It doesn’t happen every day but sometimes I get a good old dose of what I can only call Gospel Goosebumps. It is those times when I am acutely aware that I am standing on holy ground surrounded by holy people with the presence of God palpably present.
Recently I was back in Bellshill (Lanarkshire) where I was parish minister for ten wonderful years throughout the nineties. It was there that I was allowed to make mistakes and still be loved. It was there that I first began to understand how hope shines through despair and that fragile people are frequently holy people.
I was there to take part in an event which was marking the 20th anniversary of Utheo Ltd – the organisation that is responsible for running Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre. Throughout the course of the event people shared how the centre was still living up to its tagline – ‘a place for people, a community for all’ – and I got the Gospel Goosebumps.
Maybe it was partly because of the people who weren’t there. John, a reformed alcoholic who died a couple of weeks before the Neighbourhood Centre opened but who, for me, was the spiritual giant who gave me the courage to believe in its possibility. Or Ian, who died earlier this year whose love and compassion saw me through some tough times. I missed them both but felt that we were celebrating with the whole host of heaven.
Maybe it was meeting up again with so many people who moulded and shaped me. People like Cissie who told me on the day I was leaving Bellshill to never forget that they had taught me everything that I know. You are right Cissie and I will try not to forget it! Or Karen who once told me to get a grip of myself when I was wallowing in self-doubt. Thanks Karen for believing in me when I couldn’t!
But actually the most exciting bit, the thing that really gave me the Gospel Goosebumps was meeting lots of people that I didn’t know. Young people, volunteers, old people, staff, folks struggling with addiction, councillors and MPs who all had a story to tell of how Orbiston Neighbourhood Centre was enriching their lives. At one point, as I looked around and saw people laughing, talking, eating and drinking, I felt that I had just had a little glimpse into heaven. And I felt hugely privileged to have been able to play a tiny wee part, 20 years ago, in helping that community to flourish into what it has become.
People will often talk about life in our poorest communities as full of problems and struggles. That is, without a shadow of a doubt, a significant part of the reality. But alongside that reality are the glimpses into what heaven looks like – and the chance to witness to and take part in heaven building activity. If you get what I’m talking about, I suspect that gives you a good dose of the Gospel Goosebumps too.