All posts by Admin

Latest Service Liturgies

The latest service liturgies can be found below and on our resources page.

Agape Meal

Communion and Agape – shortened – Debts (2)

The changes are are small and incremental. Over time, through repetition, you hear the flow of the language differently and have the chance to make adjustments.

The liturgies are include both the traditional and also, hopefully, the explain and express the particular emphases of a NYNO meal.

People are welcome to use these sheets. If you have alternative liturgies we’d be very interested to see them, or if you have thoughts about the inclusion of different material that would be great too.

Planning for the Future, Factoring in the Present

A NYNO service, as we’ve been developing and practising them in Stockethill, Aberdeen doesn’t look like your average contemporary church service, in the Church of Scotland or elsewhere.

If you were looking for family friendly, modern innovation, perhaps you might expect charismatic leadership, contemporary worship music and plenty of audio-visual elements. Instead, in our services, you’d just see people, apparently repeating words and occasionally stopping to sing a hymn from yesteryear.

There is a lot of scope for NYNO services to look differently to the way they do for us at the moment. We don’t claim to have the best way of doing things. What we do have though, is a commitment to finding solutions that are reproducible and sustainable, that do not require the contributions of a minister (but which leave space for them if they are available), and that go out of their way to make worship multi-generational at its heart.

There is a problem, though, in developing solutions to very real problems when those problems are not recognized by others. It’s like asking someone who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change to walk to work rather than take the car. Why would you deny yourself the company of your peers (if you are in the first half of your life, the chances are that most of your peers won’t be joining you in a NYNO congregation), why would you fore-go modern music (there’s no innate reason why a NYNO congregation shouldn’t enjoy great music, but practically speaking we haven’t been able to develop that here yet), why might you use a liturgy to guide your worship (wouldn’t a charismatic preacher/teacher be so much more inspiring)?

There is an innate challenge to working in a NYNO congregation, especially a young undeveloped one.  Many of our guiding principles do not readily produce an accessible, immediate and emotional payoff. Developing a NYNO congregation can be immensely rewarding, but you will be required to see possibilities and opportunities where others might see outdated or irrelevant spiritual practices. The challenge is constantly to keep our principles in place and to be creative.

It doesn’t seem easy to convince people to make a sacrifice unless the reward is just round the corner. Convincing people to come to a NYNO congregation rather seems like asking them to become a Christian. But, perhaps that is how it should be.

 

 

Principles and Process

Working Towards the Ideal Congregation

NYNO is very much an idea as much as it is anything else. It’s an idea inspired by Scripture, by the situation that the Church and society finds itself in at this point in time in the UK.

Briefly, the idea is that full expressions of church can exist that recognize the needs of its older members and therefore places them at the centre of their congregations. We believe doing this can be good for every generation that participates in such a congregation. We hope as well that any church that lives in this way will be better equipped to witness to the world, living in a way that speaks against the separation of old and young and that points to the wisdom of Christ centred community in the present and the hope of the redemption of all things in the future.

This idea can be both inspiring and intimidating. Again and again, we have seen people respond with enthusiasm when we describe what we hope to do and why we are doing it. Equally, we have encountered uncertainty as to how such a ‘perfect’ idea could ever become a practical reality. How, for instance, could a church survive without a dedicated minister; where will the youth come from; is there enough teaching?

There are one hundred and one practical questions that are unresolved by the simple idea and most of these issues will need to be resolved in the unique location and community in which you hope to see a church grow.

And yet, we’re not worried and we don’t think you should be either. Church planting with NYNO will be a process. The ideal, diverse aged, autonomous congregation, a spiritual home for all involved, will not spring into life immediately. It will require patient leadership, that holds onto the ideals of NYNO while making one change at a time, at each stage inviting the congregation to participate. That leadership (a team, I would expect) will have to be stubbornly singled minded when it comes to the ideas, the principles of NYNO. At the same time, it will have to be gracious and patient, recognizing that people will take time to understand the what we are aiming for. It will also have to have faith, realizing that there will be problems that won’t have an immediate solution that needs to communicated gently to the congregation. Together we will have to pray our way forward, always holding onto the end goal believing that God has given us this, even while the path that leads there remains bewilderingly winding.

Bosch on Missio Dei

Bosch, Witness to the World (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1980)

Missio Dei is an oft used phrase in popular missiology. It can be hard, though, to pin down its significance. The ‘mission of God’ is definitely repeatedly as an introductory justification that missiology should be an essential topic of conversation for the Church and that the practice of mission should be an essential action of the Church. Used in this manner, it is treated as a form of theological shorthand. The actual workings that lay out why these things are so are left unexplained. Such has been my experience, anyway.

