Ministry for Mission
I have recently been re-reading the Venerable Bede – monk and church historian in the eighth century. His Latin text was part of my syllabus as a student! I have been reminded of some important principles about ministry to deliver God’s mission in our time.
Principles for Today
In July the General Synod discussed the Reform and Renewal Programme being pursued by the Church of England in order to mobilise our resources to be most effective for God’s mission in the twenty-first century. There is the challenge of maintaining our inheritance of a parochial system that embraces every community in the country. Further, there is a challenge to find new and appropriate ways of being ‘church’ in our times. Both challenges depend upon the leadership and witness our church can offer.
Key proposals include:
Doubling the number of candidates for ordination.
Discipleship being our key priority – equipping the people of God.
Creating a learning community to shape and support the leadership of the Church.
Bede and His Wisdom
In the eighth century, as the parish system was developing, there seemed to be a huge gap between the resources of the church for mission, and the needs of disparate communities not easy to reach (then because of poor roads; today because of cultural confusions about Christianity).
Bede wrote to the Archbishop of York making some suggestions:
More priests to preach in the villages, celebrate the holy mysteries and baptise – we would call this traditional church today.
The need to employ ‘adequate leaders of salutary life’, who could ‘teach the truth of the faith, and the difference between good and evil’. We would call this discipleship – focused on the two great issues that perplex our time: truth, and an understanding of good and evil.
Ministry for Mission
How should these resources be best deployed? Bede believed in the importance of minsters – we might use the term Resource Churches. Centres where priests and lay ministers were gathered for prayer, support and strategic deployment. We would call such arrangements ‘learning communities’. Locally in the Diocese we are using the term ‘School of Formation’.
Bede was content for each minster to ‘develop its own system of regulation’. Resources need to be marshalled appropriately. We see this as the potential role of the new Deaneries.
He concludes his advice with the observation that Bishops should ‘ordain priests, and institute leaders’. I am up for that – how many of you are ready to offer yourselves for such service?!
The Shop Stop
Department stores were developed in the 1870s. Until that time people went to the shop or the market to buy what they thought they needed to sustain and enjoy life. Of course people would browse, and see, and buy, new things. But ‘shopping’ was generally targeted to wants and needs.
Church and Common Life
The same was true of church. People went to public worship to be taught and sustained in the Christian faith. This common experience and set of reference points provided the basis for community – common standards and values. Of course people would see and pursue relationships and practices beyond these ‘norms’, just as they would be in church and let their imaginations explore the atmosphere, the words, the stained glass and the crucifix. But the liturgies were fixed, and ‘spirituality’ was generally nourished through a fairly set approach to the needs and wants of the soul.
The Department Store
The Department Store was a sign of huge shift: from a targeted, functional approach to sustenance and survival, to something very different. Now, in one place were assembled nearly all the goods a shopper might need or want. The atmosphere shifted from being functional to one of coaxing demand – encouraging the individual to see and want more than they might have envisaged when they entered the store. With ‘eternal’ florescent light and pastorally helpful staff the focus was upon each person feeling comfortable, able to seek ‘personal’ service and satisfaction. There soon developed a money-back guarantee to reinforce this prioritisation of personal control and commitment.
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Now the big stores set the scene for the seasons, offer loyalty and credit cards, provide carefully chosen mood music. Each invites identification with a particular version of ‘heaven’ – where dreams are fulfilled and life is made worthwhile. A very particular kind of spirituality!
Church and Choice
Meanwhile – in church – we have an increasing contrast between a similar shift towards offering customer satisfaction – built around the needs and dreams of the ‘customer’, and that deeper spirituality which challenges each of us to become a slave, a servant – giving ourselves up to the agenda of others. Love god and love your neighbour as yourself – Jesus taught. This is the seed of a very different spirituality – about service rather than satisfaction, and about sacrifice rather than success. We are challenged to define our lives not by what we purchase, but through what we give away.
Shopping and Spirituality
Shopping is important for our survival. We are blessed with so much choice. It provokes a certain kind of spirituality – whose logic is individuality and competition. Witness the chaos at sale-times!
