1 John 3.16-24
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
One thing that we don’t currently have as a parish is a mission statement– something that could run as a banner across our new website, appear at the top of our weekly news sheet and be on all our publicity and correspondence. I’ve always liked the idea of “come and see” or “life in all its fullness”, but when I read this in our Epistle today I was very struck by the challenge it offers us as a community: let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. My only quibble is that it seems to let us off lightly in relation to what we say. I’ve never really agreed with that saying: sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. Because actually, the way that we talk to and about each other tends to mirror the way we treat each other. Words and actions must work together: the words of an invitation to come and see can lead to the discovery of life in all its fullness – words and actions leading together into the truth that Jesus is Lord, our good shepherd. If it is permissible to tamper with Scripture, and if we were to be contemplating using this as a mission statement, I would be voting for let us love in word and speech and in truth and action.
So let’s have a look back at the words and actions of the last year and perhaps think as we do that how they are evidence of our love for each other and God’s world, God’s truth.
It was a year of consolidation and preparation, manoeuvring into position for the next phase in our life…. We were still pretty busy and although , with hindsight, we may wonder how much time we found for active reflection on our own discipleship, our personal faith journeys, we should also wonder at the amount of work, the gifts and talents, that continue to come together to maintain the life of our parish. The reports in the APCM booklet are testament to God’s generosity in resourcing us here. They are also a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring us to offer back what we have been given – time, skills, experience, money – to support the life of the church – our life. I am as always profoundly and personally grateful to all those who give their time to maintaining and beautifying our churches, to keeping in touch with the sick and housebound, to keeping our finances on track, to teaching our children and young people by study and by example, to enriching our worship in words, music and actions, to raising funds for outward giving – and above all to supporting all that we do by bringing it to God in prayer. Prayer – words and speech and truth and action. In fact, love in action.
So what were some of the major events of 2014? Very sadly, we said goodbye at Christmas to Evelyn Pender, who retired after more than seven years as parish administrator. Evelyn’s commitment, her passion for thoroughness, her welcome to callers and her encyclopaedic knowledge of the most arcane areas of parish and diocesan life – all these meant that she was bound to be sorely missed and so she has been. We do wish her well in her retirement. All of us, but especially me, were grateful to Julie Fox for providing cover in the office during the interregnum, and it was great to have several excellent candidates applying for the post. Many thanks to them and to everyone involved in the selection process. Following an exhaustive and professional recruitment process we welcomed Vic Hicks into our lives at the beginning of February – which was also the beginning of one of the very busiest periods of the church calendar, even without the small matter of arranging a licensing for a new associate priest within 10 days of Easter… More about Chuks in a minute but before I leave the subject of the parish office, I just want to note that the job specification has been redrawn to include explicit responsibility for parish communications matters, and once the new website is up and running – currently scheduled for early summer – Vic will be the person who keeps it updated, taking over the baton from Nick Beare, who developed our current website and has given so much time and care to maintaining and updating it for many years now. Of course, the website is a place where we can use words (and pictures too) to communicate truth and action…… encouraging people to come and see!
Another goodbye was to Gideon Bridgman, who left in the summer after 2 years as assistant youth Minister. We miss his boundless energy and musical gifts, which are now being used to support the life of Grayshott parish, but we were delighted to welcome Charlotte Parrott, who has been a member of the parish for many years and was already volunteering more and more with Sandy and Gideon. Like Gideon before her, Charlotte is combining her work as AYM with an intensive discipleship course.
You may be interested to know that Charlotte and Gideon are part of an ecumenical group of 20 to 30-year-old Christians in Haslemere, Initiative, who meet once a week to worship and pray together. This is an age group which is almost entirely missing from our parish demographic so it’s really good that there is a Haslemere wide group offering them the opportunity to think together about their faith.
The year was punctuated – illuminated even – by our regular programme of social and fundraising events including open gardens, the second summer fun day shared with the primary school, described by the head as the most successful ever, the St Christopher’s picnic blessed by wonderful weather, the one-off jazz cafe which gave me particular personal pleasure, the series of Saturday morning organ recitals arranged by the friends of the parish and of course the Christmas fair. The parish pilgrimage to Turkey led to an Advent group and from both we learnt more about the countercultural nature of being the church – not always easy to remember here in Surrey.
We held the second parish weekend at home in November, this time including music and drama specially written for us with performances by a mixed group of children and adults both at supper on the Saturday night and in the service on Sunday, where once again we brought together all e had done and offered it to God.
All of these events have been important in bringing us together and helping us to get to know people who don’t come to the same churches or services as we do – and many of them, especially the musical events, have drawn into our churches people who don’t usually come – we hope that they will feel welcome, and perhaps will come and see more of who we are and – more importantly, who Jesus is.
