Wording a Vision

DSC_5543cwAt St. Peter’s in Yateley we’re re-visiting a vision forming process that started in 2007. This is happening at the same time as I have been working on an assignment reviewing the mission and evangelist activity of my parish (and my two friends who were licensed with me have been doing the same thing.) It’s nice to have a piece of work actually contribute to my thoughts on something current in the parish!

During our last interregnum, the parish profile writing process produced a ‘mission statement’ or phrase to describe what it was we were trying to do: “Growing to serve, serving to grow”.

Since then we have also used the stap-line “building the body, blessing the world”, been offered a waymarking vision of extravagant growth (1000 worshippers by 2020), and increasingly used the phrase “a community of love with mission at its heart”. These slogans have all been used quite widely in print and in talks of various sorts, and in the words of our vicar have been designed to be ‘provocative and overlapping.’

“A community of love with mission at its heart” is the feature of an article about this vision building process on page 3 of our current church magazine: Crucial (click to follow link and download).

Reading it got me thinking about words, and why we chose to try and form pithy ‘straplines’ that say what we are about. Who are they for?

If we are going to use a strapline in print, repeatedly, on all our church publications both internally and externally on letters and publications, then two things are important:

  • those in the church understand what they mean, and ‘own them’ in a way that inspires them to build a close relationship with God by practically engaging with doing what they say, and
  • those outside church can be attracted by the words, and understand them enough to desire to engage with the people who are saying their God inspires them.

So do the words “A community of love with mission at its heart” fulfill those criteria?

I’m not sure that they do. Do Christians, let alone the secular world, really understand what ‘mission’ is for example? In my assignment I’ve defined it as “the activity of the church that influences its interaction with the secular world”. Is that right?

If we want to influence the world we live in, what words do we use to keep the idea, but make it more understandable?

Who are we a community of? People who share a faith! Do we need to say this, say what we believe, or explain why it is an important part of our lives? Perhaps for those in the world who don’t know what to believe because nothing seems to inspire faith (so much is wrong or goes wrong), faith is a word to which they might be attracted – and especially to a group of people who all say they have it! Can we say we are a community of faith?

Some of my essay reading reminded my that the key virtue of a church acting as God’s servant, is that it should be offering hope. Those outside the church may already understand themselves as having a ‘heart’, but they might look twice at a community that says it has, and offers them, hope. Therefore if we really wish to both experience and inspire hope in God, is hope a better word for the ‘heart’ we are currently talking about?

We are reminded that “If we speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, we are only a resounding gong…” 1 Corinthians 13:1. If we say that we are a community who really love each other, that love is only going to look authentic to our words, if we live up to them! And that’s the toughest call of all:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)DSCN0030cw

Our desire is presumably to share something of our relationship with God with others, by building relationships with them. Relationships are full of words, so we need to chose them carefully.

What do you think? If you are part of St. Peter’s, or think you have some insight into our search for the right words, please feel free to comment here! You’ll be helping us in what I hope is our “cheerful, relentless, constant, and focused” search for mission-shaped values.

Inspired by:

FD Rees “Three Models of Being Church” (International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 5 (1) pp41-57)

Bayes, P., 2004. Mission-Shaped Church – Building Missionary Values. Cambridge, Grove Books Ltd.

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Extension – the action moves inside

DSCN0665cwThe building work has definitely turned a significant corner today. The roof is complete and structurally we’re all there as you can see. The only reason the scaffolding isn’t down is because the firm it belongs to, can’t come till Monday.

The plumber came today, and started to re-route gas supply ready for the new boiler, as well as discussing the finer points of the new cloakroom fixture and fittings. Cs old radiator is already on the spoil heap so the lads can start taking his old front wall out.

I also went out and bought the external light fittings, as the sparky is due next week to start all the new wiring and move the consumer unit (the thing I always call a fuse box!) We’ll have a nice shiny modern one soon.

So next week is noisy and messy: they want to take all the walls we don’t need out, and get the new floor level laid – some concrete with fibre in it laid over polystarene insulation blocks I think – time tabled for next Thursday or Friday (so we’ll be using the back door then!)

