Looking back at Lent 2015: ‘The kingdom of God in the West End of London’
During the season of Lent we have enjoyed five different and challenging sermons from ministers and pastors from neighbouring churches in and around the West End. We each have our different histories, but we share a common missionary environment. I asked all five to reflect with us on their own tradition and how they felt their own tradition would face up to these challenges in the time to come. The resulting sermons were fascinating, in part because only two of the five seemed to do what I asked (!); and because we learned as much about their tradition from their style of preaching as from its content. We are most grateful to Christopher from the Jesuit Church at Farm Street, Stephane from the French Protestant Church, Joseph, once of the Hungarian Catholic church, Simon from the Central Baptist Church around the corner, and Katherine, from our Anglican neighbours at St Martins-in-the-Fields. Here is an extract from Katherine’s preaching on the 22nd March in which she acknowledges some of the problems we, as Christians, face today, and some of the ways in which our Anglican tradition is responding to them.
‘The Anglican Church, a nice historic monument to visit and photograph, or part of a worldwide Communion that is alive, growing and relevant in countries across the globe? A nostalgic affectionate memory of a bygone age, disconnected and not relevant to people’s everyday lives, or a diverse and inclusive community, deeply committed to engaging with the most pressing social issues of our society, and challenging the causes? A church caught up in divisions that set us apart from each other, or working truthfully with difference, modelling a way of living reconciliation, however costly, on the issues of gender and sexuality.
‘We can see both that the Church is deeply engaged and has become disconnected and is to many irrelevant to their daily lives. We live in a society, where in particular for our younger generation, the Y generation those born in the late 80’s through the Millennium, relationships and a sense of community are found through social media.
‘There are challenges here both for what it means to create community as church and about how we engage with people with the Good news of the Gospel. How do we address our structures so that there is a natural place for faith in people’s lives, where we are not ‘old news’ and can speak with relevance ‘into the moment’ of our online age and communicate God as a source of wonder and connectivity and relevance for the i-generation, the digital natives?
‘With just 800,000 regularly attending a Church of England on a Sunday, with a fall of 4 million in the numbers of those who would call themselves Christian in a decade, the average age of congregations now at around 61, and the number of people indicating that they have no religious affiliation growing, we are at a tipping point, or crisis point. As a church we are compelled to face the reality. Are we managing ourselves into extinction or open to letting go of old narratives, to allow new things to come? What can Anglicans in countries where the church is growing teach us? What can we see coming to life in the places where we live and work that needs to be encouraged and nurtured?
‘The growing respect for the work of chaplains in diverse and complex workplaces around the country is a sign of a new engagement, the spirit at work taking faith into people’s daily life. The think tank Theos, comments: ‘In a changing – and allegedly increasingly secular – religious landscape, the rapid growth of chaplaincy, and its every greater expansion into new fields of activity, is a story that needs to be told. It shows us new ways in which the church can operate in the public square.’
‘London Challenge is a another example of how the Church here in London has been embracing new things with its Confident, Compassionate, Creative agenda; the championing of ambassadors and young people confident to be advocates of the Christian faith in London; the creation of new worshipping communities, and a focus on our Church schools as loci for sharing the Christian faith into our communities, where the Christian narrative is in fear of being lost.
‘Justin Welby has spoken about the importance of communicating afresh the compelling love of Christ. And that is a challenge to the Church; “The Spirit inspires us to greater and more inspiring creativity and imagination, co-opting every medium possible to extend the invitation, always compelling, definitely arresting – calling on all our senses to be open to His love.”
‘How the Anglican Church here, and across our world continues to speak into the complex changes and challenges of our global community, at the level of local communities, is a source of hope for our world. In the 2011 summer riots in London, it was the churches that were able to offer real stability and compassionate care. They were the ones on the ground who had the relationships and knew the people. It is in churches where we often find food banks, or debt counselling, or are places were other faiths come together to share experience and find a touching place.’
First Sunday Giving in 2014 and April
The Church Urban Fund is the main, national mission and charity we are supporting this year. In January we raised £183.54 and in February £240.69. This month we shall be collecting for the Church Urban Fund again on Easter Day. On the first Sunday of June (7th) we shall be welcoming a speaker from the Fund at both our morning and evening services. In March we collected for the Bishop of London Lent Appeal, which this month was aiming to raise funds to support work with young people. A total of £343.42 was taken, and our thanks go to all those who contributed.
The Buried Treasure Bible Reading Group
With Holy Week and Easter the group is taking a break for a while and shall begin meeting again on 21st April and then again on 28th April. Having given the Old Testament a good run for its money, the new season will bring a fresh biblical topic for us, one that I have long wanted to study more closely – the Gospel according to Luke. All are, of course, welcome.
The 2014 – 2015 Community Audit
Those of you who follow these pages may be forgiven for wondering if the community audit I have written about before will ever see the light of day. I am pleased to say that this work has now been completed and was presented to the PCC at its meeting of 22nd March. I am more than happy to provide a copy to anyone else who may be interested. The audit comprises data and information drawn from the last census for our parish, and from other sources – the diocese and local community groups; an appraisal of the questionnaires returned from members of the congregation and the wider community; and then some reflection on the future mission of St Giles in the light of the audit. I very much hope this work will serve as a basis for thought and consideration in the time to come.
From the community
Some community congratulations are in order at this time. Firstly, we congratulate the Phoenix Artist Club in Phoenix Street, round the corner from St Giles, which has been shortlisted for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Community’ category in the Camden Business Awards 2015, which take place in early June. The Club, founded in 1988, supports numerous charities, attracts film festivals, book launches, hosts the Camden Fringe and weekly events for individuals, groups and artists who find it difficult to both find a venue, break through or gain a foothold in the entertainments industry.
Secondly, we note that inmidtown, our local business enterprise group, has picked up four awards at the City of London’s 14th Annual Sustainable City Awards: for sustainable travel and transport, sustainable business enterprise bids, for promoting improved air quality and for tackling local issues of climate change. Well done to Tass Mavrogordato and her team.
Thirdly, congratulations are due to Jamie Nalton, who was recently appointed as the new Director of the Simon Community, which runs the food vans outside St Giles on Saturdays and Sundays. Jamie has been interim manager since Christmas 2013, and has now taken up the reins permanently. We wish him well.
Finally, I picked up a note from the Safer Street Team which work locally with the street homeless community. They were thanking PC Helen Kirby for her work as street population lead for the Metropolitan Police in Camden over the past 18 months. Helen is now moving on to become acting Sergeant in Holborn. In particular they praised her to balancing ‘compassion and support for vulnerable people with a clear understanding of the problems for the wider community.’ Helen is but one of the many people engaged in the life of our parish neighbourhood which can sometimes be overlooked.