A sea of faces surrounded me after the church service. I scanned the room but somehow felt disconnected. Everyone seemed caught up in conversations or huddles. I wasn’t in the mood to try and be sociable or welcome the newcomers. So I withdrew from the hub of activity and chatter and headed outside.
Although it was a bitterly cold winter’s day, the sun shone brilliantly, casting warmth, light and shadows around the walls of the building. Leaning against the sand coloured bricks, I enjoyed the sun’s rays and the solitude for a few moments. After a while a couple of others came to join me. But they were there for a different purpose…to light up and enjoy a smoke. Then came another. One rolled her own cigarette, the others drew theirs from a packet.
We started up a conversation; it was laid back and I realised how little I knew of these people who sat a few rows away from me minutes earlier.
I don’t normally chat to these individuals, perhaps giving only a cursory glance and a polite ‘hello’ upon passing by over coffee. They have different styles and backgrounds to me, we probably don’t have much in common – though a couple of them also have kids.
One chap in a wheelchair explained how he’d arrived a bit late and missed coffee. But he wasn’t moaning, he was smiling about his mistake of setting off too late. I had also missed my cuppa, but wasn’t too pleased about it.
Another woman mentioned someone we knew who’s rather marginalised and looks a bit of a sorry state most of the time. I discovered that she had invited him for Christmas dinner upon finding out that he would be all alone. This from a woman with a young family and who is obviously not well off. I was humbled. She had been Christ-like in opening her home to a lonely, difficult person; I didn’t really want the hassle of even considering something like that.
One of my sons also came outside to join me. He was fed up and wanted to go home. He often finds church boring. But he observed these smokers and listened to the conversation. The guy in the wheelchair asked him about gaming and his iPod touch. My son’s face lit up, pleased that some interest was shown in him.
These people I hung out with do not have easy lives or much money. Yes, they were wasting some on cigarettes, but maybe I’m a bit profligate when it comes to wine or shoes at times. Some could perhaps have been described as typical working class or on the sidelines. They hadn’t reached a high level of education or attained notable status in the community or church. But somehow they inspired me and somehow I learned from them. I enjoyed their company, their smiles and acceptance. I didn’t have to be anything other than me.
It reminded me that it’s good to be broadminded and get to know those from different communities or groups to the one you’re settled in. In those few short minutes outside among some wafts of cigarette smoke, I experienced true Christian fellowship – all divisive barriers down, everyone an equal child of God. And I found it quite refreshing. It’s encouraged me to seek opportunities to be on the edge, to gain a different perspective and to learn from others in unsuspecting places. Having just heard a gripping talk on issues of social justice it seemed quite an appropriate lesson to learn.