This is the point in the year when I am given the opportunity to reflect over the past year and also to look forward to where God may be leading us in future.
In many ways it’s been a challenging year. We’ve suffered significant losses within our church community – saying goodbye to John Clarke just over 12 months ago, and Trevor Veasey and Pete Beasley at the beginning of this year – has been pretty tough. And I know that others within the church community have suffered the loss of parents or siblings. So it’s been hard. Within a tight knit community like ours, these sorts of losses are hard to bear. A number of our church community have become housebound which means they’re unable to attend church as they used to. We’ve also had to say goodbye to Lynnette. While we are delighted for her at this new dawn for her ministry at St Alban’s, it’s been hard to say farewell to someone who’s been such a significant part of our church family for many years. We continue to pray with her and for her that she would flourish and that God would continue to work through her to enable that church community to flourish too.
As I’ve already mentioned we’ve begun the process of discerning our strengths and weakness as a church community. Thanks to those who took time out to complete the church survey – I think it will prove to be a really helpful process for us as a church community. The overall picture is really encouraging – there’s lots to celebrate and be positive about in our life together. The results are in, and from the responses of those who completed the strengths of our community have been shown to be
1) gifts based ministry – in other words, as a community, we’re strong on using our God-given gifts
2) empowering leadership – we have leaders who empower other leaders to take up roles and responsibilities within the life of our church community
These should be celebrated and we can build on these strengths.
The two areas that we need to work on the most are in the areas of
1) Needs-oriented outreach – in other words, we’re not focused as much as we could be in meeting the needs of the community, although I must say that my reflection from having known the community over the past 18 months or so, we have a genuine desire to reach out – the problem has been that we don’t really know how we can do that. My prayer is that with the development of the Foodbank distribution centre based at Bethesda some of this will be addressed.
2) Loving relationships – from the survey responses, this came out as the least developed area of our church’s life. While there are strong relationships within our church community, and we are clearly a community that looks after each other, where we seem to be weaker in this area is more atmosphere of the church community – those who completed the questionnaire felt there wasn’t enough joy and laughter in the church, and that we’re not full of praise and compliments for each other, and also that some within the church community hold bitterness towards others.
This may surprise you, but I must reiterate that these results have come from the questionnaire that members of our church community have completed. It could be that there has been a lack of joy and laughter due to the season we’ve been in as a church, as we’ve had to deal with lots of loss, grief and change, but it could be there’s something else going on, something else we need to deal with.
The vision team will be meeting this week to begin putting together an action plan to help us focus on building up the church in this area of loving relationships. The aim is to come up with two or three actions over the next year. I can’t pre-empt what these actions will be, but I think the main thing is that we’re going to try and create opportunities to have lots of fun together as a whole church community – and you know what, I can’t wait!
I’m happy to take any questions on these or any other areas of our church life, but before I do, I want to speak about where we are currently and where God might be leading us in the areas of our vision statement – worshipping God, making new disciples, transforming communities.
This has been our main focus over the past 12 months as we’ve been consolidating the changes that were made with the services. Thanks to all those who completed the congregation questionnaire – it was really helpful. I’m not going to go into it in detail – these are covered in the hand out that’s still available for you to pick up and look at - but the overall impression is that people seem happy with the services themselves, but there has been a sense of loss of fellowship, due to having two congregations instead of one – which means the church is more empty. People also miss the sense of fellowship because their friends go to a different service. Having looked at the information of the survey, it struck me that there were two main options available going forward – going back to a 10am service, but having a contemporary style of service each week, rather than alternating styles of worship, because an alternating style of worship hinders growth. We need to have consistency of styles every Sunday – we need contemporary worship each Sunday, because we have lots of families and need to build for the future. A key disadvantage with this would be that as a significant minority who prefer traditional worship wouldn’t have their needs being met in our main service.
