At the weekend Jim and I and six and a half (I'll explain about the half) members of our church went to the Church Without Walls "Re-energise" conference in Aviemore. The half member is the Roman Catholic husband of one member who we made an honourary member of our church just for the weekend because this was, technically, a Church of Scotland event. But it that conjures up a stuffy dry image for you, then forget I said that! It really was a dynamic, alive, inspiring and yes, re-energising, weekend. (A bit de-energising too because of the up-to-the-wee-small-hours chats in the bar at the end of each day!)
I went back to work with renewed enthusiasm this week, and thinking less about what I was going to do and more about wondering what God was planning to do and praying I'd be vigilant to spot where HE is at work. It's such a blessed relief, isn't it, when God gently reminds us (YET AGAIN) that it's His work not ours. I don't have to take God into prison. He managed to find His way in all by Himself long before I came on the scene. What a relief! On the other hand, without taking any of that back, it's okay to feel a burden. Not the burden of carrying the responsibility of the thing, but the burden of compassion. It's okay, indeed necessary, surely, to feel the burden of concern for the lost, to long for their coming to faith, to be inspired to pray and to seek and to take opportunities. It's even okay - more than okay - to love them, though that doesn't seem a civil-servanty thing to say and I know we are government employees! But that's a different thing from feeling crushed by the weight of concern for 500 men and imagining that I am responsible for all their relationships with God. They and God have primary responsibility. But I'll be accountable for the times when to be honest the compassion's gone and the praying's not happening.
For those non Church of Scotland folk reading this, by the way, Church Without Walls, the logo of which is above, is the title of a marvellous report that was produced in 2001 and is now less a report than a movement. It encourages the Church of Scotland congregations to think out of the box, or more accurately out of the building, and break down any barriers they have allowed to build up which make church so alien to the people around it that it is virtually inaccessible.
Prison chaplaincy certainly take the church of Jesus Christ out of the walls of the church and try hard to break down barriers of culture and understanding. On the other hand there are great big physical walls in most prisons. So I reckon we are "Church Without Walls And Yet With Great Big Walls"!!!