Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2015, St Mary Magdalene, morning

Readings  Acts 4.5–12, John 10.11–18

Preacher  Canon Robert Titley

 

If you don’t know much about wine but you want to sound like you do, I’ve heard that what you need to do is talk about it in terms of something you do know something about. So if, for instance, your interest is motoring, you take a sip, swill it around and say, ‘Mmm, this wine moves through the gears really well.’ Let’s say barbershop quartets are your bag – sniff the bouquet and say, ‘Ah, I’m getting a really close harmony here.’ I’ve no idea what that means – but who would dare ask?

This is actually the way we make genuine sense of the world, talking about things in terms of other things, and it’s a devise we use to persuade other people of our view. Thus we can talk about sport with the vocabulary of warfare – ‘West Indies batsmen digging in after early losses’ – to lend it an epic quality, and talk about war in sporting terms to mask its horror.

Some people borrow words from us, the church. The very secular University of Kingston employs Pastoral Officers, and pastoral is of course one of our terms. Look at our Mission Action Plan (or MAP – more of that in a moment) and one third of it is about pastoral care. But ‘pastoral’ is a word that we borrowed first: pastor is the Latin for ‘shepherd’. When writers in the Old Testament wanted an image of how God cared for the people of Israel, and how their leaders often failed to care, they described the nation as a flock of sheep, led by God their head shepherd and ruled over by bad human shepherds (see for example Ezekiel 44.7-12). And John describes Jesus as saying, I am the good shepherd, the one the sheep belong to, the one who therefore sticks by the sheep when danger comes.

No image has had a greater influence on how we picture what the church is for. Priests when they are ordained are told ‘to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling’, which is to be ‘servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent.’ Here in the Richmond Team Ministry we have two Pastoral Auxiliaries – ‘shepherd helpers’ – and we have set ourselves as a major mission objective the developing of our pastoral care.

But what does that mean? And is the shepherding only to be done by official people? Well no – one of the New Testament images of the church is that of the body of Christ. So we all have a part to play in expressing, making flesh, the work of Christ, the good shepherd.

Today is our Annual Meeting, at which we have committed ourselves to reviewing the MAP we adopted in September of last year, and I think it is a good use of the sermon to set the scene for that. That may seem too inward-looking just now, when last week we marked more sad centenaries – the massacre of the Armenians and the bloody Gallipoli campaign – when the news tells us of more deaths in the Mediterranean and an earthquake in Nepal, when we are twelve days from a General Election. All these things need to be connected in our minds and hearts with the judgment and love of God, but this is one moment in the year to look at ourselves, to see how we may better connect with God. So let us look at our mission priorities as the people of God.

You have a pamphlet [reproduced below] which gives a summary of our Mission Action Plan. We have real progress to report – see all the ticks – things done or underway (often later than we had planned, but still). Then there are the crosses, things we have not managed to do yet, and extra things that we’ve achieved that weren’t in the plan. Let’s look at some of this through the lens of today’s Gospel reading, which will quite quickly take us beyond navel gazing.

Jesus says, ‘I know my own sheep, and they know me.’

This is an image of peasant sheep farming, where flocks are small and are close to their shepherd. Let’s not be romantic – they aren’t pets, they are working animals, they produce wool and in some cases meat – but their connection with their shepherd is an intimate one. So how well do we know each other, you and I, you and you?

  • We have rejigged our pastoral care (or cluster) groups and the home group we launched in the autumn has established itself firmly in a pretty short time
  • We have a good team of welcomers
  • But how are we doing as a congregation at talking to people who are new to St Mary’s or who we don’t know very well?

If we are to grow in numbers (as we say we do) this is important.

Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep, that do not belong to this fold.’

Who are these people, who Jesus knows as he knows us? And why should we bother about them? Because Jesus says he wants to bring them too, ‘so there will be one flock, one shepherd.’ It’s good, then, that we have committed ourselves to the task of embracing people at all stages of life [No. 3 below]. This is an area where we have a lot of ground to gain.

Thanks to those among us who have responded to the planned giving letter (so far a very small number), we have enough new money to invest in professional support for our work among children up to 11 or so. After that, we are doing much less well. If you are between the ages of 13 and 40 you will find a much larger percentage of people like you in our geographical parish than you do in our congregation.

Again, if we are to grow in numbers as well as in other ways, we have to tackle this, and it is a bracing challenge, because less and less can we rely on people coming ‘back’ to church: increasingly, there is little or no memory of church to come back to.

We aren’t alone in facing these challenges. Congregations are falling in many parishes. The CofE has commissioned reports, the Archbishops have launched a programme called Reform and Renewal and a big conference last week asked whether the Church of England was ‘drinking in the last-chance saloon’. But doesn’t this sound familiar? Doesn’t it look like what we have here, underneath all the Jesus stuff, is just another organisation worried about bad balance sheets and graphs going south? Isn’t this just Tesco at prayer?

Jesus says, ‘I lay down my life for the sheep.’

These words are spoken about his own looming death. No such thing is asked of us, as it is of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but at its heart Jesus’ saying here is that it is not about him but about them, the ones he calls his sheep. That’s us, we who receive his life offered to us in this service in the bread and the wine. That makes us more like him; and that means that what we do and stand for is not about us either. When we say we want to be at the heart of the life of Richmond [No. 1 below] it’s not in order to be the centre of attention but to point beyond ourselves.

