Yesterday saw the last boot fair in Gillingham (it now moves across the river to Wainscott where we will continue to work) which marks a kind of goal post in my mind.
Some things that I thought would happen did not happen. The boot fair is walking distance for most people I see during the week and so I thought there would be people I would see at both the boot fair and in the High Street. There were a few, but not as many as I thought there would be. The boot fair community is almost another separate group of people that we have started to get to know.
Interestingly we have seen ‘regulars’ over the 7 weeks who come to say hello, take a Psalm or tell us a joke. These individuals have valued having someone to come and see. I don’t think we expected that to happen in such a short space of time. It’s illustrative of a lonely society, which we were aware of, but usually people are more suspicious.
I have also been surprised at what has worked on the stand and what has not. Prayer for healing and hand massage, which based on other events I thought would be popular, have not really featured at all at the boot fair. I think in the 7 weeks we have run so far that 3 people have asked for prayer for healing and one person has had a hand massage.
Psalm readings, which I must admit I thought was a bit ‘twee’ have been incredibly successful. People have come back each week for a Psalm. Universally across all age ranges the Psalm Readings have been a real way that people have connected with God. Jesus Deck Readings have also been very popular, but I was not surprised by that.
I wonder if people like to engage with something from a little distance. I think this could be why Psalm Readings have been so popular. I wonder for next year whether we need to think about some experiential stuff for each week that people can connect with. Something that asks them a question, or involves taking something away with them. In my mind this makes sense to come together wrapped in some way with a celebration of eucharist. Now there’s a challenge!
The pilot continues for 5 more weeks and we will learn more stuff from that as well, but it does already seem from doing this for a few months that there is a clear role for us here. We are unique in that we sell nothing. We are unique in that we are there for the wellbeing of others rather than the wellbeing (or profit) of ourselves. We have flatly refused to take donations form people when they have wanted to after we have done a reading or prayed with them. I think those two values have both surprised and challenged people ….. Christians, and the church, have been very good at ‘selling’ our charity and need fr finance and personnel …. possibly a bit more than our gospel message.
Most of the people that visit a boot fair would never dream of visiting a church, or even that the God who created them would be interested in them at all. Dekhomai has, over the last few weeks, though, caused some people to re-examinine their view of a God. Maybe some have even started to realise their is a God who is interested in them. I pray that is the case!