(An abbreviated and edited version of the Rector’s address at the Annual Parish Meeting in April)
Why are we here as a Christian community? We exist to communicate to the rest of the world the truths concerning God’s liberating and redeeming work. That’s the whole justification for our existence. Everything else is at best secondary; at worst superfluous. We need only enough structure and organization to help us proclaim convincingly our message. The criterion we should apply for doing anything is: does it help us to carry out that fundamental task? If it does not, can we re-shape what we do, so that our maximum effort is given to that? Churches acquire all sorts of extraneous activities, cultures, ways of being church, as they go along. Sometimes some of those ways stop us concentrating on what is fundamental.
The ministry of the church belongs to us all. Each Christian is Christ’s fellow servant in the task of sharing herself or himself in Christ with the world. No-one is here to ‘help the Vicar’: everyone represents the Church, because everyone is the face of Jesus Christ. We can only fulfil what we are here to do when we take upon ourselves the responsibility of being Christ’s presence to and for others.
What might this mean for us at St. Mary’s? Here are some examples:
The Parochial Church Council’s task – clergy and laity together – is to take primary responsibility for ensuring we are doing what we are here for, and not allowing ourselves to get sidetracked by things which, though they may be good in themselves, in the end distract us. The PCC has to be a body capable of exercising spiritual leadership. It has some necessary committee-like things to do, but it’s essentially here to drive our sense of discipleship. That means PCC members must take their own discipleship seriously, making sure it is properly nurtured in regular prayer and worship.
We’ve begun to consider in the PCC how we make engaging with scripture a more central part of our parish life. But how do we enable younger families with busy lives to be part of that? What happens to childcare for them? What’s the best day, time or style for a new development? What might have to give way to make room for it?
Our sidespersons are working on our ministry of welcome – not because it isn’t done properly but because we want it to be even better. Helping people develop their skills in ministry should be a natural part of our church life.
A parish web site is increasingly the way people find out about a church. Our web site needs an overhaul.
How do we ensure our young people are properly nurtured in faith – which can’t be done in just thirty minutes on a Sunday morning? Do we have leaders prepared to make that a priority in their ministry – and how might they be freed up for that?
How can we equip people to bear Christian witness in their Monday to Saturday work and life, and not just in their Sunday ministry in church? So much of church life assumes that what matters is what happens in church or in church organisations. How do we redress the balance and make space for the equipping of God’s people for their front-line work?
There are many more areas of our church life where the same criteria come into play. We need to see with greater clarity and a greater sense of urgency that our fundamental task is to be people who bear witness to the world of what God in Christ has done, of how communion with him is what nourishes and empowers us, and of what difference to human living it makes to shape the life of each person and of the whole world around God’s love for the world. It’s what we’re here for.