All change!

You may be familiar with the hymn ‘Abide with me’ and in particular, that line which goes  ‘Change and decay in all around I see’ which suggests that change is undesirable – God doesn’t change so should we too aspire to be changeless, for things not to change? God doesn’t change because he is perfect and he is all mighty – omnipotent, omnipresent, all in all. He could only change by becoming more or less than he was before and if he is already everything, that is not possible.

The last verse of one of my favourite hymns, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ includes the lines ‘Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place’. Now, that’s more like it. Although God doesn’t change, we human beings clearly need to. We need to be formed into the likeness of Christ. For the whole of creation, change is necessary, essential. Without change there is no growth. Applies physically (plants, animals, people) but also spiritually to each one of us as individuals but also as communities. Not advocating change for change’s sake but to be alive is to change; we all change as we grow older – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Perhaps you know someone who seems to be stuck, unable to move on. They may feel trapped by their circumstances, by their experience of life, by some sort of addiction or emotion they can’t free themselves from. And if you know someone like that, you know how much better they would feel if they could change and grow; if they could be released from whatever is weighing or tying them down.

Change is necessary for our growth. It is sometimes forced upon us; often unexpected, unwelcome, painful. Not all change appears to be good or immediately fruitful – loss of physical or mental health, loss of status or employment, relationship breakdown, the loss through death or distance of contact with loved ones. Yet the message of the gospel, of the cross is that God does bring hope and salvation and healing from death and decay and evil. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. It cannot change, it cannot grow.

The gospel reading for today set by the Church of England (John 2.1-11) is different from the one set by the Revised Common Lectionary (Mark 1.14-20), on which this sermon is based.  And yet, they share a common theme of change. Water is changed into wine; the new wine of the good news of Jesus Christ. For the first disciples Jesus calls there is a huge change of lifestyle. It’s not forced upon them, though. They have a choice. It was surely not something they were expecting! For those disciples who responded to Jesus’ call (and who knows how many others he called who didn’t respond) the day would have seemed very ordinary until Jesus arrived. They can’t possibly have been thinking ‘You know what, let’s go and found a new religion’ or ‘I think I fancy a career change’. No, their whole life was centred around fishing – for fish. It was the family business ; it was a tough life, hardworking, with its fair share of danger and disappointment but they would not have contemplated anything different, any form of change. And just let’s consider for a moment what an enormous change they said ‘yes’ to – just like that. It’s almost unthinkable. What about the impact on the rest of the family? Four able men to go off following a travelling preacher just like that! How could they do that to their fathers? Later in this first chapter of Mark’s gospel we read about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law – so Simon must have had a wife and quite possibly children as well. How could he, the main bread-winner, leave his nets and follow Jesus to ‘fish for people’??(whatever that might mean!)

Sometimes, that call of Jesus for us to change – as individuals and as a church – is that radical, that revolutionary, flying in the face of all convention and common sense. Sometimes we are called to leave behind what is comfortable and familiar and sensible.

This time last year, during this season of Epiphany, I preached a series of sermons around the theme of our calling as we considered where God might be calling us, as church communities, on this peninsula. In the coming weeks, our PCCs will be reviewing the plan which the Steering Group have prepared (Ramsholt have already done it). There will be changes – structural and organisational changes. These may look like cutbacks; it may seem that we are being asked to make do with less. But change is necessary if we are to grow. Sometimes we are called to leave behind that which is comfortable and familiar, to leave our nets and our traditional church lifestyle – dedicated and hardworking though it may be – and follow where God is calling us. The changes that the steering group have discerned are not just change for change sake or to manage decline but to release our time and our energies to go out and preach the gospel. Our 2020 vision is not to have fewer clergy or fewer services or fewer meetings; it is to put aside those things which keep us looking inward into our church buildings rather than outward into our communities; it is to give ustime and energy to devote to the needs of those communities; to tell people of God’s love and the fullness of life he offers; it is to cast off the nets that entangle and inhibit us and follow Jesus to fish for people. Simon, Andrew, James and John didn’t leave their nets and follow Jesus because it was the easy option, not because they weren’t busy enough, not because someone else recommended it as a strategy for the future. They went with Jesus because he called them. Where is he calling YOU?

