New Year Letter – What do we want for our churches?

From the Team Rector

Little did I know, when I was licensed 16 months ago, what was in store for me or the parishes!

First of all, thank you to all across the parishes in the Team who have made me welcome and who have supported me in the role.

We are now back in a lock-down (again) – number 3. Local businesses are buckling with the pressures and uncertainties; local schools are pulling out the stops and more to support the children with their education; Health Service workers and carers are having to find new reserves of strength. Most of us have family or neighbours who are struggling in various ways, and some in our churches have been living with shielding for months, even more restricted than others.

We have been in and out of our church buildings, unable to sing together as we would wish, missing the social fellowship which churches offer. Family and church celebrations have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and we have all missed out on life-events and gatherings.

Some of us have found a deeper faith, and some have found faith hard – the ongoing gloom and uncertainty causing the candle-flame to splutter. Some already have been living with long-term difficulties or pain and had found an inner resilience in God, but many of us are finding the on-going, not-yet-ending nature of this pandemic very wearing – Walk with me Lord.

I have been struck by the longer time-lines in the Bible; not everything happens quickly – in fact most major events are long-waited for. The Hebrews were in Egypt for 400 years before their release, according to Exodus, and in the wilderness for 40. The Exile in Babylon was two generations and longer for many.

Jesus was 9 months in the womb, and then 30 years growing up, and the Jews were waiting for long before that for their Messiah. And then, though the Cross is the sign of Triumph, and the Resurrection the assurance of our hope, the world for the first Christians remained uncertain and often dangerous. We too wait for the return of Jesus, and in that space we learn to live for God.

The values we celebrate in our Communion Service, those of grace, mercy and peace, are values which actually come to the fore at this time, though they are harder to live out. Grace is about generosity and an outward-facing joy; mercy is linked to a gentleness, a forgiving acceptance, a recognition of weakness in others and in self; peace is an inner contentment and sureness, a rootedness in God and in the knowledge of his promises. Grace, mercy and peace be with you.

What do we want for our churches this year? What is our vision for our churches as we emerge from this pandemic? I hope it is that they are places of grace, mercy and peace, outward-facing and upward facing and where we can be honest and true to self.

My vision is of wide-open doors and people of all ages coming in and going out. I would like the churches to be places of joy, but I also want our faith to make a difference across our communities; while I want more people to come in, we also need to be going out, caring, helping, making a difference; and I hope we are also people, a community, passionate for justice and against injustices, and passionate to help heal and mend our battered planet. Our children and young people will take a lead on this if we let them and encourage them.

And if that is what I want for our churches, then I need to be willing to work for this to happen and pray for it, but not as a demanding pushy shouting person, but modelling the grace, mercy and peace we know are God’s values. God is with us – Let us go in peace, to love and serve our Lord, Amen.