What in the world are we building?
I’ve always loved a good quote… So here’s one from a fascinating 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian and poet, who I studied as part my theology degree a while back, called Søren Kierkegaard. He brilliantly once said this:
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Despite my often extroverted and happily spontaneous nature, truthfully, I’m actually quite a reflective kind of guy, who often spends much time considering the world in which we live, and how well I have played my part in trying to love God and serve those amongst whom he’s placed me. These thoughts are magnified as I occasionally stand in the porch of St Thomas à Becket and gaze up at the long list of esteemed clergy, who have faithfully served the parish since the 12th century. I wonder what their hopes and longings might have once been for their days of ministry and ‘care of souls’, and I wonder, at the end, did they feel content?
Happily, unlike my predecessors, there is, as yet, no end date next to my name, so this story, like all good cliff hangers, will be continued…
Summer, I think, is a good time for all of us to pause and reflect. So, as I sit here today, cogitating over my iced coffee, looking back with joy and thankfulness, I also increasingly yearn for what might be and, like St Paul, long to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
We live in shifting days, politically, socially and globally. How much more important then, are the eternal truths and message of hope that we as Christ’s ambassadors hold to? The saints of old of Widcombe and Lyncombe left a legacy of more than just stones and mortar, having established and nurtured a faithful community of prayerful worshippers that still endures today.
St Thomas à Becket and St Matt’s with their authentic, prayerful, dedicated and growing band of worshippers, are not (as much of the media might have us believe) a dwindling cohort of outdated gullibles on the brink of extinction. On the contrary, I passionately believe now is the time to rediscover our voice. To confidently proclaim the Gospel of Good News in which we find our hope and light, a Gospel which has answers, both local and global, to every woe that ails our world.
It’s good then to reflect on the past and live each day as a gift. But let’s never stop dreaming of what might be and ask God to help our tomorrows be more blessed, more fruitful and more Christ-centred than our yesterdays.
That’s why along with our beautiful jewel of a church St Thomas à Becket, we want to see the vast building of St Matt’s restored into a place of welcome, worship and wonder. Built by Victorians to serve and bless the residents of Widcombe and beyond, nothing in that regard has changed. However, the needs and opportunities facing us today do look very different.
Psalm 127 with its wise words, reminds us that “Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labour in vain.”
I believe in these days God wants to expand our often-limited vision of what it means to be church; to birth in us a fresh vision of what it means to see every part of our lives, communities and culture transformed by the Spirit of God. For these reasons and more, our buildings as centres of worship, fellowship, prayer and community life will always be central in this.
Along with St Thomas, St Matt’s now again has the amazing opportunity to play its part in this new emerging spiritual landscape by re-imagining church and redefining its purpose and its pattern as a hub for both church and community life.
When I dream about what church can be, I imagine a place that’s always open, a welcoming place that creates community for people of all faiths and none – a place that exists to serve and love those outside its walls – with musical events, art exhibitions, mum’s and toddlers’ groups, coffee mornings, recovery groups and great useable spaces for clubs, community groups and businesses.
I imagine a church with rooms for training, for prayer, for worship, for counselling, for parties and for silence – a space to laugh, listen, love and learn.
I imagine a church where all ages, backgrounds and generations are welcomed, valued and joined in fellowship and purpose; a family where children and youth, students and young adults, single people, married, widowed, divorced, families, middle aged and retired, together find honour, purpose and connection.
I imagine a church full of creative ideas, with both entrepreneurial space and vision, a hub that births start-ups and charities, housing a wealth of wisdom, experience, support and great facilities.
I imagine a church that prioritises care for the vulnerable, the lonely, and the poor; a place where all are welcomed with dignity, excellence of care, practical support and integration to other city services and charities.
I imagine a church that focuses on hospitality, that understands that people are priority and family is everything…. and that good coffee is really really important.
So what legacy might we leave for our beautiful city to one day reflect back on? Well, I’d love us all to be part of a dream that became reality, a fully restored St Matthew’s church building – a place reborn that became a vibrant, warm, bright, engaging, welcoming hub – a building overflowing with energy, space, wisdom, creativity, light and life. A place where dreams are birthed and potential released; a place of welcome, encounter, worship and wonder.
Lord, we offer you ourselves, our resources and our buildings.
May we be good stewards of all that you have graciously given to us
For Your glory and Your Kingdoms sake.
Have a wonderfully reflective and refreshing Summer! Love & prayers, Tim x