*Disclaimer - we have decided to write this post "jointly" and so Jay in particular doesn't promise to keep her pronouns right all the time. Hopefully everything will flow alright!!*
Anyone who knows either of us even a little bit will almost certainly know we are Christians and that one of our priorities on moving was to find a Church family to be part of. Back home we had many happy years as part of Oldmachar and we knew just how important Church is. We have been supported through many highs and lows and almost all of our best friends are people we know only because of Church or Youth For Christ.
Partly through Jay's DNA connections and partly through Mr Google, we had come across the website for Open Heaven. We liked what we saw, and although we experienced it in slightly different ways, we both felt drawn to this congregation, it felt like God was calling us there for something or for some reason. We had spoken a lot about what we would want a Church to be like, what would be the signs that it was a congregation we wanted to be part of and although we had come up with very few concrete answers it seemed from before we even arrived here in Loughborough that Open Heaven seemed a likely candidate for being where we ended up.
Last week was the first time we attended an OH service and it certainly wasn't what we were used to. Open Heaven has two "expressions" - one (OH1) is aimed at students and the 18-30 age group and is held in the afternoon in the student union of Loughborough University (which is where Sandy works, in case you hadn't put that altogether!). The other service (OH2) was set up a few years later, they noticed that all their students were growing up and having children and that a service more designed for families might be on the cards. Last week when we attended there was a joined service of the two expressions (they do this once each term), we both found it very odd going to Church in the afternoon but both enjoyed the freedom of the worship and the space that was given to all who needed it (children and students alike). There was an area for those who were creative but not very musical to draw out their worship for God and a big area where people could dance or sing or bang on a drum!! Afterwards (coincidently) there were fireworks and hot dogs (for their current DNA trainees to raise money) so it was great to be able to meet lots of new people that way too, the fireworks were great too!
We felt like we needed to see what a more "normal" OH2 service looked like before we could make a decision but we felt very included, people spoke to us lots, many people even took a risk and worked out we were new!! We began to get a sense of how much the people from Open Heaven cared about each other and how they were deeply invested in each other's lives but thought we would leave it another week to see what God stirred in us and what the next service looked like.
So today we went to a straight up OH2 service, someone we met last week gave us a lift which was nice as it was in a different place (a primary school) and so we were less likely to get lost this way!! We turned up to be told by one of the Church leaders that this wouldn't be a normal service either! We have since decided this is because there is no such thing and is one of the things that appeals to us about such a congregation. Today we re-enacted the passover meal looking at what all the different bits mean, taking part by eating the various foods and drinks and thinking about the way they ultimately pointed to Jesus. It was certainly a novel way to work through Exodus 12 and the children seemed to have lots of fun and even as an adult there were things for us to notice and take heed of.
We broke for tea and coffee before the end of the service (which does mean it was onto a winner with particularly Sandy) to deal with the now restless children before praying for a couple in the church who are moving to France to church plant there.
On top of all that, OH seems very mission focused, both in terms of the team going to France and also in terms of how they see the local community. They are currently fund-raising to buy a building with another local church and see that as a place the whole community (not just the Open Heaven community) can connect with each other and have their needs met in really practical ways. When we get excited about church it tends to be because time has been spent listening to God's call and then going after that regardless of what human barriers stand in the way, when we hear Open Heaven talk about mission this is the impression we get and as such, we are excited.
This has all been a very long-winded way of saying, that we have decided to stay at Open Heaven. If we are completely honest their services are not quite what we would want, perhaps a little too child focused (maybe our opinion on this will change in the not-too-distant future) but we already feel cared about by the people there and we love the way Church seems to go on through the week, it isn't just a Sunday thing. We see the potential for lots of friends there and having moved to a completely strange place, that is important to us. So, that is that decision made, we are sticking at Open Heaven, for at least the foreseeable future and probably for all our time here in Loughborough!
Sandy and Jay