An alternative time in the week would need to be found. Would this be fair? The other would be to carry on with two morning services at 9:15 and 11am, but making the following alterations …
1) 1 morning service – 5th Sundays, school holidays, etc., which will mean an average of 22 Sundays in the year when we worship together as a whole church community. We’ll have more occasions like the Mother’s Day celebration we shared in last week.
2) Joint fellowship time between services at 10:30 – notices, announcements, etc. So, from 27 April, the 11am service will become a 10:30 service, except it’ll begin with “Family time” and the service itself will begin at around 11. It’ll also mean that this service will finish by about 12:15 and people can head home for lunch!
When the PCC met there was an acknowledgement that this is a really tough decision. There is no way of pleasing everyone. We had to try and make a decision that’d be best long term for St Christopher’s. After a long conversation there was a clear and decisive vote to keep with the current pattern with those conditions already set out. It was felt that we have made this decision now, and as a whole church community we need to move on from this issue. Of course, the services continue be works in progress, and we will endeavour to work on enabling each of us to flourish in our worship of God together.
Making new disciples
¬ Alpha – we’ve held two Alpha courses for adults and one for youth over the past year, with 14 adults and 11 young people completing the course. In September 14 members of our church community were confirmed, which is wonderful and so exciting. It’s been fantastic to witness the growth in faith of these people.
¬ We’re now running a fortnightly youth group and we’re hoping that one new housegroup will form from Alpha.
¬ Sunday teaching – Of course, we’re all disciples, which is why the teaching has been focused on Jesus in the Gospel of Mark since September – I hope it’s been helpful to re-lay the foundations of our faith, reminding ourselves of why we worship Jesus and why we’re called to share his love. After Easter the teaching will move to focus on how the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to change the world, and then from September we will begin to look at the question of what does it mean to say we belong to Jesus, and what does it mean to follow him?
¬ Parish weekend – I’m tremendously excited that from 7-9 November Adrian and Bridget Plass will be leading our teaching. The theme of the weekend will be “Follow me” – journeying with Jesus – and it will be exploring what it means to be Jesus’ disciples. Make sure you save that date for what should be a wonderful weekend.
The area of needs-oriented outreach is, as we’ve already discerned, an area for development, but we do have some things to celebrate in this area …
¬ Hub Cafe – Is a wonderful ministry for the community, and I know people value the company as well as the food. Thanks to all those who make it possible, who give up their time week in and week out. They could, of course, do with more volunteers, so we’d appreciate it if anyone were able to offer assistance.
Chat to Brian or Rosemary if you are able to help. We’ve also moved our midweek communion to 11:15 on Wednesdays to enable people from the hub to join us in worship. Hopefully in time this will build.
¬ Christopher Robin – has grown from strength to strength – church hall is full almost every Tuesday, which is fantastic – thanks to Liz, Maria, Laura, Katy and Roy for your hard work making it happen.
¬ Messy Church – is still in its fledgling stages, but we’re encouraged to see that a few families have begun to attend who don’t normally attend church.
Please do read the information you received with your AGM papers to read more about it, or see the post about Messy Church on this website.
¬ Church-run community events – Christmas fair, fashion shows, heart of England co-operative orchestra, Big Promise – 28 couples celebrating marriage (see earlier post).
¬ Foodbank – it was wonderful to welcome Gavin Kibble from Coventry Foodbank to join us for our Big Brunch in September. It’s also so wonderful to see the donations box in church always full. I’m tremendously excited to tell you that we had a fantastic meeting a couple of weeks ago and 20 people came together to say that they were willing to be involved in setting up a new Foodbank distribution centre as a joint project between Bethesda and St Christopher’s that will be based at Bethesda – it’s hoped that we will begin this project in May – it’s not too late to get involved – we have training on Friday 9th May from 12:30-3pm for anyone interested.
As you can see there’s so much going on – so much to celebrate and give thanks for. God is at work in this community. He is at work in this church. Easter reminds us that there is resurrection hope and new life and new beginnings. So, let’s commit ourselves afresh to the building of his kingdom here in this place, holding firm to his promises.