Isaiah 35: 1-9
Luke 6: 20-31
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
These are the words that pervade the feast of All Saints…. reminding us of our place and our identity: that we too are numbered amongst the saints, that we are saints, inheritors and handers on and livers out of the amazing heritage of Christian faith, the truth of the gospel of Jesus, that we are God’s children – part of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding Jesus Christ.
But my opening question this morning is: have you ever thought of the diocese of Guildford – assuming you ever think of it at all – as a great cloud of witnesses? For most of us the word diocese conjures up a bishop – probably in cope and mitre, grasping his crozier, like the one who confirmed us – and a cathedral – probably Gothic or Norman, complete with gargoyles. flying buttresses and pinnacles, rather than the 50s redbrick ocean liner towering above the A3 that is Guildford.(No, it isn’t my favourite cathedral….) But do you ever think of the diocese as a particular patch of land, embracing and boundarying its 163 parishes and its 218 Anglican churches, where thousands of people go to worship, and with the God given obligation to pray and work for every place and everyone within its borders? That begins to sound more like a particular piece of heavenly sky with its own particular, distinctive, unique cloud of witnesses.
And this is the patch, cloud, piece of sky that we are a part of – here in St B and St C, together as a parish, with our UB brothers and sisters in Grayswood.
Most of the time, day to day, we go about our business here in Haslemere, doing our best to witness to the gospel, to deepen and strengthen our own life as disciples of Christ, to build God’s kingdom in the best way we can, trying to discern what God is calling us to be and to do. But sometimes we need to lift our heads above our parish parapets and see if there is a wider mission we should share.
This is that day, that time.
Because today I want to share with you the new vision for the diocese of Guildford, developed by Bishop Andrew in consultation with many people in the diocese and introduced to all the clergy – vicars, rectors, chaplains, assoc priest, curates, in September. Called Transforming Church, Transforming Lives, it’s a vision that begins, as Bp A has written, with the conviction that God is still at work in the world he loves so much, and that it is entirely possible to reverse the narrative of a slowly declining and ageing church through prayer and action – a vision of growing churches making a growing impact. bringing fruitfulness, fulfilment and transformation to individuals and communities.
Talking about this today is particularly timely, because as you may have seen, this week the church published the latest figures for church attendance, based on the count taken in every church in the C of E in October 2015 – we are just bringing this year’s count to an end…
The figures give us a picture of continuing decline – 11% over the last decade, with an average of 1% a year…. and that isn’t surprising with an age profile of 20% under 20 and 30% over 70…. I think you’ll recognise that pattern.
Do we believe it matters?… matters that the decline is continuing, and that alongside that absolute decline new patterns of life and work make it harder every year to find people who are able and willing to be involved in the life of the church at every level, from coffee rota to running events to serving on the PCC? And that regular attendance is now classified as once a month?
Of course, activity, for the sake of activity, isn’t the point at all. It needs to be rooted in loving God, in following Jesus, in trying always to do what he would have done…. these are the things that bring life to all we do, that make the dry bones of rotas and events and committees and buildings thrum with the power of the gospel, that enable encounters and conversations and welcome and shared excitement – that make us disciples as well as doers.
We’ve been focusing this year on prayer – the Lent course, the new Parish Praying monthly prayer meeting, the meditation course that has just finished. This is really important, because prayer, growing and deepening our relationship with God through words and silence, must be at the heart of all we do. Bp Andrew says – the call to Christian mission begins, continues and ends with prayer – Unless the Lord build the house, the builders labour in vain. Prayer leads to godly action and growth in a humble confidence to share afresh the love and saving power of Jesus, Christ, both being good news and proclaiming good news.
And I would add to that: the thought that we need to see ourselves as saints, to understand that we are the generation here and now with the responsibility – you, me, here, now, the person sitting next to you, the family in the pew behind – we are the ones who need to share the love and power of Jesus today. However old we are, however young we are, however busy, or ill, or overwhelmed by life we may be…. each one of us can do something to help others discover that love…… as the Bp says, it begins with prayer, which leads to action and growth in confidence to share the gospel by being good news and proclaiming good news.
