Exactly a year ago, when we held our Annual Meeting for 2017, I shared a vision for our church with you. I spoke about what is already flourishing, and about the greater flourishing God is calling us towards.
I want to do the same again today. Straight after the service we hold our APCM - the annual church meeting, and we’ll share more of the detail of the plans that flow from this overall vision - but for now, I want to paint a picture of the kind of church I believe we already are, and the kind of church we are called to become.
And it has 5 parts. And it goes like this.
I asked God to show me his church in this place; what’s already flourishing, and the greater flourishing he is calling us towards, and this is what I see:
First, I see a church community with Jesus at the centre. It is the first thing I see because it is the most important, and it is at the centre because everything else flows from it. Wherever I look, I see Jesus. I see him being spoken about from the front. I see people praying to him at the edge. I see small groups meeting together to find out more and to grapple with the big questions about who Jesus is and how he is with us. I see the bible being opened and discussed. I see worship and music is directed towards him. I sense hearts that are open to him and I witness lives being changed by him.
I see people who are asking what they should do with their lives, and discovering new ways of serving God’s people and His church. I see people finding new depths of prayer and a greater desire to be in God’s presence. I see people healed, restored and made whole - all because they are coming to know Jesus as their Lord and their friend. I see a community built on Jesus, growing closer to Jesus and with Jesus at the centre.
And because Jesus is at the centre, I see a striking quality of welcome and hospitality to everyone who comes. I see a church with a door that is wide open and in which everyone is welcome,whatever they believe or don’t believe; whether they’re regular church goers or haven’t set foot in a building like this since their last School Nativity play 40 years ago.
And it’s not just here in this building that people are being made welcome - it’s in everything we do. People in this community are noticeably ready to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to spend time with each other.
But that doesn’t mean I see a church in which everyone looks the same - quite the opposite. I see a church that has so discovered God’s unconditional love for everyone, that we celebrate being together with all our differences of background, faith tradition, wealth, education and experience. I see a community that is always looking out for people who are new and for those on their own, and are being brave enough to engage with them. Everyone is welcome, not just to come into a building, but to be part of the community.
And the faith that I see being lived out goes far beyond an hour on Sunday morning in this building. The faith I see is an everyday faith. So I see people praying at work and about their work; I see people who, as they do their finances, pause to ask God for his direction; people who are asking God to show them how to serve on their frontlines. I see people here who know that faith in Jesus Christ has the very best answers to the questions of modern life with all its ups and downs.
And it is clear that this is a community that loves to gather for prayer, teaching, worship and sacrament so that they can live wholeheartedly for Jesus in their everyday lives. The faith I see here has important things to say about how to live well in a world of iPhones and Brexit. This church community knows that God is present in every second of every day. I see an everyday faith being lived out.
And wherever I look, I see children and teenagers at the heart of everything, and it’s clear that they are at home here. I see them sharing their thoughts with the adults and being taken seriously. I see that there are things for them to do, places for them to grow in faith, there are ways for them to serve - activities which show they are taken seriously, not as the church of tomorrow, but as the church here today.
And as I listen to people around the local villages as they chat, there’s a clear message out there - people say ‘if you’ve got kids or teenagers, you should really find out what’s going on in Church - they are the place to be; Cafe Toddlers, Blend, Sunday Club, Parenting courses, Youth Alpha, kids groups, film club, Youth Group, Mental Health support - you really must check them out.’
So I see is a church that is active, creative, faithful and ready to take risks for the kingdom A church that is both rooted in it’s deep traditions and entirely open to God’s hope-filled future. And because of that, I see a church that is remarkably generous with what it has been given.
The people here give freely of their time, their faith, their love, their prayer and their finances.
And so there are people quietly supporting those who are struggling in the local community.
And because we know that prayer is a great gift to us, there are people who are offering to pray for anyone who wants to bring their joys and struggles before the Lord.
And we are generous with our neighbouring churches as well; we’re sharing what we have and what we’ve learnt with them and we are as keen to see them flourishing as we are to flourish ourselves.
And as people look at this community, I overhear them saying things like ‘wow, they must really believe this stuff - why else would they behave like that?’.
And it’s not just the practical stuff that I see being shared - I see faith being shared as well. People here talk about God and Jesus and they want to tell their friends and neighbours what they have discovered. They don’t pretend to have all the answers - in fact they often feel very ill equipped to talk about God, but they do it anyway, because, they say - ‘if we don’t, who else will?’
And they invite people to come along, and to find out for themselves. And as a result, others are getting to know Jesus and the blessings that he offers.
This is what I see when I ask God to show me his vision for us. And as I look out at you, I see so much of it already happening. I see that God has been at work here for such a long time, in so many lives, and I see how much more he has in store for us.
And I asked God to bring this to reality.
May it be so, may it be so.