What was the back of the garage - starting to be 'plumbed'
What was the back of the garage - starting to be 'plumbed'

Currently all is quiet and we’re looking forward to some family time over this coming half-term week, with some good days out while the lads make a noise. I handed in the latest assignment today (well, I gave to the friend whose handing it in on Monday) so I can afford to chill out for a bit which feels good. If I have time tonight I’ll try and offer a few thoughts that might be of interest, certainly to locals.

Shan’t probably do much reading though – I need to put all Cs Scout badges onto his new shirt, as he’s grown out the old one. He got promoted to Patrol Leader on Wednesday which really pleased him.

Autumn bounty
Autumn bounty

Autumn is definitely here: there are lots of chestnuts on one favourite tree (or there were, many have been utilized in various stews over the last couple of weeks) and hazel nuts, beech mast and acorns galore. This means that there are lots of squirrels around, and to dog has just been going mad, so she’s having to spend more time on the lead… she fails to notice the rusty barbed wire fences when chasing squirrels!

Saw a Sparrowhawk in the field NW of the Red Cross Centre today. Second time in the last week, plus there has been a significant increase in the number of piles of pigeon feathers on that field recently! Hopefully this week will mean we get to see a bit more wildlife.

Here we go again… women, priesthood and the episcopate

On a less cheerful note, and commenting on the current top church news story, the other issue that has once again reared it’s ugly head (in the Church of England) is women in the episcopate.

ONE of the things that gets me is how did anyone consider that women could be welcomed into priesthood, but excluded from the episcopate?! The episcopate is surely simply a logical progression – bishops are still priests, in fact still deacons and therefore have pastoral responsibilities that women have had for years without an issue, and this was a ministry the kind of which Jesus welcomed, from women!? Hurumph.

It struck me also that if the party in government behaved like this (letting a quango dictate changes to what is effectively legislative drafting, after the event – if I understand the system correctly) their own party members would probably create a stink, let alone the opposition! I do hope and pray this can go back to Synod and that Synod can re-emphasise what they asked for, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Reading Maggi Dawn and her commentators on the subject is edyfying but frightening; I’m not sure I could leave the Anglican church (as she suggests) in the face of these ‘bullying tactics’… perhaps I’m not close enough to the problem, since I’ve only been called to lay ministry, don’t feel theologically well enough equipped for the fight, or perhaps I’m thinking we can’t let prejudice win by walking away. The idea of a ‘stay at home’ Sunday might make a point, as one of Maggi’s commentators suggests (especially where there are women not presiding and thus leaving noticable ‘holes’ in the pastoral and sacramental care of Anglican flocks) or perhaps women could flashmob their Cathedral services instead that day, but what could the flashmob do?!

In Bosch’s ‘Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission’ (which I’m reading bits of for my assignment) it talks about Jesus Christ who “consistently challenges attitudes, practices and structures” that restrict membership of the Israelite community. If I agree with this reading of the New Testament, by extrapolation do I not believe in a Jesus who would challenge the attitudes practices and structures of the churches formed in his name, including my own? In which case should I stand up with my female friends in or entering the priesthood, and say this sort of behaviour is not what Jesus desires?

I hope a friend won’t mind me quoting her anonymously. She is currently in her last year of training for the Anglican priesthood and said to me today:

“This will not go away as long as women are allowed to pursue their vocation to the priesthood, and it will get worse if the church tries to prevent them once more. Why on earth am I doing this? It’s so painful and I could go back to [a] much less misogynistic profession…”

And yet, the priesthood is the calling to which her fellow Anglicans believe she is called to enter!

It’s all so desperately sad.

Here we go again… builders and assignments

DSCN0659wThere has been a lull in the building works (conveniently) over the last 10 days, but we think the guys are back from their holiday tomorrow, and with a great weather forcaste this week we’re looking forward to progress. They did start to get tiles on before they left, so it will be finishing them that’s the first job, and then the scaffolding comes down and the windows go in I believe! Then the tough bit will really start, as they’ll come inside to take down the existing front of the house and make new walls, which I have to say I am dreading.

