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Minister’s November Letter

Dear Friends,

Last month we learned that, sadly, our Men of Leisure Group had made the decision to close after many years of fun and friendship. Our thanks to John Thompson for his lovingly recorded reminiscences and for his own leadership through the final years. It is always sad when things come to an end. The good news is that some-thing new is about to start in our church life, as Wendy Swan and Mary Hart begin a new Bible Study and Discussion Group. Life is all about beginnings and endings. Nothing remains the same for ever.

But, as I thought over my own experience of Men of Leisure, two very vivid and special memories come to mind, both of which I can honestly say, have had a permanent effect on my theology and ministry. The first was a Christmas Lunch outing at which I sat with John Thompson and with one of the Sikh “Men of Leisure” and his wife.

During our conversation, Holy Communion was mentioned, and the Sikh lady asked me “what is Holy Communion?” What IS Holy Communion? Good question ….. Churches have divided, wars have been fought, men and women have been imprisoned, tortured and executed for giving the “wrong” answer to that question. How could I possibly offer an explanation over the Men of Leisure Christmas lunch table??? All I could do was tell this lady what actually happened: “Jesus Christ, when sharing his final meal with his followers, before he was crucified, asked them to break bread and share wine in remembrance of him.” “How nice,” she replied, sincerely and with respect. I turned to John- “why have we made it so complicated?”

Perhaps it was then that I realised how deeply I valued the “open table” in our own church tradition. People share bread and wine because Jesus invited them to and, even though every person present may have a slightly different understanding of what this sacrament means, all that matters is that they want to be there and that they want to share at the table of Jesus Christ. He will do the rest.

The second experience was when a terrible tragedy befell one of the Men of Leisure on the day before the next meeting and, having heard of it, I went up to meet with them as the Chairman (then Jim Lauder) broke the news. Naturally the men were shocked and heartbroken. Instinctively I suggested we join in prayer for our friend and his family, and they all agreed.

Having prayed and talked with them, I left and it was only as I was halfway down Mayfield Avenue that I realised what had actually happened. Men of Leisure was a truly multi-cultural group at that time, with Sikhs, a Hindu, men of different Christian denominations and some professing no faith at all. And we had just joined together in prayer …… Our shared pain, grief and desperate need of a greater power had united us before God where history, culture and theology could not. I can only say that I counted this as one of the greatest privileges of my Christian ministry.

You do not expect to receive powerful theological insights at a gathering for snooker, carpet bowls and sharing jokes over coffee. It just goes to show that even gatherings labelled as “purely social” can be invaded by God. Let’s keep a look out for Him, not only in worship and Bible Study (although both are very precious) but in the casual meetings, the gatherings of friends, the “non-religious” spaces, the leisure activities we enjoy.

Thank-you Men of Leisure, for creating the space where I learned important stuff about God.

With love and good wishes to you all,

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