Sermon: Christ the Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 – Launch of the Partnership Action Plan

Gary’s sermon at Woodgreen (10.00a.m.)and Fordingbridge (6.30p.m.)

To see the Partntership Action Plan – click here: AVP Action Plan 7.4

Readings:

A.m.: Rev 1:4b-8, Jn 18:33-37

P.m.: Ps 72:1-7, Dan 5, Jn 6:1-15

LAUNCH OF OUR pMAP – A CALL TO PRAYER AND ACTION

Lord God, take my words and speak through them,
take our minds and think through them,
take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

How are your Christmas puddings coming along? I only ask as today is often called ‘Stir-up Sunday’, from the words of the Prayer Book Collect for today, [which is also today’s Post Communion Prayer]: ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ That’s a call to prayer and a call to action.

So, if we’ve not yet stirred up our Christmas puddings, then we need to get on with it! If we’ve not stirred up our wills to bring ‘forth the fruit of good works’, then we need to get on with that, too.

More importantly, in terms of our Lectionary and our worship this morning, it is the Feast of Christ the King, one of the more recent Festivals of the Church’s year.

The Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in a Papal Encyclical, and was kept on the last Sunday of October – the Sunday before All Saints’ Day. In 1970, Pope Paul VI moved it to the last Sunday of the Church’s year, today, immediately before the Sundays of Advent. From there it became a part of the Common Lectionary, used by most of the Churches of the West, including Roman Catholics, Methodists, and, since the late 90s, the Church of England and other Anglican Churches. When we hear our readings on a Sunday [morning], we are listening to the same readings as are being used in most of the Churches of Western Christendom – that’s a lot of people all focusing on the same passages of Scripture!

Thinking about Stir-up Sunday and the Feast of Christ the King and the start of Advent next Sunday has made me reflect on the moods of the different parts of the Church’s Year. Lent, for example, tends to be a more introspective season, and Easter a more exuberant. Epiphany has a focus on light, and the manifestation of Christ to the world, while the long season of Trinity emphasizes the slow, almost hidden, processes of growth and formation.

And at this time of the year, as we move into Advent, the focus is on prayer and action. ‘Be alert at all times, praying that you may have…strength’ [Lk 21:36], we’ll hear in next Sunday’s Gospel. And ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ [Lk 3:4] the week after. And our Advent hymns urge us to ‘Hark! The glad sound, the Saviour comes’, and so on.

It’s a time of the year when we are urged to focus on prayer and action. ‘Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord’ [CW Post Communion, Christ the King].

And so this seemed like a good opportunity to launch our Partnership Action Plan – which is itself a call to prayer and action – and you’ll all be given copies of the Action Plan in a few minutes.

I feel like I’ve been living and breathing Action Plans for the past two years! Last year it was the dMAP, the Deanery Mission Action Plan. After quite a long process last year, it was accepted by the Deanery Synod in October 2014, and that formed the basis for the pMAPs, the Parish, or in our case, Partnership, Mission Action Plans.

Let’s just look at those words briefly first. Partnership – it didn’t take us too long to decide that we wanted a Partnership Plan, and not three individual Parish Action Plans – although you’ll see that in the pMAP, there are actions for each of the Parishes individually, as well as actions for the Partnership as a whole. Although our three Parishes and six Churches are all very different, and have different needs, our overall resources of people and finance and so on are shared – it didn’t seem right to the pMAP Group and the PCCs to be setting Action Plans for the Parishes without any regard to what was going on elsewhere in the Partnership – so, a Partnership plan it is.

And it’s a Mission Action Plan – it’s about our calling as the people of God in these places, and what we are going to do about that calling. What sort of Church is God calling us to be, and what sort of people do we need to be to fulfil that calling?

And it’s a Mission Action Plan – it does require us to do something about it if the whole exhausting process is not going to be a waste of time. In fact, it won’t be a waste of time, because some things in the Plan have started already, just because we’ve been talking and praying about them,

And some people have asked, ‘Why do we need a Plan at all?’ Surely, things just happen. This is a little clichéd, but it has been said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! This isn’t a business plan in the commercial sense – this is a Plan born out of listening – in fact, it’s born out of a process of Triple Listening – listening to God, to each other, and the communities we serve. So each of the words in the title is important – it’s a Partnership – Mission – Action – Plan!

And the process by which it came into being is outlined on p.8 of this week’s bumper edition of Partners.

Just going back a step: three years ago the new Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, in his Enthronement Sermon, outlined his vision for the Church in the Diocese. He said he hoped and prayed for a Church which would be ‘Living the Mission of Jesus’. And he suggested three dimensions of that vision:

That was the start of the pMAP Process.

Two years ago, the Diocesan Synod Conference spent a few days thinking about what that might all mean for us, and arrived at four Strategic Priorities:

And that led to the dMAP and pMAP Process, which is very simple – Review, Plan, Act.

Review – the triple listening process I’ve already mentioned – listen to God, to each other, to the wider community.

Plan – Who is God calling us to be, and what is he calling us to do to serve him, to grow disciples, to change the world, and to live generously and thankfully?

Act – Get on with it. And you’ll see from the pMAP Process that the Act Phase begins today, although, in fact, some of the actions have begun already.

So, when you get your copy of the Action Plan – and I hope you’ll read it prayerfully and carefully – when you get it you’ll find an introductory page, saying what it’s all about, followed by four sections, based on the four strategic priorities. And then a list of actions – for the Partnership, and for the individual Parishes and Churches. The actions are about how we grow as people of faith, how we reach out to others to invite them to join the journey of faith, how we serve our communities and about how we live generously with what we have. There are actions in each of those four areas.

Each time the PCCs meet, we will consider the pMAP, and see where we have got to, and what needs to be done next. But the Actions are not just the responsibility of the PCCs – they are the responsibility of us all. As you read the Action Plan, perhaps you can pray about what actions God is calling you to take as you continue to follow him in faith. It is good Advent reading, at this time of the year when we are being called to prayer and to action. AMEN.

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