Here’s the Report form our recent AGM!
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. If you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
It’s been over 2 years since Helena and I arrived at St Michael’s. There are so many highlights so far of God blessing us here and there are so many Good news stories to be told, especially this last year gone. But I also know that I have made many mistakes: there has been lots of challenges, stresses and times where I wish things had gone better or that I had acted differently. I don’t mean to say this to beat myself up but to acknowledge this is what life is like: yes, great joys and moments of wonder but also stresses, strains and times of pain. There are times when you feel angry and frustrated and times when the world doesn’t go your way and when relationships are strained.
Jesus understood this. In fact he came to be with us and in so doing entered into the pains and struggles of earthly life. It’s the greatest wonder of them all that God so loved the world that he gave us his son. This was not a small, little gesture to humankind that God cared for them. This was a giant embrace of us all declaring that God is not only your creator but he is with you today. You don’t need to look up at the sky to catch a glimpse of God, you don’t need to climb a far away mountain to reach him. You just need to come to know God in the here and now, in the beauty and brokenness of this world.
I heard it said that we should define Christians as ‘professional lovers of God and people’. Well that word professional seems slightly scary, especially when I know that I often get the whole loving God and people thing very wrong. I am a professional failure in that regard. But what it means when we say ‘we are professional lovers of God and people’ is that this is our life’s work. This is our goal and aim that binds us together as a community. It shouldn’t be just a hobby or an occasional interest it is our whole life’s work. Yes it takes a lot of practice and yes we often get it wrong but loving God and loving people brings us to the heart and mind of God. It is the way we were created to be.
To put it this way when we acknowledge that God is with us, even in the stresses and brokenness of our lives, and that nothing can persuade God not to love us (even when we doubt it ourselves) then we also feel the calling to be with others and to love them as we are loved as hard as that maybe. When we do that we discover more and more about who we are and who God is.
It is my simple hope for St Michael’s that we grow together as lovers of God and people. But loving people and being with people is so difficult and fraught with risks and dangers. There have been some really hard times recently. Being in the Byker Garden on a wednesday we are regularly having to repair, and rebuild what others have damaged, not to mention pick up a huge amount of rubbish that others have left on the floor. But no sooner have we repaired and picked up the rubbish then the next week there is more damage and more mess. That’s how it feels sometimes! We constantly have to repair and sort out what others have damaged and thrown at us. What is the answer? Well there are clearly things we can do to protect ourselves: (CCTV systems, informing the police..) and of course we shouldn’t be sitting ducks and soft targets for others to take advantage of. However the radical way of Jesus teaches us to love and be with the very people who can hurt us. That’s a real challenge for me and to us all but that’s what the local church is all about: extending our friendship and love to everyone in Byker even and especially those who hurt us and are hardest to reach.
What does this entail?
Well loving the people of Byker means getting alongside children and young people in the area, providing a safe space for them to learn and build relationships at the Boys Brigade, and at our Youth café and Youth Café extra, at the Sunday school and Kids Club and Youth Service and Girl’s group. It means giving young people opportunities to go on days out like the farm trip to Carlisle and holidays with Scripture Union. It means also in insisting that we have Good news to share. We want to show young people the way of Jesus and how much God loves them.
Loving the people of Byker will be central to our Café project, the Cross café, which we hope will begin in the next few weeks. We want it to be a place of community, friendship and support . It’s going to be wonderful to have this Centre open and available to people with other projects promoting healthy living alongside the café. We must be warned however that people won’t just pile in once the Café is open. We will need to welcome and extend a warm invitation to the people of Byker to show them we are here and this café is for them. It will be hard work. It may not turn out exactly as we had hoped or planned but we pray that God will guide us.
Loving the people of Byker will also mean renewing our Church Building on Headlam St as a place of worship and prayer. This has been an on going project many years in the making and we still have along way to go! But this year we hope to make some considerable progress in developing the Church so that it is a safe and comfortable space for our Church family and the Byker community. I believe that this year is the right time for us to move our Sunday worship to the Church building. We are not sure when this move will be yet but hopefully sometime in the summer. The building will not be perfect, with everything in place the way we might want it to be, but it will be an exciting place for us to grow into.
Please don’t forget though that the Church is about God, people and relationships. It’s not about buildings. Our focus is on loving God and loving people, and a great deal of this task takes place in our own homes, in our work places and getting alongside people where they are which today doesn’t tend to be in Church! We can’t deny though that our buildings are symbols of the Church’s presence and commitment to an area and a focus for our life together. Our Centre here in Raby Cross is a symbol of the Church’s engagement with the community as a place of worship and as a place for young people, an engagement that will be enhanced I hope by the Cross café. I want the Church building to be in the first instance a symbol of the Church’s growth and a sign of hope and God’s love in the Byker community. This can only happen because of the loving and welcoming community the building contains and our on going mission to go beyond our buildings to love and be with people where they are.
St Michael’s isn’t perfect. Sometimes things are messy. Sometimes things are not very well organised. Sometimes we get our communication wrong and sometimes tasks need to be better delegated. We are a work in progress but the amazing thing is that God does work through all of that. That doesn’t mean to imply that things shouldn’t be improved or that we should be complacent but we should rejoice that we are a real family learning together what it is to be a follower of Jesus. As I realise time and time again God has a knack of working with our imperfections and our brokenness and still using us to build his kingdom and show the world his love. I am so thankful for everyone in this Church family and all that you do to inspire and
show me God’s love. Let’s be thankful to God for all that he is doing and let’s be excited about the next year ahead.