Feast of St Matthew with baptism
2 Corinthians 4.1-6
Matthew 9.9-13

Today the church celebrates Matthew, apostle and saint. Actually, today is as much about celebrating baptizing Angelica as it is about celebrating Matthew. Or in fact Angelica now and Tommy a little later this morning. We hope they will grow up into apostles and saints. Which isn’t quite as scary as it might sound…

Matthew was a tax collector. An occupation despised by his fellow Jews as a betrayal to the occupying Roman force, but Jesus showed that judging by outward appearance was not what he was about. He ate with Matthew and with his friends, scandalizing those around him, the church leaders of his day. But Matthew followed when Jesus called him and this was enough. He was forgiven, therefore he was acceptable, therefore he was received.

As we put Gemma and Jeffrey and Angelica’s godparents on the spot in a moment, it is about asking them to respond to the same question as Jesus posed to Matthew. Follow me? I like to hear it as a question, an invitation, not an instruction. Their response is as Matthew’s was (or at least, I hope it will be):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

Just like that. But that is really what baptism is about. It’s about saying yes. Thankyou. Please. It’s not about creating hurdles, it’s not about making it hard, it’s not about requiring an entrance exam, it’s not about knowing what will happen tomorrow or next month or next year. It’s not about outward appearance, do you look like you’ll belong? It’s not about how good a follower you will turn out to be, although obviously we hope that one day Angelica appreciates having being baptised!

It’s not about whether ‘we’ as a church think that anyone new has a right to be here, to join us, because in baptism we are all one. We are all one in the counter-cultural world of believing in the life and ethics Jesus taught. We are all one in responding to his call, whether it’s prompted by a deep inner love and instinctive understanding of God, or a desire to ‘do things right’, or because Grandma says we should or because a baby is such a precious gift; the birth of a baby makes us realise – makes us see in sharp contrast and hi-viz that the world is a dark, broken and selfish place as well as a place marked by beauty and joy and wonder, and makes us want to reach out to the light which differentiates the two.

We all, in every baptism service, remember our own response to the call of Christ. The call to follow him. The call to love one another, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick and walk alongside the lonely. We all know that we are made to live in community and relationship, and we all know that a self-serving, self-seeking approach to life ultimately isn’t satisfying.

When we respond to the glory of creation and the agony of our destroying of it; the infinite diversity of our fellows and the shameful diminishing of so many of our brothers and sisters for unhelpful and often un-biblical reasons; when we look for a response to why are we here and understand that it is to live, to love and to flourish with each other; when we wrestle with theology – ‘Jesus died to pay for our sin’, or why there is hurt and sorrow in the world – why God ‘lets’ bad things happen to children or people we love, then we have got up and begun to walk with Matthew.

And when we get up with Matthew and respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, we begin to reject the consumerist, speed-driven, post-modern world – today’s occupying force, and we show that we do not judge carelsesly either, but that we care what happens to ourselves and to others. When we eat, walk, talk with those less fortunate than ourselves, we may scandalize, but we are eating, walking, talking with God, and in doing so are received, accepted and forgiven.

Of course, there’s more to following Jesus than getting up from your desk and leaving everything behind for a new adventure. But in today’s gospel Matthew takes the first step and makes a start. Jesus says ‘follow’ and he does. All journeys start with that first step. Matthew will be sent (the meaning of apostle) to heal, to feed, to clothe, to teach that there is light in the darkness and it is the light that will overcome.

Today is the first step on Angelica’s journey too, and we hope and pray that she also will learn to heal, to feed, to clothe and to breathe the love of God into her life as she lives it. There will surely be setbacks and doubts, hesitations and denials, just as there were for the apostles. But in baptism Angelica joins the saints, those for whom life is holy.

Baptism is a free gift of God, offered to anyone who would like to reach out and grasp it (at any age). In it we are all, like Angelica, received, accepted and forgiven. In baptism – literally (well, figuratively) – Angelica is ‘washed clean’ and marked with the cross – to ‘claim her’ – to include her in those for whom Jesus gave up his life, those whom God loves so much that he sent his only son to serve us … unto death.

And as we rejoice in a positive response to the open invitation from God in today’s gospel to follow Christ, we shall hear some of our first reading again too, because at the end of the service when we light her a candle, it uses the very same words from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

God our Father, for we all may be so bold –
with each precious gift of a baby, each baptism grows the number of your saints.
Help us always to recognise your light in the world
and to follow it in truth.
Help us always to know ourselves, as Matthew, as Angelica,
received, accepted, forgiven,
and to see the face of Jesus Christ in one another.
May we all live as the light which shines in the darkness,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

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Jeremiah 4. 23-28                             Luke 15.1-10

Somewhere the other day – to be honest I’ve no idea where or when, given that I don’t seem to have stopped recently, but somewhere I saw a comment about a stained glass window (not this one, but like it). It was not unlike our east window – Christ crucified, with dignified mother Mary standing to the one side and the quietly passionate disciple whom he loved to the other.

But also, in this depiction, was Mary Magdalene. No perfect pose for her, she was depicted thrown at the foot of the cross, her arms around it, in a state of total distress. And the comment was about how which one would we rather be, which one was the ‘real’ one, which one was most likely the truest representation.

And it was to say that it was Mary Magdalene, in an agony of her own at the cross. Showing her utter devastation at the crucifixion and her love for Christ in the only way she knew. Extravagantly, physically. Her Lord, her saviour.

Our readings today give us a little more Jeremiah – this time a grim image of the desolation of the world when our sin destroys it – we are surely no nearer having learnt our lesson today than they had in Jeremiah’s time, when we think about our lack of stewardship of natural resources and our inhumanity to our fellows.

One commentary on this passage says:

“The anguish of the prophet appears to mirror the anguish of God which cannot believe the people are bent on self-destruction. I can’t help feeling this must the case today as we watch our world bent on self-destruction because of our greed and the consequences of our actions.”

It is all too easy to look around and be despondent. See bits of the earth waste and void; see loss of life and livelihoods in areas of earthquake, volcano, flood, natural disaster; see before and after photographs (though you only really need see the ‘now’) of Palestine and Gaza and Syria and their streets and cities in ruins; see the forlorn faces and empty bellies of a generation of children facing famine in once fruitful land where rains and so crops have failed. So many times when we turn on the news, it is to see or hear that the earth mourns.

It is all too easy. All too easy to remember how many lives have been lost or irreparably changed in global conflicts as well as local ones – as another year goes past since 9/11, another aid worker is murdered by ISIS – the war on terror has claimed many victims but how many victories in that time?

