The Rectory, June 2001
Avid readers of the Nottingham Evening Post will have noticed an exchange of letters recently between a reader from Clifton and the Rector of St Peterís! The thrust of the formerís letter was that to have three Anglican churches in the city centre is an extravagance which the Church of England can ill afford, and that two of the three should either be knocked down or else turned into supermarkets.
My letter was, I hope, suitably robust in response! If we were starting again I am sure we would not begin from here, as the old Irish joke goes. If we put together all the churches in the city centre we would certainly be hard put to justify the number of buildings and communities, all doing their own thing, in an area where the resident population at this moment is very small. But all of us can make a strong case for being there, and for the distinctive mission in which we are engaged. I am absolutely confident of that at St Peterís, and I see no sign of any of our sister churches lacking in that area.
Nonetheless, it is not difficult to appreciate how it might appear to outsiders, especially when we know that there are churches which are struggling in really challenging situations in different parts of the city and its environs. We must be sensitive to that. And part of that sensitivity will be being quite open and forthright about what we believe our mission to be, and about both our strengths and our weaknesses. Besides we need to be clear about that for ourselves as well!
During June and July we will be embarking on a series of sermons which will reflect on the mission of the local church in a variety of contexts, which will feed our continuing reflection and development of a parish strategy; but let me offer you, in good evangelical style, four ĎCís which might form a foundation of our thinking:
Confidence in the Gospel we proclaim and the vision of a society based on Christ and in Christ. There is always room for debate - that is healthy and ensures that we are always being challenged - but if we are unsure that what we have been given is really worth the bother, then the rest of the world will quickly perceive that. As my previous boss used to say, Anglicanism is too often thought to be a tradition where it doesnít matter what you believe so long as you donít believe it too strongly.
Commitment to our mission. We are all called. We have all been baptized - commissioned - into that mission. We all have a part, and if we pursue the vision together we will find that the gifts we have each been given will complement one another. Mission is made up of many parts, and no person has been given all the gifts! Christ needs every person to use their gifts in the service of the Gospel. Our mission is rooted in the City Centre, serving the people in the many roles in which they come there, and that requires a wide diversity of gifts, some entrepreneurial - going out and developing new links; some pastoral - providing hospitality, both spiritual and physical; and some reflective - the ministry of prayer and study is crucial! We need continually to be returning to prayer, immersed in prayer, seeking Godís guidance, encouragement and blessing to ensure that what we are doing is Godís mission and not our own self-seeking!
Collaboration We are not in this on our own. We are not in competition with anyone. Indeed there are other groups, communities and churches which will be better-equipped and better-placed than we are to pursue particular initiatives. We must work together with them whether secular or religious. Ecumenical relations need urgent attention. Relations within our deanery are the focus of much attention, and as we develop our links with the Radford churches, especially All Saints, we must do so as partners in mission, not with any sense of superiority or arrogance. They have experience of trying to build Christian community which will be totally outside anything which many of us can imagine.
Finally, complacency is what we must avoid! There is a wonderful spirit in St Peterís. We have a healthy worshipping community which is welcoming, active and thoughtful. Our work is known and appreciated very widely in the city. Whether the Evening Post correspondent likes it or not, St Peterís is not going to go away as a worshipping, witnessing community. But even if we face minor irritations from time to time, like parking restrictions and clearing up a lot of rubbish, we have a pretty comfortable time of it. We are financially cushioned, it has not been hard to recruit clergy to come here, there is a sense of achievement around. Complacency is a real risk. We should not assume that everything can remain the same. We are challenged by the Gospel to be sacrificial in our giving - and that does not just mean financially! Thinking together about how we can use our good fortune sacrificially for the good of the Church and of Godís world will be an important part of our continuing mission.