Greetings from Saga City!
So here I am typing this blog overlooking the pool, sitting in the shade so I can see my iPad screen. There are some clouds around this morning but we are hoping that the sun will soon burn them away.
Yes, we are in Tenerife for our post-Christmas break, more precisely at Los Cristianos. This small port, recently developed as a tourist resort in the arid south of the island, has a latitude which makes us further south than Cairo. The result is sunshine and lots of it.
And that’s why we are here, along with (I guess) 20,000 or so other visitors seeking their vitamin D and a break from the icy blast. However, this being the third week of January, there are no children or young people; in fact, no one under 55! It seems that everyone here is retired, white and from Northern Europe. It’s U3A on holiday.
This was evident in the large congregation on Sunday at the excellent South Tenerife Christian Fellowship – where we bumped into Cliff and Mary Roughley. About 90% were visitors like us and there was no one (ie nobody) under 50, even 60. We inhabit the same monoculture. And it feels strange.
Maybe there are some advantages – no shrieking infants, no manic toddlers on scooters (I think of our grandchildren in London) and more particularly no alpha males overtaking me at speed during my morning jog. But if there are any advantages, they are not obvious.
My last pastoral visit before jetting off from Manchester was to see Ken Park, now frail and sadly weakening at Aughton Park residential home. I have always held Ken in high esteem; he was a tireless and gifted PCC treasurer who loved Jesus.
It was Ken who said he would prefer to pay more for a church holiday in order to subsidise those with families. He was being generous, of course; but more, Ken enjoyed having children and young people around. The last thing he wanted was to be on holiday group with just his own age group. Church is so much more.
And I’m sure Jesus would agree.
Zechariah, one of his most-quoted prophets of the Old Testament has a vision of God’s glorious future for his holy city. “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.'”
If you are one of those grumps – like those of my childhood neighbourhood – who don’t like children playing out in the street, you are not going to enjoy eternity with Jesus very much. But there again, you won’t be working nights in the new Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:22)
And of course the Church is called to be a sampler, an indicator of God’s new creation. And as the Holy Spirit fills those first disciples with love and power at Pentecost, so the apostle Peter references this to the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
The whole point Church, as the oikos/household of God, is that we are not to be a monoculture, a club of like-minded people coming together from a common background for mutual support in an antagonistic world. Not all Christian radios are to be tuned into just Radio 4.
The fact that I never listen to Radio 1 is to be a challenge for me not just to affirm those fellow disciples who strangely enjoy the Nick Grimshaw show each morning but seek to enter and even appreciate their world. When God creates he goes for variety.
It’s a challenge but there again it was a challenge for the apostle Paul to welcome into the Body of Christ those very different to him and his kind, not his type, especially those his contemporaries pejoratively named “barbarians” – those outsiders whose speech was mocked as ‘bar-bar-bar’ as they crunched their way through Greek syntax, like me and French.
So he writes: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
How we get there is a challenge but the greater challenge is to know our destination, to realise where God is leading his people.
I recall a conversation I had a few years ago with Frank Cain, one-time curate at Christ Church and then a vicar in Toxteth. Apparently some black members of his congregation were invited to join a new black church. They declined on principle; they thought that church by definition should be mixed race. I’m sure that made Jesus’ day.
Finally, I can concur with social observer, Jim Fiebig: “Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.”