My anonymous conversation partner asks a range of salient questions about why the church should have a high street presence that go way beyond the mechanics, so I thought they deserved a response of their own.
I guess my starting point is that Jesus is the person who gives my life meaning, purpose depth and a sense of direction. And that Jesus urges me to share what I've found with other people.
Now I know that the church as we've inherited it is not a great vehicle for commending the message of Jesus to a sceptical world - hence my desire (expressed lots of times through this blog) to find other models of community and outreach. In this I am part of a big conversation with lots of other followers of Jesus.
So, when I say that the aim of being on the high street is to engage people in dialogue about Jesus with a view to introducing them to his way of living, I do not envisage many of them turning up at my church (or any other for that matter). Rather I envisage new styles of gathering growing out of those encounters, meeting there, in people's homes, in pubs, clubs or restaurants, being small and always involving the consuming of food and drink - much as Jesus did, in fact.
I agree that Christians have a chequered history. But I would suggest a visit to Sri Lanka and conversations with Christians who've been burned out of their homes and seen their land and churches stolen from under their noses by Buddhist monks before succumbing to the myth that Buddhism never did anyone any harm!
I am not going to give a point-by-point defence of the church, however, because everyone can tell stories of bad encounters, of people being badly treated and casually written off by church-goers in ways that are inexcusable. And it's happened in my church despite my best endeavours to prevent it and I'm deeply saddened by it.
But I would say that none of this - painful though it's been to me and I've no doubt to others - stops me from believing that Jesus remains the most important person who's ever lived, the only absolutely true and faithful representation of God on earth and the one whose message can and does genuinely bring life, hope and joy to millions of people around the world.
I believe the gospel to be the key to unlocking the good life of justice and equality that the world is crying out for and so I want that message to have a clear high street presence where it can shine in the neon darkness. I believe it to be a message of substance that needs to be sounded out amidst the clamour of the consumerist god which is leading our culture well and truly up the garden path to disillusionment, debt and despair.
As to whether the Christian message is sustainable over the long haul, I'd say 'yes'. It's sustained me for 35 years and a colleague I was talking to for 50 years this coming Sunday. And I could line up a room full of other witnesses who'd say the same. But, of course, it's not a question that can be answered at the start of walking with Jesus because he invites us to come and see if it's true. It's an adventure of faith we take with him and in company with others who support and pray with and for us.
It's that that I want to see on our high streets so people at least get a chance to see Jesus clearly and decide for themselves whether he might be offering the rich life they're hankering for.
Sorry if this sounds like a sermon - I am a preacher, after all...!