Gift Day – 31 October – Hillcrest AIDS centre

October 31st, 2010

Our Gift Day offering on 31 October was in aid of the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust in Jenny and Andreas’s former parish in South Africa. Please dig deep into your pockets to support this vital lifeline for the local community.

The Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust is a community project, and registered non-profit organisation which responds to the needs of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS within the community. The Centre was established in 1990 in response to the pending HIV/AIDS pandemic. The project is situated in the Centre of Hillcrest but serves the surrounding community  of about a 30 km radius.  In the last 16 years it has become a model of holistic HIV/AIDS care and its projects include:

  • Feeding scheme

  • Counselling, testing (HIV and CD4 counts),

  • Home based care

  • Respite/hospice care

  • HIV/AIDS education

  • Income generation through craft

  • Horticulture/food garden project

  • School fee fund

  • All projects co-ordinate with each other forming a holistic model of care.

As the HIV/AIDS pandemic progressed in our province, despite a comprehensive home based care project being in operation, many patients were still dying alone in dreadful conditions.  To this effect a respite unit was opened in February 2006 from rented space at the Hillcrest Provincial Hospital.  Unfortunately, however, due to the hospital needing the ward themselves, we were forced to build a 24 bed unit on our own property and on Tuesday 21 October 2008 we  moved the first patients into our new home.

The unit is a home from home run by 16 caregivers with registered nurse backup where patients can be cared for in a loving environment.  Patients receive a bed, food and whatever medicines they are on and either recover from acute illness or die with dignity and at peace.    An unexpected outcome of the respite unit is the amount of patients who have been admitted to die and with TLC, have recovered enough to be enlisted onto an antiretroviral program and are now living fulfilled lives within the community.  We constantly have a long waiting list and sadly many patients die whilst waiting to be admitted. We have broken down the costs of keeping a patient in the unit per bed.  This cost covers all the needs of the patient whilst they are in the unit. The cost includes staff, medicines, blood tests, X Rays, food, transport, water and electricity. 

Cost per bed = R150 per day  ( £12) = R1050 per week = R4500 per month = R54 000 per year  

Thank you to everyone who supported our October gift day so generously.  We shall be sending a cheque for around £1777.42 to Hillcrest.  Hillcrest is the Parish in South Africa that Andreas and Jennifer Sistig worked in before coming to Fleet. Mary Goodson 

Your support has the power to keep people alive. Please pray for them, and if you would like to learn more about them please visit their website: http://www.hillaids.org.za/

“We give to God and his Church – Wholly” FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 4

October 31st, 2010
FUNDING OUR FUTURE - Sermon 4
Sunday 31st October 2010 - All Saints Day
 
“We give to God and his Church - Wholly”
         

Readings:   Ephesians 1:11-end
                    Luke 6:20-31

This is the fourth and last in our series of sermons ‘Jesus is God’s gift to us.  In response, we give to God and his Church . . . . .’ 

The first week, both Jennifer and I preached on  ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Generously’, then the second week, Andreas and I preached on ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Prayerfully’ and last week, Mary and John each preached on ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Sacrificially’.    

Today, the sermon subject is ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Wholly’.   There is something very ‘final’ about the  word “Wholly” and it is no coincidence, that this culmination of a month of preaching and teaching and encouraging you to engage with the Funding our Future campaign, should end as we celebrate Patronal Festival – All Saints Day!   

If you have missed the other sermons, I do urge you to catch up with them on the Parish Website where they are all posted, with the exception of the All Age Worship one from P&J on the 17th.  Also, if you haven’t already got one, please take a copy of the Funding our Future booklet which is at the back of the Church. And, as this stage of Funding our Future comes to an end, I would like to say a huge thank you to the team: Nick Doran in the chair, Pauline Moyse, Emma Judge, Chris Bull, Richard Buller, and Andreas.  Thank you for the hard work, but thank you also for the insight and clarity with which they have presented an old story with a new edge! 

Talking of stories – there is one about two brothers who lived in a particular town where they were notoriously bad – they had been involved in corruption, deceit and every manner of bad thing – it was even rumoured that they were involved in organized crime!  Anyway, as a result of their ‘dodgy’ living both brothers had become very rich! 

One day, the older brother died.  And his younger brother, wanting to honour his elder sibling, went all out in planning a memorable funeral.   The problem was that he couldn’t find a minister who was willing to do the service?  Hearing that the one of the local churches was in the middle of a huge planned giving campaign, the younger brother called on the Minister of that church. 

“Reverend,”  he said, “I know my brother and I never attended yourchurch, as a matter of fact we never attended any church.  I alsoknow that you’ve probably heard a lot of bad things about my brotherand me, but nevertheless, I’d like you to do his funeral.  And when you do the Eulogy, I just want you to say one small thing – I want you to say that he was a saint!  And if you’ll do that, I’ll set up a Gift-Aided Standing Order to pay £10,000 a year to your church for the rest of my life – that’ll go along way towards fixing your deficit, won’t it?”  

After some thought, the minister agreed to do the service.  And so it was, on the day of the funeral, the church was crowded, and the minister had the Gift Aid form, which he had taken the precaution of getting advance, safely tucked away in his back pocket.   The service began with the usual scripture readings, hymns and prayers – and then the Eulogy began.   The minister immediately  launched into a tirade about all the horrible things that the man had done – how he had been selfish, greedy, corrupt, caring about no one but himself, womenising, drinking excessively, and so on.   The younger brother, sitting in the front pew, was getting hot under the collar about how the minister was not fulfilling his promise, but during the service there was not much he could do about it.  He could only wait and hope that the minister would eventually keep his end of the bargain.   

Finally, after about ten minutes of outlining the rich man’s flaws, the minister concluded his sermon in a booming crescendo proclaiming: 

“Yes, my friends, this man was a good-for-nothing, cheating, rotten scoundrel!  But, compared to his brother, he was an absolute Saint!” 

The word ‘Saint’ derives from ‘Sanctus’ – which we translate as the word ‘Holy’. 

But often this interpretation becomes skewed by our secular society!  You would probably be surprised how often, when I visit a bereaved family to arrange a funeral, I am told that ‘she (or he) was an absolute Saint’!  By that, the family usually mean, that she or he was neighbourly, treated their family well, and was selfless in most of what they did!  So the short answer to ‘they were an absolute Saint’ has to be “Well, actually, no they weren’t”! 

Having said that, Saints are most certainly not confined to the great Peter’s, Paul’s, John’s, Francis’s etc – rather Saints are all around us – but they are only in people who are holy – people who are set apart from the rest of the world – people who are different because they believe in Christ Jesus and seek to live faithfully as he has shown them. 

And we are all called to be saints – every one of us!  But the way to sainthood is a journey – one which begins when we are baptised into membership of the Church, and ends when we stand in the presence of the living God!  But in order to be able to achieve that, we don’t just need to be “Holy” – H – O – L – Y!  We also need to be “Wholly” – W – H – O – L – L – Y – Wholly committed to Jesus Christ through the life of faith, and through the work of our local Church! 

Nobody has ever pretended that living the Christian Way is easy – and it can only be done through generosity of spirit, constant prayer, and more than a degree of sacrifice – the three subjects of the other sermons in this series! 

And above all, living the Christian Way cannot be lived in isolation – as I was saying two weeks ago, it can only be achieved through building community!  Let me reaffirm a few other things that have been said the past three weeks:

  • At the start, I warned you that these sermons were going to be hard-hitting, but honest!

