Here's the piece I wrote for the church magazine about our forthcoming 150th birthday celebrations. I will reflect on the planning process for this in a subsequent blog...
The baffled café owner, not quite sure how to process what he’d just been part of, asked ‘what kind of church do you belong to?’ The tall, balding sociology professor from the US East coast thought for a moment and then said ‘I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.’ To which the café owner said: ‘no you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that.’ Wouldn’t we all?!
The story comes from a book by Tony Campolo, the American Christian leader, activist and sociology professor. He puts his finger on a key aspect of what Jesus is all about. His book’s called The Kingdom of God is a Party. Jesus spent more time at parties than in church; he was constantly surrounded by the wrong kind of people, eating and drinking with them, celebrating their lives and talking about the Kingdom of God. To the surprise of the religious folk of his day, he likened the Kingdom of God to a party that he was throwing and inviting any- and everybody to come along to it; a party where life in all its fullness was on tap for everyone.
It is in that spirit that we are approaching our 150th birthday. On 2 June, we’re throwing a party for Bromley. Along the high street, we will be celebrating the Kingdom of God by offering food, games, fun and conversation to anyone who wants to join us.
We have begun talking to traders and restaurant owners along the stretch from the Partridge to the Swan and found a really positive response from them. More conversations will follow. The town centre manager is offering all the help she can to make the event a success – and a template for something she’ll put on when the improvements in that part of the town are complete in 2014/5! And we are talking with a Christian organisation that specialises in throwing community parties who have offered to come and help us as we gear up for the big day.
So, why are we doing this?
Our church was born in a pub in a world that knew and honoured the Christian story. It grew in such a world and has enjoyed years of fruitful mission and ministry in the town. We are celebrating our 150th birthday in a world that neither knows nor particularly honours our story. People who have any impression of the church think of us as a group that likes to say ‘no’ to the way people live, who deal in guilt and judgement. We want to correct that mistaken impression and the best way to do it is to throw a party. We will say thank you to God for his blessing over 150 years by blessing our neighbours.
2 June is the day of the big lunch, an initiative of the Eden Project in Cornwall. Its founder Sir Tim Smitt, says “If you get to know your neighbours, not only does it create a happier, safer environment to live in, but you will probably find they are happy to help you out with your pets or water your plants when you go on holiday. You never know, you might even end up with a new best friend, simply from knocking on your neighbour’s door to say hello.”
As church people we often bemoan the fact that society today isn’t as neighbourly as it was when we were growing up; there is a lot of fear and suspicion of strangers; the world we live in isn’t as friendly a place as it once was. As Christian people we believe that Jesus came to bring reconciliation not only between us and God but between people of kinds. Paul reminds us that the dividing wall of hostility has been broken and we have all been brought close to God and hence to one another. So, of all people we believe that neighbourliness is a good thing; that anything that brings people together and helps them to get to know one another can only be positive.
That’s what we’ll be able to do on 2 June on our high street with a whole cross section of our neighbours. The aim is to provide food from a variety of restaurants and fun for all the family. The advantage of buying the food from the restaurateurs along that part of the high street is that it blesses them. Over recent years they have seen trade suffer as a result of developments around the Glades, along with the recession. In some small way on 2 June, we can bless them by bringing them business and, perhaps more importantly, introducing a whole load of people to their food which might result in increased custom over the longer term. In that way we have made a significant contribution to the livelihood of some of our neighbours; we will have sought and brought the prosperity of the city where we live!
After Easter there’ll be training events for the day facilitated by Marty Woods, an Australian who has organised street events across the world and was last year involved in a range of Olympic-related community parties. There is a time line elsewhere in this issue of In Touch giving more details.
It just remains for you to be doing two things. The first is to pray for all those involved in the organisation of the day and all those who will come; pray that the Lord will bless them. And the second is to take a stack of fliers when they are ready and invite your neighbours to join us. There will be fun through the day for all the family, for people of all ages from toddlers to senior citizens.
So, get praying, come along and be part of the blessing of Bromley to celebrate our 150th birthday.