Sunday, February 1, 2009

So what is the Church doing in response to the recession?

Lorraine is forever sending me emails. No, I do not mean our Lorraine. I mean someone called Lorraine Kapp. Lorraine Kapp is the Administrator for the Gloucestershire Assembly Team that brings together everyone in Gloucestershire that works in the Voluntary and Community Sector.
What a mouthful!

And there are so many emails!

Actually it is a very important network of people. There are an immense number of voluntary and community groups working away for the good of so many people in our community.

The email was about the response that should be made to the Recession.

Your input please.

At yesterday’s community strategy executive board meeting there was a constructive debate on the recession. It was agreed that:

Gloucestershire First is best placed to lead on support to businesses.

It’s worth pausing there. Because this month sees the retirement of Stan Jones, a member of Salem and there this morning, but also a regular member of our evening congregation. He has for the last few years built up Glos First as a major group supporting business in this county. In recognition of his contribution he was given an honorary degree by the University of Gloucestershire.

I pause there … because that is where I want to begin … what response are we as churches making to the recession. Well, as we each of us are making a response in the sphere we are involved in that is significant. People from our churches are very much involved in the response at many different levels – and we need to be giving them support, and supporting people in the area they are involved in.

But the next part of the email recognises that in the difficult period we are entering into, people need support.

The email says this, The Voluntary and community Sector, public sector and other organisations are best placed to continue to provide direct support to people;

There are potential gaps in support given to people, in resources available … and there is a need to target thngs to fill those gaps.

And that is where the questionnaire comes in.

Lorraine Kapp writes … “It is very important that I can give accurate information on the activities that VCS organisations are doing to support people and local communities through a recession in order to influence the subsequent planning and allocation of resources.

Then comes the request.

The Assembly Team would therefore like to hear:
what you are doing already to support people and communities in the recession
any ideas for other ways for supporting people and communities in the recession

I have an emailing of all the churches in Cheltenham. And from time to time I circiulate Lorraine Kapp’s emails around that mailing. I fear I don’t do all of them. There are so many.

But my attention was drawn to this one. It seemed particularly important.

What is our response as a church?

I have circulated the email around the Deacons and on our emailing list. I share it today. I will include it in our next News Letter.

How do you begin to respond?

Actually, I want to say that is precisely what Church is about.

Since the New Year I have on Sunday mornings been trying to flesh out what it is about our Christian faith that is significant at a difficult time such as we are in. Faith in a Great Big God helps us to put things in perspective, help in a God who through Jesus gets involved in the ordinary everyday life is equally important as it prompts me to realise that the tiniest of things I can do is in reality very, very important.

I went on to reflect on the way we can draw on a strength from beyond ourselves in that unseen, but real presence of the Spirit to keep us going, and to enable us to do what in our own strength we could not do.

Curiously some of those themes are explored in the Christian novel of the moment, the Shack, which as I was saying last week is well worth a read.

In a sense that is the first part of my answer to the question Lorraine Kapp poses.

The first thing we are offering people in a time when lots of things we have taken so for granted are toppling, tumbling and being called into question is a framework of beliefs that have been tested through the centuries and are capable of seeing us through difficult times.

There is more, much more that we have to offer in response to Lorraine Kapp’s question.

I believe in the Church.

This is where I begin to take issue a little with the writer of the Shack.

I believe passionately in the Church. I would not be where I am doing the job I do if I did not have that conviction. I do not accept that Christianity is a personal, individualistic thing between an individual and God. At the heart of Chrsitian faith is a very personal faith, rooted in the heart and shaped by the conscience of each us individually. But the Christian faith then invites us to share our faith in God with each other.

Jesus gathered people together so that they would learn from one another and learn from him. Indeed he said that it would be as people gather together, even if it’s only two or three, that he would be present with them.

Wherever you turn in the New Testament you see the followers of Jesus coming together in that upper room in Jerusalem for prayer. In the homes of believers as they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Wherever Paul went he formed churches, and he wrote to them to keep them going.

