This is a guest post by Amanda Digman, who is Vicar at St John the Baptist, Carlton in Nottingham.
A while ago I discovered a book: 99 Things to Do Between Here and Heaven, by Peter Graystone. I love lists, so I thought I would have a go at working my way through the book. Inside, I discovered that each suggestion would give me:
- information on how;
- what I should expect;
- what I am most and least likely to think;
- what someone else has said about it;
- dos and don’ts;
- Bible passages to reflect on and
- a bit to fill in – for example, the date, who I did it with, my thoughts and especially, what I will remember between here and heaven.
I’m not a loner, so I quickly decided this would be good to try as a church project and so 6 times a year we do one of these things together. Everyone is invited and different numbers come – it seems to be a few different people each time as well as the regulars. It’s something you can easily invite friends to.
Our first attempt was baking bread together. It went a bit wrong as we hadn’t really worked out timings etc but we just gave it another go. We made the bread, enjoyed each other’s company, and then sat down to eat what we had baked. Together. And it was lovely. We had all brought different things to share to put on the bread and we knew God was with us as we enjoyed the fruit of our labour.
Since then, a few of us got up early enough to watch a sunrise – thankfully Peter Graystone had thought to put “Don’t be disappointed if an overcast sky means the colours are mainly grey. Clouds too are a wonder of God’s creation.” That was indeed our experience! Even fewer sat another time to read a Gospel in one sitting, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience of hearing a Gospel all in one go. Another time a bigger group, maybe 12, came to give our testimonies. Seeing the group, I doubted everyone would share. O me of little faith! All did and it was fascinating and amazing to hear people’s stories and listen to those I had previously thought would not have the courage to do so. All were encouraged.
Another afternoon we tired to “Learn a Musical Instrument”. Armed with recorders borrowed from school, we divided into two groups – those who had played before and those who had not. Some had never picked up an instrument in their lives, but we all performed the next morning in church! It was amazing to show people that they can do things they think they can’t.
We’ve also been welcomed to a service at a Jewish Synagogue and had the opportunity to have tea and cake and lovely conversations afterwards. We have watched a film together followed by lunch; been on a days retreat and most recently “milked a cow”. It wasn’t quite possible to do it the traditional way, but we found out just how dirty you can get when stood behind a line of nervous cows!Participants get a certificate each time they come to a “99 Things” with space to fill in the date, their thoughts and what they will remember between here and heaven.
We will be continuing on our project in the coming year, and trying to fit a few extras in – most of our congregation are over 70, so they are concerned they won’t get to do them all before they actually arrive in heaven!
Each person has been affected in different ways – they’ve joined a church community that they previously didn’t think they were part of; they’ve tried things they never thought they would; discovered gifts they didn’t know they had and got talking to people in the congregation they hadn’t really chatted to before. It’s a voyage of discovery for all of us and has enabled people to have something they can invite friends to, who wouldn’t otherwise have come to church. It is a challenge to get things organised – we have a very small congregation, but we’ve learned that not everything has to be perfect and that community and having fun and discovering the joys of God’s creation and his love for us and his world is at least as exciting as Sunday worship. For me, it’s great to share with the congregation in different contexts and see the joy on their faces as they join in with the latest hair brained scheme of their crazy vicar. I think we’re all enjoying the ride and really hope they will continue to gain the confidence to invite their friends to all that we do.
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