by Andrew Roberts.
Christmas Eve seemed unusually busy last year. Being on a Sunday many Churches had a packed programme of services and community events. Our local Church was one of those making the most of the day. We had morning worship, an afternoon outdoor Carol event in the centre of the community and an evening Carol Service at the Church replete with refreshments beforehand. Then we had Midnight Communion.
Having had so many services that day and finding it harder with the passing of years to be bright and enthusiastic late at night I set off to lead the service fuelled by some strong coffee and a sense of duty. To paraphrase Mr Wesley I must admit to going rather unwillingly. A small number gathered, we began to journey through the liturgy together and a sense of the sacredness of the evening began to grow in the candle lit space. Then part way through he service two ladies arrived. One had clearly being enjoying the evening already and warmed by an evening of festivities enthusiastically kissed friends and strangers alike during the sharing of the peace. Meanwhile the other lady, who had crept in, sat quietly, head bowed at the back.
When it came to the sharing of the bread and wine both ladies came to the rail. As the Steward offered the wine the quieter lady looked perturbed before Jane kindly put her at her ease by saying the wine was non-alcoholic. The lady received the proffered wine with gratitude and drank her cup slowly and tenderly. At the end of the service she returned to the rail and asked if she could light two candles explaining that she had come to Church that night because she wanted to make a new start. We shared conversation and prayer until it was time to go home.
As I drove home I continued to pray for the lady and reflect on how important simple acts of inclusion are. That evening we had used gluten free bread so that all could share of the one loaf. Someone very close to me has coeliac disease. She has stoically gone without bread if only bread made with wheat was offered at Communion services or gratefully received the gluten free bread offered as an alternative on other occasions. At one Christian Festival she was moved to tears when gluten free bead was offered to all in the celebration of Holy Communion. The experience of being fully included was overwhelming and we long for the day when gluten free bread will be the norm on the Communion table. To not be so seems to make a nonsense of the liturgical pronouncement that we are all one because we share in the one loaf/bread.
Simple acts of inclusion can be so transformative, pastorally, missionally and evangelistically. In the famous encounter between Jesus and the plucky insightful woman at the well (John 4.4-42) a simple sharing of human need – the need for a drink of water – opened up conversation, revelation and resulted in someone, who in the culture of the time could so easily have been ostracised, being included and blessed. With her worth and dignity affirmed she returned home to be an exemplary evangelist (bearer of good news) to her own community.
Sharing non alcoholic wine, gluten free bread or a drink of water are simple acts of inclusion that make a world of difference. Being evangelistic doesn’t have to be difficult.