Despite all my experience, despite the joy of getting to know so many good people, despite hearing so many stories and taking part in so many special events - I still fall into the trap of sometimes failing to see people with all the depth, beauty, wonder, sadness, joy and humanity that they undoubtedly have. What I mean is that sometimes (hopefully vary rarely) I will look at one of my congregations and classify them almost by Mr Men standards: 'Mr Snoozy', or 'Mrs Long Winded', 'Mr Stroppy', 'Little Miss Loud And Somewhat Annoying', 'Mr Won't Shut Up About The Flipping Parish Share' etc etc etc. OK, it's an exaggeration, but it's easy to think of people in terms of how they behave or what they do rather than who they are, to reduce them to two-dimensional figures like characters in a bad novel...
And then an encounter or a moment or an event occurs that makes me think again, and to remember that I am ministering to, or chatting with, or making friends with, or just being with a richly multifaceted human being. A person with stories that could astound - and often do - and a life of their own which is wonderful, profound and affecting. A number of encounters lately have reminded me of this richness that exists - some of them funeral visits where I have heard things about people which have added such depth to my experience of them, other times chance meetings or conversations in Church or the pub or around the villages.
Take for instance one young woman who attends one of the Churches in this Mission Community. The fact that she is young makers her out as something special, but also meant that I thought of her as 'Little Miss Unusually Young For This Particular Congregation' then I went to a concert where she played a musical instrument with such skill and talent along with a depth of feeling that belied her age and I realised that behind my initial limited viewpoint was a creative and inspired person.
Then there was the encounter with someone in a local pub who has been 'Mr Bloke That Sits At The Bar' but in conversation I discovered he was a skilled metalworker, a businessman, an entrepreneur, a farmer and someone who was compassionate, interesting and funny.
Again, at a recent Community lunch I was sitting next to someone who I thought of as 'Mr Quite Deaf' turned out to be an expert gardener with vast experience of travel and a life working in livestock.
I could go on and on. Sometimes I think we all need a reminder to treat people as people, not just lumps of flesh we interact with! As ministers it is easy to reduce people to those we have to minster to or those who are 'pew fodder' or potential members of committees or names on the rota. I have to check myself from just looking at folk as congregation, or mentally dividing up the churchgoers from the non-churchgoers. They, we, are all much loved, much valued members of God's family, made in the image of the divine, and worth so much more time and effort than any two dimensional perceptions will allow.