I visited Trent Vineyard this morning, as part of my Church and Ministry module, which insists (and therefore gives me just the excuse I need) to be nosy about other types of church and come to encounter God in new spaces and places. The experience started literally as soon as I rolled into the car-park. There were bright yellow aproned car park ushers helping us to park: this was going to be big if they had to be strict about car-parking! I was supposed to wait for a friend on the door-step. Waiting on the doorstep of any other church would be a perfectly legitimate undertaking and you could stay there quite happily, probably happy to, nervous to go in too early and unaccompanied. At Vineyard, however, the atmosphere exploded out onto the door-step and I was propelled in as if by a magnetic force: the magnetic force being the waft of freshly brewed coffee and tea and the smell of do-nuts and melon and the sounds of a worship band in full swing. I'd already been welcomed in the car-park by a member of the congregation, I later discerned that face belonged to a woman who was on the prayer ministry team . They were good at this - I thought: I felt at ease straight away. I was then greeted by another guy called Mike and introduced to his wife and two children and I shared with him how I was quite blown-away by the place, which could prove a serious threat to my Anglicanism.
Whilst I was there, it wasn't so much that I started to feel fickle about my relationship with Anglicanism - I remain Anglican through and through - it was my husband who I kept thinking about. I saw it all through his eyes: the live band, the stage, the lighting, the soundlab decks and computer graphics; the mike being taken mostly by guys his age, in their early thirties, unafraid to share their thoughts and emotions with a room full of about 500 people. I was inspired because I knew this place would reach him. I loved the worship time: I got to sing all of the songs that I blast out in my car: Stewart Townsend, Chris Tomlin etc, all the Spring Harvest classic stuff which I love but I must admit, strange as this might sound, I actually like to hear myself sing when I praise God in this way. But at Vineyard, I couldn't actually distinguish anybody's voice; not mine or the voices of those around me - only the band's. Sometimes you get very affected by somebody else's passion for God as they sing next to you, or you become aware of your own passion and love for God as you sing your heart out but I couldn't pick this up at this church: the sound was almost drowned out by the warehouse acoustics of the place and the noise-level of the band so this act of corporate worship didn't quite connect me as much as I had hoped it would.
I enjoyed the sermon. A guy spoke in his early thirties about his attempts to find a quiet time with God. He had started to achieve this by taking baths as opposed to showers and submerging himself under the water for fifteen minutes to get that totally alone feeling. He talked about how our need to always understand God can sometimes be the shackle that hinders him. He described how to constantly seek to understand God doesn't always allow for us to meet with the mystery of God. He kept asking us if we trusted God. We all have problems doing this but if we don't trust God, he can't bless us. Sometimes our immediate need is too urgent and it over-rides the opportunity to allow God to direct us. We mustn't lose faith in our father; we shouldn't lean simply on our own understanding. He told us about how when he was young he would scour the pages of the Argos catalogue in preparation for his birthday. He knew where every thing was - which category sold what etc - he was quite funny about it, but he always said that his parents never bought him the gifts he hinted at but always something better and never from the pages of the Argos catalogue. He said just as he had once restricted his parents gift-giving, we restrict God's. We think we know best and what we deserve. We fail to realise that God actually gives us much more than we deserve, but he gives when he does, not when we want him to and we don't always recognise the greatness of his gifts or his purposes in giving them to us. We think we know what we want, but God pours out so much more than we could imagine. The pastor quoted Prov 3 5-6 and
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
He said he's found John Wimber's The Way in the Way on and Hannah Whittal-Smith's The Christian's secret of a happy life, which I've discovered is available as a download online She describes how we need to continually surrender and relinquish: this will bear fruit, then we can expect God to work, when we trust him we have to be prepared to lose some of our control. J Wimber describes how we must keep our focus on Jesus and on the realisation that God is on our side, you are precious to him and your efforts to please him gain favour with him; he is pleased by our efforts but never satisfied. The pastor quoted Matthew 7:11 and how we must trust God to give us good things:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
He quoted Philippians 4: 4-7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
We should keep asking. The pastor said we are to take get encouragement from the idea that this takes time though and we are to learn: to learn to trust and not give up and that this takes time:
Philippians 4: 11-13 I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content...I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
We need to come and sit in God's hand: trust him, learn to be content, give up our control -freakishness, let go.
I found it all very helpful and very relevant to what I had been praying for. Before the sermon I had had a vision of God's huge hand scooping us up:scoop us up Lord, I had asked scoop up my husband particularly, scoop him up in your hands so that he trusts you; I had prayed this and so the sermon was particularly meaningful for me.
After the sermon finished, there was prayer ministry where you went forward if you wanted to. Then it was time to go. I had hoped there would be more singing and a kind of 'rounding off' but there wasn't - so I felt a little lost so I went to speak to a few people who were encouraging me to join house groups and come again - I explained my loyalties to St Nicks at this point and also discerned that this wasn't actually what I should be doing although the offer came from a good place, I know, and off I went, back home to family and a Costco spit-roast chicken, my husband's roast potatoes and a visit from my lovely sister and niece and a walk in the country-side - how great god is in his gifts indeed!