Plans for the future

Antony and PatYesterday Pat and I started a three-month Sabbatical.  This has been anticipated for a long time now.   The plan – but not the timing – was agreed by Bishop David 18 months ago.  The timing was settled after Leonard was appointed as vicar, and he graciously also agreed to my taking this time out.

I was talking the other day with someone about how we make plans and have expectations for how things will work out in life.  We may have hopes and aspirations about the way the Lord might use us in ministry.  In God’s good purposes though things can turn out very differently from what we expect.  That’s happened here at St John’s over the last six years.

That’s also been true in my personal experience.  I can point to several seasons in my life when things worked out very differently from my game plan and expectation.  Sometimes seriously so.  Every time though, I have seen God working His purpose out.

There’s a famous verse, much used in encouraging others and in prayer ministry:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11

This message from God was to people whose plans and expectation had not worked out.  Israel hoped that their pattern of life and worship would continue as it always had, but God intervened.  Jerusalem the holy city was invaded and desecrated, the temple destroyed and the precious holy things taken away.  The people themselves were carried off into exile in a foreign country.

God had intervened in this case because despite his warnings, the people had gone astray.  For the exiles in a foreign land life completely had changed, and they wondered about how the future would work out.  Then God told them to … stay where you are and make the most of it because I’ve got good plans for you.  Despite all that had gone on God was with them, and this message was a timely word to encourage hope in the future, and trust in Him.

As I reflect on the last six years here at St Johns, it’s true that there have been a few twists and turns and things have not proceeded as we may have expected.  However, God has been with us and has readied us for a new season and era of mission and ministry under Leonard’s leadership.  We can look forward to the future with hope and trust in God.

As I reflect on my coming here nine years ago things have worked out differently from what I expected.  For a start I came here for four years initially, and yet I am now in my tenth year. In all that’s gone on though, God has been in it.

I thank and praise Him that He has brought Leonard here and that together as a community we are embarking on a new journey into God’s purposes and goodness.  Behind the scenes God has been at work in Leonard and Alison’s story just as He has been at work in the story of St John’s.

Behind the scenes in Pat and my life God has been working and on sabbatical I want to spend some time reflecting on God’s goodness and thanking him for His provision.

  • The last four years has been a demanding period, but God has given me extra grace, enabling me to step up from my natural position and deal with extra pressure, challenges and responsibility. There’s been stress, but not too much strain.  God’s equipping comes with His call.
  • I want to reflect and thank God for the way my experience of life in business, family and ministry prepared me for the challenges of the last four years. I’ve come to see that nothing is wasted in our experience, God works for the good in all things.
  • Pat and I have also had an extraordinary experience of God’s goodness and encouragement. God knew ahead of time what was to come, and He has encouraged us with special personal words for us at just the right time.  These words have kept us on track even when things were uncertain and difficult.

We reflect on Gods’ goodness and provision in the past to give us a Godly perspective and to prepare us for the future.  Today is just one day in the unfolding story of God’s Kingdom.  We look for the story’s fulfilment when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness.  As the writer of Hebrews says,  ‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.’ Hebrews 13:14.  Until then there’s more to be done – more people to be drawn to know God’s love and to surrender to Jesus’ lordship.

So Pat and I go on Sabbatical –a time for restoration, reflection and recreation as well as preparation for what is yet to come.   We’re travelling so we hope to take great pleasure in the beauty of Gods’ creation.  I pray that especially for Pat, who is owed a debt for her caring support and wise counsel.

So as we go away for a time I thank the community of St John’s who have been incredibly supportive. I thank the staff team for their support – each of them have a story to tell as they have stepped up to face new challenges.

So today we rejoice and are sure that even when things don’t work out quite as we might expect them to, God has His hands on us.  He has His hands on St John’s and on of each one of us, as we look to Him. He has His hands on us even when it might not feel like it.

God says, I know the plans I have for you.  That’s His encouraging word.

So Pat and I go away for a time but we’ll be back.  I see that in January I’m due to preach on ‘How to grow trust out of disappointment’.  This thought that God has his hands on us is a sort of trailer for that sermon!  Perhaps my reflection during our time away will feed into what I might say.

