APCM Address 2017

APCM 2017 – 30 April

Rev Mary Bowden

Acts 2. 36-41

Luke 24 13-35

You have to feel sorry for those 2 disciples on the Emmaus Road. Only a week ago they would have been celebrating Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we now know as Palm Sunday. As Justin said last week, that was such a high point for Jesus’s followers. At last they could see all their hopes and dreams coming true: At last Jesus was being recognised as the Messiah, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the one who would change Israel’s future, leading the nation to a new golden age. Remember, although we are now 2 weeks away from Easter today, in our gospel reading it is still that day, still only the 3rd day after the crucifixion, when all their hopes dissolved in pain, loss and fear. There are some seeds of hope but they are confused, perhaps unreliable, not helping anyone to be confident of a secure future. These 2 have decided to call it a day, to leave the stricken and bewildered disciples, to go home. And as they walk they are going back and back, over and over everything that has happened, good and bad, trying to make sense of it. At some point in their journey they are joined by a man who combines apparent ignorance of recent events with a deep understanding of Scripture  – and an ability to relate it to their account of Jesus . They are intrigued and attracted, to the point where they persuade him to stay with them for supper, but what he says hasn’t touched their hearts….. They don’t “get it” until that moment when, their table he lifts and breaks the bread. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight.

What happens then? Rejoicing in a new understanding, the return of their faith and hope it brings, they return to Jerusalem to share it all with the other disciples…. There must still have been sadness that the events of the previous week, at the suffering Jesus endured, at the darkness and confusion they have felt themselves, but now they can see through that darkness, there is a future and an extraordinary, eternal hope.

This has been a mixed year for our parish and in some major ways a very difficult one. Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, we are still looking back from a very short perspective, and unlike them we don’t have the physical presence of the resurrected Jesus to put things in order for us. What we do have is the example of his life, we have the Bible and our traditions, we have the power of prayer, and we have God revealed to us in one another.

As I prayed and reflected about the lessons we can learn from this story of the disciples journeying to Emmaus I found myself with a particular thought: understanding how God is working through human life, through history, through circumstances, doesn’t make pain go away. What happened to Jesus was cruel and agonising whatever the reason: the pain, fear and confusion the disciples had felt remained a fact even when Jesus himself had explained how it was foretold and necessary. To understand all (as if we could) might be to forgive all, but it doesn’t necessarily make the future easy or comfortable. Just so, forgiveness doesn’t obliterate the hurt caused or make wrong things right. As we look back on the good and bad of the past year we need to ask God to help us to repent, to forgive, to celebrate and to worship, to show us his will, and to give us the strength we need to go forward and do it.

So: let’s look back at the past year and try to discern how God has been at work, even in unlikely places.  The first thing to say is that although some of the things we were looking forward to this time last year have happened – we have a monthly prayer meeting, we had a meditation course, we replaced the electrics and the lighting at St Bart’s, and there are many other good things – the two biggest events in our parish life were not in the programme: were, in fact, completely unpredicted. Chuks’ departure after less than 2 years was certainly not what we had expected or hoped for, and it meant we needed to make changes to the pattern of Sunday services, changes which I know many have found challenging.  I hope we now all understand why Chuks and Adanna felt that moving on was the right thing, but the different versions of their reasons for going that circulated at the time made it harder for the parish to deal with. I would like to think that we have all – including me – learnt something from all this about the need for openness, for prayerful as well as critical appraisal of what we hear, and for grace in our dealings with each other, in good times as well as in bad.

