This time yesterday (i.e. Saturday morning) I was in a large hall in Swindon, along with several hundred other clergy, licensed lay ministers and readers, all of us from the Bristol Diocese and all of us there for a morning with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
As you know, he is visiting our diocese for the weekend; on Friday evening he was at Hope Chapel in Bristol, and said on Twitter: (@JustinWelby)
“Profound sense of presence of God's Spirit at work in authentic Christian community at Hope Chapel this evening.”
Last night he tweeted :
“Wonderful privilege & blessing to baptise many outside Malmesbury Abbey. No better decision than to follow Jesus.”
And yesterday morning he spoke to the gathered leaders of the Diocese – and we hung on his every word. He was so easy to listen to, so full of the Lord, yet full of self-deprecating humour and humility.
It felt an enormous privilege to be there and to hear him. Because his words and thoughts were profound, life-giving and inspiring. And I want to take this time to share with you a little of what the human leader of the Church of England, of which we are a part, said to so inspire and enthuse us all. To share a little of what was on his heart.
I wish you had all been there to hear him, because I can’t do it as well as he did! He began with the verse from Exodus 14:19-25, and the story of the Israelites trapped between the mighty Red Sea in front and the pursuing Egyptian Army behind. The Egyptian gods had been defeated and the Israelites had left in great haste and in great hope; but now there were clouds behind them drawing close.
And the Archbishop went on talk of the extraordinary time we are living in in the Global North. He told of how in 2008 there was a significant collapse in the financial world – so significant that only £250b would save the situation, or nothing would open or work the following morning; of the talk of how people could only survive for about 24 hours. And how this huge crisis has led to a context of fear which has increasing power in our society and therefore in the church. And how the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing. It’s leading to a growth of individualism and a culture change.
But the Bible tells us we have hope and “hope does not disappoint us.” What we can offer our society is the reality of God in Christ. So this time, now, is a moment of great opportunity. We may have a sense of being trapped, like the Israelites, BUT GOD … but God opened the Sea in front of the Israelites. When He does that for us, will we be like the Israelites and GO? Or will we stay still and complain the path is muddy?
So this is a time of huge opportunity to reach out to the culture in which we live. And the Quinquennial Goals for the church, set by the General Synod for five years (hence the name Quinquennial) are for such a time as this.
And so these lead to Archb Justin’s priorities, and they are priorities for the church (that’s you and me) too:
1 A renewal of prayer and the religious life
St John Chrysostom whose saint’s day it was yesterday, wrote:
“Nothing you see equals prayer .. it makes the impossible possible.”
The church is not an NGO. Nor is it Rotary but with a pointy roof.
We’re there to be the people of God, and prayer embeds us in the life of Christ.
If it becomes less than essential then the capacity to be infectious is lost.
So we need to be in love with Christ. We are all poor in spirit but in our hearts we need to know that we are loved by God. To hear his love and to tell him we love him by being in silence in his presence.
The Archbishop pointed out that every great revival in the history of the church had its roots in a movement of a religious community with a rule of life and prayer. For example, John Wesley, and his method of prayer for life, which led to a great revivial (and of course to Methodism).
And so the Archbishop is doing something really exciting! He’s setting up a new community - the community of St Anselm, based at Lambeth Palace, where he has a small community of the Chemin Neuf. The Community of St Anselm is for 25 – 35 year olds, to spend a year with the Chemin Neuf. Their mornings will be spent in theological study, the afternoons in prayer and the evenings on the streets working alongside the Street Pastors who work at nights with those out on the streets.
Justin said: “We’re going to work these young people very hard. We’re going to half kill them! But in years to come their lives will have been shaped, their hearts will have been shaped for the future.”
And his vision is that in 30 or 40 years time when someone in high position in government is asked why they made a particular decision, their answer will be because their lives were shaped by the year at Lambeth in the Community of St Anselm.
What a vision! (watch the video about it here)
The epistle of John tells us “Perfect love casts out fear.”
And so the church is to be a community of reconciled reconciliators. Our God is insanely reconciliating. ++ Justin illustrated this by holding up a drinking glass - God pours out love like a glass being filled and drenched not from a water jug but by a water hydrant.
So we are to overflow with God’s reconciling love- because this new context of our society guarantees conflict. But God’s power to meet and to reconcile is infinite. Families, communities, the environment – there is conflict wherever we look. What an amazing privilege for the church to pour out God’s love and reconciliation. Can we show the world how to do this? Can we look for the flourishing of others – even for those with whom we disagree? Whether it’s women bishops, sexuality, or ISIS, can we look for the flourishing of others who hold a different viewpoint to our own, and pour out God’s love.
3. Evangelism and Witness and Mission
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Look! There’s the Lamb of God.
Inviting, showing, pointing to, the saviour of every human being – our unique truth. And not like Francis of Assissi - ++ Justin was keen to let us know that a) Francis probably never said "preach the gospel and where necessary use words and b) if he did he was wrong! USE WORDS! People need to hear what is truth.
Jesus taught, John the Baptist called and pointed. We follow their examples.
This is being the people of a calling and sending God. It’s not a survival strategy. It’s about being like God.
There’s no better choice in life than to become the servant of Christ. And this is for everyone.
Retweeted by Lambeth Palace
We are to evangelise with extravagant, generous, unconditional love. The love of God through us.
So Archbishop Justin has those three priorities –
Prayer, Reconciliation, Evangelism and Mission. They are in a dark and fearful context, the world of fear in which we live.
But we are not to fear –
we are a people of hope,
And if you would like to spend some time listening to God and becoming aware of His love for you, as Archbishop Justin recommends - where better to do that than at The Vine at Mays Farm? Click HERE to see what we offer!