Since the beginning of this year I seem to have spent a lot of time away from Worcester. I had a few days recently with one of my sisters, but most of my visits have been for work. I have met with people from all over our District on the retreat, and people from all over the Connexion on two different training and preparation courses. I spent one day in London, with three ministerial colleagues, my long-term support group.
In all these contacts I have heard exciting stories about churches which are growing. New people and younger people are coming into contact with the church, and generally because they have been loved, or their children have been loved, these people have been challenged by the new commandments of Jesus, to love God and to love our neighbours.
There are some good news stories in SW Worcestershire Circuit. Some of the churches are growing, and this has meant they have been able to contemplate increasing their assessment – their giving to the ministry and mission of the whole Circuit. This has allowed other churches to reduce their assessment, due to changed circumstances.
There is good news that we have three local preachers in training and another is applying to become a minister. There is good news that St Andrew’s has people who want to be part of house-groups, and has so many pastoral visitors. There is good news that Welcome Wednesdays has a willing team of volunteers and no shortage of ideas. There is good news that St Andrew’s could have a real laugh together at the Church Party – “oh, no we didn’t!”
There is good news that Norton is now likely to have a better relationship with local Anglicans. There is good news that St Nicholas congregation has started “Kingdom Kids” – a craft group for parents and young children, with a clear Bible basis.
Of course this good news comes alongside continuing concern about ageing congregations, and particular individuals we have known and loved a long time, who just aren’t coping. There aren’t always the leaders to do things as we used to do them. There has been a lot of misfortune over the St Andrew’s building, in recent months. It certainly doesn’t get any cheaper to maintain and there seem to be so few people with the knowledge and experience to act as property stewards.
When a minister is worshipping week by week in the same church or few churches it is easy to become bogged down in the immediate problems. There doesn’t seem enough time to devote to prayer and reflection, and seeking God’s will. Going away, out of the Circuit, as I have been doing, has helped me to have some perspective. Although I have been very busy in the in-between times, and I feel quite neglectful of some people and situations, I do thank God, that my recent meetings with others have left me hopeful and joyful.
As I write this letter we are entering the busy season of Lent, which also seems to coincide this year with a great many meetings in church and circuit. My prayer for all readers of this Newsletter, as well as for myself, is that we have enough opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a Christian disciple, and that we know ourselves held in the love of God, whatever storms may be going on in our lives. “I am convinced…. that (nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (See Romans 8: 37 -39 – words of St Paul often quoted in a funeral service.)