  • I also said that Funding our Future was the most important thing in the life of our Churches at the moment – in some ways even more important than the buildings etc – and to that statement I want to add today my personal plea, that if you haven’t yet reviewed your personal commitment to Planned Giving in the parish, and in response to the teaching you have heard these past four weeks, this week is most certainly the time to doso!

  •  Because, this is all about sustaining the resourcing of our ministry and mission to reach out into the streets and homes of Fleet, and to be a welcoming, loving and inclusive community!   

And we cannot do that without the proper financial support!  Without that support – from you – we will not be able use our new facilities for the purpose for which they have been built – to do that reaching out into the community – and we will not be able to ‘live out’ our mission statement to “Welcome all in our Community into the love of Christ”! 

Funding our Future is just that – because if we fail at this point, the ‘future’ will be bleak – the shape of Anglican ministry in Fleet will become very uncertain!   Now that is not in any way meant to sound like a ‘threat’, and I hope that you will not think of it as such – but it is meant to sound like a warning bell and a call to reality.  Because what I mean by it, is that unless we can bring an end to the year on year deficit budgets which this parish has been presenting for more than a decade, then the simple truth is that there cannot be two places of worship staffed by two full time priests in the parish of Fleet! 

Having said that, I also have to say that both Andreas and I remain totally committed to resourcing what we have, and will fight for it all the way!  The day that the Parish of Fleet has to lose a stipendiary priest or lose one of its two church buildings – and that could be either All Saints or St Philip and James – that will be the day that both Andreas and I will know that we have failed completely in everything we have tried to do!  

Most of us will be here, worshipping in a Christian Church this morning, because at some point in our lives we have been touched by an earthly Saint who has shown us a glimpse of something greater than we can understand or dream of, and has called us to be part of the Vision.   

Saints are those who gone all the way – those who have given “wholly”!  This is the point at which we are all being called to be Saints and to give ‘wholly’ to the life of our Church! 

When the time comes for our funeral eulogy to be delivered, will there be anybody who is prepared to stand up and say that we were a Saint? 

“We give to God and his Church – Sacrificially” FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 3 Sunday 24th October 2010 – P&J

October 24th, 2010

Today’s sermon is the third in a series about stewardship.  The theme for the whole series is that Jesus is God’s gift to us and in response, we give to God and his Church.

Two weeks ago Jenny spoke very movingly and convincingly about the need to give generously as part of our Christian commitment and in order to fund our two churches and our ministry in the town.  The facts and figures are all in the booklet produced by the stewardship team.  If you haven’t had a chance to pick one up yet please make sure you do, so that you are fully informed of the costs of running the parish and of our current income.

Today I have been charged with speaking about responding to God’s gift to us in Jesus by giving to God and his Church sacrificially.

In ancient times believers in pagan religions, when times were hard and they felt that the gods were against them, would offer human sacrifices to propitiate the gods.  Abraham, surrounded by pagan culture, but following the one true God, believed that he was being called to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  It’s a real drama as Abraham struggles between his duty of absolute obedience to God and his knowledge of God’s promise to him that he will be the father of a great nation.  But in the climax of the child’s lying bound on the funeral pyre before God finally lets Abraham off the hook, we learn a vital lesson that resonates throughout history, that the one true God is never to be propitiated in such a way.  Human life is precious to him and his promises to us will be fulfilled.

So how come this all seems to be turned on its head when God is prepared to sacrifice his only son?  What is going on?  This very idea can be a stumbling block to belief for many people.  They can’t reconcile a God of love with a father who would do that to his child.  And rightly so!  It is horrible.

The truth is that this interpretation of Christ’s death is deeply flawed.  Our God is a Trinitarian God .  He is three persons in one God.  This was not a cruel Father sacrificing his son as payment for our sins.  This was our own God, in the person of Christ, giving of himself, putting himself entirely in our power, out of his deep love for us all.

As Paul wrote, God, In Christ, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and became obedient to the point of death.”  Our God, having showered us with gifts as a token of his love, then gave us the ultimate gift, the gift of himself, hanging on the cross.

This then is the Christian understanding of sacrifice.  It is not the giving up of something or someone outside of ourselves.  It is the giving up of a part of ourselves.

William Vanstone was a brilliant post-war parish priest and theologian who died in 1999.  He refused any academic posts, writing only three small but influential books at the end of his parish ministry.  He writes about how we can respond to the love of God.  Our response  should be appropriate to the love that we recognise.  Nothing can adequately convey the limitlessness of love, and yet one response may be less inadequate than another.

Vanstone wrote a hymn which puts this into words far better than I can.  He wrote  Open are the gifts of God,
Gifts of love to mind and sense;
Hidden is love’s agony,
Love’s endeavour, love’s expense. 
Love that gives, gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
Ventures all, its all expends. 

This self-giving love was what motivated the widow of Zarephath.  She was down to her last handful of meal and few drops of oil following the failed harvest in the area and was expecting that she and her son would die of starvation.  And yet her response to the love of God was to give all that she had in order that Elijah might eat.God knows our weaknesses.  We none of us like to be outside our comfort zone and most of us keep thick padding around that zone to protect ourselves from harm.  Financially we plan our lives so that we can afford to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves and keep a roof over our heads.  And as we earn more we eat better, treat ourselves to meals out, buy a bigger house or a better car, go on more expensive holidays, save more for a rainy day.  When Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him he was reading Peter’s character well.  At that point Peter failed to respond adequately to Jesus’ love for him.  But Jesus never gave up on him and Peter learnt from his mistake.  If we hold back, if we are afraid to commit ourselves too deeply, if we let our fear of being hurt prevent us from giving generously of the gifts that God has give us, then we are with Peter, denying Jesus.  We all, and I include myself, need to look deep into our hearts and ask ourselves are we really responding appropriately to God’s self-giving love.  When it comes to our financial contribution to supporting the life and work of the church are we giving sacrificially?  Only God knows the answer to that question.  We may feel that we have been less than generous in the past, but Jesus is still holding out his arms to us, just as he did to Peter, saying it’s never too late, you still have a major part to play in the building of my kingdom.Every day at morning worship on Iona the congregation joins in saying “We will not offer to God offerings that cost us nothing.”

If we respond appropriately to God’s overwhelming gifts to us then we will return to him so much of what we have that it will hurt.  And if it doesn’t hurt then we are probably not giving enough!

Mary Goodson

“We give to God and his Church – Sacrificially” FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 3 Sunday 24th October 2010 – All Saints

October 24th, 2010

Atacama Desert, Chile 

Do you know where the Atacama Desert is?   

On about the 5th of August this year, I discovered that the bleak and dusty Atacama Desert is in northern Chile.  Not as a result of a sudden interest in Geography, or a foreign trip, but because the news broke that 33 men were trapped deep down in the San Jose mine.  They remained trapped for 69 days at the San Jose Mine.

Many years ago, I regularly went caving, and, as far as I can remember without fear but now even the thought of being trapped underground frightens me.   69 days trapped seems incomprehensible.  The last couple of months must have been bad, but by then they knew that they had not been given up.  A risky engineering solution for their rescue was being put together: “We should have them out by Christmas” we were told. 

But, what about those first 17 days when they had no clue that people on the surface had not given up hope for them, had God given up on them too?  Put yourself in their place for a few moments, what must have been in their minds as the temperature rose, food and water was running so low that they only ate a morsel every 2nd day.  Just stop in that dark place.  How were they going to die, because that seemed the only likely outcome?  Would God intervene for their lives?   

Of course, now we know that all 33 were recovered, and in reasonable health (even the diabetic).  Many would say that this rescue came about because of the persistence of the search and recovery teams, urged on by the personal interest of President Pinera, the ingenuity of the large groups of scientist and experts descending on Hope Mine from many parts of the world.   

