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God’s Giant Jigsaw: The Rev Rachel Parkinson

Mosaic 1


“So instead of lovingly creating a monochrome peoples known as the Church – it is part of my role to work with The Artist to bring together all the raw materials of Jew and Gentile, Male and Female, Theist and Atheist, Muslim and Sikh …. to form the most beautiful, radiant and glory-filled mosaic for all eternity. We might call it Kingdom.” 

(Simon Sutcliffe, Venture FX pioneer – writing in the previous guest post)


Months ago I was puzzled by the muted reaction given to a proposal that Churches Together run a stall at the local community gala.  It turned out that even the natural enthusiasts were left scarred by experience.  The vast majority of the local populace of our suburban “village” on the north side of Leicester had very obviously given the churches stall a wide berth in previous years.  Rejection may be part and parcel of the way of the cross, but inviting it so deliberately was not on most people’s agenda.

 Mosaic 2

Which was how Messy Church came to take over the pre-booked stall on the churches behalf.   One piece of MDF, 3 volunteers and a modest internet investment in glass mosaic tiles later – we were ready to offer people the chance to lay tiles in a community mosaic.


Feeling obliged to do things “properly”, we had literature to distribute (but it kept blowing away and became so weighed down that literally none of it moved).  We had a prayer station in the corner – a holding cross, icon and small stock of battery-operated tealights – but we largely forgot about it in the endless flow of people coming to engage.


One of us was a natural deacon – going beyond our gazebo to alert people to the opportunities afforded within.  Otherwise our attention was focussed entirely on the absorbing process of laying the tiles and, almost peripherally, on the amazing variety of people who came to make their mark.  Encouragement, praise, a minimal framework of rules for mosaic making, and a valuing of everyone’s contribution (even when they didn’t leave the desired grouting gap!) were the hallmarks of interaction.  The cross – with faith, peace, love, joy, hope and trust written into the heart of it – was hardly spoken of directly but was nevertheless the centre of our activity, emerging in colour contrast as the tiles were laid.


A moving encounter was with the grandmother of a multi-generation Asian family.  Wearing a sari and speaking little English, we assume she was either a Hindu or Sikh.  When she saw one of us barefoot and noticed the prayer table in the corner, she slipped off her sandals before tentatively laying a tile or two – a recognition of holy ground.

 Mosaic 3

I kept remembering Gerard Kelly’s wonderful poem*  which begins:


Fit me in somewhere

in this giant jigsaw, God,

somewhere in this work of art

you’re working,

select a space my shape can fill

and with a puzzle maker’s skill

let my contours find their fit without contortion.


For a while, we created a sacred space where a wide variety of people could find their fit around the cross without contortion.

Does it matter that we did not have the growth or sustainability of the local expressions of church as our goal?  As a one-off, surely not.  But am I brave enough to join Simon in saying that this can and should apply more widely?  And – the question that puzzles me – if, as he says, the church should indeed not be the centrepiece of God’s missional activity and yet is still “vital” (in this case, vital in providing funding for the gala booking fee, Messy Church and my stipend!) –  then how do we resolve that tension?

Rachel Parkinson


The Rev Rachel Parkinson, Superintendent Minister of the Leicester North Circuit of the Methodist Church

*found in Spoken Worship, published by Zondervan, copyright 2007 Gerard Kelly

3 comments on this post:


Thanks for this Rachel, some really challenging questions that relate to my original post. I don’t think have yet resolved the tension between the church that is powerful, propertied and (reasonably) influential with a church that needs to hide in the shadows appearing as light only when a lost one comes her way.

That said – I love what you did at the gala and the question for me is how do we maintain that level of interaction? To do so would mean, I suspect, giving up some of the stuff that takes up time and the paid minister’s energy. Could that be chosen over and against the Sunday act of worship? I suspect not, and so, in the end, are we just supplying gimmicks? I hope not …. But until the gala becomes the space that was previously known as ‘church’ then I suspect it is always going to be seen as a ‘quirky aside’.

03 July 2013 22:20

Great post. I probably shy away from Simon’s more universalist reading of the Kingdom but the powerful experience in had in the tent is so real. Indeed, isn’t it the experience which so many people have had in similar experiences. It’s about making ourselves available and letting people engage however they want to…I wonder if we need to explore this more with our buildings and services too – making the guests into hosts – another thing I learnt from Simon – radical hospitality where we give up the power and simply serve. Or is that going too far?

p.s. just seen Kathryn Welby’s tweet from this morning: ‘Church should be everyone arriving with one piece of the jigsaw.’ I love this so much! Quoted from Milton Jones at #natstew13. Wondering if Simon’s been plagiarised by Milton or visa versa?

04 July 2013 08:41
angela jenner said...

Is the gala a gimmick or a space known as ‘church? (linked to Simon). Isn’t the gala a special event of the community within which church also exists/sits? The community and the church I have been part of for the last few years has slowly enlarged their view of what is ‘church’. This means that, as Pete suggests, the guess have increasingly become the hosts. This has been indirectly encouraged by the poverty of community space and the lack of skills within the inherited church.

The language of many still refers to Sunday 10.30-11.30 as church, but most people’s church (as the body of Christ/the body of people seeking Christ) happens at other times over coffee and cake, a weekly communal meal, and the sharing and caring which spreads out to people in their street. Through this community of faith lives are being transformed. Once a month some of these people meet for something just about recognisable as communal worship, and here guests act as hosts, not only with food, but also by speaking.

For this community there have been many gala type activities which have had some sense of being holy spaces. For my part I have always tried to make sure they are not radically different from our everyday gathering. Creative activity, games and gardening are a regular part of gatherings and special events. E.g. A giant gospel of Luke was created by hundreds in the neighbourhood – there are always pens and paper around.

I have moved away now but would take up Pete and Simon’s words about radical hospitality, and have suggested to those in power beyond this local church community that they support to become more radical in this – I see people waiting on the sidelines to spread their wings and fly like eagles.

26 July 2013 11:03

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