Sunday, February 28, 2010

Safe streets and a safe environment for our town!

It was on Wednesday that I prepared today’s Order of Service. Between then and now much has happened. So much, that as I sat down to prepare this morning’s sermon on Friday afternoon, I felt I simply had to change my theme and follow a different tack.

I want to share with you a text that I discovered on Thursday morning, and then make connections between that text and what happened on Thursday, on Friday and on Saturday this week.

The challenge for us all, then, is to see what connections we can make between all those reflections and our annual meeting on Thursday when we have the opportunity to meet together and dream dreams about the direction our church is going in on into the future that lies ahead of us.

It was on Thursday morning, that a good number of the clergy and ministers of the town, together with other church leaders, met together at St Matthew’s church.

Once the welcomes were done, Andrew Dow, Rector of Cheltenham and the one who has spear-headed our Church Leaders in Cheltenham group that has been working towards enabling the churches of Cheltenham to work more effectively together, shared with us this text.

He described it as a new one on him. It was a new one on me.

We had come together to dream dreams and to share visions, and to prompt some practical planning to explore the ways our churches are making a difference in our town, and how they could make more of a difference.

What better place to start than with a dream and a vision. As Andrew commented it has all sorts of eschatological overtones, but it is about a town or rather a city and it dreams of what a town or city that is at its best should be like.

Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

That’s not a bad vision for a city, and it’s not a bad vision for a town!

What had prompted our get together on Thursday morning was the success of Street Pastors in seeking simply to be of service in an area of considerable need in what is sometimes described as the night-time economy of Cheltenham.

But that has always been only one part of a greater vision for the churches of Cheltenham. That greater vision challenges our churches to think of ways in which they may more effectively work together to make a difference in our town.

Our speaker for the day was John Aldis. I was intrigued to learn that he had developed a city centre ministry in Leicester during the late 70’s and 80’s when he had been the Vicar of a city centre church in Leicester where shortly before Felicity’s step father had been organist, Holy Trinity, Leicester.

Before retiring to Stonehouse a couple of years ago where he has become very involved not only in the life of the churches but also in the life of the council, John had ministered in Watford.

When he arrived there was not just little activity on the part of the churches in the town, but a marked resistance from a highly secularised council and retail sector to any inovlement from the churches.

He described how in Watford, after much prayer, the churches had launched a response. They grouped together to appoint first one and then two chaplains to act in a co-ordinating role. Then for that night-time economy in Watford they appointed 44 Street Angels, doing much as our Street Pastors are doing: being a presence ‘on the street’.

But in addition they also appointed 24 voluntary ‘chaplains’, each focusing on a particular part of the ‘day-time’ economy. Looking at the town, they made the observation that there was already a lot of pastoral care and usupport going on. And it was being given by one particular set of people. The hairdressers! You are in the hairdressers for such a while that you unburden yourself. And the hairdressers carry a lot of people’s problems. Sometimes, not sure what to do about them. One person in one church had been a hairdresser, and so it was she took on the role of a chaplain to the hairdressers. Simply being there, coming alongside, and helping to carry some of the burdens they had been asked to shoulder.

That’s just one example, of the way people were linked up in different ways to different aspects of the town life.

We had a time of sharing and we went round the room learning of the different ways work is already being done in Cheltenham by the churches. We heard of extensive work being done among homeless people, and of the plans for a direct access home called Tony’s house that Tim Mayfield of Christchurch is working on.

  • Chaplaincy to the police,
  • Family space and work among young people
  • Youth for Christ
  • Hospital Chaplaincy
  • Glos Coll chaplaincy
  • University chaplaincy
  • Cheltenham Town Chaplaincy
  • Christians Against Poverty
  • Street Pastors and the need for more people to go on the streets, and more people to be Prayer Pastors.
  • Schools work in many schools
  • Involvement in the stronger town partnership
  • A lot of work going on among older people

Could not this be co-ordinated, harnessed and then developed further? That was the vision that we began to share.