But, did God intervene or not?  We are told that there was plenty of prayer at and in the mine as well as in this church and many others, as well as our private prayer.  But, God does not, as far as I know, carry about a few hundred tons of mining equipment, but He knows someone who does!  Certain men and women do!  They were to be Gods hands, feet and promise.   

So what do we learn,

·         We may not need God as we used to because we have grown into quite omnipotent beings ourselves with the help of technology: God might as well be dead, but what about our spiritual dimension, has that kept up? 

·         We do need God, for a while, at least, for that first 17 days as it were; before we are able to take over from God.  ·         We do need God; but He also needs us to give our strength for material things to happen.  Our spirituality affects all aspects of our being so God is part of each one of us.  For this to work, we cannot ignore our spiritual being.  ·         Will you help by keeping at least this church (that is the people) properly equipped to do our work?  For this we need somehow to find an extra 50 or 60 thousand pounds a year and match it with a corresponding growth in spirituality to walk closely with God.   

To Zarephath 

Let’s slip back about nearly three millennia to Zarephath and journey with Elijah to the widow’s home.  I have always imagined her home to be rather isolated in a dusty desert region, like the Atacama Desert.  I say this partly because the previously nomadic tribes had not yet got the hang of agriculture and partly because of the drought (1Kings 171 brought about by God for the disobedience of King Ahab in worshiping Baal)   

What is different?  Obviously no trapped miners, but a widow and her son preparing to take their last meal in despair that there was no more food after that.  This was her 17th day as it were and don’t be mislead, she was just as trapped as the 33 miners.  Probably many other people were in the same situation Just as they are today.  Would you dare ask her for her last morsel?  God did, through our companion Elijah.  And she responded, would you?   

That widow shows us what sacrificial giving is about.  A cynic would say that she knew that she was going to die with her son anyway, so if not tomorrow, why not today?  You may think, like I do, that because her spirituality could accept God’s word through Elijah:           

  “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said,; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.”  (1Kings 1713)  She accepted the reliable promise from God through Elijah that the jug of oil and bowl of grain would not run out until she no longer needed them.  This is very similar to Jesus’ promises to us of eternal life, but first, we have to come to Him.  I venture to say that this is difficult without the church and its infrastructure to support us and allow our spirituality to grow until we can reliably know what God will do for our sacrifice.   The widow gave all she had to you (remember I said that you were to accompany Elijah) and our saintly companion.  Will you do the same for this church, or at least pray about what and where God wants your contribution to His Kingdom.    Jesus Shows the Way 

As in so many aspects of our lives, Jesus has been there before us.  St. Paul gives us in his letter to the Philippian Church an idea of what Christ has given up for us.  Not just His life in the most terrible way on a cross, but His equality with God to become human, and a slave for all of us.  (Those of you who have kindly thought about my questionnaire on what Jesus knew about Himself and how He relates to the Father) Clearly, we are to share in the love of the Trinity and aspire to understand and emulate, as far as is possible, Jesus’ life, giving Glory to the Lord.   This is why we need to give sacrificially, to pay the many thousands of pounds that the church infrastructure needs to survive every year.   

Peter Fails Before he Has Begun What if I fail to meet this challenge to give sacrificially?   The answer to that question may lie in Peter’s experience during the trials of Jesus.  Is there anyone here who would condemn him for denying Jesus three times when the going got particularly tough?  Jesus predicted that all His disciples would desert Him, but Peter was sure that he had the strength to resist.  He did not.  Yet look how God was able to use Peter in developing the church as we know it all over the world.  It was Peter who first brought Christianity to the gentiles, yet he was the first to deny Jesus.  Three times Peter denied Jesus in the short space of a night time.    We must learn to develop our spirituality.  Theologians remind us that our spirituality is as much a part of our whole being as the nose on our face (although I confess that I have never seen it put that way).  Our individual spirituality includes our whole life: every part of it, from work to play, even the parts that we may be ashamed to confess.  I believe that it is only through working hard at building a greater collective spirituality that we can hope to sustain Christian beliefs and standards through the 21st century.  But here is the rub, if we cannot meet and worship God as a praying community, in a suitable building, all but the most hardy may fall by the wayside and other people seeking God for the first time may not be able to find their way in.   

Please pray about what I have said.  After much prayer and uncertainty, the PCC have stepped out in faith to renew the hall here and provide a room and other facilities at Sts. Philip and James.  This will spend our capital, but that is better husbandry than letting it to dwindle away over a few years paying for our everyday needs.  Then we still would not have a sustainable income and none of the things we urgently need to make the church more successful.  Now you need to step out in faith and consider what you should be giving financially and spiritually.  

I know that we all do not have Elijah to guide us and gently reassure that to give sacrificially may be what God wants of me.  Maybe it should hurt a bit though, and in these uncertain financial times it may hurt a lot.  The chart given out last week  and also on the web site will tell you what others give (without revealing who they are), and you can draw back and give a little at any time if necessary, and reduce if times get harder, praying for someone else to take your place.  It would be wonderful if we, as a church, could gather all the necessary resources that when people are in troubled times we can give very practical help.   

Could we, as a Christian Community support the widow of Zarephath?  Could we ask for God’s help? 

Amen

John Simson

“We give to God and his Church – Prayerfully” FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 2 Sunday 17th October 2010 – All Saints

October 17th, 2010

Readings:   Nehemiah 1:1-11
                    Matthew 14:22-26

 

This is the second in our series of sermons ‘Jesus is God’s gift to us.  In response, we give to God and his Church . . . . .’

 

Last week I preached on the subject ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Generously’, and if you weren’t here last week, I do ask you please to take a look at that sermon which is on the Parish Website.  Also, if you weren’t here, please take home a copy of the Funding our Future booklet which everyone was given.

 

Today, the sermon subject is ‘. . . . we give to God and his Church Prayerfully’.

 

When we launched the Parish Prayer Programme four years ago, I used these words in a sermon: “Prayer will lift our dull and uninformed lives, into the living presence of the God of all life.  It’s not easy, but we must persevere, and I do fervently believe that our Prayer life, provides us with the means to set our churches ablaze with God’s power and Glory”.

 

I then went on to turn those words into a challenge: “That is a hope, and it’s a destination on a journey – are you going to join me, so that it’s a journey we make together?”

 

Now, we’ve gone a long way on that journey in four years, but there is a sense in which all of that still applies – you see, it’s about prayer – and I re-iterate it here as we consider ‘Giving Prayerfully’.

 

There are, for me, three things which emerge from all of this, and from the two readings which we have heard this morning, which are important in relation to our consideration of what financial contribution we give to our local Church!

 

The first thing, is that when we decide what we are going to give to the Church through the planned giving scheme, it should be after serious thought – a considered response! 

 

Throughout our lives we all have to make difficult decisions about all sorts of things – decisions which are going to affect the rest of our lives, as well as the lives of other people. 

 

For the Christian, there is a one big difference about the way we make these decisions – and that is taht we can ask God what he thinks – we can pray!  Now you may say that I’m being simplistic here, but my personal experience, and the experience of many others, is that when we pray about something difficult, the answer so often just seems to come!

 

So before we say something like, “I couldn’t possibly give that much money to the Parish of Fleet each month” we really do need to talk to God about it!

