Sermon 17 April 2016

Sermon, Easter 4

Address by the Rector at the Annual Meeting of the St John the Baptist Church, Westbourne

Often I speak about being in a time of transition. It is both true to say that we are in such a time and stupid, as transition never comes to an end. Always we have moved from yesterday and are yet to embark on tomorrow.  Billy Graham used to speak of the holy moment of now. It took me years to understand that. It is now that is the important time. It is only now that anything can be done. It is always now, now is a moving value. I can remember trying to learn accounts and the idea of the moving annual total – a figure which represents a year’s activity up until now, always changing, valuable in showing seasonal fluctuations. Yesterday informs today, we have learned from yesterday what has formed us and our ideas and opinions. My mother did not like Sainsbury’s and it still feels a little disloyal to shop there. Years of struggling with an introverted personality have taught me to understand and accept it and having done that to deal with it. Entering tomorrow, not wanting to leave today and uncertain of what behaviour might be needed is unnerving and frightening as we don’t know what will happen but experience has prepared us for it.

It's no different for any group of people.  Perhaps the most significant thing we as a worshipping group have taken on in recent years is the music and worship survey. It revealed what was already felt, a desire to move forward, revaluing the traditions of years to find new ways of developing them. We are making first steps. Some of the questions about changing worship habits were answered. That has meant some giving up and will mean some taking up. Last Sunday the gospel reading was of Jesus telling the disciples, after the terrifying and confusing experience of death and resurrection to cast the net on the other side of the boat.  They had been out all night and caught nothing. When they followed his lead they could barely manage the catch. It is the most significant moment in the resurrected life of Christ. Times have changed it says. Things must be done differently. ‘The fish’ are in a different place, they don’t swim where they used to any more. That means for us that the church no longer regenerates itself.  The next generation no longer automatically follows the last. The holy moment, the ‘now’ offers people greater choice and modern life and culture encourages people to choose for themselves before thinking any further.  Our job is to influence that thinking so that the choice for self is made as it affects relationship with creator and redeemer and thence the world. If the young are less interested, it might be that the youthful sense of fairness and zeal to change the world has been forgotten and is not valued and nurtured and that they are being taught that things of faith come after everything else. Underneath how we order our worship is the matter of how that worship changes us to look at the world and its potential change makers. The incarnation of the Christ of God is about God becoming immersed in God’s creation so to change it and make good the wanderings away from the ideals expressed in the garden of Eden. That is what we are enrolled in at our baptism.

Stopping one piece or type of worship or activity does not leave space for the armchair but space for something new. The toddler group, the coffee drop-ins and the use of the shops, the hirers of the hall, all offer opportunities to engage with people and live the life of faith so as to embrace them.  How well do you know the community you worship amongst? I am always amazed at how many people have not discovered the Saturday market here in the hall after 40 years. If there are parts of the village you don’t know about, find out, turn off the main road, walk around, we are called to take the people the good news of Christ. Where you live makes no difference, you are part of the mission and ministry of the church universal and in this place.

It is time to thank Molly and Val for running the Saturday market for the last 30 years, providing a small but regular income for the parish and a market/meeting place. They are now to retire and a group of the stall holders are eager to take it up.

Churchwardens and church council members have been elected and will guide you through another time of transition, a time for an evolutionary leap. The people who have fulfilled those functions in the past hand on their experience and expertise and it is, of course, time to think about who will follow!
People at the front are easy to see and make good targets. We thank those who hold office and responsibility, who have been churchwarden and parochial church councillors and deanery representatives. It can all be hard and boring, sometimes the good bits are well covered but it is done in love for the God of creation and each other.  Many other things are done, there is music in our worship and we must make a special thank you to Sylvia who has not just kept us going but helped us move forward too. Helena and Judith and Ben have dipped in to make sure we have music at our services.  The building is cleaned and decorated with flowers and maintained and weatherproofed, all by the giving of time and energy. Do you wonder how those things get done? For some months those sorts of jobs have been appearing on the notice sheet. The gaps really do need filling or the work will not get done, there are no fairies. You will have noticed in Jonathan’s presentation that the hall is making a significant contribution to our income.  Andrew’s work at finding and looking after hirers has done that. And I mention Jonathan, not just in passing but to thank him for his work with the money. The regulations governing charity accounts changed again this year and meant much more work but it’s not just that, management of the money makes it go round. I have worked without a treasurer and we nearly went bust. Is there someone out there who might watch over his shoulder for a while with a view to joining the game?

Perhaps you have noticed that the younger people are less in evidence than they were. Again, it is work which needs taking up, some of the most difficult in the church because most of us are lightyears away from the culture of youth but some of the most rewarding. If we can remember our own youth it is a long way away in a past where things were done differently. It isn’t about fancy services or catchy tunes it is about good, valuing relationships.

As you say goodbye to me in a few months’ time, turn round from one who has one foot in a very traditional, deferential past to two feet looking ahead.  At one point on the Bayeux tapestry king Harold is shown ‘comforting’ his troops. He is not sitting down and listening to them and saying it would be good if they forgot how tired they were and fought a bit harder. He is prodding them with his pike.

To end I would like to ask if there are any matters you would like to flag for the church council to apply its mind to over the next year.


© 2016 Frank Wright

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