Update from the Vicar
12th October 2022
Click here for the video update
Hi everyone, I want to give you an update because there’s been so much going on and I didn’t want you to miss out on St Mary’s Prayer and Fasting day this Saturday 11am – 5pm. We’re gathering in church and I thought it would be helpful to explain some of what to expect. You can drop in when it’s convenient for you during those hours. I’d encourage you not to rush but to come and make some space to receive from God and to listen. We need to seek Jesus’ face together, for his praise and glory, and also for the mission priorities he has for St Mary’s church and parish.
Here’s some slides about what to expect. (see the Powerpoint)
We’ve been seeking God in vision meetings as staff and PCC, also amongst ministry leaders listening for his direction and wisdom and this is a work I really want to encourage us all to join in with over the coming months through prayer and fasting. Our vision can be summed up as Encountering God, Rooted in Christ and Transforming Lives. We are a Word and Spirit church with Isaiah 61 as our guiding foundation Bible passage, used by Jesus in Luke 4 to describe how he fulfilled this prophecy. We are united with Jesus and his mission purposes, filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor. We are living for Jesus’ glory, like ‘oaks of righteousness, planted for the display of his splendour’ we are called to see his Kingdom transformation here in ourselves, in our area, in our parish and among our networks.
We have discerned four key areas to focus on for the moment: Prayer, Small Groups, Whole Church Hospitality and Outreach. It has been really reassuring to hear Words from God that remind us of the central importance of prayer and how everything flowing from there. We need to first receive before we can give out. Ask, Seek and Knock and Father God is generous and faithful. In 2023 we are planning to be engaging in more hospitality as a whole church where we can build community amongst ourselves, across all generations and importantly inviting family, friends and neighbours too. We have our first church lunch coming up on the 23rd October which you can sign up for and there will be more social opportunities coming.
One of the exciting things about gathering to seek God’s priorities together is that we look back with lots of thanks for what he’s been doing and we remember that he is our unchanging rock, he is faithful through unsettling times. It’s been very encouraging to be reminded of people whose faith has been growing deeper and the encounters with God that have been life transforming. To remember all the new opportunities to bless our parish we’ve had and the great times of fellowship. Wasn’t it great to hear an update from the CAP debt centre this Sunday – this is so key to our Isaiah 61 ministry vision. We are a church for the poor, wanting to see people experience freedom. We believe there will be more developments in our work through CAP ahead. They have a wide suite of things to offer as needs are identified and its been exciting to see doors opening to be a blessing alongside neighbours in Fallow Hill. We’re really grateful for all the developments with the schools as well.
I’ve been doing some thinking about how we are in a liminal time at the moment, as a church but also in the world. Liminality is about an in-between time where we kind of have a foot in the past but also a foot in the future, but the future is still rather unknown and fuzzy. An example of a liminal moment would be New Years eve, it feels like a sort of hinterland between how things have been through the past year so there’s some sense of loss for what’s been and gone, but the new isn’t here yet, and what’s ahead is not known. Maybe we have dreams for what could be but they’re not here yet.
In many ways Church is naturally liminal because we live in a now and not yet Kingdom as we wait for Jesus to return and as we wait for the day his Kingdom comes in all its fullness. Some things of heaven come to earth now and yet there’s something awesome ahead into all eternity that we can’t fully grasp and we’re not yet living.
But I think for us at St Mary’s we’re in a liminal season where we’ve seen several changes, the pandemic has accelerated change and we’ve also seen a pruning taking place. It’s like our master gardener has been cutting some things back and preparing us for growth, cutting back to the place of growth. We can’t be spread too thin and we sometimes need a reshape to enable the new growth. This pruning isn’t a comfortable process but sometimes when a gardener prunes they prune even into some of the good parts of the plant that are healthy, not only cleaning away the dead wood, so that it can be all the more fruitful. We have the sense that this is happening and it’s not all that comfortable. Liminal seasons where we’re between what was, and what will be, are not uncomfortable they can feel disorientating but we need to take heart there’s good that can come. If we keep persistently prayerful and seeking Jesus’ face I am sure he will show us what he has for us. The challenge we have is to live within this season aware of some uncertainty, whilst holding onto hope because of to whom we belong. We don’t rush ahead into our own plans but seek God’s purposes, in his good timing. It can be an exciting and innovative season, in the in-between. God can do great, even his best work in the liminal space and we also need to comfort one another because all change starts with some losses even if we have a foot pointing to the new possibilities just off sight on the horizon. There are undiscovered possibilities and we will need to be wise to hear various ideas and weigh them, are they God? What’s his will? Will we allow for new wine in new wine skins? What is the good work he has for us? We also need to consider our capacities and be real about those, to pace ourselves. There are of course unchanging constants: we have a Great Commission to make disciples who make disciples, and to become mature as we become more like Christ. We are passionate about outreach, about sharing Jesus, about helping meet needs and it may be that as some things we used to do aren’t restarting as we rebuild church, now or possibly ever, there will be therefore room for the new in a new season.
As you know Pathway has been paused and the Vicar and PCC are asking for you all to join in with asking God - what does it look like to have an Isaiah 61 ministry running through the very heart of all our ministries in this new season, in this place, with our capacities, our skills, and the resource he provides? Whilst Pathway hasn’t continued our firm intention is to still do and be the Isaiah 61 vision. We need to pray and fast because we have the sense of newness and the future isn’t entirely clear. This is healthy as we walk together to be really leaning into God for his ways, his current priorities and this is in keeping with the charism of our church. If you consider our history, God brings different seasons for new things, he has always had his hand on us and reshaped us. Sometimes St Mary’s has done quite unusual things like leading to provide for orphans from Vietnam, drawing other local churches into a ministry which later developed into CORD. We are excited to have been observing the move of God recently through several charities that have grown up since the early days of Pathway and the landscape is now very different locally and nationally. There’s so much provision that simply wasn’t there years ago. We tithe to organisations doing great Isaiah 61 work too and I wonder if you’ve heard of a new charity that’s emerging called New Chapters, doing much of what Pathway did with similar principles and greater resource.
We are in a season where we can consider ideas, where we need to resist the urge to follow our own agendas, to truly lay ourselves down at the foot of the cross to seek Jesus’ face. Always remember it’s the Lord’s work and he can do more than we can imagine. We look back with great thankfulness and whilst we will experience a sense of loss in liminality God is keeping the foundations firm. This is potentially an innovative time. When a plant grows back from pruning it does so gradually, it’s not like the branch is suddenly huge, but eventually it’s even more fruitful and beautiful. In faith we can expect this, as we go with what our Father God is doing in us.
I was reading statistics this week about prayer for an assembly and it was good to be reminded that at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020 Google data showed more people had searched ‘prayer’ than ever before. In the UK the charity Tearfund found over 3 million people said they’d started to pray and a recent survey showed young people in particular are exploring prayer. These are some of the things our children have also been discovering as they’ve been reading Pete Greig’s book exploring prayer (How to Pray: A Guide for Young Explorers). The research shows that people have been praying for: family, friends, the sick, thanks, guidance, forgiveness, world situations like wars, and the environment. I think our culture is experiencing an unsettling liminal season and there’s a greater openness to prayer. Come and pray for God’s guidance and join in on Saturday. We don’t have all the answers, we have emergent ideas, we have challenges to resource our ideas BUT we are not unsure of our Isaiah 61 Word and Spirit foundations. Jesus is walking along with us and he takes our hand and leads us. Do we want to be led by Him? I think the answer is surely a yes and I’m excited to see what unfolds in his good timing. Come to the river of life, to the place of healing for the nations and listen intently.