I would like this morning to take the opportunity to reflect upon the nature of the church and our role as the Christian people at St. Alban’s in that.
At this time of patient waiting and understandable unease over potential changes in our life at St. Alban’s it is appropriate to consider our vocation to be the church. I have written in the weekly words a précis of the main business of the last vestry meeting and I outlined that in the announcements last week; St. Alban’s is at a significant point in its life.
Over the years this community has had its share of ups and downs; it has faithfully continued in its mission and ministry. As we await the news concerning the appointment of a new priest and as we face the future in the knowledge that we will more than likely have to move house at some point we might feel a little disheartened and wonder what our future will look like. It’s easy to slip into a negative mindset but there is no need to do so.
We are still in the Easter season and as we consider our identity as the church we need to be reminded that we are an “Easter people and alleluia is our song” … that’s my starting point today, I want to start on a positive note.
The church is a community of people who have learnt through our experience of coming to know the living God to love life. Our God is a God of life who gives it, nourishes and sustains it and finally will bring it to fuflilment. At every twist and turn in the gospel Jesus gave life back to those whose experience in life was negative and disappointing. How many people come to faith because their experience of life had dragged them down, worn them out? But then they found through an encounter with God that life could be different.
We see this in our readings today. From the Acts of the Apostles we read of the gentiles coming to faith, of the church broadening its vision and recognizing all people are welcome to be part of the life of God. From the Revelation of John the Divine we read of a vision of better times when there would be a new heaven and a new earth, a vision of when times would be better and life worth living with no threat or fear, a vision of God’s will for his creation. And in the Gospel, at a difficult time for Jesus, he comforts his closest friends as the cross loomed large and yet despite knowing he would experience the worst humans could do to each other he was able to speak about life and love … “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.
So much has been written about love, Christian love. Such love has it’s source in God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a trinity, a unity, a relationship bound together by divine love sometimes referred to as a ‘divine community’. The theologian Staney Genz wrote that the church’s vocation is to reflect that divine community in the world we are called to serve. He goes on to say that God’s will for humanity is that through the work and witness of the church humanity would find renewal and become a new humankind. Again we see this mirrored in the readings … the earliest church communities, through the practice of love, that love commanded by Jesus himself draws others close to experience it for themselves and thus the promise of the bright future we read of in Revelation becomes, potentially, a reality.
That is the purpose of the church, it’s charge, it’s mission, to love in a unique way, for that love to be seen and thus draw others to its source and thus find a new quality of life, of living … and we too are those who have experienced the love of God, have become part of the ‘divine community’ and so are involved in that charge, that mission.
As we here at St. Alban’s think seriously about our future we have to hold this before us as we start to fashion the agenda for the days ahead; we, small as we might be, with the rest of the church universal have a part to play in mirroring the ‘divine community’, the wonder, the beauty, the love and the life of God to the world.
Now we do that in a special if not a unique way. Over recent years St. Alban’s has put on the mantel that was once St. Paul’s, Symonds Street, namely promoting the Catholic expression of Anglicanism. We know through Vestry’s meeting with the archdeacon and through comments from both Bishop Ross and Jim that the diocese want to see this tradition maintained in this diocese and it will be down to us to see that that happens ... it’s expected that we will take a lead on this and be proactive in taking this forward.
Anglicans were of course once Roman Catholics and I won’t bore you with a history lesson because you know how we became Anglican, so at the heart of our corporate life is a tangible link with the wider Christian community which in turn connects us with the earliest Christian communities and to the Apostles themselves and the truth they delivered to us which we have to work with imaginatively in a contemporary setting.
Some years ago after being withdrawn from ordination training I gave up on the Anglican church for a while and worshiped with a friend at a local Methodist church. Joe the minister was perhaps the best preacher I have ever known and on one occasion referred to his posting in his early ministry where his Anglican colleague was of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Joe recalled how he would daily join with Father David in the Anglican house across the road for daily Mass. Loyal to his Methodist heritage he couldn’t give up on that but delighted to share sacramentally with his Anglican colleague at the altar, allowing as he said the ‘real presence’ of Christ to be free in that neighbourhood … and that’s exactly what we do here at St Alban’s; there is a sacramental emphasis to what we do here, at the altar of course but which also finds expression in our daily living.
We offer through our prayerful worship valid sacraments from a valid priestly tradition which in a unique way enables us to mirror the divine community to our bit of the world and have a part in the renewal of humanity which is God’s will for the world, drawing people in so they may find through an encounter with God that life can be different and through the offering of the Holy Eucharist allowing the sacramental presence of Christ to be freed to touch our communities.
During this period as we wait for news about a new PIC, as we come to terms with the inevitable fact that as much as we love this building we might have to leave it behind, we need to find comfort, strength and direction from the sacramental Christian tradition the we maintain here, confident in the fact that what has been over the years in this place has brought us to this point from which a promising, exciting and hopeful future might start to emerge.
The Vestry are meeting next month to begin a process of developing a template for our future; it’s going to be a challenging task but a task that we have to engage with and we will do so thoughtfully and prayerfully in a measured way to ensure the right decisions are made to ensure we have a bright future ahead of us, a future is fashioned responsibly, enthusiastically and with vision; a long term future and not just a quick fix because we’re losing our priest and may have to lose our building. As I have been at pains to point out there is no question of St. Alban’s closing, St. Alban’s is ‘us’ and we’re going to be around for a while yet and we hope to do good work in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are only a small community like many Anglican churches today but that should not deter us from thinking big and bold. We are the church, we are charged with the task of sharing the riches of our faith, expressing God’s love , drawing others to share it, reflecting the divine community I spoke of a few moments ago to our bit of the world where we operate and we’re going to work creatively to do that and ensure that we continue to do that in the years to come.
Coming to Mass is pivotal in all this, it’s the one time in the course of the week to be together, I would urge you to take advantage of this brief hour or so on a Sunday morning when we gather. We’re all of us busy people I am sure but when we are together it does feel good, especially for us in the sanctuary when we look west, it’s so heartening to see folk in the pews. And of course when we’re together we do form in a real sense the body of Christ in a particular way, reflecting that ‘Divine Community’ and we are able to support each other, pray together concerning our future and really develop further the sense of community that we already have.