It is good to remember that we started small.
Without any sense of institution or establishment. There wasn’t any protocol or set format.
Just a story and an experience.
Of course, the church then grew – and that was wonderful. The story caught on and caught people’s hearts. Courage and resilience and compassion spread out like ripples from that story. Deep, rooting, real love blossomed. The Spirit equipped the people, and communities were formed. There was a Church.
This Sunday, we’re celebrating all that. Pentecost is the birthday celebration of the worldwide Church. Maybe there will be red banners at your church or red paper flames to pin on your jacket. Maybe the Sunday School will do something creative with balloons or bubbles or red streamers in the sanctuary. Or maybe it will be quieter. The lectionary passage will be read, the story preached and remembered, another season in the church calendar turning.
Pentecost may not be a big holiday, but it is the beginning of something big.
It’s an acorn sort of Sunday.
Last Saturday, I spent my day in a big Anglican cathedral. I had been invited to a regional conference about worship so that I might share material from my work with Nitekirk. Plum came with me – which was a little mad and a little necessary, but he was lovely and we had a great day together. He was quite happy to play underneath a table as I stood and chatted with people. He napped during a great workshop on using art in worship, and when he woke up, we explored the cathedral together. In a side chapel, we found a prayer space had been set up with various reflective stations: a basket of grapes labelled Taste and see that the Lord is good, a box of stones that made the most wonderful sound when you clacked them together. But the best discovery was the long cathedral nave itself. There was so much space. Plum threw back his head to look up to the height of the ceiling. He crept underneath chairs and around pillars. He scuttled full speed on his hands and knees as far as he could down the aisle and up the chancel steps.
He looked at home in the cathedral. Which is no bad thing. It was beautiful to see his confidence and happy exploration. And a cathedral is a beautiful space. I want my children to experience beauty, to lift their eyes up and wonder at soaring arches and amazing stained glass windows. I want that kind of awe and splendour for all of us.
But watching Plum in the afternoon made me think about space and size and feelings.
Big places can bedazzle us. Churches tend to be large spaces. Sure, they are not all cathedrals by any means, but worship spaces are made to contain large gatherings. I wonder what that does to our spiritual imagination. I worry that we might cultivate in ourselves a sense of comfort with large worship spaces at the expense of the intimacy of a closer Gospel.
Are we as comfortable sharing the story in a small context as we are sitting in a pew in a big church? Are we at home around the story itself? I hope so. And I hope that our Pentecost celebrations can contain something of our small beginnings as well as our growth and the grandeur of our built traditions.
The Sunday School kids at our church were sharing parables on Sunday. They talked about yeast and pearls. Some of them drew buried treasure, and others tackled the mustard seed which grew into a tree. I think it was that story which inspired my still-little Blue’s drawing which you can see at the top.