From the Vicarage - April 2019

Learning to change and grow

As most people will know by now, Judy and I will be moving on soon – it looks as if my last Sunday with you is likely to be Sunday 12th May, subject to confirmation. It was just a week before Christmas that I was asked to think and pray about the possibility of becoming priest-in-charge of the church of St Peter-in-Ely, a half-time post, and combine that with an expansion of my role as an assistant diocesan director of ordinands to make up the other half. It was not an easy decision to come to. But God has a way of challenging us and leading us onwards as we learn and grow in faith and relationship with him. We are now at a point in our team ministry planning where we have articulated a shared vision for collaborative ministry, blending the best of traditional and innovative models of church and ways of worshipping and serving the community in one town-wide team. Now is the right time for someone new with fresh ideas and new energy to step in and take the new team on to build the church of the future, not abandoning the past, but opening up to embrace the new and unexpected. And I believe that after eleven years as vicar here, God is calling me to a fresh challenge too. As I have discovered, God is always a God of surprises.

Naturally, this is a big change for Judy and me, and of course it means change here too. But change is needed not just at our Anglican end of things. Christians Together in St Neots (formerly Churches Together) is also at a crossroads. The realisation is growing that the programme of meetings and services that has gone on unchanged for a lot of years – the same people doing the same things in the same way – is no longer a credible model for churches working together. But a credible model is emerging, and that is a model based on service to the community, especially those struggling to feed and house themselves and their families in our divisive and uncaring society. One of the Five Marks of Mission of the worldwide Anglican church, and a major strand of our diocesan and parish strategy, is to challenge and transform unjust structures in our society. We are doing that in cooperation with other churches through the Foodbank, through the Christian Care Centre, and most recently through Friday Food. Other work like Christian Performing Arts who will be bringing the Passion Play to our town centre for the third time next year, and ACTIOS working in local schools, ecumenical prison ministry and other collaborative ventures again look outwards, beyond the doors of our churches, bringing the gospel of Christ into our secularised society that needs more than ever to hear about the God who loves them every bit as much as he loves us. This is essential, spirit-led work, but at the moment is lacking direction. Nobody wants to sit through a schedule of dull meetings, but there is a real need for a new, light-touch organisational framework to coordinate and disseminate information about the varied activities, and the new initiatives to come. Christians Together currently has no Chair and no Secretary and is in danger of falling into a black hole. Last September I offered to try to bring something together for the current year, but my departure means that I won’t be able to carry this on beyond Easter.

Is this something that God is calling you to do? I will be facilitating a meeting on Wednesday 24th April at Pilgrim’s Hall in the United Reformed Church. If you feel moved or would like to know more, please get in touch with me.

I think that, without wishing to sound too grandiose, we can draw a comparison between the need for change and reorganisation in the church, and the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus that we will be focussing on as we continue on our journey this April through Lent and into Holy Week and Easter. Change and transformation lies at the heart of that story – particularly the change that Jesus’s first followers went through as their Lord and Master was first taken from them, and then given back in such a wonderful, life-giving way. And then they were transformed by the energy of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to become an effective force for mission and witness. The story is so familiar that we often lose sight of the sheer cock-eyed craziness of what happened then. But surely we are not so stuck in our comfortable ways and habits, that the same Spirit can’t cajole and lead us into new and surprising and life-affirming ways of spreading the gospel in a society and culture that is radically different from the one most of us grew up in. I have been challenged to take on a new role in the Church of God, and so have you. I am accepting that challenge and so should you – grasp it and hold into it with joy and with hope! My prayer this Passiontide and Easter is that God’s transforming Spirit, through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, will uphold and inspire all of us to build on what we have, to learn and change and grow in Him.

Yours ever in Christ

Fr Paul