God in pub
As part of my placement with the chaplaincy at Manchester University this week I was in one of the student bars. Me and one of the chaplains were doing 'Pints of View' where we sit in the main bar of the huge hall of residence and try to get some conversations going around religious and ethical issues.
Last week was just me and the chaplain, sitting in the bar thinking - how the hell are we going to get people to talk to us? This week we had lollipops and postcards with questions on, and a guest speaker from the local humanist group. But there was still only us, the invited speaker and one other person for the first hour and a half. Then a student stumbled across us saying 'oh can I have a lolly?' And stayed to talk about religion. From then on we had a really vibrant table with loads of people wandering in and out of our conversations, talking, disagreeing, thinking in a cheerful non-confrontational way. It was a brilliant evening, and the kind of thing that is the reason I'm going into ministry.
There are three separate relflections I want to share about this experience:
First, this shows to me the importance of hope and trust in the spirit and patience when doing mission, doing something a bit out of the comfort zone. It's worth doing, but it might take a while to get going. Keep the faith.
Secondly, it was really easy to get people to talk about religion. Someone came for a lolly and I shouted at them over the music and sounds of the bar - 'You have to tell me what you think about God first!' And they did. Just like that. It seems in churches, and often in Unitarian churches, we so often avoid talking about deep things. Yet here I was in a bar without pretense or tact bluntly asking what people believed and getting blunt and honest replies. Dare we be as brave in our congregations?
Thirdly I got into an interesting conversation with one of the people there about drinking. I have given up alcohol for Lent and the other chaplain was getting over a cold so neither of us were drinking alcohol. Someone suggested that it might be off-putting for people to see us not drinking alcohol. Now I'm not teetotal, but at the same time I'd like to affirm that drugs aren't necessary to have a good time. So I'm left pondering a classic missionary question: should I go along with the culture to be relevant to that culture, or do I take a counter-cultural position in order to be a witness to a different set of values?
It was a good night, anyway. We'll see what happens next week.