So should we despair totally? No. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremiah wasn’t pulling punches and neither should we. We are all somehow involved. We cannot turn the other cheek, close our eyes to atrocities. Sin abounds, and we are all sinners, if not terrorists and murderers. But Jeremiah still offers us that glimpse of hope.

I will not make a full end, says the Lord. Even if there is judgement – and judgement there will be – there is still hope. Because destruction of the world and people he lovingly created for relationship is not what God wants. Earlier in this chapter, immediately preceding this passage, we would have heard ‘My anguish, my anguish, I writhe in pain!…For my people are foolish, they do not know me, they are stupid children, they have no understanding…’

And as we turn to Luke, we have confirmation of that. ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.’ ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’.

Some of you heard the vicar preach a couple (a few?) weeks ago about how irrational it is of the shepherd to leave 99 sheep to their own devices and go off looking for the one. Leaving 99 in danger to save one on their own. Well yes, perhaps, but that’s the essence of God’s love for us. Not that it’s irrational, but that it will never give up on us.

However ‘skilled we are in doing evil’ and however much we [as a race] ‘do not know how to do good’, God will not put us totally beyond redemption. And when we return, how joyful that reunion. When we have been lost, how beautiful the knowledge of safety. When we have been and seen terror, how warm a loving embrace.

The shepherd and the woman looking for her coin illustrate that God will not make a full end. However many mistakes we make, he will still be there when we stretch out a hand to reach back into the fold. He will shed a tear of joy and do a happy dance that one who was lost is found. Almost more so when we have been lost. The story which follows directly in Luke is that of the prodigal son, who of course only recognises the true value of what he had when he had gone away and thrown it away, the son to whom the father runs, arms open, when he is still a distance away.

Our own recognition of our salvation and the love of God for each and every one of us is perhaps deeper, sweeter and more – or perhaps even only – understandable if we are prepared to recognise our sin.

When we do so, when we leave pretending and brave faces aside, and open our brokenness to God, the forgiveness which flows to meet our repentance is likely to knock us off our feet. The lost sheep and the lost coin rejoiced over for having been lost and found, they are the glimmer of light shining in the darkness, in the desolation and waste of sin, the chink of light which the darkness cannot overcome. They are the hope offered to all of us, and immortalised so often in art by Mary Magdalene as she throws herself around Jesus ankles, nailed to the cross, and weeps.

What Mary did not know, could not know then, was that this was not the end. Hope remained, as it does for us. Mary’s joy in the resurrection as she exclaims ‘Rabbouni’ in the garden transforms the distress at the cross. After a bleak and empty void of a life seemingly laid waste, the transforming life of the resurrection colours and shimmers and delights.

Whenever we lose sight of God alongside us in darkness; or regret our own actions, or words, or lives; or despair of the plight of refugees, of innocent children, of warriors fighting for they no longer know exactly what, let us remember to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and lament. And hope. Because while we have hope all is not lost, and when lost is found there will be great rejoicing in heaven.

‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So we are accepted whoever we are, as long as we are prepared to put ourselves at his feet. So let us do that. Let us always acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of our world, and love him, openly and extravagantly; and be ready to bathe in transforming light and love in return.

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13
Sep

Patronal Festival, September 14th, 2014

maryRadical hospitality, radical generosity.

I know you know me well enough by now that if someone asked you to describe your curate’s view of church then that might not be a bad answer to give.

And I’d stand by it being a pretty good description. It is, after all, not only the principal gospel message Jesus never tired of teaching but it is also – as we celebrate our patronal festival –Mary’s message, the Magnificat.

We know from the story of the woman caught in adultery that the new testament world took a pretty dim view of relationship outside of marriage, so you can totally understand Mary being horrified by the angel’s message.

But she barely hesitates. Upside down has gone her world, the structure, order and pattern that she knows. The hope of a stable, happy future with Joseph. Everything she knew and was comfortable with, gone in an instant.

But does she say no? No. She takes the new life offered by the annunciation, leaving aside the potential personal cost, for the benefit of others, the benefit of generations to come, the benefit of all.

Mary chooses radical hospitality, radical generosity in hosting Christ, radical grace. And she is our patron saint. So do we model radical hospitality, radical generosity? Radical grace, radical openness to change for future good?

Because of the GNR date change, holding our patronal festival this weekend also coincides with the Heritage Open Days. Last year some people tried to visit even though we were not taking part and as usual were not open to the public (to our parishioners, to Mary’s people) aside from our usual services.

HOD2_churchSo it seemed to be a good idea to be involved this year. If we are to celebrate the radical hospitality of our patron saint, then surely the obvious place to begin as a community is by opening the doors and welcoming people in.

For my part I am hugely grateful to those of you – from the congregation and the wider community – who manned and womanned the church and hall on Friday, yesterday and who will do again this afternoon. Thankyou. I am thankful for your generosity and hospitality in giving your time, because it meant the doors could be open.

Because I have a thing about these doors of ours. They’re shut so often. Way too often. They don’t say radical hospitality to those who pass by. Even during our services those doors get shut (there’d be less draught if you sat nearer the front…just saying…) and so if you arrive late and hesitant, you might easily find it easier to go away again. I can’t wait until the glassed doors are installed.

Do you know my favourite film clip? It’s in Sister Act, when Whoopie Goldberg has fixed the choir enough to sing Hail Holy Queen properly (Mother Superior looks surprised, then delighted) and then they step it up a notch and the church is suddenly filled with a glorious sound of joy. Mother Superior – the most superior Maggie Smith – now looks horrified, but the camera moves to the back of church, where some curious faces have appeared, tentatively drawn into the building by the sense of Spirit they can hear flowing out.

The priest in the pulpit beckons them in and in they come – almost as many as the original congregation. Mother Superior has to think again. They’re all in dungarees or jeans and look a bit clueless, but they’re there, and they are welcome.

Welcoming them took some radical generosity on the part of Maggie Smith’s character, as did harbouring Whoopie Goldberg’s “Sister” Mary Clarence – a Vegas showgirl and singer – in the first place, but so she did; the community took that risk and if you know the film you know that that risk paid off in spades.

There is a bit of me which can’t imagine being able to stand in the pulpit and wave a crowd of new people in like the priest in the film. Except that is sort of exactly what we do especially at baptism services – we open the doors and welcome in anyone who walks through the door, whether they have any idea of church or not, whether they’re dressed to the nines or not.

That is radical hospitality, radical generosity. But, is it radical? Really? Or is it simply the day to day ordinary hospitality and generosity of Jesus, of his mother Mary, and so surely only right and proper that his church, her church should model this too?

But we know, don’t we, that hospitality and generosity; grace and the openness to things new and potentially disruptive is not easy. Modelling ourselves on Christ and the blessed Mary his unhesitant, totally-giving mother takes effort – takes a lifetime. However costly though, it is our life’s work and our lives’ (as Christians) responsibility.

