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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.

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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

Good to be here

It’s good to be here in church! At least I hope it is.

It’s good to be here with our friends, our families, with the family of the church, with God.

These days, there are so many other things we could be doing – shopping, gardening, sleeping, playing sport. But we have chosen to be here. Like Peter, James and John, Jesus has called us to this place so that we may glimpse his glory, his true nature as the Son of God.

It is good to come away to a special place, away from all the distractions of daily life; somewhere where we can forget for a while that the car needs washing, there’s homework to finish, the lunch to make. These things we can leave behind as we come to this special place.

No wonder the disciples wanted to build three dwellings to preserve that sense of special-ness.

Mount Tabor - the mountain of the transfiguration
Mount Tabor – the mountain of the transfiguration

If you have ever visited Mount Tabor,  the mountain of the transfiguration in Galilee, you will know that those dwellings – indeed a large church with separate chapels for Elijah and Moses have indeed been built. You can marvel at the beauty of the church with its elaborate decoration or wonder at the incredible view from the top of the mountain. Both acknowledge and declare God’s glory.

 

The Church of the Transfiguration
The Church of the Transfiguration

The early Christian church met in each other’s homes or in the Jewish synagogues and it was only in the time of the Emperor Constantine who was converted to Christianity that Christians were free and encouraged to build churches which were the best and most beautiful they could afford and which used their talents and artistic abilities to their full.

We are so fortunate to have these beautiful buildings to worship in. The churches of this peninsula, this diocese have been built and maintained for the worship of God and to His glory. It was a difficult decision to select just 100 treasures to include in the book produced to celebrate the centenary of the diocese. There were many others which could have been included, many of them from this peninsula.

Yes, it’s true we can worship God anywhere – in a garden, down at Shingle St, on top of a mountain. But our churches are special places. They are not just ancient buildings to be preserved but places where we glimpse God’s glory. They are places steeped in prayer, they are places of transformation; places where we can gather together in worship and be transformed by the person of Jesus Christ into his likeness, his image, together. The apostles and new believers of the early church were ‘united in the breaking of bread and the prayers’. They worshipped together as we do today; they broke bread together as we do today. Jesus meant his followers to meet together for worship.

Jesus took his disciples away to a special place for an experience which enlightened them and he brings us here today so that we can glimpse something of his light and warmth and glory before we begin the more austere time of Lent, with less singing in our service, the removal of flower displays from many churches. A time of wilderness.

Jesus took his disciples away to a special place and the tradition of pilgrimage – of going on a journey, perhaps to a special place – is well-known in Christianity as in many other religions. Often with pilgrimages it is the experience of travelling, of journey – with others or with our own thoughts that is valuable rather than arriving at the special place.

Here on the peninsula, some members of St Felix church at Rendlesham have begun a series of pilgrimages to our various churches – walking, cycling – not all churches at once but in stages over a period of weeks or months. They are inviting anyone who wishes to to join them on that pilgrimage and they are hoping to produce a booklet with each church being the destination on a particular Sunday. More details will follow.

The final, and arguably the most important aspect of pilgrimage is coming home again. There is the journey, the arriving but also the return and we return, hopefully transformed by our experience – whether it is an experience of a long pilgrimage or an hour in church on a Sunday morning. We return home – as the disciples did – different people to when we started out. We return transformed by our experience, our encounter with God and with one another.

We leave behind the special place, the special encounter but the one thing that should stay with us is the voice from heaven which commands us to listen to Jesus . The special places are important; we should value our buildings but not at the expense of listening to Jesus. His voice, his command, his will, his guidance must be our top priority.

Lord, it is good to be here in your presence.
Help me today to glimpse your glory in the little things,
that I may know you are close and rest in your presence,
your beloved child.
Amen.

 

Outside the box?

Give him your cloak also

If you’ve been watching the winter Olympics you’ll be aware of some controversies that have arisen. I’m thinking particularly of the ladies figure skating where there was confusion over the top placings and no one could understand why the Russian won and not the South Korean. And then why was British speed skater Elise Christie eliminated again after so much bad luck? Obviously the competitors and judges need to understand the rules, but do the spectators need to understand them too to appreciate what’s going on?

Even in our technological age, with so much at our fingertips, it’s not unusual for us to feel that we’re not in control, that we don’t have ownership or even influence in the situations that we find ourselves. In our gospel reading today, Jesus shows us how we can turn situations around, take control by doing the unexpected, going beyond what is asked or required, making those who might seem to have the upper hand, stop and think.

Sports men and women are challenged not just to embrace the rules and spirit of the Olympic Games, but to push themselves further than they or others thought possible. Jesus trains us to: turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; love your enemy; and to be perfect (that is, whole or complete).