So as we go please know that we’ll be continuing to pray for you, and Pat and I would so value your prayers for us.

This blog is the talk given by Antony at our ‘Open’ service on Sunday 2nd October.

Meeting a king…

Advent imageSunday, 29th November, is the start of the Advent season. ‘Advent’ means arrival and, specifically to the arrival of Christ’s kingdom. Though our thoughts can be dominated by the arrival of Jesus the Christ child at Christmas, the real focus is on Christ’s second advent when he comes again, but this time as a King. (The technical Greek term for Christ’s second advent is ‘Parousia’ which means the arrival of a royal personage).

In my early working life I worked on large construction projects. From time to time we would receive a visit from the managing director or the chairman or some other important person from Head Office. Sometimes we would receive a visit from Sir Maurice Laing – the president of the company – a visit that felt like a visit by royalty.

The purpose of the visits varied – sometimes they were fact-finding missions, sometimes they were moral boosting visits. Whatever the reason for the visit, the approach was always the same. When we knew a visit was going to take place, great preparations were made.

We made sure that the site was in a tidy condition and that everything was in order. On the day of the visit all the staff were there – keen and eager to make a good impression and, hopefully, to receive a pat on the back! I expect that this was the experience of those who were meeting the Queen last week as she came to Birmingham to formally open the new Grand Central Shopping Centre and New Street Station.

Sir John Laing CBE

Sir John Laing CBE

In an earthly sense, meeting a king requires that we are prepared and ready. How much more do we need to be prepared and ready when we are waiting for the arrival of the King of Kings? I love the story about John Laing …

When he was waiting in the anteroom of the audience room in Buckingham palace – waiting to be knighted by the Queen, John Laing turned to his companion and admitted his apprehension. He wondered how they would feel when they were waiting to meet with the King of Kings when he returned as he has promised to do. Laing’s companion was also a Christian so the two of them spent a special moment anticipating the even greater event that is to come.

What does it mean to be prepared and ready though?

Well, just like a building site our lives need to be kept clear. Kept clear of debris – the besetting sin that so easily ensnares – perhaps the sin of unbelief of not really living as though this is going to happen. Perhaps we need to clear of the debris of impurity in our thought lives or in our motivations.

We need to be watchful too, for we don’t know the date and time when Jesus will come again.

Mercifully, God wants us to be prepared to meet with Him so he doesn’t leave us in the dark.  If we ask him to, God will show us what debris we need to deal with in our lives. But having shown us, God expects us to be obedient to what he pinpoints. So we need to act on what God reveals to us.

Even as we celebrate that Christ’s Kingdom was inaugurated when Jesus came as a baby, it’s also a time for preparation for when Jesus comes again.

In this Advent season we look for God to continue His work of transformation within us and through us so that we are ready for Jesus’ Kingdom coming in all its fullness; when justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth.

We like to mark this season so our worship Services in Advent will have some slight changes.…

Advent wreathFirstly, we will light a candle on the advent wreath each week as part of our morning services.
We will also aim to give space for stillness for silent reflection within our services.
Instrumentally and musically we aim to change gear a little: there will be less ‘going on’ at the front – sometimes just one or two instruments. When we have our usual orchestra we shall, instead, be having a reduced string ensemble.

So as we come to this season of Advent may the Lord search us through. May we join together with all Christian believers as we cry ‘Come, Lord Jesus’.

Shalom.

Antony signature

 

‘Not looking back but looking forward’…

6921278044_04efa6886a_oWe are at a really important place as a church community in this early part of 2015. We‘re looking forward to where the Lord is leading us: not looking back but looking forward. We’re looking forward to know particularly the plans and purposes God has for us as a church. We have some practical matters in hand – the PCC are taking some time out on March 14th 2015 to begin this process – a process which we will all have opportunity to contribute to in due course. But the Lord has also been speaking about other steps we should be taking that also involve each one of us. Several strands have come together to impress upon us what we should now be doing as a church…

1. Earlier on in January there was a word that we shared. A sense that the Lord saying;

for the year ahead, don’t major on the outcome (what I will do) … major on your heart attitude and your input (what you will bring to me in worship and serving)

2. Feedback from the Sanctuary Meeting in January. The various suggestions about what the Lord was saying was summarised in the verse from 2 Chronicles 7 at the dedication of the temple.

