Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter & ACM, 22 April 2018, St John the Divine

Preacher  Revd Neil Summers


Today is an important one in the life of our three churches as we hold our annual meetings.  It is RTM’s equivalent of the State of the Union – a time to review the past year, but also to look forward to the year ahead.  The annual report for SJD is contained in the Magazine, so no need for me to repeat all of that, but there are a few things we ought to mention specifically.

I hope all regular worshippers are aware that our parish has renewed its Mission Action Plan (MAP) for the period 2017-2019.  The three priorities we discerned, to which we feel God is calling us, are:

To celebrate and share God’s love for all people by …….

  • offering a place to belong
  • exploring faith honestly and with an open mind
  • living out Christ’s care and compassion for everyone

We have fleshed these out both on a Team-wide level and also on the local church level.  Here at St John’s, in terms of offering a place to belong, we have set out to enhance local communications, through banners on our Kew Road railings, and posters on interior and exterior noticeboards, for significant services and events, e.g. Christmas, Easter, Harvest, etc.  We did indeed have a banner for Christmas, and also posters beautifully designed by Peter Moore, for a number of special services, like the children’s Christingle and Nativity; the main Carol Service; Blue Christmas (a small, quiet and reflective service for people who, for whatever reason, find Christmas a difficult time of the year); and for Midnight Mass/Christmas Morning.  SJD also delivered its full quota of RTM Christmas cards to local households, thanks to so many of you who helped out. 

For exploring faith honestly and with an open mind, we decided we would use the sermon slot, occasionally, a bit more innovatively.  For example, one or two members of the congregation might participate in a dialogue sermon, maybe talking about their work or some particular experience they’d like to share.  As part of my Mothering Sunday sermon, I took the opportunity to talk about the need for a new church warden at St John’s, and how we might regard such a role as pastoral and nurturing, as well as legal and administrative.  We could try ways of including Junior Church a little more in the main service. It was suggested we might have some sermons on aspects of the Eucharist, or features of the church building, or following up ideas in a suggestion box.  These could well fit with the long period of ‘Ordinary Time’ during the summer, when the major festivals of the year have passed and there is room for a bit more flexibility.  Mark Laflin’s departure meant we couldn’t immediately follow up on the idea of a sermon on aspects of music in church, but there may be a chance to put that right when our new director of music starts.

Thirdly, in seeking to live out Christ’s care and compassion for everyone, we said we would try to communicate more effectively with our many hall users and local neighbourhood organisations.  For example, we sent out individual invitations to hall users, etc. for the Saturday Christmas Carol Service.  Also, people who come to Eaglets were invited to the children’s Christingle/Nativity.

The really major initiative under this heading, however, has been the Glass Door winter night shelter for homeless people here on Thursdays from January to April.  Thanks to Glass Door staff, to Mary as our church’s co-ordinator, and to a large number of volunteers, we were able to offer Thursday night supper, a bed for the night and Friday breakfast to up to 20 people each week, through much of what was a colder than average winter.

Disappointingly (for them, as well as us) our police neighbours have had to leave Sovereign Gate due to the Met. Police having to make substantial savings in their budget.  There is now just one 24-hour staffed police station in most London boroughs.  I still retain my links with the chaplaincy, however, and was recently invited to New Scotland Yard to discuss how that fits with the new scenario.

We have markedly enhanced our contacts with local schools, specifically Falcons (weekly whole school assemblies in church on Fridays) and Deer Park.  Also, Christ’s School staff start of term Eucharist was held here in January, and students from Falcons and Christ’s came for Easter and summer events.  We also have good links with the local Sea and Air Cadet squadrons.

With my office base in the narthex, the church doors are open much more than previously during the week, and it is encouraging to see a wide range of people come in, including visitors from around the UK and many other countries round the world.  Some are interested in the art and architecture; others are locals who often say they’ve never seen inside the church and are pleasantly surprised to discover how beautiful it is!  Regular parishioners also pop in.  Others come to be quiet and still for a while, or to say a prayer, put a prayer request on the board in the Lady Chapel, or light a candle.  A large number of people use our premises every week, including AA & NA groups, Richmond Street Pastors, One Stop Shop, etc.  That’s in addition to ballet, acupuncture, biodanza, etc.!

For me, the most important aspect of SJD is that it continues to identify itself as an inclusive church extending a welcome to everyone, both the seasoned churchgoer and all those who are seeking meaning and purpose for their lives and a community where they can find a place to belong.  One central feature of this is the development of our church’s ministry of welcome, which is, of course, about much more than giving out 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 welcomers for those who are currently, or who would in the future like to be, part of it.

More broadly, there is always more scope for greater involvement of members of the congregation in the tasks that need doing both to maintain and extend our life as the community of St. John’s.  So, again, I ask each of you to consider what you might offer.  For example, we can always do with more singers in the choir; more people on the flower rota; more altar servers; Junior Church helpers; people for the coffee rota; readers; people to lead prayers of intercession; help with cleaning and polishing, even if it’s just occasional…

Like many churches, we are very 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.  I can’t tell you how many people comment on how well cared for the church is.  But, frankly, we sometimes expect too much of ‘the core’, and 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, and the ministry of this church is also the work of all of us, not just clergy and office holders.  I have at least some awareness of the enormous amount of pastoral care that is given by people here, often quietly, unnoticed and unacknowledged, but greatly appreciated by those who receive it.

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.  Not many of those who come are churchgoers, but some significant conversations take place about important things in people’s lives.  It has proved increasingly popular, but, again, it can only continue to flourish with sufficient 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 in my own stint on the rota once a month!

Finally, can I mention the Stewardship drive we launched during this past year.  There was an encouraging response across the parish, a sign of confidence, I think, in our mission and ministry, which is, of course, dependent on financial resourcing, as well as other things.  We rely totally on predictable voluntary income for our day-to-day expenses in running the three churches.  We also contribute a large sum to the Southwark diocese, not least to help sustain the ministry of poorer parishes, mainly in inner city and urban priority areas.  Our property income funds the maintenance and repair of our three beautiful church buildings, and not weekly running costs. 

Please look again at this sermon when it goes on the Team’s website, and please consider how you can make your own contribution to the life of St John’s.  Also, I encourage you to 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 will serve St. John’s in the coming year by taking on, or continuing to hold, particular offices.  And 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 – which 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 Spirit, and ask God’s blessing on this church and this Team Ministry as we seeks to bring something of the life of God’s Kingdom to the people of this place.

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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