Below are the (unedited!) notes from the rectors address at this years Annual Parochial Church Meeting. They don't reflect exactly what was said, and there are probably all sorts of spelling mistakes as they were primarily intended to be notes rather than a verbatim script. However hopefully they give a sense of some of the meeting.
It’s important to begin on a note of thanks. Together we form a part of the body of Christ here in Southchurch and we very much need each other.
It’s always very dangerous to single specific people out, but I must extend huge thanks to Philip and Les - two outstanding churchwardens; Linda who continues to work tirelessly for the parish in more ways than I could possibly know; Fr Frank for the countless ways his ministry brings God’s blessing to this church; Paul our fantastic treasurer who has guided us through often complex financial waters with grace and skill; for Roger who brings such much to our worship week in and week out..
However, there are two specific groups of people that I would particularly like to thank this morning.
Firstly to all those people who do jobs, both big and small, but rarely get thanked for them. Those who clean the brass, or man open church, or do the flowers, or pray for various aspects of church, who support services and events. and so on and so on. You may not always be publicly thanked, but your contributions and noticed and valued immensely.
Second, thanks to the people “at home” who miss time with a family member because they’re helping to serve the church. I’m thanking people like Claire, or Faith, or June, because the church asks a lot of them too, and it’s rarely thanked or recognised.
And now I’m going to be radical. You’re expecting me to sum up all of the different things that happened last year - to talk about all the successes and so on. But I’m not going to do that.
Instead I’m going to make two observations.
First, as I look around Holy Trinity there’s one thing that has struck me over and over again in the time I’ve been here. It’s something I think we all need to be clear on and it’s going to be vital when thinking about what the future looks like at here.
There was a question we reflection upon when we did Christianity Explored a while ago, but I think it bears repeating - if you turn up at the pearly gates, and St Peter says to you ‘why should I let you into heaven?’ - what would you say? There are many answers we could give - church attendance, service for the church, baptism, having tried my best, being a good person, being better than others. And we answer that way because that's the way the world thinks.
But that’s not the way of the gospel.
The gospel says - none of those reasons are good enough, in front of a perfect God. And I think that’s where some people are ‘stuck’ - knowing they’re not good enough, or maybe hoping against the odds that they might be.
In a way, knowing that we’re not good enough is the first part of the answer. But there is a second half.
Nothing we could say to answer that question based on ourselves is good enough for God. The answer is simply - Jesus. I trust in what he has done. As St Paul writes, ‘while we were sinners, Christ died for us’. When we stand at the pearly gates, we point not at ourselves but at what Jesus has done - that he died to rescue us, and ‘open the gate of heaven’. There’s nothing more we can add to this, no trying hard, no uncertainty about whether we’ll be good enough. It seems too good to be true. Too easy, so unfamiliar and so undeserved. And yet it is the truth that lies at the very heart of the Christian faith - it’s what scripture calls grace.
If we don’t have our heads round this, then often coming to church, supporting things, and being involved, can feel like a duty. Whereas the more we understand how much God has done for us in rescuing us, the more what we do becomes a response to that. It flips coming to church on its head - we don’t come to please God, or serve because we ought - rather everything that happens here and everything we do in the community becomes a thankful response to what God has already done for us.
I wonder what this church would look like if everybody here today grasped that their future is entirely safe with God? For me, that’s the most fundamental question about the future of Holy Trinity.
If you remember nothing else about our ministry here, let it be this message of grace. It’s not new service sheets, or that Easter sermon where I ate a daffodil. All of that’s just decoration. It’s the truth that when God looks at you, he delights in you. That’s not just true for a few perfect holy people - he’s given you a gift freely, and I fear too many of us here are still trying to learn how you earn it.
So that’s the first thing I wanted to mention - and it’s really fundamental to our faith and to our understanding of church.
The second observation is that, as you begin to look forward towards where the church is going over the next few years, I think there’s a similarly core idea which might be helpful to keep in mind. It’s not for me to set out specific priorities and activities for the church for the coming year, as might be usual in an APCM address. When you start thinking about ‘what next’ it can seem like quite a complicated and overwhelming question. But God has clearly set out what he wants the church to do, in the two great commandments - loving him, and loving our neighbour.
Whatever the specifics in terms of plans and priorities, thinking about it through the lens of the two great commandments means the priorities of any church should be:
(i) Firstly, developing personal faith and discipleship. In the past couple of years we’ve done this through starting a bible study group, through Lent courses, through a variety of people being prepared for confirmation and so on.
(ii)Secondly, bringing other people in. We talk a lot about “reaching out” and “sharing the love of God with our community”. We talk about that far too casually and far too generically. But what can we do to draw people into church and share with them the truth that we know? For us that’s been things like continuing to have a thriving coffee morning, opening church for three days a week, September family fun days, and then just this morning we’ve heard a a new money management course starting in June - again more details in the booklet.
As you anticipate a period of interregnum, I would encourage you to think about the future through the lens of these two priorities - knowing God better, and helping other get to know Him.
I’ve outlined some of the things going on which have been about us trying to serve these two aims. The question for you now is how to build on and develop these. What’s really made a difference? What’s not worked? Where are the things to continue and move forward with - who can step forward to lead those - and where are there gaps where we’re not moving forward in these areas.
Please don’t hear that as something daunting or scary. The message of the gospel is that God has already given us the victory and he’s already given this church everything it needs.
And so, in these of Easter I’d like to conclude with these words from Jesus, commissioning his church, just before his ascension.
‘Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’