Column: Shining shoes and a flash mob is all in a day's work for a bishop
The northern bishops, with their mission teams, have been on mission together again - this time to the North East.
You may remember we held a similar event in 2016 in our diocese here in Lancashire when it was called ‘Crossroads Mission’. It is now an annual event and 22 bishops and their teams led by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, took up the theme ‘Talking Jesus’ this year.
Starting and finishing in Durham Cathedral, we spread out from the ‘Tyne to the Tees and the Dales to the Sea’. I was in the Auckland Deanery moving between places like Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe.
It was an exciting programme and I was glad my young team was so adaptable. One moment they were joining in with 80 youngsters on a wild chocolate and snowball evening, the next they were discussing their faith at a home meeting.
They coped with noisy pubs, lots of food and the bishop frequently asking them to tell their faith story. The local church and clergy had done really well in preparing, setting up events and going the extra mile.
One vicar had arranged for a church and community choir of mainly children to sing, flash-mob style, in Tesco. There must have been about 500 of us blocking the entrance and the escalators for a few minutes. The manager was very forgiving!
Interestingly, with all the planned events it was often the spontaneous actions which produced some of the best conversations.
One afternoon I did some shoe polishing for free outside the main shopping centre. My team members had placards saying ‘Shoes cleaned here by a bishop and for free’. One lady told me her shoes had not been cleaned for 15 years. I told her that although I believed in miracles this was a challenge!
Another lady wanted her boots cleaning but even more she wanted to talk about the dilemma of both her parents being ill. One of the team prayed with her.
There were many encounters like this. Somehow God had gone before us and put us where we could be useful.
As so often in mission it was seeking to find out what God was doing and then joining in.
We probably missed some opportunities but were excited when we were able to listen and share our faith.