A strange sight greeted me as I walked into church this past Sunday morning. There weren’t any chairs. That’s not normal for us. Other churches in London may have ditched pews or even other conventional seating in preference for bean bags and lilos. I kid you not (OK, so I made the bit up about the inflatable beds but the bean bags is for real). But we remain stubbornly wedded to chairs. It’s a piece of tradition, a relic from the past if you like, that we’re determined to hold onto.
But not this Sunday morning. Was it a gimmick? Not one initiated by me. The youth group were on set up. Were they making a point? Not this time. It was just that the normally reliable caretaker at the school we hire had left the chair cupboard locked. And then gone AWOL. Or to sleep. But he was nowhere to be found. And he wasn’t responding to the increasingly frantic calls made to his mobile or his walky-talky. In my absence, a decision was made. And it was the right one. Benches would have to do. And they did.
If we still hadn’t found the caretaker by the time of the sermon I was all for standing up to hear the word of God. Just like old times. I was pretty sure that no one would be drifting off in my overly long exposition of Acts 10. And that would be a first! But strangely, instead of being hugely irritated by the carelessness of the caretaker, I really enjoyed the response from the congregation. They were really ‘can do’. There was no whingeing. Everyone just got on with things. We’d come for church. And it wasn’t like we wanted to cancel it. And so we’d have to make do. And we did. In fact, a few of the more vertically challenged amongst us were grateful that their feet could reach the floor for once! Just before the sermon the caretaker arrived and a few chairs were put out on the fringes. As I worked our way through Cornelius, a noticeable migration began to take place. But not from everyone. And by the end of our time together at least 50% of us remained on the benches.
Why was it a highlight? Look, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t slick. More professional outfits would never have let something like that happen in their church meeting. But we’re a church family. And we cope. The family gathering is much more important to us than the convenience of doing so. For sure, we’d take convenient and comfortable every time – if it was offered. But we meet in a school gymnasium. A certain amount of sacrifice and discomfort is already part of our modus operandi. But this reminded me that we’re willing to go further. I’m not about to suggest that it becomes a regular feature or that we further embrace more inconvenience or discomfort in our meeting arrangements just for the sake of it. And that would be perverse. I’m all for gimmicks but perversity is a step too far! But I take it that the manner with which we approached this problem speaks volumes about the work of God in our hearts. I find it hugely encouraging that as we contemplate a church plant into a nearby suburb, one that’s going to affect those of us that remain behind, we’re nevertheless willing to cope with further sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. A conclusion too far perhaps? It’s quite a stretch to get there from an unscheduled calamity with some missing chairs. And you may be right. But I’m strangely reassured.