The written and verbal feedback from the Synod Pastoral Committee on our major Local Mission and Ministry (LMMR) was encouraging. We were complimented on sustaining and extending our commitment to God’s kingdom, and in our worship and various outreach activities how we seek to engage with the local community. We have good reason to be pleased with how the URC more broadly views our witness, how we have identified the challenges that we have, and how we are now seeking to address them. The efforts of many to produce such a well-received report have clearly been worthwhile.
This feedback will help to guide our path forward. We have ourselves already taken some first steps to consider more fully what kind of future we see for our people and for our buildings. The messages that you will have already read in the May Church Magazine from Judith on people and from Chris and Bethan on buildings identify some of the key issues to be addressed. They were set out there in the hope of generating discussion in the congregation about the difficult choices that may need to be made. I hope you have made your own views known to the elders directly, as well as at the Church meetings.
The nature of the challenges we face was identified starkly by the Synod Feedback: “You need to look at ways of consolidating and building upon the various fresh expressions (of Church) you already do without further stretching yourselves”. We know our fellowship is smaller in number than it used to be, and we are mostly less physically able to do what we used to do. But we remain as ambitious as ever to serve God’s kingdom here in Eastham. How are we to do all that we want to do without over-stretching ourselves?
We certainly do lots of worthwhile things at St David’s, both long-standing and familiar and also bold and new. We juggle lots of balls in the air and we try not to let any of them fall to the ground. But a basic problem may be that we to not have the resources of people to sustain all these activities. Do we simply have too many balls to juggle successfully?
There is always a temptation to do more. We know that there is so much to do in Christ’s service. But more may mean less. It may be preferable to do fewer things well than to keep our current wide range of activities, each of which in itself will meet the needs of some people or some groups, but may divert our scarcest resource – committed people – from other more effective Christian service.
We now have the opportunity to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go. We have added to our range of activities, but what have we felt able to let go? How are we to make decisions about our priorities as we move forward in faith, and as we seek to call a new minister?
Priorities do change over time. Jesus’s own priorities seemed to change over the period of his mission. In the early months in Galilee his priority was clearly in healing and preaching, but in the last months in Judea it was more about bringing challenges to the religious authorities and to the Roman occupying forces that eventually led to his crucifixion. In his familiar celebration of love in 1 Corinthians Paul said that his priorities had changed in some respects: now that he was no longer a child he put away childish things, but the need for love remains. We readily accept the need for change at St David’s, but in what direction should that be channelled, and what needs to be retained?
However, we should not be only inward-looking when it comes to reviewing our priorities. We already do many things (e.g. Food Bank, Christian Aid) ecumenically through CTBE, and there may be more scope for further ecumenical collaboration. We can also seek the advice of the new Mersey Synod Mission Enabler, whose primary role is to assist congregations to be more effective in achieving their goals of mission and discipleship.
Above all, we need to prayerfully examine ourselves, individually and as a whole congregation of God’s people. What choices are necessary to enable us to promote Jesus’s gospel of love and justice more effectively in our community?