Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Parish Profile

I've been working hard on an assignment for the 'continuing education' aspect of my training. It's the Ordained Ministry Audit, otherwise known as the Parish Profile. I might be the odd one out, but I'm so enjoying the analysis of statistical data about my parish from the 2001 census! I'm combining the census information with other research from local websites, magazines etc., and I feel I know the place so much better now. I only wish I had done this much earlier! I have come to appreciate my curacy parish placement more now because I see the great opportunities that exist for the church (and myself as an ordained minister) to make connections with the community.

One fact that stands out is that out of a population of 14,450 people, over 10,000 of them stated on the census that they are Christian! Considering the attendance figures from the 5 churches in the area, there is something going on here that demands attention. The vast majority of those 10,000 people are not found in our churches. They are believing without belonging. I have my views on why this is the case, and it is a huge challenge to those of us who have found a home in church. I just can't get this out of my head, and I can't let it lie unattended to. It's my passion to engage with these non-belonging believers. Many books have been written on the subject, but I want to listen to these people myself. We've got to put ourselves out there!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

A break and a baptism

I've been blessed with a wonderful week off after Easter, and the timing couldn't have been better. It was my daughter's 14th birthday on Easter Sunday, and we celebrated on Tuesday by going to 'Go Ape' in Delamere Forest, whereby we clambered around in tall trees with harnesses on, sliding on zip wires and tarzan ropes. Great fun! Both she and my son have been off school for the Easter holidays. The weather has been really nice, too, so I had the satisfaction of gardening a lot, which I love. Both kids have recently got new bicycles as well, so the whole family has been cycling. I feel refreshed by this break from work, and ready for this month's big project, which is the 'Ordained Ministry Audit' (or parish profile, in other words). It's due at the end of the month, so I will have to get cracking. It is an analysis of the parish, the church(es) and the community, and ministry within that context.

The other exciting news: today I did my first baptism! That was really nice, and I love it when the church is full of people who don't normally attend - what an opportunity to witness through welcoming them and through worship. The little girl was nearly 2 years old, and she didn't cry, so that was a relief!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Day

Isaiah 65:17-end; Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8Then they remembered his words.

9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I cannot imagine how frustrating that morning must have been for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women. Faithfully delivering the good news of the resurrection, and it all seemed like nonsense to the apostles! They hadn’t seen it, so they didn’t believe it!

Eventually, of course, the apostles did witness the appearance of the risen Lord for themselves - they even ate with him. The resurrection had a huge impact on the apostles and the disciples.

After the horror of Friday’s crucifixion, and through the sheer emptiness of Saturday, the disciples were then graced with that intensely joyful experience of the presence of Jesus, resurrected on Sunday. Such was the impact of the resurrection on the apostles and disciples that they were enabled to carry out their commission to take the gospel to all nations with conviction.

In our New Testament reading from Acts, Peter says ‘God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen’ – they saw the Lord in his resurrected bodily form. He looked the same, yet he was changed; he had flesh and bones, he could eat and drink, yet he was transformed. By seeing this Jesus, this Lord, the life and the faith of the disciples was transformed. Everything that seemed to go wrong on Good Friday was counteracted by the Resurrection. Good Friday was indeed good! Everything Jesus had said and done during his three years of ministry was affirmed. As St Paul says ‘... if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15). The cross was a victory, not a defeat.

Jesus said to his startled disciples, ‘“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” The disciples felt the impact of the resurrection by touching Jesus. Later after the ascension, he continued his presence among them, by sending the Holy Spirit.

And the impact of the resurrection can still be experienced by us today because the Holy Spirit continues to make Jesus present today. With the Holy Spirit, we can begin to recognise the resurrected presence of Jesus even in everyday small events. We can listen and learn how to be faithful. We can recognise his presence with us even in dark times.

It’s the promise of transformation to each of us and it’s a promise for the whole of creation. From our Old Testament reading this morning, from the prophet Isaiah, we hear: Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. No more weeping and crying; the wolf and the lamb will feed together; the lion will eat straw like the ox. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

In the new creation, everything negative and destructive will be excluded. And all that is good will be incorporated into the new creation. This is God’s vision, looking to the way of peace, justice, righteousness and faithfulness.

We aren’t capable, though, of comprehending how God will make all things new. The theologian Brueggemann puts it this way: ‘Yahweh’s coming newness is not contained within our present notions of the possible’. But with the death and resurrection of Jesus the new creation has begun, and occasionally we catch glimpses of renewal. And we now long for its completion. We pray: ‘Maranatha’ – come Lord Jesus. We’re living ‘between-the-times’, in the fullness of God’s grace, but not yet in the fullness of God’s kingdom. And we live in hope.

In his Ecumenical Easter letter, Archbishop Rowan Williams writes that ‘[our] hope is rooted in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His rising from the dead shows the world that death does not have the last word – whether the death of love, the death of security, even physical death itself. On the first day of the week, the first day of the new creation, God walks once again in the garden and begins to re-shape the whole world of our experience and our possibilities; the Second Adam wakes under the tree of the cross and promises fresh life, freedom and forgiveness, to the entire human world.’

Those of us who really hear the gospel message have a kind of 'insider’s advantage' on what God is doing with time and history. The transformation of creation has begun, and we experience that transformation in our own lives when we meet the risen Christ through prayer, through scripture, in the breaking of the bread, and in the face of one another.

This time last year I was on retreat with fellow ordinands in Whitby. We spent Holy Week with the nuns belonging to the Order of the Holy Paraclete. After a sombre and most moving week, the joy of that Easter morning was plain for all to see, because several of the nuns came to chapel with bunny ears, with others ringing bells and shaking noisemakers!

Most of us really feel the joy of this Easter morning. It’s not difficult to experience a sense of joy with the arrival spring, and when life is going smoothly. But let’s be honest – we all go through times when the very idea of joy is not even credible. But Jesus will always understand that human frailty. That is why he came in the first place. That is why he died and rose again for us. That is why he will come again! At the very end of history, the trumpets and cornets will sound again; the choirs will sing their hallelujahs, the dead will be raised, and you too shall be changed. This is the Gospel Truth; and this is what Easter morning is about. The renewal of all creation has begun, and Jesus Christ is Lord; let him rule in our hearts this day and for evermore. Amen.