The Lord said, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

… the passage continues.

Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

3. Marcus: asked to take a lead on prayer – speaking to others involved in prayer – promoting prayer – consensus that we need to gather.

4. Independently the Lord drew my attention to this verse from 1 Samuel 9:16:

I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.

The strong sense is that our cry attracts the Lord’s attention. And that’s what we want to be about – crying out to the Lord.

This then is a call to prayer… a call to position ourselves before God; in humility seeking His face; and bringing our cries to Him. We believe that the Lord is calling us to a season of prayer – disciplined, targeted and persistent prayer and so we are introducing a monthly prayer time.

o We haven’t got a name for it yet – but we’ve got a time for it – 3rd Tuesday each month from 7.30 -8.30 pm in Church starting on 17th February 2015.

o We know that’s Half Term week and that other things are happening on Tuesday’s but as it’s well-nigh impossible to find a regular time that doesn’t cut across anything else, we’re going to press on into this at the time as already mentioned.

The focus of our prayer will be God’s plans and purposes for St John’s church community and I’m delighted that Bob Dunnett has accepted the invitation to teach and lead us in prayer on the first of these Prayer times on 17th February 2015.

We are at an important place and time and for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the Lord’s particular purposes amongst and through us we are invited to be get stuck in as we seek the Lord together. This isn’t an easy task but it’s important because it concerns the future of St John’s and our part in Gods purposes.

The staff team are committed to be part of each of these prayer times. Are you? Will you join with us as we seek the Lord together?

More details will follow but make a note of the time and date: 7.30 pm 17th February 2015 and the third Tuesday in the months following.

Click here to to watch Antony’s video blog.

Walking humbly with God

Back view  of three children walkingIn a recent blog I shared what I felt God had said to me about our priorities as a church community as we move into 2015. (Where are we now? Dec 2014) 2015 is, after all, an important year as we seek to clarify our aspirations for the future before God and to take decisive steps towards that future. However, in any situation where we are keen to move on, there’s a temptation for us to project on to God our own solutions, or what we think the direction should be. That was a temptation which Abraham fell into as he waited for the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son and heir. Coming up with his own solution caused big complications. How then should we approach the year ahead? As I read Micah chapter 6 verse 8 I felt that the Lord was saying to each of us for the year ahead; Don’t major on the outcome (what I will do) … major on your heart attitude and your input (what you will bring to me).

This thinking informs our teaching programme in the spring term.

After God’s Heart – studies in the life of David

In the morning services we seek inspiration as we look at the life of David – a man described as being after God’s own heart. Over this term we will interview some Living Stones Mission Partners including Penny & Juan Carlos Marcés, who will tell us something of their work for the Lord. Immediately after Easter Hikmat Kashouh – a Living Stones partner serving in the Lebanon – will be our guest preacher at morning services.

Walking with a deep consciousness of God

In evening services we will work our way through a series of sermons based on 1 Peter and will seek to inform our own discipleship and walk with God. On some evenings we plan to interview particular people and invite them to tell us of their Christian lives, and particularly how they have walked ‘with a deep consciousness of God’. We continue the pattern of having our ‘OPEN’ service on the second Sunday each month, and also plan a Youth led service on 29th March.

Other special evening services include:

Ash Wednesday 18th February: Informal Holy Communion for the start of Lent. 7.30pm
Sunday 1st March: Baptism and Confirmation Service with Bishop David. 6.30pm
Holy Week and Easter
On Monday and Tuesday evenings of Holy Week (30th and 31st March) we plan to have a meditation of an hour or so starting at 7.30pm.
On Wednesday 1st April Sanctuary will take the form of an Informal Holy Communion at 7.30pm; and on
Maundy Thursday 2nd April we are planning a Passover celebration together.
The Good Friday March of Witness and united service on the High Street in the morning; and an ‘Hour at the Cross’ at 2pm at St John’s are also planned.
Easter day will include an Easter Canvas Service at 9.15 am and Holy Communion at 11am and 3pm; with Evening Worship at 6.30pm.
Further details of all these services will be available nearer the time.

