Setting aside the reasons for what felt like a calamity at the time, in September 2019 I left the church community that I had been a part of for 33 years. These were not 33 years of casual attendance, but of being deeply embedded and invested in something that had become part of my identity.
From April 2016 to August 2018 I was able to form a team of (mostly) young adults and some more mature members to establish New Song Café, a monthly evening worship programme based around sung worship, a modern worship band, and an ambience that would be colourful, yet intimate; a setting in which those seeking to worship our Lord could do so amongst a cohort of like-minded people without the concern of treading on the toes of those for whom this expression of worship is an obstacle.
On May 12th 2019 I finally felt able to return to speak for the first time since leaving. Reflecting on that experience it is both wonderful and, at the same time, difficult as I see how things have been moving on. Part of the purpose of New Song Café was to identify, equip and release a new generation of people to explore and use the gifts that they have; not just as musicians, but in organisation, media, sound, lighting, hospitality and spiritual leadership. It is evident from my experience on 12th May that those goals are being achieved and exceeded as New Song moves ahead in new and exciting ways. It has grown in both size and its spiritual heart. The church, whilst not at capacity, was certainly full – there was a sense of the fulfilment of the vision that we had for this place. I recall saying some two years ago, when our numbers were 50 to 60 that we would soon be filling the church, which has a capacity of about 200. Those seemed like bold words at the time, but that is where we are now getting to.
As we sang “New Wine”, led by my friend and God daughter, Jem, I felt the thrill of a ridiculously proud parent as Jem stepped fully into her potential as an amazing worship vocalist. I confess to having “teared up” just a little. There were other similar moments as different members of the team played their respective parts.
But there was also a moment of realisation that, as had been one of the major goals of this initiative, that, at least from a practical point of view, I am no longer needed. This could leave one feeling either empty or fulfilled: If one looked at this from the perspective of it being “about me”, then one would feel empty and lost – they have moved beyond me and I am no longer required. But I choose to look from the perspective of the vision that God planted in our hearts back in 2016 – this was never “my” project to own… it was only and always intended to bring glory and honour to God. As I consider the personal journeys of those who are now stepping into the challenge of leading New Song Café I begin to understand that it is not about them either – it is about the great story of the Church and its purpose. it is about passing the baton, rising to new challenges, fulfilling potential, meeting needs, bringing hope and joy and, most of all, plain and simple worship – to raise our voices, as best we are able, in praise and adoration, to the one true, holy, good and loving Creator… to the one for whom no price was too great and who left everything, gave everything, lost everything and gained all eternity for us.