Sunday, May 26, 2013

Something worth sharing

It has to be one of my favourite passages in the Bible … and anyone who knows me well will know why!

"Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. 2 Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. 3 Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. 4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.

With a great grandfather who would hang suspended from ropes quarrying slate in Dinorwic in North Wales and a Grandfather who worked 1000 feet and more underground in the Blaenserchan colliery near Pontypool in South Wales it somehow rings true.

It’s a wonderfully evocative passage that evokes of the earth which on the surrace grows bread for grain and underneath is turned up as by fire.

That path, deep below the surface of the earth no bird of prey knows and the falcon’s eye has not see it.

It’s a wonderful passage that celebrates the incredible ingenuity and inventiveness of people – it’s a celebration of science and technology – it’s wonderful.

But then it asks a telling question.

But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?

It’s all very well knowing how things are produced, how things are made, how people can do remarkable things – but what about the question why?  What’s the meaning of it all?  What’s it all for?  How on earth can I cope with the world and its messiness?  That’s the quest for wisdom, that’s the quest for insight.

And those questions are harder to answer … and all too often the defy answer.

Then comes something of a lament –

Where shall wisdom be found?
Mortals do not know the way to it,
And it is not to be found in the land of thee living.
The deep says, “It is not in me.”
The sea says, “It is not in me.”
It cannot be bought for gold,
And silver cannot be weighed out as its price.

Where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?

One more time, the writer of this wonderful passage asks the same question

Where then does wisdom come from?

Job 28:20-28

20 "Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, "We have heard a rumour of it with our ears.' 23 "God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. 24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. 25 When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; 26 when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; 27 then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. 28 And he said to humankind, "Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.' "

That rings true for me.  I marvel at science and am definitely looking forward to the science festival next week – 60 years ago this year crick and Watson announced the discovery of DNA – strange that the name of another member of the team has been airbrushed out of history – Rosalind Franklin’s sister will be telling the story of the key part she played as a molecular biologist in the discovery.   Great to go to Jocelyn Bell Burnell in pursuit of pulsars and black holes.

But when it comes to those deeper questions – what does it all mean?  What is it all for?  How can you cope with the messiness of this world, I find myself drawn to sensing there is something more beyond all I can see that for me begins to give meaning, answer those questions and helps me to cope.

Hymn:  Immortal, invisible God only wise

Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

It is the sheer mystery of God beyond all our understanding that I am drawn to.  But I don’t find a faith simply in some kind of God enough.  There’s that inquisitive nature in me that then wants to ask, so what is this God like.  In what way can this God give meanining to the world, give a sense of purpose, how can believing in God help you cope with the messiness of the world?

I’m drawn to another reading … again it’s full of poetry and there is a mystery about the words that draws me in.

John 1:1-5 and 14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

The exciting thing at the heart of the Christian faith for me is the thought that this God becomes one of us and shares in the mess and the awfulness of the world.  In the teaching of Jesus there is a way of life to follow that is built around love for God, love for neighbour, love for enemy too.  Where people hurt Jesus bring healing: that’s the task for us to follow seeking.  He goes to his death, senses the awfulness of being God-forsaken on the cross.  But death does not get the better of him – in resurrection there is a victory over death that we too may share.

I want to dig away at the story of Jesus – it’s something we can get to know through reading the Gospels, setting the story against the  backdrop of the world of Jesus’ day.  And then sense the presence of the risen Christ coming alongside us … to inspire and to fill us with his love.

Another hymn …
Jesus is Lord!  Creation’s voice proclaims it.

Where is this love of Christ made real in today’s world.  This is the season of Pentecost – last Sunday we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, that unseen, yet very real presence of God let loose in the world.  And what happens on that Day of Pentecost is it seems to me significant.  As the friends of Jesus tumble down those stairs on to the streets of Jerusalem people are amazed at what they see and hear.  Peter explains all that has happened.  And that day 3000 people become followers of Jesus.  It is thought of as the birthday of the Church.

It is in the coming together of people who share that sense of the mystery of God and share that conviction that it is in Christ that that myserry is made known, that the presence of God is made real in the world today.  For it is the Church that is the body of Christ in the world.
Not many organisations attempt to do what ‘church’ does – in bringing together people of all ages, of all kinds, to be a support to one another.  The network of care and love that is at the heart of the church’s life is something that can make a difference to individuals, in families in the community at large.

There’s a wonderful picture of what it takes to be church in Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:12-17

12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

At the heart of church is the power of love, the love that is the very nature of God, the love that is seen in all its fullness in Christ.

It is the power of love to make a difference – in 1 John 4 John speaks of the perfect love that is in God and is made known by Christ – this perfect love casts out fear.

Try it out in one instance this week.

