Time to Talk

Diocesan Vision Day: Saturday 21st January 2012. When, where and who. Daffodils! As I drove into Brentwood there were daffodils in full bloom by the roadside. I nearly ran Bishop David over in the car park! They had to find something for the Bishops and Archdeacons to do since the important work was going to be done by we ordinary folk, so they had Hi-Viz jackets on and were directing the traffic. There were no accidents as far as I know and the parking certainly looked tidy. Everything was wonderfully organized, there was very little waiting to register and plenty of stewards to direct us to our tables. About 100 tables of 10 people from the entire diocese, from the East end of London back along the Thames to Southend, all the way up and around including Colchester, Clacton and back around to us. Vicars, readers, churchwardens, PCC members, young people (yes really) and older folk, from all walks of life, and different types of parish. Sue was the only one on her table from a small rural parish; my table had a workplace chaplain, Alison, who has no parish to run as such, she works in shops and other workplaces including the local police station as well as taking services in churches when needed. Actually she was on Songs of Praise last Sunday, she gave the blessing. On Jane’s table there was a Church Army Pioneer Minister. Why. So why were we there? To talk, basically. But not just a general natter or random discussion. The aim of the day was to gather ideas and opinions from almost 1000 people and distill them. How. Each table of 10 would discuss a particular point, then summarise it. These summaries were collected up (they had the bishops running around doing this too!) and there have been teams of people (including Vernon, whose brain was close to exploding according to his facebook status the other day!) collating and analyzing the information. The format of the day also lent itself to the spreading as well as gathering of information. For instance on Sue’s table there were people from churches with large congregations that thought it worth considering more financial independence, doing away with the parish purse and funding their own incumbent, without necessarily realizing the effect that would have on small parishes, (like ours) that do not have the resources to be able to do the same. Another interesting little fact I picked up from one of my table companions was that the reason for having to have a faculty for anything we do in church, which can be a real pain, is so that the church is exempt from planning requirements, which are far more onerous especially with our listed buildings. Someone on Sue’s table was also bemoaning the existence of ‘the faculty’ wishing more trust would be shown in the churchwardens, but it’s not that they’re not trusted, it’s to avoid something worse! What were we discussing? Bishop Stephen has a vision for the diocese, set out in a paper Transforming Presence, there are main four points. Inhabiting the world distinctively. Evangelising effectively. Serving with accountability. Re-imagining Ministry. We started the day by reflecting on Romans 12:1-6, and were asked to underline any line that stood out to us. Romans 12:1-6 Today's New International Version (TNIV) 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; What stood out for me was, “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship.” We are the church, each and every one of us, parts of the body of Christ, each with a role to play in the bringing in of God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are 21st century Christians and need to move out of the 19th century. That means facing up to change. How we go about that is the challenge. Moving from being passive members “following orders” to active, engaged participants of God’s plan for the world. We are ALL Christ’s ambassadors; do people see us and think, what have they got that I don’t have? I’d like to have some too. Do we live our lives as beloved sons and daughters of God? Do we let on to other people that wonderful truth? This is part of what it means to live distinctively. We were asked, “If you were starting from scratch what three words sum up church?” We came up with a lot more than three!! But vicar or priest wasn’t one of them! (or at least not on my table!) Jesus, fellowship, people, sacraments were some of the words that did come up. The numbers of paid ordained clergy are declining; over the next ten years more will be retiring than are coming forward for ordination. The knock-on effects are widespread. There are already more churches than priests, add to that the need for ordained workers outside the parish context, and the effects of prolonged interregnums particularly in rural parishes and it’s clear that a different strategy with more lay involvement is needed to give continuity and stability to the functioning of an active, growing church (little c and big C). To accomplish that we need to discern the gifts each member of our churches have and nurture them. Rom 12:6 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; Provide teaching and training in various ways, long and short courses, from the practical to the academic to encourage everyone to develop their gifts and their faith. Another task we were set asked us to consider; what we should keep on doing; what we should start doing; what we should stop doing and what additional help or resources could we suggest. You’ll be glad to know we thought we should keep Sunday services! Also links with other churches (denominations) and maintain our unique Anglican ‘Unity in Diversity’, which has room for traditional and non-traditional styles of worship. Things to start doing, promoting lay leadership in worship. Embrace modern technology, (powerpoints J ) and be more user friendly, I think we’re actually doing pretty well! The one thing to stop doing our table was almost unanimous about, was trying to maintain every old church building. PCC’s often find themselves spending too much time keeping the buildings in order and not enough time considering ways to fill them! Our wish list for additional resources included an increased variety of training including distance learning (Open University style) and on-line learning. A telephone help-line. More on-line resources. And more work-place chaplains. If people won’t come to the church, then let’s take the church to the people. As the pioneer minister on Jane’s table pointed out it may not result in an immediate increase in church numbers but as people see ‘church’ people interacting with them hopefully they will feel drawn to find out more and maybe join a church. We are living in interesting times. They will be exciting, but be prepared to be moved outside your comfort zone! Jesus never promised us an easy ride, just the opposite in fact, but He DID promise He would be with us always, to the end of the age. So to the future; We were asked to imagine the headlines for The Month in 2020. Sue’s table envisaged numbers of Christians rising so fast that world wide major building works were needed to accommodate them all and that there was a long waiting list of people applying for ordination training. Jane’s table also envisaged our churches being full, maybe through non-traditional churches, for instance in homes, community halls, cafes and the like. In many ways a return to the very early church. Our table pictured an increase in locally ordained priests and the youth movement Legacy XS taking over V! Oh and the first virtual incumbent ‘in the cloud’ and the first authorized ‘Estuary English’ liturgy. So then what is your vision for the future? Imagine it. Pray for it. And to quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the US Starship Enterprise, “make it so.”