 

Then the second thing that emerges is the link that exists between prayer and faith.  Let’s take a look at that reading from Nehemiah:  As the helpful introduction on the reading sheet reminds us, this is set in the year  BC 446.  Nehemiah is a Jew in the court of Darius, King of the Persians, and he receives news of the returning exiles who have found that their Jerusalem has been destroyed: “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”     

 

Nehemiah realises that the people are to blame for their unfaithfulness, and so the rest of the passage is his prayer of contrition bewailing his personal shortcomings, and bewailing the punishment which has been laid on the people for having earlier disobeyed God.

 

So, if we have prayed, and have not listened to the answer, or not acted on it, we must beware, or there remains the possibility that our walls, may also be broken down, and our gates be set ablaze – at least in a metaphorical sense, if not a literal one!

And then in Matthew’s Gospel we have this familiar passage of Jesus walking on the water, and of Peter’s response to it: we are reminded that we need to persevere, and not lose faith at the last minute: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

So we really can have the faith to step out onto the water, because we also have this wonderful assurance that if we do get it all wrong, Jesus will be there to catch us. 

Which brings me to the third thing to emerge from all of this, which is, that giving, and the decision about how much we give, is done in relationship – relationship with each other as the Christian Community in this place, and relationship with God who helps us to decide and to have faith!

I am sure the huge decision which we made as a Parish, to invest so much of our resources in our new buildings was itself something we prayed hard about.  And I am sure, too, that it was all of that prayer, which helped us to take that brave step – stepping out in the belief that we were doing what God wanted us to do, and that it was right for our church community and the wider community around us in Fleet.

Now, the need is to turn our prayers towards making all this sustainable in the long term.

Which neatly brings us back to the reason why we need to be having this ‘Funding our Future’ Programme at all – which is to properly resource the Ministry of this Parish, so that together we can build Community, and as a Church, together serve that Community!

But what is ‘Community’?  Wikipedia tells us that ‘In biological terms a Community is a group of species living together’  It goes on to say that, ‘In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.  Traditionally a “community” has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location.  But the word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion’

So the hall-mark of a community is that things are done together.  Sadly, I venture to say, that places like Fleet have not even begun to learn what ‘being community’ means, and I will further venture to say that even its churches are only just beginning to learn.

 

But I fervently believe that ‘building and being community’ in a distinctively Christian way, is actually what ‘being church’ is all about, and so we need to learn the model, build it, and then show the world what it means!  And ‘boy’ is that going to need a lot of prayer!

 

My experience, is certainly that Churches who really work at getting their prayer life right, are churches whose members are Christ-centred, are churches where there are enough volunteers to do all the things that the church needs to do, are churches where there is sufficient financial support to do all of those things, and are churches where great things do happen!

 

Prayer is the key which will unlock all the potential which we have as a church.

 

Prayer will provide us with all the resources to do all of the things that God longs for us to do in our community.

 

But prayer is worth nothing, unless we have the faith to go with it!  Simply, we have to believe that what we are asking for, can really happen!

 

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus”.  Are we ready as individuals, as a Church and as a Community to get out of the boat and walk on the water?

 

17 October.Week 2 – ‘…. Prayerfully’; Rev Andreas Sistig at P&J

October 17th, 2010

1.    Introduction

·         Today is our 2nd Stewardship Sunday this year.

·         We will be comparing the efforts of Nehemiah rebuilding the city wall of Jerusalem with the situation in our church – the Stewardship campaign and all that goes with it, such as the building programme, 7-day church activities etc…

·         There will be 5 readings throughout the service, each describing a unique stage in the rebuilding process of Jerusalem’s city wall – after each reading I will explain a bit about the situation in Jerusalem and briefly relate what we have heard to the situation in our parish. They are quite short, with the first one being the longest.

2.    Nehemiah’s prayer (Neh 1, 1-11)                   

The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,  Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.  “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’  “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.                       

                       

a.       Nehemiah

                                                            i.      In the year 605 BC the Egyptians lost control over Israel and Judah. The Babylonians beat the Egyptian armies in Carchemish and took control over large territories, formerly under Egyptian control. One of those areas was Israel and Judah. As was customary, the occupied areas had to pay taxes to their new rulers, but – and I am cutting a long story rather short – after a few years of doing so, both Israel as well as Judah refused to pay taxes to king Nebuchadnezzar. The result was that Samaria, the capitol of Israel as well as Jerusalem, the capitol Judah, were largely destroyed and the population deported to Babylon and its surrounding cities. This period in the history of the Jewish people is therefore called the Babylonian exile. A few generations into this period the book of Nehemiah and the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls takes place.

                                                          ii.      Nehemiah, a Jew serving as the cupbearer to the king at the Babylonian court in Susa, asks a fellow Jew, just returning from Jerusalem about the situation there. The answer devastates Nehemiah.  

                                                         iii.      Nehemiah then prays to God, confessing the sins committed by the people of Israel that led to God’s punishment and remembers that God had promised to reunite and bring back those faithful remnants that vow to live according to God’s laws from now onwards.

                                                        iv.      Nehemiah decides to take action (though at this stage we are still left in the dark as to what he’s got in his mind) and asks God for help when he, Nehemiah, will speak to the king of Babylon.

b.      Parish

                                                            i.      The Old Testament leaves no doubt about the reasons that lead to the Babylonian exile – the disobedience of God’s people and their refusal to live according to the law.

                                                          ii.      While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the situation in our church, with a +50 000 pound annual deficit is a punishment from God for sins we have committed, I think that it is certainly true that we have not been as good stewards as we could and should have been. – This applies to both, our leadership, of which I am one, as well as every single member of the congregation. What do I mean by that? The parish had been given generous legacies amounting to more than 500 000 pounds, which we have not been able to use quickly enough for the development of our facilities. This resulted in steadily decreasing financial offerings from all our members, resulting in the situation we are in now – enough money for the capital development, but with an annual income-expenditure deficit of over 50 000 pounds.

                                                         iii.      In our context, the message given to Nehemiah, could read something like this: “Those who have survived the side-effects of the legacies and are still in the church are in great trouble and disgrace. The parish is almost broke and we’ll soon have to turn the lights off.”

                                                        iv.      The “prayerful element of our Christian Stewardship” means for me that we open ourselves to the possibilities God holds in stock for us and are brave enough to invite him in. It takes a lot of guts to do that and there are lots of people whose lives have changed completely – to the better – once they have done that. Just think about:

1.       Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or any of the saints  – St. Francis, son to a rich textile merchant, St.Ignatius a soldier and womanizer, St. Paul from Christian persecutor to great apostle.

2.       What would happen if I would ask you know how many of you have experienced a substantial change in your life after you’ve asked God to take control of your life?

3.       That is the prayerful element not only to Stewardship but to Christian life itself.  Open oneself to God and handing control over to him – difficult but rewarding.

4.       That is what we need to do as individuals in terms of our own personal life, but also as a community in terms of our church.

5.       Missed opportunities, I think we can call them sins, mean that we have not listened to God’s guidance for us properly and therefore fallen short of that which he was willing to give us – it’s like driving a car in first gear all the time or standing before God with him telling us – you should have just asked! (Hell is the moment we are shown by God how we have fallen short of what would have been possible).

                                                          v.      Let us confess our sins now, those sins that might have contributed to our financial problems, and our unwillingness to listen to God’s guidance for our parish as well as those sins that have hurt others we have come into contact with.

 

3.    The rebuilding of the wall (Neh 2, 11-18)

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and re-entered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.                                                         

 

(children “assess” the wall)

 

a.       Nehemiah

                                                            i.      Nehemiah assesses the problem carefully without making a great fuss of it. He quietly looks at the city wall and identifies that problem and what has to be done. Then, after he has got a plan, he makes it public and asks for support.

b.      Parish

                                                            i.      That doesn’t sound too different from what we have done and are doing now. We have assessed and analyzed the problem, which is the fact that our expenditure far exceeds our income. We know that the only way to further reduce our expenditure significantly would be to let go of one of our clergy or sell one of our churches – either of those options is not at all desirable.

