They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
I have always loved this description of the early church, loved imagining the experience of living and worshipping together. There is something particularly beautiful about the sentence, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” In some ways, it is laughable! How many times have you looked around your church, a prayer group, or any other Christian setting and thought, ‘Yes, I have EVERYTHING in common with everyone here’? I confess, I often feel like an outsider in church settings, and I know many of our guests would feel uncomfortable in similar situations.
One thing I have cherished about The Gathering, our Friday church service, since its very beginning is the togetherness. On the surface, it looks like such a menagerie of madness! The room is full of people eating and drinking, young asylum seekers chatting to retired doctors, staff passing over toothbrushes and toothpaste to someone who has just been released from prison, veteran Christians and new believers. People feel free to move around as they need to: offering prayer, nipping out for a cigarette, passing over their phone with a Farsi translation of the Bible passage open. The worship is the very embodiment of a “joyful noise”. There is one song with the words,
My shackles are gone, my spirit is free!
Oh, praise the Lord! He lifted me.
My sins are forgiven, and now I am free.
Oh, praise the Lord, my shackles are gone, my spirit is free.
This particular song resonates so deeply with our congregation that it sounds more like the Hampden Roar than a hymn. I love it! I will never forget looking around the room during our very first Friday service in 2017, and feeling a drip of knowledge from the Holy Spirit flood through my consciousness: this is Heaven touching Earth.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have tried our best to keep the Gathering going. We have met in a small group in the park and down by the river. We have hosted dozens of livestreams on our Facebook page, some from the Mission, and some from our own homes and gardens. These have been wonderful, appreciated by staff, volunteers, and guests alike.
A few weeks ago, Simon, our Assistant Project Manager, announced that we would resume it in-person on our ground floor and it has been incredible. I happen to be scheduled to run the drop-in on Fridays so I have been present for every Gathering so far. It is different from before, of course. We are still limited to 16 guests in the room at one time, we can’t sing together with vigour and vivacity, we don’t put our heads together in small groups to pray or craft together. But what we do – oh, what we do – is “meet together in the temple courts”, “(break) bread… and (eat) together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God”.
Simon reflects on some of the interactions he has had with guests at the Gathering:
One afternoon we hosted a young couple who were going through the homeless application process. They had come in for lunch and didn’t know anything about the Gathering. During the discussion time, the man was very vocal with some amiable heckling, asking about “this God nonsense”, and “Who can believe in miracles?” At the close of the service, Simon felt prompted to have a chat and offer prayer. They were both receptive to this and said yes. The woman seemed very touched and a bit emotional. They both were encouraged that Simon took the time to listen to their situation, acknowledge their difficulties, and was prepared to stand with them in their struggles. He was able to follow this up the next week with some practical support. After the man’s incredulous reaction to the possibility of miracles, we were all amazed (but not surprised!) at his report that he and his partner had been offered accommodation together that very evening.
Another guest came to us after a long time living in Edinburgh. He has many past connections with churches and Christian organisations in Glasgow. He just happened to visit us at the time of the Gathering. His words to Simon were that he felt that God was “calling him back” into connection again. He prayed with Simon and they have chatted often since. This man went on to ask Joe Campbell, our Men’s Worker, to print out our daily reflections for him so that he can join in this communal devotional experience.
Loving God, indeed we are “filled with awe at the many wonders and signs”.