Bosch offers a fairly compact ten pages, the conclusion to the book, on this topic. The context of his thoughts is a two pronged correction to both evangelical and ecumenical missiology. He argues first (Ch. 19) that evangelical missiology has risked using an unhelpful dualism where salvation history is divorced from world history. This has led to a passivity in the face of injustice meted out to others. In contrast, the Church must realize that Christ is the head of the Church and the cosmos, and following the example of her saviour must take up her cross in identification with the outcast. Against ‘ecumenical’ theology, he insists on the distinctiveness of the Church from the world (Ch. 20). The Church can only be apostolic if she is different in her being from the world. She must maintain that God’s judgement is not ours, that the cross remains at the heart of our life together and our proclamation, that our political actions will be fallible and that the kingdom will be made present to the world in signs and not in fullness until Christ returns. Mission is therefore an eschatological event (Ch. 21), seeking to see the kingdom come on earth now, aware that our actions can only provide signs of that kingdom. Communal church life in the present is a life filled by God’s presence (Ch. 22), waiting and witnessing, identifying with the hopeless while yet never losing hope.

Bosch’s explanation of missio dei is set out as an alternative to these two limited approaches. It is worth reflecting on this. Although Bosch’s presentation of missio dei ostensibly comes from first principles, so to speak, he is still offering his alternative to two failed approaches to missio dei. Given this, simply importing missio dei as presented here should be done with caution, until we’re convinced that we are not, in doing so, responding to a problem (evangelicals and ecumenical missiologies at loggerheads thirty-five years ago) that is not our pressing concern.

In outline then, Bosch offers missio Dei (God’s mission) because mission begins with God. The Word and Spirit are ‘missionaries’ of God in creation and redemption, being sent to the world.

Although Aquinas (?) may have used missio with respect to the sending of the Son by the Father and the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son, this is not obviously the basis for the modern use of the term. Only in the early to mid- twentieth century did mission become explicitly linked to trinitarian theology. Having said this, I should add, the precise link is rarely explicated.

Barth’s connection to all of this is important. He is frequently argued to be an advocate for this form of theology but, again, rarely with a description of what he said. Bosch here is not guilty of that. There is to be no ‘speculative interpretation of a foundation of mission on the Trinity’. Instead, Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection are events of particular historical involvement. It is in these events that we learn of the nature of the Trinity, and indeed that God is ‘a missionary God’. [A curious phrase, monotheistically speaking.]

In Christ’s actions we discover a new dimension to God’s concern for the world, and his actions are therefore to be definitive for ours. Here our saviour is revealed, and we are not to look elsewhere for alternative revelations of God’s will. The role of the Spirit does not diversify our missiology, providing an alternative mode of God’s concern for the world, but rather further specifies that the Church’s life, in the Spirit of Christ, is to be shaped by Christ: “As the Father sent me…” (Jn 20:21). The Spirit’s role is two-fold, inward and outward, setting us apart that we might then be witnesses to the world.

Bosch complains of a diluting of missio Dei. Mission does not now become a human responsibility to the degree that it ceases to be God’s work. The kingdom remains God’s work, wrought by him. Missionary ‘success’ is therefore never to be the criterion by which we judge mission. To the extent that we view the world as perfectible through our actions, we lose sight of the missio Dei. But equally, we cannot be passive. Because God’s kingdom has dawned, we cannot be resigned to the way things are. We are to pray, ‘thy kingdom come’, and therefore we are to act, believing we can make difference, knowing we must wait for the final day.

Bosch concludes by claiming that the Church owes the world faith, hope and love. She is to be herself, faithful to her head, and so she will worship, live and serve as Christ did for her.

As a brief postscript, I can see nothing dramatically wrong with Bosch’s presentation. At the same time, the basing of missiology in the Trinity and therefore in the revealed acts of God in Christ leads us directly to considering ecclesiology in direct connection with missiology. We are not at liberty to speculate about the life of the Trinity and to see analogy in political action, nor are we justified by this bare statement to claim to see God in the world and to pursue these things with scant regard to the Church. Instead we are directed to the ascending Christ, and the sending of the Spirit upon the Church. Missiology and ecclesiology can not, responsibly, be considered apart from one another. Both are to be derived from Christology and Pneumatology and therefore (and only therefore) from the Trinity. This is not presuppose a particular ecclesiology.  It is not to advocate for a reactionary attitude towards our institutions. What it is is many things, not the least of which is that the life of the kingdom in the Spirit of Christ is communal.

