The Joy of the Gospel in the Diocese of Liverpool

The first of three addresses given at a conference entitled ‘The Catholic Way’ at St Columba’s, Anfield.

It’s impossible to stress how important days like this are. They remind us of core values – values which, given the often febrile contexts in which we work and coexist, are easy to forget. There are times when the context of the church can drag us down, and we should acknowledge that, because we are dust, and as Fr Stanton once memorably said ‘You can’t always expect dust to be up to the mark.’ Paul famously reminds Corinth that ‘

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.’ (2 Cor. 4.7-10)

We ponder, then, the first of our three titles – The Joy of the Gospel in the Diocese of Liverpool. Where these titles are concerned, there’s a sense in which you must help me, because we have deliberately couched our titles within the context of this Diocese. So, you have the upper hand here, because you must provide the context in what I hope will be a series of animated conversations throughout the day.

Joy, of course, is a gift – it is one of the fruits of the indwelling Spirit, conferred through our initiation. (Galatians 5.22-23). And, as you well know, it is not the same as being happy all the time. When he wrote to me, a few days before I was ordained deacon, my College Principal reminded me that joy came from the sense that you were in the place where God wanted you to be, doing the work God wanted you to do, standing in the flow of divine grace.  There are high days, and low days, to be sure – but the sense of joy remains. Not for us the painted faces of sad clowns, trying to portray something we do not feel – but a life of the Spirit, gifted to us, which is truthful and authentic. It is fully possible to manifest the joy of the gospel, even if your own personal dispositions are less than happy. As someone who is affected by depression, I am certain that this particular gift consists of God bridging the gap between our temporary dislocation and His grace.

The Gospel is something we proclaim with joy. Anything else sells Jesus short. How can we introduce others to Jesus Christ without meeting him ourselves? It says something for the tenor of the current papacy – and I’m a fan, for the record – that the first Apostolic Exhortation written by Pope Francis was Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel.

EG exhorts us to a view of mission as being that which we carry out in joy – joy because it is the Lord’s will, joy because we are able to say that this is what the Lord requires of us. No-one is attracted to the notion of a sullen God. Blessed are the Joy makers.

The Catholicism in which I was raised was not a wholly positive experience. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic about thirty miles due north of here, in the 1960’s, and in a part of the world where the Second Vatican Council was something which happened to other people. The view of God which lodged in my psyche as a child was brilliantly caricatured by Gerard Hughes in his book God of Surprises.

Hughes wrote of a terrifying experience in which the children were taken to visit an elderly uncle, and were exhorted by the parents that they should love him. On meeting the Uncle he says ‘You love me, children, don’t you?  ‘Oh yes, Uncle’ they reply. Because if you don’t, you know what will happen, don’t you?’ And they are shown a vision of souls in torment, screaming, in the fires of hell. By no stretch of the imagination could that be described as a loving, joyful relationship. I do believe in hell, by the way. I also believe and hope that it is empty, although that’s not up to me, fortunately. The God of abundant grace who emerged from the old skin of my upbringing was introduced to me by my parents, my family, and by a number of wise and generous individuals in whose debt I remain, and which debt I try to repay by sharing the vision of a joyful God with others.

Stephen Bevans offers the following excellent description for what I’m trying to say.

This is what God is in God’s deepest self: self-diffusive love, freely creating, redeeming, healing, challenging that creation. God, as my colleague Anthony Gittins once said in a lecture, is “love hitting the cosmic fan.” Or, to be a bit more prosaic, God is like an ever-flowing fountain of living water, poured out on earth through the Holy Spirit and actually made part of creation through the Word-become-flesh.

That joy comes from realistic engagement with the people we serve, so that the church and its members are  known as Good News. This is ‘a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets’, and, most famously of all (24)

An evangelising community gets involved by word and deed in other people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.

Often, our contact with daily ‘unchurched’ lives is restricted – very often weddings, funerals and baptisms. How do we forge more opportunities to engage with the unattached, and how do we free up time to do so? Those people are the reason why we are there. The intriguing statement about abasing ourselves is important. The church can no longer afford the luxury of pomposity or standing aloof from the everyday lives of our community. Likewise, we can’t proclaim the gospel if we ignore the many moral dilemmas in which people find themselves, not least the appalling inequalities which exist. Questions of proclamation and of the living of the Gospel may well occupy us later – but my first challenge to the local church is

‘How much time is spent, and what priority given, to finding ways of spending time with people who have no attachment to the church? Are we intentionally praying for them, contriving ways to meet them, trying to create a context in which proclamation can happen?