I’m also back to assignments… need to come up with 3000 words of reflections on mission and evangelistic activity in my parish. Encouragingly this won’t be purely an academic exercise, because obviously it will relate directly to my ministry here in St. Peter’s. However it is especially timely as our vicar has announced in our ‘Crucial’ magazine that the PCC in November will be ‘re-visiting the vision process that we began in 2007’. Since November will be the first meeting I will attend as a Licensed Minister, along with my two collegues licensed with me 10 days ago who are doing the same piece of work as me, hopefully we’ll have something useful to contribute. Don’t worry though, we’re not normally all going to go to every PCC meeting… the general intention is to ‘rotate the strike’ to use cricket terms! I might post a few thoughts as they progress…

The Rich Man and Jesus reflect (Mark 10 v17-31)

The Rich Young Man by Harold Copping
The Rich Young Man by Harold Copping

This was what came out as a ‘sermon’ this morning at our 8am Morning Prayer. It’s a bit different, but received a couple favourable comments this morning, which is actually really encouraging because often there is little feedback at that time of the morning.

It should be read as ‘voiced’ from inside the head of the rich man (in the first two sections) and Jesus (in the last section) and should be read with the Bible reading split into two parts within it. Do please tell me honestly what you think using the comment box.

“How can I be sure,” said the rich young man to himself. “Sure, that I’ll be in the right place at the right time. You see, I’ve been listening, and I’ve been watching, and there’s this sense that the time is nearly here. The folk who I meet, and those that gather at dinner with me, are all saying the same thing. They have a feeling that the moment we’ve been waiting for is almost upon us.

“You know the world isn’t really a good place to be right now. We’re stuck here, restricted in how we can live our lives and struggling to apply the teachings of our faith among all the changes that this government and these new ideas are placing on us. We’ve been waiting for the trigger that will show us that God is giving us our freedom back, that justice and peace can reign again, and that we can once more be a prosperous community. There are rumours that the old prophesies are beginning to be fulfilled, and that those who’ve gone rotten and forgotten our faith, or who have stood against it, are going to be made to pay.

“And I don’t want to miss out on that moment. If God is going to bring heaven down to earth, so that we can enjoy his personal blessings for ever more, I want to be there, and watch it happen. I don’t want God thinking I’ve gone rotten, played the system, or colluded with the enemy; I want to be on the receiving end, enjoying that new life that so many of us have been craving. I want to see God.”

The rich young man continued to muse as Jesus approached. “I’m sure he’s got something to do with it. He’s a bit different and not altogether popular with the authorities, but he’s been teaching about this sort of thing for months now. He’s very good: when he speaks he seems to have some authority, and there’s tales I’m told of miracles, so if they’re true he obviously has some favour with God. But I can’t quite get a handle on how he thinks we should apply the law so as not to miss out when God brings everything together. And what does he think we need to do to recognise when it’s all going to happenn? I’ll ask him, that’s what I’ll do. I’m sure he’s got an answer that will help me.”

Reading: Mark 10:17-22

“I can’t believe he expects me to do that!” grumbled the rich young man to himself, as he moved away from Jesus. “It’s not like I’ve stolen my money from someone else. It’s just there, it always has been. I pay my servants good wages, I don’t cheat the tax man, I’m generous in the hospitality I offer my friends. So why should I give it away? If I did, it would make it a lot more difficult to do those things I’ve always done as part of keeping the law. And anyway, it wouldn’t be honouring my parents, or even their parents, if I were just to give all the money away, and sell all the lovely things they’ve collected together over the years.

“If I were to take him seriously, how does it answer my question? I know he heard me clearly, and when he looked me in the eye just then, it was like he knew me, right inside. Perhaps he wasn’t being deliberately unkind; and perhaps he just missed the point, that I was asking him about the law, and what emphasis I need to place on which bits of it so that God will notice me when he comes. Because I still want to be there when the time is right!

“He said it was just one thing…. But that’s not true! He asked me to do three things: to sell what I own, land, home, furniture, servants, the family business, the lot.  (I’m sure that’s what he meant.) Then he told me to give all the proceeds, plus all my savings away to the poor. And then, rather than giving me some idea of how I’m going to live without them, he told me to follow him! How is following him into Jerusalem going to help me be there when God brings heaven and earth together and starts a new world?”

