Address to the Joint PCC meeting
St Mary's - St Peter's with All Saints'
1st April 2006
I don't really want to say very much this morning, because there are others who are going to speak, and others I am sure who wish to get points over. Nor do I want to preach a sermon,because I and colleagues have done that several times over the past eighteen months, to the point where we were asked to stop it by some.
However, this is what in New Testament Greek would be referred to as a 'kairos' moment. Some years ago, a group of South African theologians wrote a document which came to be known as the Kairos Document. Its actual title was 'Challenge to the Church'. Its opening words are 'The time has come. The moment of truth has arrived'. That moment of truth was of significantly greater order than our moment of truth this morning, but let me quote further from the opening lines:
For very many Christians....this is the KAIROS, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favourable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action....Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He wept over the tragedy of the destruction of the city and the massacre of the people that was imminent, “and all because you did not recognize your opportunity, your KAIROS, when God offered it.
I don't think Nottingham will be destroyed and its people massacred, whatever decision we make today, but this is still a moment of opportunity not just for St Peter's, All Saints' and St Mary's, but for the whole church in Nottingham. It is not that we control the destiny of Christianity in our city. Rather it is that we have been given this opportunity to fling open the doors of our churches to our brothers and sisters of other traditions and to the people of our city. If we grasp the opportunity, who knows where it might end up? If we do not, who knows where we might end up? We can choose this morning to be in the vanguard or to be in the rearguard of mission. We can say 'Yes, we are ready to take some risks for the Gospel' or we can say 'No, we want to stay with what we know and what we like (and dislike). We can go, as Abraham, leaving behind us what is familiar and comfortable, trusting that God will sustain us; or we can get the jitters, like the Israelites in the wilderness, and demand to go back to the security of slavery in Egypt. I hope we will step out in faith, because, if we are ready to ride out a storm or two – whether contained in teacups or not – I believe that we will find not only that we are sustained in our journey, but that there is a land of promise to reach for. It won't be the Kingdom of God. That's God's gift in God's time. But if we set out on the journey with a clear vision of what the Kingdom might be like, and the people for whom God longs, we might just, together, discover signs of that kingdom.
But let me earth this a bit. Lets be realistic. The step to be taken this morning is small, tiny in the journey. And it can be described in one question: 'Do we want to journey together, or do we want to journey alone?' The consequences of deciding to move together are still unknown, though the hints are there. There is so much talking and praying still to do. But I think that, even in the small ways we have already moved, we can see possibilities. We can alter worship patterns and not create a mass walk-out. We have already done it. We can meet together for study and prayer, and even for worship, and not fall out. We can work on our communications together, bumpy as that has been, and come out with new ideas. We can invite others into our debates and discussions and discover they too are interested, interesting and enthusiastic about our initiative and its wider potential. And so on.
The consequences of deciding not to move together are also, to an extent, unknown. There may be a sigh of relief from various directions, but it will be momentary. I have always talked about the opportunity that we have been given. We can turn our back on that opportunity to mould our life together, but we need to be realistic about this as well. Other things are happening over which we have no control. Clergy numbers are diminishing. The structures of the diocese are changing. We know in our hearts that the Church of England is struggling with too many buildings, too few people and insufficient finance. Like the rest of the workforce, a pensions crisis is now upon us which signals a further reduction of historic funds from central sources. As the Finance Group said very clearly, if its saving money that we are about there is only one way of doing that, and that is by closing a church building.
But that is not what it is about. It is about the fundamental question 'What is the Church for?' And the short answer to that is that the Church is there to enable mission. Even if you nurture some idea of the church as a safe haven for the saved, away from the vicissitudes of daily life, unless we are actively promoting the values of the Kingdom, no-one except the lucky few (and increasingly far between) will actually get to know about the haven. But I hope that there are actually very few in our churches who do harbour such an escapist vision. We believe in a God who creates, sustains and redeems the world, a God who gives and gives and gives, even the lifeblood of his own self. And we believe that we have been called into that community of the Trintarian God which pours itself out in the task of promoting the values of the Kingdom of God – justice, peace, equality, freedom, inclusion, love, joy.... And the more we allow ourselves to be challenged by one another, and supported by one another, and cared for by one another, the richer will be the vision for which we stand and in which we collaborate.
Here is the end of the Kairos report:
The Church of Jesus Christ is not called to be a bastion of caution and moderation. The Church should challenge, inspire and motivate people. It has a message of the cross that inspires us to make sacrifices for justice and liberation. It has a message of hope that challenges us to wake up and to act with hope and confidence. The Church must preach this message not only in words and sermons and statements but also through its actions, programmes, campaigns and divine services.
Editor's note: in the event, the vote in favour of seeking union of the two parishes was almost unanimous.
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