It's the last day of the year, so I guess it's a good time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the coming one.
The aftermath of the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the earthquake in Kashmir, and the destruction wrought by people in the form of war, terrorism, oppression and economics have all dominated the headlines. It's been encouraging to see a mass movement like Make Poverty History flourish, making leaders listen to the concerns of the people they serve. But how much has really changed?
This year has also seen an increase in intensity in the disagreements within the Anglican Church.
In December 2004, half-a-dozen ministry colleagues met just outside Edinburgh to pray about and discuss how we might respond to the developing conflict. We had a strong conviction that we ought to say and do nothing unless or until the public teaching of the church changed. We took the view that this would not happen. Three months later, it did, when the bishops released their statement on the 4th March, which included the statement,
'The Scottish Episcopal Church has never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry.'
The public teaching of the church, for which the bishops are responsible, had changed: the press and pressure groups around the world recognised this, and we were plunged into a confrontation not of our making. The bishops refused to withdraw their statement, leaving us with a fait accompli - same sex relationships are acceptable for church leaders and blessings, though not canonically provided for, can take place as 'pastoral care'. The church is on a trajectory where these things will eventually be totally accepted. Those of us who undertand that the Church has never permitted and that Scripture does not allow for, such relationships, are expected to simply get along, in the hope that we'll eventually 'get over it'. In the meantime, our churches continue to contribute considerable amounts of money to the central funds of an institution, with which we are in fundamental disagreement, little provision is made for our care, and there is a growing sense that what we believe about the gospel of Christ, is at odds with what the heirarchy actually believes about it.
What is clear is that this issue will not go away. Nor can we simply 'agree to disagree'. For some of us, issues of salvation are at stake. Pluriformity of Truth simply confuses. Jesus is either 'The Way the Truth and the Life', or he isn't. He transforms or he doesn't. Christianity works or it's a charade, devoid of any power. Two visions of what the faith is are present in the Church. Will only one survive?
Locally, despite time being taken up with these issues, we've seen blessing. New rooms installed in the sanctuary, membership and attendance up by almost 20%, lots of new babies (with the challenges that brings in providing care for them), and God's continued financial provision for our needs.
Nonetheless, there is more to do:
- strengthening our discipleship and service by encouraging everyone to know their gifts and using them effectively. Too many of the people attending St Silas' aren't serving in any capacity, and some of those who do, aren't wholly committed to week-on-week ministry. This hamstrings our effectiveness, and exhausts the resources of the 20% who do 80% of the work!
- growing in confidence in worship, to express our love of God, joyfully and with freedom.
- seeing prophetic and healing gifts used to encourage the Church.
- being better organised and supporting the leaders of ministries better than we have done.
- continuing to reach out to those around us with the love of God in practical ways, with our lives and our words.
- having fun together as a large church and in smaller groups.
- getting the go ahead for building a new hall, then releasing the resources to do it!
- continuing to work with churches across the city in prayer and practical ways.
This year is going to be hard work, with considerable challenge, but I also sense that it's going to be encouraging.
Some highlights of the last year:
- being in a meeting with the bishops in the General Synod office, Edinburgh, when the window blew in! Was it the Holy Spirit?
- swinging through the trees with the two oldest GadgetVicar kids at Go Ape, during a lovely week away in July.
- the joy of seeing people come to faith and blossoming.
- spending more time with our oldest friends than we have done in years.
- seeing the manky carpet in St Silas' replaced.
- people growing in confidence in prophetic ministry in the church.
- travelling a lot.
- travelling a lot.
- living in 'Pet World'.
- living with conflict.
- too many meetings.
- the year has gone too quickly (is this an age thing?)
Some personal goals for this coming year;
- to be a better preacher - making more time to prepare messages well, then deliver them with enthusiasm.
- to be a better husband and father - using time with the family to have fun and to listen more.
- to be a better leader - to invest myself more in the lives of current and rising leaders.
- to read more (better?) books.
- to be more patient with people.
I have several overseas trips in the diary with speaking engagements in the USA in January and June, as well as a possible trip to Africa in June. I was last in Africa (Zambia) in 2002, and this visit would be to West Africa, where I have never been.
I hope, in spite of my own weakness, to rely on God's strength in everything.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Happy New Year!