I was having a coffee with a friend after a (very good!) youth work conference the other day, and we got talking (as trainee vicars always seem to) about Rev. For those of you who haven’t seen Rev, it’s a more up-to-date, realistic version of the Vicar of Dibley that portrays the life of inner-city Vicar, Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander). And, in fact, before I started this job and found myself head first in the strange world of inner-city parish ministry, I didn’t realise how realistic Rev actually was. Now, I am all too aware of it and, more recently, I’ve moved from loving Rev to not really being able to watch it during time off because it reminds of the most stressful parts of my job! But, the friend who I was having coffee with this week pointed out that his incumbent (vicar) had once said to him that Rev was incredibly realistic apart from for one thing – it misses out so much of the joy of parish life.
And, for me, this was another one of those epiphany moments that I love. Because I realised that for the most part, he was exactly right. Rev focuses so much on the trials and stresses and even unpleasant moments of ministry, that moments of profound joy are often entirely forgotten. And many of those moments of joy come as times of intimacy in which I like to think there is a little bit of God too. And in a week when many of us have struggled to reconcile what is happening in the world with faith, there have been, as there always are, powerful moments that make me feel like having this job must make me the luckiest person in the world.
One of those moments was on Wednesday evening, after a particularly sad funeral in the morning, a good youth work conference, and a couple of testing conversations later in the afternoon. A lively 10-year-old boy, who regularly attends one of the Children’s Groups that I lead, came early before the Music Academy to help me plan the All-Age Service for Sunday. In case you’ve never been to an All Age Service, I should warn you that for most people, they are a bit of a nightmare: adults complain that there’s no proper sermon, the kids complain that they don’t get to go their groups, the teenagers complain that “the church never does anything for them anyway”, and the poor person leading the service generally spends the whole time thinking, “get me out of here!” And somehow, somewhere, people are expected to find a bit of God too. Ha. A tall order!
So, I wasn’t exactly best pleased to be placed on the rota for this Sunday’s All-Age Service and I was less pleased to find out that the Gospel reading, Matthew 6:14 – 29, focus on the light of Christ (a theme that we started focusing on with Advent at the beginning of December). Now, as much as I wholeheartedly believe that Christ brings light to the world, I am rapidly running out of new ideas to present this theme in an exciting way to the kids and teens, let alone to a wide range of people in one my favourite All-Age Services. But, I dutifully started putting my mind to how we could try to have “a bit of something for everyone in there” and roped in one of the church’s youngest members and the church’s oldest members to prepare something about how they’ve found the light of Christ at our Church. And 10-year-old C came up with an incredibly inspirational piece that was full of moments of joy: the joy of the birth of his new baby brother, the joy of finding that the world is full of kind and generous people, and the joy of the gift of music. He ends the piece, as he will this Sunday, with the line, “We can spread the light of God in our souls because the fire never stops burning! It’s like a firework sparkler!” And we will then light a firework sparkler in a church of darkness, and the children will go wild, I know, and the teens will try not to smile, and hopefully everybody might think something about where they, too, find tangible moments of light and joy.
After finishing his profound piece, 10-year-old C promptly launched himself through the air, slide-tackled his best friend to the ground, and then glanced up quickly to see whether a gaggle of girls opposite him had noticed. And I was reminded in this strange juxtaposition of both the ordinary and extraordinary, that, like Adam Smallbone in the clip from Rev below, these profound moments can be as personal as they are communal, and that they are not always shared with the people that give us such glimpses into what I like to think of as the profound joy of God.