I am writing this 500 years to the day that Martin Luther published his Ninety Five theses; nailing them to the door of Wittenberg cathedral. This was not an act of defiance, but rather was intended to spark a debate about the state of the church. Thus began what became known as the Reformation which changed the landscape not only of the church, but of politics and culture within Europe and America. It is right that we remember Luther’s actions and rejoice: in the multiplicity of expressions of the Church that came into being including our own denomination; at the technological advances it sparked namely the printed word in our own language; but I am clear that the reformation was not just a past event.
One of the tasks given to ministers in the Church of England by their Bishop is to proclaim the faith afresh in each generation. For me, that is about taking the Incarnation seriously. Since God became flesh amongst us, we are called to find ways of making the love of Christ seen and heard by the people amongst whom we are set. This means knowing our context and culture well. This can involve a process of re-forming the local church as we seek to walk alongside and speak to people amongst whom we are called to minister, (hopefully) enabling them to see and experience the love of God in Jesus for them. This isn’t about changing our worship style, but about what flows from it. For some parishes this means significant work with young families; for others it will focus on supporting those struggling with debt; for us, we discovered having done some listening work earlier in the year, that there are significant pockets of isolated people across the age and gender spectrum in our communities. One of the things the PCC will consider later this month is - are there ways that we can reach out to them to love, support and encourage them?
The church of England nationally is being re-formed by a process called Renewal and Reform, which is helping Dioceses be fit structurally for ministry in 21st Century; but also for us in our parish, we have been designated as one that has significant potential to build on what the CofE calls ‘Fresh Expressions’ which would include ‘Play and Praise’ and ‘Messy Church.’ Our diocese has a plan to work alongside us, with an offer of training, support and money to see a flourishing of fresh and new ways of being church in this way. More food for thought for us all and our PCC.
The reform of the national church also comes about when we are being asked and are asking hard questions about how we minister in a context where ethics and what is deemed to be socially acceptable are in flux. The Church of England needs to make clear very soon where we stand on the ministry of women and on issues of human sexuality. We have Bishops of both genders finally, but we need to prayerfully reflect on how we make ‘mutual flourishing’ of both integrities (those willing/unable to accept the ministry of women) really work in practice. Also, being LGBTI is no longer a crime and is socially acceptable. We do need to prayerfully reflect on how we allow our LGBTI family members, neighbours and friends affirm their love in church. Slavery is no longer deemed acceptable and divorce is not the social taboo it once was and the church has moved on. So we must in these matter too. The longer we leave these and other far more important issues as a perceived ‘fudge’, the longer our nation sees us as an irrelevance.
One of the things that God does with each of us individually is to re-form and re-make us. Through our weekly worship and personal devotions we are constantly being transformed into the likeness of Christ - although there will be days that it feels like we are not even on that road, never mind travelling along it!
Yet as this month unfolds’ and we remember the costs of war and the striving for peace in our world still; as remember those whom we love and who have loved us but we see no longer; as we remember those whose lives have been transformed by the love of God in Christ; we are reminded that the reformation of the church, the world and our lives is still much needed, but through Him who loved us, is not only desirable but possible.