In discussing our draft vision and strategic directions, a few people have asked: Why the emphasis on new life in Jesus and renewal? In response, I’ve pointed to biblical verses such as 2 Cor. 5:17
‘If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!’ or the Bible’s ultimate vision for our future of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev. 21:1; 2 Pt. 3:13) and Jesus’ words, ‘I will make all things new’ (Rev. 21:5). In addition, the Bible has a recurring theme of ‘newness of life’ in Christ (Rom. 6:4), with Jesus bringing new birth (John 3:3-7), a new covenant (Matt. 26:28), new hearts (Ezek. 36:36), being the new Adam (Rom. 5) and forming a new Israel (Gal. 6:15-16; 2 Pt. 2) and a new temple (1 Cor. 3:16).
This is not about discarding the old, but of transforming and renewing hearts and lives to become more like the resurrected Jesus.
Creating a Mission Action Plan is an act of stewarding the unique resources and time we have as we enter a new moment in history. Yes, our faith is ancient. It is critical that we constantly seek Jesus’ original message as we read Scripture in the power of the Spirit. Yet we cannot return to the 20th century or a time before the Internet or Coronavirus. Tomorrow will never be repeated! As God’s stewards in this unique time and place, we must go beyond preserving the past, seeking genuine renewal for the new moments and opportunities for inviting people to experience and share new life in Jesus.
All Souls is on a journey of change. Yet change involves loss and grief, even for good changes. Change involves endings so that new beginnings can emerge.
Over the past 12 months, over a hundred surveys have been submitted, dozens of focus groups run, monthly prayer meetings held, our history presented, a special lunch and open-table discussion in May, as well as meetings of committees, Parish Council, and staff to discuss our future vision and directions. For some, this has been an exhaustive/ing process, while others still lack awareness. Currently, we are at the point of drafting our strategic document and making specific goals for 2022 and beyond. More opportunities for your feedback will be available before our launch event in February.
Yet change for established churches is complex and messy. Sustainable development requires the people affected by change to be involved in the new beginnings. It is a process of learning and growth, where the congregation adopts a posture of listening to God and discerning where the Spirit might be at work. It is about disciples of Jesus working with the Spirit and each other to proclaim the story of Jesus afresh and build his kingdom for every generation. Change must not be forced or manipulated, but arise from inner strength and integrity.
Are we ready for change? Different people are at different points on this journey of transition (e.g. shock, denial, awareness, acceptance, experimentation). Regardless of where you’re at, it is important that we work together, express our feelings and listen to each other, and remain focused on our primary task of sharing the gospel afresh to every generation in a changing world.
About 50 years ago, the then rector of All Souls’ Langham Place in London, John Stott, wrote an article called ‘The Conservative Radical’. He highlighted that Anglo-Saxons often ‘polarise’ things, especially the debate between conserving the past and agitating for change. His point is that ‘every Christian should have a foot in both camps.’
Stott wrote that ‘Every Christian should be conservative, because the Church is called by God to conserve his revelation, to guard the deposit (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14).’ But Christians must not focus on conserving our preferred style of expression, including style of church services. A ‘radical’ on the other hand, asks difficult questions and tries to change and reform convention and tradition.
Stott argues that Jesus had a foot in both camps. He did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfil them (Matt. 5:17-8; Jn. 10:35). But Jesus was also radical in his criticism of the Jewish establishment, sweeping away centuries of inherited tradition to renew and restore God’s people. Thus, Jesus was conservative towards Scripture but radical in how to express the faith.
Another Christian author, Jaroslav Pelikan, wrote that ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’ It is imperative for us, today at All Souls, to pass on the living faith of the Scriptures – being conservative in how we treasure the good news – yet willing to be radical and in how we express this living faith. Let’s work together to be both traditional and radical for Christ and his kingdom!
I have been enjoying the weekly meetings at which we have undertaken The Prayer Course. The group has been small; usually about ten in attendance, although last week there were thirteen. Slowly we have been considering different aspects of prayer with a focus on The Lord’s Prayer to guide us.
Last Wednesday we considered “listening”, which is probably what we do least in prayer. The line from The Lord’s Prayer was, “Give us today our daily bread.”
A number of years ago now, when I took a weekly service at Firbank Grammar School, I was asked to talk about The Lord’s Prayer. As we considered this line of the prayer, we appreciated that it wasn’t just about bread or even about food. The line helped us to focus on our dependence upon God and his many provisions – yes our food, but clean water, good medical care, our education, friendships and so on.
Something else that we must consider is how God communicates with us. We are dependent upon his word to us. There is his Word (the Bible), as well as advice from Christian friends and our own common sense. The presenter of the series, Pete Grieg, suggests that when listening to God we remember ABC – Advice, Bible, Common Sense.
“Give us today our daily bread” might mean we are eager and listening for God’s voice.
And we must also note that despite the fact that many of us say the prayer quietly and privately and individually, that the pro-nouns are plural. Give us today our daily bread. We might be praying for ourselves, but the prayer is for all humanity.
The Lord’s Prayer is a great prayer, but it is more than a list of requests. As we offer the prayer slowly, we will find God speaking to us. The challenge we ask ourselves: are we listening?
Bless you as you listen
You have probably heard a variety of prayers before meals in your lifetime: ‘Two four six eight, dig in don’t wait!’ and ‘Grace!’ among them. I always give thanks, but sometimes it is a silent action. I don‘t need to make a spectacle of myself.
An acquaintance of mine, Iain Radvan, recently wrote, “Giving thanks before a meal can be one of the simplest and most heart-felt of prayers that an individual or group can say. It is not always spoken aloud – I believe that an unspoken ‘yummy’ or the appreciative sniff of an aroma is giving thanks to God and to the cook. Grace before meals can be extended to voicing thanks for other blessings that have come a person’s way during the day.”
“When I say ‘thank you’ before I eat, I am mindful not only of the cook, but, all in a second, of the Earth that provided the seed and soil, of the farmers who nurtured the plants, of the life and death of the animals, of the drivers who distributed the food and the shopkeepers who sold it. This meal and this prayer connects me to the whole Earth community. I feel humbled and truly grateful.”
So, that simple prayer might contain a wealth of ‘thanksgivings’, all offered in the blinking of an eye. Thank you Lord.
Like me you must have been so pleased to hear that the boys in Thailand trapped in a cave had been rescued. On Wednesday last the Herald Sun had the headline “World’s Prayers Answered.” Prayer was mentioned on the front page of a daily paper. I had also noticed that many a TV news presenter had also said something along the lines of the boys being in our thoughts and prayers. In the emergency that these boys faced many people turned to prayer.
The cynic in me might ask what people meant by prayer – wishful thinking, positive thoughts – which might well be prayer, but to whom are the prayers addressed?
Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney wrote recently, “Prayer in the presence of God is the appropriate response of those made in the image of God, who know they fall short of the glory of God, yet who rest upon his promise of forgiveness when they stand before their Maker.”
I am certainly one who dreams of futuristic outcomes, wishes to understand the present and reflects on times past. Prayer for me, however, is communication with the living God. As I commence I seek to put my relationship with God in a positive place, which I do by confessing my sin, and then I feel free to go on and discuss various things with God and make requests of him.
I prayed for the safe evacuation of the boys from the cave and then upon hearing that all were rescued we offered thanks to God and prayed for their future good health.
God is always ready to hear from us, but our fallen state means that we have to confess our failings to him, seek is forgiveness and then proceed with adoration, thanksgiving and requests.
Bless you as you pray.
All Souls Sandringham