ALL ARE CALLED – (And Worship Review/ Simplification/Year of Pilgrimage)

A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at Holy Ascension Hyde on Epiphany 2, January 19th, 2020

I Cor 1:1-9,  John 1:29-42

I’ve got a fairly simple plan this morning – I want to reflect briefly on today’s readings, and then to discuss two or three particular issues for us as Churches this year.

One of the themes of this Epiphany Season is the calling of the first Disciples – in each year of the three-year Lectionary we hear different accounts of the start of Jesus’ ministry, and how he called his inner circle of Disciples to be around him, to follow him, to learn from him what the Kingdom of God means, and to continue his Kingdom work by spreading the message, and by calling others into his service.

I don’t know whether you noticed how the word ‘called’ sounded like a bell through this morning’s readings.  Four times across the two readings, and four different callings.

Firstly, it’s used at the end of the Gospel Reading, as the climax of Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples.  It’s quite a strange conversation – you’ve got it in Partners if you want to have a look.  John says ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’, and the two disciples follow, which is quite logical.  Jesus turns and asks what they are looking for, and they ask him where he is staying.  He says, ‘Come and see’, and they went and spent the rest of the day with him – and all this happened, curiously, at about four o’clock in the afternoon.  Clearly, something very significant is going on here.

One of the two disciples was Andrew, and he went and fetched his brother, Simon, whom Jesus immediately named as Peter, the rock.  And they stayed with him for the rest of his earthly ministry.

Jesus’ call to his first disciples in John’s Gospel is very invitational – ‘Come and see’.  ‘John has pointed to me; you’re following me, so, come and see.  Come and see what I’m doing, who I am – and by doing that, you may want to follow me always’.

But then he says to Peter, ‘‘You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter)’ [Jn 1:42], which we would translate as ‘Rock’.  ‘You are to be called Cephas’.

Immediately, as Peter begins his journey with Jesus, he’s given a new name, a new identity.  In Christ, we are called to a new place and given a new name.

There’s a fascinating, and not often quoted, verse in Revelation 2[:17]: ‘To everyone who conquers… I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it’.

And names are an important part of the Baptism Service, when our given names become our Christian names.  Peter is given a new name when he is called into Jesus’ service.

And turning to the passage from I Corinthians, we see that there are three more callings here.

Firstly, Paul is ‘Called to be an Apostle’.  Although not one of those who met Jesus, Paul and Luke record several times his conversion on the road to Damascus, and his calling as an Apostle, one who is sent with the message to others.  Paul responded to that dramatic calling, and has been a huge influence on the shape of the Church ever since.

And then Paul tells the Corinthians that they are ‘Called to be saints’.  The Greek word be uses for saints, the word which is used throughout the New Testament, is ἅgioiς, the holy ones, and it refers to all of the Christians in a particular place.  So, we are all called to be saints – ‘All are Called’, as a recent Church of England report on lay ministry puts it.

And, lastly, he writes to the Corinthians, that they are ‘called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ [I Cor 1:9].  We are all called to be part of the Body of Christ, to be Christ’s eyes and mouths, hands and feet, in service to the world.  All are called.

Which brings me on to the particular issues I’d like us to think about today,

The first is Simplification – at present, the Avon Valley Churches comprises seven Churches in four Parishes – and each of the four Parishes is a separate legal entity.  We had a Joint Open Meeting of the four PCCs last November to think about whether we could simplify our structures – essentially, to become one PCC, which could deal with budgets, Safeguarding, policy issues, good governance, and so on, and freeing up local Church Committees to look after the day-to-day running of the Churches and their worship and mission.  And on Monday, we had the first meeting of the Simplification Group, comprising two representatives from each Parish, some of the ministry team, one or two observers, and chaired by an outside facilitator, Jon Whale, our Benefice of the Future man at the Diocese. 

When I was ordained in 1986, each of our four Parishes had a priest to look after one PCC – that is no longer the case, and the amount of regulation, much of it good, which has been imposed on PCCs in the last few decades has increased enormously.  It no longer makes sense to have all of this regulation repeated four times, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with a much better structure in the coming year or so. 

