It was Monday lunch time at the Toby Carvery, the place was full of different groups and parties in Christmas cracker paper hats enjoying their lunches out. The general atmosphere was one of fun, laughter and relaxation until this happened.

A man sitting close to our table started shouting and swearing across tables of diners at another couple who apparently had reprimanded him for blowing his nose whilst standing over them while they were eating. This couple spoke with good English but with foreign accents, although it wasn’t his deliberate racism that upset me. His tirade of abuse involved anatomical based swear words that I thought hadn’t been used for decades – with good reason.

The nose blower was brimming with such fury that he shouted across the crowded tables which included parents with children and a few groups of people with additional needs.  It was ugly. The mood of the room changed, people didn’t know where to look as the angry nose blower noisily suggested in no uncertain terms that this couple should be barred not only from this pub but from the country.

Recently our local postman got an earful of abuse from an angry neighbour for folding a letter to fit through a letterbox. You’d have thought he burned down the door and graffitied the house by the tirade our normally calm and peaceful neighbour subjected him too, ‘You have vandalised my personal property!’ On that occasion I made a point of finding our postman, apologising and thanking him for all he does.  Back to the Toby, there was so much tension in the air I shamefully admit, I did and said nothing…. Why? The fear of violence and backlash.

Where does this anger come from that was so palpable lying beneath the surface, ready to flare up at any time? Is it symptomatic of the current style of political leadership discourse in which insulting bravado has become the norm?  Is this sort of behaviour now acceptable? I sincerely hope not.

There are Christmas parallels here as the gospel writers paint a strong picture of a nation divided over calls for independence.  Prayers even for the non-religious for someone new to come and lead their nation to freedom; political turmoil and upheaval as a census is announced forcing people to go back to where they came from. And the tension of violence in the air of disagreeing factions failing to find accord amongst themselves.  

In the midst of this God came.

But in our age God has been here all along…… in theory.

Draw a one-mile radius from our church building and count the number of churches that meet on any given weekend. Churches that we believe are an expression of God presence, through how we act, relate and speak.  Churches whose intention is to bring light into dark places, peace into areas of tension and hope to the hopeless.

I deeply regret not intervening on Monday; I deeply regret when rather than be a peace-making, community transforming church leader I’ve been inward looking and taken my eye off the ball.

Christmas then is a reminder to consider all the tensions and troubles around us.

God has heard and responded, and we are his response.

Let’s really make a difference to Redhill in 2020 so people see and understand.

He’s heard you and he’s responding.

The Redhill 9

Don’t be confused, ‘The Redhill 9’ is not a new gang prowling the town centre on a Friday night, or any other night come to mention it. ‘The Redhill 9’ was the name given to the group of church leaders at the LICC (London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) learning hub day we attended last Saturday in Horsham.  We have committed to be part of a 2-year hub with church leadership teams from 12 other churches in our region, exploring together what whole life discipleship could look like in our churches.  I have been proud to the be minister of RBC many times in my last 2+ years, but last Saturday we had the biggest, loudest, youngest, most diverse team of all the churches, and that was a great moment for me.

The idea of the hub is to move beyond the nagging sense of ‘I should be evangelising more’ and drilling into the question of how we as church leaders can equip and encourage our churches to live confident, bold and fulfilling lives of faith in our everyday, outside of church, lives.  We’re looking at slight culture changes we can make to what we do and how we organise ourselves to encourage and facilitate this.

When I worked for a major retail chain my mate Clem would often turn the light off in the stockroom – surprising and probably scaring the staff as they were plunged into darkness. Then in a dramatic loud voice he would shout, ‘Let there be light’ whilst turning the lights back on. He followed this with a long sermon about Jesus being the light of the world. He usually had a captive audience, not least because he would stand in the doorway to block people’s exit.

These learning hubs are certainly not going down that road, but you may notice our language and emphasis changing, particularly at our Sunday gatherings as we aim to connect, recognise and respect how most of our community spend most of their time at their ‘frontline’, whatever and wherever that may be. It’s not to say that your frontline is necessarily your calling in life – some people are stuck doing things they really don’t want to be doing. But rather your frontline is likely to be a place where living your faith fuelled values will really make a difference and change lives.

There’s a lot to unpack in this but we’ve got a couple of years to do so, and that’s what ‘The Redhill 9’ were doing last Saturday and will be thinking and talking about over the next two years.

In March the learning hub is aimed at worship leaders, so I’m hoping it may be a meeting of the Redhill 25 or more.

I’ll leave you this week with one of my favourite Bible verses:

‘Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way’ (Colossians 3:17)