As we go into this new term may we be open to all that God has for us. Our prayer is that together we will be inspired to ‘act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’. May we bring to God that which is pleasing to Him, and as we do that, may we be amazed at all that God does and affirms amongst us. Shalom

The New Year ahead… ‘leave the outcome to Me.’

A very fruitful and happy 2015 to you and yours!  We look forward to all that the Lord has for us as we journey on.

At the outset of this New Year we have some changes in personnel to let you know about and to seek your prayer for.

Youth:  We are delighted that Mark Watson has joined the staff team and it was so good to have the opportunity of introducing and welcoming him at the services on 11th January.  Please pray for Mark especially in these early days and weeks as he takes up his duties.

Toddlers:  Kate Diwakar is now leading the Toddler Team.  Please pray for her and all the team as they get back into gear with the busyness and opportunity that Toddlers brings.

Students:  At Christmas Nod and Angie Bhatia stood down as leaders of the Student Ministry.   We are so grateful for Nod and Angie’s passion and care for the students and we honour them for all their good work.  From January Martin and Gina Graham have taken on the leadership of the Student Ministry so please pray for them and all the students as a new term unfolds.  Ruth Hassall will be the staff contact for Student Ministry.

Looking further forward, over the holiday period I was thinking and asking the Lord about the year ahead and His priorities for us as a church.  I gave thanks for the ways that we have seen the Lord working in the last year.  Though 2014 was difficult, we saw the Lord working amongst us in the work and ministry of the church.  This was especially so in bringing a greater sense of wholeness and unity amongst us following a fractured and shocking start to the year.

Recently for example, several people commented very positively on the creativity, the sense of togetherness and of God’s presence in Christmas Services.  We were pleased to welcome many visitors who joined us as we worshipped the Lord who has broken into a fractured world.

I thanked God for His goodness to us as a church community; and with a sense of expectation asked him what His plans were for us in the future.

We know that these purposes include the need for us to give attention to many practical things in the year ahead.  We are clear about those and have set them out in the letter to the church community published just before Christmas (Where are we now?).  As I was thinking I was more concerned though for God’s planned spiritual agenda … what does the Lord want to do amongst us and what should our kingdom priorities be?

As I pondered and prayed I felt the Lord change my perspective.  Rather than answering my questions directly, I felt that the Lord invited me to think about His expectations of each of us as we come to worship.  I felt a challenge against coming to church as consumers of what He gives us … an expectation and motivation that says in effect, ‘what’s in it for me?’  Instead I thought ‘what does the Lord require of me … of each of us … as we come to worship?’

It’s no great stretch to get from there to Micah chapter 6 where the same question is answered.  So I read …

8He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Three simple yet profound challenges;

  1. Act Justly. Do what’s right.
  2. Love mercy.  Be kind, gentle and forgiving when others don’t do right by you.
  3. Walk humbly with your God.  Acknowledge that God is your God – and make sure that you keep in step with Him.

Water Lily in bloomI felt that the implication of this verse, against the question I had started with  – asking the Lord about the year ahead and His priorities for us as a church –  was God saying, ‘You major on your heart attitude and your input into worship and serving and leave the outcome to me.’

I carried on with my reading in the Prophet Micah and read in Micah 7,

15“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.”

Again I thought … that’s what we need Lord, we need to see your wonders afresh … perhaps an overwhelming sense of your glory.  We’ve seen many good things Lord, but we want to see more of your power and signs and wonders at work among us.  What do we need to do?  We long to see this more and more so that we are held in awe and wonder at your greatness.

Then the thought came back … ‘You major on your heart attitude and your input into worship and serving  and leave the outcome to me.’

And that’s how it was for a few days  until I was reading some notes I made from a talk given by an amazing prophetic woman several years ago.  My notes record her saying,

‘Anointing (the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit) in a meeting comes because of the hunger of the people not the anointing of the speaker’   ‘If people are hungry He will come.’

So I ask myself– if I’m responsible for my attitude and input and God is responsible for the outcome – how hungry am I? How justly do I act? How much do I love mercy?  Am I walking humbly with my God?