The context of sacramentality

Until recently a prevailing evangelical orthodoxy in Anglican missiology has rejected a central role for the eucharist, and it is common to hear it decried. + Philip North reminded us of this in the first Sheffield Lecture when he said

In the contemporary church there are many highly influential voices who would argue that the Eucharist is too complicated, too excluding, too bound up in tradition to have relevance or power in a post-Christian world. If a church is serious about growth, they would argue, the worship needs to be accessible, inclusive and thus non-Eucharistic. It is hard to imagine a more profound misunderstanding either of the Eucharist or the ministry of evangelism… we are failing people unless we invite them along the road that leads to the altar.

Of course, Evangelii Gaudium doesn’t major on this, because it doesn’t need to. The centrality of the Mass in Roman Catholicism and in Roman Missiology is a given. The only time it is given any kind of mention is in the context of being the context of proclamation in preaching, where it animates the Word and gives it context. We do need to major on it as Anglicans because without the Mass we cease to be the Church. We have forgotten that there is a distinctive, attractive Catholic theology of mission out there. Its instinct and impulse is to make Jesus known, to lead people to him, to participate in the divine nature which is the source of mission – but at its heart it is sacramental. It begins with initiation, and ends at the foot of the Cross – but the Mass is both the place where mission and invitation leads, and where encounters with God are found and explored.

But Jesus in the Eucharist does something else as well. He empowers people, heals, nourishes and sustains them in the other direction of the apostolic task – that of being sent out, that we might gather in. The Mass is both destiny and starting point in the journeying of mission.

We will, no doubt, have encountered the very thing we so often rail against in the life of the church itself. There is a ‘consumer culture’ which affects the way many church going people see themselves. For some, Church is something to be consumed, like any other commodity – there is little sense with such people that they see themselves as part of the body, sharing responsibility, taking ownership. Tasks are there for others to do, problems are there for others to solve – and often people fail to speak up unless they don’t like the solution. Not merely individuals, but whole communities, need to be converted from this view, seeing themselves not as receivers and consumers, but as givers and contributors, as part of the privilege and responsibility of our common baptism. Para. 129:

This is always a slow process and at times we can be overly fearful. But if we allow doubts and fears to dampen our courage, instead of being creative we will remain comfortable and make no progress whatsoever. In this case we will not take an active part in historical processes, but merely become onlookers as the church gradually stagnates.

As Christian people we cannot enable others to encounter one who we ourselves have not met. We cannot speak of Jesus to others unless we ourselves have first met him ourselves, and been so moved and changed by that encounter that we cannot help but proclaim him to others. In beginning today with a celebration of the Mass we focus on the supreme means by which God makes this meeting real. We concentrate on the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, in the species of bread and wine as surely as he was present in history, in incarnation.

This, in so many senses, alongside and integral to our baptism, is the beginning of our call to mission within Christ’s church. Only by meeting Jesus can we commend him to others – we cannot share what we haven’t received. And so it is that one of the gifts the church is experiencing and rediscovering at this present time is a renewal in our understanding of the benefits both of the Eucharist, and Eucharistic adoration.

In Adoration we gaze upon the one who gave his life for us, and thus the greatest love we can know; and this prompts us, invites us to make a worthy response with the offering of our own lives in a manner which seeks to mirror, however imperfectly, the self-offering of Christ.

This is no inward looking, introspective navel-gazing, but rather an outward looking dynamic which lifts our vision away from our own temporary concerns to God’s concerns – concerns for peace, for justice, for evangelization. Here we dare to offer ourselves in reverence for those many times when the sacramental presence of Jesus is treated with levity, insults or abuse. Here we are converted, sometimes in infinitesimal degrees, for conversion happens in God’s time rather than our own; here we are fed and healed by the sacrament of life and joy.

