I went to “Zac’s place” tonight. It is run by Sean. On Tuesday evenings at about 7:30 they have a “Church for Ragamuffins”: connected to Zac’s place is the God’s Squad – a biker group. It started out 10 years ago in Australia and Sean started the first UK club in 2001. The place is named after Zacchaeus, the tax collector with whom Jesus had a meal.
When I arrived the place looked locked up and everything seemed shut down, I stood there not quite sure what to do and where to turn to find out more. A guy with two bottles of milk came along the street and I asked about whether they’d closed for the summer (as some other really interesting groups did – like the café church – more about that later) and he pointed to the door that was just around the corner. Oh well. They invited me to bring my bike (take note: I have a bike now, just bought it today, a red Coventry Eagle!) into the room with me. There were about six people there already and later on we were about 15 to 20 people. The room liked like a very small pub. There was food on the counter and people sat around talking and having tea and coffee (this is where the two bottles of milk came handy). Just normal people (which is proven by the fact that I had problems understanding their Welsh accent). Bikers with tattoos and all, women and men, younger and older people, quite mixed.
More people came in, some hugged; everyone chatted and shared the food. I got talking to people and we had tea and coffee. It felt really welcome. Sean started the bible study with a prayer. Normal language, very accessible and down to earth. Each small table got a bible and two people read out the text, then Sean opened the discussion. I liked that we had two English versions which made it easier to see different points and it made it more accessible. The great thing was that you could say just straight out what you meant and when people talked they linked the text to their lives.
It had often bothered me that when you listen to a sermon in a ‘normal’ church and you disagree you can hardly jump up and yell out that you disagree and make suggestions. I often disagreed and wanted to start a discussion and wanted to hear how other people saw it. And here it was, just like that. I really liked it. People listened and agreed or disagreed and had different ideas about what it meant and it all developed while we were talking.
They had been talking about the parables during the last meetings. The reading for this evening was Luke 19:11-27 about the leader giving out money to people to keep while he is away and about what they did with the money (make more of it or just hide it away in fear). People compared it to money lenders and how you can buy goods and only pay five pounds a week but over a long time and they take about 600% off you. They related it to drug dealers and to their lives. This one part in the text had worried me: if you have little it will be taken away – it just does not seem fair. Now I see that it meant if a talent is given to you but you do not use it you will lose it. Makes sense, like speaking a language – if you don’t use and share it you’ll not be able to keep it.
People also pointed out that it was not all happy-clappy: that some people try and invest a lot, especially in the church, and in the end they lose their faith because things do not work out and it is so hard going. It is not that if you try then it will always work out and everyone will be better off and happy. It was also acknowledged that a lot of people get hurt by the church as an institution and that some people misuse their power in the church and people get awfully hurt. It wasn’t as if anyone dwelt on that a lot but it was acknowledged.
At the end, Sean asked what we wanted to pray about and the requests ranged from prayers for people who were ill, to friends and family far away, to a dog with ill health, to good-quality Skype connections and quick car repair. There was a kind of Eucharist if you wanted: a plastic jug of fruit juice and a slice of toast bread were on the counter and you could just take a sip and a piece. I would have preferred a bit more explicit sharing of the meal – but that happened with the tuna sandwiches and the tea ! People stayed and talked afterwards. It was great fun and I am sure I will be back next week.
Have a look at Seans blog.