                                                          ii.      We also know that the average giving in our parish is way below the average giving in the diocese, despite the fact that our town is among those with a well above average income.

                                                         iii.      So, after having analyzed our situation, we have decided to rebuild “our city wall” by:      

1.       Spending the legacy money on the upgrade of our facilities, which will enable us to do more and exciting things – 7 day church!

a.       AS: lights, new community centre

b.      P&J: extra room for small meetings, crèche, extra toilet and a new audio visual system that will enable us to use the church in different and exciting new ways, both during as well as outside of church services.

2.       To ask for your financial support by contributing towards the running costs of our churches – with the aim of balancing our income and expenditure. The work that the parish does is not just the work of a few, but the work of all of us who belong to the parish – if we want it to continue, if we think it is worth it, we have to resource it. We have to build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live…

 

4.    Completion despite opposition (Neh 4, 1-6; 6, 15-16)     

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

 

(children build a new wall)

 

a.       Nehemiah

                                                            i.      Nehemiah’s neighbours Sanballat and Tobiah who were Persian officials in neighbouring cities ridiculed Nehemiah’s efforts as a waste of time, money and energy!

b.      Parish

                                                            i.       I am going to be brutally honest with you – there are people in our parish (though NOT in the leadership as in PCC or Ministry Team) who think that we should get rid of one of our churches and therefore also one of our clergy (because we would not have a single church with two paid clergy). But those people look to me more like these fellows – “Sanballat the Horonoite” and “Tobiah the Ammonite” who could not grasp the vision God had given to Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall and to live, once again in harmony and unity under the law of Moses.

                                                          ii.      In our parish we have two unique congregations, comprising of people with unique gifts, talents and a passion for God’s work in this place. We have two distinctly different church buildings and we serve our town on two different geographical areas – in two different ways. The P&J-way and the All Saints-way and despite the fact that we are uniquely different we know that we belong together, complementing each other in our common mission to welcome all in our community into the love of Christ.

                                                         iii.      Let us be still for a moment and bring prayers for the world, our friends, family and neighbours as well as our heartfelt desire for the rebuilding of our parish before God.

 

5.    Repopulation of Jerusalem (Neh 7, 4-6; 66-68)                 

Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. The whole company numbered 42,360, besides their 7,337 menservants and maidservants; and they also had 245 men and women singers. There were 736 horses, 245 mules,435 camels and 6,720 donkeys. Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests. Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests. The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns.                                     

 

a.       Nehemiah

                                                            i.      The purpose of rebuilding the city wall of Jerusalem was obviously not just an end in itself. It was a means to an end, the end being the repopulation of the city of Jerusalem so that God’s people could live, once more n peace and unity together under the law of God.

b.      Parish

                                                            i.      That purpose again is not altogether different from the purpose of our Stewardship, building and 7-day church campaign.     

                                                          ii.      We also don’t see this Stewardship campaign and the building programme as an end in itself. It is a means to an end – the end being to be able to reach out to all in our community and to draw them into the love of Christ. To be able to be a place of love and laughter, of fellowship and teaching, of worship and prayer. For the old and the young, the sceptical and the searching, for singles, families the bereaved and lonely. A place where Christ is in the middle of all we say, do and plan.

                                                         iii.      If we manage to let that vision of Christ in the midst of all become more and more of a reality we and the people who come into contact with us will be filled with that deep joy of knowing that the Lord is God and we are his.

                                                        iv.      During the next hymn we will also take our collection.

 

6.    The dedication of the wall (Neh 12, 27-30; 40a; 42b-43)

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.                         

 

a.       Nehemiah & Parish

                                                            i.      I pray that in the days and weeks ahead of us we will begin to grasp the possibilities God holds for us in this parish. That each of us will be able to share in the vision of rebuilding our city wall, of making our parish a place for all people in our community and that, each of us will consider how he or she will be able to financially resource our ministry to the people in Fleet.

 

Amen.

FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 1 – Sunday 10th October 2010 – P&J

October 10th, 2010
Readings:   2 Corinthians 8:1-15     Mark 12:41-44

Sermon By Rev. Jennifer Sistig, 

Widow’s mite – I knew a widow like this – a short explanation of the ticket system that is still at work in South Africa – each Confirmed member of the congregation is given a ‘ticket’ – a little card on which each month’s giving is recorded by the priest or catechist. Crudely speaking, in many congregations, if the person has not kept up to date with their ticket payments they will not be buried by that church etc. Christine was an old grandmother who supported herself and thirteen grandchildren on a state pension of about R880 per month – roughly £85 per month. This paid for food, clothing and schooling. Despite her extreme poverty, she always paid her ticket money on the first Sunday of every month.

 

Stewardship – Funding our Future

 

For the next four weeks, leading up to our Patronal Festival, and as part of our ‘Funding the Future’ programme, we are going to concentrate our sermon teaching on various aspects of Christian giving. The main theme is:  “Jesus as God’s gift to us. In response, we give to God and his Church”. Week 1 – ‘ . . . . Generously’; Week 2 – ‘ . . . . Prayerfully’; Week 3 – ‘ . . . . Sacrificially’; Week 4 – ‘ . . . . Wholly’

As Roy will say at All Saints this morning:

An important element of Christian service is that of “giving” and by our giving we are following the New Testament pattern of taking up a collection in order to “provide for needy saints, and support the work of the church”.  And here, we find the answer to one of the most often asked questions about Christian giving – “If I give my money to the local Church, what is it used for?”  And the answer is pretty much the same as it was in the early Church at the time of the writing of the Acts of the Apostles – the money we give is primarily to support and resource the ministry of the local Church. This Parish is in a very privileged position – being able to pay for all the new facilities that we needed in order for us to function effectively and reach out into the community!  We’re able to do that because of the generosity of people in the past who have bequeathed money to support these projects that are now happening all around us, here at All Saints right now and at P&J soon.  But having done all this work, the ‘stored up’ money runs out.It costs over £200,000 a year (That’s pretty much £20,000 a month, £5,000 a week and £700 a day) – a frightening amount of money – to cover ministry and utility costs and to pay the staff which this Parish needs in order to be able to do all the things that God is calling it to do! And simply, the money we give through the planned giving scheme pays for that!  Or more to the point, it doesn’t anything like pay for it at present, which is why we need to have this ‘Funding our Future’ campaign now!In the New Testament reading this morning, and as we’re reminded in the little introduction, Paul is writing to the Church in Corinth – a large commercial centre renowned for its wealth, paganism and licentious living.  Doesn’t that sound alarmingly like the Fleet that we live in?  And Paul, seeking to inspire the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving, used the example of the churches of Macedonia (that is the Churches in Philippi and Thessalonica) – they were not rich Churches like the Church in Corinth – rather they were poor and persecuted, and yet apparently they gave – and we hear that they gave Sacrificially, Joyfully, Voluntarily, Persistently and they gave ‘Themselves’!  Which undoubtedly adds up to the truth that they gave ‘generously’.  And they gave to support preachers in the spread of the gospel, to help needy Christians in a foreign land, and to help an old preacher in his time of need.