There is a gut reaction that everyone of us is prone to in the wake of what has happened this week.

The manner of that killing on the streets of Woolwich this week does not bear thinking about.  The terrorist is about the business of sowing the seeds of fear in people’s deep psyche.  What needs to  be done in return – yes, of course, there needs to be security, there needs to be full investigation … but what those bent on terror aim to put into communities is fear – for terror breeds terror.  The insight at the heart of our Christian faith is to inject into that situation ‘love’.  There needs to be not a revulsion at the ‘threat’ of Islam – but a longing to bring love to bear into the community we are a part of  – that is willing to stand alongside all people of all faiths in rejecting the awfulness of that violence.    Just think what’s going on deep inside – is it revulsion, is it fear, is it terror of another religion … or is there a reawakened call by God’s spirit to seek to bring love into that community – love for Muslims as much as anyone else.

Wherever we are church makes a difference – that’s also part of my conviction.  It’s great to be sharing a vision and working together to make it happen here at Highbury, where we seek to make a Highbury a place to

share Christian friendship,
Explore Christian faith and
Enter into Christian mission
With Christ at the centre
And open to all.

To make church wherever we belong the kind of place where people can meet with God, sense the presence of Christ and find meaning, purpose and a very real help in the task of coping with a world that can be so messy.

A mystery made plain

Beyond all we can imagine
Deeper than the deepest depths
A mystery that defies understanding
the immortal, invisible God
Hurts healed, lives restored,
Death vanquished,
Something understandable
The Jesus who comes alongside us
Here and now we seek to be a place to
Share Christian friendship,
Explore Christian faith and
Enter into Christian Mission
With Christ at the centre
And open to all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Highbury - a place that's open to all

A strength from beyond ourselves
Unseen yet so real
The Power of God’s Spirit
Let loose in the world
A strength, a power, a presence for all
Women and men speaking God’s Word
Men and women speaking truth to power
Young and old dreaming dreams
Old and young sharing visions
At every level, at every moment
The Promise of the Presence
The Strength of the Spirit
Open to all.

You may think of it as a parrot: it’s actually a Macaw.  I didn’t think much of it when it escaped and was found perching on the parapet of our roof.- that must have been 20 years ago.   The macaw is still going strong and can often be seen on the shoulders of the neighbours over the road.

Already in his 20’s the Macaw can live well into their 70’s and beyond.

One blog caught my attention this week which reported that they ‘after many years of research into the behaviours, diseases, genetics and life history of scarlet macaws, a team of scientists have taken their studies to the next level…. And have sequenced the genome of the scarlet macaw.”

“The newly sequenced scarlet macaw genome will provide many important insights into avian and human biology, behaviours and genetics and will contribute to parrot conservation.”

I guess in a way it’s the story of my life-time – 1953 was a good year not just for the coronation and climbing Everest but it was also the year when Crick and Watson announced the discovery of DNA and the double helix, a discovery made possible by the work of crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.

60 years on (nearly) that discovery has shaped the world we live in more than any other.

Tremendous excitement when the human genome was mapped – and put into the public domain in spite of pressures to patent it and limit access to it.  And now a scarlet macaw’s genome has been mapped – wherever next.

It’s interesting how we think of the Church in biological terms.  We often speak of the Church as ‘the body’ of Christ.  And today, the Day of Pentecost, is a day when we speak of the birth of the Church, and often think of the Day of Pentecost itself as the Birthday of the Church.

So, I wonder what the Church’s DNA would look like.

If the church is the body of Christ, and its birthday is the Day of Pentecost, the first thing about the church’s DNA that I would home in on is to be found in what the very nature of  God is.

We think of God not as a static, monolithic entity but as dynamic, living, interactive.

The early church leaders described the Trinity using the term perichoresis (peri=circle resis=dance): The Trinity was an eternal dance of the Father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy and respect… God’s act of creation means that God is inviting more and more beings into the eternal dance of Joy.   Brian Maclaren

We speak of one God as Father, Son, Holy Spirit – there’s a clue there in the word Father.  That’s made explicit by John in 1 John 4

What is the nature of God as Father?  John tells us in 1 John 4.  God is love.

What is the nature of God in Jesus – again John, this time in the Gospel, John 3:16  God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

What is the nature of the Holy Spirit – this time to Paul in Galatians 5 – the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What binds Father, son and Holy Spirit together is what is the very nature of God – love.

What is in the DNA of the church – love.

That is the stamp of what we are – seeking to live out that love for one another, for others around us.  Look around at the churches of Cheltenham and what they are seeking to do … love is very much at the heart of all that we seek to do.  Every church a network of support that gives a network of support to people who are not well, to older people, in bereavement care – visiting schemes, pastoral care.  Care for children and young people.  Lunch clubs, coffee times – drop ins.  It was great to join with others on Thursday afternoon at the commissioning of our Brenda Dowie, our new Hospital Chaplain, and the re-commissioning of those who make up the Chaplaincy team.  All of this activity is around this dynamic of love.  The very nature of God.  It is in the DNA of the church.