Here our interior life is rendered distinctive after the fashion of our saviour, and we are saved from over-sentimentality and self-obsession. As Bishop Dominique Rey observes, a truly missionary dynamic is here, for it consists of nothing less that an exchange of love between ourselves and God, which in turn offers us the only way by which the hearts and souls of others can be converted. 

The church’s disposition towards mission must begin with adoration – the placing of self in the flow of divine grace, the dynamic which begins with the conversion and cleansing of individual souls. Through that grace we are set free to worship, free to speak and act, free to proclaim good news, in the power of the most Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but it is an understanding which is often called into question. Part of the challenge we will face as we serve the mission of the church is in understanding that somehow sacraments, and sacramental life, and the Eucharist in particular, is actually more of an obstacle to overcome in a mixed church economy which oftentimes values marketing above grace. The contemporary received wisdom of church planting, for example, suggests that it is fine to establish a church community by simply gathering people together, perhaps in the most informal of ways, with little thought concerning what the church has received from Jesus in the sacraments. We may contend that church and sacrament are indistinguishable – for many in the church that is a contentious viewpoint.  There is an ongoing debate – which can never be resolved one way or the other – concerning how new ecclesial communities are formed. As an example of this, I was fascinated by the following questions which arose from the experience of building new church communities without the Eucharist as a foundation stone. I think it illustrates a number of dangers eloquently. This comes from a church planting blog.

At the recent pioneer minister conference…it was stated that a fresh expression should be working towards regular communion services because this was a mark of ‘being church’. Many of us were left with questions. Should the Eucharist be seen as a target? Where does lay leadership fit in? Does the Eucharist create a Christ-centred community? Or is a Christ-centred community, by definition, Eucharistic? What does a fresh expression of the Eucharist look like? And if we’re not church – what are we?

What indeed? The tensions created by the expression ‘working towards’ are all too apparent here. The Eucharistic presence of Jesus is not a ‘target’, nor is it a hoop to be jumped through, an obstacle to be overcome. The presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is the answer, but we seem to have made it the problem. The celebration of Mass, and the sacramental presence of Jesus in our midst is a foundational expression of any Christian community, and needs to be seen as such. If our adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the beginning of our own conversion, why deny, or seek to regulate that, in the lives of other Christians?

The call to mission is a call to bring people to worship of Almighty God. It is why we, and every other human being, have been created. We are brought to our knees in the presence of Jesus Christ, true God, true man, recognizing his kingship, his dominion, his supreme sovereignty over all things. Our adoration begins and continues our conversion, enabling us to speak, and to act, with greater and greater assurance and authenticity about the one who laid down his life for us. My prayer today is that the church may consider this afresh, and that we will be inspired afresh to be bold in love, in service, and in mission.


Doubt no longer, but believe.

A Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Doubting Thomas.

Funny, isn’t it, how we never hear about ‘Denying Peter’? Or ‘Arrogant James’. Or ‘Pushy Andrew.’ It’s only Thomas who merits the rebuke of such a title. And behind it is the assumption that to doubt is somehow bad, or wrong, or somehow makes us second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Well, that’s not how Jesus views it. Remember that Thomas hadn’t had what the others had – the face to face encounter with the risen Jesus. Yes, they could believe. Thomas was honest, rather like someone in one of those psychological experiments where a roomful of people swear that black is white; the person who is not in on all this then goes along with it, so as not to stand out – it demonstrates the herd mentality – that we all go along with something rather than stand out from the crowd. Thomas doesn’t do that. He wants what the others have had. Nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with that. Jesus shows understanding, compassion, to his desire to see, and know. And Thomas effortlessly outstrips his friends with he words ‘My Lord and my God.’ There is no fuller, more explicit expression of faith from an apostle since the old days at Caesarea Philippi when ‘Denying’ Simon Peter said to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16.16). No-one else comes up with anything close. So how about ‘Proclaiming’ Thomas. Or ‘Faithful Thomas’?

