While much of the world (within and outside of church walls and for a variety of reasons) weeps over women bishops and with so many saying they are ashamed of their church, I want to tell you a story that will hopefully challenge you to pride in the church rather than embarrassment.
It has been believed, via a blog that hit over 6,000 views, on Twitter, Facebook and through whispers that Miriam Swaffield and I put on a banquet for 100 people in 12 hours on Friday. It is a lie.
The banquet that took place on Friday was one of the most beautiful pictures of church I have ever seen. (If you know nothing of this banquet, check out this video). When Luke announced to Miriam and I that we would host a banquet in 12 hours’ time on no money and with a pre-arranged team of just six, it didn’t seem like a big challenge to me. I’m still trying to process why that was but I think it was largely because I knew what we had in hand. We had a massive family who would answer the call for help. I've felt a bit uncomfortable seeing the tweets going round congratulating us because while we did team lead, and I'm grateful for the opportunities that afforded us, it was absolutely the team that pulled this off. It was the church.
In those twelve hours people gave over £600 in donations, over 600 invitations were handed out to strangers and a team of over 30 volunteers gathered that evening to make it all happen. They played jazz music, did the washing up and welcomed homeless guys, your average middle class family, ladies from the market stalls, a local fishmonger and his girlfriend and countless others. How did we do this? Four of us just picked up the phone and said ‘please help’.
It can be easy to forget what a unique community we are a part of. Many who helped were York Uni freshers who have only been in York about 6 weeks! Some have only been to our church two or three times, yet on that day they answered the phone, put on a shirt and black trousers and were there. They stood in the cold for four hours serving hot coffee to our guests as they smoked outside.
Don't ever tell me students don't bless your church, don't ever say that they are anything less than powerful catalysts for change in our society.
One student turned to me halfway through the night “you see that girl there?” he said, “she’s my housemate! I told her about this and she wanted to come and help”. The same went for our photographer. As I looked at his housemate, dressed in her waitress garb, bending near to a homeless guy to serve him from a platter of food I was almost overcome. Not only had this brought together our church mates and served our community but it had opened the door for those outside the church to serve, love and connect with a whole section of society they’d never usually encounter too.
I got a text from a lady who’d come that night saying thank you - that the atmosphere had been amazing (thanks Hazel for making the place look incredible and Paul for the offering of fairy lights, maestros for the jazz music and our welcomers who sat and chatted to guests all evening), that the food was lovely (thank you Penny (Mum and organiser-extraordinaire), Josh (PGCE student back from a long day on placement, in the kitchen from 7pm - 1am), Dave (food organising boss, student, there for 16 hours straight) and the team of students who went for it in the kitchen). She said she was sorry to leave so early but that her kids were falling asleep in their cupcakes (thank you Hannah, a busy Mum and teacher who baked for the occasion).
It can be easy to think that this kind of generous, willing, servant-hearted community is normal. It's not. It's special and it's a powerful agent for change and transformation. What's more, this kind of thing is what God called us to.
On the ground the church is doing amazing things. This was a one off for us, but many people are doing these kinds of things every week. If we live in communities where people are willing to drop everything last minute and serve a spontaneous banquet for anything from four to seventeen hours non-stop then what else could happen?
The last few days have been painful for lots of people, but my prayer is that this inspires us into action. My prayer is that women everywhere, Miriam and I included, will take up the opportunity to lead and make an impact like so many of us did on Friday - to inspire a generation through tales of service, compassion, powerful leadership and outbreaks of the kingdom all over the UK. My prayer is that, as it was in the beginning, we crack on with spreading the good news, living out the good news and show that the gospel still has power and relevance, that God uses all his people to bring hope and freedom, to show this by making it happen before their very eyes.