Our programme of joint services has continued to evolve, providing shared worship at the heart of our life and helping us to draw closer to each other and develop the sense of unity which I believe is key to our witness as a parish. An important element of this has been the practical and welcoming space provided by the reordering of St Christopher’s. We have been continuing to discover what a great resource it provides for many different kinds of occasion – the building itself seems to speak of warmth and welcome – life in all its fullness….
And now to Chuks…. throughout 2014 we were working to put into effect 2013’s decision to appoint an associate priest, and it’s wonderful to have Chuks and Adanna, Christian and Mary Isabelle, with us now, rapidly becoming a part of our parish life, settled into a refurbished Church Cottage, and I hope beginning to feel at home in this new community. Their arrival is a blessing for all of us – not just in terms of additional resource to take services – much less rushing from St Bartholomew’s to St Christopher’s on a Sunday morning without speaking to anybody – but also as a source of fresh vision and insight. Chuks is spending his first few months getting to know people, finding out what we’re doing now and discerning, with me and the wardens and others, what the focus of his Ministry should be. He and I, with Peter and Sandy, will meet regularly as a ministry team to plan themes, programmes and worship well ahead and to support each other in our pastoral work and ministry. Watch this space! For me personally Chuks’ arrival is a huge blessing and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all those who have supported me during the 18 months or so since Malcolm Anker’s departure – especially Evelyn Hughes, who has taken many services.
Chuks’ arrival is an unmitigated blessing in almost every respect, but it does face us with a financial challenge-now that Church Cottage is being put to its proper use we no longer have the rental income it’s been generating for 6 years or so. The PCC was unanimous in deciding that we must face this challenge – and now the time has come to do that! You already know from our stewardship campaign in Epiphany that we are facing a significant financial deficit this year. Thank you to those who responded – I think there are still some forms out there waiting to be returned – do take another if yours has gone missing…..! Full details can be found in the green leaflets, “filling the jars”, at the back of church. This is where words, speech, action and truth really come together, as we try to meet our own financial needs and to be more generous in our outward giving, responding to God’s boundless generosity. I’ve written and spoken often about this important balance in our lives… freely we have received, freely we must give.
So 2014 was a year of consolidation, waiting for our new pattern of ministry to begin. Now it can, and I’m excited at the opportunities in front of us. There is much ahead that we don’t yet know, but some things we do. I believe that whether they involve words or actions – probably both – they will help us to welcome those who come and see and help them to discover Jesus’ promise of life in all its fullness…..
I’ve already mentioned the new website, and the plans to establish a ministry team. Fiona Gwyn will be ordained deacon in the summer – her ministry will continue to be focused on Grayswood but we will see her here in Haslemere as well. We will be preparing another group of children and young people to receive communion in the autumn – preceded by a “big baptism” at the all age service in June/July. And a group of adults will be confirmed at the cathedral on Easter Eve 2016 – if you think you would like to be one of them please do come and talk to me.
Turning to our buildings, the PCC is working with the Friends of the Parish and an architect on plans to reorder the prayer chapel in St Bartholomew’s, incorporating a better way of displaying the historic Flemish glass currently deteriorating fast in the west end windows, and providing a more welcoming space for children and young families on Sundays, for Morning Prayer on weekdays and for other small services. The electrical wiring in St Bartholomew’s is in urgent need of replacement and the lighting scheme will be renewed at the same time.
Still on the subject of property, the diocese has recently exchanged contracts on a house in Pine View Close to be the new rectory, and I expect to move there some time this year. It will provide a larger study, with a separate entrance and cloakroom, and thus more privacy.
That was another whirlwind review and forward look. I can only apologise if I’ve left out something which is dear to your heart – it was almost certainly not deliberate.
In conclusion I want to turn to the gospel reading – Jesus the good shepherd. It may seem like a very comforting image, as we imagine comfortable woolly Southdown sheep on a Surrey hillside. Think again. These sheep are under threat and their shepherd puts his life on the line – or more precisely, across the opening, to protect them. Bishop Andrew spoke on Monday about the need for sacrifice in our own lives and in our shared life. We know that change can be hard – we’ve been through a lot of change in the last few years, making the consolidation of last year a welcome respite. But if change is hard for you, can I urge you to see it as part of the sacrifice we must make if we are to follow Jesus in helping to protect and grow his flock, as we try to make sure that the good news we have received is passed on to those who haven’t yet heard it, in ways that they can relate and respond to. This isn’t meant to be a threat – I don’t yet know what kind of change we might face over the years ahead, or what kind of sacrifice it might demand from me or from any of us. But I am sure there will be change, and not all of us will like all of it.
We are so blessed to have the promise of love and protection offered to us by Jesus the good shepherd. We are loved and known, known and still loved. Let’s also resolve to follow his example of sacrifice, to do whatever it takes to grow his kingdom here, in our parish, in our town.
Let us love, not in word and speech only, but in truth and action.