The picture of shepherd and sheep for urban people is a romantic one – shades of Little Bo Peep – but the reality is grittier. Though the shepherd may love the sheep, they are not pets. They have a purpose, to bring warmth and nourishment to others. And so do we.

 

St Mary Magdalene Annual Congregational Meeting,

Sunday April 26th 2015

Mission Action Plan Review

Our Mission Priorities

agreed by the Parochial Church Council on 17th September 2014

1    OUR CHURCHES AS CENTRES OF OUR COMMUNITY

We aim to establish and maintain our churches at the centre of the life of Richmond. We aim to do this in two ways

  • by making our church buildings available to and used by the people of Richmond for activities that strengthen our common life
  • by involving ourselves as the church of God in the heart and life of Richmond – wherever that may lead us

Making our church buildings available – action             by whom and by when

Keep church buildings open as much as possible, to provide space to encounter God through prayer, reflection, conversation and exploring beautiful and historic buildings

Decide range of things offered in each church                             Church Committees
(eg coffee, leaflets, minister present)

                                     – launch at Advent 2014
St Mary’s – done – Christmas 2014

Recruit and train volunteers                                                            Church Committees

– launch at Advent 2014
St Mary’s – recruitment & instruction – done – February 2015
                                                                                                      More training needed?

Publicise opening times (around parish and internal)                            Admin team

– by November 1st 2014
St Mary’s – internal – done – February 2015
                                                                                                around parishnot yet

EXTRA

       Monthly concert series                                               done – from January 2015

       Building development project                          underway– from Summer 2014

 

Involving ourselves – action                                    by whom and by when

Town Centre chaplaincy

Research practice elsewhere for report to           Team Rector – by October 2014

Staff Meeting
not yet

Identify pastoral needs in our businesses – conversation with Richmond Business and Retail Association                                                     Team Rector – by August 2014

                                                           begun – in conversation since October 2014

EXTRA

Richmond Business Carol Service                                     done – December 2015

Street Pastors

We have at present four Street Pastors and two Prayer Pastors

Recruit at least one new Prayer Pastor from each church     Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
St Mary’s – not yet

have at least one Street Pastor from each church in training    Church Committees

– by APCM 2015
                                                                                                       St Mary’s – not yet

Christian Basics course aimed at those who do not already come to church
Report to PCC or Standing Committee                                                 Staff Meeting

– by Advent 2014
                                                                                                                            not yet

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

2    WELCOME AND PASTORAL CARE

We aim to show that the glory of God is found in human beings who are fully alive. We aim to do this by

  • providing a warm and sensitive welcome to all who attend our worship and other events, or who visit our buildings for any reason
  • developing a pastoral structure that will be responsive to each person’s needs as they arise

Welcome – action                                                              by whom and by when

ensure that each church has an ample team of trained and confident welcomers to cover each service                                                                                  Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
St Mary’s – done – Advent Sunday 2014
More training needed?

ensure each church has existing newcomers’ literature in place              Admin Team

– by September 1 2014
                                                                                   St Mary’s done – Advent 2014
Pewsheet tear-off  – done – Easter 2015
                                                                           Is literature adequate?

encourage members of each congregation to engage with newcomers and each other (by those means best suited to each congregation)                                        Ministry Team

– at once
Church Committees – at once
                                                                                                          How are we doing?

Pastoral care – action                                                 by whom and by when

St Mary’s to review cluster group network                                 Church Committee

– by end October 2015
St Mary’sdone – January-March 2015
                                                                                                                       Next steps?

St John’s and St Matthias to adopt parallel systems          Church Committees

– by APCM 2015

Each congregation to identify who might need help  travelling to and from church and who might help them                                                                      Church Committees

– by Advent Sunday 2014
                             St Mary’s done – notices November 2014 – February 2015
                                                                                                              Further action?

Identify interest in setting up of one or more home groups – report to Ministry Team                                                                                                    Eileen Vickers

– by end of September 2014
                                                               done – group meeting since October 2014

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

3    EMBRACING ALL AGES

We aim to honour the gifts and respond to the needs of all people, whatever stage of life they have reached.  We aim to do this by

  • being ‘age aware’
  • developing a range of age-specific events and activities

Age aware – action                                                      by whom and by when

Ask in relation to each event ‘Which age groups do we seek to include?’

PCC, Church Committees, Ministry Team, others
– at once
                                                                                                 How are we doing?

Consult SevenUp team about opportunities  for young people and older people to interact                                                                                                 Ministry Team

– by August 31st 2014
                                                                                                                        not yet

Consult Richmond Good Neighbours about co-operation                            SPAs

– by end August 2014
                                                                                                                        not yet

Age-specific – action                                                by whom and by when

7-teens provision – report to PCC                                           Youth Strategy Group

– by November 2014
                                                                                              done – November 2014
                                                                                                                    Next steps?

20s-30s provision – report to PCC – November 2014                       Ministry Team

                                                                                                                           not yet

Baby sitting needs and offers – seek requests and offers                     Admin team

– at once
                                                                                                       doneunderway
                                                                                                              Further action?

Ask of each action Will this help our congregations to grow in number? If so, how?

Posted in Sermons, St Mary's | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply