Meringues, Testimonies & Tea

I was born in the 60s but grew up in a committed church going family in 70s. Back then the main discipleship strategy in the evangelical church in Scotland was busyness. The aim of church was to keep its members so busy attending meetings that they didn’t have any time to be tempted never mind sin. It was always a better theory than reality.

The week looked like this
Monday Night: Sunshine Corner, kids meeting
Tuesday Evening: Prayer Meeting
Wednesday Afternoon: Ladies Meeting
Wednesday evening: Crusaders, young people’s meeting
Thursday Evening: Bible Study
Friday: I am sure there must have been something just can remember, in later years there was a youth club
Saturday Evening: Deputation Meeting also know as “The Saturday Tea Meeting”
Sunday Morning: Sunday service, followed by Sunday School
Sunday Afternoon: Young People’s Bible Class
Sunday Evening: Gospel Service followed by Youth Fellowship

I am exhausted just typing it how the people who lived it coped I have no idea. I am glad that we are past exhaustion and disconnection from real life being marks of spiritual maturity. However, I do have a certain nostalga for one of those meetings which has all but disappeared, the Satuday Deputation Meeting.

My nostalga mainly relates to the “bag.” The deputation meeting meant at the end of the service everyone got a cup of tea (no coffee in Scotland back then ) and “a bag.” A bag was a white paper poke (a paper bag to you non Scots) with a biscuit and some kind of cake in it. The holy grail for us church kids was a bag with a meringue in it! (if we could we would secretly open the bags when no one was looking and mark those with the coveted meringue inside so we could appear lucky and surprised later when we chose the bag with the prized confectionary in it)

The Deputation Meeting or Saturday Tea Meeting was unusual in several ways apart from its bags. The pastor didn’t lead it or really do anything, the deputation, or group of “lay” people who normally came from another church took the whole service. Sometimes they sung, or someone “gave a wee word” but what I remember most were people sharing their stories of faith, of how they had a life changing encounter with Jesus or what God had been doing in their life or church. I am fairly certain I heard Tommy Goodwin’s laugh for the first time when as a fresh faced lad he gave his testimony at Greenock Elim. (sorry in house Nazarene recollection) It was a relaxed a meeting as it was held in the church hall and not the church! I remember animated conversations over the aforementioned tea and cakes, laughter and some times a sense that we had heard something quite remarkable.

Whilst I don’t have any great desire to resurrect the “Tea Meeting,” except for having meringues at church gatherings perhaps, I do thinks it has some lessons for the contemporary church. “Testimonies” at times were trite and exaggerated but equally, if not more often, they were profound, inspiring and deeply moving. Growing up with an almost weekly dose of “testimonies” gave me an expectation, the expectation that God was at work in people’s lives, that He wasn’t distant and uninterested but rather deeply involved in the lives of ordinary people. Young as I was I still understood from those Tea Meetings that God was in the life changing game. I heard alcoholics talk about God saving them from drink, couples who had been divorced talking about God bringing them reconciliation, people who had been in prison describe the freedom forgiveness had brought them and sometimes someone saying they were so glad that God had given them Christian parents who had pointed them to Christ. None of these people that I remember were gifted in Christian apologetics they just simply and honestly shared their faith story. To be honest I am fed up to my back teeth of hearing people say “preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” There is a place in the ministry of the church for a clear proclamation of the saving power of God and perhaps the most powerful way to do that is the way that happened in those tea meetings in the 70s when ordinary people told their stories of how God had done extraordinary things in their lives and challenged others to give their lives to God too. Looking back it reminds me that when it comes to sharing the Gospel simple doesn’t have to be simplistic and can often be significant.

There was also something gloriously amateurish about those meetings, I can remember some of the soloists being toe curlingly bad (no I wasn’t one of them) and other people stumbling and hesitating over words but it seemed to be an environment of grace, people were by and large patient and encouraging. I wonder if now we put put too high a premium on professionalism in our services? Perhaps now a days we don’t want to take the chance that someone might not be tuneful enough or eloquent enough and consequently we rob ourselves of stories and voices which may not be “excellent” in how they say something could be significant in what they have to say.

I wonder how we create a contemporary expression of the Saturday Deputation Service, an environment where ordinary believers “run the show,” where tell their own faith stories in authentic ways, where there is a relaxed atmosphere and time to talk and share? Any ideas? Any examples?

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