We saw it in the mix of churches who came together at our Assembly in Kent last week – community activities, all seeking not just to live out the command to love God and love your neighbour, but somehow with the imprint of love.  Those friends from Malawi were speaking again of the things they seek to do in their churches.

There’s something that binds us together – this imprint of love the very nature of God.  It is in the DNA of the church. 

But as I hear churches telling their stories I see that all those churches are different.  Coming back here to Cheltenham there is also the realisation that we are all different.  We do things differently.  The worship we followed on Thursday was very different from the kind of worship we would share.  Different churches do different things.  Are very different.

This can phase people.  We should all have an identify.  But somehow it doesn’t phase me.  There is difference stamped into the very nature of God.

Love is in the very nature of God, because the God we believe in is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – different and yet bound together in love.

The love of God is real because in the very essence of God there is difference too – God the Father creating from the beginning, God the Son bringing redemption and salvation, God the Spirit sustaining, strengthening and empowering.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet one in the essence of that love.

Churches are different because we are made up of different people.

Margaret Morris, a good friend of ours who is from Ispwich was welcomed as President of the Congregational Federation last Saturday.  She quoted Michael Green who had recently spoken to churches here in Cheltenham as saying that the Holy Spirit never leaves identical fingerprints.

The church is made up of people who are different and each of us who belongs is different.

She went on to suggest that ‘diversity was burned into the Church’s genetic code when it was born at Pentecost’

That set my mind thinking.

What is this diversity?

On the Day of Pentecost Jerusalem was teaming with people from all over the Mediterranean world each speaking a different language and yet together understanding what was going on …

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs

There’s a wonderful sense of something new happening – that binds people together. 

When Peter explains what’s going on he draws on the prophecy of Joel –

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.

This diversity goes only so far, however. Different languages there may be but they are all Jewish.

But Jesus has come for Gentile as well as Jew.

That took some thinking through – and it is not until you get to the middle of the Book of Acts that Peter is the one who has a breakthrough in his thinking when three times he has a vision when he hears God commanding him to eat food that breaks the food regulations of the Jewish people.  He makes a breakthrough and shares the message of the love of God in Christ with  Cornelius – not just any centurion but one that comes from the Italian cohort.

Wherever there are barriers Christ brings those barriers down – so Paul speaks of the way there is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female, slave nor free – for all are one in Christ Jesus.

Diversity burned into the genetic code of the church from its very birthday.  That is a diversity then we are to celebrate.

To have Christ at the centre of all that we do here in our church means that we are open to all – that our welcome is not curtailed but is open to everyone.

Highbury a place to
share Christian friendship,
explore Christian Faith and
enter into Christian mission
with Christ at the centre
and open to all.

If we are to take that vision forward then maybe we can come back to those words of Joel that Peter quotes and make them our own

A strength from beyond ourselves
Unseen yet so real
The Power of God’s Spirit
Let loose in the world
A strength, a power, a presence for all
Women and men speaking God’s Word
Men and women speaking truth to power
Young and old dreaming dreams
Old and young sharing visions
At every level, at every moment
The Promise of the Presence
The Strength of the Spirit
Open to all.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Highbury - a Place with Christ at the Centre

A place with Christ at the Centre

Christ at the centre of our thinking
Christ at the centre of our acting
Christ at the centre of our living
Christ at the centre of our sharing
Christ at the centre of our planning
Christ at the centre of our doing
Christ at the centre of our caring
Christ at the centre of our praying
Christ at the centre of our worship
Christ at the centre of our giving
Christ at the centre of all we are
Christ at the centre of all we will be
Christ at the centre of our very being

Imagine a disc that spins.  It could be the wheel of a car, it could be a disc that spins in the engine, the flywheel … if cars still have such things.  It could be the wheel of a bike.  What makes the wheels turn smoothly is the fact that the axle goes through the exact centre of the wheel, what makes the engine run smoothly is that the wheels that spin spins exactly around its centre.  There’s nothing more pleasing having repaired a puncture and admittedly with the help of one of the cubs and his dad than giving the wheel a spin and seeing it spin exactly smoothly – thanks to the fact the spindle or do you call it an axle is exactly at the centre of the wheel.

Get the centre a little bit askew and the tyres will wear, there’ll be a bumpy ride and the wheels simply won’t spin round as they should.

What is at the centre makes a difference.

When first I wrote the front of our Order of Service sheet I missed out the word ‘Christ’.  I was going to make it the last word.

