I was caught by some of these stories and encouragements:
Ian Coffey told us about Daryl.
Daryl was at Youth group but kept himself to himself. The youth leader wanted the group to sing at the old people's home and this struck fear into Daryl's heart; he had a thing about old people - he didn't like the idea of this - they smelt funny! But the youth leader asked if he would simply drive the mini bus (after all he was the only one with a license), Daryl couldn't really refuse, so he didn't. Once he got the group there the Youth leader asked if he'd carry some equipment in - he was the biggest of the lads, so he did. Once inside the old people's home, the music struck up and before Daryl could slip back to the minibus, a man had been wheeled in by his side and had reached up and took his hand as the hymns played. Daryl didn't know what to think but he let the man hold his hand. The next week the same thing happened and the next and the next and seven weeks went by like this until one week there was an empty spot next to Daryl. He went out into the corridor to investigate and the nurse informed him that the old man was in his last hours of life, a door opened at that moment and the man's grand-daughter approached Daryl asking him ' Are you Daryl, I'm so glad, my grandfather's been asking for you... he's been asking to see you...he's been wanting to know if Jesus has come for the hymns.' Daryl held the man's hand until he passed into eternity.
To whom will you be Jesus?
A lot of the stories made us all feel very emotional and don't go cynical on me about this - I'm beginning to realise that very few people are called into action, without some sort of emotional response accompanying it. We should love intensely and weep with our sisters and brothers intensely and I don't think we should hold back in the love and passion and sense of conviction with which we do things for our Lord's kingdom and in the love we express for the trinity.
Rob Parsons talked about Iczac Pullman, one of the greatest of violinists, who would draw crowds, so famous was he for the 5 minute solos where he broke company with the rest of the orchestra. As the crowd waited with anticipation for such a solo, he began exquisitely and the sounds filled the auditorium, but then so too did a crack that ricocheted as a string broke and the audience gasped and the orchestra froze, but Pullman continued playing, converting a four string scale to three and finishing with finesse. "All my life it has been my mission to make music from what remains." He said. We are encouraged likewise to make music from what remains,e for our world is broken but there is much music remaining.
We were told by David Oliver about the boy and his father whom hotel staff suspected were staying there because they were across the road from the hospital because the boy looked so weak and unwell. This was confirmed when the father rang down to the restaurant to explain that when they came down for breakfast in the morning, they would both have shaved heads because his son was to start chemotherapy that day and the father had decided to shave his head too in support of his son. Please do not look surprised, the father had pleaded. When they went down to breakfast the next day, it was the boy and his father who looked surprised and moved for most of the men who were serving that day had shaved their heads too in an act of solidarity.
We were encouraged to think about Ezekiel and how we should expect and pray for God to breathe his life into the dry bones of our congregations and raise up new life there in all that often untapped potential - how sometimes people just need to be asked and affirmed and it is in needing help and in revealing our vulnerabilities that we help to heal the broken - that the best people to offer marriage guidance are not those with perfect marriages but those who have had difficulties - that 21st century families need to be learning how to be more loving families from people who represent 21st families so that we might all strive together to be God's family.
David Oliver described beautifully how we need to set those chained eagles free so that they can fly - their wings are a little broken - but it takes the broken to heal the broken. They need affirmation so that they can stretch out these wings and fly. Congregations need to feel like they are God's people, on the front line, equipped and ready to do battle.
Vulnerability can be our greatest strength, we need to confess our weaknesses - it can be very powerful to say 'me too.' We need to use the broken - this amazing volunteer base, through them will come great healing, both for themselves and others.
Rob Parsons, talked about Jesus in a way I had never thought through before. It is not so amazing that Jesus ate with sinners but that sinners ate with Jesus - they wanted to be with him. We have to be like this as Christians - people should want to be with us - not see us set off in some ghetto, some church - some sub-culture of a sub-culture. We want church to be credible and relevant and to meet the real needs of people's real lives.
We should meditate on Isaiah 61 and that the Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,/ Because the LORD has anointed me/ To bring good news to the afflicted;/ He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,/ To proclaim liberty to captives/ And freedom to prisoners.
That when we look to reach 21st century families, we have to appreciate that where once parents had lots of children, now children have lots of parents.
It was an emotional and inspiring day with people from many, many denominations, hoping to equip themselves with the vision, the resources and the energy to meet the needs, to engage with, their communites.
So very well worth it ... now to put it all into action...! They launch their website today so take a look at www.careforthefamily.org.uk