Whilst serving time in prison he found a yellowing copy of the bible. He remembers picking it up and thinking that this book should explain everything he ever wanted to know about God. But was the blurb true? Miraculously though, through reading it, he came to faith. He describes what happened:
As I lay on my bunk, I felt that Jesus was ready with open arms to receive me and that he was saying to me: You need only ask me, and I will change your life for you. And that was what I was wanting, more than anything else. In a loud voice, I said: Change my life, take away all the filth and make my life worth living. Instantly, I felt all the rotten-ness and the poison inside me leave me. All the frustrations and anger which had kept me locked-away, for the greater part of my life, disappeared. At the same moment it seemed as if a window opened in my head and the love of God streamed in.
For the first time, I was experiencing love and it was the pure love of God. I burst into tears of joy, and went to the floor on my knees, thanking God for being joined to me. Afterwards, I fell peacefully asleep, at peace with God.
After this change, the more he thought about it, the more his conscience told him that he should now take another very important step. He asked the prison authorities if he could be admitted to the prison hospital at Dartmoor so that the surgeons could carry out an operation on him. When permission was granted, he was delighted, although perhaps a little fearful when it came to the actual day.
It wasn't because he was suffering from a serious illness & needed treatment; rather, he longed for those four angry letters to be removed from the skin on his hands. In his newfound faith, he no longer wanted that to be the message that people heard from him, but rather to be a witness to Christ. The operation proclaimed at last that he was free of the old hatred and hostile way of life, and was a changed man.
This friends is the hope revealed this season of Easter. This is the hope revealed by God in Jesus Christ always and everywhere. This morning’s readings speak of it too - that God does not take and use that which is perfect - both Paul and Peter stand in a long line of very imperfect people who have met the Risen Jesus for themselves and seen their broken and imperfect lives transformed.
Over the last year there have been 6 weddings, 29 baptisms and 22 funerals (5 of which have taken place in church). As I said last year these are some of the most significant ways in which the Risen Christ meets the people of the parish where they are. Whilst I said last year that I hoped numbers would go up, (and I am confident that they will) all of those numbers are down from last year but not significantly. This reflects a national trend. The anecdotal feedback that we have from those who receive this ministry from me or others is very positive indeed and at this point I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anne Peat, Richard Hickson and the choir, Ann Short, Tricia Fryer, Elaine Dobbs, Margaret Sykes, Alison Sealey and others including members of the In Touch group whose ministry supports all of this.
This year has been about consolidation and growth. Since our last APCM we have discerned key priorities for us as a parish and produced a Mission Action Plan along with every other parish in the diocese. This is and opportunity for us to ensure that the Risen Christ is defining and leading our priorities. From our MAP we established 3 working groups to develop and work on 3 priorities centering on communications within the church and in the wider parish, on study and nurture - opportunities for us to learn and grow into deeper faith, and on worship. These groups have prayerfully worked hard over the last year - highlights of their work include a new look Chronicle, a toddler space at the back of St Peter’s, the Posada during Advent, a study of Jesus’ parables, a book study and discussion group, the Lent prayer card, and renewed liturgies for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. I am sure you join with me and the PCC in thanking them for their hard work complete and to come.
This year has marked some growing engagement with children and their families - I have continued weekly collective worship at St Peter’s and Maple Cross schools and serving as a Governor at both but some really great work with both Arnett Hills and Shepherd school has begun latterly this year too. There has also been bigger work with a whole day of craft and spirituality being led at St Peter’s school on Ash Wednesday. There has also been renewed engagement with Cubs locally with 2 very worthwhile church visits. There has also been a very successful Light Party with Mill End Baptist church and Good Friday workshop again.
Play and Praise began in September and has gone from strength to strength with numbers stabilizing at up to 40 over the 2 days and attendance for many being weekly. This is not a toddler group as such but church for toddlers and their parents/carers and I am especially grateful to Alex for her incredibly hard every single week - thanks also to those who have committed to making refreshments - we still, need you to support this very important work. This, along with the local food banks which have fed 171 individuals since November, and the often unseen leading of worship in our local care and nursing homes, is one of the most important pieces of outreach that we do as a parish.
Worship continues to be a key resource for our life and growth together. We have trialled a new pattern of worship over the last 6 months or so which has enabled me to worship with you as much as possible and to stay for post-service chat and refreshments where possible. The PCC recently agreed to adopt this pattern on a permanent basis subject of course to the changing needs of our worshipping life. There have been some fantastic special services including the Christingle, Thanksgiving for Marriage, In Touch service, Thanksgiving for Harvest, Advent Carol service amongst others such as our ongoing relationship with the Chiltern Hundreds choir and Chorleywood Chamber Orchestra.
There are some very real challenges ahead of us though - we need to take seriously that at the moment we provide no programme of support or nurture for our young people; another significant challenge is that there is a gap between what we believe God is calling us to do and the resources needed to do it - both financially and in terms of human resources; whilst the programme of building work at St Peter’s and St Thomas’ is being addressed and is in train we must ensure that it happens! In all of these we need to trust that God will take us as imperfect people - as He did with Paul and Peter - and use even us to reveal something of His love and glory in this parish and to His people here.
Look what happened when Paul did trust when confronted with the Risen Jesus in person in a dramatic, immediate and life-changing way - the church was resourced and grew and burgeoned. Look what happened when Peter trusted the Risen Christ - after years of listening and learning the penny finally dropped for him: he was challenged to trust afresh, he was fed by Him, he was forgiven and entrusted to forgive and to feed and care for Christ’s flock - people like us. But he was ultimately called to follow Christ.
Some of us might have a dramatic turn-around experience of Christ that reorientates our lives, for many of us it’s a growing experience of listening, trusting and growing. Either way, Christ encounters us where we are. He doesn’t call us to perfection for if He did there would be nothing in us to be saved, to be redeemed, to be transformed by His love and grace. No, like Paul and Peter, He accepts our brokenness, calls us as we are to follow so that even through us something of His love may be felt, something of His hope experienced and as He transforms us - something of His light and glory might be revealed.