What of our own doubt? We are brought up and trained in the faith. We are offered interpretation, both inside and outside the church. We hear the gospel proclaimed during Mass, we hear sermons like this one, we pray every day, we read our bibles, we do the things that Christians do as part of a rule of life, as part of the way we show God that we love him, every day, just as he loves us, every day. But we are human, and doubt can creep in. Actually, if you are anything like me, doubt doesn’t creep in. It roars in like a tsunami, affecting everything. Because the truth is that all of us, at some point or another, have doubts about faith, about life, about the things that are important to us. We hang on to the notion that faith is a refuge, a place where we can hide to escape the things that worry us. My experience is different. When I reflect upon these things I find that I am in a small boat, on a massive ocean – not safe, moored in port. And that brings about doubt. So what do I do with it? Why is that doubt is a good, rather than a destructive, thing?  In my case the answer is that my doubt makes me go deeper. It engages me, it makes me read, it makes me pray, it has been an enormous catalyst in my journey of faith, it was a crucial part of the call to ordination which I first experienced as a child. I’m reminded of the incredible and prophetic words of the playwright Dennis Potter during the final interview he ever gave, to Melvyn Bragg. Potter was terminally ill with cancer, and kept himself going by taking regular sips of liquid morphine as he spoke. This was one of the memorable things he said.

‘…thank God, religion to me has always been the wound, not the bandage. I don’t see the point of not acknowledging the pain and the misery and the grief of the world, and if you say, “Ah, but God understands” or through that you come to a greater appreciation, I then think, “That’s not God, that’s not my God, that’s not how I see God.” I see God in us or with us, …as shreds and particles and rumours, some knowledge that we have, some feeling why we sing and dance and act, why we paint, why we love, why make art.

Religion is the wound, not the bandage. That’s today’s soundbite to get you through the week. Religion doesn’t merely cover up the scar – it is the scar. It is the actual place where the hurt is, and the healing. And it’s the most incredible thing in the whole of existence that when Thomas expresses the brave and honest truth about how he feels, Jesus gives him precisely what he wants. ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.’ Jesus is identified by his wounds. And it’s the wounds that persuade Thomas that this is Jesus, his Lord, his God.

So I don’t apologise to you for being a priest who doubts. We shouldn’t worry about it – we should be glad of it. Nor should any of us apologise for any doubts that we may feel, because in doing so we slough off the false skin of unquestioning certainty and allow ourselves to be as those naked before God – the place of utterly vulnerable love. Because here, like nowhere else, is the place where Jesus invites us to touch his wounds. ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.’ In the Mass we touch, we eat his body; we drink his blood. His wounds tell us that it is real, the most real thing there ever has been or will be. We will reach out to receive his wounded body, reach out to receive his flowing blood. Our Lord, and our God. Doubt no longer, but believe.

Graham Taylor 1944-2017

graham-taylorOthers more qualified than me will talk about the achievements of Graham Taylor, the football manager who died yesterday. Of course, Taylor managed at club level with distinction, and at international level with immense dignity. How he maintained his sanity when caught in the headlights of the tabloid explosion which accompanied his final days as England manager is testimony in itself.

I was privileged, whilst taking a funeral within the football community, to meet Graham Taylor a few years ago. It was an occasion which I remember for a number of reasons – the huge floral tribute of red roses (from Elton John) the mass card on the mantelpiece (from Sir Alex Ferguson) and a number of my heroes from my childhood in a huge congregation. I had a few conversations that day – but the one I remember was with Graham Taylor.

We got to talking about life more generally, outside football – and I suggested to him that he had had a great deal to handle when England manager. I expressed sympathy for all he had gone through. He smiled, and said that there was one thing which had made a difference. He used to walk past his local church, and one day tried the door, and found it open. He went inside, and found sanctuary, peace, away from the prying lenses and journalists. Soon, it became a habit – just going in, and sitting. After a while, he was ‘discovered’ by a parishioner – and it sadly came to an end. But for that time, the church had been valuable to him, in offering peace, refuge and sanctuary. The sadness lay in the fact that his celebrity status prevented him from worshipping publicly because of the constant harassment he received from the press.

As others have said, Graham Taylor was an immensely nice man. He will be missed in a world where common decency is hard to find. May he now find the peace, the refuge he craved, in the nearer presence of Almighty God.

