Sunday 17th April 2016, Easter 4, morning
Report to Annual Meeting, by Revd Chris Palmer
At 11.30 we have our Annual Meeting. As in previous years, this sermon will be by way of report to the Annual meeting. There are going to be three parts: first an attempt to get an overview of what being church – being Holy Trinity – is about; second getting some input from the congregation; third a look at some more particular things.
So first, what is being church about? This could be put in so many ways, but today’s Gospel reading gives a lovely insight: ‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.’ In those twelve words is a lovely summary of our relationship with Jesus. Being church is about hearing and following. And it is grounded in the conviction that Jesus knows us.
We tend to think of the spiritual life as the quest to know God. But really, the beginning of all spirituality is the assurance that we are known.  That is, that God, that Jesus knows us intimately and completely, with all our quirks and bluster and secrets and self importance, and nonetheless loves us and desires us.
And our response to this knowing, is to hear and follow. Of course these things are not straightforward. There are lots of voices competing for our attention in more life, the expectations of other people, the lure of advertising, the values of a consumerist culture, the insidious suggestion of what’s fashionable; to hear Jesus often feels like trying to pick out his voice amongst lots of other noise that threatens to drown it out. But to wake up each morning with the intention of seeking to hear and desiring to follow the call of Jesus, that is Christian living.
The other thing about the sheep is that they are a flock. They are in it together. Lots of secular spirituality has taken on an unfortunately individuality tone. But for Christians the life of hearing and following Jesus is one we do together. This is why being church is not an optional extra of Christian living, or an entertainment choice amongst the many past time options on offer. We help each other as we follow Jesus’ voice together. Sometimes this is particular help when one needs and another gives support. More often it is simply being together with the purpose of following Christ. In gathering for worship we receive each other’s encouragement. When we fail to meet together, we not only miss out ourselves, but deprive others of our encouragement in that moment.
With this first remarks, I want to come to the getting some response. And we’re going to do this in the form of a survey. We carried out a similar survey just over a year ago – but online. We thought we would achieve a greater response by doing it on paper on a Sunday. The sheet you have is intended to be easy and quick to complete. Many of the questions are the same as last year. And we’d like to give you 3 - 4 minutes to complete it.
I deliberately did the survey not at the end of the sermon, but before I went on, as I didn’t want to skew the responses. Many things have happened in the last year. You can read about them in the annual review. But two of them were from our Mission Action Plan. The Rule of Life project, and the Pastoral Network.
The Rule of Life Project was simply a way of fostering the deliberate intention is each of us to hear and follow Jesus. We published materials, had sermons and personal stories, and each week there’s been a suggestion on the notice sheet to keep this theme alive. This material is all still available. We might have to do some work to make the paper copies available again; but it’s all on our website.
The other project was the Pastoral network. The word pastoral goes well with the shepherd theme today; a pastor is a shepherd. And it reflects that idea of our following being something we do together. We divided the congregation into nine groups, according to where each person lived, and appointed a co-ordinator for each area, to foster relationships, and with light touch caring in each area. This is not intended to replace the care of natural friendships or the pastoral role of clergy; it is meant as a further expression of care in a deliberate way that isn’t subject to the vagaries of whether you happen to know others. We are aware that the implementation has been patchy in places, but I hope that by each of us encouraging the network in our area, we can make this grow as a useful tool in the coming year.
Looking forward, two things.
First the third MAP project is yet to launch. This was a project to encourage volunteering both in our church and more widely in the community, along with celebrating what volunteering people already do. I suspect we will be amazed at the extent both of how far our congregation’s service to others already reaches, and at the opportunities for volunteering that exist which we are only dimly aware of.
The second thing I want to mention is an initiative of the whole Church of England. Led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, we are taking part in a week of prayer for evangelism in May. You’ve got a flyer about this today. This is a week in which we seek God’s deepening our discipleship – we could say, a week for knowing that we are known, and hearing and following Jesus – so that we have the courage to share our faith, and desire others to follow Jesus too. There are three ways of joining in the week: using the daily material we will publish on 1 May; using the prayer space we will create; and joining in times of collective prayer. I hope we’ll each do a bit of all of these. The week of prayer works together brilliantly with our projects to encourage a Rule of Life and mutual care through the Pastoral Network. If other groups in the congregation, home groups, network groups, groups of friends, want to organise their own prayer events for the week – please feel free – there is no central control; but we are offering these times as a focus for our praying.
I want to end this report on a personal note of thanks to the congregation. My passion in ministry is being a companion with others on the journey of faith – much more than heading an institution. Holy Trinity is a place in which that journey of faith – hearing, following, encouraging – feels alive and real; I thank you for sharing the journey and being fellow companions on the road.
 Galatians 4:9