The seasonal colours this autumn have been quite the best for some years. They've helped to lift our spirits from the more sombre mood of remembrance that dominates the church calendar in November. The rays of sunshine on a Remembrance Sunday morning provided a visual reminder of the healing rays of hope for a better world.
As we move forward into Advent the cycle of the church year begins once again. Advent is a special time of preparation. As did the prophets of old, we await the coming of the Messiah and his eventual return. We look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, but in the weeks before we have the opportunity to think about what Jesus means for us and how as 'church' we can make our faith more visible to the world around us.
Recently PCC members have attended a training morning to help us with planning and using our resources to be more effective in meeting the needs of both church and community. I found this quotation both stimulating and affirming:- 'There is nothing like the local church when it's working right. Its power is breath-taking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed and offers belonging to the marginalised of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness. (Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership)
I ask you to read the quote again prayerfully and then ask yourself if this is your vision for our church - because if it is then we can count on your support for the mission action plan that each parish/benefice in the diocese is being asked to prepare.
Whilst we recognise that there is much that we can improve on, we should not forget to give thanks for and celebrate the things that we do well across our three churches. We have had full churches for the special November services; - for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed and Remembrance Sunday and will expect to see our Christmas services well-supported.
There is a deep need for people to gather in community on these occasions. Week by week the church ministers to the sick and the bereaved and there are faithful, committed church members quietly getting on with reaching the lonely, the down hearted and the marginalised.
Are we on the right course? What do we need to change to make us more visible? This is not (at this stage) about church service provision, nor is it about bewailing the loss of things that served the church well in the past but are no longer relevant tools for modern mission. It is though all about stepping over the 'commitment threshold'; to make our discipleship a reality by offering to play our own part, however small. We must allow God to do his work.
Churches that promote and advertise themselves while keeping Jesus in the background for fear he will put people off, or because they are not quite sure of him themselves, or because the music and the traditions form the limit of their interest, have got the whole thing the wrong way round. Usually it is Jesus who attracts people and the Church puts them off (Archdeacon Bob Jackson, 'The Road to Growth') Throughout the period of Advent we should think and pray about the challenge the church faces and commit to a deeper understanding of our own discipleship. As we look to the future with confidence and renewed commitment, may I wish you every blessing for the Christmas Season and the New Year.