I’ve been living in Headingley now for over a year and enjoy being in such a lively place. It used to be a ‘student’ area, and although many have moved to accommodation nearer the University, there are a good number still living in the area. As a Minister fairly new to the pastorate, I’ve been encouraging the Church to think about our mission, greatly aided by the ‘Crisis and an Opportunity…’ paper, forcing the point. There is a lot we could do, lots of opportunities. We are still to find our niche in an area with a good number of Churches.
With our background of supporting the University Chaplaincies it was a no-brainer to think about what we could do with students. We are only beginning to get our heads around the possibilities, seeking God’s guidance. When our ‘Generation Y’ Minister came into post the opportunity came to visit the Chaplaincy and talk things through. With prayer and consultation, we followed through an idea to have a pop-up event during the Otley Run, giving out free water and muffins.
When I first heard about the Otley Run, I thought it was a sporting event. Well, the title confuses! It is in fact a pub crawl where participants dress up in weird and wonderful costumes! On proposing the idea to Church meeting there were understandably some reservations, especially as the Church is half way, after 8 pubs. However, most were in favour of a few of us giving it a go during Freshers’ Week, and what a wonderful time we had.
After a false start when the streets were empty due to a football match, only four of us were available to try again. Many of those who passed our Church were freshers, and there were so many comments of appreciation, that it was a joy to do. We even had some insisting to give us donations for charity. The young people were grateful for us putting ourselves out for them. We only had a few meaningful conversations, one of which was from a young person who would like to help next time, as most stopped for just a few moments. But it made the connection and said to those passing, ‘we care about you’.
As I reflect on the event, in so many activities we do as Churches, we do for those we’re comfortable with. We experience a lot of fear in thinking about reaching out to those we are different to, or those whose attitudes or way of life are different to our own. We have a fear of associating with some people, a fear for personal safety, or a fear for material safety.
We’re reminded that Jesus ate with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Matthew 9.10, NIV), all those whom society wanted to shun. Our society, even our Church culture, have people we shun, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time on earth. It’s partly because we fear their difference, or we just don’t understand how they are.
Yet when we break through that barrier we can experience the joy of engaging and being the channels for Jesus to touch the lives of others. Not only that, but we can also experience Christ through them: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was ill and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25.35-36, NIV)
For the young people we met on our pop-up event, we might not think of them as needy, yet as strangers. Most are away from home for the first time, discovering all sorts of things about themselves and others, and how to manage money and accommodation they’re responsible for. And as Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25.40, NIV)
Rev Clare Davison