Monday, 29 July 2013

The mission imperative (an introvert's perspective)

I last wrote about the imperative for unity which lies at the heart of church life. Out of our unity comes the second great imperative: to be a missionary church. Mission is the work of God, and every disciple is called to join in with God in what He is doing in their place.

So often mission and evangelism are confused. Evangelism is part of mission - an essential part if the word of God is to be heard by those who aren't habitual churchgoers - but it is not the whole of it. Sometimes the idea of being evangelical seems difficult, and yet every Christian is called to be evangelical, in the sense that every Christian is called to share their story of the good news of the gospel impacting on their lives. The appropriation of the title evangelical by a particular sub-group of Christians with a particular worship style is perhaps unhelpful to all the ordinary Christians in ordinary places. They don't worship that way, perhaps don't agree with every viewpoint that is labelled 'evangelical' and so they understand that they are not evangelical and not called to speak out the gospel or do the evangelical thing. It's an easy opt out.

I recently heard myself tell a colleague that I am not an evangelical. After she left, I realised that I hadn't got it right. I am not a person who would easily fit into any of the sub-groups within the church, but at different times I am nurtured by most of them. I believe passionately in sharing the good news of Jesus with the world. That presumably does make me an evangelical, even if I'm not the sort of person who goes to Spring Harvest or New Wine. And, I reflected, the main factor in that difference between and the New Wine goers is not about belief necessarily, but about temperament. I am an introvert. Going to big gatherings, talking to strangers, all the things that are the hall mark of evangelical churchgoing, are the sort of thing I really find draining. So, I got it wrong when I talked to my friend. I am an evangelical, just too shy, too quiet, too introverted to fit into the sub-groups's general mould.

Middle of the road rural village churches sometimes need to give themselves permission, as I do myself, to be another kind of evangelical, speaking about our experiences quietly, gently, in ones and twos. What matters is not how we tell the gospel but THAT we tell it. For we are missionary churches and we must do God's work. And that means pointing people to Jesus by whatever means we are able.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The unity imperative

Sunday afternoon was one of those rare ones that will be remembered by a whole community. The occasion was a festival service celebrating the unity we are building in our new parish, only seven months old. The side chapel was rededicated, and is now dedicated to the patron saint of the church that closed in December. The altar and all the linen from the closed church are very much back in use, and it looks beautiful. Newly built toilet and servers facilities were dedicated too. The church was decorated with stunning flower arrangements, bunting made by our school, and embroidery displays. The school and church choirs sang, the school steel band played, and the church was full to capacity.

Bishop Donald of Peterborough presided, and was as delighted as I was that part of the service was led by my local Baptist colleague. She and her husband offered prayer for healing in the newly dedicated chapel after the service and brought peace to a number of people.

In his address, Bishop Donald spoke of the two great imperatives of the church: unity and mission. Amongst the congregation there were not only Baptist friends and partners in mission, but also Christians from other traditions worshipping around the area. Their support, friendship and prayer makes a difference to us, and I hope that we will be as supportive to them. In our parish area, mission can only really be effective if we do it together with our Baptist friends, who are called to the same mission field.

Unity isn't just about ecumenism, though. It starts with us. Our celebration was of two becoming one, and our choice of sparkling wine (or other fizz) and fruit cake for refreshments was quite deliberate. Two autonomous communities had to come together, which requires every member of both original communities to give up some of their hopes, responsibilities, power, status, plans, in order to be fully part of the new community that God is creating. It requires a great deal of effort, much listening and enormous, patient, forgiving love.

On Sunday I was wearing a white stole. I had brought this particular stole deliberately because it reminds me of the imperative for unity and my own all within it. The stole was made by the sisters at Turvey Abbey as a retirement gift for Canon Martin Reardon when he completed his work for Churches Together in England. Members of many denominations contributed to the cost of making it. It meant a lot to Martin. After he died, Martin's widow gave it to me. I am one of many whose lives and ministries were deeply affected by Martin, who was a mentor and encourager in my life in a big way. Wearing his stole reminds me that I too am called to work for unity. Like Martin, I can only work for unity if others will work with me. It is by its very nature a community call, not an individual hobby.

For Christians, as Martin taught in his lifetime, and Bishop Donald taught on Sunday, working for unity isn't optional. It can't be considered the domain of an interest group. Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world might believe. The second imperative, mission, cannot be effective unless the first is in place. Being one within and between our churches is hugely important. We were one on Sunday. Now we must work to keep on being one. One in difficult PCC debates. One when we aren't sure about the style of the other congregation but love them anyway. One when we feel powerless and when we are hurting, not just when we are joyful. Let us pray with Jesus that we will be able to truly be one, that the world might believe.