I believe God says to us, for the year ahead, don’t major on the outcome (what I will do) … major on your heart attitude and your input (what you will bring to me).

May we heed this and may the words of Ephesians 3:20 be worked out among us. ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Light in the darkness

Jesus light in the darknessAs we celebrate the birth of Jesus may you ponder afresh on the deep significance of his coming for each one of us.

Angels heralded Jesus’ arrival as: ‘Good news that will cause great joy for all people’. It was also said that His coming would shine a light in the darkness.

We join together at Christmas to rejoice in the good news that God is ‘for us’; that Jesus shines light into the darkness of this world; and that He brings Life with a capital L to all who call on His name!

May you be inspired and drawn closer to Father God this Christmas time.  May Christmas for you,and your family be filled with the joy, peace and hope that only God brings.

May you also be inspired to call on the name of Jesus as we go into a new year.

There’s a time for everything…

 … a time to review

Book, glasses and computerThough I am not naturally very good at it, over the years I have developed an understanding about time management.    I have been tutored in, and have applied various time management techniques in an effort to clarify my priorities and to separate out what’s important and urgent from what is not.

My observation is that no matter what system of time management you use, managing time can still be a struggle.   I have concluded however, that the best way of ensuring that your approach is in good order is to reflect and reassess your priorities, pattern and process from time to time.

Such reflection is also good for the soul as from time to time we examine the pattern of our life against the priorities God has for us – both generally and personally.    The psalmist even encourages us to seek God’s help and revelation in this process.  Psalm 139:23-24 helpfully sets out a prayer for this inner examination:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’.

There is a sense that inner reflection is good to do routinely – as for example in the ‘examen’ prayer designed to be used each day.  There’s also a sense however, that it is good to have a whole season of inner reflection – like for example when we face major or unsettling change that we need to make sense of or in a particular season of the year e.g. in Lent.

Reassessing priorities, patterns and processes is not only good for us individually, it is also good for an organisation to undertake from time to time.

We sense that this is just such a season in the life of St John’s.   We have been through damaging and unsettling change.  Even as we continue to come to terms with that we are looking to position ourselves for the future God has for us.  In this interim period the leadership and staff team are looking at various aspects of our life together.

One particular area that has been recognised as in need of review is the governance of St John’s which, because of Charity Law and an increase in staff, has become more complex in recent years. *see footnote for further details

I wanted to let you know that we are embarking on a significant review of our governance structure so that we can be well placed and appropriately organised as we go into the future.  The PCC has invited the Diocesan Secretary, Andrew Halstead to start this process and to make a report to the PCC for their consideration.  Andrew will be working under the following brief;

To review all staff, clergy, Standing Committee and PCC roles and responsibilities in order that a coherent structure is established to ensure that ministry and mission of the church can be delivered effectively and efficiently;

To propose a suitable governance structure with the necessary checks and balances clearly identified.

Andrew will be interviewing staff, clergy, Standing Committee and PCC representatives over the next few weeks and, in due course will report to the PCC.   It will take some time for the PCC to weigh this and come to a conclusion and it may well be that any suggested change may not be able to be implemented until after a new vicar is appointed.

Any proposed change will, of course, be explained and discussed at an Annual Parochial Church Council.   Even though we are not expecting any change arising from this to either happen quickly or to impact the worship or experience of being part of St John’s, we feel that it is important to begin this process of review now.

Please do pray for Andrew Halstead, the staff and the PCC as we embark on this review process.

Shalom,
Antony

23 October 2014

* As we are part of the Anglican Church the Parochial Church Council (PCC) is charged in conjunction with the vicar, with leadership responsibility and oversight.  However, as the PCC is a large body some of this responsibility is actually exercised by the Standing Committee and also, in much of the day to day operational decisions, by the staff employed by the church.   Some years ago St John’s became an independent charity which is governed by trustees who are accountable to the Charity Commission.  Currently the 25 members of the PCC are trustees of the charity of St John’s.

New Growth in the Autumn?

New leavesI heard a weather man the other day reporting that this September was one of the driest on record and as a result we should expect the autumn colours to be very vibrant.

The changing colours are one of the glories of autumn – a season of change, a season of fruitfulness and, harking back to student days, a season of new opportunities and progress as a new academic year begins.