I realise this is a particularly big ask for Hyde PCC, only recently part of the Avon Valley Churches, and having had a lot of changes in the past few years, but if we can get it right, I think it will be hugely beneficial for all of the Churches.  The first meeting was very positive, and highlighted both the advantages and the challenges, and we’re meeting again in March to look in more detail at some of the issues we’ve identified.  So keep all of the PCCs and the simplification Group in your prayers – it will inevitably be quite a challenging process.

The second issue is the Benefice Worship Review.

The Avon Valley Churches hasn’t reviewed our pattern of worship for some years, and certainly not since the new Benefice, including Hyde, was formed just over two years ago.

At present, we are reasonably well-staffed – although 4 ¾ of the seven members of the Staff Team are volunteers, and a sixth one, Mike the curate, is time-limited.  But while we are not in crisis, now seemed to be the time to look at our pattern of Services across the seven Churches of the AVC.  Last September, this was discussed at the Avon Valley Churches Coordinating Group, the ACG, comprising Wardens and Officers from the four Parishes, and the ACG tasked the Staff Team with carrying out the Review.  We began by identifying some basic principles, and they were that our Future Pattern of Worship should be:

In October we shared these principles, and invited members of all of our congregations to respond, and about 30 people did so.  All of the very varied Responses we had can be seen on our website.

In November, the Staff Team met, reviewed all of the responses, and made some proposals which have been shared with the four PCCs, and made available to everyone else.

In December, Hyde PCC discussed in detail the proposals made in the review, broadly welcomed them, and agreed to discuss them with the congregation today – so, as you know, there will be the opportunity over coffee, and before lunch, to reflect on these in more detail.

For Hyde Church, the main proposals are that:

As we looked at the overall pattern, one of the things we were very aware of was the number of Communion Services happening at overlapping times – as Services of Holy Communion can only be led by priests.  Two of our Parishes, Breamore, and Hale & Woodgreen, already have a mix of two Communions and two Morning Services each month, and the new pattern proposes that for Hyde and Fordingbridge as well.

This pattern can only work if we are able to identify and train more Lay Worship Leaders and preachers across the four Parishes.  This is a really important part of the proposals, because if we don’t, we’ll find that the number of Services were are able to sustain will decrease over time.

We have a good tradition of Lay Worship Leading here in Hyde, but we have come to rely on the three Worship Leaders who were trained some years ago, and so now we need to identify and train some more if we want our generous pattern of worship to be sustainable in the longer term. 

So, as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, which I’ve written about in Partners over the past couple of weeks – if you missed last two week’s Partners, you can find them on the website – as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, could you think and pray about whether you might be being called to be a Lay Worship Leader or Preacher.  We’ll be running training here in the summer for the former, and the Diocese is running the one-year Bishop’s Permission to Preach Course later in the year.  Or you might be think about whether you are being called to train as a Licensed Lay Minister or for ordination.

If you think you might be being called to any of these things, or just want to know more, do have a word with any of the Ministry Team. 

And if you’re not yet ready for that, you might find the new Alpha Course, which began on Thursday, and continues for the next five weeks, might be helpful on your pilgrimage.  It’s not too late to join.

And we’ll have time to discuss the Worship Review, Lay Worship Leading, the Year of Pilgrimage, or anything else, over coffee after the Service.

As you think about these things, keep in mind my earlier point: it’s clear from the New Testament that ‘All are Called’ – each of us is called by name, and all are called to different ministries.  This ‘Year of Pilgrimage’ could be a wonderful time to reflect on our calling as Saints and Disciples here in Hyde and in the wider Church, and, really interestingly, my colleagues and I have already had three conversations in the past week with people who are feeling a vocation, a calling, to lay or ordained ministries – it’s all very exciting.

I’ll end with the Collect for the 5th Sunday after Trinity:

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people; that in their vocation and ministry each may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.   AMEN.

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