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In my Minister’s Letters this year, I’m unpacking the “Values” in St Michael’s “Vision 2020” statement. Here’s the seventh on the list of things we value:
Loving church communities of contentment and sacrifice, which care for the vulnerable.
Alongside the 4th – “prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit” – this one on community is the one I feel most dissatisfied and guilty about. Do we really value these things?
To value something is to prize and to cherish it.
Unsurprisingly, the previous parish I served also had value statements esteeming prayer and loving community. And unsurprisingly, they were the areas we felt there we sometimes, too often, let ourselves down in as a church
I say ‘unsurprising’, since Jesus says the two great commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
Where would we be without forgiveness for failing to love God in prayer, or my failures in neighbour love, compared to self-care! It can be especially tiring loving a vulnerable person, and so tempting to leave it to others, or just offer a token and keep a distance.
And I haven’t even started on our middle class ‘moderation’ in matters of contentment and sacrifice. We wouldn’t want to be thought extremist in those regards, would we?
So I am deeply grateful for the justifying power of faith in the atoning sacrifice of my Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, so graciously provided by God.
Now if I recall rightly, at my previous parish, we called those values of prayer and love “aspirational”. It was to mark that we certainly weren’t there yet. They were ambitions more than reality.
And they should be ambitions. The privilege of talking to our heavenly Father with our needs, and the chance to care for the needs of others… we should prize and pursue them.
Something encouraging… It’s not that we’re totally slack. Who can forget how our church cared over years for the Chins in Bronwyn’s cancer? I can think of victims of domestic abuse quietly helped by a precious few. And countless meal rosters for new mothers and sick families. And those bringing Morgan to church in his wheelchair every week.
I should also say something realistic. St Michael’s is not quite like your regular suburban congregation. Out in the country or the suburbs, there’s also less turnover of membership compared to our CBD Cathedral in a university city.
Many churches I visit on holidays just have one congregation on Sunday. We have five! And perhaps greater diversity. That means it can be harder for that sense of community to develop. Maybe we should expect it to be a bit different from other places. But we should still value our community love.
This factor also makes belonging to a growth group so important. (Or some other arrangement for personal connection in prayer, care and Bible encouragement.) That smaller context is one great place where we can be encouraged to love one another deeply from the heart. After all, how great is the love the Father has lavished on us.
Warmly in Christ,