It was a joy this past Sunday to have our morning gathering almost entirely back to normal. Whilst all the usual stuff in the formal bit has been happening for a while now – and singing has more recently been reintroduced – we were, for the first time in ages, able to have tea & coffee together.
Now, you might think, so what? Some cheap biscuits and ditch water coloured tea from one of those manky old metal kettles that seemingly every church with its own building has for some inexplicable reason is hardly cause for rejoicing. And, aside from the fact that we don’t actually use those metal kettles, I can see that this doesn’t particularly sound all that significant. Frankly, I’ve had cups of tea and biscuits in lots of churches after their services and it is almost never anything to write home about.
Unlike many churches, however, we have our tea and coffee before the service. We use the half hour before the service as our time to welcome people. I mean, think about it and that makes sense, right? How do you welcome people after a service? Welcoming them at the point they arrive is surely sensible? We still hang around after to chat and that too. But that is all much more natural to do given that we have already chatted and welcomed people before the service. Whatever small talk we might have is done before the service, making it much easier to chat about the weightier things we have been thinking about in that morning’s service.
But even this, of itself, isn’t exactly revolutionary stuff. But the ability to sit with our brothers and sisters – albeit it over weak tea and cheap biscuits (actually, I don’t know why, but it was cake this week so… there’s that) – was brilliant. The first half hour of our service – the informal time over tea and coffee, biscuits and cake or whatever – typically sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. We bang on about how church is not a meeting per se, but a family. But in many (most?) churches, one doesn’t always get much of a sense of that. But in this small way, allowing the same to carry on after the service, we welcome people as guests into the life of our church family. And the difference it makes to the rest of our time together is far greater than half an hour over cheap biscuits and weak coffee can possibly convey.
Greater still, we had several visitors with us this week. Somebody, who found us online and had been following our live stream for a while showed up. We were able to greet him and talk through what we do and why we do it and listen to a good chunk of his story. We had an unchurched family, who have only recently started coming to us, approach us to ask about baptism being as they think they have come to trust Jesus. We had another guy, who has been a regular attender for a while with interest in Christian things, also request baptism so that he could join the church. We had relatives of some of our members visiting and were able to welcome them too. It might seem like just a bit of chat and cheap refreshments, and it is much derided in many places, but it does make such a big difference.
Of course, the strength of that half hour before the service – and the half hour to hour that we hang around for afterwards – is built on the existing fellowship that exists. We don’t only see each other on Sunday mornings. We don’t only hang out together for that half hour but see each other at other times too. When we meet up on a Sunday morning, it is an extension of the fellowship that has already been going on. We are able to chat about things that matter because we have already been chatting about the things that matter as we have met up throughout the week. And though the half hour is small of itself, it sets a tone that is immeasurably more important than we often think and certainly than it sounds.