And there is a modern comparison which I am able to offer you here, and which is based on statistics provided by the Diocese, and it’s not about far off Churches in foreign lands 2,000 years ago, but about 21st century Churches right here in Fleet and Farnborough. The Parish of Farnborough, which covers huge swathes of ‘estate housing’ and very few of the sorts of houses we see in Fleet, has a level of Giving to the local Church, per head on the electoral roll , which exceeds that in Fleet by almost 200%.  Yes, Anglican Christians in Farnborough give three times as much, per person, to resource ministry as do Anglican Christians in Fleet.

So what can you give or what should you give?

 

Bishop Rubin Phillip when Rector of St Elizabeth’s Anglican Church in Westville, Diocese of Natal, preached a sermon on planned giving. It was 1993. I remember it clearly because he asked everyone to “consider the claims of tithing” as asked by the South African Bishop’s Conference, and said that to go from giving nothing to giving 10% is quite a leap, so why not start at 3% and increase it by one percentage point each year.

 

“You should tithe” is usually the answer given to the question “how much should I give?”  and it’s taken directly form the Law laid down in the Old Testament. It is very important to clearly understand tithing as it is written about in context, because not everything can be translated from the OT context directly into our own.

 

In Genesis 14 we hear the story of Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot from captivity.  He and Lot had just separated from one another.  They had travelled together from Egypt, through the Niger desert into the centre of what is now called Israel and they wanted to settle there.  But the land couldn’t support both of them with all their people and livestock and the ‘staff’/herdsmen began to quarrel.  So Lot decided to move into ‘the plains of Jordan’ in the east which were green and luscious, and he settled near to the city of Sodom – before it got destroyed.,  Abram (whose name changed to Abraham in Genesis 17 as a sign of God’s covenant with him) moved further south to Hebron a mountainous area. Now, contrary to what we seem to imagine, Abram didn’t take over an entire countryside when he responded to God’s call (Gen 12:12) he moved into various areas and lived as a nomad (like the modern-day Bedouin) and the cities and towns continued to function as normal with their various kings and rulers.  In Genesis 14 the surrounding kings had organized themselves into 2 groups and had drawn up battle lines on the desert next to the Dead Sea.

 

It was basically as revolt against one king who had ruled over the other for 12 years.  King Kedorlaomer.   But he gathered allies from the surrounding areas and defeated everyone and went on the rampage against them.  Extending his power.  So Lot ended up getting seized together with all the possessions of the other rebel kings – about 11 kings in total with their armies covering a vast area.  When someone escaped and got word to Abram, it says in v14 that Abram got his 318 trained men born in his household and they chased the army of king Kedorlaomer.  It says that his army managed to chase them as far north as Hobah which was north of Damascus – which is about three times further north than they were originally.  It then says that he was also able to recover all goods, Lot and his possessions plus the women and other people.  I think you get the picture.  This was an extraordinary defeat, something like the David and Goliath story. When he returned, the defeated kings came to meet him – one of them was the king of Salem who was also a priest – Melchizedek – Melchizedek made a prayer/blessing over Abram with bread and wine in thanksgiving for Abrams victory and Abrams response was to give him 1/10 of everything.  Of all the booty this is the first reference to a tithe in scripture.

 

It is important to understand that this concept of a tithe was not unique to Abram or the people of Israel.  It was very common amongst all the people of Israel.  It was very common amongst many religions.  This tithe of Abram’s was given in thanksgiving of God’s help in battle and was given in the context of worship – a worship of gratitude.

 

It was these tithes, these gifts of thanksgiving that supported the religious leaders while everyone else supported themselves by working the land and caring for livestock, the priests only worked on worship – so they depended on the tithes to keep themselves fed and clothed etc.  also – acknowledgment of God’s ownership  of the land – so it went to God’s house.  As the practices evolved and developed, and as the law of the Israelites became clarified, three different tithes took shape:

1.       the ‘temple’  titheNum 18:21-32(NOT VOLUNTARY!)     
  • 1/10 of the produce of the land (grain, oil, fruits & animals)
  • Supported the Levites – the tribe of priests
  • As their inheritance in return for the work they do serving at the Tent of Meeting.
2.       the ‘celebration’ titheDeut 12:6-18
  • 1/10 of the grain produced
  • For celebration in thanksgiving
  • Eaten there and then in a celebratory meal
3.       the ‘charity’ titheDeut 14:28-29
  • after 3 years 1/10
  • to Levite for the aliens, fatherless widows

In addition tothese three forms of tithe the people were also asked to give more than this on:  sabbatical years; jubilee years; the time of firstlings (Spring); and for pilgrim feasts. Development of the concept of the tithe in the OT is not absolutely clear.  So we don’t know if it began as the Celebration tithe, then became the Charity and then the Temple tithe, or if tithing meant all 3.  The Jewish tradition includes the 3 tithes.  Can you imagine if we all gave in that way? 

Deut 14:23 gives an answer to the question, “why tithe?” – so that you may learn to revere God always. We need to remember God’s reasoning behind the introduction of tithing as shown to us in the bodies of Numbers and Deuteronomy.Worship     1.   to enable worship and celebration (the support of the Temple)Ministry      2.  to support God’s called out servants (the support of the priestly tribe, the Levites)Mission      3.  to enable charitable work (the support of the needy) 

Why give? SO THAT WE MAY LEARN TO REVERE GOD ALWAYS  As Christians tithing offers us a way of remembering God’s blessing and work in our lives and a way of giving thanks, respect, reverence to God. AND tithing offers us a way of ensuring that worship, ministry and mission takes place. Tithing or giving is not an end in itself.  If we look at it that way we run the risk of giving out of a legalistic understanding of God – God says so I must. LIKE THE TICKET SYSTEM Giving is a means to an end, the end being the reverence of God by ourselves and everyone else in the world. 

The temple tithe was not voluntary it was obligatory.  There are still churches today who operate along that same principle.  If you’re not giving 10% you can’t belong and you certainly can’t be in leadership.  eg WCF and St Luke’s (as soon as the priest hears that you are working he arrives with a Planned Giving form)  To make those kind of rules of belonging often cloud the basic requirement of God eg– which is faith.  Absolute faith Matt 23:23-24.  in the Hebrews reading we heard a litany of the faithful, beginning with Abraham.  People who believe and trusted and risked, who place their faith in God alone.   This is a difficult thing to ask.  I think most people find it easier to follow a set of rules than to follow that basic way of living purely by faith.  Take the Gospel story of the rich young man wanted to know what he should do, what rules he should follow in order to enter the Kingdom of God and Jesus tells him the rules and he says I am doing all that already.  Jesus says ‘one thing you lack’ sell everything….and the poor rich young man can’t do it.  Sometimes we can’t let go of the security of earthly possessions (it’s as hard as threading a camel through the eye of a needle. 

But it’s also not about giving up as much as you can in order to earn holiness.  No amount of giving of earthly possessions can get you entry to the Kingdom of God.  Only faith can. So our giving should be – first and foremost an expression of faith.

 

So how much can you or should’ you give? Look a the booklet

 

Roy will say at All Saints today “that if every single person on our electoral roll did give £5 a week – the cost of a Gallon of petrol, a bottle of wine, a pack fags, a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal or a packet of mince, which, I venture to say is affordable to every single one of us, whatever our financial positions – if we did that, then we would have half of what we need to resource the ministry of the Parish in the future. And that wouldn’t be a problem, because as we are reminded in the Gospel reading, what is generous for some people is not at all generous for others!  £5 a week would be a bit like the Widows mite – and there will be huge numbers of us who can (and indeed many already do, surpass that figure 3, 5 or 10 times over!  Then will the ministry of this Parish be properly resourced!

In the little booklet which you have been given, there is a graph which [we] have found very helpful in understanding what is wrong with our parish Finances – would you like to turn to it for a moment.