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All Aboard – session 4

In our final ‘All Aboard’ session, we looked at how we might organise ourselves, as churches of the Wilford Peninsula, so that we can engage most fully with Mission and Ministry.

We began by considering a number of ‘job titles’ and what they said to us about the tasks of ministry and mission entrusted to us. These were some of the thoughts that came to us :

Farmer

  • sows the seed, nurtures it,
  • keeps soil and crops healthy
  • has to cope with different soils and conditions
  • can be hard work esp. turning the ground
  • God gives the growth
  • not everything works

Entrepreneur

  • self-starter
  • makes things happen; motivates
  • sees opportunities
  • focussed; visionary
  • enables change

Carpenter

  • works with raw material
  • shapes; enhances
  • sees potential; knows community
  • plans, measures
  • helps to form meaning and identity; enabling people to tell their story

Midwife

  • enables transition
  • ongoing care

Undertaker

  • enables transition
  • death to life
  • lays to rest

Parent

  • nurture; care; guidance
  • teaches love
  • enables to grow to maturity

Weaver

  • works with colour & texture
  • makes connections
  • keeps balance (between warp & weft)
  • relationships, networks

National & Diocesan context

All the above job titles include an element of enabling growth. ‘Growth’ is on the diocesan agenda :

Growth in depth (rooting ourselves in God; making opportunities for learning); in numbers; in young people; in generosity.

94 stipendiary clergy will retire in the next 10 years and there are not 94 ‘new’ stipendiary clergy coming forward. The target (for the diocese) of 118 full-time posts has already almost been reached and is likely to be reduced further.

It appears that God is not calling people to stipendiary ministry – is there something we need to learn from this? Is God challenging us to look at new ways of being church?

Ancient & Modern – ways of being church

An ‘ancient’ way of being church Is the ‘minster’ model. Minsters were resource centres; usually monasteries; places of gathering, prayer, learning, hospitality, welcome. A ‘power house’ – but not just for themselves. Ministry went out from the minster to the surrounding areas. Ministers would go out from the minster to surrounding, often very small, communities who may not even have had a building to meet in but gathered around a large stone or tree. This model of church, which was true for a large part of church history, is one that has been used more recently, for several decades, in Hereford diocese. Do we need to acknowledge that there are some of our churches where it is no longer possible to sustain buildings and a vibrant church community? (Consideration is NOT being given to closing any churches, however)

Different ways of being church on the Wilford Peninsula :

Centre for Mission & Ministry

  • Based on the minster model
  • likely to have resident clergy
  • requires ‘critical mass’ in terms of both church and local community
  • likely to be financially buoyant
  • lots of things going on
  • able to give out to others
  • dynamic
  • able lay people involved
  • sufficiently large, lively & buoyant

Heritage

  • do one thing and do it well
  • dying to rise again?
  • festivals only? or one service per month? weekday service?
  • chapel of ease – able to be used but doesn’t have its own PCC

Pairings/Partnerships

  • Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs
  • could be ecumenical
  • Partnership with another Anglican church outside peninsula
  • ‘companion’ church (companion = ‘one with whom I share bread’)
  • are there natural pairings within the Wilford Team? where there is a similar liturgical preference (e.g. BCP) or a geographical proximity
  • Joint PCC meetings might bring energy

Locally led

  • uses ‘local’ priests, evangelists, pastors, readers
  • a future possibility rather than a short-term solution – there may be a parish which hears the call to explore this further
  • not in a vacuum – incumbent retains oversight and responsibility.

Next Steps

Each cluster of parishes within the benefice will hold an open meeting to which all are invited, whether or not they are on the PCC, electoral roll or attend church. Meetings are as follows :

Parishes of Butley, Chillesford, Iken, Orford & Sudbourne
Saturday 7th June, 10am in Orford Church

Parishes of Alderton, Bawdsey, Boyton, Hollesley & Ramsholt
Saturday 21st June, 10am in Hollesley Church (refreshments served from 9.30am)

Parishes of Bromeswell, Shottisham & Sutton
Saturday 28th June, 9.30am in Sutton Church (refreshments served from 9.15am)

Parishes of Eyke, Rendlesham, Tunstall & Wantisden
Saturday 5th July, 10am in St Felix Church, Rendlesham

Following these open meetings, the individual PCCs will make a response by the end of September, for consideration by the Steering Group.

