Sunday, July 14, 2013

Christ at the Centre of our Town

It is a wonderful vision to share.

But what does it mean to put Christ at the centre?

A few words can say it all.

Christ at the centre
In our thoughts – in our words
Christ at the centre
In our hearts – in our homes
Christ at the centre
In our church – in our world
Christ at the centre
In our town - on its streets
Christ at the centre

In our thoughts and in our words
In our hearts and in our homes
In our church and in our world

But in our town and on its streets?

What does that look like?

Christ at the Centre

Over the years Jonquil has set a wonderful quiz to start our weekend away at Brunel Manor.  And this year was no exception.  A picture quiz – and this was a picture that foxed a lot of people.  If you were at Brunel Manor keep quiet, of those who weren’t where can you find this in Cheltenham?  And what is it?

This is Cheltenham’s Centre Stone and its story goes back to the beginnings of the town.

In 1820 when this map was drawn Bennington Street was an unmarked lane running from the High Street to St Margaret Street.  A little down from the High Street were fields where a market was readily held.  In 1822 a fine new shopping area was opened at the High Street end of Bennington Street called simply The Arcade.  And fronting on to the High  Street an imposing archway into the Arcade.  And in the centre arch they placed Cheltenham’s Centre Stone to mark the centre of the town – so all distances from Cheltenham were measured from the Centre Stone and all cab fares set from this stone.

The Arcade didn’t fare well and it wasn’t long before it was pulled down and by the second half of the nineteenth century there were shops at the High Street end and houses at the other end … and round the corner the Bennington Hall Sunday School from which the Bennington Hall trust still supplies funds for our work with children.

The building to the right is still there – Bennington Street has been narrowed and Hind’s the jewellers has been built over the archway – which means that the Centre Stone is as near as makes very little difference on the exact spot.

At one end of Bennington Street was the Bennington Hall United Sunday School and at the other end is the oldest place of worship in Cheltenham, indeed Cheltenham’s oldest building now Cheltenham Minster.

With a strap line ‘putting Jesus at the centre’ the vision Tudor Griffiths and describes one the web site is that it should be a centre for all the churches of the town, a reminder that Christ is at the centre of our town.

But whether or not Christ is at the centre of our town does not depend on having a Church at the centre … it starts with each one of us who follows Jesus.  It is as we each put Jesus at the centre of our lives that the presence of Christ can permeate into the life of our town.  Christ is at the centre of our town to the extent that each ofus who makes up the body of Christ is prepared to bring Christ and all he stands for into the heart of what we do.

So the starting point for putting Christ at the centre of our town is with each one of us … Peter, the Rock, loves the imagery of the stone as he lays down the challenge …

Come to Jesus, a living stone and like living stones be built into a spiritual house (I Pet 2:4)

If Christ is to be at the centre of our town then we need to pray for our town.  The Minster hosts a number of prayer occasions which focus on the town and its needs.  The one I have committed myself to is the lunchtime prayer when on each week day from 12-30 to 12-45 prayers are led by people from different churches for the town and its needs.  That cycle of prayer is moving to be a part of.  But prayer is something for each of us to do … and to pray for our town – to echo Paul writing to Philippi it’s important to

Give thanks to God, praying with joy for all (Phil 1.3)

We have a message to share in our town – the 70 were charged by Jesus to go into people houses and say, “Peace to this house!” and then to go into a town bring healing and say ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’.   Where there is hurt we are to bring healing and then we should seek to bring the values of God’s rule to play in our town:  justice and mercy, care and community – healing where people are hurting. (Luke 10:8-9)

AT the heart of what we have to share and the substance of what we bring is love – but how important it is that we love not in word or speech but in truth and action!   (1 John 3:18)

That’s precisely the message that comes across in the last of Jesus’ parables … it was as if he wanted his followers to take this to heart …

“When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, 32 and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. 34 Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.   I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Sue has been doing Street Pastors for quite some while now and it’s great to welcome Sue and Pete to talk about putting Christ at the centre of our town – in truth and action – taking seriously those words of Jesus … ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

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