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Vicar's Report to the APCM

Updated: Apr 25

There are some moments in Church life which become like icons for me, richly painted and full of meaning, moments which portray much more than a casual observer may see, moments which become icons of what God has been up to at St Andrew’s.

One such moment happened this Good Friday, and seemed to sum up, to embody and encapsulate so much of what the Holy Spirit has been doing among us this past year. It happened at our All Age Worship; if you weren’t there, I’ll paint the picture for you.

Imagine 60 people gathered the Chancel of our wonderful building. 60 people from the very young to the very old. 60 people come to meet with God, to worship God, to enter into God’s story together, in company. Imagine them in a whole range of wonderful diversity, not just of age, but of gender, ethnicity, social background, neurodiversity, sexuality. Among them, adults about to be baptised and confirmed. Among them, children taking on leadership. Among them, the seeker and the certain, the grieving and the joy filled. Present were members of our pastoral visiting team and mission and outreach team.  Present were people who care for our building and sing in our choir. Present were those who join morning and evening prayer every day, and those who come to services just a few times a year.

Imagine those precious, precious people gathering and raising their voices in song. Imagine them listening to words from scripture, retelling the story of the Last Supper. Imagine then the chaos and community and profundity of them crowding to wash each other’s hands in basins of water, or kneeling and drawing round each other’s feet, as we remembered and enacted Jesus’ commandment to love one another.

Hold that image, that icon, as we look for God in the layers.

The first, fundamental, thing here is an act of worship. Everything that we do as St Andrew’s originates in and emerges from the worship of God. In our worship we meet with God; in word and sacrament and prayer and music our faith is nurtured. In worship we are challenged to see the world as God sees it, to question what we think we know, and to be reformed as we grow to know God better. In worship we receive the Holy Spirit, we are topped up so that we can go out and transform the world to resemble the Kingdom of God ever more closely. Our worship is not accidental or incidental, it is at the heart of all we do. And what you see on the surface of any act of worship at St Andrew’s is the result of a myriad of people working and planning and praying: sidespeople and welcomers, the office staff and vergers, flower arrangers, cleaners, sacristans, Church Wardens, bell ringers, servers, clergy, all age planning group, musicians, choir, Director of Music, AV and sound desk operators, intercessors, readers. Our thanks to all of them.

As Church, as Christians, our relationship with Christ comes first, and everything else is simply side effect. We forget that at our peril. Coming back to the five ships of our Mission Action Plan, if we ever, corporately, spend less time and effort and energy on Worship and Discipleship than we do on Fellowship, Kinship and Stewardship, then we have gone seriously adrift, lost direction, and need consciously to pause, reset and come back to God.

Returning to our icon of St Andrew’s and the worship on Good Friday. What else was going on there? Where else did that scene reflect where God has been at work among us?

One of the things people have remarked about to me is the growth in numbers of worshippers at St Andrew’s over the last couple of years, and that was certainly reflected at the Good Friday service - we had to plan differently from previous years to accommodate growing numbers. Almost every Sunday here it feels as though we need to add more wafers to the ciborium at the altar, and the procession of children going out to groups during the first hymn just gets longer and longer. In 2023 we saw a wonderful Confirmation in Church, with 5 candidates from St Andrew’s of incredibly different backgrounds, and it is noticeable that our Church family is getting increasingly more diverse, beginning to reflect more closely the diversity of the Parish. This diversity adds hugely to the richness of our corporate life.

Back in January 2023 St Andrew’s PCC formally signed up to become an ‘Inclusive Church.’ This means that we are part of a network of churches which celebrate and affirm every person and do not discriminate on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality. It means that as a Church family we continue to examine how we need to adapt, to change, to become a place not just of welcome, but of active inclusion, where the whole diverse people of God can find a home, are truly valued and enabled to contribute. While there is much to celebrate, there is still much to be done to ensure that the gifts and skills of every member of the church family are recognised, celebrated and utilised for the building up the body of Christ.

I must pause here and mention one particular new arrival in 2023, and that is Joseph Barnes our curate, whose gifts and skills have been recognised by the Church in ordination as Deacon, and offered and enjoyed in such full measure by us here. Joseph, it has been a joy to have you ministering among us.

The next layer in the icon of the Good Friday service, another place God was particularly at work among us in 2023, was in our engagement with the local community. There has been a subtle but deliberate shift in the way we view ourselves and St Andrew’s relationship with the community, moving from inviting people to come to us for help, to joining in where God is already at work in the world. In Autumn 2023, St Andrew’s PCC felt clear nudges from the Holy Spirit which could not be ignored, and in faith gave £25,000 to seed fund Bedford Winter Night Shelter. Rather than setting up the shelter ourselves, we joined with other Churches, agencies and charities to meet the very real and urgent needs of the people of our town. By the time the Winter Night Shelter closed its door this Spring, it had seen 130 different people find a safe, warm space to sleep. Among those worshipping on Good Friday were members of the PCC who agreed the funding, people who had cooked meals for guests at the shelter, those who had worked shifts, those who had staffed the associated Warm Room at St Paul’s Church, and staff from the King’s Arms Project itself. As we remembered Jesus’ last meal with his friends, and his commandment to serve, somehow all those who had shared meals at the shelter were made present and real too.

A Culture of Inclusion and Community Engagement were two of three priorities the PCC identified at our MAP review meeting in July. The final priority was Children’s Discipleship. This does not mean that other things are not important in our corporate life, far from it, but that these are the three areas where the PCC discerned developing charisms at St Andrew’s, to go back to this morning’s sermon, areas for development, places we need consciously and deliberately to lean in.

At our Good Friday worship were 21 children under 16. They were not observers of that act of worship. And nor was it a children’s service. At that service children read and adults read, children prayed and adults prayed, children were moved to tears by the saving act of Christ on the cross, and adults were too. Yes, toddlers wandered around, but they also knelt and drew round stranger’s feet. Yes, children lost concentration and needed a cuddle, but they also placed the hard coldness of their own sadnesses with Jesus in the tomb. Do not underestimate the faith of our young people. Those of us fortunate enough to be in the sessions for preparation for first communion, or Sunday children’s groups, or Toastie Club, know what a lively, engaged, engaging and questioning faith our young people have. This is due to Elisabeth’s extraordinary leadership, but also to Roseanne, Kelly, Christine and all of those who offer time and gifts to our children and families’ ministry. Our young people are among the most regular attenders at worship, and are leaders of mission and evangelism. They are not the Church of tomorrow, they are the Church of today. St Andrew’s is bucking every national trend in the numbers of children who are part of our Church family, and we have to take that responsibility seriously. We have to lean in.

Finally, if I may, a personal reflection on the icon we have painted together this morning. During that act of worship on Good Friday it was me who messed up. Me who ended up in the wrong place, me who said the wrong words. Me who had forgotten to do stuff. Me who was poorly prepared.  I’m not being self deprecating here, it’s simply true. And I tell you this for three reasons.

One. None of us is perfect, only God is that. So, thank you all for your grace and patience with my innumerable imperfections as I minister among you.

Two. At that service, my own imperfections were carried and covered by the team. And I am beyond grateful for everyone here who constitutes team St Andrew’s as we build the Kingdom together.

Finally. Despite the depths of imperfection, God turned up, and turned up palpably among us. As St Andrew’s we should not and must not strive to be perfect. Perfection is not an icon – it is an idol. Instead, together, in community, in chaos, in profundity, in faith, we seek only to paint within our Church an icon of Christ which the world can see and wonder at.

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