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Thought for the week - 18 July. Passengers are welcome

Gospel reading Mark 6.30-34 & 53-end.

Over the weekend of the ‘Petertide’ Ordinations and Ordination anniversaries (I celebrated my 35th as a priest, Fr Paul 40, Fr Harry his 48th) the Church Times reported the plans, to be discussed by General Synod, endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on Church Planting and a project to start 10,000 lay-led churches over the next 10 years.

Lay-led is the thing these days! Almost as an aside, the proponent of this strategy, one Canon John McGinley said:

“Lay led churches release the Church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of church …… then actually we can release new people to lead and new churches to form. It also releases the discipleship of people. In church planting there are no passengers.”

Well thanks a lot! This key limiting factor really enjoyed that affirmation especially with a combined 87 years of priestly service represented here! I could find quite a lot to say about that – but I won’t bore you with it - for now! Suffice it to ask, ‘Where do they find the people who propose these initiatives!?’ I have no idea, but a quick look in Crockford’s directory shows me that Canon McGinley himself seems to have benefitted from an expensive college based training at Trinity College Bristol!

It is another, almost lost presupposition and phrase that strikes me now:

‘Lay leadership’ and there being ‘No passengers in church plants.’

My first question – where are all these lay-leaders to come from? We do pretty well at St Stephen’s, but we are hardly overwhelmed by people willing to take up positions of senior leadership in the church are we? We have two able Churchwardens and all the other officers, but we don’t see a hundred hands up for those posts when it comes to election time! Hands up now those who would be happy to put themselves forward to take the helm of the whole shebang! It is just not going to happen! Mind you, at least you wouldn’t have the building to worry about!!

But let’s look at another phrase in this strategy – no passengers.

At S. Stephen’s we welcome passengers. We all need to step up to the mark in our turn as and when we can – and all of you here need to take that call seriously – I have to say that. But there are times when we all need to be passengers. In our Gospel reading Jesus recognises that there needs to be time for him and for his disciples to rest, they need to go into the desert for a while.

There is no-one here who does not need that from time to time. Does that make us passengers? There are people in every community who, for whatever reason, are never able to take on positions of responsibility. Does that make them less valuable? We have people whose family life & work each day is so demanding that they just can’t manage any more pressure. Are they not welcome? There are elderly and sick people who need to be loved and cared for – are they no longer needed? There is no sense here that a layperson could be pursuing their vocation in some other way than in church: that they could be a carer, or a young mum, or a harassed worker, or a weary person who has striven all their life and needs a rest, who needs to bathe in the presence of God just in order to get through the rest of their week, to put one foot spiritually in front of another.

Many, including me, have a great fear that all too often so-called churches in this new pattern are welcoming only to the fit, young and affluent.

The same Jesus who called the disciples, said also “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

There are some here who do need to hear the challenge of Jesus to become better disciples and to share the load. There are others who need to be passengers along the way. Well, climb on board!

But just before we leave the subject, just before one important point gets lost in this new, lay-led, cheaply trained, buildingless model of church. Let this old, tired, Key Limiting Factor share with you this, said in a sermon to a newly ordained priest 10 years ago. I asked for a copy of the sermon, and I keep it in my prayerbook.

“Above all, be a faithful minister of the Sacraments. Jesus encounters people today as healer and as reconciler in the wonderful mysteries entrusted to you to preside over in His Church. When people long to know they are God’s children, it is the Sacrament of Baptism that will powerfully convey that truth; when people need healing or reconciliation they will need your special ministry. The men or women sick, in pain, depressed, may hear all the comforting words you and I can offer, but a tangible sign of God’s presence in anointing or in receiving absolution will speak to them far more powerfully than anything you or I could put into words. The Sacraments are visible guarantees of God reaching out to enable His Kingdom to break in on people’s lives. It will ever be both your duty and your joy to provide such a ministry to those entrusted to you.

Greatest of all duties and privileges, will be that of offering the Mass. In the Mass the one, full, perfect satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, Jesus Himself, is once more present with us, and for us, offering Himself to the Father and carrying all of us with Him in that offering. You will literally take the place of Christ every time you, as a priest, offer the Mass. Yes, such an experience may well be overwhelming for you and so it should be. Remember, though, that this ministry is entrusted to you so that others may know, at the deepest level, what it is for God to reach out to captives and to humanity, wounded in so many ways, yet lifted into the healing presence of God Himself. You are to offer the Mass also for a world which does not yet know God, for it is only Christ whose sacrifice will ultimately bring the world to the fulfilment of His purpose. The child has little if any understanding of the sacrifice made for him or her by parents and many others. Still, those sacrifices are made. There, perhaps, you and I have a glimpse of what it might mean that, in every Mass, Christ’s once-and-for-all offering is yet again present for all of us who, in this world at least, will never fully grasp the point. Offer Mass regularly and you will be drawing both yourself and the wider world more deeply into that mystery of God’s self-giving love.”

(Bishop Martyn Jarrett)



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