Friday, 28 November 2008

Just People

Just People - that's the title of a course that has been co-produced by Tearfund and a group called Livability , a Christian social care group based in England. Together they have produced this course to help Churches discover what their community needs and how to go about meeting these needs. It might be something we will have a closer look at in 2009.

I love the title because it can be taken in 2 ways. First of all, it can be taken to mean the kind of people that we are, that we are just people. It comes from a key verse in the Old Testament book of the prophet Micah: the prophet sees the people being very good at worship, thousands of services are being held in their 'Church' every year and lots of sacrifices and offerings are being made; but something is still not quite right. He tells the people that there are three qualities that God wants to see in His people: "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

If the Six O'Clock News or The Scotsman are to be believed we are all very concerned about our savings, our pensions and how much difference a reduction of 2½% in VAT will make to our lives. Did you know that 10 days ago we 'celebrated' World Toilet Day? No, it wasn't an excuse to spend the day on the toilet and stay at home from work, though judging by the bugs going around some of you may have done just that. No, this was a day created to raise awareness across the world that some 2.5 billion people don't have a proper toilet. For some, that means they are more prone to disease and some 5000 people a day die because of water-borne diseases; for others, especially women, they have to use places that expose them to great danger. For Christians to act justly is to be concerned for people like these, not to neglect our own financial perils, but to put them into some kind of world-wide context.

There are people nearer to home who are treated unfairly, who are victims of discrimination, who are abused and oppressed. Do we give any impression of being concerned for these people or do we leave it simply to 'political types' to get involved in STOPTHETRAFFIK campaigns and the like?

The second way of reading 'Just People' is that this is just about people. I wonder how much paper is produced by our congregation that is designed to keep the structures of Church alive. I know that we need structures and committees; we can't do without them. I know we have traditions and ways of doing things that go back a long while, but in the end the Church is people and is about people loving God and loving one another.

We have had, in Church over the last few weeks, a few young families, people who are new to the community and who have come to our Church for the first time. How well are our Church services geared for them? Do we expect a young mother to hold her child and a hymn-book at the same time, or do we simply expect that she takes the child to creche? What happens if the child won;'t settle on his own with strangers? Do we simply expect a young mum to sit in the creche with her son till the end of the service and hear very little of it? Or do we think seriously about extending the sound system into the creche room and projecting hymn words on the screens so that she can hold her child and sing at the same time? On the other hand, do we expect an elderly person who has poor eyesight simply to see something on the screen a long way off? Church is about people of all kinds and all stages and making life easier for all of these will mean different things; there is no one way that will answer this question for everyone.

If we are a Church that is centred on Christ and on people then, our concern must never be 'it's always been done that way' at all costs. Our concern must be 'how can we help all of the people to love God and walk humbly with God?

Just people - there are two huge challenges in these 2 simple words. The first is about the kind of person I am and the second is in the kind of Church we are. What does it mean for you to be a just person? How can we be a Church that focuses on helping people love God?

Answers on a postcard please...

Friday, 14 November 2008

All about Children

It's Children in Need day. I'm sure lots of people think that, in a civilised and sophisticated society like ours the need for a charity fundraising event for children should be a thing of the past. Then we read about Baby P, in Haringey, a 17 month old child who died after the most horrific abuse by those who were supposed to be looking after him. Then we read the court account of the ordeal of Shannon Matthews went missing in February as a ruse by her mother to make money; the 9-year old was found hidden in the base of the bed and by all accounts spent the time chained up.

Imagine a child...
􀂄 who knows and cares that Jesus is present with him/her and will never forsake him/her – even when the pain of life never fully goes away
􀂄 who finds that hope and the kingdom of God are not mere concepts but acts of love by those who gather her into a place of protection away from fear, war, exploitation and abuse
􀂄 with special educational needs who encounters Jesus’ unconditional love and responds with smiles and noises of joy - and becomes a worship-leader in a church
􀂄 who in spite of being mutilated by culture, religion or neglect realises that she, a girl child, has been created in the image of God – and gains hope
􀂄 who shunned by school and community because of HIV/AIDS finds Jesus’ love through the pastor walking him safely to school each day
􀂄 who has something of the Scriptures in a format that will assist her to encounter Jesus
􀂄 who although half-naked and very hungry, sleeps peacefully and safely in the shelter provided by the church
􀂄 whose regular prayer partners include adults and together they share their concerns
􀂄 who finds that Jesus can help him/her understand the difference between sinning and being sinned against, and that both of these are wrapped with healing grace and constant love
􀂄 who finds a home with God’s people: a place where (s)he wants to be and a people (s)he trusts
􀂄 who is sharing this relationship with Jesus with his/her peers and family
􀂄 whose parents are the first to introduce Jesus to her and accompany her on a journey of discovering Jesus
􀂄 who experiences with the Church what it means to know Jesus and have life in all its fullness.

These words come from a paper produced in 2004 by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. I find them an enormous challenge, but I want to say a huge 'Amen' to all of these aspirations. Here are three more sets of hopes and aspirations:

Imagine a church that …
􀂄 commits the necessary resources to reach children, 30 percent of the world’s population
􀂄 builds a ‘good news’ relationship with every child in their community
􀂄 believes that, like the biblical child Samuel, children can have a voice in their congregation
􀂄 allows children to be in the midst of its teaching, worship, evangelism and discipleship.

Imagine a world where children are …
􀂄 able to be safe, be cared for and live in hope
􀂄 given many opportunities to know and respond to the love of Jesus Christ
􀂄 encouraged to bring hope, healing, comfort and Jesus to one another
􀂄 able to be discipled no matter how diverse their family or faith background.

Imagine families that …
􀂄 move beyond healthy nurture into their God-ordained role as spiritual caregivers
􀂄 are empowered to be the models of Christian values in their communities
􀂄 are equipped to create spiritual traditions in the home.

The Bible and Christian tradition gives children a value; they are part of the kingdom of God, they are to be loved and cared for. However, that same bible and tradition has taught that they are not always to be pandered to and allowed to rule the lives of adults every moment of every day, but we also need to have our children grow up with a respect for others, for other children and for the adults who also inhabit their world.

As in so many things, there is a balance to be found; this week's stories show what happens when the balance tilts in the wrong direction.