Reading: Mark 10: 23-31

“Why are people so impatient,” thought Jesus as he watched the rich young man move away among the crowds, and sensed the surprise and confusion of his disciples. “And why won’t they see that if they’re asking the right questions, the answers are going to involve them doing something so they can experience the final answer for themselves… I can’t avoid my involvement, and nor can they.

“I love them so much, and I know how hard it is for them to give up what they believe God has rewarded them with. The burdens that some of them carry aren’t anything they’ve done wrong, it’s just the things they’ve been loaded with by the circumstances of their lives, the things they’ve heard, the things they’ve seen, the things they feel they need to do. It’s like there is so much blocking out the light, they can’t see where it’s shining through the gap they need to pass through to enable them to be totally soaked in the love that my Father wants to offer them for eternity.

“Perhaps that rich young man should have stayed a few moments longer, and listened to my conversation with my friends here. Though I’m still not sure even they understand, so perhaps it wouldn’t have helped.

“I know they think they’ve done it, that they have succeeded where they see that young man as having failed. They’ve followed me nearly three years now, and he walked away before he even took the first step, so in a sense they’re right.

But,” reflected Jesus as he talked to his Father God “perhaps that young man was closer to the truth in asking his question, than Peter and the others are in asking theirs. Because rich though he was, he’d not lost sight of the end-game, the reason for all this talking, and teaching and sharing, the reason why I have to go to Jerusalem… Without all that, and especially without what I know must happen in Jerusalem, you, my Father, can not get as close to him as that young man really desires, if only he could admit it.

“If only all these people, that rich young man, dear Peter and the others, could understand how you crave for their love, far more than they ever realise. That you love them in a way that can break their grip on all their burdens, confusions and misapprehensions, if only they will just loosen their grasp and let you take the weight.

“After all that’s what I’m trying to show them, and what that young man had right; that you want them to focus on this new beginning where you have broken into this world. Father help them make a total commitment to you; break down the barriers that stop them from giving you a free hand to work through them. That way they won’t be on the sidelines at the end, and they will see you bring justice and peace, a new freedom, and new prosperity to all people, because you will be doing it through them, and they will all be sharing in the riches of your love, your grace and your mercy.”

Of books, time and the Kingdom of God

I’ve started working on some exegesis for this weeks Gospel reading: Mark 10:17-31 (the Rich Man) in preparation for an early start on Sunday (8am Morning Prayer) and wondering what possessions I have that might stop me entering the Kingdom of God.

DSCN0644cwWell there’s a few more books to add to the collection after people’s generosity at the weekend, but they’re designed to help me, or through me to help others, to understand Jesus, so hopefully they won’t be a problem!

The thing that I think is actually most likely to be a problem is the same thing that will most likely stop me reading most of them in the near future… lack of time. So could my most damaging possession be the sticky-notes on my iGoogle page that tell what I need “to do”?

What I’m hoping is that with our real weeks holiday looming (after the next assignment, if I can find time to do it) I can at least take two thin volumes with me. I’m thinking the little blue Celtic Liturgy, and Trevor Dennis’ ‘Three faces of Christ’ which looks like it might be a ‘read out loud’ as a reflective, family thing to do in a quiet cottage on Exmoor.

Reading Tom Wrights ‘Mark for Everyone’ today I learnt a lot about how the Jews viewed the much anticipated ‘Age to Come’ and how what I thought were almost parentheses in the passage, aren’t… it was a question about the Law that Jesus answered in reference to the Law and therefore the commandments – with NTWs help I found them. But it left me wondering:

  • How many of us really want to inherit the Kingdom of God?
  • What does God bringing heaven and earth together look like?
  • Does it, or should it, look like me.. us… Jesus?
Another picture from Saturday - Licensed to play a part in bringing forward the Kingdom of God!
Another picture from Saturday - Licensed to play a part in bringing forward the Kingdom of God!

