“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had… There were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32,34)
In recent years, in my role as Chaplaincy Project Co-ordinator with Christian Values in Education (Scotland), I have had the experience of visiting a lot of church buildings of several denominations. Two common factors have begun to register on my consciousness.
The first is a relatively minor gripe but it increasingly gives me pause to reflect: it’s how often it’s difficult to find the way in! Time after time I have turned up for events and have struggled to simply access the buildings. The obvious ‘front’ doors and gates are often closed and locked with no indication of where access can be made and no way to see what goes on inside or if there’s anyone there. Indicative signage is often poor, especially on older buildings. Usually, I have ended up on a 360° tour to find that the event is through a side door, in a back hall, after navigating corridors and mystery doors, eventually encountering a human being. The welcome is always warm, and the level of equipment and resources is generally high. But it certainly makes me realise how difficult it is to cross the threshold of a church – physically. And that physical difficulty has become a metaphor for me of how difficult it can be socially and spiritually for an ‘outsider’ to find a way ‘inside’ a church, even if they want to or need to.
The second is how busy the walls are! There are always posters and banners and displays. Here’s where I begin to get a sense of the vibrancy and activities and interests of the congregation. And I always take time to look at the notice boards. They show that though it might be difficult for the outsiders to find a way in, the insiders are very much looking outward. The notice boards are often packed with information on groups and events to help those in need: Foodbanks, Samaritans, Mental Health services, Bereavement groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, Warm Spaces, community Cafes, Friendship groups, etc. The Acts 4 mindset of ensuring that the needy are provided for is still evident. And that’s encouraging.
But the “needy persons” of Acts 4 are still all around us and among us: the ‘cost of living’ strugglers, the ‘long-covid’ sufferers, the displaced, the disorientated, the refugees, the lonely, the vulnerable, the addicted, the hurting. Let’s help the ‘outsiders’ find the way in and the ‘insiders’ find the way out.