The King is Coming…

The I have some great news for you this morning. It’s being announced today that the Queen is coming to visit Wolverhampton. More than that, she’s coming here, to Ettingshall: In fact, she’s going to open our lift. She’ll be the first person to ride in it, and we’ll put up a little plaque saying that she did and we are going to have the best time getting ready for it because there’s going to be a reception and they’re going to re-tarmac the drive and landscape it, and we’ll have a do in the parish hall which we will need to repaint – did you know that the Queen thinks the whole world smells of emulsion? It’s true. Anyway, they’re going to close the roads and sweep up the leaves and hat sales are going to go through the roof (and that’s just me) and my Mum’s going to buy me a new cassock and I promise I’ll lose weight this time and we will make absolutely sure that we will be ready for this, because it’s massive. It’s so important, and it’s going to be all over the Express and Star, and the Local and National TV are going to be here. It’s happening in fifteen months time. I am just so excited.

It’s being announced this morning that the King of the entire Universe is coming to visit Wolverhampton. More than that, he’s coming to Ettingshall. And we are going to have the best time getting ready for this, because there’s going to be reception and they’re going to make straight the highways and clean all the pathways, and we’ll have a do right here – did you know that the King thinks the whole world smells of Incense? It’s true. Anyway, we’re going to close the roads and sweep up the leaves and hat sales are going to go through the roof, and we will make absolutely sure that we are ready for this, because it’s massive. It’s so important, it’s the most important thing ever, and it’s not going to go near the Express and Star, and the local and National TV will not be remotely interested. It’s happening in about fifteen minutes’ time. I am just so excited. 

Or am I?

Jesus, our King, comes to visit us quite a lot. In fact, he’s always here, in his word, in his sacrament, in each other. He’s here, now. He is completely available to us. And yet I bet that when I said the Queen was coming to open the lift I bet your heart skipped a beat. When you realized where I was going with the Jesus bit, I would imagine that you were not as excited. The reason? We don’t get to see the Queen that often in this part of Wolverhampton. I’ve once been in the same room as her, when she opened the new session of General Synod last year. I have met her son, once, when he came to visit St Stephen’s House in Oxford. (Interesting fact – when the Prince of Wales visits you, you have to turn off your central heating and open the windows so that the temperature inside is the same as it is outside – it’s to stop him getting colds. And I’ve blown it, because that’s the one thing you are going to remember from this sermon instead of how important the Kingship of Jesus is.)

The other thing is that we aren’t used to Kings behaving the way Jesus behaves. We aren’t used to seeing kings being led away to be executed like common criminals. We aren’t used to seeing Kings teaching, healing, befriending sinners like us. We aren’t used to hearing Kings saying as they die, that those who have killed him are forgiven. He’s a long, long way from any king we might recognize. 

And yet….and yet… a King he is. Not just a King, either, but the King, the King of everything, the King of everyone, whether they know it or not, the king of the universe. And the reason we find it difficult to work that one out is that this King comes to us, in about fifteen minutes, looking like a piece of bread, looking like a chalice of wine. That’s because he wants to feed us, this morning, with his own body and blood, so that we don’t grow faint on the journey. And then, later on, we will enthrone him, on the altar, and adore him, and he will give us his blessing. And all of that would be wonderful, if it wasn’t so terrifying. 
Terrifying? This is not merely some benign, soft-hearted, favourite-uncle kind of King showing up. This is the King of all things, a king who has a claim on us. If to this Jesus is given all power in heaven and on earth:
if all of us, who he has bought out of slavery through his death on the cross; 

If all of this it true, then there isn’t a single part of any of us that is not subject to him. 

Christ the King has a claim on our minds, which should think of him often, and explore his words frequently, and with delight;

Christ the King has a claim on our hearts, which should love him above everything else.

Christ the King has a claim on our bodies, which should be used to serve others as he did, and to be subject to his will in all things;

Christ the King has a claim on our possessions, which should be used to his greater glory and for the advance of his kingdom here on earth. 

Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. The next time we celebrate the Mass on a Sunday, a new year will have begun. Advent will usher in a new season of hope, expectation, excitement and anticipation, and we will indeed clear the roadways and sweep the rubbish from our souls. Why? Because although the Queen isn’t actually coming, the King is, for the state opening of our hearts. He’s coming in fifteen minutes – and he’s coming in thirty-five days. Let’s be ready. 

