“We are witnesses of these things”, said the disciples about the life, death, and resurrection of their friend and leader Jesus.
“We are witnesses of these things”, for as the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends us.
“We are witnesses of these things” as we teach in the name of Jesus and share the good news.
How have we been witnesses to these things in this past year? Another year that has been fraught with confusion as we have sought to navigate our way out of a global pandemic? How we have longed for Jesus to come through the doors and stand with his arms open wide reassuring us of his peace. Would he have just used his eyes to smile, or offered an inane wave at a camera, or sent a Mexican wave to the back? I’m not sure it matters as his very presence was enough to calm the disciples doubts and fears especially when he breathes on them and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. It’s a few weeks until Pentecost but I’d like us all to take a big breath today. The Annual Church meeting is exactly a breathing point, an opportunity to pause, to look back with gratitude and forward with hope.
Lets’ just focus on our breathing now. Breathing out all the distractions, frustrations, interruptions, and downright annoying things of this past year and breathing in the Holy Spirit. Breath out, breathe in, breathe out,… Receive the Holy Spirit.
I feel better already. Keeping our focus on God is always going to be better but that’s been hard when there have been so many demands made on us this year. Reconnecting with family, friends, other social groups as well as church community. Personally, there have been times when I have felt like the Israelites wandering in the desert and I know I’ve not been the only one. Also like the Israelites I have wanted to be faithful but nevertheless at times also felt like giving up. The direction of travel has been unclear and that is hard because it feels aimless and lacks clarity. Consequently, the PCC refocusing our vision to be in line with the broader Church of England strapline of Humbler, Simpler, and Bolder was really helpful. Ultimately, it’s been a year of waiting on God and we all know God’s timing and solutions are not the same as human ones.
Running a church has felt like hard work, rather than the joy and privilege it previously did. Mainly because even though some restrictions gradually got eased, the nature of our ‘business’ if we view it like that contained higher elements of risk - public gathering, enclosed spaces, singing, sharing fellowship. In my experience church people are naturally cautious and adding a pandemic into the mix greatly increased this. It has only been in recent weeks that we have seen a return to pre pandemic numbers in church for which I rejoice and praise God.
I also praise God for all the wonderful things that have happened this past year and I’ve got some lovely photos to share with you.
We have found new ways of worshipping mainly outside and that has been joyful, in the summer, at Morning Prayer and through use of installations like the Easter Garden or the new icon. We continued to improve our digital offering and appreciated that church is not just about Sunday but our homes, schools, places of work or connection. The Source has seen new families and 5@5 has been experimental too.
Despite saying goodbye to David and Jo Fox Branch in August we were able to launch the Eco handbook and learn more about the effects of climate change on our doorstep with a very informative walk led by Stewart Cocker as part of the season of creation. This also saw us developing connections with the nursery and local families at the forest fun day. The Pet service is always a highlight with 15 dogs a parrot and a gecko joining with us in worship. Allowing worship to be more natural and outward looking will undoubtedly lead to growth and another source of joy despite the ER figures is the number of new people accessing worship and events at Christ Church. We were able to engage creatively with some different social events last summer too - bat watching, visiting the memorial Wood at Langley Vale, along with the monthly walk for health so it’s certainly not been a fallow time.
We have been building on our community links with the scouts, schools, and other churches. The cake and cordial tent drew attention along with our regular fence ministry postings as we seek to keep evangelism high on our agenda. This is an area to continue to develop and anyone wanting to get more involved in community outreach please do speak to either myself or Jane Williams.
We’ve been able to celebrate our young people growing in faith and the turnout for Alpha was brilliant and I hope for many life changing.
However, you have to take the rough with the smooth and it’s not surprising with all these wonderful things going on (and there are many more images on the board at the back) that the Devil or evil one will get upset. Now I know some people find talking about spiritual warfare uncomfortable, but I genuinely believe that this is why this last year has felt hard. The leadership team in particular has been under attack. After the Fox Branches moving on to pastures new, we then lost Helen who resigned in the autumn, Jen went off sick at Christmas, and John, Andy, Berwick and Sue have all had family issues to contend with. With my back operation too, we have not been at full capacity. I am grateful for the support of PCC members, the Finance Team, and David Williams in particular who undertook extra responsibilities to help us through.
So how do we pick ourselves up and put aside the doubts and fears that like Thomas we must inevitably all be feeling? Will it require a miracle? Will it require concrete proof? Or do we trust in the words of scripture that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in his name?
That’s encouraging, isn’t it? That’s what we all want, life in his name, life in all its fulness, Christ Church to be a Living Well and living well? That’s the aim, that’s the hope, and hope is the point of faith - being certain of those things we cannot see.
The future is exciting. We have the follow up to Alpha, the Prayer Course beginning in 2 weeks’ time (there will be a trailer later). We have a new Curate arriving in July. We have some great events planned for the summer including celebrating the Jubilee. We have an exciting partnership developing with the Scouts and an opportunity to reimagine our whole site to make it sustainable long term.
There is lots to give thanks for, lots to keep praying about, but most importantly let us not forget to breathe. To receive the Holy Spirit and then through the Spirit’s power we can believe and have life in Jesus name. Amen.