Letter From Kevin Keefe – Churchwarden of Otley Parish Church
I was walking through our churchyard recently and noticed again the sign attached to the gates saying, ‘Take Care, Path Can Be Slippery’. As I walked along, it occurred to me that this could be a metaphor for life in general and the thought popped into my mind that perhaps we should have added some catchy evangelistic second line that would attract people’s attention and encourage them to think that OPC would be a great place to visit. You know the sort of thing that you see outside some churches: ‘CH__CH – What’s missing? – UR’ or even worse: ‘Sinners Wanted, Apply Within’.
Perhaps our sign on the gate should read: ‘Take Care, Path Can Be Slippery – But Walk With The Lord And You Will Be Eternally Safe’ or ‘Trust God And He Will Guide Your Steps’. Of course, if people joined us only on this basis and then found the path was still slippery enough to make them fall over, it might make them think twice about the rest of what we believe!
Some people are attracted to take a look at our church fellowship because of what they see from the outside – maybe on noticeboards, Facebook, Twitter (X), etc. Some visit us because they already know people who are part of our church community. Whatever the reason for that first visit, most say that they returned because of the friendly welcome they received. This is a wonderful way in which the people of OPC show God’s love in action to those who visit. But the people who make it into the building this way are only part of the story – we are commissioned to go out into the world and tell people the good news about Jesus.
We may each be welcoming to one or two new people on a Sunday morning but just think about the huge number of people whom we collectively meet during our normal daily lives. If we interact with them sufficiently, they may decide that we are a good and decent person. This is fine but if that’s as far as it goes and people don’t know that we believe in Jesus, then how does that attract people to want to know more about God?
I’m not suggesting we should pounce on the checkout operator at Sainsbury’s and attempt a full presentation of the gospel as we pack our groceries – that’s definitely not my style! But I did get thinking about how we do actually engage with people, how we gain their attention and earn the opportunity to share our faith with them. It may just be a few simple words of blessing or offering to pray for a stranger who seems to be struggling. Just a few words that show that for us there is a God who is within and beyond the daily grind.
This year we’ve learned how transformative a relationship with our good and beautiful God can be and how we must live ‘apart for God’ in this world – freed from pressure to conform to the standards of ‘influencers’ and others who want us to follow their ways for whatever reasons. Instead, we are to live by God’s rules and standards in His ‘now’ Kingdom.
Going back to the slippery path. Of course, as we grow in the knowledge of God’s love and grace and continue our walk-through life with Him, we learn that the path really can be slippery and we really can fall. But through God’s love and grace and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we find the strength to get up again and carry on – again and again. Who wouldn’t want to tell people about all this?
As we move from summer into autumn our thoughts will (dare I say it!) begin to contemplate another Christmas season. We have a perfect opportunity ahead to talk to people about what we believe. Perhaps before you go out each day just ask God to give you the opportunity and the courage to let someone know what Jesus means to you – and for the Holy Spirit to give you the right words to say.