Consumerist Church Leaves People Behind

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), p. 35-36

Consumerism appears to affect the church and society equally.

The author talks about the Church being made from an ‘impossible combination’ of varied styles and churchmanship, within which there are diverse personalities, cultures and interests. The argument is given that diversity and accessibility to this wide range of people cannot be sustained through one single style as modelled by a single minister, or congregation, or parish. Diversity within the Church and outside of the Church means that there is an infinite number of combinations – as many as there are people – and that therefore different churches can meet the needs of different people. Fresh Expressions of Church that locate themselves in networks of people are therefore well positioned to provide appropriate discipleship for ‘their’ people.

We are worried, though. It seems as though the state of affairs described above, inside the Church and outside of it, is well suited to a consumerist attitude of the Christian towards Church. By this we mean that the Christian can choose the church that suits, whether it be high, low, conservative or progressive. Similarly, church planters seek to create churches that are easily accessible to particular networks of people – as opposed to a geographically defined group of people – in society. For example, church for shoppers, pub or gym users, or even remote control enthusiasts (Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), pp. 42-43). In both cases, church risks losing its catholicity and we fear that this has unintended consequences.

As an illustration, consider this familiar and unpleasant scenario from most of our school days. It’s a P.E. lesson and the class is lined up in the gym. Two captains are elected by the teacher. One pupil at a time is chosen by the captains to form their team. We all know who gets chosen first. Unfortunately, we also know who would be chosen last, or, even worse, not chosen at all and by default left to make up the numbers on the other team.

A consumerist approach to church, whereby we choose the church that suits, or create churches that fit into self-selected networks of people, almost inevitably means that someone gets left behind.

In choosing our church we divide from others we don’t like. We see other Christians and churches as less than desirable. Rather than facing up to our differences and loving those who are different from us, consumerist church allows us to separate ourselves.

In creating churches based in self-selecting networks of people, we risk giving up on the call of God to identify with the ‘least’ of His children. We risk building churches with people who feel comfortable with one another, but which have nothing to do with those outside the network.

From NYNO’s perspective, there seemed to be little mission, few church plants that thought there was any hope for the Church to be found amongst older people. No one was ‘picking’ them; they were left behind. Once we started to think hard about what form of church was best suited to them, we quickly realised that a church for older people would just be compounding the problem. What this part of society needed was not their own church, but rather a church, diverse in age and experience, to embrace them as essential members of God’s society.

Julie and Matthew

Reflections on Mission-Shaped Church (1)

The following is the first of a series of posts, consisting of our thoughts and reflections as we read Mission-Shaped Church (Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004)). This isn’t an attempt to offer a thorough-going review, but rather a chance for us to order our own thoughts for NYNO.

A question about our changing society and culture (pp. 6-7)

The report suggests that our society has changed, so that whereas we formerly found our community within a geographically defined area, now we look for our community to a greater extent within ‘networks’ – relationships found with others who share aspects of our lifestyle (leisure, work, friendships). Is it possible that these networks have always to some extent existed? Is what we are experiencing not a transference of our community allegiance from the local to the lifestyle, but instead a reduction of it?

Further, are these networks the basis of lifelong commitments, or rather temporary arrangements? What happens if our we attempt to build churches in a community that is inherently unstable?

The report advocates that the church prioritise the poor (p. 7). The report also notes that the poor are more likely to retain relationships that are locally geographically bounded. This is because of the influence of tertiary education and the cost of transport (pp. 2-3). If so, is it the case the fresh-expressions based on ‘networks’ are predominantly middle-class. Further, is this a reason to question whether ‘networks’ are a good place to look to build church? The report advocates ‘engagement’ with networks as ‘a change in the structure of community’ (p. 7). Could this be just as ‘corrosive’ to the church as the lack of commitment in society that it also diagnoses?

In the questions for discussion, the report speaks about people being “‘consumers’ of faith and religion” and urges that the church challenge such attitudes. Is it not possible that churches built upon or within ‘network’ communities based on shared aspects of our lifestyles will be inherently consumerist?

Concluding Thought

Basing a church on any pre-existing community risks building on shifting sands. ‘Networks’ may be ephemeral, but local familial relationships do not necessarily provide a solid basis for a church community. Christ calls us to leave father and mother, and so the church will have to call people to – and falteringly be a model of – Christ’s commitment to us. This looks more incongruous in a community based essentially on the similar consumerist choices of its members, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that commitment to Christ and each other transcends our ‘natural’ preferences.

