This is the parable of Pip the Pigeon.
It’s a true story that occurred last Sunday.
I had just enjoyed a fantastic time with my Hill City Church family at our Sunday morning gathering at Cold Barn Farm. The venue was packed, we had a load of new visitors (including a honey-mooning couple – cos there’s nowhere more romantic than Trevethin!) The time of sung worship was a very special time and I really knew God’s help as I preached. As usual the service was followed by great fellowship and laughter, and I was also approached by a lady who wants to get baptised – buzzin! However, as people went home full of the Word and good coffee, God still had one last message that he wanted to convey to me, and it came from the most unlikely source…
It was my turn to be on the set-up/pack-down rota so I was the last person to leave the building. After the post-service craziness it was bizarrely quiet as I went to punch in the security code before locking up. That’s when the ‘messenger’ came. Now we’re quite used to people turning up late to church, but 2 hours late is pretty nuts even by Hill City standards. However, this was no ordinary visitor! As I turned to leave, there in the doorway was a small pigeon. I ushered him out of the door then turned my attention back to the security code. Again I turned around, and the pigeon was back. This time I noticed his ruffled feathers and wondered whether he was cold and had come in for warmth. As I approached him again, he hobbled off. Now I’m no expert on birds, but I do know that a bird’s favoured means of travel is flight. This pigeon didn’t seem able to. At this point my mother’s DNA kicked in and I felt a strange sense I’ve never had before – compassion towards a pigeon!! (My mam was a member of the Gwent Ornithological Society – a ‘bird spotter’ in other words!) Anyway, I gently picked the pigeon up and was surprised how little resistance he put up. This little fella was clearly exhausted and possibly disoriented (something I later learned happens to birds during storms – and there was a mother of a storm on Sunday!) He also might have been injured. The ring on his leg suggested that this was not your bog standard ‘street’ pigeon, this was a homing pigeon, which only increased my resolve to make sure that he found his way home.
Not really sure what to do next, I phoned a mate who I thought might have some helpful advice:
Me: “I’ve just found an injured pigeon, what do you reckon I should do with it?”
Friend: “Chuck it in the bin!!”
Hmmm!! I guess I’ll be asking Google then! (Stuff like this makes me really miss my mam).
So here’s what I did. I wrapped him up tight in a pair of old tracksuit trousers, tucked him under my arm and started the journey home through torrential rain. It felt kinda weird walking the streets of Trevethin with a strange bird under my arm (ho-ho) and I still didn’t really know what I was doing. But in the midst of this absurdly bizarre situation – God started to speak to me. More about that later! On with the story…
And his name was Pip (short for Pippin!)
Anyway, I popped him in a cardboard box, along with his tracky trousers and got on with my research. Now I don’t want to stereotype all ‘pigeon fanciers’ as old and slightly odd, but the all of the websites I found did little to paint them in any other light. The answer phone message on the one pigeon helpline I managed to find informed me (hilariously) that the pigeon was indeed a homing pigeon because it had “a leg on its ring”…yes that’s right…”a LEG on its RING!” I was instructed to give Pip food, water and shelter, and to contact them again if he hadn’t flown off within a few days. So, me and the (ridiculously over-excited) kids did just that!
For the rest of the day they asked if we could check on Pip pretty much every 5 minutes! Shortly before tea, I obliged. I opened the box to behold Pip…and a LOT of pooh! I gently picked him up and held him on my open palm, letting the kids have a little stroke. I opened the back door and held him outside. After a minute or so, Pip stretched out his wings and flew away.
The kids were horrified.
I was elated!
Let me explain why…
What God had impressed upon my heart as I was walking home was that this whole situation was a picture of what church should be all about. Church is not primarily about events, services and programmed activities. Rather, church is where the lost, exhausted, vulnerable, broken and disoriented should be able to come for sanctuary. To receive mercy, shelter, protection, nourishment and hope. The reason that I was stoked that Pip flew away is that Church should also be about seeing people transformed by grace:
The lost – found.
The hungry – fed.
The broken – healed.
The exhausted – revitalised.
Church isn’t just about providing refuge for those in need.
It’s about doing what it takes to see them fly again!
By God’s grace that’s what Hill City is all about. I pray that it always will be. That’s my prayer for you and for your church too!
Thus ends the parable of Pip the Pigeon.