Today sees the launch of a community audit I am leading – A Church4U? at an event based in a local school, followed by a church service focused on the story of the road to Emmaus. The focus of the audit is to use surveys, focus group and films to discover the heart and soul of the area- a place with two distinctive christian communities yet no dedicated church building. We hope to discover what residents, and those working in the community, understand church to be, and also if they want to be part of a vision that will establish a multi-use church building as much about community service and a place to be as a venue for Sunday worship.
After the death of Jesus the disciples lost heart and hope. Their Rabbi and leader had died and they were devastated and had little idea of what to do next other than to return to their former lives. It was as if that previous three years had counted for nothing. On the Road to Emmaus Jesus revealed the truth of his mission to them and they learned that they would receive power through the Holy Spirit. They would gain hope and a new mission and would have some story to share- a story destined to turn the world on its head. Today two churches will meet in a community centre without any outward visible sign that they are church. I will be asking them about how many people they are walking with every day on their own road to Emmaus and how these strangers or friends will be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus?
For a previous post on a related topic see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/now-you-see-me-now-you-dont/
In the opening chapter of Acts the resurrected Jesus tells his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promises of the father- The Holy Spirit. The disciples are excited at the prospect of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel- they still don’t get it! Only a few verses later Christ tells them to be his witnesses on Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth and then he disappears! As my friend George Lings would say, the message may have reached the ends of the earth but the church has set up a number of mini-Jerusalems. How many Christians effectively reach out beyond church walls other than through blitz events like Hope and Soul in the City and specific ministries like Street Pastors?
Some would say that the church is obsessed with Jerusalem and making it look better, bigger, slicker and brighter- when the real need is to set up camp in Samaria or even venture to the ends of the earth. As a church we tend to focus on people who are like us- Churched- those comfortable to be our people. What about the de-churched on the fringes of Samaria who are at least 3 times bigger than we are and many of whom don’t like who we are? What about the non-churched where we could come into contact we a group amongst the under 45s who are 6 times greater than that age profile in our churches? There is some excellent news and stories around the Back to Church Sunday initiative for which we should praise God, but we can’t ignore the facts that around 40% of the populations have had some experience of church yet have not returned- was it really their fault. My friend George suggests that the complex DNA have the church has dominant Anglican genes called worship and pastoral care and that evangelism and mission genes are recessive. For a national church, the Church of England, the number of people who appear to be deeply alienated from us is disturbing. It’s time to leave Jerusalem.
I only ever recall meeting my father twice. The third occasion I was in his company was at his funeral.
The Church of England is making a bid to put God into Fathers’ Day with a prayer for children to include in their cards today.The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev John Inge, said, “Let’s celebrate Fathers’ Day in our churches, honouring those fathers who have shown us something of God’s love, praying for fathers to be given strength in their crucial role and remembering that God, who is our Father in heaven, loves us more than we can grasp.”
Children ‘lost for words’ this Fathers’ Day are encouraged to paste or write in their cards a prayer specially written for the occasion, thanking dads for their love and support and asking God to support and guide them. “I have always believed in my head,” said Bishop John, “that God loves me unconditionally but it was only when I became a father myself that I began to understand it with my heart.”
The prayer is backed up by a new page on http://www.cofe.anglican.org with more prayer material. Churches are offered: a sample service to customise for Fathers’ Day; a podcast in which Bishop John explains how becoming a father gave him a new understanding of God’s unconditional love; and a link provides a gateway to the WhatDadsAdd website created by the Church or England and the Mothers’ Union. “I have never known a love quite like the love of being a father and I rejoice in the great gift of fatherhood,” said Bishop John Inge. “I rejoice in it because of my children, to whom I am devoted. But I also rejoice in it because it helps me to understand more profoundly how God loves me, and how nothing can separate me from that love.”
I didn’t really know my natural father but am grateful for the love of a father God. I echo this prayer this Fathers’ day and hope my children will pray it for me, and that they will have a more positive memory of me than I have of my own father. Thanks to Bishop John for reminding us of the role of fathers on this special day.
I thank God for all the love and support you offer me, and I ask for God’s blessing on you this Father’s day: may God our heavenly Father keep you in his care, support and guide you each day and help you grow in love and wisdom. through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In today’s Church Times Peter Graystone, who works for Church Army developing pioneering evangelism projects, writes about the Business Committee of General Synod cutting an entire day of debates at its next meeting. Peter says that; “the true cost of this decision is the loss of the reports that would have filled this summer’s group of sessions with hope and inspiration. In particular….. the absence of the report…. painstakingly to mark the fifth anniversary of the occasion when Synod debated and commended Mission Shaped Church: church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context. Ironically, that report challenged the entire Church, including General Synod, to make mission initiatives to the non-churched a priority – the very thing that has not happened in its exclusion from next month’s agenda.”
Peter adds, “The saddest aspect of this decision is that the narrative of five years of pioneering mission is one of hope and encouragement. Synod members will now not hear of the parts of the Church of England where, as a direct result of the principles advocated by Mission Shaped Church, the Kingdom of God is growing in ways that are beautiful and life-enhancing.”
Too often we moan and wring our hands about the decline of our churches and yet, on this occasion, those responsible responsible for organising the business of the Anglican Churches’ policy making body have missed an opportunity to hear stories of hope and encouragement. I know I’m an unfinished Christian but this really does sound like unfinished business- why can’t the Business Committee make space for General Synod to hear great news, God knows they need to?
