I love the founding story of our church – a community that came into being thanks to the vision of Bishop Neville Gorton who longed for the residents moving onto the new Allesley Park estate to have an opportunity to meet with the risen Lord Jesus – and also to the people of Allesley Parish whose commitment and willingness to, in the words of Rector A. W. Moyle, “think and pray and give to the point of sacrifice” enabled this vision to be realised. When the church building was consecrated in 1960, the Bishop of Coventry declared, “This is a remarkable and extremely hopeful beginning – you are going to build a family of fighters like Neville Gorton.”
This story of vision and commitment challenges and encourages me. Lots has changed in the past nearly 60 years, but the mission remains the same - we are still called to build God’s kingdom here, embodying the same level of commitment and sacrifice. As is expressed in our vision statement, we are called to be a growing family that seeks to build God’s kingdom in Allesley Park and Whoberley by “Living and loving as God’s family”, motivated by the core belief that God’s family is for everyone. Absolutely everyone in this parish should have the opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, to experience God’s life-changing love for themselves, and they’ll do this principally through you and me, as we live the way Jesus would live, love the way Jesus would love, go where Jesus would go. Someone once said that the local church is the hope for the world. That’s you and me. St Christopher’s Church is the hope for the world – or our part of it, at least.
St Paul’s words about the Lord’s Supper, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26) are a reminder that we’re not only part of God’s story in Allesley Park and Whoberley, but we’re also part of God’s story that’s been unfolding for over 3,000 years. The stories of God’s dealings with people like Abraham and Moses, Ruth, David, and Jesus’ disciples are so powerful, because they have become our story too. The story of that first Easter we recalled just a fortnight ago, when Mary Magdalene, the first apostle went back to the disciples and declared, “I have seen the Lord!” – this is our story too. There is an unbroken chain of people who have passed on that message of resurrection hope from those first disciples all the way through the centuries to us today. My hope and dream is that one day in heaven we would meet people we’d never met before who had come to a saving faith in Jesus because we played our own part in that unbroken chain of faith. As an example of what impact we could have … we’ve probably never heard of Edward Kimball. He was a humble Sunday School teacher who took seriously Christ’s commission to be a witness in his world. His links in the chain go all the way to Billy Graham. We’re not too likely to ever become a Billy Sunday or a Billy Graham, but every single one of us can be an “Edward Kimball” witness for Christ – no matter how old or young we are.
Of course, church communities play a vital part in forming part of this chain of faith. I’m sure if you brought together the number of people who have come to faith or whose faith has been significantly strengthened through their connection with the church community here, they would fill this building many times. It’d be wonderful to see that, wouldn’t it? But we need to be a church community that’s willing to change and adapt to be fresh so that we can be a faithful witness to the next generation and even the generation after that, so there is a vibrant witness here in this community in 50, 100 years time. This is one of the reasons for us making the transition to one morning service in the summer. We have discerned that the best way of living out our vision, of embodying what it means to live and love as God’s family, is to unite as one worshipping community once again, but in a fresh way, taking the best of the old and the new, to give our worshipping life on a Sunday morning a clear identity. This means, vitally, that we can be truly multi-generational as a church family – every one of us, whether we’re eight days or eighty-eight years old – has value and a part to play as we gather together, whether for our communal worship on Sundays or precious times of fellowship after services, in meals together, or other social occasions. This was symbolised on Easter morning when both Isabelle (aged 6) and Barbara (aged slightly more) took part in the reading. We want to encourage a greater number of younger people to take part in our gathered times of worship, whether that’s through music, drama, dance, bible readings, prayers or behind the scenes.
Some might say that they wished we had never moved to two separate morning services four years ago. All I will say is that we needed to give both the traditional and more contemporary expressions of worship the best opportunity to flourish. My hope was that both congregations would grow, but that’s not the way it worked out. Perhaps the four-year period – which may have felt like a desert experience to some – like the forty years in the wilderness for the Israelites – gave us time to consider what we value as being most important. And now the PCC has discerned that we need true unity in our main Sunday gathering, and this is best embodied by becoming one congregation. We will be exploring ways that more traditional expressions of worship can flourish at other times, including on Sunday evenings and building on the midweek communion service. Please pray for all those involved in leading our services as we make this transition – for musicians, those who lead prayers, preachers, and readers among others – and also consider whether you’d be able to join those involved if you haven’t already.
I’m tremendously excited about what God has in store for us as we move into this new season, but I believe above all we will see St Paul’s vision being realised – of the church here being joined together in Christ so that that we grow and become “a place where God lives through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22). We had a foretaste of this as we’ve worshipped together over the past month, and especially during the church weekend. I valued so much of our time together – not only the teaching from Graham Archer, precious fellowship and worship together, and also hearing from each other about the ways that God has been at work in our lives as individuals and as a community. And we mustn’t forget the barn dance – I hadn’t laughed so much in a long time! It was a weekend that, along with so much else in our church’s life, couldn’t have happened without the support and hard work of so many within the church community. Thank you to you all.
