Monday, April 28, 2008

Parish AGM talk 2008

1 Peter 2:4-12

This is the year that we celebrate 150 years of worship and witness at St Peter’s.

So far we have had the new year’s eve party, the service of dedication, and the LIFE exhibition. There are still many events to look forward to: the flower festival, Clive Paine’s talk on the history of St Peter’s, the history booklet, the Andy Flannagan concert, the actual anniversary weekend and the pantomime.

But as part of those celebrations, and recognising the planting of St Peter’s was part of the mission of St Mary’s all those years ago, this is also a year that we are focussing on mission.

Mission is the atmosphere of the church. It is our purpose and our life blood. And whether mission is happening through people sharing the good news with visitors to our churches or the Hyndman centre or with friends and colleagues, or whether it is happening through people in our groups reaching out to others, or whether it happens in the big set pieces when we proclaim Christ – my hope is that this year we will drink deep of the call to ‘Go and make disciples’.

Our reading from 1 Peter is very much about this: We have been chosen ‘to declare the praises of God who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (v9b).

And we do that when we sing God’s praises, when we declare to one another how good God is and when we speak to others of our wonderful God.

And evangelism can be and should be so natural. I hope that those who have done the Lost for Words course have discovered that. And our verse for the year, which comes from 1 Peter 3:15 makes that so clear. [1 Peter 3:15]
We’re just telling people

  • why as a community when 19 people have died in the past year we do not despair;
  • why when we have so many people suffering with particularly vicious forms of cancer we do not give up;
  • why when others are anxious about credit crunches or seeking to get more money we’re talking about increasing giving;
  • why when others are hung up with either denying the existence of sin or trying to cope with the guilt they are told they shouldn’t have – we have nothing to hide, nothing to prove: because we know that God knows us and still has forgiven us;

why when people despair about the state of the world today, we know that God is still in control.

And it is nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with our awesome God.

And it is this God who

1. has brought us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

It doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It simply means that we are living in a new light.

I quoted Eugene Peterson this morning who said, “The Christian life is going to God. In going to God, Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same government, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God.”

2. has made us a people: “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (v9)

They are all references to people together. God did not make us to be little individuals in a me-centred universe. He made us to be a people. God’s purpose for creation is the church, the people of God.

Jesus prays that we might be one, just as he is in the Father and the Father is in him.
It doesn’t mean that we have to always meet together and learn together. We are different. We come from different backgrounds, have different interests, different musical preferences, different likes and dislikes.

The fact that we have different congregations that appeal to different people is OK. It is actually what has always happened, but maybe we haven’t been so honest about it.

But it is only OK – so long as we recognise that our particular congregation is provisional and periphery. It is not what is at the centre of it all, and one day it will be blown away.

The one who unites us is the cornerstone, the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. He is the one on whom we build. He is the one who chose us to be his people; he is the one who made us a royal priesthood [combining both the royal role and the priestly role of the Old Testament]; he is the one to whom we belong.

That is why, even though we worship at different places in different times, we need to support each other, to encourage each other, to build each other up.

There are two areas that I wish to focus on how this can be worked out.

1. finance. At my second AGM I compared the giving of St Peter’s and St Mary’s. A number of our older and wiser members warned me that that was not wise. They are right. If we are to financially live the idea of being a royal priesthood and a holy nation, if we are to financially live supporting and building each other up, then we need to see our giving as being to the Church as a whole – not just to part of it: the congregation or the parish or the diocese. Yes, as a parish we do need to see giving increase 60% by 2010 if we are to have two clergy posts – but if our giving does increase by that amount then it means that we can also help to support the wider church.

2. prayer. I do wish to commend to you the parish prayer meeting. It is the opportunity to come together, once a month, to pray for each other, and to pray for the particular mission focus for that month. And I would encourage parish office holders, if you are not doing anything on that Wednesday evening, to join us as we pray. Don’t worry if you think that it will not be your ‘style’. We simply meet, have some input and then pray together.

Of course there are many things that are best done on a congregational level, on a parish level and on a regional level. For instance, pastoral care is best done on a congregational level. But there are many things that we can do as a parish that we cannot do at the congregational level: I think of youth work, and I still have an ambition for central teaching and learning courses. So, for instance, later in the year, John Pearce will be doing a session on ‘Growing older and serving God’. And there are things that we can do at a regional level that we cannot do at a parish level: memorial service, BCY, Sporting 87. And I do commend the work of Bury Churches together.
One of the real blessings of living in a time when church numbers are falling but commitment is rising is that we do begin to realise just how much we need each other.

We live in a time that is not more me-centred than any other time. Each age is in rebellion against God. But it is certainly more openly me-centred.

We need to be particularly careful that as we have different congregations we do not simply sell out to the me-centred world that we live in.

The way that we do that is by focussing again on the living stone, the one on whom Mary and Peter built their lives; the one for whom St Mary was built and St Peter was built. He is the one who makes us brothers and sisters in the family of God, fellow citizens in the nation of God and co-workers in the business of God.

3. has showed us mercy (v10b)

The reason that God chose us was not because we were able, clever or good. Far from it: he chose us because we were and are nobodies, weak, foolish and sinful. He chose us because he longed to lavish his mercy on us.

God pours his mercy on us – lavishly, abundantly.

It is because of this mercy that we can serve him, ‘offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (v5b)

It is because of his mercy to us that we can show mercy to others [v12].

That is done by many people in many different ways.
But as a parish I long to see us operating a parish ministry of service.

That is why I would love to see the Hyndman Centre developed to be a place that
enables us as a parish to have a ministry of service.

The key is not so much the building, but a person who has the time to enthuse, equip and support members of our parish community in acts of mercy. Having said that, it seems to me to be critical that we develop the Hyndman Centre – so that as a parish we can support groups in showing works of mercy and we can also provide those initiatives ourselves. I have in mind sessions for people with learning disabilities; and for those caring for them; a development of the lunch and chat ministry and groups for parents and babes and toddlers; a drop in for homeless people; a meeting space for older people – where they can play carpet bowls or do keep fit or simply get together; space for young people – where they can hang out but also be encouraged by men and women working with them. One of the most urgent needs today is for young people to be able hang around with positive older role models.

I don’t even begin to know how this will happen. We need to find at least £600k for the building. People ask me if this will be supported by people at St Mary’s. I don’t know. I do know that this sort of work can never really happen in St Mary’s and that an annex is out of the question, and I also know that if it is to happen, the project has to be supported and owned by people at St Mary’s as well as St Peter’s – and I also know from my experience in my previous parish - that if together we get behind this, if we offer this sort of ministry, then it will result in the growth of our congregations, in the showing of mercy, and in praise given to God.

On Saturday May 10th, from 10 to 12:30 we will be having a session in the Hyndman Centre looking at how we have got to where we are, looking at plans and seeing how we can and whether we should take things further – and I invite you to join us.

We have an amazing God.

He chooses to take slave peoples, nobodies, people unaware of mercy, people who are lost – and he delights to make us his people, his royal priesthood
He lavishes on us his love and his mercy.

My prayer is that we might have the courage to declare – in our worship services, in our conversations and in our works – the praises of our wonderful God who calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

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