Sunday, February 3, 2013

Christ at the centre and open to all

In this morning's service Richard, our Minister, and Iain, one of our Deacons shared with the congregation the thinking behind the proposed new structure we are exploring at the moment in Highbury.  We went on to have a bring and share lunch when over lunch people were able to chat through some of the issues surrounding our plans.

In the first part of the service we got the youngsters to come out with the adults who had brought them and we got the adults to stand in a circle around the Table and a Cross, with hands linked, close together so the children couldn't break into the circle.  We then got the adults to stand back and let the children into the circle.  But it was still a closed circle with those who had not come to church with any children feeling left out and excluded.  So we then opened the circle out so that it would include everyone.  We then got people to stand with gaps between each person and the next so that it was an open circle with the cross at the centre.

It was a wonderful picture of our vision for the church here at Highbury as a place to share Christian friendship, explore Christian faith and enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We then recalled the way on one occasion when the close adult followers of Jesus simply hadn't got what he was about and were arguing among themselves  about who was the greatest.  What Jesus did was to take a child and using the child got them to think of the welcome they should give to everyone ...

They came to Capernaum, and after going indoors Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?”

 But they would not answer him, because on the road they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.

Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.”

Then he took a child and had him stand in front of them. He put his arms around him and said to them,   “Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but also the one who sent me.”

We then turned to Ephesians 2:17-22 and a passage surprisingly enough all about getting the structure right.  In this evening's service we shared the same readings and the same reflections to ensure everyone in the church family has had the opportunity to get a feel for our thinking and our plans.  Having shared our plans in our January Church Meeting, we have wanted to ensure that everyone is aware of the thinking behind what we are proposing.

So, with a reading from  Ephesians, here are the thoughts we shared today.

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near; 
for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God, 
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 
In him the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 
in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

I hadn’t expected to find the word in the Bible.  It’s not a word that particularly excites me, I have a feeling it’s the kind of word to turn lots of people off right at the start.

It’s the word ‘structure’.  What are we doing talking about ‘structures’ when we should be getting on with the work Christ has set us to do?

It’s interesting that getting the ‘structure’ right was a high priority for Paul and the churches of the New Testament.  Not that there was one blueprint that fitted all circumstances.  Different places, different church fellowships have different structures.  But within those structures some things are all-important suggests Paul.  And getting the structure right means that you can then do what you are called to do really effectively.

We’ve developed a wonderfully exciting vision for the church here at Highbury.  The words we include on our web site in Highbury News are words you can take for granted but they say it all …

Highbury is a place to enjoy Christian friendship, to explore Christian faith and to engage in Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We ask all who feel at home in our fellowship to join us in membership on the basis of a New Testament profession of faith that is at once simple and profound.

I believe in God and Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Saviour.

We are under the authority of God in Jesus Christ as the Spirit moves among us … and so all who belong as church members can share in our church meeting not as we make decisions by seeking a majority vote, but rather it is as we seek the mind of Christ that we shape church life and set the future direction of all we do as a church.

I love that picture of the church as an open circle that is wanting to grow with Christ at the centre.

It’s great that we are welcoming committed to pastoral care and to work with children and young people; mission, prayer and our worship and teaching are all important to us as they connect us with God and God’s world.  And we have three things that we have identified as a big priority to develop:  renewal and gifts, mission and outreach and personal faith and prayer as we seek to grow and be challenged as disciples of Christ.

It’s under that first heading of renewal and gifts that we have recognised the need to think again about our structures.

In one sense mission and outreach is something for all of us to be committed to as we share God’s love in the living of our lives and in the conversations we have with others, but there will be those who have a real heart for developing the work of mission and outreach.  And that needs someone to co-ordinate and really lead us forward.  So let’s look for someone in the church family with a real heart for mission and outreach to galvanise us so that  we can be more effective as living witnesses to our faith that really do make a difference in people’s lives.

We all share in worship. Worship is not something to passively receive – but we all bring something to the worshp we share as we come with expectation and participate fully in all we do.  But there will be those who  can help from welcoming through preparation of communion to reading, leading prayers and leading worship.  Let’s find someone with a real heart for worship to help us grow in our worship together.

We all of us look out for each other, and care for each other.  It’s great to have a team of visitors headed up by our group of four who share the leadership of the visiting scheme.   At our recent visitors meeting and with the help of those leading that part of our church’s work we are thinking of re-shaping the pastoral care we can offer as a church.

Right at the heart of all we do is the work we do with children and young people – it’s great to have Carolyn as our Children’s worker – developing that work among children and young people.

We each of us need to be challenged to grow not just in our faith but as disciples of Christ – one of the key things that helps in that growth is the prayer we share together – let’s find someone to help us grow as disciples and in prayer.

And then we need to make sure it all happens – and there is a very real ministry in stewarding our finances from Roger, our Treasurer and from Sue as our Church Secretary.

So we look for people who are drawn to focus on one of those areas of church life who will serve the church in leading us forward and help each of us to play our part fully in the growth of the church.

Then we would elect a smaller group of deacons, who together with our Honorary Deacon, would help to ensure that we are going on the right lines, would be responsible for making appointments, and in the light of changes to charity law would ensure we are doing everything in a right and proper way as we are recognised as a charity.

[There you have it, as described further in Highbury News and in the colour supplement to the church magazine.  Over lunch an opportunity to talk through what we are thinking of doing, and then at the Annual Meeting in March an opportunity to decide whether this really is the way forward for the church.]

 So there you have it.  A new way of shaping the church here at Highbury, a new structure.

Which takes me back to what Paul had to say about the ‘structure’ of the church in Ephesians 2.

We look to Jesus the one who “proclaimed peace” for it is through him through Christ that we all have “access in one Spirit to the Father.” 

As we look to Christ that means that we are no longer strangers to each other or to God, but we have a real sense of belonging to the Kingdom of God as “citizens with all God’s people,  or put that another way we all belong to one Church family, as members of the household of God.

We must guard against change for change sake, or against doing anything that takes us away from our roots – instead we must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone, the one who holds the whole church together.

It is then in this passage that we come to what seem to me to be wonderful words that speak into our structure whatever form that takes.

In him, in Jesus Christ,  the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; a place where God’s presence is made real and let loose in the world.

Make no mistake about it, structures do matter.  And seeking to get our structures right really does make a difference – for when the whole structure really is joined together in Jesus then in him it is as if we are being built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

It is our prayer that Highbury really can be a place

to share Christian friendship,
to explore Christian faith and
to enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all

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