In my limited experience (I have only tried this stuff in one other place) after an experience like Monday, when things seem to be going well and you think you are making progress, this is quickly followed by a reality check whereby everything seems to come crashing in and you wonder again where things have got to. This is a normal stage of mission as people express, venture out, retract before trying again.
At this stage in Rochester 4 years ago people were still, in the main, not engaging with me and I often felt I was invisible. In many places in Gillingham that pattern has repeated itself. I think this is partly out of people being unsure of how to deal with the ‘dog collar’ thing as well as the fact that, in the main, many people like to be pretty private when out and about. It does remind me, however, that I soon learned four years ago that I have to be the instigator of any conversation … out of some old respect for the role i publicly do many are uncomfortable for a variety of reasons about talking to ‘a person of the cloth’. By instigating the conversation it is as if I am saying it is ok to talk …. not that I feel I need to, but it does seem that people assume a ‘professional’ person is simply too busy for them. This is pretty similar to what I experienced when I started in Rochester.
This is why I ventured out on Tuesday and today excepting the 1 step forward 3 steps back thing – but it never came. I went out expecting to have very quiet days with little engagement with people … but the opposite seems to have happened. If I’m honest I am kind of confused by that. Yesterday, for example, I was stopped in the High Street with a humourous friendly shout of ‘Oh, don’t speak then!’ This was the call of someone I spoke to a few days ago that wanted to talk more in the middle of the High Street.
For some reason people I have met once seem to be very open and very chatty. There are still hundreds in the High Street to whom I am invisible, which is not a surprise, but there are a handfull of people who are already starting to share their stories with me. That has come as a real surprise. I don’t know what it indicates or what this means for how I exercise my ministry … but it seemed worth making note of.
A possible cause could be due to the portfolio type ministry I have in the Gillingham area. In Rochester I was attached to the cathedral and the High Street… and that was it. In Gillingham I have this collection of stuff at St Marks, St Mary Magdalene, St Mary Island Church, St Mary Island School, governor at Brompton Academy, and the High Street. That means I have six or seven different places or opportunities to come into contact with people. I am visible in different types of spaces … professional spaces such as school, pastoral places of churches and social places of cafes. Some people come across me in 2 or 3 different spaces and I wonder if that is helping a relationship of trust to develop. I wonder …
I have, however, left those rose tinted specs locked in a drawer somewhere. I still believe the 3 steps back stage will come … it just didn’t come yesterday and hasn’t come today.