Doubly Thankful

A Sermon preached at the Annual Remembrance Service

herbrandstonFiona and I holidayed this summer in Pembrokeshire, and fell in love with it. We spent a good deal of time simply driving around, exploring and enjoying the stunning coastline which is one of the glories of Wales. Driving on one occasion out of Milford Haven we came across the village of Herbrandston. On the surface it seemed like any other village – but one thing intrigued us. As we entered the village the sign announcing that we were entering Herbrandston had another sign underneath it. It simply said ‘Doubly thankful.’ We didn’t know what this meant – and so, in the manner of pilgrims through the ages, we googled it. What we read amazed and moved us. For a community to describe itself as ‘Doubly Thankful’ indicates that no members of that community were lost in either of the world wars of the twentieth century. There is no war memorial, because there was no one from Herbrandston lost either in the Great War or the Second World War.

After The Great War there were 32 villages who lost no-one. After World War 2 there were 14 Doubly Thankful villages. They are all in England and Wales – none in Scotland. There are, at the last count, 4520 villages in the United Kingdom. The conclusion is that over 4500 villages – not to mention towns and cities – lost sons, brothers, fathers. The grief of the entire nation lives on, and growing out of this, a sacred respect and admiration for those whose lives were taken, in the most atrocious of circumstances. Incidentally, there is only one village in France who did not lose anyone in either conflict.

I am always glad when I see children and young people present to mark Armistice, and Remembrance. On Friday I was present at a wonderful Remembrance Assembly at Spring Vale School. Well done to you all for being here. I say this for three reasons. First of all, it is so important that the legacy of these dreadful conflicts – and of conflicts since 1945 – is remembered, and rehearsed, and passed on from one generation to another. That legacy is both loss, and gain. The loss is the dead, taken in the prime of active life. The gain is the world in which we live, the inheritance of the loss, the freedoms which we enjoy and which have been kept at such a high cost. The world in which we live is a markedly different one from the world we could have had if things had been different. But the second, and  the quality important reason is to mark the fact that the cost of war is the highest cost possible – the cost of human life. In the Great War an estimated 17 million people died, 7 million of whom were civilians. In World War 2 that number rose to 60 million, which constituted 3% of the population of the entire planet. The scale of the casualty list in both wars takes the breath away.

The third reason is that the casualty list doesn’t end in 1945. Since then, Britain has lost service personnel in India, Palestine, Malaya, Suez, Kenya, Cyprus, Borneo, Vietnam, Aden, Radfan, Omar, Dhofar, Northern Ireland, The Falklands, the First Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, and in this country. These conflicts bring us right up to the present day. There are still victims, still casualties, whose deaths we remember this weekend, and those whose life-changing injuries affect the rest of their lives. There are victims of post traumatic stress disorder, and those with the unseen scars of mental illness. There are those left behind, those who mourn, husbands and wives, children and parents. We honour the dead, and we remember to care for the living. Our remembrance now stretches back more than a century to conflicts where we have no remaining combatants among us – and it comes forward to those conflicts which sit in the memory.

Our task today is to pray. It is to pray in a spirit of remembrance. We recall that today is about the worst of the human condition – the frailty and sin of the world, its greed and evil divisions. We come to lay those at the foot of the cross on which Jesus died, and we ask for forgiveness for ourselves, and for the whole world. We aspire to make the world a better place; praying for world leaders that they may seek the common good, that they and we might be people of peace and reconciliation, and that all people might live in security, prosperity and peace.

We recall that today is also about the best of the human condition; heroism, bravery under unspeakable circumstances, comradeship, and ultimately the self-sacrifice which reflects that of Jesus Christ. ‘Greater love has no-one than this’ said Jesus ‘that someone lays down their life for their friends’. This, of course, is what Jesus did – a moment forever recalled in the rood above me – Jesus, at the moment of his death, a life given for you, for me, for the life of the whole world; his death destroyed the power of sin for ever, and his life provides the means by which we too can defeat sin and evil in our own lives.

But for today, we, like the village of Herbrandston, are doubly thankful; thankful for all who have lost their lives, or been injured, in armed conflict; and thankful also that in Jesus Christ we rejoice in the ultimate victory – the one which breaks through human sin, and enables us to share in the glorious and wonderful life made ready for us since before the dawn of time.

