Not everyone knows the real answer to this question. And sometimes it’s tempting for us to do something worthy but low down on our priority list in order to help people who think the church is really a sort of extension of social services.
That was my temptation earlier today, when local social services telephoned us. The lady calling didn’t introduce herself, but asked if we had a room available for a parent to have contact with their children. They needed two hours, twice a week. I answered that our church hall was available to hire if they were looking for space.
But that wasn’t what this lady wanted. She was after space that was free. Or was there somewhere else? Perhaps the Vicarage? ‘Because churches want to support families staying together.’
Well, obviously, that is something the church wants to support. But we are a small congregation in a deprived area. So we can’t afford to let people use our rooms for free. And you all know that the Vicarage already has plenty of people in need passing through its doors. And, when we consider what we’re really about, our mission is not social service, to keep families together (for example), just because that is a good thing. Our mission is to help bring people out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son. And stronger families are a result of that, not an end in itself. We need to keep the main thing the main thing, otherwise we could spend all our time in worthy, but ultimately fruitless, activities.
I was interested that they thought the church would help (which we might have been able to do I guess, if we were a wealthier church with a church hall that was open anyway). There is still a perception that churches care about people and their troubles. I can’t imagine Richard Dawkins gets many calls asking him to make his living room available for use by families in crisis.
Incidentally, I wonder if this is part of a new plan for councils to reduce their spending? Perhaps they are looking to the church to provide free facilities for all their other activities as well. Will we be getting a call from their finance department asking if we’ve got space for a few of their accountants? Is this an initiative that Grant Shapps has launched?