Jesus wants to save our church from the exile of irrelevance.
Nehemiah Wall was chairman of the church building committee. Plans had been drawn up to refurbish Christ the Prophet for 1 million pounds. The task of raising the necessary finances was about to begin. There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the church, especially amongst the older members, many of whom had wanted decent heating and a loo, for years.
One evening Nehemiah was visited by the youth worker, Christopher Bridge. He had recently prayer-walked the city and had become troubled that in the face of so many needs the church was focusing its vision and energy and money on itself.
After dark the following night, Nehemiah Wall drove alone around the city to see things for himself. He saw the homeless begging and sleeping out in the cold. He saw crowds of young drunks staggering around the streets and roads like Bambi on ice. He witnessed the fights and the ambulances and police cars racing to incidents. There were also the shadowy figures of the drug-pushers, pimps and prostitutes. But what most stood out were the many church buildings, all locked and dark and empty, well out of harm’s way behind iron railings. They resembled fortified castles surrounded by large protective moats designed not so much to welcome guests in, but rather to keep them out.
Later that night Nehemiah had a dream. He saw his beloved church before him. The building work was beginning. People in hard hats swarmed around the site erecting scaffolding. There were numerous large skips and a sizeable crowd of church members watching from a distance. As the work continued it soon became shockingly obvious to Nehemiah Wall that the ancient building wasn’t going to be re-pointed and renewed, it was being demolished. He felt tears trickle down his face, not tears of sadness, but of overwhelming joy.
Nevertheless it was a difficult and protracted and painful process, because from the start there was opposition from some of the church members. One of his dearest friends, Susan Heritage, gathered a significant group of church members and some with no connection to the church, but who thought it sacrilege to destroy such an ancient building. At times the opposition from this group became so fierce that legal proceedings held up the work for many months. But eventually Nehemiah saw the walls all come down and as the work was completed he heard a voice which sounded like the laughter of many children: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the church has just left the building’.
A week later a large celebration was held on the site of the old church to which there was an open invitation to all who wished to come. Many of the city churches attended, as did many other people who’d heard of what had been happening via the local and national press. Thousands turned up for the event including many of the homeless and the prostitutes and young binge drinkers and gang members Nehemiah had seen on the city streets. They didn’t all fit onto the site, but that didn’t matter as there were no longer any constraining walls.
As Nehemiah looked out on to the celebration, he saw what looked like a fountain of laughter erupt from the centre of that vast crowd, which sprayed out onto all those attending and out much further over the city. The water was the effervescent laughter of God which brought freedom, strong-joy, laughter, and new life wherever it landed. As people realised that it was raining they turned their heads upwards, opening their mouths to quench deep thirst. Many left their cars and Lorries and others came running out of houses, schools, hospitals, shops, and offices to drink and dance and sing together in the rain!
As the dream ended Nehemiah saw many of the Christians return to their own churches. Over time many more church buildings were dismantled or restructured along similar lines. Each time the work on a building was completed a celebration was held. At each of these events, similar fountains of laughter would erupt spraying their reviving waters over the city. The confluence of these different waters was the coming of the values of the kingdom of God into many lives throughout the city. Water gushed forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand began to become a pool and the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
Nehemiah Wall was jolted from his vision by a voice of one calling in the kitchen, ‘Breakfast’s ready!’ He had so much to tell his wife, who happened to be the sister of Susan Heritage. He also knew that the next committee meeting was going to be very, very interesting indeed!