All Aboard – session 3

Having considered the foundations and building blocks of ‘church’, we changed tack (to maintain the nautical theme) and looked at interior decoration – how we might inhabit the (spiritual) building and make it our own.

Clare told us of her experience of a ‘Ministry Enablers’ conference which she attended last summer in the Diocese of Auckland, New Zealand. There, stipendiary (paid) ministers do not have particular parish responsibilities but are mentors/consultants to those who have been called out of their local communities to be priests, deacons, pastors, evangelists, catechists and administrators. If a church community cannot find 6 people within the local community to fulfil each of these roles, then they are considered not to be a church but a mission field.

Our God is an enabling God. He gives us the tools and resources we need to be His Church but we have to recognise His call and be generous in our use of our gifts and talents.

We spent some time individually considering how we are uniquely gifted and called by God and how He has shaped our lives. God shapes each one of us (through Scripture) into his likeness and we pray that this course will shape our future ministry. All are made in the image of God but our ‘shape’ is not fixed, nor is it a product of chance. Rather we can choose to work with God in shaping our lives through

Spiritual gifts – everyone has gifts
Heart’s desire – what motivates, excites me
Abilities – talents, gifts, skills; God given and to be used
Personality – unique
Experience – life throws lots of different experiences at me

Everyone is commissioned for ministry at their baptism, just as Jesus was. Each is commissioned to ‘Shine as a light in the world’

I am called to prayer and worship – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart….’

I am called to service – ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

When I identify where God ties in with my personal story and share it with someone else, that is evangelism.

Looking at Scripture helps us to discern our shape and we looked at eight short passages from the New Testament and tried to summarise them from our own point of view. The table below shows the verses on the left and a suggested summary on the right. The ‘I’ statements make particularly powerful reading and emphasise how each individual Christian is called to ministry and service.

Ephesians 2.10
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
I’ve been created to serve God.
Galatians 1.15“But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace..” I’ve been uniquely chosen
1 Peter 4.10“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” I’ve been given a gift to use in serving others
Matthew 28.18-19“And Jesus came and said to them ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Jesus commissions me as his disciple
Ephesians 4.11-12“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” My gifts are to equip myself and others for ministry
1 Corinthians 12.17,18,27“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it…” God has placed me here for a purpose and the Church needs me. Everyone’s ministry is equally important.
Romans 14.10, 12“Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we all stand before the judgement seat of God.. So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” I’m accountable to God for how I use my life (and must not judge others)
Colossians 3.23-24“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.” I do it for Christ and not to impress other people.

 

 

All Aboard – session 2

In our first All Aboard session we looked at the values – the foundations, if you like – that underpin our church communities – thinking in general rather than specifically of the churches of the Wilford Peninsula.

In our second session we considered what the building blocks of church might be and with a bible study of Acts 2.42-end and asking ‘What do you notice in this passage’ about the life of the early church? Continue reading All Aboard – session 2

Is the Lord among us or not?

Or perhaps we’re more likely to cry ‘where is God in all this?’ – perhaps we might say this in response to a personal crisis, when things are getting on top of us, when one thing after another seems to be going wrong. Or when we see family or friends in difficulties; when we look at the many, many terrible situations in the world and we say ‘where is God in all this; what is he doing about it? doesn’t he care?’

And so we can understand how the Israelites felt when they grumbled about their situation in the wilderness. ‘What is God playing at? Why did he bring us here to this awful desolate place. Is the Lord among us or not?’

Now given that they were without water, we might think that their complaints were pretty justified – after all they wouldn’t last long without water to drink. But then if we read the previous chapter of the book of Exodus, we find that the Israelites have already been provided by God with food to eat – the manna from heaven and the quails. God has provided for them – and continues to do so – in the verses immediately  before today’s first reading we read that the Israelites ate manna for all of the 40 years that they were in the wilderness. And yet in this latest situation they find themselves in, a water shortage, they don’t trust God to provide them with what they need.

The journey that they began on so enthusiastically and joyfully has turned into a bit of a drag.