It is perhaps easier if you live in community, with everything in common and no personal possessions, religious lives with a rule like that of Benedict, to know radical hospitality and radical generosity as fundamental. In many religious communities novices give up everything of their own when they profess, including their names. In Sister Act, all the nuns are named Mary. Mary Clarence.

It feels to me like a really good way to remember the model of Mary, to keep her pattern at the forefront of our lives. Can you imagine yourself similarly designated? Mary Kate; Mary Margaret; Mary Ann? And gents, don’t think you can get away with it – I remember being confused and entertained on my first visit to France that the campsite owner was called Marie-Pierre… So let’s include Mary Thomas; Mary Paul; Mary Michael.

There’s a recognised hardship with putting others first in convents and monastic communities. It takes grace to create grace. So would it for us to be a place which exists as much for others as for ourselves. It takes grace and total commitment to God’s will, his plan and his plan for our lives to be open to the kind of change Mary experienced. It takes grace and is costly. A sword will pierce your heart also, says Simeon. Indeed.

Her hospitality to the life of the world in flesh caused her the anguish of watching her son be taken from her, stripped, mortified, taunted, crucified.

Her hospitality in being open to the unknown and trusting God in the unknown led to the joy of seeing resurrection, the transformation of hope, seeing the message, the Word she bore, be known and welcomed and loved, trusted and obeyed and followed by generation after generation after generation. Generations shall call me blessed.

We call her blessed today. And we seek to follow her. Heritage Open Days may be only a small scratch of hospitality in the world, but they open the door to people who might only need just that encouragement. As we model Mary, our hospitality, generosity, openness to the strange and the stranger grows us in grace, grace which spills out of the building to those outside and offers them a vision of a different future.

A vision of a different future is what Mary said yes to, and it is what we pray for. Again and again and again. It means we pay the price of hospitality disrupting routine, we pay the price of walking the journey to the end, even when we know it to be costly, but it means we join in the work of Christ in being for all.

We may have a mission or a vision statement, but in some ways we don’t need one. We only need to remember that we are Mary’s church, Mary’s people: Mary Kathryn, Mary Christine, Mary Robert. We only need remember her obedience, her trust, her faithfulness, in looking forward, to a new world. May she be our vision. Today and every day.

Let us pray:

Lord, may our souls magnify you.
Use our hands, our voices, our hearts
to lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things and share your love with another generation;
scatter any proud thoughts of ours
that we may ever rejoice in your favour
and bring honour to your name. Amen.

 

 

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So often, I think this. And I’m thinking it again today. There were some great keynotes during my time at BbWorld and there were some less great ones. The great ones are still relevant to me today. Specifically I come back to two when I look with sadness round the traditional parish church and our lack of younger people. One is Seth Godin, on Tribes, and one is Malcolm Gladwell, and Tipping Point.

Some of the detail probably isn’t at all relevant, but the essence of what I remember is enough for me. Because every time I look around at our congregation and see only over 50s, or every (rare) time I see a young person/family risk coming in and then doing a double take because there’s the most enormous age and perhaps culture gap between them and the people who are already there.

I *totally* believe that the church is one of the few places left in society where you *should* be able to see a huge range of people sharing together in worship and fellowship. But I also believe that it’s a lot easier to join a group which is a group of people like you. Because then you look around and think, oh, people that look like me, it must be a place for people like me. And not oh, gosh, I am totally not like anyone here, am I even supposed/allowed to be here.

In my own experience, I have to be honest and say that the churches I’ve seen&been that are numerically (not to split hairs over other definitions) ‘successful’, have been of similar [looking] people. I would hazard a guess that this is why grafts work. The saddest thing is that I also know from experience that it doesn’t take many people for others to catch a sense of potential. That just a couple of families mean that when a wedding couple come in, they see others like them.

Sadly, it takes lots of things to create a real tipping point of a tribe of all, or a fellowship of tribes together. It takes each one who tries, to stay. It takes each one who’s already ‘in’ to be *serious* about generous welcome and hospitality. It takes each place to be intentional about offering and building networks within the greater fellowship. Often we fail at at least one of those. Sometimes we all fail at all of them. And what I think is most worrying, is that we have to succeed at all three, clergy, congregations and Christians. Only then shall we genuinely grow.

We have failed.

Always worth watching again. Seth Godin, Tribes:

The social epidemic – Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas. [from http://gladwell.com/the-tipping-point/]
audio book version:

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This excellent post was on Worshiping with children’s facebook page – or rather, it wasn’t a post but a photo, and I couldn’t bookmark it for some reason, so reposting it not to lose – with all credits/apologies to http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/ & https://www.facebook.com/worshipingwithchildren/

Worshiping with a child is a team sport, i.e. something you do together. And, like all sports having a collection of strategies and tricks to pull out as you play makes worship more interesting, fun and satisfying for all the players – including the parent/coach. So, here is a list of strategies with which even not-very-musical parents can draw children into singing with their congregation. It is far from complete. Add strategies that have worked for you in the Comments section.

– As soon as they are comfortable with three digit numbers children enjoy the responsibility of finding the hymns by their numbers for the family to sing. They become the “keeper of the hymnbook.”

– In the child’s worship bag, provide bookmarks with which a child can find and mark the hymns you will sing.

– Insist they sing with the congregation. Pull them away from anything else they are working on during worship, if needed.

– While the musical introduction is playing, tell your child something you like about this hymn. (Last week my 90 year old mother whispered, “this is one of my favorites!” and I paid attention to it in a new way as we sang.)

– Position their heads so they can hear and feel their voices in the middle of the singing. Younger children enjoy standing on the pew, being as tall everyone else, and singing in the middle of the music rather than hearing it somewhere above them. When children get too tall to stand on the pew, sit beside your standing child or simply scrunch over so that your voice is near your child’s ear.

– Don’t sing all the time. Occasionally, hum or la-la, even whistle a hymn together. (Yes, in the sanctuary!) This is especially welcome by early or non-readers. They can participate and begin learning the tunes without the words.

– As they begin to read, use a paper on its side or your finger to help children follow the words. They will brush you aside when they are ready to keep up on their own.

– Emphasize repeated phrases or choruses in a hymn with a nudge and wink encouraging young readers to sing at least those phrases even before they can read all the verses.

– Invest in a hymnal to keep in a worship bag. With your child underline important words. Write the date of each time you sing each hymn. Add star stickers or dog ear the ones you really like. Encourage your child to make notes or draw illustrations in the margins. Add some of your own.

