Our nation is going through a time of deep challenge and great uncertainty at the moment. Parliament is deeply divided over what to do about leaving the European Union. Passions are high among the wider population and all sorts of fault lines have been opened up in our identity, the directions we want to move in and how we are to be as a nation. In the thick of all of this there are nuanced positions and easy caricatures which of course don’t do justice to the position and make it harder to hear and honour the person we may disagree with. It is not surprising that there has been the national call to pray for our nation and we have the prayer card as well as a prayer station by the Lady Chapel themed around togetherness in our difference. This has set me thinking about the kinds of values we aim to live by and therefore the values that we seek to proclaim from our churches and by virtue of belonging to our churches. So I want to spend a few moments with a reworking some guidelines that came out 65 years ago.
A few years ago I came across a card from 1954 and it is signed by the then Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It was entitled ‘A short guide to the duties of Church Membership’. I shared it at the Annual Meeting in 2017, but it is worth bringing out again. I thought two years ago that it needed a bit of a refresh, so here’s my attempt at an update of the core principles for us today.
The church is called to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw people to follow him. That is our core purpose. All who have been baptized and confirmed have agreed to shape their lives on this purpose and calling. And so to do this we will:
- Seek to grow in faith and trust, that every aspect of our lives will be shaped by and in the example of Christ.
- Commit to pray each day – waiting on God; for the needs of the world and the welfare of all people.
- Make time to read the Bible and deepen our understanding of and confidence in our faith.
- Make coming to Church each week a priority, so that we can support others and be supported in our common calling. If we are away we will do all we can to join with a local Church.
- Share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion faithfully and regularly – to feed on Christ in word and sacrament.
- Be gracious, showing and sharing the love of Christ to all.
- Be generous with our time, our gifts and our money – in thanksgiving to God we will give to support the mission and ministry of the Church.
- Strive for justice and transformation, to make a difference, living with integrity in all things.
- Honour and love all in the name of Christ, welcoming all who come as if they are Christ, sharing God’s hospitality.
- Share faith in word and action, to help others grow in faith and come to love and serve the Lord.
We will, in short, be people of hope, people of faith, people of love.
It is worth reflecting on these and see how they might influence how we are with one another, how we approach everyone we come into contact with. And when we fall short, be open to others giving a gentle reminder. I was involved in an interview recently for a role with the Light Project Peterborough and one of our questions was about how the candidates would foster and embed a Christian culture amongst the volunteers and staff, a number of whom do not come from a faith background and many who do. It was a good question and it is a reminder that there are ways of being which go with being a follower of Jesus Christ and by baptism and confirmation we have signed up for these. So I have produced these notes on a card for us all to take and reflect on.
St John’s Church has been at the heart of this city since AD 1407, a living heritage of faith and service. Today we aim to be:
- Open for all,
- Connecting with our location and the opportunities it brings.
- A place of prayer, where faith is vibrant and relates to the issues of our day.
- Hospitable, generous and gracious in all our encounters; a place where everyone is welcome
- A community of transformation, which makes a difference for the common good.
One of the things we have struggled with has been setting this out in terms of an action plan. This is not least because these can easily become an unrealistic wish list and that does nothing but weigh us down. We have carried out an audit of what we do and mapped these under the 5 Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. That was a helpful exercise because it reminds us that what we do serves a higher purpose. Over the next few years it would be worth looking at these and deciding one thing to develop or strengthen over the coming year. Not a massive hit list, something else to wear us out, but to help us keep on track with our core purpose, the 10 principles of Christian living and how we aim to be a living heritage of faith and service today.
St Luke’s shares in this purpose, with a particular focus on West Town and the community that live around it. There are things we could do there which would strengthen its visibility and connecting.
The primary boots on the ground in church mission are those who are baptized and confirmed, those who have committed in baptism and confirmation. It has been a privilege, as it always is, to spend time with our candidates this year as they have explored faith in readiness for the Confirmation Service in the Cathedral on Easter Eve.
Before this planning and thinking begins to wear you out, or feel oppressive and more pressure, this week’s Church Times has a very helpful article on God’s speed. The writer, John Swinton, argues that God’s speed is actually 3 miles an hour. That is the average walking speed for human beings. Jesus, who is God, walked at three miles an hour. God who is love, walks at three miles an hour. Love has a speed, and that speed is slow. We do not have to fix everything in five minutes and we are in for the long haul, not just a sprint. That suits me well, because I can walk for miles but I can’t run for a bus. The long haul calls for resilience, stick-ability, commitment and endurance. A church which has been on this site since 1407, and St Luke’s which has been on its site for over a hundred years, is in it for the long haul. What is more we are here all the time. We belong to a community which has a presence here all the time, not just a pop up initiative.
I spoke a few weeks ago about 7 disciplines of evangelism –how we share our faith with others that they too many come to follow Jesus Christ and grow in his likeness. It began with prayer and was shot through with commitment to the long haul. The ten principles of Christian living are missionary and evangelistic. They proclaim the love of God and they seek to draw others, to inspire them in faith.
So please take this sheet away with you. It is through this that we will aim to connect with those around us and who come into contact with us in so many ways.
As I’ve said the major boots on the ground here are yourselves. And the life of this parish, which we are celebrating in this meeting, relies so heavily on those who are generous with their time, with their gifts and their money. Thank you for all you do and give. The booklet of reports sets out the spread of these activities and the commitments behind them.
- Care of buildings
- Care of accounts and our funds
- Ambassadors in Deanery Synod, Churches Together
- Hospitality – making the places open and serving cakes and coffee, welcoming and looking after those who come for services and events
- Musicians and servers, flower arrangers and polishers
- Events programming – from Alun with the CIC and Jonathan for other bookings
- Social events – times we make and mark community
- Home Communions and looking after one another – I frequently hear of those who naturally check up on one another and make sure all is well, or come to their aid when it is not
- Groups and study programmes – one or two new initiatives in the pipeline
- Ringing bells and looking after the tower
- Cleaning and tidying up after those who don’t tidy up after themselves!
This is an active place – so many events hosted and our reach is far beyond what might be expected. When I talk with others in the city about their capacity, we achieve an incredible amount with the small band that we are. And this last year we have extended our hospitality to include the Mar Thomas Church, who have taken over the lease at St John’s Hall and along with others I was invited to take part in their service of dedication. A number of us were given tokens of thanks for making it happen.
This year we have said a sad farewell to a number of people:
- Mike Lilliman, a longstanding friend of the parish
- Vera Savidge, a longstanding member of the congregation
- Peter Boizot – a long time supporter of this church, as well as being Mr Peterborough. When I took his funeral in the Cathedral, it was one of those occasions when I was very much acting as Vicar of this Church as well as being a Cathedral Residentiary Canon.
- And Joyce Lyon, who moved to Scotland to be near family.
So we celebrate today the life and witness of the churches in this parish – in the city centre as well as in West Town. There is a great deal of life in these churches. A few Sundays ago I stood at the front and looked out and it dawned on me that over half of the congregation were not attending 6 years ago. As the Bishop of Oxford reminded General Synod back in February, anyone who pretends that evangelism is easy is both deluding themselves and demoralizing those who are working hard. But it is not an impossible task. It starts with prayer and ends with it too. Throughout it all, we hold to the core purpose of the church which is to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ and to draw others to follow him. And in doing that, I leave you with the 10 guiding principles: prayer, deepening faith, commitment to church and sacrament, being gracious and generous, striving for justice and transformation, honouring all people and seeking to inspire others to grow in faith.
It is actually not as difficult as we might think. It just requires each of us to commit to play our part in faith and hope and love.
Address to APCM at Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 7th April 2019