Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Church that looks to the future

We have reached the ninth thing that John Pritchard, the Bishop of Reading, would go to the stake for in seeking a church to join.

A church that looks to the future.

It is a theme that plays for us today in two ways.

The first is the way that John Pritchard envisages and it relates to something that was shared at the Church Meeting on Wednesday evening, and something that was launched at the May Assembly in Leicester yesterday.

The second has to do with the start of Christian Aid Week and speaks very much to us as we set about the task once again of collecting for Christian Aid.

“It’s important,” says John Pritchard, “that the Church walks into the future holding on to the thread of tradition. The problem comes when it walks into the future backwards. We need to be looking expectantly to the new generations, the next leaders, the next steps towards realizing the vision God has given. This means particular attention being given to children and young people, and those who have been drawn in towards the edge of the Church’s life.”

That’s what was introduced to the Congregational Federation Assembly yesterday, something Becky shared with us at the Church Meeting on Wednesday.

Child Friendly church is an initiative that has been greatly valued in a number of churches in the last couple of years, and now it is coming to the Federation. It invites us to reflect on what we are doing with our children and young people, and how we can ensure that their voice is heard in the life of the church.

A small group have worked through a questionnaire and it is greatly encouraging to see how much our activities with children fit in with the good practice advocated in this scheme. A number of things were identified and action has already been taken to address those.

Copies of that questionnaire were passed round at church meeting and if you would like a copy there are copies available to have a look at.

In addition the children have a questionnaire to fill in – and Becky would really like parents to help the children to fill in their responses so they can be drawn into the plans.

In addition to the questionnaire Becky has drafted two short documents that are really designed to get us thinking about the place of children in our church, then to embed the good practice we have developed so that it can be passed on and finally to ensure that we give our children and young people a voice in the life of the church. In particular, the draft document outlines a way of involving the children in the big decisions a church has to make from time to time.

Catch ‘the vision for work with children and families at Highbury’ and let’s adopt the ‘strategy for hearing children’s voices’.

That’s part of the way we shall be a church that looks to the future.

It is for John Pritchard not only children that are part of that future. It is also those drawn into church life. How we draw people in and in particular how we enable those exploring the faith to come closer to that faith is all important.

“Nurturing new disciples isn’t an optional extra,” writes John Pritchard; it’s maintaining an effective maternity ward for the kingdom of God.”

He poses a number of key questions: “where are young people heard in the church’s life? What proportion of the budget goes on children and young people? Is there an adult nurture course running regularly – once or twice a year? How do the church’s plethora of contacts turn into active nurturing of those interested in exploring issues of faith? If we’re playing hardball the message is this: grow or die.

It is a powerful challenge that he shares with us.

But his insight for us today is only part of the story.

The reading we have heard is a reading all about the future. The ultimate future in God’s glory. That selection of verses from Revelation 21 and 22 is a powerful vision of the glory we look to at the heart of our faith.

We need to be a church that looks to the future with that confidence that is contained in these wonderful words.

God himself will be with them;* 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

That city of God in that heavenly vision has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25

On either side of the river of life that flows through the city of God is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3

It is a wonderful vision of the future. Hold on to that vision and we shall be a church that looks to the future.

But we are mistaken to think that it is simply a vision of a future glory ahead of us.

It is the kind of vision of the future that can shape the here and now.

It is exactly in this sense that this vision of the future plays out for us at the beginning of Christian Aid week.

The youngsters have been thinking of toilets. Or at least, they have been thinking of the lack of toilets in some parts of the world. And the difference Christian Aid partners can make in providing sanitation and water where it is badly needed, not least in Nairobi in Kenya.

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