– Write a key phrase in a hymn you just sang on a piece of paper or a page in a worship journal. Urge your child to illustrate or write about it during rest of worship. Make your own page or add a note or drawing to your child’s page.

Photo: Worshiping with a child is a team sport, i.e. something you do together.  And, like all sports having a collection of strategies and tricks to pull out as you play makes worship more interesting, fun and satisfying for all the players – including the parent/coach.  So, here is a list of strategies with which even not-very-musical parents can draw children into singing with their congregation.  It is far from complete.  Add strategies that have worked for you in the Comments section.</p>
<p>- As soon as they are comfortable with three digit numbers children enjoy the responsibility of finding the hymns by their numbers for the family to sing.   They become the “keeper of the hymnbook.”</p>
<p>- In the child’s worship bag, provide bookmarks with which a child can find and mark the hymns you will sing.</p>
<p>- Insist they sing with the congregation.  Pull them away from anything else they are working on during worship, if needed.</p>
<p>- While the musical introduction is playing, tell your child something you like about this hymn.  (Last week my 90 year old mother whispered, “this is one of my favorites!” and I paid attention to it in a new way as we sang.)</p>
<p>- Position their heads so they can hear and feel their voices in the middle of the singing.  Younger children enjoy standing on the pew, being as tall everyone else, and singing in the middle of the music rather than hearing it somewhere above them.  When children get too tall to stand on the pew, sit beside your standing child or simply scrunch over so that your voice is near your child’s ear.</p>
<p>- Don’t sing all the time.  Occasionally, hum or la-la, even whistle a hymn together.  (Yes, in the sanctuary!)  This is especially welcome by early or non-readers.  They can participate and begin learning the tunes without the words.</p>
<p>- As they begin to read, use a paper on its side or your finger to help children follow the words.  They will brush you aside when they are ready to keep up on their own.</p>
<p>- Emphasize repeated phrases or choruses in a hymn with a nudge and wink encouraging young readers to sing at least those phrases even before they can read all the verses.</p>
<p>- Invest in a hymnal to keep in a worship bag.  With your child underline important words.  Write the date of each time you sing each hymn.  Add star stickers or dog ear the ones you really like.  Encourage your child to make notes or draw illustrations in the margins.  Add some of your own.</p>
<p>- Write a key phrase in a hymn you just sang on a piece of paper or a page in a worship journal.  Urge your child to illustrate or write about it during rest of worship.  Make your own page or add a note or drawing to your child’s page.

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Bartholomew
Isaiah 43.8-13

Today the Church commemorates Bartholomew. Bartholomew is a slightly shadowy character – he is listed as an apostle in all the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke (not though the piece of Luke we actually hear today), but we hear little else about him and there is some debate about whether he and Nathaniel (who we hear rather more about, and who appears in John’s list of apostles) are the same person.

What’s in a name?

Bartholomew also appears listed in Acts, after the resurrection – leaving Nathaniel aside; in the absence of anything much else, Exciting Holiness at least claims that Bartholomew “recognizes Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as Son of God and King of Israel”.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia informs us that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, by being flayed alive – and this indeed is obviously the story that Michelangelo and others heard, for the most famous artistic representations of him are holding out his flayed skin.

In our first reading, Isaiah says “You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen”. A few verses earlier, at the beginning of chapter 43, Isaiah says “I have called you by name, you are mine”.

Because we are holding his feast, we remember the witness of God’s servant Bartholomew. He is mentioned – called – by name in today’s collect. You might like to glance back at the noticesheet:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace
truly to believe and to preach your word:
grant that your Church
may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Let’s take it in two parts.

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace
truly to believe and to preach your word:

When I looked at the collect, it reminded me of the ordination service, where the words are repeated over the head of each person – “Send down your spirit Lord, on your servant … Bartholomew … for work … in your church”.

Have another look at that first part of the collect. Read it quietly for a second. Now how about reading it again, with your own name instead of Bartholomew? It might need ‘gives’ not ‘gave’. Can we make it a prayer for ourselves – give to me, your apostle, grace truly to believe and to preach your word.

Now you may say that to use the term ‘apostle’ is not correct, because we are only Jesus’ disciples, the twelve were the apostles. But the apostles started off as disciples (those who follow) and ‘graduated’ into apostles – from being students to teachers in the great commission, when they were ‘sent’ – the meaning of apostle.

 

In the great commission, and after Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit we are all sent. So we are all apostles as well as disciples. We follow, and we are sent. The two go together, as they are in the collect: ‘Truly to believe’ = disciple; ‘to preach your word’ = apostle.

So let’s have the confidence, each of us, to pray for ourselves: almighty/gracious/transforming and everlasting God,
who gives to your apostle N grace
truly to believe and to preach your word.

And what are we believing? Isaiah again: Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.

I have redeemed you. Does that massive, beautiful, incredible thing suffuse our whole beings? Do we believe that, really, truly, to our core? I want to say, if you cut us in half to expose our core, how would you recognise our faith? I’m thinking about Blackpool rock but I’m all too aware that for so many Christians the possibility has become a terrifying reality.

Bartholomew holds out his skin in pictures. Are there days when our faith feels only ‘skin-deep’? When we are afraid, when we do not feel redeemed? On those days, let’s follow Bartholomew, Bartholomew who “recognizes Jesus for who he is and proclaims him as Son of God and King of Israel”, and who leads us into the second part of the collect.

grant that your Church
may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;

give us – your Church – grace, strength and trust to love that which we believe – even, especially, on days when the world seems so riven by sin and suffering it is hard to comprehend where God is in it, that we have the confidence to follow Bartholomew from disciple to apostle, and not just recognise Jesus but proclaim him, ‘faithfully preach and receive the same’.

Because the joy of being redeemed is not ours alone. God calls many many more. All. Tradition has it that in his day Bartholomew took the gospel to India, to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia and more as well as Armenia.

Today, we apostles – we disciples who are called, called by name and sent – we are called too to preach and proclaim Jesus, our redemption and our hope. Where? Well Isaiah doesn’t send us so far as Bartholomew went. Just to anyone who will listen:

“Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears”

“You are my witnesses, says the Lord”, “my servant[s] whom I have chosen”.

There are many people who are blind yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears. They are all around us. We honour saints like Bartholomew – and all those other Christians being martyred today – best by striving to deepen our own faith, to wonder in it, to glory in it and to give thanks for it, that it is not skin-deep, a mantle that we put on or take off, but that our recognition of Jesus as Lord guides and directs every thought and word and deed;

and that we grow in being open to sharing it with those who with eyes and ears open to receiving it – to believe and to preach your word.

