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Re-visioning 2021, Sermon

Sermon and presentation for 28th November 2021

Wow what stunning predictions from Jesus today! I am conscious that people can use scripture for their own means, and I would be reluctant to draw any comparisons with the signs that Jesus was referring to with modern times as it can be both alarmist and naïve. However, the need to read the signs of the times is a key skill and one any good contextual theologian of which I seek to be should employ. I am aware that we stand not only at a pivotal point in our liturgical calendar today, entering into a season of penitence, waiting and expectation, but also a turning point for our church as we seek to revision by assessing our current situation.

I truly believe Christ Church has been great and will be again! This is not a party political broadcast, but a heartfelt assessment of the realities in which we find ourselves. A couple of years ago I sensed Christ Church was on the verge of really flying. Going for it with God and for God, and yet we find ourselves in a totally different landscape now so what happened?

I don’t believe a church community is dependent on its Incumbent because the leader is not me its Jesus. We are Christ’s Church after all - so have we as a community failed to spend time with our leader drinking deeply from the living water He offers? As we enter Advent, we must confess any sin that is a barrier to true relationship with God. I am grateful to the faithfulness of the Vision Prayer group but praying for our church, its mission and ministry is a task for everyone not just the few.

I will readily acknowledge that the recent bereavements I have been through have really knocked me. I am also aware that the person who entered the global pandemic nearly 2 years ago is not the same person who is seeking to emerge from it now. I’m not recovered from my grief; I don’t believe you ever are, but I am changed. Covid 19 has been likened to WW3 - its like nothing we have ever experienced before, and we are all changed because of it.

Last summer there was some resistance to the suggestion that things would never go back to how they were. Certainly, I knew in my heart something had shifted. I suspected I was not the only one. Many other people have also now observed how the subsequent Lockdowns have taken their toll. Increased uncertainty has made people batten down the hatches - we want to protect ourselves and those we love. Its also been a massive pausing point and when people stop, and spend time reflecting, their priorities alter.

It is also inevitable when we haven’t been seeing each other physically that some of the wider sense of community and previous good relationships have become frayed. Everyone has become more insular. We were literally disconnected and that takes time to rebuild and recover. We’ve not had much opportunity for social interaction. People have also been understandably cautious. Every church has suffered during the pandemic we are not unique in this.

October is often when we focus on vision with Stewardship and Living Well Sundays however this year this too has been paused as the PCC has needed to take stock and reflect together. What does our vision look like now? How might we develop it further? Where does our heart lie for the future? How can we hold fast to the promises of restoration to which the prophet Jeremiah is referring?

The PCC met in July to reflect on Living Well. We still like the strapline CC as a Living well and CC living well. It speaks to the message of John 4 which is foundational for us. We also still valued the trinitarian concept of living well with God, others and ourselves, but felt that the 7 holy habits were a bit onerous as hopefully they are now embedded into all our events and activities as illustrated in the recent prayer stations. The Rule for Life has not been updated but exists as a tool for people to use along with the 3 editions of bookmarks to aid our prayers for our common life.

The PCC have also been exploring the new Church of England vision in the 2020’s which also has 3 strategic priorities (which you can read more about online A vision for the Church of England in the 2020s | The Church of England) and goes by the tag line of Humbler, Simpler, and Bolder. This was something that really resonated, and all churches are being asked to engage with thinking through how this might relate to Diocesan goals and our annual mission action planning.

How can we be humbler in our worship and community life? Following Jesus doesn’t have to be complicated. Pete Greig’s prayer course reminded us to ‘Keep it simple, keep it real and keep it up’ and as a church we have already begun to put increased emphasis on evangelisation and outreach - we need to be bolder in telling our story and sharing our faith in order to grow the kingdom of God. So, living well in a way that is humbler, simpler, and bolder is where we want to be. What might this look like in the short, medium, and long term?

In the next few months, we will spend time praying, reviewing, and looking realistically at resources. Into the new year we will restructure our operations side and reconstitute some of our teams to be more focused and set specific targets for 2022. Hopefully by the summer we can relaunch our Development Project having identified current aspirations and needs post pandemic. This will look very different to the scheme presented at Christmas 2018, probably less elaborate and more scaled down.

We want to be rebuilding for the future, investing in people and property. It is now time to reconnect. Bishop Andrew also reflected on this in his presidential address to Diocesan synod a fortnight ago using Nehemiah as his text observing how,

Rebuilding requires both realism and hope: the realism to recognise that something is broken and needs fixing; the hope to believe that fixing it is possible. Rebuilding calls on both the heart and the head: the deep passion which releases fresh energy and enthusiasm for the task; the clear thinking which turns that passion into positive strategies, so getting the job done. Naming the elephants in the room is key to any rebuilding process, because until the elephants are named, complacency will always win out. But simply naming the elephants without offering any solutions or fresh perspectives will equally fail to inspire, leading to the kind of fatalism which – like complacency – results in inaction. Complacency says, ‘Why change? Things are fine as they are’. Fatalism says: ‘Why change? It won’t make any difference’. Common to both is the question, ‘Why change?’

