I’m writing this just as the final events of the 2012 Olympics are taking place. Whatever will we find to talk about when the closing ceremony has taken place and when the many athletes that have made this international competition such a success have returned to their homes? Just round the corner is, of course, the Paralympics and waiting to bound into our television sets is the new season of football, but it will take a lot to replace the excitement generated over the last fortnight.
Talking of excitement, quite a lot of this, along with bewilderment and sheer astonishment, was experienced at the most recent Benefice Service held at the end of July in Little Chart Church. In a previous magazine article I wrote of the Church’s need to ‘Re-imagine Ministry’ if we are to address the problems of falling numbers both in congregations and in the numbers of stipendiary priests in the Church of England. We have a growing awareness that re-imagining ministry will inevitably call us to consider training more and more lay people to play a greater part in the leadership of the church. It may call us into intentional engagement with children and young people, finding appropriate expressions of worship that lead us, together with them, to discover, or rediscover, faith in God. It may call us to think radically about how we use our church buildings. Does the current arrangement of furniture and fittings enhance or detract from our worship and our hospitality? It will most certainly call us to examine the way we come together to worship.
These questions, and others, rose to the surface as almost 80 of us gathered together to worship in Little Chart Church. By virtue of its flexible space, we were able to arrange the seats in a wide horseshoe shape. Because there were no serried ranks of pews, people were actually able to look at one another, to engage with a glance and a smile as they sang God’s praises. There was no organ, the music being led by keyboard with amplifier and a young person on a drum box supplying the beat. Hymns were displayed, along with parts of the liturgy, on a screen. The Peruvian Gloria, taught to the congregation before the service began, almost lifted the church roof as people responded to the Cantor with hearty praise. A data projector was used for the talk and the intercessions were led from an I Pad. A radical departure, some might say, from ‘normal’ Sunday worship, and yet in some sense, these things are only peripheral to what may be considered to be the two main foci, the proclamation of the Word and the sharing in the Eucharist.
At the heart of this service in Little Chart was the familiar gathering of the people around the Lord’s Table where together we received ‘the living bread’, sustenance for our onward journey. And afterwards, seated in a small groups with plates balanced on our knees, we continued our fellowship over a Bring and Share Lunch.
Some loved this service and have excitedly called for more. Some found the challenge too great and wanted to return to the comfort and security of their familiar patterns. Inevitably, some didn’t come at all having decided in advance that it was not for them. One of the strengths of the Anglican Church is its great breadth of worship and here in the G7 benefice we are fortunate to be able to offer a rich diversity of worship styles, a diversity that will only continue if we are bold enough to work together to celebrate our differences and strengthen our unity, which may mean venturing out of our comfort zones from time to time.
Reverend Canon Kerry Thorpe, Diocesan Advisor for Mission and Growth, was our speaker at the service at Little Chart, and he began by inviting us to consider what happened to the meagre resources of 2 loaves and 5 fishes when Jesus invited his disciples to go among the crowd and distribute them. Using this as an illustration he spoke of three different church communities all of which had almost had to close – their resources had appeared to be too meagre for the task – and all of which were now thriving worship communities. They had all had to re-imagine ministry in a radical way, sometimes overturning years of convention, but far from closing they were now flourishing.
It is not just a case of filling the gaps in the monthly G7 rota so that life can go on as usual for those who come to worship regularly. We are called to share and multiply our resources as Jesus did with the large crowd on the hillside so that all might be fed, not just the regulars but those in the surrounding villages and local communities. This will inevitably mean re-imagining how we do ministry and mission together.
G7 benefice is a very exciting place to be. In terms of the history of the church, it is also a very exciting time to be part of the life of the Church, making new pathways that will inform the Church of the future. Let us continue to pray for God’s wisdom as we travel together on this journey.
Rector of G7 Benefice