Sunday, 30 July 2017

Vision & Seeing

At St John's over the next six months or so we will be exploring visions for our future as a 'community church', in partnership with a group from Greyfriars who, we hope, will be coming to join us. With a bit of luck we'll also be exploring in partnership with God ... there's not much point if not!

So this post is intended to be a quick (-ish) summary of where I'm at now, at the start of this shared process - obviously this is something we've been looking at ourselves for a while, so none of us are really starting from a blank sheet.

In the best church tradition, I'll do this as three points ... or maybe just three different angles.

The first part is simply the idea mentioned above: that St John's needs to be a community church. Not a church defined by it's walls, although they give a good local focus; nor by its churchgoers, although they are its lifeblood; but by the community it engages with, serves, and works with.

Churches just 'serving' their local community sometimes lose the plot, because that's not really how people work. It is in working in partnership with people that all grow and all can use their talents together in the most effective ways. I was listening to a lady from Greyfriars a couple of weeks ago who spoke of "a church without walls", which conveys the idea nicely.

The next point is about numbers. I think we need a decent sized core congregation to provide the foundation (in Jesus, of course), stability and direction for the work. I see that as being around 100 people over a couple of congregations. Any larger and the thing becomes an all-devouring monster, in my view. But we are within a community of over 9,000 people, so if we are to be really effective we will need to involve and include much more than that core congregation.

Currently we take part in a number of initiatives which are separate from the core of the church and are run in partnership with those who go to other churches or none: there's a 'cooking club' on the Amersham Road estate, which is intended to grow into a 'fresh expression' but needs resource to really progress; there is the 'community cafe' on Tuesdays, which could usefully run on other days of the week; there is a 'food for families' group using part of the church grounds. All of these involve us, are separate from the church organisation, and have great potential to grow and do much, much more if more people got involved.

I see this as the best model going forward: a kind of 'hub and satellites' picture. Something where people who 'don't go to church' can live and grow as enthusiastic followers of Jesus without getting bogged down in all the 'religious' stuff.

The final point is not about organisation or about models, but about who we are especially there for. Who we can work with to be life-giving and grace-transmitting. To my mind the priority should be those who are lonely and lost in our neighbourhoods; those who feel worthless and rejected; those with enormous creativity and love to bring to the table, but who don't feel they belong enough to have the right outlet. Those whom God especially loves because religious people have traditionally turned their backs on them.

The thought of partnering with people from Greyfriars to reach those in need of such life-giving inclusion and welcome is one I find concerning*. But that is the nature of God's Kingdom: it moves forward through the most unexpected people.

To finish, the final verse and chorus from the Bad Pollyanna song above, which I think says a lot about what churches should be relaying to their communities:
Let me put my cards on the table
I've been where you are
I'll never see the stain of a label
Or a scar
You need to know that I won't reject you
Let's unbreak your heart
You are not the voices that shame you
When you are lost
I will find you
Through the dark
I can see you
And you are loved
You are worthy
You can't hide
All the beauty
I can see you
Because that's what Jesus says ... to you and to those around you.

* NB 'Concern' does not equal rejection, more an appreciation that God's way sometimes involves a degree of surprise. It seems likely that those considering moving to St John's will have concerns of their own, of course.

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