Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nostalgic twinge

I felt a nostalgic twinge about the church I used to go to today. It's weird to think about the time I spent in Barnabas, at a number of venues across Shrewsbury. There was the old Barnabas centre, above a pub at the back end of Mardol. It had a long main room you could play a decent game of football in on a youth night, except that the carpet would strip the skin off your hands and knees if you ever felt on it at speed.

And for a while we were 'aliens and strangers', pitching up at a variety of venues like the Music Hall in The Square, the careworn main hall of the Wakeman School, Springfield Hall in Sutton Farm (when we had two congregations), and then the current centre in Coleham.

I remember the intensity of some services - where there were 'words' and 'tongues' and all manner of goings on. I saw an exorcism one night, with shrieking and thrashing about until it was over. And I wonder what happened to all those 'words' and 'pictures' which were shared. What was their long-lasting effect? I know at one time people tried to write down all the 'prophetic words'. Does anyone have a record? Does anyone still refer back to them?

And at the time there was a sense of being part of something bigger - this was it, happening now. But actually, today it all seems so long ago, as if it was all seen by a different person in a different life. That's what nostalgia is - a looking back tinged with a regret that those experiences are in the past. Nostalgia is a recognition of distance; distance caused by time (the fourth measurement of distance).

But there's also a sense of sadness. Those words were spoken in the context of a community which, for one reason or another, has changed. People move on. People who were once central to the ongoing prophetic life of the church drift out of being part of church life. People die. Not wishing to sound cruel, but some people stagnate, never moving on from old battles and old arguments as if they cannot bear to let go of the past, even if the past is poisonous to them.

And some of us grow up from wide-eyed kids who believed we knew what was right into wearier souls who have discovered that actually the answers produce more questions and sometimes the only thing you can do is ask the question and wait and see if you get an answer. And I guess such melancholy is another root cause of nostalgia. Life seemed so much simpler back then. Like TV, you knew what you were watching when you watched in black and white. But high definition colour can sometimes feel confusing. It can trick the eye and strain the brain trying to keep up.

It's a complicated emotion, nostalgia. And I'm not convinced it's a particularly good one to indulge. Yes, I need to look back, but I also need to look forward. If I truly believed that such a dynamic life isn't happening now, or couldn't happen in the future, then I may as well give up. Looking back over my personal history, and remembering the things I've heard, and seen, and felt, is not the prime reason for my faith today. It can't be - because those things are long-gone; the evidence of the past can only show me what happened in the past.

Faith is based on what I've known in the past, what I see today and what I hope for tomorrow as a result. Maybe in the future those hoped-for things will become part of my past and I'll feel nostalgic about them then. Who knows? But if I'm only ever looking backwards, it will be challenge to walk forwards. And whether I want to dwell in the past or not, the only way I can move is forwards, and I'll move in that direction no matter how desperately I cling to memories of times past.


  1. The church has probably doubled in size since then Jon, so the effects are there to see.

    Some of those words are still referred to, including one over 12 years old used in a recent sermon about our Church. It was amazing how many bits of it have happened.

    The picture given of a wheel has led us to two Church plants in the last 5 years.

    I agree about the community changing, demographics have changed, ages have changed, and in a sense the vision has changed.

    On Sunday morning there was a guest service with a gospel presentation and 19 went responded, including more than 10 for the first time, and what struck me was there we had former addicts and asian students, young teenage guys and local housewives, all responding to the message of Jesus together.

    I think the intensity is still there somehow - but more ofcussed, more guided, more into the mission of God's kingdom rather than being insular within the Church.

  2. Yeah I wasn't saying where it is now isn't great - I mean obviously it is. It's more, I guess, that I can't go back to the church I left because it's not the church I left any more.

    I think that is a good thing, mind. I wasn't having a go.