Most of the nominees for best film at last weekend’s BAFTA ceremony were stories of going beyond, that we might find love for both neighbour and enemy: 12 Years a Slave battles with themes of slavery, abolition, personal dignity and the fight to stay alive; Philomena is the story of an Irish woman trying to find the child she gave up for adoption; Captain Philips explores the relationship between abductees and pirate kidnappers; Gravity tackles feelings of being lost, aloneness and hope of rescue. British director of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen, said: ‘Right now there are 21 million people in slavery. I just hope that 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another film-maker to make this film.’

The stories of individuals who make themselves vulnerable in the face of the expectations of others can lead us and our wider community to find hope in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity. Like great Olympians or movie screen heroes, we are called to strive for something better, both individually and as a church.

People were intrigued by Jesus (what he said and did) and this provoked them to ask questions.
In the same way if Christians today adopt values and practices that are different from normal this will provoke questions and lead to natural evangelism – which is more genuine and effective than any schemes.
The Church must become a Sign of the Kingdom – but this will only happen when the members are prepared to be different and take risks.

Last week, I spoke about the challenge of reconciliation, of being instruments of peace in our communities. This ‘going beyond’, stepping ‘outside the box’ means being prepared to be different, to upset the apple cart, not going with the flow. It may be uncomfortable, it may make you unpopular. But we will be following in the steps of Jesus.

 

Also in the last week or so, there have been reports in the media of what various bishops have said. The bishops of the church of England ruled out the blessing of same-sex marriages whilst on the same day the (RC) Archbishop of Westminster criticised the government’s welfare reforms for leaving people in destitution. Which is closer to what Jesus might have said? How can we best announce God’s equal and unconditional love for every single person. The church will not be seen to be relevant to people’s live, we will not convince people of Christ’s love, of his ability to meet their deepest needs while we are seen to be preoccupied with fund-raising and maintaining buildings. I’m sorry if that shocks or offends you. I’m not saying that we don’t have a responsibility to care for buildings and to meet the costs of ministry but if we want to grow the church, if we want to make disciples for Christ, if we want to share the good news we have to think about what really matters to us about our faith, what is at the heart of the gospel and be prepared to go the extra mile, to go beyond what is required of us. As Jesus pointed out, there is nothing special about being kind to our families and friends, nothing special about giving to charity, nothing special about helping those have met with apparently undeserved misfortune, victims of crime and so on. But loving your enemies? Praying for those who harm you? Helping those who appear not to be helping themselves, who have committed crimes or are addicted?

Keeping the rules is easy. Remember the meeting between Jesus and the rich young man. He claimed to have kept the 10 commandments – no problem there. But Jesus showed him that he needed to do more than that, to follow the example of the good Samaritan who was himself despised and excluded; to go the extra mile.

By going beyond what is asked of us we can both challenge society’s expectations and fulfill God’s.

 

 

A prayer, using the Winter Olympic slogan ‘Hot, Cool, Yours’, to accompany a time of reflection

Hot is the fire that burns within me in the face of injustice:
against those who seek vengeance;
against those who strike the weak;
against those who steal from the poor;
against those who ask for too much.
You are the Lord, my God.
Turn me to face your way,
for I claim to be a child of God.

Cool is often the response I give in the face of inequality:
when I fail to speak out against oppression;
when I fail to stand up to the one who bullies my neighbour;
when I fail to campaign for the poor;
when I fail to turn towards those who everyone else has turned away from.
You are the Lord, my God.
Turn me to face your way,
for I claim to be a child

Yours is the Kingdom
which defies society’s expectations.
Yours is power
which enables us to risk going beyond rules.
Yours is the glory
reflected in each person who turns from darkness to light.
You are the Lord, our God.
Turn us to face your way,
for we claim to be your children.  

Amen.

“Come as you are”

Come as you are

Today we continue to consider where God might be calling us to by looking at what it might mean to be a church – a Christian community rooted in a particular place, on the Wilford Peninsula. The ‘modern’ parlance encourages us to ‘be church’ and talks about ‘being church’ but that is an awkward and unattractive phrase. If we can speak of being a church or being part of the church, it is clear we are not talking about the physical building – stone and mortar. We are familiar with speaking of ‘the worldwide church’ or the ‘Church of England’ without getting confused about whether we mean an actual building. So why, when we talk about ‘our’ church, or even the church in our village  – do our minds – and those of other people – immediately form a picture of a familiar and much-loved building? Perhaps because it is easier for us to identify with and feel a sense of belonging to something which is real, which is located in time and place. We are physical beings; time and space and place are important to us; that is how God created us; that is why He came to join us here in time and space in the person of Jesus Christ; that’s why Jesus instructed his followers to remember him and to draw close to him by eating physical things – bread and wine. The church – whether it’s the church on the Wilford Peninsula, in Suffolk, or the Church of England – cannot survive without expressing itself in time and place.

