Address to APCM
You have already heard my voice quite a bit this morning – so I’m going to keep these remarks mercifully short!
We’ve done quite a bit of thinking about the past this morning. But I hope you won’t mind if I focus a little on the future for a few minutes. I don’t know about you, but I think God is opening the doors to a really exciting future for us here in North End. As I’ve said in my written Annual report, we have some challenges ahead of us. But we also have some great strengths on which to build.
At St Nicks, for example, we have, in the form of Beverley, one of the most exciting theological brains that I’ve come across in many years – and one of the most gifted liturgists. We also have a core of people who are utterly dedicated to their church, to one another, and to their local community. As far as the worshipping life of St Nick’s is concerned, Ethos is already being spoken of with great excitement around the City – and indeed the country. Some of you may not know that Bev and the Ethos team have been invited to put on an Ethos event at Greenbelt – which is a major Christian Festival. I am really looking forward to seeing what God will do at St Nick’s over the coming year – as the congregation deepens its worship and fellowship – and begins to reach out to the surrounding community.
At St Francis, I think it’s going to be a great year – because of the great foundations that have been laid. In recent months we’ve seen new people added to the congregation, the link with the Fijian Church has become stronger and stronger, and the quality of fellowship between existing members has deepened. Much of this depth has been achieved through Di’s gentle, patient, pastoral care and preaching – and I think a foundation for great things has been laid. There are streets and streets of houses around St Francis who are only just beginning to realise that St Francis is there for them. There is huge opportunity for reaching out with the good news of God’s transforming love.
In St Mark’s, what was, frankly, a rather broken community has found healing, and the grace to forgive and move on. Our new choir is already being spoken of as one of the best in the City. Our family baptism services are drawing in new people – only yesterday I had an enquiry during our gift day from someone whose friend had told them all about how we now baptise children into the church. Thanks to the efforts of many people – but especially Phil Brombley and Jim Booth, the building is looking smarter and tidier than it has for many years – and people are starting to notice. The community cafe – run by people from all over the parish – is drawing new folks under our roof – and new relationships are being formed, constantly.
I wonder if you can see a theme emerging...it’s a theme of relationships. Other relationships are being deepened all over the parish. There are relationships between adults and young people – thanks to the brilliant work of Barbara, Wendy, Mary, Diana – and all their helpers. New relationships have been formed across the parish through the Journey of Life course, and the recent Lent courses. Relationships between churches are strengthened when we get together to support one another’s social events – quizzes, band concerts, table-top sales, gift days and seasonal fayres.
There are many exciting things that we might be able to do with all three of our buildings in the coming years. But a church is not about buildings. The body of Christ is the people of Christ. It’s the quality of our relationships which define who we are. It’s when people see us loving one another, forgiving one another, caring for one another, embracing one another: that’s when we will see God truly at work among us.
So let me encourage you, throughout the coming year, to keep on focusing on those relationships. I can do little better than to quote to letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another...”.
I wonder if you have ever noticed that, on average we only get about an hour a week in each other’s company...and for much of that hour, we face forward – singing, praying, and listening. But building a church takes more than an hour on a Sunday morning – it takes regular engagement with each other, and with our local community... people to people, person to person. Over the next year, I pray that we will find more and more ways of being together – and growing together. Then, I suggest, and only then, will the words that the choir sang to us this morning, really begin to bear fruit: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Then all will know, that you are my disciples...if you have love for one another.”
Yesterday, a newcomer came into this church...during our gift day. Afterwards I was told that she said that the warm greeting she received made her feel as though she had come home. My prayer is that everyone who comes through our doors, everyone who encounters our love for one another, might truly feel that they too, have come home.