Tales of the Unexpected

It was really good last week to finally  do some travelling around in North London and visit some church leaders in my role as Discipleship Enabler. I had checked the weather forecast which was good and I planned an itinerary to allow for travel. It was good to spend some time with each of these good people who have been serving God through these difficult months.

Then a couple of days later I found myself sitting outside a coffee shop reading a book when three men unexpectedly engaged me in conversation when they saw I was reading about politics. It was an interesting chat although there were rather too many conspiracy theories proposed for my personal taste.

What really got me thinking is how much more uncomfortable I was with the unexpected meeting and conversation than the planned ones. I am not too anxious if the subject is football but generally the unexpected, even liminal, place can be a scary place to navigate.

I have been thinking a lot about this aspect of discipleship recently and even today someone reminded me that Jesus ministered so often in those meetings when travelling somewhere. Although it is going to be difficult for many in the days ahead to move healthily from a place of social distancing into the new normal, I do feel that we need to rediscover something about unexpected encounters.

Online virtual life has perhaps squeezed out some of the unplanned encounters over the last year and perhaps many of us are thinking about how we can intentionally become more available for these. In the church which I have led until recently we had a space known as the foyer which was a place to encounter people – sometimes this was very welcome other times more challenging. I also had a favourite seat outside a coffee shop where Ali and I would sit on a Saturday morning and meet passers-by.

In George Lings’ recent powerful book 7 sacred spaces he describes the place of ‘Cloister’ for monasteries as just that type of place for random encounter and conversation for members of the Christian community and the wider community. Cloister was not a place to hide from others but a place to bump into them. The life of discipleship is not just about the destination but what happens along the way and who you travel with and meet.

Parker Palmer writes; “In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives….” (A Place Called Community, 1977).

In Genesis 28:16 Jacob woke up and said “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” and maybe I need to wake up to that truth as well more and more in my daily life. What about you? We have discovered that staying might be the new going and God promises to be with us wherever we are – yes?.

When I really take this seriously, I will be more like Jesus I think and that is what I want more than anything else in life. So, when you and your church gather again at the end of these restrictions you will want to deepen your community and congregation again in all sorts of ways. This need not, however, be at the expenses of cultivating fertile ground for unexpected encounters every day.

As a young person I used to love the Pink Panther films. Do you remember Clouseau’s friend Cato who used to regularly jump out on him to surprise him and keep him sharp and alert? We can get to thinking that the unplanned encounters will generally be problematic and therefore to be avoided (Like some in the parable of the Good Samritan). How much of God’s grace in action will we then miss out on with our head down, A to B substituting busyness for faithfulness and become dull to the place where God has placed us and the p[eople we might meet.

Transform me Lord that I that I can step out in faith with Jesus.

Photo by DDP on Unsplash




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