Thursday 30 May 2013

Don't forget it's my farewell service at St Matthew's this Sunday, 2 June, at 6.30pm. I hope to see you there! I'm bringing a big pack of tissues...

I will also be at the morning services at 8am and 10am. I commend to you the world premiere of the Universal Prayer Answering Machine at the all-age service at 10 o'clock - it will be awesome! Don't miss it!

Wednesday 29 May 2013

What I have learned while at St Matthew's

As part of the process of seeking a new appointment I had to summarise what I have learned while at St Matthew's. So, for the benefit of future generations, here is the fruit of my accumulated wisdom:-

           Make good appointments. Our present curate and family and children's worker are brilliant. Our high hopes of new administrator Carrie are being realised too.

           Focus on discipleship. The quality of the Christian life of members of the church is what will tell in the end.

           Build Teams that socialise and pray together.

           Keep people motivated. If the congregation feel good about being Christians and belonging to the church there is little you can't do, under the grace of God.

           Stay solvent. When I arrived at St Matthew's we owed £75,000 in unpaid parish share and the only way we could sort it out was to cut back our investment in ministry. The church really struggled as a result. We are now in a much happier position.

           Promotion is worth the money. The church today must compete in a market place of ideas.

           Links with the community. Our three church schools for example are a rich and fruitful source of contact with families and children.
           Above all, pray a lot!

But in retrospect, those are all very well for the sort of thing you need to put forward in interviews and on CVs but are not actually the main things for me. Those are actually much more personal and spiritual. I think of one or two people (no names - I don't want to embarrass anyone) whom I give communion to. The look of complete devotion and love for the Lord that comes over their faces is awe inspiring. I think of the commitment, the discipleship, the kindness and especially the love that so many at St Matthew's have shared with me. I think of the practical people who show their passion for the Lord in seemingly endless hard work. I think of people in serious pain who just seem to glow with God's lovely presence. I think of behind the scenes people who give incredible caring to others who are struggling, and get no credit at all for it because nobody knows, except that after a long while a little bit of what you do gets back to the vicar... You are wonderful.

This for me is the really important stuff. It's about how to follow Jesus, and I have learned far more about it from St Matthew's than you have from me!

So another big thank you to St Matthew's Walsall - this time for the deeper things...

A Huge Thank You!

Colin and Elisa would like to say a huge thank you to everyone for all your kindness to us. We have been showered with good wishes, kind words, cards, gifts of all sorts, delicious meals, hugs, kisses and prayers – not to mention that amazing party last week! What a wonderful send-off it was. You are making it very difficult for us to leave you! We are going to miss you all so much.

It's so hard to believe that this will be our last Sunday with you. I hope as many of you as possible will be able to get along to the farewell service on Sunday evening – but don't worry if you can't. I appreciate it's half term and Bank Holiday week: the eleven years we've spent together counts for far more than the final fling.

Those eleven years have seen some huge achievements, many new members and lots of changes – it hasn't all been easy. But the more I look at the achievements, the less I can take credit for them. Through the grace of God was you who had the generosity to pay off our huge debts when I first arrived, you who had the hospitality to welcome our Asian congregation, you who patiently completed the St Matthew's Centre project and got it flourishing, your vision and energy that have set up Messy Church and brought about real growth, your awe in God's presence that touches me every time I come to worship at St Matthew's.

You are an awesome church! Keep it up, brothers and sisters! The vicar may be leaving but the Lord isn't and He has great plans for you. Just you wait and see!

Friday 10 May 2013

This was my last article for the Pioneer magazine, the issue currently in circulation. Please note that my Farewell Service is on Sunday 2 June at 6.30pm. It would be great to see you there if you can possibly make it.

A Sad Announcement

I am writing this article the day after announcing at St Matthew's that some time this summer I will move on to be vicar of the parish of Horton and Wraysbury, near London. I am putting my announcement in the Pioneer because I know I have many friends out in the community as well as in church.

It's eleven years since Elisa and I arrived in Walsall. Our youngest, Ben, started at Blue Coat Juniors when we arrived and he's 19 now and doing a gap year in Bolivia! All sorts of wonderful things have happened during our time at St Matthew's. 

·        We started St Matthew's Asian Congregation for Punjabi Christians, which now has a worldwide reach through its broadcasting and internet ministries

·        We have restructured and produced a highly motivated and effective team with a wonderfully positive attitude and a great group spirit

·        We had a massive project on our church hall and re-opened as the St Matthew's Centre, which is doing some amazing work in the community.

·        Family and Children's Work has really taken off since the appointment in 2010 of Liz Burley, our Family and Children's Worker. Messy Church, the holiday club and the school clubs are amazing!

·        We have rebranded St Matthew's through an overhaul of the website, logos, and first class promotional material.

·        We have emphasised ministry to and by young people through Church Hill Praise, outreach through Alpha and other courses, schools work in partnership with the three Blue Coat schools.

But most of all, we have seen God at work – healings, answered prayers, enriching encounters with God in our worship week by week, people coming to faith through the life-changing news that God loves them, people growing personally as God moves in their lives…

None of these are my achievements as vicar. They are our achievements as God's family together. I am in awe of my congregation: they are so full of warmth, enthusiasm, passion, energy, determination, love, faith and fun and Elisa and I are going to miss them all terribly. I feel the time is right, for them as well as for me, for St Matthew's to have a new vicar, to get some fresh vision and energy, and see where God will take us in the next part of His plan. I am sure it will be amazing.

People of Walsall, you have a great resource up there on the hill top at St Matthew's Church. Don't waste it! Make good use of it! Enjoy it! Surprise yourself and get involved! Or as the Bible puts it, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." You will be glad you did.

