The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion      14th October 2018
Vision, Mission, Strategy
Jeremy Fletcher

A second sermon on the Vision document released on October 7 2018

The document is here

Last week, on Dedication Sunday, our new Vision, Mission and Strategy document was launched. This document is important for the present life and future direction of Hampstead Parish Church. In today’s noisy world I’m told it takes seven different types of message in seven different media to guarantee complete reach and coverage. That’s why you had it last week and why I’m returning to it this week. It’s why there has been an email for some and will be a letter for others. As faithful followers of Christ we have a challenging call to which to respond, and this, we believe, is a way of shaping and directing that response. 

We have encapsulated our purpose to be: “building an inclusive community of Christian love, faith, witness and action”. Every word counts. It speaks of us being communal, Christian, and communicating. Hampstead Parish Church is all about invitation and welcome, inclusion and growth, offering and service. That is not to say we become such activists that we collapse in a heap, but that our confidence in, and desire to know more of, the good news of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit means that we put that faith into practice in worship, discipleship and ministry.

I would like us to use this document to hold up a mirror to ourselves. A repeated word in here, for example, is ‘inclusion’, or ‘inclusive’. What does that mean to you? Of course we don’t turn anyone way. Or maybe we do. An example from another church, recently. The person welcoming ended by saying that there would be no further announcements about what to do in the service because “you can all read and the instructions are in the text”. Could everybody read? You clearly had to if you were to be included.

That doesn’t apply here. Except that it takes an enormous degree of sophistication to participate in this service, to ‘read’ our documents. We don’t announce the hymns – the numbers are in the leaflet. But if you’ve not been here before, how do you know which of the three documents with the words for worship you should be in? Maybe, once, someone complained loudly to the Vicar that they knew what hymn it was and didn’t need the Vicar to tell them. But what if the person next to you doesn’t? How do we prefer the person who isn’t included? How can that person ‘read’ the service?

That’s a very simple example. There will be deeper ones. What are the prevailing ways we relate to each other which exclude those who act differently? There’s a remarkable and courageous description of that in this month’s Magazine. Read it. Inclusion also relates to accessibility. I have said before that it is a scandal that those with physical disabilities are prevented from easily accessing areas of our worship and social space. But there are deeper aspects to this too. How do we make this good news of God accessible to those whose language differs to us, whose experience of life differs to us, whose cultural and artistic expression differs to us? What about those for whom Sunday at 10.30 is just an impossible time? 

Being passive would be to bemoan changes in society which mean church has ben relegated down a long list. Being active means believing that what we have is so precious and so vital that we will do anything to express it in ways which go beyond the patterns which have sustained us so far, and making sure that everything we do is positively accessible to those who would come. 

Literally the first verbal response I had to this leaflet was: “you’re not taking the pews out”. Nowhere does it say that I am. But everyone has a hill they would die on, that something which defines how their faith and worship and discipleship is expressed. It could be the pews. It could be the hymn book, the time of the service, where coffee is served, whether children are in or out, how much the choir sings, the language of worship, where the ministers sit, whether there is or isn’t incense, the style and volume of organ music, the quality of the sound system, the choice of choral music, whether the flowers are in oasis or vases. I think that’s covered most of the things which have been raised with me in the last 18 months. 

All are important. None are foundational. Holding on to some of them might just get in the way of our deepening mission and witness. They might certainly get in the way of our discipleship. The young man who wanted to follow Jesus in Mark’s gospel really really did, but found that the thing he wanted to hold on to most was the thing that completely got in the way. Jesus called him to examine his deepest motives. I am a member of the church, and I do have ideas and preferences, stakes to which I would go. But I will not let them get in the way of what we come to see together as the right way forward, under God. That will mean examining our values and mission and vision to see how we can then enact it, with what we have and who we have and with what and whom God will give us. 

Everything about this vision is about connecting our beliefs with how they work out. It is about not keeping this to ourselves, but ensuing that the aimless find faith, the homeless are sheltered, the stranger welcomed, the child loved, the doubter assured, the grieving comforted, the lonely loved, the sinner forgiven, injustice overturned. It is about the faith proclaimed, the building opened, the soul enriched, the heart warmed, the world cooled, the imagination transcended. If this is God, we can do no other. 

That was poetic. I rather enjoyed it. But I’m from Yorkshire, and that stuff butters no parsnips. So: what do we do now? Well…whom do you not know? Who might need a conversation at the back of church, in the pew, over coffee? Who might enjoy the Tea service this afternoon, the Literary Hour on Wednesday, or the Bible Book Club next month? Might you talk to them? Who is not included? What will you do about that? What are we prevented from doing because of finance? Can you do something about that? It’s not everyone who has to give everything. But if we believe what we believe then it affects behaviour and possessions as well as mind and spirit. 

If we have found purpose and hope in Christ, then keeping it from others is a sin. Thanks be to God that Jesus’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. Thanks be to God that here there is rest for our souls. Thanks be to God that this is the house of God and the gate of heaven. May we enable that to be accessible to all, that they may find that too. Amen. 

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