I was really grateful to the PCC for the grace shown by the members in the face of Chuks’ difficult news, for their constructive response to the new situation and for the way in which they shared responsibility for decisions about the new service pattern and for introducing and explaining it. This response is a reminder that the role of the PCC goes far beyond managing the business of parish life – it provides leadership for the parish, co-operating with the incumbent in “promoting in the parish the whole mission of the Church, pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical”, to quote statute. As you would expect, PCC meetings always begin and end with prayer, but increasingly we find ourselves pausing to pray at critical moments, and becoming more intentional and explicit about seeking God’s will in each situation – whilst always of course mindful of our responsibilities as charity trustees! PCC meetings can be challenging in many ways, requiring us to question our cherished beliefs about the nature of faith and what church is, and inevitably to take decisions which we know won’t please everyone – because of course, you can’t! But I know its true of the PCC, as it is of me, that our decisions are always shaped by what we believe will best serve the parish in its mission to build God’s kingdom and witness to the gospel here in Haslemere. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the connection, especially in the nitty gritty of buildings and fabric matters, but Jesus was a carpenter, after all….

To return to about the new service structure. The PCC is keeping it informally under review and there will be a formal review in September. We have already added a new monthly service at St Christopher’s. Although some things are going well others are taking longer to settle down and I’m grateful to all of you for your grace and understanding and willingness to try new things. The attendance at the 8am communion service, now alternating between the churches, is up, and a number of people who hadn’t attended it for years have had a real sense of coming home… matins and evensong continue as before, and numbers at the 10am services have been healthy with both churches feeling full and that sense of unity in worship we have always enjoyed at joint services. It’s been harder for some of us to adapt to the all age service now being monthly at St Christopher’s – although parents have welcomed the regularity of the pattern. If you are finding it hard please do keep trying with it – the services may be louder and livelier than you are used to but they are sincere worship, and God is present in the Eucharist just as he is on any other Sunday morning….!

One effect of the new pattern has been to give our singers and musicians opportunities to develop – the parish singers directed by Wayne Richardson and supported by Helen Bendall at the all age service, and the more traditional choir, increasingly united, often directed by Sarah Thomas as Assistant Director of Music alongside Clive Osgood, at other services. The occasional series of sung services for weekday festivals is also becoming a feature of our life, with an as yet unnamed choir of local singers assembled by Tim Dutton.

Music and all age worship come together again in the new Families@4 teatime service, launched in February and happening monthly on 3rd Sundays. It seems to be meeting a need (and not just for Sunday tea with sandwiches and cake)- it attracted 40 people on the first occasion and 50 on the second, including whole families – church members, messy church attenders, baptism families….. . Watch this space…..

What else has been happening? Well, if you read or even skim all the sections of the annual report you will know something of the answer to that question. Particular things to mention.

  • Ruth Pattenden completed her training as a Pastoral Assistant and was commissioned last summer – she has been working with First Steps and doing hospital visiting, amongst other things.
  • We have two ordinands – Justin and Sandy – and are benefitting from all that they are learning.
  • Our team of licensed preachers – Sandy, Justin and Robert as well as Peter and me – has begun to meet regularly and to plan a sermon series for the summer, provisionally titled “Life in all its Fullness”
  • St Bart’s has safe wiring and new lighting – so much cheaper to run and beautiful too, especially the lighting for the east window and high altar.
  • There is much ongoing activity, by dedicated volunteers, to celebrate – those who care for both our churches and for the Link, those who arrange the flowers, and water them week in week out.
  • More people volunteering to work with our children and young people – especially this year when we haven’t had an Assistant Youth Minister. (We hope to appoint someone for next year in the next few weeks).
  • A number of very successful fundraising events for outward giving, including a Christmas café organised by Tessa David, which she followed up with a triumph of a quiz night.
  • Our group of 12 confirmation candidates…. adults and young people. I saw Bishop Andrew this week and he said again how much he had enjoyed meeting them and how he and Bp Jo had both been impressed by their faith – and their liveliness!

So what do we think about the story of our parish this year? I hope it doesn’t make us look sad as we walk along, as we remember all that has happened. Some sadness is inevitable, and there is a lot to celebrate too, but to return to what I said before, we need to be open to whatever God is doing in us and through us, even when we find it hard, even when we don’t understand it all. We need to pray that God will open our minds as Jesus opened the minds of the Emmaus disciples, and our hearts, as he opened their hearts to recognise Jesus there at table in Emmaus. And then. like them, we will be able to go out with joy to share the message, the good news that Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia………

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