What happened next …

I wonder …
Might church teach

“That first walk” – a thought


When I was much younger I used to do bell-ringing for a church in Durham City, England.  I was taught the ropes (!) by the incumbent chap who had been doing it for years.  The tower was a quiet place.  Just him and me and the six bells.

St Nicholas church sits in the market place.  The window of the bell-tower (below the clock) has a commanding view.  Once I had been trained my mentor retired.  So I rang the bells alone.  And quite often, after ringing two bells (a “dinging” rather than full-throated “ringing”) before the services I would open the window and watch the world below.

I remember one evening a bunch of lads walked into the market place at the same time as another group walked in from the other end.  These were the days of “skinheads”.

Rough and tough.  Spitting and swearing.  Pogo-dancing and looking for trouble.  Except that Durham City was a very small place.  A “countryside kind of town”.  Always following fashion – but about five years later than fashion – a kind of backwater place.

And these groups looked the part.  But were playing “a part”.  Not as rough and tough as they liked to look.

Because that evening from my perch high above, I watched as both groups spotted the other.  I saw the indecision of “ooh-err!” spread through both groups at the same time.  I saw both groups not “letting on” that it had spotted the other.  Except both groups were very aware the other was coming their way.  Each group knew it was NOT rough and tough – except both groups did not know THAT about the other!  So BOTH groups turned around and “innocently” went back the way they had come.  It was beautiful to see the reality.

“I am a rough tough skinhead in my rough tough group (but don’t hurt me – please)!” 


I just googled “congregation in church“.  There are loads of pictures like this:

It’s how we think of church.  On the inside not the outside.  All neat and tidy.  Nice and warm and comfortable.  Very organised and structured.  Completely traditional but also very modern.  A holy place.  A sanctuary.  A safe place.  A very safe place.

Is that what church has become – is that what we create above all else … our safe place?

Maybe that is the “why” – this morning – of that little moment so many years ago in Durham City.  Just like those two groups who looked the part but weren’t “the genuine article” …

I see churches making their own safe places, their own safe congregations, their own safe communities, their own safe futures, their own safe finances, their own safe God.

But I KNOW that walking in faith IS walking on water.  I KNOW that was my first walk into church.  And I now know that neither is safe if we only “look the part”.  And I think we look the part so much of the time.



Over these past few posts it seems to me that each AND every one “walked on water / walked in faith” NOT of our own making and NOT of our “own safety” when we took that very first walk (that we all must take) into “church”.  And what has become very unclear in the years since my very first walk on water and in faith is …

What happened next?