Julie & Matthew

Hosting a NYNO Meal

Here’s a little how-to when it comes to the practicalities of hosting a NYNO meeting centred around a meal.

Some Basic Principles

Keep Things Special and Simple

We want to keep our breakfast gatherings as special as possible but also as simple to prepare as possible. For us, it meant a couple of loaves of homemade bread with butter and jam, and tea and coffee. Of course, you can use your own recipes, but we’ve included some of the ones we’ve used below in case you find that helpful.

If there is a suitable oven in or close to the meeting area, doing some baking on the day creates some wonderful smells. Practically speaking we have found it sensible to do as much preparation as possible before we arrive, and then perhaps have one thing prepared, ready to pop in the oven during the hour before the meeting. Of course, if you had people who wanted to get together early and bake on the day that could be fun! Just so long as it doesn’t become a chore and people’s service doesn’t begin to displace our participation in worship as the most important thing.

Seating

We’ll discuss liturgy in another place. But here it’s enough to say that how we sit together matters. We always try to give the impression of everyone sat round one table. Practically we can’t actually do this but we attempt to arrange what tables we have in something of a circle, with everyone seated around the outside. Here’s a diagram to illustrate.

The blue squares are square dining tables, the yellow squares dining chairs. We arrange four of these tables into one large table at each end of the room and place dining chairs around three sides of the large table so that people are facing inwards to the room.

The red tables are are low coffee tables around which we place comfy arm chairs (green squares).

It’s more important to us that people should be aware of being sat round a table together than that they should be able to hear a speaker. Our meeting is more about emphasizing the participation of the people than the performance of the preacher.

Preparation

To set up with normally arrive an hour before the beginning of the meeting. This allows enough time to set out the seating, do any baking

Each table setting has a plate, cup and saucer, knife, and serviette, along with the liturgy.

For a breakfast of up to 30 people:

  • One packet of butter, cut into cubes and served in small dishes.
  • One jar of jam, served in small dishes
  •  About 2 pints of milk for teas and coffees, in four little milk jugs.
  • A couple of sugar bowls, but we find that very few people take sugar in their     beverages.
  • A packet of fresh, ground coffee which last us 2 meetings. We make two large     cafetieres of coffee and four pots of tea.

We have clusters on the tables consisting of a plate of bread; milk jug, sugar bowl and teaspoons; butter and jam servings. They serve about 5-6 people. They should be in easy reach, and people are encouraged to serve one another. At the appropriate time, teapots and cafetieres are brought through from the kitchenette and again, we serve each other.

The Meal

The liturgy we’ve been using will be discussed elsewhere, in brief outline though the meal goes as follows. Before we eat, we say grace together. As we share breakfast, we enjoy fellowship with one another. At this point, we also offer around little forms and give people space to write down any items for prayer. Our meal is drawn to a focus point by taking all the items for prayer to God before one another in silent prayer. We say the Lord’s Prayer together and sing a final hymn. We bring our meeting to a close by speaking aloud the benediction to one another.

Time disappears during a meal! But we strive to keep the whole meeting to about 45 minutes. That way people stay longer because they want more breakfast, or to talk to one another and not because the service is dragging on …

Afterwards, we have found that people are very keen to stay and enjoy further fellowship. We are always inundated with people willing to help with the clear-up, dish-washing and drying, and taking leftovers home!

Two Recipes

Irish soda bread

Here’s a recipe for a simple soda bread. It’s fine to make the day before and bring to the meal pre-sliced. It’s a recipe by James Martin and can be found at bbc.co.uk/food .

Ingredients

  • 170g/6oz self-raising wholemeal flour
  • 170g/6oz plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 290ml/½ pint buttermilk

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6.
  2. Tip the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir.
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, mixing quickly with a large fork to form a soft dough. (Depending upon the absorbency of the flour, you may need to add a little milk if the dough seems too stiff but it should not be too wet or sticky.)
  4. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.
  5. Form into a round and flatten the dough slightly before placing on a lightly floured baking sheet.
  6. Cut a cross on the top and bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

We find that 3-4 loaves is plenty for around 25-30 people to have a couple of thick slices each.

Hot Cross Buns

Here’s a recipe for Hot Cross Buns, that worked so well on Easter Day, we may have to do it again before long. It was based on the recipe here.