John and I stand before this morning as Vicar, Churchwarden and Treasurer to help name the elephants in the room and address why we need to change.

Christ Church has always been a fantastic team effort with a good number of individuals actively involved in supporting the worship, mission, and ministry. We are so grateful to all who have given freely of their time and talents in the service of the kingdom here in this place. In recent weeks we have particularly seen the herculean efforts of Andy and Richard who have literally been bailing out the boiler room in order for us to keep the heating on. We are all aware of the amount of work undertaken by our music department in weekly rehearsals and making recordings for singing along to throughout Lockdown and indeed still continues. The pastoral team have remained faithful in their weekly contacts with people. However, a mixed ecology of worship means we have increased reliance on technology and that doesn’t just happen. PowerPoints need to be produced and Zoom meetings need to be hosted the amazing sound desk and projector technicians have been vital to this smooth running. Sometimes things go wrong too, expensive speakers get blown or lightbulbs fail, and it takes time to get them fixed, coordinating dairies and contractors is extremely difficult and some people have been casualties and that is really sad. We need to humbly recognise that we are all just human beings working with one another or relying on professional services to assist us.

We do want to build back stronger after this this time but are painfully aware that our resource base has significantly reduced both physically and financially. This is not a unique situation to us every church is going through this. The pastoral and spiritual commitment to growing our church remains high but the energy and ability to do this is falling due to the increased age profile, social pressures and failing equipment. We are hitting a crisis moment which is going to require us pulling together and tapping into that amazing team spirit that has sustained us in previous years. I believe we can do it. It might be a leap of faith, but faith is about TRUST. Trusting God and trusting one another. Being sure of what we hope for, having confidence in the goodness and promises of a loving and generous God who has given us so much that we want to respond in an equally sacrificial and generous way.

This is ultimately the central message of our faith and the slogan for the coming festive season is, (Slide) ‘At the heart of Christmas’. At the heart of Christmas is the vulnerability of the child in the manger who enables each of us to overcome the fragility and insecurity of the past 2 years. I trust/ hope/pray that we will, and I want to invite all of you to join me in praying for our community, our relationships, our vision, and our resources this Advent. A daily prayer scripture sheet has been produced and there is an open invitation to join in a day of prayer this coming Saturday.

A particular focus of this prayer time will be our resources both people and finances. John is going to present some more detail about our financial position…. Insert…..

Advent Sunday is the start of a new liturgical year let us take this opportunity for a new beginning at Christ Church. Let us make a commitment or resolution to deal with one another kindly and lovingly remembering that many people are walking with emotional limps. We need to pull together in thanksgiving that we have made it through an incredibly difficult period of history. There has not been one week when nothing was offered either online or physically as worship or discipleship. We have also done some amazing new things too as Covid 19 has challenged us to think outside the box. There has been so much creativity. So much to be thankful for and I am personally grateful to have spent this this time here with you my church family.

Recently I asked members of the PCC to draw for me the type of church they wanted to belong to, and it was not far off this diagram from the Church of England which illustrates this new strategy.

Many drew crosses - for Jesus should be at the centre of everything. A church that is Jesus Christ centred and shaped. For us the clue’s in the name as I said at the beginning, Christ’s Church. There was also a wheel, and this diagram does have an energy or dynamism to it. There was a star, a key feature of the story we are looking forward to celebrating in a few weeks’ time, which led people to Jesus, thus community and reaching out were key themes. Trees and food also featured as we described a church that is connected to the world around it and connected to one another the people that belong to it. Ultimately, we want a stripped back version of what we already have - Simpler; we want to make the most of our community networks and partnerships appreciating we don’t work in isolation - Humbler; and finally, we want to take down any barriers to inclusion, seeking new ways of sharing the Gospel - Bolder. This is our vision will you help us to achieve it?

You can see our 3 key ministry stands are still there represented by the primary colours in our logo, Spirituality, Discipleship, Outreach and how they continue to interlock with living well with God, others and us. However, we have identified 3 key priorities as well as adding the 3 strategic values of the C of E. Our response to the environmental crisis is of prime importance as we seek to be more sustainable in our resources. Wanting to go deeper in faith and increasing the engagement of all members is going to increase confidence the 3rd area, Evangelism as we seek to grow the Kingdom of God in the little patch that has been entrusted to us, CCEC.

The days are coming declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfil my gracious promises’. (Jer 33:14)

I want to see this fulfilled. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and I have the HOPE that we sang about as we lit our first Advent candle. 2022 is the 70th anniversary of the reign of our monarch Queen Elizabeth II. It will be a year of celebration or jubilee. Jubilee means the release from debt. We would like to get Christ Church back on a more equal footing in terms of our finances so that the living church pays for the living ministry. We would like to see new people coming to faith through Alpha or other discipleship and outreach initiatives. We want to see our current congregation not just surviving but thriving enjoying a variety of social opportunities. Let us pray that 2022 will be the reset button for our community as we continue to live well with God, one another, and ourselves.

The days are coming declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfil my gracious promises’ Amen.

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