Just recently one of my parishioners, Paul, was speaking to me. 'What we love about you being here is you always have time to sit and talk and have a cup of tea with us.'
Now I could have taken offence. Why isn't my preaching or teaching or whatever what they most value? But actually, perhaps there is some deep truth to be mined here.
What is church all about? Yes it is about worship and the Word. But also it is about doing life, as Christians, together. The early church probably found this easier than we do. They lived in community and had little option than to do daily life with each other. As the church grew, often under oppression, the flock tended to flock together. And a large part of the ministry and teaching Jesus was simply walking around, being with people, eating and drinking with them, listening to them and speaking. One of the reasons he was so scandalous was that he was too low-key for those seeking the Messiah.
The landscape, though, is very different now and seems to make doing life together rather difficult.. We are an atomised society characterised by loneliness and isolation. People work long hours and then have all demands of family to deal with. Churches are sometimes only open on a Sunday. How on earth can find time for a gentle cup of tea and a chance to chat?
It isn't that churches don't know, and don't want, to do 'fellowship'. We know it is important but it isn't always easy.
There are perils here. Some churches develop cult-like attributes. They pack the social calendar and before long the people who attend are only ever sharing time with people from their own group. This seems to me to sometimes happen in small-denomination free churches, but I may be wrong. It comes from a good impulse but the results aren't always very healthy.
The other false path is to get people together for fellowship but then to cram the time with worthy religious activities and leave no time for just chatting about the football, being silly, being normal. Talking about family or having a joke. It is as though having got people together, unless we are strumming a guitar, having them sit through a day of talks and teaching and spiritual reflection and praying or whatever, we are wasting their time. There is a 'works' mentality smuggled in here. Again the impulse is good, but the execution misses out on something vital.
I love it that we recently had a gathering for clergy in our area and rather than taking the time to study or whatever we simply had some lovely cheese and glass of wine and enjoyed being with each other. It was a real breath of fresh air and we all felt better and more connected with each other – and with the God who wants us to spend time together.
So back to my parishioner Paul and his comments about finding time just to be with each other. Personally I love our time just chatting. I love it because it says to me that we can be normal, everyday people as Christians and that time enjoying each other's company is a way of honouring God.
There is always such an impulse to do more – more courses, more this and more that. But just being is so refreshing. Why not just enjoy being with the people God has put me together with?
So if you are a minister and you find yourself always rushing, I wonder if just spending the time of day with folk might be a tonic. You don't need to wear a dog collar, or reach for the Bible. The biggest gift we can sometimes give is time, attention and being normal. I don't think it is time wasted.
Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214