That would make you think …
Put a question mark at the end of each line and it makes you think some more …

 at the centre of our thinking?
 at the centre of our acting?
 at the centre of our living?
 at the centre of our sharing?
 at the centre of our planning?
 at the centre of our doing?

What do we put at the centre of things?

Maybe we don’t think about it when things are going well.

Maybe there’s something we are aiming for and it takes over everything.

The sportsman who is so single-minded as to think of nothing else.

When things go wrong – an illness and you cannot help thinking of it, it comes back even when you want it to go away.

A bereavement and it takes the centre of everything.  It absorbs everything.

It’s fascinating as the children are looking at God’s creation and creepy crawly creatures that the Rain Forest Man has brought to show them and to delight them, there is a kind of default mode that we all of us can click back into.  A default mode that characterises not just humanity but all those living creatures.

And that is survival – when me and my concerns take centre stage and become all important.

It is perhaps no coincidence that John’s gospel gives us the record of a prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples and then for all who would come after them and for us as well precisely at the point when the disciples and for that matter Jesus are absorbed in something that is disturbing, that is horrific, that is about to swamp their lives and become an obsession at the heart of all they do and all they think and all they are.

It is as that last supper Jesus shared with his disciples is coming to an end that he prays not just with them, but for them and not just for them but for all who were going to come after them.

It was the bleakest of moments as Jesus was about to go out into the dark and face his arrest, the mockery of a trial and the bleak awfulness of the cross and crucifixion.

And then comes the most wonderful of prayers.

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

Jesus looks above and beyond the world that is enveloping him to his Father in Heaven – and now is the moment for Jesus to be glorified.  But Jesus is glorified and glorifies his father in what he does for people for those ordinary people around that table, for us too ..

So that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent

There’s wonderful poetry in the words of this prayer as Jesus prays for those His Father has given him, those who have been his friends and companions on the way …

All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

He prays for their protection in a world that all too often can be so hostile a world to which in one sense they no longer belong.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

It’s  a wholeness that Jesus prays for – sanctify them in the truth – the truth of God’s word.

It is as if those followers of his are bound up in Jesus …

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,

What a remarkable prayer that Jesus may be in us as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father.

Putting Christ right into the centre.

We come back to that list … and as I prepared the front of the order of service I wanted to spell it out … and put Christ back in …

Christ at the centre of our thinking
Christ at the centre of our acting
Christ at the centre of our living
Christ at the centre of our sharing
Christ at the centre of our planning
Christ at the centre of our doing

But there is a purpose, a larger purpose in the prayer Jesus prays …

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

A wider dimension – so that the world may believe – and discover this presence for themselves.

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

It is that love that makes all the difference when Christ is at the centre.

I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

But this now is a collective presence of Christ.  Not just Christ at the centre of each one of us.  But Christ at the centre of us as a body of people as we come together in the name of Christ.

Church is a place where Christ is at the centre …

Christ at the centre of our sharing
Christ at the centre of our planning
Christ at the centre of our doing
Christ at the centre of our caring
Christ at the centre of our praying
Christ at the centre of our worship
Christ at the centre of our giving

And Christ at the centre of all of our churches – a oneness with Christ at the centre – expressing things differently – a wonderful unity in the rich diversity of all those different churches.  Yet a wonderful unity.

What is at the centre when Christ is at the centre is the very presence of God, the God who is love …

so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

It is a wonderful prayer – it is a prayer for us individually and together as a church … and together as churches.

Christ at the centre of our caring,
Christ at the centre of our praying
Christ at the centre of our worship
Christ at the centre of our giving
Christ at the centre of all we are
Christ at the centre of all we will be
Christ at the centre of our very being

So that the love which is the very essence of God may be in us as Christ is in us and at the centre of our very being.

Binds us together in seeking to bring God’s love alive in Christian Aid Week.  Christ at the centre means the wheel spins, the engine works properly – that they may be one – all sorts of expressions of oneness.  One of the greatest of those expressions is in the love we show to the world around us.   It’s what appeals to  me – Christian Aid is not another organisation but is the development agency of the churches collectively in this country – this is a tangible sign of that oneness so that the world may believe – that oneness that puts Christ at the centre so that the love which is the very essence of God may be in us as Christ is in us and at the centre of our very being.

Christ at the centre of our thinking
Christ at the centre of our acting
Christ at the centre of our living
Christ at the centre of our sharing
Christ at the centre of our planning
Christ at the centre of our doing
Christ at the centre of our caring
Christ at the centre of our praying
Christ at the centre of our worship
Christ at the centre of our giving
Christ at the centre of all we are
Christ at the centre of all we will be
Christ at the centre of our very being

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.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light