·         You will see that each black vertical line represents a giver in the planned giving scheme, and you will see that the graph goes up to 201 – that is how many givers (accounting for husband and wife pairings) there would be if everyone on the electoral roll gave in this way.  Red lines represent those of you who have already reviewed your giving since we began this campaign earlier in the year.

·         The graph highlights 3 actual problems, and one potential problem:

1.       The first actual problem is that there are almost 60 potential givers on the electoral roll (down in the right hand corner) who have not yet joined the planned giving scheme at all.

2.       The second actual problem is that about 85% of those who are giving, are at a level which is below the average required to meet our costs

3.       And the third actual problem is that only about one in eight of us have so far reviewed our giving this year in the light of the present need.

4.       The potential problem is that if our top ten givers were all riding together in a minibus that happened to drive off the edge of a cliff (I trust you will realise that I’m using a metaphor?) then in one fell swoop the giving would fall by about 35%!

At the top of the graph it asks where you fit in?  A good question, as we also consider that God calls us all to be generous after the example of Jesus Christ himself “ . . . . that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty, you may become rich”.

 

Conclusion – So what can you give to Christ’s Church here in Fleet?

Only you can answer this question. When trying to work it out for yourself please consider what you now know about the parish’ financial situation, and what you know about the OT concept of tithing and the NT concept of giving. 

Above all, remember that our giving should be – first and foremost an expression of faith.‘God everything I possess, including my life and my family comes from you.  The least I can do is acknowledge your graciousness by giving to you.’ 

And it is done as an act of worship, within the context of celebration in front of God’s servants and God’s people and in the hope of meeting the needs of the poor. And we give to a particular place/church because it is the place in which we live out our faith.  Here is where I pray.  Here is where I worship God.  Here is where I find my Christian home and family.  Here is where I get fed.  Here is where I seek to feed others. 

It actually takes much more than 10% of your income.  It takes an offering of your self    a willingness to get involved, to make worship what it ought to be, to make ministry what it ought to be, and to make mission and charity what it ought to be.  It can’t be done without you.

FUNDING OUR FUTURE – Sermon 1 – Sunday 10th October 2010 – All Saints

October 10th, 2010
Readings:   2 Corinthians 8:1-15     Mark 12:41-44

Sermon By Rev. Roy Woodhams, Vicar of Fleet 

I know I’ve told this story before, and I’ll probably tell it again – but here goes:A small girl in Church one Sunday spotted her mother putting a 50 pence piece into the collection plate.  On the way home she listened for some time while her mother ranted about the poor quality of the sermon that they had been forced to listen to.  After a while, the girl could stand it no longer.  ’But Mummy’, she interrupted, ‘what do you expect for 50p?’

‘What do you expect for 50p?’ is a pretty reasonable question to ask, isn’t it?  But I’m going to allow for inflation for a moment and bring the question up to date and ask, ‘What do we expect for £5?’

What do we expect for £5?

A Gallon of petrol – a mediocre bottle of wine – a packet of cigarettes – a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal – 700g of mince or a pack of chicken breasts (unless we shop in Waitrose where they seem to have lost the plot on meat pricing!)

What do we expect for £5?

For the next four weeks, leading up to our Patronal Festival, and as part of our ‘Funding the Future’ programme, we are going to concentrate our sermon teaching on various aspects of Christian giving.

An important element of Christian service is that of “giving” and by our giving we are following the New Testament pattern of taking up a collection in order to “provide for needy saints, and support the work of the church”.  And here, we find the answer to one of the most often asked questions about Christian giving – “If I give my money to the local Church, what is it used for?”  And the answer is pretty much the same as it was in the early Church at the time of the writing of the Acts of the Apostles – the money we give is primarily to support and resource the ministry of the local Church.

As I have said before, this Parish is in a very privileged position – being able to pay for all the new facilities that we needed in order for us to function effectively and reach out into the community!  We’re able to do that because of the generosity of people in the past who have bequeathed money to support these projects that are now happening all around us, here at All Saints right now and at P&J soon.  But having done all this work, the ‘stored up’ money runs out.

It costs over £200,000 a year (That’s pretty much £20,000 a month, £5,000 a week and £700 a day) – a frightening amount of money – to cover ministry and utility costs and to pay the staff which this Parish needs in order to be able to do all the things that God is calling it to do!

And simply, the money we give through the planned giving scheme pays for that!  Or more to the point, it doesn’t anything like pay for it at present, which is why we need to have this ‘Funding our Future’ campaign now!

In the New Testament reading this morning, and as we’re reminded in the little introduction, Paul is writing to the Church in Corinth – a large commercial centre renowned for its wealth, paganism and licentious living.

Doesn’t that sound alarmingly like the Fleet that we live in?

And Paul, seeking to inspire the Corinthians to abound in the grace of giving, used the example of the churches of Macedonia (that is the Churches in Philippi and Thessalonica) – they were not rich Churches like the Church in Corinth – rather they were poor and persecuted, and yet apparently they gave – and we hear that they gave Sacrificially, Joyfully, Voluntarily, Persistently and they gave ‘Themselves’!  Which undoubtedly adds up to the truth that they gave ‘generously’. 

And they gave to support preachers in the spread of the gospel, to help needy Christians in a foreign land, and to help an old preacher in his time of need.

And there is a modern comparison which I am able to offer you here, and which is based on statistics provided by the Diocese, and it’s not about far off Churches in foreign lands 2,000 years ago, but about 21st century Churches right here in Fleet and Farnborough.

The Parish of Farnborough, which covers huge swathes of ‘estate housing’ and very few of the sorts of houses we see in Fleet, has a level of Giving to the local Church, per head on the electoral roll , which exceeds that in Fleet by almost 200%.  Yes, Anglican Christians in Farnborough give three times as much, per person, to resource ministry as do Anglican Christians in Fleet.

I asked the question earlier, ‘what can we expect for £5?’ 

Well, if every single person on our electoral roll did give £5 a week – the cost of a Gallon of petrol, a bottle of wine, a pack fags, a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal or a packet of mince, which, I venture to say is affordable to every single one of us, whatever our financial positions – if we did that, then we would have half of what we need to resource the ministry of the Parish in the future.

And that wouldn’t be a problem, because as we are reminded  in the Gospel reading, what is generous for some people is not at all generous for others!  £5 a week would be a bit like the Widows mite – and there will be huge numbers of us who can (and indeed many already do, surpass that figure 3, 5 or 10 times over!  Then will the ministry of this Parish be properly resourced!

In the little booklet which you have been given, there is a graph which I have found very helpful in understanding what is wrong with our parish Finances – would you like to turn to it for a moment.

You will see that each black vertical line represents a giver in the planned giving scheme, and you will see that the graph goes up to 201 – that is how many givers (accounting for husband and wife pairings) there would be if everyone on the electoral roll gave in this way.  Red lines represent those of you who have already reviewed your giving since we began this campaign earlier in the year.

I think the graph highlights 3 actual problems, and one potential problem:

The first actual problem is that there are almost 60 potential givers on the electoral roll (down in the right hand corner) who have not yet joined the planned giving scheme at all.

The second actual problem is that about 85% of those who are giving, are at a level which is below the average required to meet our costs.

And the third actual problem is that only about one in eight of us have so far reviewed our giving this year in the light of the present need.

The potential problem is that if our top ten givers were all riding together in a minibus that happened to drive off the edge of a cliff (I trust you will realise that I’m using a metaphor?) then in one fell swoop the giving would fall by about 35%!