We, who are many, he wrote to the Church in Rome in Romans 12:5, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.

What a wonderfully rich image. We are the body of Christ, as Mother Tereas said, he has no other hands but our hands, he has no other feet but our feet. We embody Christ’s presence in our world, the Jesus who brings a way of love into people’s lives, the Jesus who heals hurting people. We embody this Jesus, and individually we are members one of another.

That’s a very thought provoking way of putting it. That we are actually bound to one another. That idea is developed further by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

He writes at length of the church as the body of Christ.

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

He explores his theme by speaking of the way each part of the body needs the other parts – and so it is in the church we need each other. All parts of the body are equally important, and so each member of a church is equally important.

God has so arranged the body, that there may be no dissension within the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

This is the church I believe in. A church where everyone counts. A church were everyone looks out for everyone else. A church where everyone cares for one another.

Then comes one of the most magnificent statements about the church. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”

That’s the crux of the matter.

What are we doing to support people and communities in the recession.

A large part of the answer simply points to the church. This is precisely what the church is about. We offer a support network from the cradle to the grave. With support for little ones and families – and at the same time on-going care and support right the way through life to old age too.

We must not under-estimate the importance of our visiting scheme – it is a network of support which enables us to be on the lookout for each other.

We must not under-estimate our prayer networks – it is good to know we can support each other in prayer.

We must not under-estimate the way our premises are used offering a home to community groups that become more and more important at this kind of time.

This is all a very real contribution.

Since our last Church Meeting and into our Annual Meeting we are looking at a number of things in particular:

Becky is convening a group to look at the next steps we need to take to develop our support for families and children.

We are in touch with a niece of Margaret Pote to develop a link with the College

This week Phil Arnold and I joined a large number of people in Gloucester taking forward the idea of introducing Street Pastors on to the streets of Cheltenham and Gloucester. I went on to a meeting with church leaders in Cheltenham working out ways in which we might ensure that such a venture is rooted in the life of Cheltenham’s churches.
That meeting had an enthusiasm for extending that kind of support from the night time to the daytime economy of Cheltenham too.

An initiatve of churches in Cheltenham to open overnight accommodation for those who are homeless.

A meeting jointly with St Luke’s and St Michael’s to develop further how we may work together.

Things have been in the doldrums with regard to churches working together in Cheltenham. I sense that the kind of questions Lorraine Kapp has posed to us will galvanise us into action. May that be our prayer.

The Faith we Share Together - from Paul's Letter to the Romans
We have a Gospel to share, Good News for all

The Good News was promised long ago by God through his prophets, as written in the Holy Scriptures.

The Good News is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ:
as to his humanity, he was born a descendant of David;
as to his divine holiness, he was shown with great power
to be the Son of God by being raised from death. [Romans 1:2-4]

The Good News is God's power to save all who believe, [Romans 1:16]

The Good News reveals how God puts people right with himself:
it is through faith from beginning to end [Romans 1:17]

Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence.
But by the free gift of God's grace
all are put right with him through Christ Jesus,
who sets them free.
And by his sacrificial death
Is the means by which people's sins are forgiven [Romans 3:23-25]

Now that we have been put right with God through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

He has brought us by faith into this experience of God's grace,
in which we now live.

And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God's glory!
We also boast of our troubles,
because we know that trouble produces endurance,
endurance brings God's approval,
and his approval creates hope
This hope does not disappoint us,
for God has poured out his love into our hearts
by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to us [Romans 5:1-5]

The Spirit comes to help us, weak as we are. [Romans 8:26]

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can trouble do it, or hardship
or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? [Romans 8:35]

No, in all these things we have complete victory
through him who loved us! [Romans 8:35]

For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love:
neither death nor life,
neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers,
neither the present nor the future,
neither the world above nor the world below
there is nothing in all creation
that will ever be able to separate us
from the love of God which is ours
through Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-38]


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