And if naming yourself in the Collect doesn’t strengthen you do so, nor remembering that Isaiah tells us Do not be afraid, God has called us by name, that today we are his witnesses, then skip forward to the collect after communion, and carry on praying that this week

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
[filling them] fill us with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Romans 10.5-15
Matthew 14.22-33

‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’

 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

 how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Our gospel story this morning is another one of those times that Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’. Trust him, work with him, believe in him. With him, we can do anything, walk over anything.

I deleted a couple of emails that came round while I was on holiday about the ‘season of invitation’. The ‘season of invitation’ is an expansion of Back to Church Sunday – the weekend in September where churches explicitly encourage people to come along and join them.

When people hesitate to invite, it’s mostly because either they’re scared to ask, for what people might think of being invited; or they’re scared of what people might think if they were invited and they responded and came along.

One of the touchstone questions for a church is often ‘would you invite people to join us?’

Would you invite people to join us? It’s often, usually in fact, that people join a church because they’ve been invited along. And if they’re invited along we should hope that they would be made welcome. I know I come across people who might like to come to church, and I really want to encourage them to, while all the time I’m thinking but they have three small children and will they really be welcomed?

And I want to remember those words of Jesus to the disciples ‘Take heart, do not be afraid’. I want that couple to be able to turn up with three small, maybe a bit noisy children, because it is for Jesus that I invite and encourage, and it is for Jesus that they accept, and it is Jesus – and other disciples – that they come to meet.

I need to remember ‘Take heart, do not be afraid’ when I invite people and hope they come; they need to remember ‘Take heart, do not be afraid’ when they pluck up courage to turn up the first time; we all need to remember ‘Take heart, do not be afraid’ to welcome new faces into our midst join with them in our worship of the Lord of all, share with them the joy in being part of the same wider family.

Back to church Sunday isn’t always a success in numbers of visitors staying, but it is always a success in helping people think about inviting, think about being able to say ‘there’s something on at our church next week, would you like to join us’.

The combination of our readings today are an encouragement and a challenge. They are chicken and egg. In Jesus inviting Peter to step out in faith to draw near to him – literally through uncharted waters – and in St Paul urging us to share the gospel in the first reading from Romans. To share the gospel more widely we need to step out in faith…

The challenge is that this encouragement is not as a mission endeavour, it is as fundamental to our salvation. ‘Never be ashamed (says the Baptism service) to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Actually I think the words in our Baptism service say ‘do not be ashamed’ whereas if you pay close attention you will more usually hear me say ‘never be ashamed’. Why? Because although grammatically ‘do not’ can – does – mean something ongoing, it also feels like it can mean just this once as you make the statement in the baptism itself.

On the other hand, ‘never’ implies that it goes on. It is a confession for today and tomorrow and the day after and the week after and the month after that. Faith is an ongoing thing. It requires belief today and tomorrow and next week and next month. It requires trust today and tomorrow and it requires us to own – confess – that trust. Today and tomorrow and next week and next month and next year.

because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

How often do we confess the faith of Christ crucified? Well, corporately every week, in the creed we shall stand and say together in just a moment. How often do we ponder at home what that actually means? How often do we think about each line of the creed as being our salvation? Not just a line to read out because it’s in bold, but because by confessing it with our mouths we are saved.

Perhaps this morning we might proclaim the faith more robustly than normal; really feel how those phrases sound in our mouths; really know ourselves saved by them. Can we startle ourselves with the intensity or passion of our confession? Maybe the creed is the only weekly time we confess this faith of ours. We just offer it to God. We don’t make an effort to say it to ourselves and to others on a daily or regular basis?

Is that enough for ‘confessing it with our mouths’? What does St Paul say next?

how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Something as amazing as being wholly known, wholly loved, wholly forgiven is not to be kept to oneself. And not everyone knows, understands or believes that. Do not be afraid. Owning something as precious as the way to salvation and eternal life is surely infectious. And this is what we are here to do. To believe with our hearts that we can be justified. To confess Christ as Lord. For ourselves and to others.

If salvation and eternal life are precious to us, how can we withhold them from others? How are others to join us in that wonderful place where Jesus Christ can call us toward him and we can step out regardless of the surety of the ground beneath our feet.

It is to us to bring good news. To be good news to people and to bring good news to people. If that sounds scary, then we must remember Peter on the boat. Take heart. Do not be afraid.

We live today in a culture where not everyone does know the gospel story, the story of the history of Israel, the stories of the prophets, the faithlessness and misery of the people. Not everyone knows the story of God coming to dwell among us to teach us how to live with one another, how to love one another. Not everyone knows the consolation of trusting in Christ who calls us to get out of the boat.

In the storms of life which inevitably surround us, it is often our faith that sustains us. That may be in the support of our families and friends, loving us, as Jesus did, no matter what. It might be in quiet prayer or in being able to be angry with God, knowing that however we choose to express it, he holds us in our pain and is still there when we are empty of tears or of prayers or of anger.

Right now, around the world, there are Christians who believe with all their hearts and are prepared to confess their faith despite this making them targets for atrocities. That is a stepping out into the storm which I cannot even begin to imagine. How their faith can sustain children dying of starvation and of thirst atop a mountain when they were forced to flee their homes, I cannot comprehend. It can hardly feel to be good news to be Christian for many of those Iraqis.

Suddenly ‘Take heart, do not be afraid’ seems small and insignificant if we apply it to working up the courage to tell people we come to church, to invite them to come with us. The passage from Romans echoes hollow – for these people whose believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth has earned them at best displacement, at worst torture and death. They are living – or dying – embodiments of ‘those who lose their lives with save them’. Our prayers today must be that there is comfort amid the storm for those communities.

But it must spur us on too. Our confession of Christ must be able to counter those who say that religion is the root of all evil. 11The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek… This is the truth of the gospel. A truth that we need to be prepared to claim and proclaim. We can start small, none of us is going to change the situation in Christian – or what was Christian – Iraq over night, but that doesn’t prevent us challenging ourselves to be what we can be and do what we can do.

Perhaps that starts with a single step. A single step out over the edge of the boat. Never be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Don’t we owe it to those dying in Iraq to not be afraid and really seek to own our faith, proudly and with integrity? To share it with others, that it may be their comfort too..?

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Today I was back in the country, but not back at work until tomorrow. So today I worshipped elsewhere. I really do think every curacy, or even, dammit, just everyone, should go elsewhere once  in a while. It makes you look at yourselves in a whole new light. Perhaps a good light, seeing things that you do that work, and what it feels like where that doesn’t happen, but perhaps mostly, in a revealing light of ah, yes, hmm…

This isn’t a mystery worship report, it’s thoughts I have when I go elsewhere and compare our practice to other places. It’s more liturgical than by priority, but then again…

  1. Open The Doors. No really, you’d think that was a no-brainer, no? Not everyone has sparkly groovy glass doors into a worship space, or glass doors at beginning and endof a lobby, or even (much rarer) glassed outer doors. So somewhere on the way in, there are doors. And usually, as they’re proper doors, they come in twos. Not two sets, but two halves. *A door* is both halves, otherwise it’s only half a door that people have to peep round, squeeze in/past/through. Open The Doors.

