Greetings from the Rector.
“For I’m building a people of power and I’m making a people of praise” – words from the opening of one of the worship songs that became popular towards the end of the last century. It finished with the words “build your Church, Lord, make us strong, Lord, join our hearts, Lord, through Your Son; make us one, Lord, in Your body, in the Kingdom of Your Son”. Fitting words with which to start this greeting as we seek together how we can move forwards in this benefice in the light of fewer ministerial resources and age-related decline in congregational numbers.
Recognising that we have been unable to appoint to the assistant post held formerly by Rev Bob Weldon and knowing that Rev Chris Hodgkins would be leaving us to go to his new post at the end of his curacy, I have frequently pondered this question “What kind of a Church do we want to build?” Before we can answer this question, it is important at the outset to recognise that Church means people, not buildings. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find the word ‘Church’ in the Bible, the words Ekklesia and Kyriakos, sometimes translated as ‘church’, referring to the people of God, those who meet in the name of Christ, in other words, ‘disciples’. The parting words from Jesus to his disciples prior to his ascension into heaven were ‘Go and make disciples’, people who will form the Ekklesia, the gathered followers of Christ who are called to build the Kingdom.
So, the questions that face us all at this time as we try to discern God’s leading for the future of the benefice is “What kind of community of disciples do we want to build”, “What kind of worshipping community do we need to be” in order to reverse the trend towards decline and to become a distinctive Christian presence that will bring transformation, healing and hope to the communities we serve?
I cannot help noticing that the first Christian community, the first ‘Church’, grew out of a powerful encounter with God at Pentecost. Their meetings, both in the temple and in their homes were characterised by testimonies, vibrant and spontaneous worship, prayer, teaching and ‘the breaking of bread’. Their fellowship and their renewed faith in God led them to attend to issues of social injustice with a genuine concern for the needs of others and ‘day by day’, we are told, ‘the Lord added to their number those who were being saved’.
This community of believers had gone back to basics. Their focus was on God, the rules that guided their fellowship were forged out of their relationship with God and with one another. Regulations that had determined their worship and their daily lives until this point were revised, not easily or immediately but often after much discussion and through much wrestling with the various religious leaders and local councils.
We have been given the opportunity to seek a renewed vision for the seven churches of our benefice. We have the chance to redefine our identity as communities of Christ’s people. I believe that the Church we are called to build will be:
• A worshiping community whose true focus is on God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
• A hospitable community that recognises the barriers that are often created by buildings, liturgy and tradition and are willing to change in order to welcome all.
• A welcoming community that seeks to build relationships with all people both inside the church building and outside in the community.
• A loving community that looks out for the lost and the lonely and cares for them.
• A prayerful community that represents the needs of all people before God and that grows in faith through regular personal and corporate prayer.
• A missional community that is outward facing and seeks to make disciples and build the Church.
It cannot be God’s will that we continue to stumble on as we are with our often tiny congregations, our reduced clergy numbers, our lack of organists, our inability to fill all the posts required to populate the church councils. Please pray with me for a renewed vision for the benefice and for the courage to embrace it.
Greetings from the Rector.