John suggested three principles that should underlie all we do …

  1. You cannot transform without being a presence. As Christians we want to make a difference. But we need to realise that we won’t make any difference at all unless we are simply a presence. We need to BE THERE in order to make a difference. How important it is for Christians to be there. But sometimes we need help in doing just that. We are all of us involved in all sorts of different ways in the world of Cheltenham life – sometimes we need help in being a Christian presence. It is very much my hope and prayer that what we share on a Sunday is the kind of help and support we need through the week. Prayer, thoughts in preaching, so many things to uphold and strengthen us and keep us going.

  1. God is already at work in mission. John went on to prompt us to be on the look out for the way God is already at work. If the task of transformation involves bringing love and care and help to people, we need to recognise that is already being given. The care of those hairdressers, the support so many agencies give in our town. Let’s not imagine God is waiting for our next initiative. Instead we need to be on the look out for the way God is already at work and be prepared to join him.

  1. No church can go it alone. It was so refreshing not only to hear that being said on Thursday by John, but to hear the murmurs of assent from around the room. Each church needs to be focused in what it does, not least ours. But in a town like Cheltenham, indeed in any setting, we need to be on a wave length with others as well.

So how does all that work out for us here in Highbury?

I want to return to the text from Zechariah 8. It is a vision that focuses on two ends of the age spectrum.

Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem.

I joined the Day Centre on Thursday afternoon, and Felicity, Jonquil and Peter Harrison and I joined the Day Centre again on Friday afternoon. The very first Day Centre for older people was run by the hospital. Between 25 and thirty years ago it moved out of Highbury and the Brownhills Clinic was built. There was, I think, a short gap, and then Social Services opened up Cheltenham’s main Day Centre for Older people here at hIhgbury. One of those who set it up was Ruth Pearce. She has remained, latterly as the manager, and on Friday she retired. It was good to mark that occasion.

The Day Centre itself is moving over to Prestbury Road and so on Thursday and Friday, 25th and 26th March at 2-00 in the afternoon we are going to have a Day Centre Service for older people for the last time. On Saturday, 17th April we will celebrate the last 40 years of day care based at Highbury and thank the staff.

So, what do we do next?

How do we use that wing of our building which for the best part of 40 years has been used as a Day Centre? Do we develop our work for older people in new ways? Day Care provision for older people is a great example of something offered by so many of our churches that cries out for more co-ordination? This is food for thought and for us to reflect on at our Annual Meeting.

Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.

It is a lovely picture of the care that we must share with older people.

And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets.

A lovely image too, that takes us right back to the Parents’ fair and the commitment we have to working with younger children, with parents, with families too.

It was so good to see people coming and sharing at the Parents’ fair. Let’s hope it can be the seed that grows into something special, and not just an end in itself!

Our children’s work has a flow to it.

We start with our toddler groups, complemented by Hyper-Space and then we have Junior Church groups and our Transformers Club – that leads on to Hy-Tec and running with that of course we have Scouting and Guiding.

Hy-Tec is a group led by a really faithful set of leaders … Sundays begin here in church, in the evening we meet again, but Sunday finishes as Hy-Tec gather again for a short time of worship and a circle of prayer around the Table.

On Saturday evening they are going to do a sleep over and on Sunday they will join us for our service. A couple of the youngsters now, Jake and Eleanor have grown up through Highbury from Fish Club through Junior church and family services and now have become keen on Hy-Tec.

It will be good as they lead our service next Sunday morning.

How important that we share with young and old alike … after all it is nothing less than an age old vision that we are part of, that wonderful vision of Zechariah.

One of the great things, it seems to me, is the way at church, not least in a service such as this one with all the children and young people playing such a part, is that we bring people together from the opposite ends of that spectrum, young and old meeting together as one family of God’s people.

On Friday we shall be joining with friends from St Luke’s and St Michael’s in hosting three services for the Women’s World Day of Prayer. Often, those services are attended by older people. But in the last couple of years with those partner churches we have done something very different. That means on Friday morning we shall be joining at St Michael’s and welcoming the whole junior section of the new Oakwood School, and on Friday afternoon we shall join here at Highbury and welcome the juniors of St John’s. Both of those services will be a point when the young and old meet together and share together.

What a vision we share, and what a vision to work towards! Safe streets, a safe environment in our town for young and old alike!

Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age.

And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets.

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