As we continue to adjust to life and ministry here, there are some blessings that sneak in and hit us when we’re not looking. Things we see, places we go, new experiences—all sorts of stuff that can help us as we get our feet on the ground in London.
The other night we had a couple of other families over for dinner. The Barlows are here as church planters (there’s a link to their work on the right). Their project centers on reaching out to people who are warm to the faith but, as Tom says, ‘allergic to church’. What they’ve also done is reach out to us and walk alongside us as we learn to love and serve this city. Tom and I meet for coffee and conversation every Tuesday morning at a little Italian place near the church, and those conversations have been a huge encouragement to me. I don’t think it’s overstated to say that the Barlows—all five of them—have made this time so far so much better than it would have been without them.
The Passerellis are new friends that we met through Tom Barlow. Dan and Somer are here with their two young daughters working with homeless services and other urban ministry projects in London. I’m in awe of these folks who come here and go directly into the parts of London tourists will never see, because those people need to hear the gospel in a meaningful way as much as anyone else. My job is cushy compared to what the Barlows and Passerellis do (his blogsite is also on the right).
So the 11 of us had dinner on Friday. I was late because I was leading a wedding rehearsal, and Julie had gotten turned around on a bus and was trying to make up for the lost time. We were a little frazzled at first, but as the evening went on, with the kids playing and all of us sitting around talking while the chicken was on the grill, I started to feel this strange peace.
First, I think it just felt familiar—this is exactly what I would be doing on a Friday night back in California. Having another family or two over for dinner felt so, well, normal, and it was great. The other familiar part was sitting around talking about theology and ministry and some of the controversial issues that plague each of our denominational traditions. I spent a lot of time in our small group, or at cigar night, or with any number of faithful friends doing the same thing. It felt right because I had been in these conversations—and loved them—many times before.
But there was something else that was new to me—new in that tingly way when you realize you haven’t experienced something before. I was in the company of other ministers—each of us with such different roles, but each of us trying to reach the same city in a fresh way. Each of us came from a strong tradition, but each of us also is trying to move those traditions to a new place. I think that the exciting part of that for me was being with colleagues in ministry. As lonely as we’ve been, and as hard as my job seems sometimes, there was a burden lifted from me as I ate and talked and laughed with these new friends. These are such good and faithful people. I love that I felt challenged to be good and faithful by being with them, and I look forward to seeing them again.
It wasn’t all so serious that night. Dan brought some, er, contraband left over from the 4th of July that he hadn’t been able to use. We got the kids in the back yard and lit one up. You know that feeling when you’ve started something that goes sideways and you can’t stop it? When I lit this thing it started to sparkle, which was fine, but then it went into this deafening shriek that everyone in the neighborhood could hear. As if that weren’t bad enough, at the end it popped up and showered the yard with flaming embers.
The kids were ecstatic—cheering and clapping and loving every minute of it. Dan, Tom and I were laughing so hard that we couldn’t stand up. Would the police come? I could see the headlines: ‘THREE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS FIGURES ARRESTED IN EXPLOSION HORROR!’ So what did we decide to do?
We lit another one.
Now on the bright side, this one wasn’t nearly as loud as the first one. We were enjoying the light from the bright sparkles when it exploded upward, into our tree and over the wall into the neighbor’s yard. It was fine, nothing caught fire, but we decided that standard pub rules were in order: Drink the first one, enjoy the second, and skip the third.
I tell this story because it capped off a night that was full of everything: friendship, shared ministry, good food and wine, the sound of happy kids playing, and fireworks. It was a reminder to me that no matter what else is happening, one simple truth remains:
God is really good.