That, in a nutshell, is the vision that lies at the heart of TCTL. And there is a strategy too, to help us make the vision real. Twelve transformational goals that parishes are asked to consider, deciding which we need to focus on. You can see them on the back of your service order(below)…..The PCC will need to consider our response as a parish, and we are asked to submit a parish development plan to the diocese by Easter. My natural inclination to be irritated by this sort of requirement is being gradually overcome by the recognition that we can use it not to impose new burdens on ourselves, but to define and shape the work that’s already going on so that we can see everything we are doing or planning as part of a mission – God’s mission, that goes far wider than the parish – that’s shared across the diocese and beyond.
Bp Andrew is very clear that TCTL isn’t intended to add to the workload of “hard-pressed clergy and hard-pressed church members” and I was greatly reassured when I realised that we are already active in most of the 12 areas of the goals. No reason for complacency, but we aren’t beginning from nothing in most. EG – going backwards from no 12
- church buildings fit for supporting ministry and mission….. reordered St C, sound and lighting systems, kitchens and toilets…. prayer chapel, and the beginnings of a plan to reorder the west end of St B – less cluttered, more welcoming, display space….
- comms – new website and better use of email – still a long way to go with social media
- generous giving – recent stewardship bearing some fruit, but much further to go, also ways of raising money for outward giving…
- nurturing education – strong links with school
- recruiting more clergy – encouraging vocations big tick (Sandy and Justin)
- growing youth and childrens ministry – recent changes have drawn in more volunteers – not just keeping them entertained on Sunday… KS2 childrens Tuesday group, teenagers group….
- Goal 1 – the most important…..”plan to make prayerful, confident disciples in daily life”… was wondering how to do this – but I was encouraged when the suggestions for how to do this included things we are already doing…. include courses and small groups, pilgrimages, mission trips, rediscovery of spiritual disciplines….
plan to make prayerful, confident disciples in daily life – what does this mean but making saints, becoming saints: becoming holier ourselves and drawing others into faith, holiness, love and service….
That’s why we have chosen to launch this new vision for our diocese – and beyond – today, on the feast of All Saints. Of course there is nothing new about the faith we are to proclaim and live out: what is new is the intentionality of the way we do it, and the explicit awareness that all the parishes in the diocese are sharing in the way we do it, and perhaps in time learning to work better together and share our experience, expertise and resources…..
There is a phrase in the service used when clergy are licensed or inducted… that the church is called to “proclaim the gospel afresh to each generation. TCTL makes suggestions about how we can do this, but only we, here in this parish, can know exactly what it will mean to do it here – to be good news and proclaim good news for the people of Haslemere and the other places we find ourselves. This is the challenge we will be thinking and talking about over the months ahead – not only in the PCC but also in study groups and committees and in conversations across the parish.
Let’s use the prayer on the bookmark to commit ourselves, with every other parish in the diocese, to that vision of transforming church and transforming lives by proclaiming good news and living it, becoming it, being it – taking our place among the saints who have gone before us.
God of our salvation, you sent your Son to draw all people into your abundant life: grant that your Church, empowered by your Spirit, may be the instrument of your transforming purpose in the world, that all may know your power to heal and save. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our twelve transformation goals
Goal 1: Making disciples
Goal 2: Increasing believers
Goal 3: Growing youth and children’s ministry
Goal 4: Developing lay ministers
Goal 5: Recruiting more clergy
Goal 6: Cultivating community partnerships
Goal 7: Reaching beyond borders
Goal 8: Nurturing education
Goal 9: Encouraging generous giving
Goal 10: Sharing expertise
Goal 11: Communicating effectively
Goal 12: Improving church buildings
More information about these and the initiative at http://www.cofeguildford.org.uk/about/transforming-church-transforming-lives