Well the major event of the 140th celebrations has come and gone. We had a great time. Here are some of my reflections on the weekend,prompted in part by the bishop’s and your comments.
First up, I remember Jeane saying in the sermon that it was her sense of support and fellowship that kept her coming, and then, as her hope for St. John’s in the future: ‘We want more rich people!’ Following that, Neil spoke about coming for a while, and then ‘feeling a sense of responsibility’ for the future of St. John’s.
As the bishop rightly commented to me later ‘Rich people are often the least generous givers. I think what Jeane might have wanted to say was ‘We want more people, and more generous ones at that!’ That is true. The sermon was about the longing of the people participating for financial stability. But then, the bishop reported to me that he heard this comment at the dinner. Bishop: ‘Many people are longing for financial stability or security here.’ Respondent: ‘Well if we had that, we would not have to live by faith.’ How about that!
There are congregations that invest money or have rented buildings so that they do not have to rely on people’s stewardship giving in order to stay open. I don’t think that this is a good idea. I think that it is a good thing that we rely on the regular generosity of our members both to keep the doors open, and to do the mission. That way, we always have to ask the question ‘How do we keep commending the Good News to new people?’ If our income is sure, it is too easy to settle down, and not to keep asking the question ‘How can we commend the good news?’ Like the guy with the ‘bigger barns, our soul is required of us when we stop the process of planting, cultivating and reaping. This is one of the meanings that the Church associated with the coming of the Spirit. Before that, ‘the doors were locked for fear’. After that ‘they received power to be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection’
But this requires of us what Neil was talking about: a sense of responsibility for the congregation’s future life. This is a much bigger issue than just trying to raise funds. Every fund raising event is an outreach event. Every outreach event we hope will produce people who will contribute to our funds. It is the same thing. The question is ‘How do we do it?’
This has often been the request made of the congregation to the clergy. As I hear it they say ‘We do not want you to change anything about what goes on here. We like it as it was. But we want you to find a lot more people who are like us, who will like it the way we like it so that we can continue to do what we do, but have lots more people so that we don’t have to worry about the money any more.’ Sadly, this is the one thing that will ensure the decline of the congregation.
These days, the responsibility for mission lies much more with the congregation as a whole than just with the clergy. This is what the Chaplaincy Council will be talking about in the next period of time. They will be examining the questions like ‘What is the constituency that we need to engage with the Gospel?’ How do we as a congregation match up against the ‘marks of mission’* that the Church has developed? What is the age range that we would like to be? What do we need to do to be trained up for these new questions?
So in just two sentences expressed by members of the congregation in the sermon: ‘hope for more rich people’, and ‘a sense of responsibility’, we have encapsulated the task before the whole congregation for the coming period of time.
But the bishop also noticed some things that we are already doing which impressed him. His attention was drawn to the ‘community building events’ that we are holding, our connection with a number of people ‘on the fringes’ of our life, and the significant number of people for whom we pray in the intercessions and the opportunities for Bible study and Christian education.
These might appear to be small things, but they represent the symbols of our life. If we were just an ‘aggregaion’ of people who happened to come together on a Sunday morning then whether or not we pray for one another would not be important, because each person is responsible for their own life. But in the Body of Christ, we bear one another’s burdens, and share one another’s joys. This involves enough information sharing for us all to know what is going on, and for us all to be able to pray for one another in public.
One of my conversation partners has suffered a lot because of an event in their life. We prayed for them last Sunday when they were in Church. They were so pleased. ‘Thank you’, they said ‘For praying for me. It makes such a difference.’ That is what communicates about our life as Christians. Doing things together so that we get to know one another better communicates about our life as Christians. Studying the bible together welds us together in faith. That is what others notice about us.
There is one more aspect of the 140th celebrations that I heard commented on that I would like to mention. My picture of a Sunday morning is that the spirit is the Lord of the Eucharist. Each person in the worship, in the Spirit has a role to play: be it welcoming, hospitality, music, presiding, preaching, communion minister, intercessor, reader and so on. As the Eucharist goes on the leadership of the Eucharist changes and ‘rolls around’ the whole congregation. This is not a case of ‘active leaders up front, with passive congregations in the pews.’ Answering ‘And also with you’ with gusto is part of the active role of congregations, as is singing, as is bringing your concerns in intercession. So last Sunday, after our Eucharist a member of the congregation made the point to me ‘You know how you have this idea of ‘the Spirit governing worship? Well I thought that that process was operative today!. Everyone did their role and made their contribution seamlessly. I noticed it, and it was good!’ This is a sign of where we are up to. We are becoming as a congregation, in our worship more of an Icon of the Body of Christ. It is palpable. Good on you.
So the feedback of the bishop and others from last week provides us with a great deal of encouragement, and some challenges too. It gives us a chance to see where we are ‘up to’ in being God’s people for English speakers in Territet.
*The five areas of mission that each congregation needs to attend to are
Spreading the Gospel
Caring for its members
Educating the members in the Faith
Celebrating the Eucharist
Resisting evil and unjust structures