I am the vine, you are the branches
Today my sermon will take the place of the Incumbent’s report to the Annual Church Meetings. Now I know that when a president gives an Annual State of the Nation the legislature (at least those in the same party as the president) feel compelled to stand up and applaud each point made. Please don’t feel any compulsion to applaud. To me it makes complete sense that I give this report here in the midst of the morning service because I feel very strongly that even the mundane questions of maintaining our building and managing our finances, should all be connected to our proclamation of the Good News. Whether it is what we are doing or how we are doing it or it is what we are saying we are expressing our faith.
Having now been here just over 6 months, I must say how welcome I have felt personally and how welcome we have felt as a family.
The more I have got to know you all and this parish the more certain I have felt that God was very much at work in bringing me here.
What I have found is a deeply loving and welcoming congregation in the midst of a very friendly village in the midst of one of the most international cities in the world. This congregation reflects its community in a way few do. The welcome and love for All is clearly a reflection of a community which was deeply loved and cared for over the long and loyal service of my predecessor.
However, life is constantly changing, and this parish is no different. We are called to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation.
That means we need to be flexible and creative. And in reaching out – in demonstrating God’s love for Child’s Hill – leading them to know that God loves them to. And that transformation changes those we encounter, it will also transform and change us by encountering them.
In Today’s gospel Jesus is telling his disciples that he is the vine – the source of life, and that we are the branches. But plants need to be pruned to flourish – that means people need to have opportunities to rest, and some of the things we do need to take a break too, in order to allow other people and other activities to flourish. The things we do which are full of life – like the quiz nights and so many of our social activities need to be allowed to continue flourishing. New things need to be tried, and where they don’t work, we need to put it down to experience and try something else. And where something begins to flourish, it must be given the freedom to do so.
This parish – our local area – is in the midst of significant change. In the last few years several care homes have been closed and nearly 200 new homes are in the process of being built. That said, there is a real opportunity for this growth to be done in a sustainable and integrated way. This parish is unusual in the mix of established families and newcomers, and the relative integration of the two. And for us to build community in the midst of these changes, rather than allowing the changes to take the heart out of our local community, we need to have vision. The Parish Profile which drew me to apply outlined a vision for All Saints’ (its on page 4 of the Annual Report) but it outlined three aims:
- To share God’s love and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, through worship, pastoral care and outreach.
- To build a welcoming, friendly and inclusive community for all.
- To actively encourage young people into our Church.
To achieve these aims, we must be a centre of the community for the community. We must continue to offer hospitality and explore how we can do this in more and more radical ways which show the love of God. And hospitality also includes giving people the opportunity to be part of the place – not necessarily immediately on a rota – but in little ways. Many churches that leave their building for refurbishment find they grow while in temporary space. In part because they need to invite everybody to help put out and take down chairs each week,
and because even established members are in unfamiliar territory. With the limited schedule of the library and the lack of a local community hall we need to be thinking about how we can work with our community to meet its needs. We need to continue to improve our visibility, so important when we are hidden on this beautiful little lane – people need to know we are here! And when they find out where we are, they need to find us accessible, so that they aren’t frightened to come across the threshold. Even those who went to a church school may not have any sense of what will happen in a church service – or if they will be rounded on when their toddler asks for mummy milk. Even for the stay-and-play I’ve found people who are nervous to come along because they don’t know what they will find when they walk in the church for the first time. We need to be accessible to the unchurched generation and the generation that has been harmed by the aggressive nature of some churches. This is the job of the whole community – not just the priest, or the churchwardens or the school. The great news is – we have in our midst this great treasured gift given us by God. Do you know what that treasure is? It’s you – you are all such a delightful group of people, when you say to your friend oh, would you like me to come with you the first time you go to the stay and play? or to the Christmas Carols? suddenly they aren’t so scared. That’s part of the great success of the quiz – people know they are safe because of who they are with. And when they come through the door – like for the Good Friday workshop – they are amazed by the reception they get from this truly loving and welcoming community.
Over the next year I hope that we can develop our vision further, to set priorities for the next 2, 5 and even 10 years. It needs everybody to collaborate, to help us take stock of our situation, our parish, the opportunities that are out there and to dream dreams, not little ones but big ones, nothing should be too grand or too difficult to consider. Because God can do more than we can ask or imagine.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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