Face to Face (Being together)

Perhaps in our modern world, communication has never been so efficient and immediate. We have the opportunity to communicate using the telephone, emails, text, etc, which means we can message people almost instantaneously anywhere in the world! There is no doubt that this has been amazingly useful, especially during the pandemic and lockdown. However I feel that the ‘written word’ can never be a substitute for ‘face to face’ communication. The problem with the written word can be on emphasis! I remember a time in my teaching career at the local College, when sending emails to other members of staff was still quite a novelty! On one occasion I sent an email to a friend and working colleague to which I received a very curt reply which enquired “whatever did I mean by sending him such an insulting email!” I was really quite shocked and puzzled, until I read the email again, and realised that it could be read with an entirely different emphasis. So I went to see him face to face in his office, and read the email to him with the correct emphasis, which sometimes can only be spoken rather than written.

These last few weeks it has been a real joy for me to return to church to meet people face to face, and at last being able to sing together! We have perhaps learned during the height of the pandemic, that meeting together and meeting face to face has become an important aspect of who we are. I remember some years ago trying to encourage a person to come along to church and meet up with others. He replied that “he did not need to go to church to be a Christian” which in many respects is true, but then I was reminded of a lovely story I read where in fact the characters meet face to face but where actually no words were spoken. Here is the story –

A member of a church, who had previously attended services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks the minister decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The minister found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the minister’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The minister made himself comfortable but said nothing.

In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the minister took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all on its own. Then he sat back in his chair still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination as the lone ember’s flame diminished. Soon it was cold and dead.

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the minister was ready to leave, he picked up the cold dead ember and placed it in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it. As the minister reached the door to leave, his host said, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.”

Keith (Lay Reader)