They were late. Very late.
We were living in the UK for a year, and had invited a couple over for dinner. They did arrive, over an hour late. They had become hopelessly lost. It was a time before cell phones.
No matter how much they smiled and joked about becoming lost it was clear that silent sparks still flew between them. The atmosphere was tense. No words needed to be said. It just was there, a menacing presence invading every moment of the evening.
The atmosphere of a place, or occasion, can be such a powerful presence, having a profound effect on everyone present. Sometimes, when actions do not match words, it can be easy to identify. At a workshop, our American presenter told of a parish which practiced "pervasive hospitality", and was also building a high fence to keep out locals they did not want disturbing their peace.
More often though, the atmosphere of a place is something that has been built up over time. It is culmination of attitudes and actions. It is a reflection of the goals widely shared and practiced. It is a sign of the value of the place to those there. The larger the group, the harder it can be to establish a powerful and positive atmosphere. Individuals have to surrender part of themselves, and to feel bound to all the others.
At All Saints we have much to be thankful for. As each Sunday I come into All Saints I can feel a glow. As we daily hear news of dysfunction, hatred and violence, the church is a strengthening balm. This atmosphere has not arisen by chance. It has been built by years of people of faith, who want to make that faith a cornerstone of their life. But because we feel secure in that atmosphere of warmth and love we cannot rest. We cannot assume.
Perhaps it is good that our finances never seem certain. It keeps us alert. It stops us taking things for granted.
So as, each week, we feed on the food of our faith, in the atmosphere of love and acceptance we continue to build, let us also see how we can further our ministries, how we can reach beyond who we are to what we can be - to Just Imagine.