Well, folks, this is going to be a challenge.
Here we are in Silver 7 on the outer reaches of the Royal Bath and Wells Showground, some eight minutes’ walk from the New Wine complex of marquees large and small. More to the point, I’m offline here in our rented caravan.
Anyway, we’ll see what happens.
It’s going well, with some very good speakers, including John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, who led one of the seminars yesterday. That he led prayer for people he had invited to the front to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even to be given the gift of praying in tongues, shows just how far the CofE has moved since I was ordained 40 years ago.
However, the most intriguing speaker, at another seminar, was Labour MP Stephen Timms, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown. He started by asking us which part of the UK was the most religious? The answer: (by far) London.
I’m offline and so I cannot access the statistics which demonstrate how the church in London is growing. Timms ventured to suggest that where London goes, so the country follows. Certainly he shared that from his perspective the churches are having a major, even the leading, impact on the life of our nation, a fact reluctantly conceded by agnostic, even atheistic, commentators.
Food banks, for one. Last year some one million people (I think this is the number he ventured) used food banks. And yet these did not exist just a few years back. In response to this perceived need churches all over the country spontaneously sprang into action. No central coordination, no direction from the top (apart from the Holy Spirit), a diffused movement involving lots of people.
The church alone, he observed, has the resources, personnel and above all, the motivation to do this.
This was demonstrated in very clear terms in one of our evening speakers at The Arena, John Kirkby. An ordinary bloke from Bradford – in fact, one of his daughters lived in the same student house as one of ours. So I knew a little about him.
John had a wretched start to life and left school at 16 for a dead-end job. He found his feet, working in the finance sector, and then lost them, as his life along with his marriage collapsed and his wealth disappeared. This self-made man found himself living in abject poverty, virtually alone. John showed us a photo of himself with his two young daughters living in just one room.
Then Jesus found him. And now his life starts to come back together; he enjoys God’s healing. He is all set to re-enter the world of finance where he had made his first fortune. But just six weeks before his wedding, God gives him the conviction that he should help the poor.
So he did. With just £10 he opened his first advice centre in Bradford – and Christians Against Poverty is born. Now 18 years later it is massive and growing. Again if I was online I could give you the facts – but they are impressive.
More to the point the CAP baristas produce excellent cappuccinos before our morning meeting.
At the very heart of CAP, without apology, is Jesus. It seems that each centre is linked with a church: that’s non-negotiable. And through this ministry many people have become disciples of Jesus.
In fact, now I remember it, John invited a couple upfront, to share their story. Ordinary, decent folk who when faced with a notice from the bailiffs decided to overdose. (John winced when he said the word ‘bailiffs’ – I guess he has a few stories to tell.)
Again, I cannot recall all the details but the wife somehow managed to get medical help and through this they were put in touch with CAP. The tragedy was their £1000 debt of council tax was matched by the £1000 they had been overcharged for their rent. But the point is – they are now restored, Christians and living for Jesus. You can see him in their faces.
And going back to Stephen Timms, this is exactly the point he was making. Only the church can reach into broken lives in such a way, not just to sort out situations but to heal people’s hearts. No social service department or secular agency can bring such a transformation. And this is now being noticed.
He gave an example of one prominent journalist who travelled the country to see what was happening on the ground, so to speak. Again I am offline and so I cannot access the article nor give his name.
It seems he visited the Frontline church in Liverpool, where he met a woman who had been a prostitute and now an active member of this fellowship in Wavertree. On being asked for her story, she recounted how she was welcomed and loved into this community of faith. No one judged her. She experienced for herself the grace and compassion of Jesus.
So this journalist concludes, somewhat reluctantly that you have to give it to them, these Christians, that they are offering something no one else can give. And more, he can’t quite make sense of what he is observing; it simply does not fit into his world view.
So the conclusion for us is quite clear. Just do it. Just step out in faith in the name of Jesus to bring healing to a hurting world.
This was the message of our main morning speaker, Jordan Seng, of the Bluewater Church in Honolulu. This church has a major ministry with sex workers, who invariably need the healing of Jesus to bring order to their chaotic lives. But it needs Christians to just do it, to step out in faith and start to serve in Jesus’ name.
For all of us, whatever the risk. As disciples of Jesus it is our call, our responsibility. For whatever we do in his name will always bear fruit.
And here I copy type rather than copy and paste 1 Corinthians 15:58.
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”
The challenge, as ever, is to get going, to get out of the boat, to start to do what God has planted in our hearts. I recall just three years ago at New Wine having a conversation on the final day with Peter Chalk, who as I type is having his breakfast in the caravan next door. He had sensed God’s call to start a Foodbank in Ormskirk.
So he went home and did it.