I was standing in the hall at Wyedale, the Diocesan Retreat Centre for York Diocese. There was a registrar in the room and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu in the room, along with a few other very nervous candidates, waiting to be sworn in legally as prospective candidates for the priesthood. Then I heard this song playing in my head by the Human League. ‘Don’t you want me baby? … You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… when I met you.. I picked you up, I turned you into something new!’
This made me almost laugh out loud, which I think was partly God’s intention. Because he knew how nervous I was, how unworthy I felt to be taking on this role. It was funny, because when I first became a Christian in my 30’s, when the penny finally dropped, I was indeed working in a bar. I was serving mainly bottles of WKD in the Reflex pub on Micklegate in York. Not very classy (although a revolving dancefloor is quite fun!) but it paid me some money when I first came back to York after training as a social worker, and coming back from Oxford.
I say I became a Christian then, because I grew up with church but not really understanding the idea of a personal faith, despite having been taught all about it! Who knows why it took me so long to understand? Well God does of course, and for me alot of it was to do with trust. I had been let down, (so I thought) by God, many times and couldn’t see this paradise the evangelists talked about when they turned their lives to Jesus.
I could see the hypocrisy, the remoteness of the church from ‘real life’, but no action on injustice, no heart-cry for the poor. Until I trained as a social worker and found myself surrounded by Christians who shared this passion with me. Then I had a kind of ‘road to Damascus’ conversion to social action having previously wanted to earn as much money as possible, working in business. In 2001 when I began my career as a qualified social worker, washing glasses in the pub, God had seen me, and quietly put his head in his hands! I hadn’t quite grasped the full potential he saw in me. I could do more than fix people’s lives, I could do more than run successful projects, I could do more than love him, he could turn me into something completely new, if only I would let him help!
The moment it struck me was sitting in a pew in St Mike’s which is the big evo-conservative church in York. Someone was preaching about a prostitute called Rahab, who had let down a rope to help the Judeans escape Jericho. I realised then that God uses all sorts of people, even flawed ones like me to achieve his purposes. His ways are bolder and more unimaginably creative than we ever understand. I dived out of the service shortly afterwards to start my shift at the 80’s theme pub the Reflex!
Like many of us, my faith journey has had many twists and turns, but this story was an important one for me. I hope Rahab inspires you too…
Joshua 2 Spies in Jerusalem (Easyread version)
Joshua son of Nun and all the people were camped at Acacia.[a] Joshua sent out two spies. No one knew that Joshua sent out these men. Joshua said to them, “Go and look at the land, especially the city of Jericho.”
So the men went to the city of Jericho and stayed at the house of a prostitute named Rahab.
2 But someone told the king of Jericho, “Last night some men from Israel came to look for weaknesses in our country.”
3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Do not hide the men who came and stayed in your house. Bring them out. They have come to spy on our country.”
4 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she said, “They did come here, but I didn’t know where they came from. 5 In the evening, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know where they went. But if you go quickly, maybe you can catch them.” 6 (Rahab said this, but really she had taken the men up to the roof and had hidden them in the flax[b] that she had piled up there.)
7 So the king’s men went out of the city, and the people closed the city gates. The king’s men went to look for the two men from Israel. They went to the Jordan River and looked at all the places where people cross the river.
8 The two men were ready to sleep for the night, but Rahab went to the roof to talk to them. 9 She said, “I know that the Lord has given this land to your people. You frighten us. Everyone living in this country is afraid of you. 10 We are afraid because we have heard about the ways that the Lord helped you. We heard that he dried up the Red Sea when you came out of Egypt. We also heard what you did to the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og. We heard how you destroyed those kings living east of the Jordan River. 11 When we heard about this, we were very afraid. And now, not one of our men is brave enough to fight you, because the Lord your God rules the heavens above and the earth below! 12 So now, I want you to make a promise to me. I was kind to you and helped you. So promise me before the Lord that you will be kind to my family. Please tell me that you will do this. 13 Tell me that you will allow my family to live—my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all their families. Promise me that you will save us from death.”
14 The men agreed and said, “We will trade our lives for yours. Don’t tell anyone what we are doing. Then, when the Lord gives us the land, we will be kind to you. You can trust us.”
15 Rahab’s house was built into the city wall, so she used a rope to let the men down through a window. 16 Then she said to them, “Go into the hills so that the king’s men will not accidentally find you. Hide there for three days. After the king’s men come back, you can go on your way.”
17 The men said to her, “We made a promise to you. But you must do one thing, or we will not be responsible for our promise. 18 When we come back to this land, you must tie in your window this red rope you are using to help us escape. You must bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your family into your house with you. 19 We will protect everyone who stays in this house. If anyone in your house is hurt, we will be responsible. But if they go out of your house and are killed, we will not be responsible. It will be their own fault. 20 We are making this agreement with you. But if you tell anyone about what we are doing, we will be free from this agreement.”
21 Rahab answered, “I will do just what you said.” She said goodbye, and the men left her house. Then she tied the red rope in the window.
22 The men left her house and went into the hills. They stayed there for three days. The king’s men looked all along the road. After three days, they stopped looking and went back to the city. 23 Then the two men went back to Joshua. They left the hills and crossed the river. They went to Joshua and told him everything that they had learned. 24 They said to him, “The Lord really has given us all the land. All the people in that country are afraid of us.”