I love this photo from our ‘Lighten our Darkness’ festival which already captures what is emerging over the coming days. In many ways it is often the unintended consequences that captured the moment. In 2009, when we ran our first Narnia exhibition, it was what happened just outside the wonderfilled church that captured the mood of the time. The economic crisis was really beginning to hit, parents were fearful and anxious, and their kids eager to visit the land of Narnia. For those stewarding the porch entrance it was a fascinating fortnight. Families would arrive, the parents worried, the children excited. There was almost relief in strained grown-up eyes when it was explained that grown-ups were free and children, only a nominal charge. And so they could make their way through the fur-coated wardrobe, into the snow-ladened land of adventure. Such was the flow of visitors that those on duty outside wouldn’t have had much time for distraction but they always made sure to watch the same families re-emerge from the wardrobe. Eyes that had been full of uncertainty and anxiety were now filled with wonder. (see Youtube clip below)
I mention this because we have been fortunate as a parish family to witness many moments of transformational wonder. Many services of worship have included such moments, various Remembrance Exhibitions have moved us to tears in their poignancy. Even our Christmas Tree Festival in 2017 seemed to light up the eyes of so many who visited us. So, the challenge of capturing the mood of a community that is struggling with the impacts and consequences of a global pandemic was never going to be easy. Thankfully from our earliest ventures into creative church it has been abundantly clear that our efforts are not defined by success or failure, but by obedience. This ethos is critical as we seek to serve rather than self-promote. There have been countless moments over the years when our hearts have failed, when we feared we had taken on way too much; but rather than being moments of crisis, they became moments of transformation. Our frailty our weakness and vulnerability, have been important reminders that this is not about us, this is about obeying God’s calling on our lives and talents.
Our ‘ADVENTure for Christmas’ festival this year is from a similar ethos. We would love to have hundreds and (even thousands) join us this year but of course that is neither possible nor safe in our current circumstances. A ‘passing-by’ exhibition works (hopefully), but actually it is the simplicity of the concept that captures the moment best. Every one of our adventures began with a wish list, a grandiose idea that would take a Holywood studio to carry off. Bit by bit we reflect and we simplify, and we identify what we have in our house (available to us). (The snow for the first Narnia festival was left over from the filming of ‘Camelot’ in Killruddery years before). Keeping it simple is critical and leads to those ‘unintended consequences’ that we were unprepared for, but God already knew would touch the heart of a visitor or passerby. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that God would invest all our time and energy into creating such a moment for just one person. We tend to ‘globalize’ our perspective, to seek to maximize our impact on as many people as possible – a noble aim – but so many times Scripture and our experiences to date have shown us that God knows exactly what it’s all for.
In our second Narnia exhibition, ‘The Voyage of the Dawntreader’, we ran for the six weeks of lent 2013. It was great but grueling. By Holy Week we were exhausted. I remember one afternoon, I think it was Good Friday, we had closed up for the day, heading home, when yet another car pulled up. One of us went over to explain that we were closed but we’d be open again the next day. The mother of the family explained that they had traveled all the way from Galway to see the exhibition as their young son was a’ Narnia nut’. They were literally heading home straight after’ and could in no way come back before the festival ended on Easter Sunday. It was a moment of truth that became a defining moment of that festival. As this young lad ran; wide-eyed and open-mouthed from scene to scene, soaking it all in, we knew this was the moment God created this whole festival for. (I suspect our travelling lion was a moment the toll booth collector won’t forget for a while either!!)
We serve a God of surprises. He takes the ordinary and the everyday and transforms it into the wonderful and life changing. It is obviously way too early to know if our ‘Lighten our Darkness ADVENTture’ will succeed or fail, it doesn’t actually matter; what matters most is the person hurrying past as the evening darkens, who slows down and stops, not quite believing what their eye has seen, going back and taking it in. All the better if that moment is only witnessed by God and his heavenly messengers; that’s actually the whole point.