    Ours especially are massive and painted black, but our inner doors get kept shut, or if open, closed as soon as the procession is in and ready and I really really hate that. If you come in late, then you’re embarrassed enough without havine the noise of the door and the attitude of the doorkeeper to deal with. But the first doors you come to should be open. Even in Winter I believe that – if you’re chilly, go and sit further up front, and if you’re doorkeeper, put on a scarf or an extra sweater. But in August, no excuses. Open The Doors.

  2. Welcome nicely. Welcome is a big topic currently – how greeting isn’t necessarily (and perhaps preferably not) the same as sidespersoning. We’re trying to work towards getting our welcomers (greeters) outside the church (see above for gloves – easily removable to shake hands – or an extra sweater).

    However, inside or outside, welcome/greet is not to stand in the half open door and demand, however politely, credentials before stepping back. *insert any number of other articles about welcome here…* Whyever people have turned up, they should be welcome. ‘Yes, I’m on holiday’  doesn’t mean ‘and subtext: don’t hold your breath to see me again’ and so also certainly doesn’t the mean ‘fine, do come in, make yourself at home, but we won’t put any extra effort in since there won’t be a next time’.

    I have tried three fairly major churches in my life near where I lived that I tried and due to the over/under/plain scary welcome I never went back. Massive Risk. This morning, I was quite charmingly welcomed by a gentleman who made a little small talk about where I was from and bid me warmly welcome even as a one-off. Then when I’d chosen a seat and minded my own business for a prayerful moment, another gentleman passing the pew leant across and offered his hand. ‘Welcome. Lovely to have you here. I hope that you’re blessed with us today’ and with a warm smile carried on.

  3. What you are given. Not rocket science, these, are they?! But every time I go somewhere new and see our own practice under relative light, I’m reminded how important these small things are. Today: hymn book, service booklet and single folded news sheet, easily read and navigated. Our place: hymn book, service booklet and minimum two folded and stapled news sheet, rather less readable and navigable, if I’m honest, than the one I saw today and far less so than the ones I am rather guiltily coveting of St Mary the Virgin, Fawdon.

    My home village church has the welcome and friendly text printed inside the service booklet as well as on the news sheet, just in case you abandon the latter part-way.

    The last time I wandered into a different church on a day off I was given nothing. Nothing to play with while I waited, nothing to tell me anything about the community I was joining, nothing to make black and white that I was welcome to communion or to coffee (on that occasion I never found the coffee, and noone came to talk to me, so I left…), nothing to tell me what the day’s readings were, had I wanted to ponder them/look them up in that time before the service began, nothing to tell me of people or situations needing or seeking intercession, nothing to give me any clue as to what this community is or does beyond that hour that day.

    It is totally true that there is no need for a hymn book if the words are on screen, as might be the service itself, and I am an environmental imp, but I can’t get beyond that there is a lot of other stuff missed out on if you don’t do it all or do it badly.

  4. Music. Hymns. We have an organ and an organist. He’s not An Organist, and he plays as well as he can, and that’s pretty good. But very often these rare amazing Not Organists – and, in my experience elsewhere, occasionally some Organists too – do play a massive hulking great beast of a thing which was not at all not made for quick playing (I give you Widor or any Bach toccata), but sometimes I wonder if it has got into first gear by lunchtime.

    There are more great hymns massacred by singing too slowly than there are great hymns ignored due to incumbents’ theology/taste. As a musician, when I’m in practise my lung capacity is higher than many, but if I’m fading fast and having to pace back within a line to wait for the organist to catch up, then it’s just not a good feel.

    This does not mean chucking out the organ in favour of a worship band is the obvious solution. But it’s easy to forget when you’re up front nearest the choir and your colleagues who unselfconsciously sing out, that the experience half way down the nave is often something very different…

    Sung settings. I photocopied some small versions of the mass setting we use, so that they could be available if people wished. Yes, I know not everyone reads music. Yes, I know that’s another thing to pick up. Yes, I know that if you come often enough you’ll learn it (apparently; unconvinced, myself). Yes, I still think they should be available. The ones I did have been disappeared in a very latin american manner :(

    If you have visitors who can read music, then they’ll help the congregation round them be more confident at it. If you have visitors who don’t really read they’ll at least be able to see if it goes up or down a bit/a lot. And hey, even some of the regulars might  get the idea.

    Music during communion. One of the things I really miss about leading worship is how little I get to sing now. Often I could hardly tell you what our two communion hymns are. Sadly I can’t recall any church I’ve been to where the singing of (how apt, I managed sinning there, first attempt…) communion hymns has been done successfully, reverently, well, pickaword by a congregation on the move.

    Perhaps gentle organning would be better? Perhaps. There’s a whole potential raft of feelings about the emotionality of the Lord’s Table, but perhaps just reflective, maybe even uplifting, ideally not depressing or heavy. Perhaps a perfect time for a bit of cd of something that wouldn’t otherwise be able to be done/sung/played? Time for people to sit by faith, with thanksgiving with.

  5. Readings. One of the [many] wonderful moments about the Methodist Connexion service in Birmingham last month was the lively  ( alive – if lively sounds too flippant for you ) style of the readings. The long oral tradition of  the scriptures before they were scribed is often lost by  formal reading. Reading is performance. It’s great when it is; when it’s not, people may as well just read it from the notice sheet, I reckon…

  6. Intercessions. Brief, powerful, to the point. Eminently prayable. Excellent when they are. Good voice also really key here. More so even than in the readings?

  7. Offerings. I had two really powerful conversations with a young mum when I was in Salford, who told me that if the children (3) were aggravating and uncooperative and she was going to be late, then she abandoned coming, knowing the growling looks she would receive, not the gracious gratitude that she bothered to get a handful of under 10s up, dressed, across town and into church at all. (That belongs further up, see ‘Welcome Nicely’.)

    The other conversation I had with her was listening to her saying that she didn’t come when she had literally nothing left that week to put in the collection because people noticed if she waved away the plate/took it and passed it straight on etc. She was so ashamed that it was obvious that she just didn’t bother.

    Yes, I know, giving is a cheerful part of our faith, but in an essay I wrote about that church community I did a lot of learning about shame, a couple of years before it became a much bigger issue with foodbanks. It’s raw and it’s real and it’s powerful. And Jesus took it away, not piled it on.