It was interesting then that at the service last Sunday evening – just as autumn is beginning – Bob Dunnett brought a word from the Lord, which was a more spring like image!

The picture Bob saw in his mind’s eye was of a plant in a pot.  The crown of the plant was sturdy and well developed and had full coloured leaves.  His attention however was drawn to a lot of new shoots and leaves – new growth that was coming from the base of the plant.

Bob explained that the context of the picture was that he was praying for the church and he felt that God was saying ‘I am growing new shoots’.   Bob said that we‘re seeing new shoots … anticipate it … pray for it … and be ready to nurture new growth as God adds new people.

There were confirmations then, from individuals and groups, and several similar words since that cause us to weigh this as a word from the Lord.   It’s a timely word as many in the community are encouraged and full of hope as the busy autumn season in church picks up momentum and already we are seeing new shoots.

Over the summer God has raised up new leaders for the Sunday morning children’s groups and there was a real buzz during and following the Duggie Dug Dug praise party in September when several children gave their lives to Jesus.  The ALPHA and Freedom courses have now restarted with a good number of participants attending and with leaders who are full of expectation of what God will do.  The welcome tea for students at the start of the new term saw a many returning and new students coming.  It was encouraging to see such a good number of people and a great sense of togetherness in the evening service.

So in this season of change, of fruitful harvest and new opportunities, we should also be looking for new growth.  Our services in this season will reflect many of these themes.  Here’s a brief outline of the teaching programme and the thinking behind it.  The overriding theme is

Fruitful disciples – looking and learning from Jesus.

In the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46 – drawing on Isaiah 5:1-7) Jesus described how a landowner set up a vineyard and rented it to tenant farmers to work it.  In due course – at harvest time – the owner of the vineyard looked to collect the fruit due to him.

In this parable Jesus identifies himself as the landowner’s son (i.e. the Son of God) and makes clear that Father God seeks ‘the fruit of the kingdom of God’ from His people.

This begs the question; ‘What is the fruit of the Kingdom that God seeks?

In this Harvest season we will look at Jesus and his teaching to explore some aspects of the fruit of the Kingdom that God looks for in each of us individually and together.  Bearing fruit is not just an inner attitude but is something that shows itself in action so there will be various opportunities to take action.

  • In part of October we will look at the fruit of generosity.   This will be accompanied by a presentation concerning the church’s finances, information about practical ways that we can show generosity and an opportunity to respond in a tangible way at the gift day on October 26th.
  • In November several guest speakers will help us look at the fruit of extending God’s Kingdom  and in addition to learning about various aspects of mission activity there will also be the on-going question of ‘How can I contribute … what’s my particular and personal calling in the work of extending God’s kingdom?’.
  • Jesus tells us, ‘Remain in me … you can’t bear fruit unless you remain in me’.   For the weeks of Advent, we want to create a little more space for waiting and stillness in our regular Sunday gatherings. The worship will be led in a more simple way – often with just one or two musicians. And we want to seek a little more silence and reflection, preparing our hearts for God’s leading into the future. Sermons in the short season of Advent will be under the general title of ‘Let every Heart prepare Him room’.

In evening services in October, November and the early part of December we will work our way through the book of First John – a letter that is a rich treatise on God’s love and how that should be demonstrated in us.   In January we will look at some important tools for fruitful living that the bible sets out for us to follow.

We are also introducing some gentle change in our pattern of evening services in this season.  On the second Sunday evening each month we plan to have a service which is more ‘open’ in format and which is not part of the planned teaching programme.

  • Open agenda
  • Open hearts, hands, mind
  • Open to God’s ‘now’ Word
  • Open to the prophetic and other spiritual gifts
  • Open to encouragement and inspiration through testimony
  • Open and ready to celebrate the presence of God in extended worship

Of course we want to foster such ‘openness’ in all our services, and believe that setting aside dedicated time each month in this way, will help to encourage and promote our openness more generally.    For want of a better title we plan to simply call these services OPEN!

Let’s come together week by week in our services, groups and other activities looking for signs of God’s surprising Kingdom; new shoots in autumn … life from death … light in the darkness!

May we be filled with praise for all that God has done, is doing and will do among us.