Even in the early church – the church, the community of Christians, in Corinth, the community of Christians that Matthew wrote his gospel for – even before church buildings were built, Christians struggled with how to live out the gospel, how to be true and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

In today’s first reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth, we find that all is not well – even though in the first 9 verses of the letter Paul mentions their faith and the gifts that they have been given by God. But there is division amongst the Christians of Corinth as we discover as we read further into the letter. Being human, they are forming allegiances to different leaders and forgetting their primary allegiance to Jesus Christ. Of course we will find some ministers and preachers more inspiring than others – that is human nature – but we must still remember that all are servants of Christ and, like John the Baptist last week, are (hopefully!) pointing away from themselves and towards Jesus and saying – there, there is the Lamb of God, He’s the one you should be following. And so Paul brings the Corinthians back to the central purpose which is to make known the Good News, the gospel. Part of the intercessions from last week’s worship resources asked that God would enable us to be ‘good news’ in our community; to embody the gospel. How can you do that – be good news?

St Francis is alleged to have instructed his followers to ‘preach the gospel – use words if you have to’ – implying that it isn’t just what we say; not just a case of telling people the good news – whether it’s standing on a street corner, in a pulpit or in a one-to-one conversation. Actually, that’s the easy bit. And probably the least effective. We are called to BE good news. How might we do that – as individuals in our daily lives? as the body of the church on this peninsula

‘What do you do?’ is often the first question people ask when meeting someone new. It can be difficult or even painful to answer, for example, if your role is difficult to explain to outsiders, if you’re unhappy with your work or life, or especially if you are unemployed. But more often than not, it’s a convenient way in towards finding out about someone’s day-to-day life, as long as you meet the answer with compassion.

In the media this past week there have been a number of stories touching on how people end up in the jobs and roles that they do – and what keeps them out of others. I caught part of a discussion on the radio about prostitution and whether it was a ‘choice’ for women or whether they were forced into it by circumstance. Both National Service and the royal family have also been in the news in the context of the advantages and disadvantage of freedom of choice when it comes to employment.

In the passage from Matthew’s gospel, we are introduced to four men – Simon and Andrew, James and John – for whom the answer to the question, ‘And what do you do?’, would have been simple. They were fishermen. We don’t know whether the profession suited them or what they thought of it, but when it comes to the question of what led them to it, we can guess that James and John had followed their father Zebedee into the family business. The story was probably similar for the other brothers too. For some of us, our future seems mapped out from the start. Prince Charles is expected to follow his mother into full royal duties at some point, while at the other end of the spectrum those growing up in jobless households may expect the same fate to befall them. Breaking free of such expectations can be enormously difficult. When the kingdom of heaven is near, however, things can change unexpectedly, as it did for those four men in Galilee.

‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ wasn’t the place you would expect the Son of God to go to choose people to help him bring in the reign of the kingdom. It was a place ‘in darkness’ (Matthew 4.16) and held in ‘contempt’ (Isaiah 9.1). Jesus opts to base the first stage of his ministry among despised and marginalised folk. A fisherman’s son from Galilee was unlikely to have had the networks or privileged education to get a glittering career in government or the priesthood, just as a child growing up on an estate or in a jobless household might find the odds stacked against them entering many professions today.

Sadly, opportunity isn’t equally distributed in the world. But Jesus chose men from Galilee. And in the kingdom of heaven, all of us are called to come, just as we are, fisherman or prince. The opportunity of the gospel is for everyone. We don’t need special qualifications; we don’t have to change before we come – but we do have to be prepared to be changed.

Jesus begins his ministry not at the centre, but on the margins- the Jews of Galilee weren’t considered “proper Jews”. We see him healing those who are ill – illness was often considered as punishment by God. Again Jesus is on the edge and the margins. How do we minister to the people on the edge and margins of our villages?

But we are told large crowds followed him, and these people came from the centre of faith and the margins – Jesus unites them. How does our church act as a centre of unity, of bringing people together?

James, John, Simon and Andrew may have enjoyed being fishermen. But on the other hand it may just have been what they were obliged to do to make a living. We don’t always get to have as much control over our lives as we would like. But whatever our circumstances, we can choose how we react and respond to those circumstances. Indeed, it is often through faithful perseverance in difficult circumstances that we grow (see also Romans 5.3-5).

Whether it was by obligation or choice that they had become fishermen, Jesus recognised something in those four men that equipped them to do something else too, to ‘fish for people’. Sometimes, even if we cannot see it yet, the things we are called or obliged to do today are helping us to get ready for what God will call us to do in future. Whether that is a high-profile task like leading our people, as faced by Catherine Samba-Panza in the Central African Republic, or just the everyday challenge of trying to treat those around us with grace, trying to be good news, we can all pray to hear and obey the call to follow Jesus, right now, today, as we are, no excuses.

We are called to ‘Come as we are’ as a church community too. ‘As we are’ with the resources – both in terms of buildings and skills and people – that we already have. No wishful thinking, ‘if only…. the church didn’t need repairing/we had more money/more people came to church/we had a full-time vicar/etc. etc. A wise archdeacon who is now a bishop used to say ‘God has given you all the resources you need for the work He wants you to do’. Come as you are and join in Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the good news of God’s love and bring His healing to those around us.