How often do we set off on a journey in good spirits and full of enthusiasm only to find we hit a problem and our mood changes? The motorway is jammed following an accident, the train is delayed because of a power failure or the flight is cancelled due to poor weather conditions. Do we wait calmly and patiently or do we respond with anger and frustration? Some of you will know that I spent several hours in A&E on Monday evening. It was easy to understand how frustrating long waiting times can be for those who have families to care for, commitments to attend to or who are worried about their own situation or that of others. The staff were amazing – kind, apologetic, thoughtful, stretched to their limits.  Hardly fair to take it out on them and I’m pleased to say no one did. But is the Lord among us or not?

The Israelites grew impatient and weary and rather than taking their moans directly to God, they take out their impatience and discomfort on Moses, demanding the seemingly impossible.

They blame their leader much as we are inclined to blame politicians, the way fans blame a football team manager. So often in response to a failure of some system or other, people demand the resignation of the person in charge – whether that person had any direct responsibility or not. Rather than letting the leaders work to change the system, they are replaced. Should we do more to resolve things for ourselves, take more responsibility to put right things that we see that are wrong, rather than leaving it to other people and then grumbling when we don’t like the result?

Yesterday at Boyton’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting, I presented a shortened version of the ‘Look to the Future’ presentation which was given to the churchwardens and elders last November. And I intend to do the same at our forthcoming Annual meeting on. One of the slides reminded me that it is  “Vitally important that decisions are made by PCCs, not imposed by the Diocese” – or anyone else for that matter – not the archdeacon, the rural dean or the vicar! On Friday the church remembered Thomas Cranmer  who was martyred  – burnt at the stake – in 1556 for his protestant beliefs, for protesting against the power and control of the Roman Catholic church; for wanting ordinary people to be able to worship in their own language and have a say in the way the church was run. And, of course, he wasn’t the only one.

When it comes to choosing a way forward, a 2020 vision for the future, no human being is going to tell us what to do; what that vision is. We have to prayerfully discern it for ourselves. Please, if you care about this church and the future Christian presence in this parish, come to the annual meeting; come to the 4 week course in May; let us explore together the exciting future that God has planned for us here on the peninsula, rather than grumbling when we find ourselves in a wilderness that was not of our choosing.

Like many of us – like many organisations today – the Israelites seem to have a vertical view of leadership: people, Moses, God. Some would say a hierarchical view – where there are succeeding levels or layers. In fact, if we look into the root of the word ‘hierarchy’ we find that it comes from the Greek of which one meaning is ‘rule by priests’. When things don’t go their way the Israelites automatically question whether God is with them or not.

Jesus’ model of leadership is quite different. Look how in the gospel reading he is clearly in command of the situation and is recognised as a leader – yet not by taking charge. Instead, he makes himself vulnerable; he asks for a drink; he does something different – he speaks not only to a strange women but to a women who is a Samaritan. He breaks not one but two Jewish taboos; he draws the woman out in conversation. More of a God in relation, sitting alongside, seen through other people, rather than God on a pedestal. If God is alongside us we do not need to ask whether God is with us or not, we just have to look at the people around us.

Jesus showed us that God is indeed with us, alongside us, one of us, in a very different way to the Old Testament view of a remote yet all-powerful God. Jesus showed us that God is beside us and within us as well as above us. In John’s gospel it is God who is vulnerable, God who is thirsty. Yet he sustains and refreshes us with more than physical water. God chooses to minister through people – he chooses to spread the message of his kingdom through the least likely of people – a woman, a Samaritan, untrained, scorned by those who had kept the Jewish faith over centuries, takes the message that God has come among us to her friends and neighbours and they too come to faith.

So as we Look to the future, let us remember that God IS with us but also that we may meet him in what might seem to us the most unlikely of people.

Blind Faith

Last night I had a dream – and as is the way with dreams, it’s hard to rationalise or even remember much of it. Some of the people I recognised, others I knew but I couldn’t tell you who they were. I think we were planning a Café Sundae session and we met outdoors. The one thing I do remember was telling the rural dean (yes, she was there too) that we were about to move house and, although this house was only just up the road from where I live now, not only had I not seen the inside of the house but I hadn’t seen the garden either. I was feeling slightly anxious about this because my current garden (in the dream, not in reality!) was flourishing with fruit and veg. I was particularly concerned about my blackcurrant bushes….. No doubt a psychoanalyst could have an absolute field day with all this but I’m not going to try and get any deep meaning out of it. Except to say that our attitudes to change, to moving on can say something about our relationship with God and our response to him.

