Last week certainly took us by surprise.
Back in September I received an email offering a plan for Christmas, the crazy idea of placing hundreds of knitted angels in Romiley as free gifts to our community.
One of my priorities is to empower and support the creative and crazy ideas which arise in St.Chad’s and so I thought ‘Why not?’ and said “yes, go for it”. This was someone offering to do something fresh and inventive, outside the walls of the church, to initiate connections and bless our community.
By Sunday 11th Dec, over 600 had arrived, hours and hours of knitting and hundreds of conversations had happened. We prayed that God would use the angels to bless people and very early on Tuesday morning we hung them on railings all around Romiley.
As the village woke up and set of for school and work, the place came alive.
The Surprise worked! – delight, joy, smiles and stories bursting everywhere. The atmosphere in the school playground was transformed – reluctant schoolchildren (& parents) trudging to school in the dark, were running and laughing again. Kindness broke forth, our lollipop lady found a child with no angel in tears and so gave her the one she had chosen for her tree. Within minutes a grandfather ran off to find one in a yellow coat for the Lollipop lady.
But something else was going on – it felt more than just a happy little surprising occasion.
There was a new found generosity of heart.
A celebration of what the Romiley community is about.
Commuters, walking in darkness, struggling with an early start, facing yet another draining day ahead, were lifted. People who had been struggling with burdens, felt loved.
We provided some photos and video footage for BBC NorthWest, who put it online, their Facebook videos usually get c.20K views, by the weekend ours had been viewed more than half a million times!
But there’s another dimension to this story – which I want to share.
A few years ago, I was excitedly preached about Angels, stories in the Bible and experiences of people I’ve met, of the vast, majestic, overwhelming heavenly beings. In my talk, I threw in some comments, which were – let’s be honest – not entirely positive about little knitted angels. In trying to make my point – I chose to stamp on something precious to others – and I’m not proud of it! (The damage done when we preachers choose to trash talk something to emphasise something else, is for another blog, it’s destructive and endemic)
So what did God do? – He chose to take the very thing I had been cynical about & use them to do something really quite powerful and dramatic here in Romiley.
The church I lead, now becomes famous for being ‘the knitted angel church’…
I had some interesting conversations with God about this on my early morning dog walks last week!
God, in his love – took another opportunity to remind that building up, not pulling down is how we do things in his family. But he didn’t just take the opportunity to humble me (he gets plenty of those) because when he has our attention, God makes the most of it. When struggling with internal conflict between what we know is right & the tantrums of our feelings – He has a chance to speak.
So with my full attention, God had another surprise.
As well as the outbursts of joy, and chatting and fun around Romiley.
As well as the grateful recognition that we seek to show God’s generosity.
Then the requests came in. A flood of them.
Emails, Facebook messages to our church profile, phonecalls, even people turning up on the church doorstep having driven to Romiley to find us.
Requests for these little knitted angels – to give to sick relatives and unsettled children. Requests for these to bring hope and healing to those in distress.
At first we weren’t sure what to do about this – a knitted angel is cute – but it has no magical powers.
I had to wrestle with all sorts of religious thoughts, along with my preach all those years ago slagging off little angels – I considered all potential negatives.
Was this superstition and folk religion? Was dropping cute knitted angels in the nighttime too cowardly as a form of mission? Was this a misrepresentation of the heavenly reality?
But then I remembered that we’d prayed for those who received these angels, we’d prayed that God would use them. We’d taken something very simple, very natural – something sweet and lovely and prayed that God would use it – and now he was!
It was a wake up call for me.
People are hungry for God. – They are looking for him, searching for him, reaching out asking for his help. We are surrounded by people longing for love and connection – and these angels were a sign that God’s people want to show kindness.
People are desperate for hope, for something playful and fun, wonder and surprise. Finding a knitted angel, hanging on a railing early on a damp dark December morning – is a reminder that there is fun and playfulness in the world.
People are desperate for healing – for sickness to be overcome and they’re looking for the God who heals.
And there was such faith and expectation out there, that God could use these little tokens to bring healing and hope. Amidst my religious reactions and our preoccupation with a video going viral, we were discovered vast amounts of faith, outside the church.
So we started praying differently. God used handkerchiefs and aprons in the book of Acts, to bring healing to those in need, so I got past my religious reactions and started asking him for that. We’ve already heard of one lady’s daughter who had been in intensive care for a long time, making a dramatic recovery the day after her Mum took her an angel. We’ve heard of insomniacs, sleeping peacefully. I’m praying for many more, God loves these people and we long to see his kingdom touch their lives.
In many cases it seemed that there was more faith in God to heal outside the church, than within it. And yet those inside the church have already received that love, that joy and that power from him. We’ve already experienced connection, freedom and healing from God and can share that.
So God took the little thing that we had to offer and used it to remind us that He has so much more.
I wasn’t totally wrong all those years ago – knitted angels are just nicely constructed arrangements of wool.
But this stopped being about the angels a long time ago. Angels are only messengers who bring good news of great joy. Whether they are 10ft tall, radiant in overwhelming light and carrying vast swords – or 5inches tall, made of scraps of wool with a bit of tinsel. They have one job, to point people to Jesus.
God used this little tokens of love, to catch people’s attention, to express his love and to point people to Jesus. He is the one who can heal, restore, refresh and bring hope.