St James's Church, Hampton Hill

St James's Mission Action Plan: 2013-2016

St. James's Church

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Read St James's Mission Action Plan 2013-16

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom…
…a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way…

So goes part of our reading today from the Book of Isaiah – some of which, at least, will go back to the prophet Isaiah himself, some eight centuries before Christ. Writing against a background of constant threat from other nations and peoples, the prophet gives us a riot of images – dry land rejoicing, flowers blossoming, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, burning sand becoming a pool of water – and in the midst of this a holy way, God’s path for his people through the wilderness. It’s inspiring – and an apt choice for Advent as we look for Christ to come: both remembering his first coming, but also looking ahead to what is still to come. That emphasis is there in the second reading from the Letter of James; and also in the Gospel reading from Matthew. There we have John the Baptist in prison and he is wondering, hoping, that Jesus is the longed for servant of God who will restore the fortunes of God’s people in the Holy Land. Jesus speaks in a way reminiscent of Isaiah:
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
This is good, hopeful Advent stuff.

It was in Advent that 150 years ago on Wednesday just gone, this church was consecrated – set apart with prayer – and it was a joy last Sunday to welcome the Bishop of London, ‘Richard our bishop’ whom we pray for each Sunday, to be with us. In his sermon, Bishop Richard spoke of what had happened in 1863 – amongst other things, the first section of the Tube was opened, and the Red Cross and Football Association were founded. He said that the Church needs to recover the right sort of confidence, practise compassion, and be open to creativity. So close to Christmas, the bishop reminded us of God’s generosity seen in Jesus, and the way in which he embodies God’s plan for humanity. He calls people into self-giving love. The bishop concluded:
"The two thousand years since the birth of Christ can be viewed as a dreary round of greed and violence, deaf to the love-song of the angels. But there is an energy in the world which flows from the generosity of God who, when he communicated, came in person to draw us into his way of compassion. He is the hope of the world. He is the hope which you determined should be visible on Hampton Hill."

So with hope paramount as we move through this season and to Christmas, you are being given a copy of the new Mission Action Plan for St James’s, worked on by the Parochial Church Council, and offered now, indicating our priorities for the next three years. What is a Mission Action Plan? Very simply, it is a tool – a means to an end. For a very long time churches simply did what they did, because that is what they did, and sometimes seemed to have little awareness of a changing world around them. Some twenty years ago, though, the then Bishop of London urged the churches of London not simply to react to events, but to plan for the future. Reacting to what happens to crop up is the way to despair, but planning for the future shows hope. So this church has done this for at least the last twenty years, and no doubt did so before that, too, but it embraced Mission Action Plans and has had one ever since.

So what does the Parochial Church Council, the PCC, offer in hope today? Do please take the MAP away and read it for yourself. You will see what we have done since the last MAP was drawn up. So I want to refer to what will come next. Following the broad shape of the vision that Bishop Richard has drawn up for the whole diocese, our MAP has three sections: Confident, Compassionate and Creative.

Confident. Why? Our fundamental confidence is in what God has done in Jesus. As a church we shouldn’t be reticent about this. We have the best possible news to share. To that end, our Exploring Christianity course will be an annual event – it was great that around 40 people attended one or more of the sessions this autumn. In the spring, we’ll take a look at how we can follow up the contacts we make for baptisms – why? Because there’s something good here, and it’s not just a once only event. We’ll also look at how we can tell some good news stories in our services – confident that they exist, and confident that they will inspire people. Confidence is an expression of hope.

Compassionate. Do I need to explain why, as a church, we should be compassionate? Food banks have sadly become necessary, and are growing. The MAP says that we would explore supporting one in the spring – well, we’ve started now for Christmas. Also, compassion is shown through our continued support of a variety of charities. Compassion is also an expression of hope.

Creative. We want to do something for children moving on from ‘The Ark’ and we will set up a group to look at our all-age worship. There are examples around of considerable creativity both within our church community, but also further afield. And we’ll hold additional services where there is a particular need, and building on our experience of this anniversary year – not least by continuing with a service on New Year’s Eve. Creativity, too, is an expression of hope.

There’ll doubtless be more than you have in the Mission Action Plan. Yet looking forward with confidence, compassion and creativity gives a sense of the direction of travel at St James’s. It takes seriously, and is thankful for, the past, but does not have us living in the past or ruled by it. That is not the spirit of Advent or the spirit of those who, a century and a half ago, formed a church here. Our local actions are carried out within the context of the wider Church in London, and throughout the world. The whole Church has the same hope – a vision of what God yearns to do for the world in Jesus, opening up a highway in the wilderness. That wilderness may be the life of an individual, a community, a nation – whatever it is, there the hope is that from the thirsty ground will come springs of water. Can you or I imagine that, see that in our own life, in the lives of others around, in the local community, in our families, in this city and nation, and even in the most awful and terrible conflicts on this planet? Let me be personal about this. I am, by temperament and good fortune, an essentially positive and happy person. I know I’m fortunate in that. Yet I felt severely shaken as I sat back in February by the Sea of Galilee watching the sun rise at dawn. I thought I should be thinking ‘This is where Jesus walked and taught.’ I was actually looking across the lake to the hills on the other side, and recalling that until 1967 they were part of Syria. And just some 12 miles away was the current Syrian border. Twelve miles from this oasis of peace all hell had broken loose. I felt almost overwhelmed by this, and a sense of my own impotence. Yet something, somewhere – I think God – said to me that this wouldn’t do. If I meant anything of what I had been saying in sermons for over twenty years, and expressing in the Church’s liturgy, I couldn’t lose hope. I had to find ways to make a difference in the hope that, indeed, the wilderness could rejoice. Now this is the spirit with which I try to exercise my ministry as a priest. It’s based on hope, not optimism, and I think, too, that it’s the spirit of the new Mission Action Plan. This is not naïve hope, but it is firm hope, patient hope, yearning hope. I commend it to you.

I finish with the prayer that accompanies the vision for the diocese:
"Generous God,
you have called us to be salt and light in this great city;
Guide us by your Holy Spirit to discern your will for your Church
as we seek to follow your Son Jesus Christ in loving and serving our neighbours.
Give us the wisdom and strength to fulfil the vision you put before us
and help us to play our part in transforming our earthly city into a sign of the Heavenly Jerusalem
where you live and reign, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God now and for ever.

The above is Revd Vannozzi's sermon that introduced the Mission Action Plan 2013-2016 on 15 December 2013.

St James's Church
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
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