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.

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