One of the great things about our Congregational way of being the church is the way all who belong to the church have the opportunity to shape what the whole life of our church.
So it is that back in January those who belong to Church got together in our Church Meeting and came up with words and phrases describing what Highbury was like.
In February our leadership team of Deacons sorted through the words and phrases people had come up with and noticed six things that were special at Highbury - our Worship, our Welcome, our Pastoral Care, our Mission, our Prayer and our commitment to Children.
For the last six months we have been exploring those areas of our church life and looking forward to the weekend that has just come to an end.
For over this weekend everyone at Highbury has had the opportunity to come together and shape the future that lies ahead of us.
But we wanted to do that in a particular kind of way.
It's not just to us having any kind of dreams and visions.
We are a church, part of the world-wide Church - we are called to be nothing less than the body of Christ here in this place. We are the hands and feet Christ has for making a difference in our world.
And as a church that is the body of Christ in this place we have a standard to compare ourselves with, a model to use as the basis for what we do. And that can be found in the pages of the Bible. At its heart the Bible tells the story of Jesus and the difference he cam make to individuals, to families to the world at large.
To follow in the footsteps of Christ takes some doing in a world that is hostile to his values and so much of what he stands for. To follow in the footsteps of Christ is difficult when so much in our personal lives goes wrong.
That's one of the reasons why Jesus invited those who follow him to team up and find help and support for one another.
The story of the first churches that came into being is told in the pages of the New Testament.
What we have been doing in recent weeks is looking at a cross section of those churches in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae.
We began our weekend back then - asking what the church of the New Testament was like.
We then looked Then and Now at how that compares with the picture we have come up with of our church here at Highbury.
In a wonderful way there was a real sense of coming to a mind together as we put our finger on three things that will help to shape the future that lies ahead of us.
We had the opportunity over the weekend to reflect on specific things we can do in each of those three areas. We now take that planning on to the next stage as our leadership team of Deacons comes together and as everyone at church has the opportunity to meet together and flesh out what we can do.
It starts with each of us individually as we focus on Personal Faith and Prayer.
Each of us gets things wrong at times, we all make a mess of things, our faith is never as strong as it might be. How important that we strengthen the faith we have have nurturing each other and seeking the blessing of God. How important that we grow as a praying church, seeking specifically in prayer for God's blessing on what we do.
Then together as a church in this place we need to focus on Renewal and the Gifts
It's eight years since we explored what people belonging to our church were passionate about, what gifts they had and what kind of people they were. We then sought to shape what we do by the people we are. And we have seen great blessing in the last eight years.
But now we need to re-visit the gifts of those who belong now and ask how best we who belong now can harness our passions, our gifts and our personalities to God's glory that we can truly be the body of Christ in this place.
That may take some pruning, reassessing some of the things we do and the way we organise ourselves so that we can move forward together as the body of Christ.
Then we need to have a focus on Mission and Outreach.
Mission has always been at the heart of our church life ... but how does that work out. It was telling that when we did that exercise back in January people came up with 'mission' yes. But that word wasn't there so much as the word 'welcoming' or the word 'pastoral care'. Maybe we need to re-focus what we do. Help people who are exploring faith in an alpha course maybe. Develop our initiative with men through Hy-Speed. Raise our profile. And underpin it all with prayer.
And then that mission must find its focus in our community and internationally too.
Our flower arrangers challenged us to re-invigorate our support of County Community Project's Foodshare programme. It was a most moving time at our last church meeting when one of them who had recently started working in Cheltenham among some of those in greates need reported what she had found. She was daily witnessing a new gap in our society - if people on a weekly wage lose a job, for example, there is a gap of six weeks before any benefits lock in. For the first time since the soup kitchens of the 30's there is no safety net provided for the state to provide people with basic food needs. Consequently, there are a disturbing number of people even in affluent Cheltenham with no food for tomorrow.
That's why there has been a proliferation of food banks up and down the country and here in Cheltenham. We have supported CCP and their food share programme.
And this week for our Harvest Celebration our flower arrangers had decided to spend no money on flowers. Usually people can give flowers in memory of a loved one. It costs our flower arrangers £17 to do a pedestal. Today we had a basket of food for CCP instead that came to £16-98.
Church Meeting decided that we would give people the opportunity to donate £17 worth of food in memory of their loved ones instead of flowers, we would then reinvigorate our support of CCP.
But that was not all.
Someone at the church meeting asked how on earth this could have happened in our society. We decided to invite our friend from church to tell us at our next Church meeting what she has seen and someone from CCP to tell us what they are doing with their Food Share programme. Then we would invite at a subsequent meeting our MP, Martin Horwood, and put the case to him for addressing this issue.
We read this evening from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 where Paul speaks of the need for those who have to help those who have not so that there should be a fair balance. It is in its care of the most vulnerable members of society that a civilised society can be judged.
This is all part of our mission.
To belong to one church is to belong to the one church world-wide of Jesus Christ. And so we had a focus today on the international partnership our Congregational Federation churches have through Christian Aid with Nicaragua.
Our collection today went in part to Highbury's mission at home and in part to that Nicaragua appeal.
One of those who visited Nicaragua from our churches joined us and he tells his story on the accompanying video.
As one of our older members said on the way out of church this evening, one of the most moving parts of the whole weekend was the wisdom of our young people, two of whom had led one of the groups exploirng what we could do for mission and outreach. Sponsor a child, had been one of their successions, sponsor the Robins, maybe who knows through their match day programme!!! Our friends at St Luke's have done it before ... as part of a move to offer a chaplaincy service to the local football club. And that chaplaincy is still there! And another was offering to collect money from those who couldn't carry extra food home with them to add to the CCP food share programme.
All in all it has been a moving weekend ... and opens up for us an exciting future ahead as we put ourselves into God's hands.
Maybe it's good to adapt Paul's words in Colossians 4:2-6 as very much a challenge and a prayer for us.
Let's devote ourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
At the same time let's pray for each other that God will open a door for the word,
that we may declare the mystery of Christ so that we may reveal it as clearly as we can.
Let's conduct ourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time.
Let our speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that we know how we ought to answer everyone.