As I write this pastoral letter, a lot of things are whirling in my head: in fact this is my third draft, as I want to tell you so much abut what I have learnt in recent days.
Ministers’ Spring School is an occasion when URC ministers from Wessex Synod gather annually to learn, pray and reflect together.
The topic this year was ‘Love Thy Neighbour, doing Justice and Mercy.’ Revd Dr Michael Jaggesar, who was Moderator of the URC General Assembly in 2014, conducted the bible Studes, and we had speakers from the URC Church and Society Team and from the Joint Public Issues Team of the URC, Methodist and Baptism Churches.
Many memorable discussions and quotes were given during my time in Salisbury. However one resonated with me to the next event.
We were told that compassion is the key to unlocking discipleship and walking humbly with God.
Yet how do we attain compassion?
Does it come naturally?
How can a local Church become a compassionate community?
The speaker gave us five points to consider and recognise if we are to be a compassionate congregation:
The local community needs to be aware:
- That we are a spiritual and prayeful church community;
- That we are a non-judgemental church community;
- That we are prepared to ‘go the extra mile’.
- That we all have a story to tell, about the God who gives love, hope and strength;
- That we are not perfect.
All of these points stirred me, as I let each one rest and dwell in my heart.
I would suggest that each of us would want to adhere to these five points. However, there is a sixth point which for me came at the ‘Growing the Church’ conference held at Basingstoke URC a couple of days later.
A question was posed to us: Why are we as Christians so hesitant to invite a friend, neighbour or stranger to our Church?
Many reasons were to do with fear.
Fear… of putting people ‘on the spot’;
Fear… of seeming pushy;
Fear… of the questions people may put to us;
Fear… of having to answer those questions;
Fear… of being rejected;
Fear… of feeling a fool;
Fear… of embarrassment.
All of the above – and many more – are the reasons WE do not invite people to come to church with us.
So we need to gain confidence in knowing the good news, and what God has done for us in our lives. Therefore my sixth point is:
6. The local community needs to be aware of our Hope and Trust in God; and that God is a god of Love who wants the absolute best for everyone.
If we can accept that fear and risk-taking is part of our story, then fear becomes the key to unlock potential, creativity and growth.
We sow and water the seeds, but it is God who gives growth and in this respect we must remain faithful to the values of God’s kingdom.
Being authentic, being the Church, and not being afraid of living the gospel, means that we will automatically become a community of compassionate disciples.