Lifting the Vision

Luke 17.19:  ‘Your faith has saved you.’

lifting-the-vision-logoThe Church participates in God’s mission to the world. That may sound obvious, but it reminds us that we are embarked upon the most important and significant of tasks – a task which makes other things pale into insignificance. It is more important than the economy, than Brexit, than the state of the NHS, than anything else I can think of. It is God’s task of bringing all creation to fulfilment in God, achieving the fulfilment of God’s plan. We are given a share in this by God. What a privilege. We have that task here, at Holy Trinity. God’s plans are ambitious, and so are ours. The summit of our task is to bring people to worship God, to recognise that worship is the most important thing about us, and to fall on our knees, in this place, before God.

At the moment there are various obstacles in our path. Your PCC believes, and I believe, that we need bold solutions to the things which hold us back. And so I want to share with you our thinking, and the basis of the plans which we want to bring together for the continued growth  the church in this place. They are ambitious, and they will cost money. I believe that we are blessed when we dream dreams with God, and blessed even more when we are prepared to pay the price to make this plans come true. And so I say what I am saying this morning filled with joy as to the path we have been called to follow.

All of us find the access to this church challenging and a nuisance. For many it is a reason why they cannot come to church at all. The steep slope which accompanies our journey to church is a problem, and it is a problem we want to solve, with the provision of a lift to assist any and all to come to church, and in any weather.

There are other phases to the project as well: we hope to create a discreet space in the Lady Chapel with a glass internal wall, which can be heated separately, providing a more congenial space for daily worship. We also seek a complete refurbishment of the kitchen facilities downstairs, to expand the use of the hall for a greater variety of uses both for the church and for the wider community. And  in the midst of all this there is the organ, which week by week becomes more challenging. That alone would need significant expenditure to resolve its problems.

All of this sounds marvellous, but such a project requires a lot of work – indeed, it has already done so, and I am enormously grateful to Barry Perks, Geoff Proffitt, Norris Hill and our wardens who have committed themselves to this work. With this project, we hope to secure the future  flourishing of this worshipping community.  Without it, we cannot.

These are early days, days of sifting through ideas and getting cost estimates for them. We will be applying for funding from a variety of sources, and enlisting the support and wisdom of the Diocesan Advisory Committee in bringing this to fruition. Above all, we will be raising funds, well above and beyond our normal running and mission costs, to pay for this work. Some of this will come from applications to charities and trusts, but there is no doubt whatsoever that a considerable proportion of the costs will have to be borne by us, and by the wider community of this parish. At the moment the estimated cost for the lift, the Lady Chapel and the kitchen is in the region of £150,000, and could be more – . That is why I am appealing to you today, in the light of our forthcoming Gift Day, to pray very hard about this project, about our plans, and about your response to the parish’s needs, both in your regular giving and in your response to Gift Day next week.

And so, today marks the launch of a project: as you will have seen from the notices as you came in, this is called Lifting the Vision. There have been conversations and discussions about this for some time, as you may be aware: it now feels like time to put this on a formal footing. Processes like this are complex, time consuming and oftentimes frustrating.  We will be casting the net wide for assistance. Please commit to pray for the success of the project, and ask yourself what you might be able to contribute to this important strand of our life together. If we would grow in number, in faith, and in service to the community, all these things are important.

In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his followers

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

We are that city, built, if not on a hilltop, then at least halfway up one. We want to make this wonderful place accessible to the whole community, so that we can become what we are called by God to be.

Let me be clear. This is not merely a clarion call for fundraising, although it certainly is that. This is an acid test for our discipleship, for our faithfulness. I believe that God has great plans for the future of this parish, of this church.  I also believe that God requires this of us, for the good of the church in this community. We intend to share our plans as widely as possible once they become clearer and as we involve the Diocese and the local authority in our thinking. Some of those plans will become clearer in the near future. Other will take time, and patience, and more prayer, and money.  May God bless our efforts and endeavours, and may he continue to shed  his abundant grace upon us as we play our part in turning dreams into reality: and may our faith save us.