    We have plates too, but I really do prefer – and long for, for exactly this reason – the old velvet bag which really doesn’t show how much if at all you let out of your hand in it. I suppose that plates are in and bags are out because some people put empty hands in and took full hands out? Less likely to happen if we all sit together , or, radical, grow, hm?

  8. Leaving. Liturgical ergonomics. We have this thing about ‘those who turn left’ – and leave, whilst coffee and fellowship is in the hall to the right. We vary where we stand to greet the congregation as they leave, but I can’t honestly say there’s a good place which successfully encourages people to the hall. However, the president is located in a way that one then chooses to stay or not to stay.

    Today, noone told me at the beginning that there was coffee afterwards, but someone as we left our pews said do stay for coffee. Thank you, I’d like that, I replied (thinking I probably won’t, but it’s important to test these things).

    And I did go for coffee, mulling over whether the people who went for coffee just didn’t bother greeting the vicar, because I couldn’t find a way back to coffee which was straight on right at the back of the church, whereas the natural progression of greeting with clergy/reader gently led to the left, and out of the door. Somewhat peculiarly, I found myself practically outside with no idea how to get back, and not a cycle of people showing how this manoeuvre was to be done.

    Given that I was, naturally, a couple of decades more limber than most, I eventually solved this by clambering carefully over the back of the font steps behind the reader. Most odd. Flow should definitely lead to an encouragement to partake of fellowship, no? And only half at best of the congregation had perfected the alternative manouevre, because there seemed to be a lot that had just sailed out of the door.

  9. Coffee. (you knew this was where it was going to end, didn’t you?) You know me, I prefer it to be recognisably so. It is true that on occasion I used to attempt milk and several sugars in the ‘coffee‘ served at mum’s church in order to hope it got to a passable point. Sometimes it was grinandbearable, sometimes not. Yes, it’s possible I (and others) didn’t really do any favours to the little bush trying to grow just outside the door…

    But if it’s just ‘coffee’ I drink it black. I’d prefer to have the choice, to be honest. I know there’s a whole etteaquette about milk in the cup before or after the tea, but not before the ‘coffee’ in ‘coffee’?? A wise seven year-old later would remind me that there’s ‘squirty’ and there’s ‘cream’. And there’s ‘instant’ and there’s coffee *sigh*

    #savingthechurchofenglandonecoffeemachineatatime #enoughsaid

    And while I’m on it, something in me wants to say cheap biscuits are totally fine, because lots of people are going home to a cooked lunch (never me, usually the after service biscuits are my lunch). And that if I have masses of cake, I’d like or rather prefer to take it and hand it out to the friends at homeless outreach. But there’s something gloriously more abundant about cake or homemade stuff eg chocolate-covered flapjack.

    Gloriously more well, Christ-like. Especially on a day like today, where the preacher reminded us that being loved and fed sends us out reeling from that glad abundance to carry it through and into the world. So maybe, much as I like a Nice biscuit myself, a decent cake rota to go with decent coffee, and you might just see some miracles…..

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Matthew 13.1-9,18-23

This last week I’ve mostly been at the clergy summer gathering – it was a little different to usual. Rather than a theme and different presentations within that, this year it was delivered by a team of external people, part of a course called leading your church in to growth.

This is kind of the follow up to the preparing the ground for growth sessions that we went to last summer. They told us that where vicars had been on this course and taken home and put in to practice ideas from it they were beginning to see some growth.

Growth is a funny word. It can be taken to mean and can be meant as one or more of a range of things. We’ve told you before that we often pray in chapel in the mornings for growth, in faith and hope and love, in generosity and in numbers.

Growth doesn’t just mean bums on seats or pews. It doesn’t just mean a healthier-looking bank balance. It is also about individual and corporate discipleship, seeking and achieving a closer walk with God, a deeper relationship with our saviour Jesus Christ. It is also about how we mature as a family, how we extend a warm and unconditional welcome to those who would like to join the family.

Growth is about us all growing, living, learning, learning more about ourselves, about each other and about God, and about all of those in the light of the other. It might be a bit scary, but it is in the direction of God. It is our natural trajectory – or it should be. Growth should be heard as a positive word.

But it isn’t always received as a positive thing. Growth can – perhaps often does – mean change. Change is often perceived to be negative. But growth – our natural trajectory toward God, individually and collectively, yes, probably means change.

Perhaps small subtle things, sometimes perhaps bigger or more substantial things. Sometimes we need to lay things aside to rejuvenate – caterpillars, for example. Sometimes it takes something to die in order to be resurrected – that is indeed at the heart of our Christian faith, is it not? It’s the theme of the readings I heard on Thursday, as I attended the funeral of a friend killed in a car crash – that seeds must die to enable growth. Our perishable bodies are laid aside in death for us to put on the imperishable clothing of eternal life. So yes, sometimes growth, renewal means the end of some things and the enabling thereby of the growth of something new.

At the close of the conference there was a sense that growth (in all the senses we pray for it) is acheivable and within our reach as parishes, if we want it to be. And that growth can come, in a small scale at least, from easily-achieved small changes. Changes we shouldn’t be frightened of or object to.

Some colleagues however, were a little sceptical about the effort required of us all to grow. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ said the speaker, but the first stone was certainly laid. The vineyard didn’t flourish in a day, but the first seeds were definitely sown…

As with preparing the ground for growth, which after all, was called preparing the ground for growth – the emphasis of LyCig was about making it a priority to sow some seeds, so it made me smile to see that this week’s lectionary reading was the parable of the sower.

Reading the parable again made me think about the sowing of the fields done at the summer gathering, how the seeds sown by the course leaders seemed to have been received, and I thought I would share some of those thoughts with you this morning.

Firstly, there were the people who went to the clergy gathering because they go to the clergy gathering, to gather with fellow clergy, not necessarily to pay attention to particular topics which don’t really interest them. I say this with the utmost respect for my fellows, because I’ve seen it here and I’ve seen it very often in my old life, and I think there’s a place for turning up and hanging out with friends without necessarily worrying about having to concentrate on something else – though in this case I think that would be a loss. These were the people who didn’t get it, or didn’t want to, the places where the seed fell on the path and was instantly gobbled up by the birds.

It benefitted the birds, and perhaps the gathering benefits the parishes of those clergy who come back a little renewed from a few days away, but the message of the growth imperative was lost.

Secondly, there were those who received the word and were very interested, who go away really enthusiastically to set up or set in motion quite a few of the ideas they’ve heard about. These colleagues could really see the benefits to the parish and could believe that it’s all such common sense that pretty instant results should be easily achievable.

