I REPENT!..... 

Lord, I am sorry for all the times that I have no listened well.
People of Christ church, I repent of the times that I have not listened well. When I listened and did not hear. When I heard and did not understand.
We all do it.
Life is full of distractions and so we do not give attention to those around us.
And we miss an opportunity.
“The beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them”
So wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We need to listen to one another and to our community.
Never more so than at a time of fear and panic. Covid-19 is in the news and in conversations every day. There is information and mis-information. Half information. Panic, fear and uncertainty. And we are not immune here at Christ Church.
Yet, I have asked the question several times this week “What does carrying  hope look like at the moment”. For that is our calling. Carry hope and pray in confidence.
This idea of listening has come up in several places this week. Last night in the Mission Shaped Ministry course the topic was listening for mission. The first step in planning a mission initiative or Fresh Expression of church (after establishing your values and vision) is to listen to the community that you reach out to. Find out what their touchpoints are, their needs are, what will build a meaningful and loving relationship. Do NOT decide what is good for them and do it to them! That won’t work.
The next instance was this morning when I continued reading Phil Knox’s brilliant book, Storybearer (1). It’s the book of the month in April, it comes out next week but I have an advanced copy. It is timely, entertaining and encouraging that we all have a story. It is full of practical and accessible, achievable advice about how to share our story and to share Jesus in the process. And this morning Chapter 8 was…you guessed it …about listening.
We need to have listened to someone else’s story to see where our story connects with theirs.
And that means really listening. Hearing what they say. Understanding where they are and where they are coming from.
It’s the start of love for them.
This led me back to a book that I bought for my retreat before taking on my first incumbency. Its called simply Listening by Ann Long (2). St Peter’s was ready for a Rector who would  come and change everything. Not all would be happy about that and I felt God saying, “You need to listen first”. I read the book over three days in the Leicestershire countryside and it profoundly influenced my first year at Woodmansterne; which was a time of listening.
Long describes three images of listening – gift, hospitality and healing.
Truly listening to someone is a gift. It is a gift of ourselves. It says “you matter to me and to God”. And it is a gift to you too, the listener, for you receive just as you give.
Listening is also hospitality “the offering to someone of space in which to feel welcomed, met and safe”. Henri Nouwen describes it as “the highest form of hospitality …(not) to change people but to offer space where change can take place”. Long concludes that “Biblical hospitality is not optional but obligatory”.
Healing listening needs to be genuine. Nouwen again; “healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention”.
There are very practical things we can do to minister during the current virus.
Wash our hands to ensure that germs are not spread. Avoid contact with others when we suspect symptoms. Look out for those who are vulnerable, ensure that they have human contact by phone if not in person. Make sure that they have the supplies they need. Being aware that even though my constitution can take the mild symptoms that the virus might bring but that for others with underlying conditions, especially the elderly, contracting the virus could be more serious.
But we can also listen.
Carry hope.
Not offer instant solutions or just tell people not to worry.
But to listen. Create space. Offer the gift of ourselves. The hospitality of space. The healing space where God can let the person know that their fears and anxieties have been heard. To minister his grace through us.
And to pray.
God of healing and hope, in Jesus you meet us in our places of pain and fear. Look with mercy on those who have contracted the new virus, on any who are vulnerable, and on all who feel in danger. Through this time of global concern , by your Holy Spirit bring out the best not the worst in us. Make us more aware of our interdependence on each other, and of the strength that comes from being one body in you. Through Christ our wounded healer. Amen
(Rev Sam Wells, St Martin in the Fields, London)
God bless you, protect you and may you carry hope this day and every day

  1. Phil Knox, Storybearer (IVP 2020)

  2. Ann Long , Listening (Darton Longman Todd 1990 p33-38)

Rev Doug McHardie
Vicar, Christ Church Purley
Office 0208 763 8291