Spirituality enlivened by Jesus Christ, is even more important for our survival. It provokes another kind of life – informed by the Holy Spirit, bound together in God’s grace, and paying particular concern to those who lack the obvious trappings of a good life.
As our purses and wallets become stuffed with ever more loyalty cards, should each church provide a loyalty-to-Jesus card? If could be the first thing we see when we go shopping. It might provoke prayer for a different kind of lifestyle!
There is a well-known hymn, written by Susan Warner in 1868, with the refrain – you in your small corner, and I in mine! Each of us lives in a small space – in a locality, with family, friends, at work. In the modern world we are more and more conscious of others in their own very different small corners. We call it ‘diversity’.
From Corner to Circle
There are two things that connect the corners and put us in a single circle. One is the planet, the environment. Something we all share. On which we all depend.
The other is the mercy of our Creator God who gives each person life and breath – the seed of eternity.
The circle works through ‘harvest’. Partly our work together on earth to provide nourishment and sustenance: the harvest of fruits. But harvest also happens through our sharing together in a spirit of co-operation – the harvest of fellowship.
From Derbyshire to Delhi
Each year in our Diocese we celebrate this harvest of fruits and this harvest of fellowship.
In 2014 we expressed this connection and companionship between our small corner in Derbyshire and the life of our brothers and sisters in Delhi, in the Church of North India. I am delighted to report that your wonderful generosity raised £21,500 to enable women in the slums to establish small recycling businesses. Making the most of the harvest of the fruits of the earth. Building the capacity for a spirit of confidence and community to enrich life in these testing corners of God’s creation.
Thank you for helping us to connect the corners – and to create a spiritual circle of grace and goodness in which we can all give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, and for the new life He grows amongst His children. The fruits of our fellowship continue to grow.
Angola and Education
This year, 2015, we are working with another small corner of God’s life and love – girls and women in Angola. They are often penned into a very small corner indeed – lacking opportunities for education or work beyond the narrowly domestic. Gifts denied the opportunity to grow, flourish and contribute to the wellbeing of the wider community.
Further details will be available soon – for parishes and for schools. There will be a special launch event. We are working in partnership with Christian Aid, who have excellent local links.
The Generosity of God
Please try to be generous. Give thanks to God for the blessings of life in your small corner. Let us see if we can make our contribution to the harvest of fruits and fellowship that our Lord longs to raise up in Angola, and in Derbyshire, and in our life within the comforting circle of His grace.
Earlier this year the House of Bishops published a letter to the people of the parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015 entitled: “Who is my Neighbour?”
In seeking the common good the bishops have commended to us policies which respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour. Our own statement about our vision for the diocese speaks of acting in the service of the common good within the communities of Derbyshire and through our engagement with the wider world. Bishop Alastair in his recent publication The Word on the Street invites us to consider the missionary challenge and opportunity of taking full ownership of our democratic responsibility. When our faith and political participation work together to respond to the needs and concerns of our society we offer a vision of a world made new, a new order transformed by the indwelling spirit of Jesus Christ.
As we approach the General Election and consider all the political manifestos being offered, we might ask ourselves the critical question: What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and how does that impact on the way we vote and the choices we make in support of our neighbour and mutual flourishing?
As well as an individual response there is an on- going need for collective action. Our participation in political dialogue needs to continue post-election. Sunday by Sunday as we exchange The Peace with one another we affirm our identity as the Body of Christ and the priest invites us to “pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life”. It is through working together as the Body of Christ, with a commitment to collective action, that we seek after justice, serve our neighbour and act as advocates for the poor and the marginalised. Being sent out “to live and work to God’s praise and glory”, will include activity and a voice in the public space.
This month we will elect a new government. Once the democratic decision is made it will be important for us to continue to engage in mission as we enact the common good through service to our neighbour. We are an incarnational community about the business of making Christ known in the world through lives that seek to bring blessing,
reconciliation, justice and peace to all.
It will also be important to uphold our newly elected leadership in prayer.