I hadn’t heard of The Christian Council of Britain until yesterday. I was watching a debate on BBC Tv’s The Big Questions about the BNP and to my surprise saw a Christian minister Rev Robert West (in dog collar) a failed BNP candidate in the recent Euro elections saying that it is God’s will to “preserve nations as ethnic groups”. The other BNP rep on the show said that the people have a tendency to “caricature the policies of the BNP with an emotional tirade.” I know nothing about the Rev West, but under challenge from Jonathan Bartley he would not reveal how many people were members of his organisation, so I went on line to check it out. Its mission statement is (my highlights):
“To promote Christian views and values in our Nation and society; and to counteract cultural and ideological challenges and threats from extreme ideologies which would seek to undermine, persecute, or legally prosecute Britain’s national and Christian heritage as a basis for an attack on the free, open, liberal and democratic nature of her People, and of their society. The Christian Council of Britain has been set up to fulfill this Mission Statement through national and local campaigning and by obtaining a voice in the media for patriotic Christians. We promote and defend the Christian stance in government consultations on policy and legislation and we challenge anti-Christian, anti-family propaganda and activities in the media, the professions and wherever else they occur. We will work with like-minded organisations to end the undermining of Britain’s Christian family morality and Christian heritage from whatever source these attacks, insidious or overt, long-term or sudden, originate from.
As the Rev West was so evasive about the numbers and backing for his organisation. I checked out what Churches Together has to say about The Christian Council of Britain:
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland associates itself with the recent statement from the Methodist Church concerning a body calling itself the “Christian Council of Britain”, and wishes to make absolutely clear that there is no connection between CTBI or its predecessor the British Council of Churches and the “Christian Council of Britain”.The statement from the Methodist Church said: A body calling itself the Christian Council of Britain and apparently associated with the BNP recently started joining protests against Jerry Springer: The Opera. Anthea Cox, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social justice, said, “I am outraged that the BNP and its allies are using Christianity to further their agenda of segregation and division. I think most Christians will be deeply affronted by this and want to speak out against such misguided extremism. We reaffirm our earlier statements that Christian belief is incompatible with any political party or philosophy that is based on hatred or treats people as inferior because of their race, beliefs or for any other reason. We are deeply concerned that some people are now appropriating Christian language and symbols for policies that are the very opposite of Christian values.”
The CCB has claimed that the Bible justifies its support for the BNP’s repatriation policy. But the Revd Ken Howcroft, Coordinating Secretary for Conference and Communication, said “this was a way of interpreting scripture that was used to justify apartheid in South Africa, the banning of mixed-race marriages and the setting up of homelands. The South African Council of Churches condemned this interpretation, and some of the churches that did support this interpretation later formally repented. In Galatians, Paul writes ‘In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile,’ and this makes it clear that there is no Christian basis for racial discrimination or separation.”
Now we know the sort of ‘Christian’ organisation that BNP’s Nick Griffin promised to support in his recent Times interview and the sort of ‘Christian’ values held by the Rev Robert West- More jackboots than Jesus.
Today is St George’s Day and earlier this year The Archbishop of York ,Ugandan-born Dr Sentamu, called for a stronger focus on St George’s Day in response to the past association of England’s patron saint and the national flag of St George with racists and the Far Right.Dr Sentamu said that failure to support an English cultural identity could create a ‘twisted vision’ which could be exploited by firebrand politicians and Islamic extremists. The revival of interest in St George has been boosted in recent years by devolution in Scotland and Wales, and through widespread use of England’s national flag, the Cross of St George, by fans of the national football team.
The Archbishop added; ‘Has the time come to make the feast of St George, the patron saint of England, a public holiday?’Whether it be the terror of Salafi-jihadism (the radical Islamic doctrine behind Al Qaeda) or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity.’Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England’s fabric – rather Englishness is emboldened to grow anew.The truth is that an all-embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are.”
Musician and political activist Billy Bragghas also called for the nation to the cross of St George and take pride in being English, and believes very much that St George’s Day offers a unique opportunity for people from all backgrounds and beliefs to come together and celebrate the things that make England great. His 2002 CD England, half English featured a number of songs based on the concept of multi-faith, multi-cultural Englishness. One of my favourites comes from the album’s title track;
“Britannia, she’s half English, she speaks Latin at home. St George was born in the Lebanon, how he got here I don’t know. And those three lions on your shirt. They never sprang from England’s dirt them lions are half English and I’m half English too.”
For more on St George go to http://www.royalsocietyofstgeorge.com/historyofstgeorge.htm
John Buchan’s The Thirty-nine Steps is one of the finest and most highly admired thrillers ever written as it traces the story of Richard Hannay getting caught up in a sensational plot to precipitate a pan-European war. In Buchan’s ripping yarn, the reader is carried along with the mystery of trying to work out what the significance of the 39 steps is as written in Scuddeer’s book. As someone newly exploring the Anglican faith, I came across the 39 articles of religion or faith established in 1563 as the historic defining statements of Anglican doctrine. Although not exactly a mystery in the genre of John Buchan, I started to read this with interest; after all I had attended many an Anglican church and no one had mentioned these 39 steps to faith to me. It turns out that they are still very much an active part of Anglican doctrine and, in theory at least, people sign up to these when they join the Anglican church. I wonder how many Anglicans know of them or sign up to them and why more isn’t done to promote them. Is it because they are rather quaint and outdated? Is it because for too many people in our post-modern society they are too hard to believe? is it because they are too anti-Roman Catholic? Or, rather like Richard Hannay in Buchan’s novel, is it because we are a little wary of where following these 39 steps may lead?
Follow this link to read the 39 articles of faith see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/acis/docs/thirty_nine_articles.cfm