The central characters in today’s readings – Abraham and Nicodemus – are the proverbial chalk and cheese of Scripture. Within Judaism, Islam and Christianity Abraham’s name has become a byword for faithfulness and obedience. Abram heeds God’s call to leave all that he possesses and journey to a far-off land. Unlike that other great figure in Hebrew history, Moses, he does not ask the Lord a series of questions or offer excuses – he just goes. His conversation with God appears to be very straightforward and one-sided. Abram was old – so we are told. Perhaps these days it would be said that his wanderlust was a result of a delayed ‘mid-life crisis’. While it is easy to be caught up in the finer detail of God’s call – how did Abram know it was the one true God who was calling him? – or become side-tracked by his age, it is important to recognise his courage and self-sacrifice. These days we’ve become accustomed to migration of people and peoples and we don’t think a great deal of it – partly because we know it is possible to travel half-way around the world on comfortable aeroplanes to study or work or just for fun.

But we also need to bear in mind the other migrations, undertaken in hazardous conditions – the migration of the trafficked people and asylum seekers. There are shocking statistics about the huge proportion of the population of Syria who have been forced to flee their homes. Migration is part of the human story and continues to be often a dangerous and risky business. The other aspect that we should take note of is to do with Abram’s age. Sometimes older people say to me ‘I’m too old to change’ and this usually refers to a change in attitude or ways of doing things. Physical age may prevent us from doing physical things but it is no barrier to progressing on our spiritual journey of discovery. As we get physically older, we may find it more time-consuming to learn new things, or we may not have the same mental agility as we did when we were younger but there is no such thing as being too old to reconsider and re-evaluate our ‘life attitudes’, if you like; no such thing as being too old to set out afresh on a new journey of discovery, a new chapter in our relationship with God and our response to his call. God has a calling, a vocation for each and every one of us, young and old; and for each gathered community of Christians – each parish. It is that calling, that vocation that we hope to recognise and respond to over the coming months as we look to the future as a team.

But, let’s for a moment contrast Abraham with Nicodemus. Nicodemus  is a Pharisee and a ‘teacher of Israel’ as Jesus calls him this during their conversation. For all his apparent learning, Nicodemus has only questions for Jesus.

While Abram had to step outside his comfort zone in response to God’s call, Nicodemus remained inside his. We might argue that Nicodemus was a ‘head’ man; a thinker who used logic and reason to work out who Jesus was. Equally, it can be argued that Abram was a ‘heart’ person; it made little rational or economic sense to leave all that he had to embark on what some would have called a ‘wild goose chase’ as part of a promise that he would not see in his lifetime.

Are we more like Nicodemus than Abraham? Are we more interested in the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ – wanting a rational, scientific explanation for everything. Have we, I wonder, lost something of the spontaneity, the appreciation of mystery? Christians are often described as ‘pilgrim people’, whose journey only ends when we die. But when we became the ‘established church’; when Christianity became the ‘state religion’ as far back as the Emperor Constantine, did we lose something of the spontaneity, the sense of journey, of adventure, of restlessness even? And I wonder if that makes us more inclined to be like Nicodemus – interested, searching but very cautious.

The good news is that we know that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus. His questions were answered and he used his position with the Jewish leaders to question their attitude to Jesus (John 7.50) and took the risk of buying spices to anoint Jesus’ body before burial.

We can be sure that God will speak to us, will call us in a way that we can hear – whether we are ‘head’ or ‘heart’ people. If we have questions, God will answer them. But the decision to respond, to go along with God’s plan is ours alone and perhaps this story about Abram speaks into the situation of the church in Western society today and in particular to us in this benefice. Instead of feeling sidelined and marginalised and threatened by society’s attitude to the church; instead of feeling vulnerable and under-resourced, perhaps we are being pointed towards taking risks in the face of uncertainty and the threat of decline; perhaps we are being pointed towards being imaginative in the face of unforeseen opportunity, as we look to the future together.

God of Abram, our God,
we praise you that you are a God of journeys;
a God of excitement; a God of possibilities.
Bless us with the courage of Abram this Lent,
that we might draw closer to you and to one another
and become the people you know we can be.
We pray in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

 

Looking to the future – ministry and mission on the Wilford Peninsula

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