Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2015, St John the Divine

ANNUAL CHURCH MEETING SERMON

Preacher  Revd Neil Summers

It is now just over six months since I became team vicar here.  What I said in my first sermon, I say again today: it is a privilege to be sharing the journey of faith with this church community which has been such an influential part of my life now for thirty years.  I also said that in the weeks and months to come after last October, the shape of the life and ministry of this church would be in a process of transition.  We are building on a strong base, a rich heritage and a loyal, committed and active congregation.  And just as well, for this ministry is the work of all the people of God, not just the priest.

Today is an important one in the life of this church and team ministry, as we hold our annual meetings.  It is a time to review the past year, but also to look forward to the year that lies ahead.  Today, I want to repeat the challenge I set before you last October, which is one of encouragement to discern your own part in the life of St. John’s.  What skills, gifts, ideas, participation and contributions can you bring to the ministry of this church?  Back then, I talked in general terms, but today I want to be more specific and make some concrete suggestions.

I hope all regular worshippers here are aware that our parish, along with all others in the Southwark diocese, has been developing a Mission Action Plan (MAP) over the past couple of years.  The priorities we have discerned, and to which we feel God is calling us, are:

  • for our churches to be at the heart of the community in Richmond
  • to embrace people of all ages
  • to be hospitable and caring to all who come to us

The notion of service is central to each of these, but we would obviously also welcome an increase in the numbers of people belonging to our churches.

Here at St. John’s, we’ve made some modest progress in meeting these aims these past six months.  Now my office base is in the narthex, it is possible to have the church doors open much more during the week than was possible before, and it is encouraging that a wide range of people come in.  Sometimes they are foreign visitors to the area.  Some are interested in the art and architecture.  Others are locals who frequently comment they’ve never seen the church open before, and are pleasantly surprised the church is so beautiful.  Regular parishioners also pop in.  Others come to be quiet and still for a while, or to say a prayer, place a prayer request on the board, or light a candle.  We have made further connections with some of the commercial and community groups that use our premises during the week, and others with our neighbours – SPEAR, the Metropolitan Police and Falcons School.  Recently, in Lent, we were pleased the Shaftesbury Arms welcomed us to the pub for our evening discussion series of meetings.  Opening our doors to, and developing our links with all these is important in helping to put St. John’s more at the heart of this local community.

When I was interviewed for this job, I had to do a presentation on how I could contribute towards implementing the parish’s MAP.  Today, I want to remind you of some of the things I said I thought were important.  The first was that it is important to me that St. John’s identifies itself as an inclusive church which extends a welcome to everyone.  I want us to embrace both the seasoned churchgoer and all those who are genuinely seeking meaning and purpose for their lives and a community where they feel they can belong.  An important aspect of this is the development of our church’s ministry of welcome, which is about much more than giving out the service books at the door.  I’d love to see more of you involved in this crucial ministry and, in the coming weeks, I will offer some reflection and preparation on practical aspects of the role of welcome for those who are currently, or who would in the future like to be, part of it.

Second, in spite of what I said about an active church congregation earlier, there is much more scope for greater involvement of other members of the congregation in the tasks that need doing to sustain and renew our life as the community of St. John’s.  That is why I asked all of you to consider what you might offer.  There are umpteen opportunities for volunteers in various aspects of the life of the church.  Let me list some of them:

  • More singers in the choir
  • More people on the flower rota
  • More altar servers for the Eucharist
  • More people for the coffee rota
  • More people to read lessons
  • More Saturday morning help with cleaning and polishing, even if it’s occasional
  • Someone to be responsible for maintenance of the candles and keeping stocks up-to-date.

I have to say that, at the moment, despite what I said about an active congregation, we are overly reliant on a relatively small core of people who ensure that jobs get done.  Today is an appropriate day to acknowledge all the work that goes into keeping the church looking as splendid as it does, and to thank those who give so much time and effort to it.  The last time Bishop Richard came here, he was struck by how well cared for this church is, a comment echoed by many visitors.  But, frankly, we sometimes expect too much, and even take for granted, the sheer hard work that makes all this possible.  The work of running this church is the work of all of us, so again I urge you to consider how you can make your contribution.

A few other things.  While we are well-served by our small team of intercessors, we sorely need more people to lead prayers in our Sunday services.  There is nothing more important than leading God’s people in their prayers.  I would like to organise some preparation and support for those who might be interested in exploring this.  It can seem daunting, but it isn’t beyond anyone’s capability, and there are resources and guidance available on the practicalities.

Then there is our work with younger members of the church.  We’d love to make this more systematic, develop a rota of helpers and a structured programme of ongoing Christian nurture.  This will partly address our aim of embracing people of all ages.  We are grateful to Fiona in particular for all her work with the children, but she needs support to enable this work to thrive in the future.  You don’t need experience or special qualifications, just a willingness to help our children grow in their spiritual lives.

On Tuesday afternoons, from 2.00-4.00, our Eaglets group provides a mutually supportive and much appreciated space for parents and carers, and a play time for toddlers.  This is something we offer to the community, and it has proved popular, but, again, it can only flourish if there are enough volunteers.  It’s not particularly hard work: a couple of hours every few weeks, the ability to make a cuppa, chat to those who come and play a bit with the children.  Even I manage to do that!

As you can see, there is no shortage of things that need more people.  If you’d like to help with any of them, please sign the chart in the narthex, or if you want to know more, ask me or other members of the church about them.  We’re happy to offer any advice or support and to answer your questions.  The chart will be around for a few weeks, so you’ve got time to think about this.

Finally, can I mention the Planned Giving drive we launched earlier in the year.  There has been an encouraging response from a certain proportion of people across all three churches, but there are many more who have made no response at all……yet.  Our ministry depends on financial resourcing.  We rely totally on predictable voluntary income for our day to day expenses in running the three churches.  We also have a large sum to pay to the diocese, not least to help sustain the ministry of poorer parishes, mainly in inner city areas.  Bear in mind that our property income funds the maintenance and repair of our three beautiful church buildings, and doesn’t go towards weekly running costs.  If you haven’t already answered the call, please consider this appeal carefully.

Please take a copy of today’s sermon to remind you of what was said, and also to inform your prayers and responses in the coming weeks.  Also, please stay for our brief Annual Church Meeting after the service – you can bring coffee with you – to elect and show your support for those who serve St. John’s by holding particular offices.  You can, of course, raise any questions or make comments and suggestions about the ongoing life and ministry of our church.

As I said earlier, today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.  The church is called to continue that work of caring for the people of God – that is, of course, all people – and to make the life and love of Jesus known in the community in which it is set.  Let us continue to pray for the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, and ask God’s blessing on what this church and this Team Ministry can be for the people of Richmond.

About Revd Neil Summers

Revd Neil Summers served as a non-stipendiary minister in the Team between 2000 and 2014, whilst continuing his work as a lecturer in further and adult education. In October 2014, he was licensed as full-time Team Vicar of St John the Divine. He has particular interests in the literary and poetic aspects of scripture and theology, the rational case for faith and belief in an increasingly secular culture and the strengthening of links between the local church and the community in which is it set. Among his spare time pursuits are travel, literature, theatre, dance (only as a spectator!) cycling, singing in a local community choir, and gardening.
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