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  • Linda Andrews

A parable of the modern church

A few generations ago on a dangerous coast shipwrecks were plentiful and there was much human suffering as a result. The people of a small town decided to do something about it for they were sorry for the survivors and felt there must be some way they could help. So they set up a small lifesaving group. They used their own small boats and when survivors were brought ashore they gave them food, clothes and shelter in their own homes.

Some of their homes were a bit inland so they decided it would be ideal to have a small building where those needing help could be cared for. A small building was erected on a piece of waste land and they kept spare blankets there and put in a gas heater and a little stove with a kettle and a pan, some tins of soup, tea, coffee, dried milk and biscuits and a couple of toilets. Over time they extended the building to put in showers and comfy chairs. Then they raised funds for carpets and pictures on the walls and a better heating system.

By this time they were so pleased with their efforts that they met regularly at their lifesaving centre and had a right good time together. They still went out rescuing but there were times when they were so comfy that most of them did not want to be bothered. Some even went as far as to say that the people rescued did not fit in. They made the carpets wet and their clothes needed washing and drying and they wanted showers and basic food like soup instead of the more upmarket food that was now served.

These people forgot their original mission and became almost blind to the needs of those whose lives had been overturned by what had happened to them.

A few members were unhappy and split off and went a short distance away to a hired hut with basic facilities. They showed love and compassion to those in desperate need and were forever asking for blankets and soup and biscuits. They also searched for ways to help those overcome by tragedy to get their lives back on track.

But over the years the hut became inadequate and funds were raised. A substantial building was put up with modern equipment. The same thing happened as before. Over time they became absorbed by the good times they had in their club.

But a few of them got back to basics, or so they thought. They brought those struck by hardship into their own homes or into a local cafe. But the state of these people made some of them uncomfortable. And there were children to deal with. And political correctness and safeguarding had come in along with form filling and burocracy. So they applied for grants and planning permission and adapted a building. Then they appointed a manager to run it because a manager had a special calling and had been on the right training courses.

But, of course, there were plenty of rooms so the supporters could meet, keep an eye on things and have committee meetings and social events.

They certainly did not mix much with those other lifesaving clubs up the road - only for a bit of fund raising because if you went to their events they might come to yours.

Just occasionally they shared ideas but really they were happy paddling their own canoe so to speak – which is not a sensible thing to do on a hazardous piece of coast.

Apart from a few faithful, they all became blind to the needs of those cast up on their shores. Of course they did think it was great that they had a minister (OOPS slip of the keyboard!!) - manager to speak and act for them and get on with the work.

Over time the area became dotted with lifesaving groups. However, though many are capsized and face hardship, nowadays few are saved.

As Jesus might say “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear”.

(Frank Wright in a book on Pastoral Care used the idea of churches as lifesaving centres and so it is from him that I borrowed the theme and built the story on it for a Pastoral Care course I was doing at the time. I used a version of this at a Churches Together Christian Unity Service in 2003. The photograph was taken in Northern Scotland last year on what can be one of the many treacherous coastlines. Linda Andrews).

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