It worked well to largely prepare this the night before, leaving the buns on trays in the fridge over night, covered in clingfilm. I took them out of the fridge for a gentle second rising first thing in the morning. They’re ideal to bake just before a meeting because they only take 12 minutes and so have time to cool down before icing, ans also because they reate an impressive aroma.

  • 240 ml of whole milk
  • 2 packages dry yeast (5 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup (115g) currants
  • Zests from 1 orange and 1 lemon or 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup (110g) sugar
  • 4 cups flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 500 grams by weight
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 140 grams of cold butter, cut in small bits
  • Additional flour for kneading
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  1. PROOF the YEAST In a small dish, heat milk in microwave about 1 minute to 105F – 115F. Gently stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. SOAK the CURRANTS In a small bowl, whisk egg and yolk well. Stir in currants and zests. Set aside.
  3. MIX the DOUGH In large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices and salt. With fingertips, blend butter into flour until a coarse meal forms (I’ve use the food processor for this stage). Make well in center, pour in yeast and currant mixtures. Blend thoroughly with hands, then form into ball and transfer to lightly floured counter. (Don’t worry, the dough will be sticky. If it starts off too sticky to knead on the counter, just knead it right in the bowl.) Knead 10 minutes, adding as little flour as possible, just enough to work dough without any stickiness when the kneading is done.
  4. FIRST RISE Transfer dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, first rubbing the dough mass against the bowl to lightly coat all sides with oil. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. FORM BUNS & SECOND RISE With a fist, gently deflate dough. Cut into 30 pieces. I cut the dough into 6 and divide from there. Form buns and arrange on two or three baking non-stick baking trays. If you’re preparing the night before, cover gently with cling film and place in fridge.
  6. BAKE Preheat oven to 200º C (180º in a fan oven). Bake for about about 12 minutes.
  7. ICING. The icing can be prepared the night before and kept in the fridge. If it’s too stiff to pipe in the morning, place it in a microwave for 2 or 3 seconds – no more. For the icing, blend a tablespoon of melted butter with 2 tablespoons warm milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir in about 250g of icing sugar. For Easter, pipe in crosses or on other occasions, more simply spread across the top of he buns.

Julie and Matthew

Practically Participating (Meeting Posts 2)

Introduction

Participation is a key idea for NYNO, something that we feel is essential in any church. In using the word ‘participation’ we understand the church to be a spiritual entity, one that finds its meaning and identity in relation to God: a church is not primarily a club or a voluntary organisation; it is God’s community. We take our place in the Church as God’s children alongside Christ, called by our creator and saviour.

All this means that people matter. All of us come into church needing to receive from God. But the gift of God to us is such that as we receive salvation we are brought into a freedom to live differently. This does not mean living perfectly, but rather life in relation to our Father in heaven through Christ and so with one another.

In short, this is not a small thing. The consequence of this is that we matter. We matter as individuals and our participation in the life of the church matters.

From the start of NYNO, Julie and Matthew have felt it essential for new church communities to hear the honest opinions of its members. The heart of the Christian message militates against authoritarian leadership. We can’t simply dictate ‘from the front.’ The Church lives as it loves all of its members.

Historically, the majority of people who turn up to church week after week, decade upon decade, are rarely asked for their opinions, preferences or ideas. Indeed, this is a pretty frightening idea from the perspective of a leadership that is strategically planning a future. Such conversations could be fraught with tension, disagreement and misunderstanding. And yet, however threatening, maybe this is the only way forward if the majority of a congregation are to be actively engaged and involved – participating – in the communal life of a church.

So, one Sunday morning, we invited our gathering to dream about their idea of the ‘perfect church’. What would it look like? We invited people to remember back to a time when they felt happiest in church, and to reflect on why that was the case.

Luke 15

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Perfect Church?

What would your perfect church look like?

Perhaps ‘perfect’ is asking too much. If so, try approaching this from a different angle: what is your fondest memory of being in church? What made that experience so good? Were you at peace in church, conscious of the closeness of God or perhaps inspired to live and serve?

In so many ways in life, we find we can’t go back. Things have changed: we have, others have. And yet why shouldn’t we indulge in a little daydreaming. And who is to say that we won’t find keys in the past that might unlock the future? We don’t need to be worry about the practicalities of how such a church could come into being, just reflect on times when church has surprised and delighted us.

So, would the perfect church meet in a cathedral, an awe-inspiring space, such as St. Paul’s London, or King’s College Chapel, Cambridge?

Would there be music? Quiet chanting, soaring choirs, orchestral accompaniment, electric guitars or bare voices in unison?