SHALOM

Antony

OK… OK… I’m disappointed

There’s a memorable scene in the 1980’s comedy film ‘A fish called Wanda’ that makes me smile. It’s when Otto goes to open a safe in a lock up garage where he expects to find the diamonds he and the rest of the gang have recently stolen.

When he opens the safe and finds it empty Otto – sounding as though he had recently spent some time in therapy – starts breathing deeply and, after a pause, exclaims with great feeling, ‘Ok … Ok … I’m disappointed!’ If you’re interested you can watch this short clip

This simple expression of disappointment is funny but it’s also profound because it accurately names something that we all feel from time to time but might not name so readily.

Sad face, happy face imageDisappointment is when things don’t turn out as we hoped or as we expected. We often don’t name it as such but we can be surprised when we think about how many disappointments we carry in the normal experiences of life.

We can face disappointment when we fail an exam, or we don’t get the job we hoped for. We can be disappointed in ourselves when our behaviour is less than we hoped it would be or when we feel our weaknesses or lack of success in comparison to others is apparent.

We can be disappointed in our marriage or in our singleness – when life, or our partner (or lack of) do not turn out as we hoped it would. We can be disappointed in our parents or in our children.

You name it – anything where you attach some expectation or hope – and you can be disappointed. This is quite important because unresolved disappointments can have a big impact on our well-being and can produce a sense of weariness or hopelessness together with a desire to withdraw.  Proverbs 13:12 describes this, ‘Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around’. (Quoted from the Message)

Dashed hopes in our expectation of God or of church life can have a particularly powerful effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being – and subsequently on our bodies too. (This is what I think ‘heartsick’ means). Think of the lament of the people of Israel when instead of the hoped for redemption of Israel they found themselves taken away to live in a foreign land and their cherished temple – the symbol and seat of God’s presence among them – was destroyed. They were God’s people, how could this be?

Think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had had a very bad weekend as they had watched Jesus – who they believed was the longed for Messiah who would redeem Israel – being put to death on the cross. Their expectations were dashed and Luke records them expressing their deep disappointment in this plaintive cry, ‘We had hoped …’ (Luke 24:21).

Unmet expectations or hopes of church life can also cause deep disappointment. I certainly think that’s true from what we are going through as a church community. Our understanding of how things are at the moment, our expectations of God and how church life will progress have a taken a serious knock over recent months. We have gone through the listening process, received the resulting report on the Health of St John’s and Nigel has stood down five months ago.

I believe that we share a common sense of disappointment about where we find ourselves, which leaves each of us ‘heartsick’ in various ways.

Many are bewildered as they don’t understand what has led up to Nigel standing down. Some folk, hurt and bruised over the last three years, are left with a sense of unsatisfied injustice. Some are hurt and dismayed at what they observe as the community’s response to the difficulties. Others are dismayed at the way that church leadership has responded. Some friendships and relationships have become strained and all of this can make church feel an unsafe place – even though for others it feels safer.

There are different narratives and many have questions, but overall we share a sense that our current situation is not what was expected or hoped for.

How do we deal with such disappointment relating to God or our experience of church life? There is more work for us to do together corporately, but let me make some suggestions for what we can do personally and privately about our dissatisfaction and disappointments. In doing this I am drawing on an excellent talk Catriona Foster recently gave at Mid-Week Holy Communion.

1. Go deeper into God. Rather than living or acquiescing with disappointment let it take you deeper into God. Ask yourself: How does God want to use this experience to refine and purify my faith? God is working for the good in all circumstances so what is the good that God is seeking to work in you? In Romans 5 Paul mentions perseverance, character and hope and goes on to say, ‘Hope does not disappoint.’ I wrote a blog some time ago entitled, ‘How to keep your heart right in the midst of trouble’ which you may also find helpful.  .  An important verse for me when there seems to be no reasons or answers is 1 John 14:16, ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.’

2. Adjust your expectations. Sometimes we need to recalibrate our expectations (or a sense of entitlement) and embrace what God is actually doing and not what we understand or think He ought to be doing! That was the experience of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As they spent time, talked and broke bread with Jesus ‘their eyes were opened’ and they began a new journey towards a new revelation of God’s good and eternal purposes.

