Yesterday Eileen and I attended a study morning of lectures and discussion led by the Bishop of Kensington. Hand on heart I don’t always look forward to these gatherings, yesterday was an exception. Bishop Graham delivered two lectures. His first explored how the Trinity is an image of God’s outward and unconditional love for creation. The second explored the vocation of the Church, in the light of our present difficulties and opportunities. One particular reference interested me, it was by a theologian called Michael Jenkins. “The Church is most attractive when it pursues its own vocation unconcerned with its own survival.” Hearing this quote two words sprang to mind: ‘obedience and offering’. The Church is most attractive when it is obedient to its principal and only vocation to lead people in the worship of Almighty God and to make the kingdom a reality by loving our neighbour. Our attempts to manipulate God are always doomed to failure because they are principally the result of our own insecurity and sinfulness. To sin according to Luther was to look in on yourself, to be self-obsessed and the Church at present seems to be very inward looking, obsessed as it is with numbers. Bishop Graham suggests we should stop this. Jesus by contrast was obedient unto death, even death on a cross and because of this God highly exalted him and gave him the name above all other names. Philippians 2:9.
So what does this mean for us at St Nicholas as we begin another Church year? What must our focus be? It must be to lead people to the worship of God and to celebrate the kingdom by loving our neighbour. We must redouble our efforts to make our worship attractive, inclusive and inspiring. Additionally, it must be to continue in our efforts to love our neighbour by our acts of service. Supporting our neighbour when they are at their most vulnerable, for what ever reason, is at the heart of our mission and the heart of the Church’s vocation. Our debt counselling, our contribution to our local food bank, these are concrete examples of love. To this list I would also add our relationship with our link parish in Angola. We have committed our support of Fr Elias and his congregation by helping them build a church. We have bought the land, we will soon help with the construction of a new church building by paying for the foundations. Here is what Archbishop Thabo of South Africa, the primate responsible for the Diocese of Angola, had to say in 2012 at the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the Diocese of Angola “The vibrant worship and godly optimism (of the Angolan Church) – such as the laying of foundations and starting to build churches that may take years to complete has led me to come home with a fresh energy to strive for justice and peace.”
Fr Elias has a revised figure for the building of his church it is $30k US. After the foundations have been paid for, let’s see what else we can do to help.
You might think that while major works are being undertaken in the church, the north aisle is partially shrouded in black plastic, and the dust seems never-ending, that parish life has been put on hold. Not at all! We have had a busy and most enjoyable weekend.
On Saturday evening we were treated to a concert organised by the Friends of St Nicholas, performed by singers calling themselves the Close Shaves and High Heels. They sang a wonderful selection of music from Bach to Bacharach. The concert was great fun, very well attended and much enjoyed by all and sundry.
The following evening we had another in our series of Conversational Evensongs. Our guest was Sandra Horne, who shared her insights with us about her life as a volunteer for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. We learned much about her experience of day-to-day life in that part of the world, and the seemingly intractable political issues with which those people are struggling.
Sunday was also, of course, the Feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the Church’s year. It is the culmination of what is sometimes referred to as the Kingdom Season. Last week I came across some thoughts about the Kingdom of Heaven which I shall leave with you to ponder:
‘If you don’t like diversity, you’re not going to like heaven. And if you don’t like foreigners you won’t like the Aramaic speaking man on the throne’.
With every blessing