A minister who gives compelling sermons? Who seemed to bring the very words of God to your heart?

Is church to be full of energy and activity, or quiet and reflective?

Would it be full of children, or empty of them?

Would it be the church you grew up in, or in which you brought your children up?

Would be full of friendly people, or people who didn’t bother you?

What would be the perfect church? When has church been a joy to you?

Why the Question Matters

I ask this question aware that to my knowledge it’s not something about which most of us have been invited to give of their opinion. And that troubles me, because your opinions, your thoughts and preferences about church, matter.
In our reading we heard Jesus speak of the lost sheep.

The Pharisees had taken offence at Jesus’ habit of surrounding himself with disreputable tax collectors and sinners. A teacher should live in a manner consistent with his or her words. What kind of teacher offers implicit affirmation to such people by sitting with them at table?

In response, Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable.’Suppose one of you,’ he begins, ‘has a hundred sheep and loses one. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open and go after the lost one. And on finding it, would he not celebrate?’

The whole matter resides on a question of identity and belonging. The Pharisees considered these disreputables as traitors, misleading themselves and others, diluting the purity of God’s people, perhaps dissuading God from blessing and liberating his people. They were to be ostracised in punishment and as a warning to others.

But Jesus looks on these people as lost sheep. The shepherd looks on each animal as precious, valuable. Just so, Jesus has not ceased to care for his people. They may have strayed, but that is all the more reason to chase after them and bring them to safety.

This parable speaks to something that should be at the very heart of any ‘perfect’ church. It reminds us that in the Kingdom of God, we gain our citizenship, our membership and significance, our identity, because it is given us from the depths of the love of Jesus Christ. The waters of baptism do not merely wash the skin but declare to us that with Jesus we now have new life, and those waters operate with no record for our abilities, our competencies, our moral performance. All such things are secondary to this wonderful truth: God views us with love. We may have wandered, but we remain his sheep.

And if Christ cares for us, then we must care for one another. As Jesus said elsewhere:

He who has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47)

These words must of course be reversed: he who has been forgiven much, loves much. Or consider these words of Jesus to the unforgiving servant:

Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33)

Think of it another way. If Christ loves you and I love Christ, how can I treat you with indifference?

The upshot of all of this is that a church, as it knows that love of Christ, must seek to be a place where such love is shown between its members. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means listening to one another. At the very least, I would suggest, that this means paying attention to each other’s hopes, dreams, memories and experience.
In our self-appointed task of being a great church, of raising money, of tidying up, or organising music, it is so easy not to consider the person before you. A wonderful being created by God. Broken, as we all are, and yet loved by Christ and a recipient of the hope of eternal life, now called to serve Christ with all that he has given them. A lost sheep, for whom Christ gave his all, and over whom he now rejoices.

Let me summarise. I am concerned that our church are forever in danger of not respecting their members as those loved by Christ, and rarely really listening to their voices, there thoughts and concerns. If the members are so treated will they not become dull, muted, quiet, finding that church does not engage them as a whole person but merely as a means to an end and will the church itself then fester as a community, ceasing to be a place that nurtures and affirms, unattractive to those outside.

Thought Forms

All of what I’ve said this morning has been said in all seriousness. Julie and I would like to find ways in which your thoughts, reflections, hopes and fears can contribute to our life together. That can take place entirely informally, as we talk to each other. But we also recognise that talking about faith can be difficult for many reasons and such conversations mustn’t be forced. In your notice sheets, you should have what we’ve called a ‘Thought Form’. This is simply a piece of paper which you can use to tell us things, if there isn’t the opportunity to do so directly, or if you’d prefer to do so through writing.

We will include this form with the notice sheets each time we meet.

What could you use this for? You could say, I really liked that hymn or tune. You could say, I enjoyed that sermon, but I didn’t understand xyz. You could say, I’d like us to have a church outing. You could say, I miss my old church, the people and the building. It probably wouldn’t be a good use of the form to write personal attacks.

When you write something on one of these forms, be aware that it’s something that could be shared with for everyone. We are not seeking to be the sole point through which all conversation must take place. Of course, if you’d prefer it not to be shared, you can indicate that. You’ll see that there’s the opportunity to write your name or to leave it anonymous.

As we began, so shall we conclude. Let me ask you again: What makes the perfect church? Or, what are your fondest, or most profound, memories of church? I’d like to invite you to jot a few things down on your thought forms in answer to the question.

We are all lost sheep. But that means we are all important. Your voice matters.