There is something distinctive and wonderful about church communities – where all are welcome regardless of age. Not all churches have families, not all churches have older people as part of them. We have both. We should celebrate and make the most of this. There’s an old saying – it takes a whole village to raise a child. This is the case for church communities. All have a part to play in bringing up children in the faith. As a dad I have seen this first-hand as I’ve witnessed my children being loved by the congregation here – and that love will probably have an eternal impact, helping them stay in the family of faith hopefully for the rest of their lives. I personally love the fact that on Tuesdays we have a thriving mums and toddler group – Christopher Robin – again supported by volunteers from our church community. and the following day a vibrant worshipping community meets weekly for Coffee, Cake and Communion. These are both great signs of life. It’s particularly exciting that we’re currently running an Alpha course for those we’ve made connections with through Christopher Robin.
We’re moving into a new season with our Sunday worship, but also with our children and youth work. Having Marvin and Amy Vogel with us as children’s and family coordinators was a tremendous blessing. They expanded our vision of what’s possible, reviving our Sunday evening youth group so that we have a good number of young people along each week, bringing a sense of fun to all-age services, signing off with a Christmas special that’ll be hard to follow and is sure to live long in the memory. Not only that, but they organised a trip of our young people to Soul Survivor, who then led an incredibly inspiring service that I found profoundly moving. We would have loved for them to stay with us for longer, but their pull to mission and ministry in Zimbabwe was one they could not ignore. Already in the three months they’ve been at Golden Harvest they’ve made fantastic progress in building facilities to hold camps for street children and hosted a camp for 40 young people from Fairfield's Children’s home, which was a great success. There are more planned. They are already having an extraordinary impact in such a little time.
We are looking to build on the legacy that Marvin and Amy have left us. We have a team of volunteers who are ensuring that the children’s and youth work can continue on Sunday mornings and evenings, for which I’m profoundly grateful. Liz March is doing a great job of coordinating the Sunday morning children’s work, and Pam Stote is coordinating a team who have led some fantastic all age services. In the background Heather Beasley has worked as our Parish Safeguarding Officer tirelessly to ensure we comply with the diocesan regulations and keep our children as safe as we can. This is no mean feat, and I feel it’s appropriate to give her a special thanks for her hard and conscientious work.
Because we want the children’s and youth work to thrive, not just survive, we are planning to make two key appointments in September –
1) A youth worker who will oversee the Sunday evening youth work
2) An intern, recruited by Pais, who will work with us supporting our children and youth work on Sunday mornings and evenings, and form part of a team that’ll serve in schools in Allesley Park and across Coventry.
These are such important appointments because we know that for our church to thrive in the future, we need to make disciples of children today. The statistics are stark – 85% of people come to faith as children and yet, there are so few children who attend churches today. These are God’s children, and they don’t even know this. We must be motivated to reach the lost, demonstrate that we truly believe God’s family is for everyone. I’m so excited about initiatives such as the Message Trust’s Higher Tour, a schools’ mission across the West Midlands next year, which could be so important. In Manchester last year, 2,000 young people came to faith in Christ. Just imagine what impact it would make to our schools, communities and churches if hundreds of young people came to faith here in Coventry. Please pray for the preparations for the tour, in which the local church, including our church. We should expect children who live in Allesley Park and Whoberley to come to a living faith in Jesus Christ, and as a church we should be ready to help them and their families become lifelong disciples.
Of course, we are not concerned solely about young people, but we long to reach out with everyone of all ages in the local community. This is why, alongside the events we hold around Christmas and Easter, the Queen’s Birthday Celebrations, Christmas Tree festival, church barbecue, picnics, and our monthly Church Fellowship have been so important. It’s also why over the next year we are considering the way we run our small groups to build on the strong foundations we have, but also enable this ministry to grow and reach more people. This is also why one of the priorities of the PCC over the coming year will be to consider how we can realise our dreams for the redevolpment of the building in order to help it be the best possible blessing for our community. In 2020 we will celebrate 60 years since the building was consecrated. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the refurbishment were completed by then!
I want to close by thanking you all for your continued support over the past year, but especially the PCC and particularly Pauline Blunt and Stuart Hart who have both been excellent churchwardens. I’m grateful that though Stuart is standing down this year, he has expressed his willingness to continue to serve as an assistant warden and continue to do the vital jobs in the background that help keep this church building running. Garry and Jo Cooke, who organised the redecoration of the hall and help keep it clean and tidy week by week, and Brian Bailey among others have also had a vital role to play. It’s been fantastic to share in ministry with Pam Stote and John Langlands, and I’m excited about working with the freshly appointed Leadership Team. I’m especially grateful for the way you all took on extra work while I was on sabbatical last year. It was a profound blessing to know that I was leaving the church community in good hands. Ultimately, I know, we are in the hands of our wonderful and gracious God, who has plans to prosper and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). The best is yet to come.