Sunday, May 5, 2013

Highbury - a Place to Enter into Christian Mission

Highbury is a place to
Share Christian Friendship
Explore Christian Faith and
Enter into Christian Mission
With Christ at the centre
And open to all

Mention the word ‘mission’ and it is very easy to split it up.  There’s the mission we are about as a church that’s at the centre of all we do – that involves sharing our Christian faith with other people around us.  That’s one thing.

And then there’s mission that focuses on the other side of the world – and the inclination is to identify needy, poor parts of the world that we can help – and so mission involves us in doing things for them over there.

Think that way and that means we should be concerned for two things – mission and outreach on our doorstep and support mission further afield.

One of the things that’s happened in the last forty years is that the thinking of what mission is has changed.

We no longer support ‘a missionary society’, we are part of a partnership of churches engaged in mission.  That partnership we know  as the Council for World Mission.

CWM’s vision is encapsulated in their strap line.

The Council for World Mission is a worldwide community of Christian churches committed to sharing their resources of money, people, skills and insights globally to carry out God’s mission locally.

We are a partnership of equals, all of whom are engaged in mission locally and all of whom can draw on resources globally to make that mission more effective.

I think we caught a glimpse of that vision working out in practice here in Highbury last Thursday afternoon.

This year is the bi-centenary of the birth of David Livingstone.  He grew up at a time when there was a passion to spread the Christian faith all over the world.  Joining up with the London Missionary Society he took the Christian Gospel to Africa and came to be regarded as one of the great 19th Century Missionaries.  In this country his work has often been called into question.   In Malawi his name is highly honoured to this day.  A couple of months ago,   President Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, visited this country to mark that bi-centenary.

The Federation has built up links with our partners in Malawi, the Churches of Christ: we received a visit from Candi who had been part of a team going from our Federation churches to Malawi last year.

Three people from the Malawi churches are over here this year to join us in our Federation churches for a short while.  It was great to meet them on Thursday afternoon.

As the conversation developed it became clear that we were not involved in that mistaken idea that because we have links with Malawi we must therefore be in a mindset where we are looking for ways we can do something for them.

They had questions they wanted to ask of us and of our experience as churches.

We in turn asked them about their situation.

One of the team that had gone over to Malawi was hosting the three who are staying in Witney, Nana, and she early on in the conversation commented on the way the team had been struck by the way in which the churches of Malawi were facing similar problems to our churches.

In our conversation that too became apparent.

Malawi has a massive poverty – at first sight you may think a very different situation.

But they too are part of the globalisation of the world, they too have problems similar to ours.

How does the church respond in what it does in a rapidly changing world.  It was a big issue for them how to pass on the faith that was so important to them to children growing up in the churches who become disenchanted and move away.   How to move in their worship to meet the changing needs of their youngsters.

We came to the end of our conversation and we asked them to sum up their vision for their churches at the moment and what they would want to share.

Interestingly Master, the Head from one of their schools who had been fascinating and humbling to listen to as he spoke of schools with hardly any teaching resources and classes of 200, asked Alice and Nellie to share their views.

First Alice spoke … and she spoke of the way their churches need to focus on the power of prayer, the power of prayer to make a difference.    She went on to speak of the need for their churches to capture the vision of mission, sharing their faith in ways that spoke to the generation of today.

And then Alice shared her thoughts.  She spoke of the need to find people in their churches who would think of themselves as empowering others to engage in the work of mission, or prayer, the need to find people who would enable, empower, people throughout the churches to fulfil their potential and to release their gifts.

Three simple thoughts.

And what struck me is exactly what had struck Nana, that we are in this together.  Partners.

We were sharing in those few moments insights into the problems facing us … and I felt they put their finger on something so important.

That morning I had prepared the outline of this morning’s service.  I had chosen to home in on those first 11 verses of Acts.  And within those verses I had chosen to home in on Acts 1:8 so that this Sunday, today, we could focus on the next line of our church’s vision – that Highbury be a place to enter into Christian mission.

They are the parting words of Jesus and they come at a particular moment.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Our task is to be witnesses – to tell others of the difference Christ makes to each one of us, the difference he makes in our families, the difference he makes in our world.  It matters.

Start where we are with whoever are around us.  Then we spread out.  And we have no limits.

It’s a wonderful image of the pebble tossed in a pool and the ripples spreading out.  It prompted me to think of mission as those ripples spreading out into the world.

We each of us are witnesses and we do not know what impact our witness will have or where it might reach.

Toss a pebble in a pond
Watch the ripples as they spread
See the centre of those circles
Feel the impact far and near

Sense the love of Christ within you
Share the love of Christ without
See yourself as that pebble
Watch the ripples as they spread

Little things that make a difference
Whether spoken or enacted
From a centre deep in Jesus
Make an impact far and near.

This is exactly the priority that our friend Nellie identified – that we must share our faith –and have a passion to share that faith in our mission and outreach.  It starts with our children – as we long to see them grow up and catch for themselves this thing this faith this sprit of God that makes such a difference.

It’s something we cannot do on our own.  The passage begins by reminding those witnesses that they will be able to do it because they can draw on a power, a strength that comes from God.  The holy Spirit.

That’s the strength we have to draw on … and that strength is released by prayer.

Prayer was the second thing that she said was so important.

At the end of our conversation we had a time of prayer.  It was Nellie who prayed for us.  Her prayer was most moving.  By way of explanation she said she would pray in part in her own language.      She prayed with a fervour and as she moved from the English we understood to the language she knew her spirit was aroused and as she had explained at the start it did not matter that we did not recognise the words – God knew.  And she was praying for us – the phrase ‘Sunday school’ slipped in – a loan word we recognised – a hint of the focus of her prayer.  But we didn’t need the hint.  WE knew the power in prayer.

It felt almost an instance of that experience when those followers of Jesus sensed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost and had that power within them – there were so many different languages around on the streets that day and yet everyone understood what was going on.

Our prayer time had that feel to it.

And of course in the experience of those first followers of Jesus that’s what happened next.  They continued to meet together in that upper room where they ‘devoted themselves to prayer’.

It’s so key.

This is what we are about.  Here’s a model for us to be church in the way God calls us to be.

Wonderful connections were being made in my mind.  Things coming together.

We said Good bye to our new found friends from Malawi – Felicity and I will be meeting up with them again at the Assembly in Kent next weekend.

And then on  Thursday evening we went into our Church Meeting where we were sharing the latest in our plans for re-shaping our church life.  The main part of the meeting involved going into groups so that the Deacons could share with other people the thinking we had been doing on those six areas of church life and the need for us to identify people in the church family to be Ministry leaders.

A number of people after the meeting spoke of the way there had been something of an enthusiasm that was special – John Lewis it was who said how important it was and wanted to share his thoughts and so prompted us to get the Deacons together after this morning’s service to compare notes.

It’s been important to work thorugh the documents.  Getting the job descriptions in place means we have worked through and got a feel for what it is we are looking for.

I now feel it’s time almost to put those documents to one side

It was our other friend who put her finger on what was so important.  I introduced the church meeting with my summary of what had been said.  Afterwards Felicity commented to me that she had heard it slightly differently.

Alice had spoken of the need to find people in our churches in Malawi and also here who are the kind of people who empower other people to release their gifts.  Maybe that’s the key.  Never mind the job descriptions – they give us an idea of what we are seeking.  But more importantly is that we have people in church who are going to empower all of us to release those gifts God has given us.

What a wonderful thought.

And it’s an insight shared with us in such a timely way by friends from the other side of the world – a true spirit of partnership.

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