In the Prologue to his Rule, St Benedict’s hope is to establish ‘… a school of the Lord’s service.’ The aim of which is to enable people to live out the Gospel daily not just in worship but how they interact with each other.
The thing is, I am concerned, like many of you, about the way that the church is viewed especially in relation to issues that, as far as society is concerned, the boat has already sailed on. We risk becoming a laughing stock. If the media is a mirror held up to the C of E, what we see reflected back at the moment is endless discussions about sexuality. Indeed even in in the press this week the Archbishop of Canterbury is giving confusing and mixed messages. He confessed that he was copping out on giving an opinion on whether gay sex was sinful because, even though the differing voices in the church are irreconcilable, he personally is struggling with the issue.
Human sexuality, global poverty, war, the environment are not issues to be solved, but rather are the arena in which people live their lives. If we are serious about being, what Bishop Paul Bayes calls ‘the Church of England in England for England’ then we need to give up trying to work out how many angels there are on a pinhead, and instead return to what Benedict suggests in the Prologue.
I’ll put it another way. More an more people are being turned off the faith by what is seen as disagreements on doctrinal minutiae or simple petty infighting.
Despite that, I don’t believe God has given up on the church. I believe that He longs to see us grow in number and in spiritual depth. If we are to see this happen amongst in this parish it will require some things from all of us:
- Pray. We pray for the church through the world in our intercessory prayers. Benedict encourages those who follow his rule to make prayer the first step in all things. So could I encourage you all to pray for our parish; pray that God will grow us in number and depth; pray for specific things our parish does such as Play and Praise or In Touch and use the parish prayer diary every day.
- Give. Thank you for those of you who give of your time and your talent to sing, to lead prayers, to read readings, to help clean churches, arrange flowers, make refreshments, organise groups and so on. Thank you also to those of you who give your money to keep the church’s ministry in this parish going. The thing is we face a real challenge just keeping on keeping on. Our parish runs on what we each give financially. There is no big pot of central money and our reserves are not huge. Can you give differently? Can you give more? What would you give your time and money to that the church is not currently doing to reach out to others?
- Act. The thing is, the church wont grow just because the preaching is good, or the worship is well timed or engaging, or because there is wonderful work with the elderly or with children. Those all contribute, but the only way the church will grow is if new people come, and more of them. It seems so obvious. Those new people wont come and discover the worship or preaching or other work we do if we don’t invite them. More people than ever in our nation have no historic connection with the church because they were taken by their parents. When did each of us last invite someone new? We need to develop a culture of invitation and welcome as a matter of urgency. When the PCC meets in November, I hope we will spend some significant time together reflecting on these three strands.
A while ago we had some conversations in small groups. One of the prevailing things that came out of those discussions was an awareness within the communities of our parish and across the age profiles of how isolated people are. This is one of the big issues facing communities like ours. The church, as a general rule is good at responding to social issues, but I was at a meeting recently where Bishop Alan soberly reminded that unless we get better at inviting, welcoming and teaching the faith - in fewer years than we think - there will be fewer and fewer people to drive projects such as these forward.
Friends I want us to grow in confident faith and also in number, but I cant do this on my own. When the ministry team meets next we will be discussing and prayerfully planning opportunities that I hope we will each take to do just that this year. But not just this year, to enable this to just become what we do and who we are.
I hope each of you will: pray for the parish in a renewed way; review how, what, where and when you give your time and your talent; and act - seeking to work with me in developing a culture of invitation and welcome. My prayer is that that plus opportunities to learn and grow like I mention above will allow us to grow in number but also in depth of faith in the months that lie ahead.