Trinity 3 - our Mission to the Community

A sermon preached by Fr Peter Wolton in the United Benefice on 6 July 2014

The months of June and July are for many of us the busiest months of the year. For pupils in school and those working in schools, the year is coming to an end. There are all the end of school year events, reports to be written, end of term get togethers before the summer holidays. For those in higher education, it is the same, marking of exams, and receipt of exam results after months of working harder than usual. For those at work, there are reports that follow quarter or half year ends.

For those in the tourist industry and hotels, business is in full flow. It’s the time of festivals too. Our local park opera is in full swing. Wimbledon and the World Cup are reaching a crescendo and their charms –if that is the right word - can pull us away from the things we ought to be doing. It’s a time of year when human genius and creativity are at their most visible in so many walks of life.
The pace of life for many of us at this time of year is at its fastest and alongside elation can also be exhaustion. So I think you may agree that closing verses of today’s gospel are peculiarly well timed:
“Come unto me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Bringing rest and nourishment also links with our vision in this united benefice:

“To proclaim and live Christ’s message of compassionate and healing love”

We want all who come into contact with our churches “to find rest for your souls” and to be nourished. Yet we are also called to share the gift of God’s love with others and this is why we have been asked to prepare a Mission Action Plan or a MAP.

In creating a MAP, we are confronted by this tension of wanting to receive nourishment and rest and being commanded to be active and spread the gospel or, as put so gloriously in today’s collect:
“To dedicate our freedom to your service that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

Before I talk further about the MAP, I feel that in this, my first sermon as a deacon I should share with you two pieces of advice that I have received about being the new curate:

The first is from my friend Bill who when I told him a couple of weeks about my impending ordination, said to me: “Well Peter, I’m not a religious man, but I imagine it must be very easy to empty a church.” and the second of a young priest who on appointment to a living, shortly after the war, was recommended to visit an older member of the parish who had given many years of service to the church. The young priest had been a prisoner of war in the Far East and the older man was a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, so they both knew a bit about life: “What advice do you have for me?” said the young priest. After a long pause, the older man replied “Watch your approach shots.” I know this story is true, because the older man was my grandfather – and his words, and those of Bill, are with me now as I talk to you about the need for a Mission Action Plan!

Now the first thing to say about the MAP is that Father James and  the team here recognise that any plan we put together, must take into account the other demands you have already have on your lives. A group of exhausted people are no advertisement for the church. A  MAP has to be our plan, by which I mean yours and mine, not just the clergy team’s. It can only be done well if we are excited, confident and energetic about the gift of the Gospel message we proclaim. That is why we start by asking for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to help us build for the future.

After the service we are going to get together for a quick brainstorm to share ideas and to bring to the task the immense resources, skills and gifts that we as a congregation have.

 Father James has asked us to consider three questions:
• how we can best serve God and our community and tell the story of Jesus Christ in Campden Hill today?
• how we can equip ourselves to welcome the stranger, the seeker, the joyful and the broken so as to be the body of Christ.
• How might our vision of community link with the diocese of London’s Capital Vision, which asks us to be confident, compassionate and creative.

As the new deacon, I was given my homework in advance so I thought I would share some research I did on the parish which may be helpful when thinking about the community and how we welcome those who do not know of us.

The Tube station: I am going to give you three figures for the daily number of passengers who pass thought Notting Hill Gate station turnstiles and then ask you to put your hands up at which you think is the correct figure:
Answer: 50,000 (more at weekends –Why?)

How can we minister to the needs of the station community, the staff and passengers.

The 2011 Census data gives us a huge amount of data about our community.

In the streets around St. George’s almost 30% of the population have lived in the UK for less than 10 years and just under 20% for less than five years. What are the potential MAP implications?

Here I reflect on my own family’s experience. For five years our family lived in Tokyo. We found that the church of St Alban’s in Tokyo became a very important part of our lives. When I reflect on the Old Testament, I see that faith when dwelling in a foreign land is so important. It is a major part of our identity in a strange landscape. I realise too, that living away from home, dwelling away from the established family and friendship networks, the church’s ministry of hospitality was a wonderful gift.

So after the service, please could I ask you to consider the needs of this mobile community, the expats and the many visitors to the parish, those that work here but do not live here.

I would also like us to reflect on what it is to be “compassionate” in serving communities with the love of God the Father. Here I find Robert’s sermon last Sunday very helpful. He spoke to us of the role of a deacon in the church community and drew our attention to the ministry of Pope Francis and how the Pope is putting aside much of the hierarchical trappings of office, and how he dressed as a Deacon to wash the feet of those at this year’s Maundy Thursday service. Robert reminded us that deacons should be people who are guardians of justice, guardians of fairness and guardians of equity within the Christian community and beyond. And so should we all be. Please think about this when considering how we can be more compassionate.

Robert also said:
All of us, like deacons, are called to proclaim the gospel. How might we do that more effectively in our own lives?
All of us, like deacons, are called to strengthen the church as a community of self sacrificial love.
And turning to creativity, which we see in such abundance in the wonderful city of London and at this time of year, how can we best put to use the gifts and skills that God has given to each of us and make a real difference?

Through our MAP, I pray that we may become a community that is gentle and humble in heart
 and a church that is confident, compassionate, creative
 and a place of rest for weary souls.