At the top of the graph it asks where you fit in?  A good question, as we also consider that God calls us all to be generous after the example of Jesus Christ himself “ . . . . that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty, you may become rich”.

When we give generously, we are not responding to the Vicar ranting on a Sunday Morning, or to the Finance Team who sit in dark rooms plotting graphs and statistics!  No we are responding to God himself, who has given us life, and to Jesus Christ, his Son, who in his death has won for us eternal life, living in the joys of heaven!

A 50 pence piece met a £5 note at a pub and said, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you around much lately, where have you been?’   The £5 note replied, ‘I’ve been hanging out at the Bingo, done the lottery a few times, had an Indian takeaway, been to a couple of football matches, a bit of shopping, a holiday in Greece.  How about you?’   The 50p piece sighed and said, ‘Oh, you know, same old stuff – church, church, church!’

Discovering the joy of community living on Iona

October 9th, 2010

In mid-August a group of pilgrims from All Saints and P and J  spent a week’s pilgrimage at Iona Abbey, in the Hebrides.  

Sally Hastings writes:

I last visited the island and its ancient abbey many years ago, and decided then that the best way to fully appreciate this amazing place was to return as a pilgrim.  The island has had a chequered history. St Columba arrived from Ireland and chose it as a site for his monastic foundation, in 563.  The original church was attacked by Vikings in the eighth century, but was rebuilt as a Benedictine Abbey in 1203.  It is the burial place of early Scottish kings.  The abbey was later reduced to ruins again as part of Henry the  Eighth’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.  In 1938 The Iona Community, pioneered by George McCloud, painstakingly restored the monastic buildings and now hold regular services in the abbey.  Thanks to the community’s hard work, dedication and vision, it has become a world renowned ecumenical Christian centre, where pilgrims and volunteers come from all parts of the world, either to attend the services, or to live in community for a time, taking part in all the jobs, from cleaning the rooms, to preparing meals and sharing in worship. The journey from Fleet to Iona is not for the faint-hearted, and is best seen as part of the pilgrimage.  The Fleet “pilgrims” chose various methods of transport, largely involving rail, ferry and coach 

as we made our way to Oban, before crossing by ferry to Mull, and then taking a further ferry to Iona.  Anne and Brian Biffin drove, and arrived on Iona by canoe. There’s no capping that, is there?!

 Apart from one wet day, the weather was glorious.  Whichever way we looked the views were spectacular. The ruins of an ancient nunnery; the square, stone abbey, cows grazing in fields sloping down to the white, sandy beaches, lapped by sapphire blue seas.  Just across the Sound lay the island of Mull. Iona is three miles long by one and a half miles wide, and like most exposed Celtic places, the weather is changeable.  Some of the young volunteers who worked at the abbey during the winter and spring assured me conditions can get very cold indeed.  “Sometimes the wind is so strong you can hardly stand up,” one said.  The accommodation is adequate, but fairly Spartan. I shared a dormitory with four other women. It was the part that I was looking forward to the least. What if they all snored ? What if I snored? Shock, horror. In fact, because four of us were all from Fleet, it proved to be great fun, and snoring was never mentioned.  I hope the intrepid New Zealander who was the fifth member of the group felt equally relaxed.  Once my family had recovered from the shock of hearing that their mother had stayed anywhere for a week without room service, ensuite bathrooms or a la carte menus, and actually paid for the privilege, they wanted to know what I did all day, I think the key to it are the words “living in community”. There were worship services throughout the day, in the abbey. John Bell, preacher, musician and sacred song writer, led seminars most days on a variety of issues concerning church life. There were also discussions on peace and justice.  The 60 or so pilgrims were divided into three teams: otters, puffins and seals. We all had our daily tasks; mine was cleaning the loos in our dormitory block, (well, somebody had to do it!) and waiting at table for the evening meal (with well scrubbed hands).  There was also an opportunity to take part in pilgrimages to various parts of the island, make music together, sit and chat, or find a quiet spot on one’s own. Botanists and naturalists were in their element.  One night some of the group joined islanders and visitors in the local hall for a ceildih. Another evening many of us took part in an end of pilgrimage concert, with pilgrims from all parts of the world, including Sweden, America, New Zealand and the UK, demonstrating a wide array of talents, and plenty of good humour.  I came away from Iona humbled by the beauty of God’s creation, and spurred on to reach out more to other people, and not to cling so rigidly to my own need for “space.” I discovered some of the challenges … and the joy of living in a Christian community.   

Jean Belgrove writes:

Staying in the Iona Abbey is a life-changing experience as well as a wonderful holiday. Scotland is so beautiful and as an ‘add on’ Jean Hawkins and I walked on a little island named Kerera, just off the Oban coast – marvellous. Also, we joined David Woodhouse, an ecologist living on Mull seaeaglewoodhouse@btinternet.com who showed us sea eagles, golden eagles, otter, etc. Staying at their B&B was a luxurious treat. A truly blessed time. 

Judy Keep writes:

After two attempts to visit Staffa on previous visits to Iona, I was doubly determined to get there despite the worst that the weather could throw at us on the day, but Wednesday dawned, bright and  clear with a relatively calm sea and a full boatload.  With a stop at Fionnphort to pick up more passengers, we were off on a 45-minute trip to the island. We saw quite a few gannets enroute plummeting down from 50ft up in the air to swim with their wings under water – a remarkable feat. We were also lucky enough to have a close view of a basking shark all of 24 ft long and quite undisturbed by the presence of two large boats nearby. Once landed on the island I took the opportunity to explore its whole length along the cliff edge and had another view of the basking shark from the land. Then on along a narrow rocky path near sea level to the cave. The cathedral-like soaring basalt pillars at the entrance were the most impressive, as were the pentagonal and hexagonal shapes of the rocks at sea level where the pillars had broken off.One could imagine very easily how Mendelssohn could have been inspired by its grandeur to compose Fingal’s Cave. All too soon we had to return to the boat and embark for the return trip. But for me it was a wonderful memory that will never be forgotten.  

Gift Day – 29 August Away From It All (AFIA) Holiday Scheme

August 29th, 2010

Mothers’ Union AFIA holidays are a practical and important way to help support family life. Each year the MU offers on average 550 families a holiday through the AFIA holiday scheme. The scheme is funded by the members of Mothers’ Union and enables around 850 adults and 1200 children to get away for a break in the UK each year.

The scheme is open to anyone who is under stress. Applicants do not have to be a member of a church or any organisation. It is also possible for people to apply personally or on the behalf of someone else.

Each diocese has a team of Mothers’ Union members who organise the scheme. They will normally help with part of the cost of a holiday or with travel expenses. In some cases they are able to pay the whole cost but diocesan funds are often limited.

Each application needs the support of one of the following professionals such as a clergyperson, doctor, head teacher or social worker. Other basic information such as when the family last had a holiday and the reason why they would like a break should also be included.

The holidays available take many different forms and vary from diocese to diocese. Some are more suitable for families, others for individuals, examples include:
• Specially organised family weeks with people on hand to help out with planned outings
• Time at a Mothers’ Union caravan, usually on a site with full facilities by the beach
• Staying at a guest house or small family hotel
• Breaks at a holiday camp

The AFIA scheme tries to provide the most suitable holiday possible catering for everyone’s needs to ensure all have a very enjoyable time. The scheme is also a very rewarding experience for everyone involved in the organisation and administration of the holidays. Practically all the dioceses in the UK run an AFIA holiday scheme and there are many thousands of satisfied holidaymakers as a result.

Many thanks for your generous donations to the MU charity AFIA which provides holidays for needy families. We shall be able to send a total of £1217.