on. But it matters more now.

I do wonder whether our church gathering experiences, whether they be for worship or groups can become something like working out what I need, getting it and then move on as soon as I can. This has always been an aspect of church life from experience but the last 12 months has magnified many things including this underlying trait.

If we believe we are still called to be a church known for its relationships, which I passionately do, shouldn’t we be concerned about how generous we are when we gather?

Maybe it is turning up earlier than usual so you can notice others and take the time to acknowledge or converse with them, or staying later to do the same… why not both. It’s perhaps thinking about who is not there and following them up to see if they’re OK. Being aware of those people you don’t know yet or the new person and smiling, acknowledging or even beginning a conversation with them before or after church. It could be pre-ordering your coffee before church so that you show you are intending to stay and value those who also will do the same. What would it mean to gather generously online? Gathering generously could be a whole lot of different things that are new and some that we use to do but have just got out of the habit of doing. It could be as simple as being more aware, more intentional, smiling and using your words more carefully. You still meet your needs, you still work out what you need, get it and then move on. But it matters more now.

In the coming weeks and months we are going to focus on ways we can be more generous as we gather. I pray that this might become a transformative part of our culture. One in which we show obvious generosity every time we gather.

Blessings

Stewart

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