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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Ladies' afternoon tea

I'm aware that some readers don't share my religious beliefs. This blog entry isn't intended to start a religious discussion or argument but I need to give some background for the point of it to make sense.

I think it would be fair to say that I've had a bit of a struggle with church as a wheelchair user. Nobody means to offend or upset, in fact they probably think they are showing concern, but I've felt very uncomfortable and sometimes even unwelcome in an environment where I've previously felt completely at home.

As Pentecostal Christians, we believe in a God that is living and active in our lives. We believe in a God of healing. Just last year, I was sitting right next to a woman in a wheelchair who had been completely immobile for many years and God healed her, right in front of our eyes. However, I have to be honest and say that for every healing I see, there are many more who don't get healed and yes, that presents a conflict. It's difficult to understand why some do and some don't get healed. All I can say from a personal point of view is that I am at peace with not being healed and it doesn't get in the way of my faith. If anything, it has brought me closer to God.

That sets the context for some of my frustrations in church. I've had people pray for my healing (with and without my permission) and then accuse me of lacking faith. I've been praised when I've only used a walking stick and disappointment has then been expressed when I later use my wheelchair, as though it's some kind of behaviour issue. The absolute worst was when an elderly lady publicly rebuked my bladder, at which point I suddenly had a desperate need to go to the loo.

For non-Christians, these sorts of things must seem shocking and I'd understand if you wondered why I then continue to go to church at all. The only answer I can give is that my faith is more about God than people and that all people, Christians and non-Christians can be thoughtless, say daft things and occasionally be downright horrible, myself included.

So that paints the picture, which is the background for the lovely afternoon I had yesterday. Yesterday afternoon was a ladies' afternoon tea. It was scheduled for two and a half hours, which seemed a long time for a cuppa and cake, even for me, but Neil's away so I thought I'd pop along.

I sat round a table with a mixture of people that I've known since before moving to Finland and some new friends. Amongst our group were a lady in her 80s who has the youngest spirit and most mischievous sense of humour going, a lady with MS, the pastor's wife who I was at college with in the 1990s, a Korean lady who I've only ever passed brief greetings with and then me. I felt completely at ease, chatting and laughing... mostly laughing with these wonderful people. The afternoon was broken up with quizzes, poetry and testimonies. Apart from people offering to get me refills of coffee, for which I was very grateful, (I still haven't found a successful way of carrying hot drinks) I wasn't treated any differently from everyone else and I felt so at home there.

It's a fair old drive from our house to Dewsbury, where church is. It takes about 45 minutes on a good run and I do sometimes question whether we should have settled for somewhere closer to home but Dewsbury was our home church for over 10 years before we left the country and now we're back, it's where I feel accepted, loved and normal. So this morning, I shall once again hit the M62 and the M1 to go and worship with friends.

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