From the Vicarage

Being community

Elsewhere in this edition of The Messenger, Christian Laughton contributes an article about pastoral care – what it is, who receives it, who gives it, how it is organised. It’s one of the key strands of Priority 2 of our Development Action Plan, which you will remember was discussed and compiled last summer as we thought and prayed about our response to the diocesan strategy People Fully Alive: Ely 2025. Priority 2 focuses on developing a healthy church and leaders. I urge you to read what Christian has written and begin to think through the implications of what it means for us as a church.

This derives very much from the thinking that church is not so much a place as a community. From the earliest of expressions of Christian community made up of those who came to believe in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the first disciples, and then expanded around the shores of the Mediterranean, and eastwards as well, the church has always been defined as ‘community’. Church is particularly the coming together of the ‘Body of Christ’ to continue the work that Jesus began, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Church is not a place to which we come, but a community of which we are a part, and an essential part if the community is to reflect the life and love of God. It follows that community cannot be an abstract concept or a nice idea, and it isn’t just a collection of individuals who come together on Sundays. It is an essential part of who we are as the Body of Christ. During my sabbatical study leave last year, I came across a pithy quote from the radical German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community (even if their intentions are ever so earnest), but the person who loves those around them will create community’.

As ever, Bonhoeffer makes you think. But he identifies what lies at the heart of creating and maintaining community – community that spills over into love and service in the wider networks and communities to which we belong. If we start from the idea that we need to be a community, we probably won’t get very far, but if we begin by fostering caring relationships with those around us, community then happens. Christian in her article says that the pastoral care of a church community is something formalised into a role that is deemed (or assumed) to be the responsibility of the church ministers, and those who have specifically committed to exercising it with them. That’s perfectly correct and by the way, we need more people willing to commit to being part of a pastoral care team. Please have a word with me if you think it’s something you could offer. But it isn’t the whole story, because community flourishes when that care is given by one member to another, naturally and often informally. Sometimes that’s all that is needed, but there are often times when a pastoral concern needs to be shared and I hope that if anyone has a concern about someone who may not have been in their usual place in church for a few Sundays, or about which they know something that may not yet have reached the ministry team, then I hope that you will pass that concern on to me or to another member of the team, so that we can be aware and do whatever may be necessary. I really cannot emphasis too much what Christian writes when she says that we need you to tell us about something or someone about which you are concerned. Never assume that we already know. In many cases we don’t - unless you tell us. And by the way, never assume that someone else has done the telling - we’d rather be told by ten people than none.

Communities expand and contract as people come and go. For the past five years our wider community of St Neots and Eynesbury has been richly blessed by the presence of Revd Debbie Noonan, with Jesse and of course the arrival of Aidan three years ago. Where have those five years gone! It seems only the other day that Judy and I (with Ellie the dog) met Debbie and Jesse as they disembarked from the Queen Mary II at Southampton docks. It has been a very great joy to work alongside Debbie and to see the Spirit filled work she has done in Eynesbury as our two parishes forge stronger links, and the spirit of community is worked out on a wider canvas. Our joint adult confirmation programmes have been particular highlights. Sadly, as we know, the family will be leaving us for Montreal this month, as Jesse takes up his exciting new post as Principal of the Montreal Diocesan Theological College. Their departure is to be marked by a special service at Eynesbury on Sunday 16 July at 10.30, and the invitation to attend both that and the refreshments that will follow in Eynesbury Primary School is extended to all of us at St Neots too. You can also come to the 10am service here, and go on for the refreshments afterwards (which is what I shall be doing). However we mark their going, there is now a permanent place for them in our hearts and we will be keeping them very much in our prayers and thoughts. Friendship and community are qualities that can overcome distance and separation. They go with our blessing and our love.

Yours ever in Christ

Fr Paul