A message from our Team Rector, Revd Canon Dr Jeremy Worthen.
I’ve been away this week on a diocesan training course at Ashburnham Place in Sussex.
I know it reasonably well, as we used it regularly as a venue for residential events when I worked in ministerial education and training, and the church I belonged to in Canterbury held its parish weekends away here too.
But I have to say the grounds were looking particularly stunning in the June sunshine, with water lilies, rhododendrons and many other plants in bloom.
The beauty of the location felt at times in some contrast to the toughness of the subject. We were looking at ‘The Minister as Missioner’, and the message we heard clearly from input and discussions was that it can be hard for churches to be fruitful in mission in the climate where we find ourselves today.
As Church of England parishes have progressively lost their acknowledged and privileged place in society over the last 100 years, they can easily end up disconnected from the communities where they are called to serve and witness. Moreover, cultural ‘gravity’ now pulls people away from church life and not towards it – including those who’ve grown up as part of it. In addition to all that, the strong tendency to treat religious faith as a private matter, an individual preference to be kept to oneself, makes us hesitant to think that what’s good news for us can be confidently shared with others as good news for them too.
I wonder if you recognise that picture. Does it ring true with your own experience as a church member, and also as someone who knows people who don’t participate in church life? Where do you see positive signs of faith being shared, and the church contributing to the common good of our society?
If it’s a picture that has any accuracy about the situation in which we now find ourselves as the Church of England in Ashford, that shouldn’t be cause for despair. Cathie had some great stories to share in last week’s message, and I hope you would have some of your own to add to that. God is still God, and the good news is still good news.
But it does mean that we have to be ready to think and act differently from 30 years ago, even 10 years ago. What worked well in the recent past may not help us much today. We are going to need patience, prayerfulness and openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit to find the path ahead.