God bless you and thank you for everything!

Sadly, the post below is taken from my last Living Faith Column for the Advertiser. I didn't actually see it in there so in case it didn't make it, here it is for you. And if you are intrigued to know more about what Ben is up to, check out his video on
For the Love of Chocolate…

My youngest son Ben is in Bolivia. He finished at Blue Coat last summer and now he's doing a gap year with Youth With A Mission, working with street kids in Santa Cruz. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America, there's no social security, and thousands of kids end up living wild on the streets, where they are treated like vermin.

I am hugely proud of him – but why should Ben, a vicar's son from England, sacrifice a year helping kids dumped on the streets on the far side of the world? He's been passionate about it ever since he first heard of their plight – but why go to such lengths?

If you go down to Cadbury's World you will find a great display about chocolate. It was first made in South America from cocoa beans. Because of the prestige of chocolate, these beans were very valuable to the Indians. One exhibit says that to the Mayans a human being was worth 72 cocoa beans! So your life literally wasn't worth a hill of beans…

Our society puts financial worth on people. If you lose your life in an accident, your loved ones are compensated for the predicted loss of your earnings. So if you would have earned £25,000 for the next 40 years they'd get a million pounds! I know, not much hope in this recession, but at least it's better than beans!

But God puts an entirely different value on your life. The Gospel tells us that He loves us so much that He gave His only Son – Jesus, who died in agony on the cross - so we could be forgiven, saved and loved. Every human being is therefore of infinite worth, because in Jesus God gave His own life as the price for ours.

That's why our Ben is with those street kids. No human being is vermin. Whether you are on the mean streets of Santa Cruz or the relative comfort of Walsall, you matter to God. If as so many do these days you feel your life is worth little, go to the One who gave everything for you on the cross. Ask him to show you how much you matter. Think about it next time you are enjoying a chunk of delicious, melt in the mouth chocolate…

Thursday 2 May 2013

Reflections on the AGM 2013

This is the sermon from last Sunday, when we held our Annual General Meeting. If you want to know what decisions were taken at the AGM, the minutes are in preparation. But here is the talk I gave during the service preceding the meeting. My aim was to encourage everyone during a time of significant change and to remind you that God is in charge.

I can't believe this is my last AGM with all of you. In my Rector's Report I wrote about the many changes we have been through in the past year. Because of Anglican protocols and the timing of announcements I wasn't able, at the time of writing, to tell you that Elisa and I were preparing to leave. And now the reality is nearly here.

It's still controversial to have the AGM in morning service – but I think it's really important. We cannot say this is God's bit and the rest is our bit. The whole of our church life belongs to God. We're here at the AGM to give thanks for the past, to seek vision for the future, to consider our needs, financial and otherwise, to look at matters which unite us and those which could potentially divide us: these all need to be brought to our loving heavenly Father, because we are his family and we're here to learn how to trust and follow him. So it is all part of our prayer life and our worshipping life together.

The church grows! It's in both of our readings (the parable of the mustard seed and the Acts 2 passage which provides the basis for our values. We have a part – the farmer sows – but God has the greater part – He makes it grow. St Matthew's has grown over the past year, in fact our figures show the strongest growth in the Diocese! Praise the Lord! But humbly – some of that is because we're recording some things properly for the first time.

Acts 2 reminds us of our core values, awe, unity, generosity, hospitality and growth. I think the growth doesn't come without the other bits:

·         Awe – above all the church has to be about meeting with God. 2 examples last weekend, when God moved in our services and people were healed… when a God filled silence descended upon Messy Church…

·         Unity – the teamwork in this church is just fantastic! More on this later because teamwork is the key to what happens next.

·         Generosity – this church demonstrates amazing generosity, not only with money but with time, talent and energy.

·         Hospitality – our welcome is frequently acknowledged by many who come to visit us. Our small groups, so vital to our discipleship, depend on the hospitality shown by leaders and members.

·         Growth – the outcome of the above. When people encounter God with awe, when there is teamwork so that we move forward together, when we are generous and able to make things happen, and when people are welcomed and wanted, well, they want to be part of that. That's the kind of church I want to belong to, don't you?

Note the start point in Acts 2:42 – they devoted themselves… The time ahead will demand commitment from us. Nonetheless as a church of activists! we need to remember that Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet, chose the better part. Make sure you don't overdo the Martha side!

You are an awesome church and it has been an immense privilege to serve God here and to learn so much from your faith, your love, your fellowship and your energy. I wouldn't be going if I didn't have every confidence in you! You are a great team and I know that you will continue to build up St Matthew's.

I'm not quite ready with my farewell speech yet. I'll save it for another day. But there are two things I want to say in the meantime today, or rather two kinds of vacancies churches can have:

·         a dismal one where the direction is gone, we don't want to start anything new in case the new vicar doesn't like it, everything is on hold, people start to drift and the church shrinks

·         a teamwork vacancy where people take up the challenge to step into new roles and move forward together. Actually vicars love to come into churches that are going somewhere and will expect you to state what your vision is in the parish profile.

Churches of the second sort grow during a vacancy. You will grow too! We have great teams here – Messy church, admin, wardens, home groups. Brothers and sisters, you can do it. You will be amazed when your new vicar arrives at how brilliant your vacancy was! Take the opportunities offered by this year's Mission Action Plan to play your part!

But above all the Church is about God. St Matthew's is not our Church, it's his Church. His promise to you is, "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you." He is working out his purposes for St Matthew's. So let's keep our focus on Him, His love for us and His presence among us. Then, through all the challenges before us, He will be our strength.