3. Build on friendships. We need one another and God often uses other people to support us and help us gain perspective. The Healing Prayer Centre at The Crossway is one structured way of obtaining friendly, prayerful support. See details of how you can make an appointment.
Friendship with one another is so important because our friendship with one another is important to God. So if there’s anything in the way of friendship then at the right time we need to give attention to it so that we can put things right.   The scriptures call us to ‘bear with one another’ where we see things differently.  That can include giving each other space and time; but it almost certainly will require us to seek reconciliation where someone has something against us (Matthew 5:24), and also offering forgiveness to those who have hurt us (Matthew 6:11-14).

4. Focus on Ultimate Hope. The story isn’t over yet – your story, our story, or God’s story. God has the final word and has promised that, ‘Those who hope in me will not be disappointed’. Our ultimate hope is in God Himself. Lamentations 3:18-26 is a helpful summary of the call to keep our eyes on God even in the midst of difficulties and unmet expectations.

Disappointment is part of our human experience. It can be harmful, but recognising it and naming it can be the start to our hope being renewed –  OK … OK … I’m disappointed!

Shalom.  Antony

‘there are plenty of things going on over the summer …’

Dear Friends,

This weekend marks the end of the normal pattern of services and activities as we change gear and enjoy a different pattern with the start of a single all age service at 10am on each Sunday morning (From July 27th to August 31st).

Although the pattern changes there are plenty of things going on over the summer … Holiday Bible Club 31st July to 2nd August; Prime Time 19th -21st August and many people are involved in summer camps and festivals. Though many of us will go away for refreshment and recreation, many visitors will come to be part of St John’s.

The changed pattern of just one service on a Sunday morning also gives us opportunity and time for us to engage with one another in the 10 am all age services, over coffee afterwards and also at the ‘Picnics in the Park’ at Blue Coat School planned for 3rd and 31st August.

31st August will be a special day as we will have opportunity to say thank you to the Tattersall family and to pray for them as we bid farewell to Jon as he embarks on training for the ministry at St John’s Nottingham. Special features and thank yous are planned for both the picnic that day and also the refreshment time after the evening service.

In September we’ll be embarking on some new, as well as some familiar activities and events:

• At the beginning of September we will start a new season of Prayer and Praise called ‘Sanctuary’ on the first Wednesday of each month (3rd September);

• Later in September both the ALPHA and FREEDOM course will start.

It’s been quite a year so far for us as a community. It’s six months since Russ Parker’s report on the Health of St John’s was published and five months since Nigel stood down as our vicar. We’ve been through some uncharted territory so this summer season gives us opportunity to reflect and give thanks for God’s on-going goodness – even despite the difficulties we’ve faced – and also some time to seek afresh His purposes for us as we look to the future. We’ve ended on a great note though as four members of our church were baptised recently, with inspiring and powerful testimony of how Jesus met them and changed them.

Deck chairs on the beachI don’t know how you will spend your summer … but can I make some suggestions of some special things that you might do …

• Enjoy and get closer to God in the changed pattern and perhaps changed setting over the summer;

• Continue to pray for Nigel and Annie and their family and their future ministry;

• Continue to pray for St John’s and God purposes for us together;

• Pray about how God may be calling you to contribute to His purposes in and beyond our church community. There have been several presentations over recent weeks setting out the various ministries that are looking for more volunteers. Perhaps God may be calling you to offer in one such area. One particular need I would highlight is the need for more leaders and helpers in our children’s work on a Sunday morning. The need is quite acute and we are seeking and praying for those the Lord is calling and releasing into this vital area of ministry;

• One thing that strikes me is that together we share a sense of disappointment about the way things are and the way things have worked out. I’m writing a short note about this that will be published on the web page in a week or so. Perhaps this may be something that may be helpful to you to reflect on as you bring before God your own hopes and any disappointment you are carrying.

May you know God’s rich blessing and nearness this summer time and may He draw you into a greater knowledge of His love and His call on you. I shall be away myself in the last week in August and the first week in September so I will look forward to returning with renewed vitality and vision for all that God is calling us to.
With much love in Jesus,

Antony