Unfortunately for these keen folks, over-keen folks, they’re actually really quite busy when they get back into the parish and they struggle to keep the necessary momentum to implement the change and growth when day-to-day things inevitably take over. Here the seed fell onto shallow soil among the rocks, sprung up but could not be sustained and withered.

Thirdly, there were those who could see the potential and were encouraged to go home and try some things, but those things will not be received with enthusiasm my their churches, by congregations or committees who do not want to change at all or even, seemingly, to grow.

Problems or apathy contribute to choking ideas and hope in these places and, like thorns, prevent growth in an unattractive and painful way. To spend what time and effort and resource is available just on cutting away the weeds hinders healthy or effective growth.

Finally, there were the colleagues who went away inspired, the seeds sown by the LyCiG team taking good root and who will be received with joy on their return, by communities with excitement and expectation, communities who reflect on who they are and how they could be the body of Christ to, and share the gospel truth and freedom with, more people.

These are the communities which hear the word and understand it, the communities who will bear fruit and yield, perhaps thirty, perhaps sixty, perhaps a hundredfold.

Would we like to be that last kind of community? (That is, to a greater rather than lesser extent, a hypothetical question – to survive we must grow, else we shall, naturally, over time, die. Let anyone with ears, listen). So let’s perhaps assume we would.

Church growth research last year revealed that the churches which are intentional about growth, about developing the body of Christ in all its richness and diversity, in its depth and its understanding; these are the churches which flourish and which grow.

The LyCiG team at the clergy conference told us similarly. So rather than just the Vicar and me praying for growth, in hope and faith and love, in generosity and in numbers, could we pray today and regularly to be one of those last communities?

One of those communities where the seeds fall on fertile ground. Where inspiration and ideas meet prayer and prepared ground, and grow; where this means that the community, our community, God’s kingdom flourishes.

Let us pray:

God of Mission,
who alone brings growth to your Church,
send your Holy Spirit to give
vision to our planning,
wisdom to our actions,
and power to our witness.
Help our church to grow in numbers,
in spiritual commitment to you,
and in service to our local community,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen

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Rather, the celebration was anything but random, but the thoughts are (as usual)

It’s been a hectic couple of weekends. These lovely guys:

cell group
are my cell group. Who I don’t get to see anywhere near enough, nor their partners.

This last two weekends I’ve done mad dashes around the country to be at Robin’s Church of England priesting, and at the national Methodist Conference to see Tom be received into full connexion and ordained presbyter (we’re ecumenical, we are). It’s been a whirl. Some things to remember before I lose them…mostly from yesterday, since it was further from my own experience/usual worship.

Priestings are solemn and pomp-ous, full of you cannot do this in your own strength (which well we know). I was priested among 10, in a cathedral full of gold and red and finery (not a problem, my own sending church, so it was special for me), whilst Robin was amongst his congregation with guests, in his curacy church. This was special to be present, as a curiosity to observe a different church (which we don’t get to do nearly enough/at all) and the way it approaches our common liturgy; as a priest joining in with the laying on of hands in the making of a new priest, close enough to actually do so, rather than the superman move; as the only one of our cell who could actually make it, and thus carrying all our prayers into that space for Robin.

But yesterday, yesterday was different. Yesterday Andy and I met up in Birmingham, to be there for Tom (feeling vaguely guilty about not being at Robin’s first celebration of mass). It is true to say I never fully understood until yesterday – or this weekend, delighting in seeing the updates and photos of all those beginning new ministries who I know or trained with, delighting in the hope that there is for the church with so many new priests and deacons – but especially yesterday, what it means to recognise the anniversary of your own priesting. Given that Tom was at mine and I was there yesterday, I like that we will always share that.

I suppose over the day there were moments it was hard to separate the two. I had finished writing a piece for our parish mag on the experience of being at St Paul’s, which I suspect will long if not always mark my ministry, so I went with heart full. I am more sorry than ever that my vicar said ‘It’s not about you’ and my first mass was absolutely ordinary, save Tom preaching and having some say in the hymns. I didn’t argue because, technically, that’s true. But actually, I grieved for it not being about me, just a little bit. I was reminded of that over these last weeks as those to be priested this year have agonised over service sheets and readings and special music. I was reminded when I brought away copies of Robin’s service booklet to send to the others, that I have nothing to keep other than the memories to remind me of that incredible privilege. I was reminded as Andy made mental note of all the things he might like to ask about for his.

I’m in a place of low confidence and low energy right now, so what a joy to spend yesterday in celebration. It was the best way perhaps I will ever spend an anniversary of my priesting, and I was hugely conscious of both the commonalities (two years at Westcott in the Federation gave me that) and the differences (though I imagine your average tiny congregation in chapels up and down the country would be similarly envious). So in no particular order, some of the awesomeness of yesterday:

worshiping in a conference venue (no cross, noted Andy) slightly strange, but comfortable, well-lit, good sound system, good screens, access to facilities. It was, in fact, especially at this BbWorld time of year exceedingly peculiar for me in a bit of a blurred-lives moment – entirely at home in massive conference venues but not usually worshiping in them, or, not in quite the same way!

singing in a mass congregation – singing modern hymns and traditional hymns to a band with a beat, no Jesus is my boyfriend, proving there is a happy medium – mass enough that well known songs can lose the band for a verse and ring out a capella but a capella on speed

liturgical dance. yes, really. i was so captivated by the mass dirty dancing shoulder lift moment I couldn’t take a photo fast enough, but the troupe of young people who accompanied music during the offering was really moving and beautifully choreographed.

the Lord’s Prayer – to an easily sung tune, though not one I’m too familar with, and in harmony. again, pretty much unaccompanied and ringing out around a hall for 1000. stunning.

the photos of each ordinand coming up on screen with their name and location, so everyone could feel they were being introduced.

the incredible moment at the distribution of communion, where each new presbyter, rather than assisting, as the CofE do, gathered in a small semi-circle of their family and we all received together. really, really powerful.

catching up even briefly with some old friends and faces from the Cambridge Federation

the choice of hymns tied us together in an odd way for me – Tom’s service included both Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, traditional in Anglican ordinations, and I, the Lord of Sea and Sky, which Exeter Cathedral put in Andy’s deaconing service. It was the latter that reduced me finally to tears singing it on the exit from St Paul’s, and I kind of figured it might do the same yesterday. I had to listen to the first verse rather than sing, but it was a fitting end to an awesome day.

I love my tradition and I love my church. But, boy, it is glorious to worship in a big, enthusiastic, joyful crowd. I already know how it’s more attractive to many than turning up to a cold, formal Anglican church. But I had forgotten how great it is to have the opportunity to worship like that. Worth every single second of the travelling. (Frighteningly, I know US friends take that kind of round trip just to attend church each week…)

 

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