Starting the rest of my life (and losing some brackets)

Windblown but licensed... outside Winchester Cathedral on Saturday
Windblown but licensed... outside Winchester Cathedral on Saturday

So they’ve gone. No longer am I a ‘Reader (to be) in Writing’… but instead a ‘Reader in Writing’, authorised, admitted and licensed. One set of brackets have gone, but the others, though slightly re-worded, will remain until the last set of assignments is marked and returned! In a sense they should remain for ever.

Saturday was special – and if you were there then you were part of what made it special. But there were many people who were not able to be there who have also been part of it, and to them my particular thanks for helping me on the journey. I am now officially a Licensed Lay Minister (or Reader) in the Church of England.

My main personal reflection in the 24 hours since life returned to ‘normal’ is the sense of starting the rest of my life. For the last four years, since selection, Saturday has been a goal, something future. And now, it is something past. Now, ‘ministry’ is not something I hope to do, but something that I am, or part of who I am becoming, at least.

Taking the time to think about the readings at the service (which I admit I’ve had to look up) I continue to fail to see my self as wise (James 3:13-18) even though my certificate of admission suggests someone has told the bishop I am of

“godly life and conversation, training and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and of the Christian Doctrine.”

More of a work, just beginning to progress?! My thoughts are far too simple and devoid of technical stuff and links to other people’s ideas for me to really stand up to scrutiny on that score. However, I hope and pray that whatever ministry unfolds through me, it may be peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial and fruitful (James 3:17).

And that’s the exciting bit… starting out, again. There is a lot to explore, and a huge to-do list of areas of ministry that I want or need to get my hands dirty in. Now there isn’t really a road map of what comes next (like there has been with the modules of Reader Training), but there is more of a sense of revelation to come – revelation of who God is and how he can work through me, if I remember to let him.

There is something compulsive about following Jesus. I can’t help it – I have to go where he leads me. He has always been part of my life, even if I have never known just how tough the journey was going to be in places. And Matthew 4:18-25 reminds me of this – the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John from their nets – because the disciples didn’t know what would happen to them, through them, or because of them, they just felt compelled to follow this Jesus man (as I think the sermon reminded us).

There have been many things in my life that felt ‘right’ at the point when I have done them… going to Aberystwyth felt right from the first Sunday in St. Mike’s; becoming engaged was ‘right’ long before G purchased the ring (and marriage simply formalised it); coming to Yateley was a definitely part of God’s plan for us from the day and the circumstances in which we sold the house in Bracknell. And now this – becoming a Licensed Lay Minister is ‘right’ in God’s eyes. As Bishop Michael grasped my hand (incredibly firmly) to admit me as a Reader, proclaiming the Godhead in Trinity, I knew it was the right thing – God’s will for the rest of my life is that I am a ‘minister’ among his people and to extend his Kingdom.

As Jesus travelled through Galilee he was enabling people to gain a personal relationship with him, through his preaching and teaching (Matt 4:23). At Pentecost he enabled his followers to do the same (Acts 1:8). These things don’t come naturally to me, and I’ve always found sharing my faith with non-Christians difficult, but as I prepare for another pre-baptism visit this evening, and as I contemplate ‘the rest of my life’, my prayer is that through God’s Holy Spirit, and as he has promised, he will enable me clearly show others how Jesus can be our friend, hope, saviour, guide and comfort. Amen.

Affirmation

I ‘discovered’ this Affirmation of Faith at Mothers’ Union National Marketing Conference last month, where it was part of our final morning’s worship. This was led by one of our Welsh committee members, therefore I suspect it could be attributable in the Church of Wales liturgy, but I may be wrong… it also has strong celtic overtones I would say. If you can tell me the attribution I would be most grateful.

It seems strangely appropriate at this time as I start to reflect on being a licensed minister… more of which later:

We believe in God whose Word calls us into being, whose breath brings us to life and goes on breathing new life into all things. We believe in Jesus Christ who as sent into the world and walks with us still, sharing in our unknown journey. We believe in the Holy Spirit who call s on to truth and light, stirring within our being, like the movement of music on the wind, dancing on before us and beckoning us into freedom and new life.