Our 'Inner Heart'

Chris Hollingshurst writes:

In early 2008, both on the parish website and in the parish magazine, I shamelessly borrowed an analogy between the re-envisioning of an ‘old favourite’ television show and the re-envisioning of parish life in Hook. I did so because, towards the end of 2007, the PCC (the church council) resolved to be clearer about why this church exists – what some people call a ‘Vision’. When the Bishop of Kingston was with us in 2007, he called it finding our inner heart.  
 
In describing our inner heart the PCC identified with words which we often say in church - ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord: in the name of Christ. Amen.’ – and then simplified them to produce a simple ‘vision’ statement and diagram: ‘In peace, loving and serving the Lord.’  How do we do this?
 
We do it by first looking at God, trying to find out what he wants. Put another way, we look upwards – loving God, meeting Jesus in prayer and worship, discovering the presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives.  
 
If our faith is real, and not a pretence, then it will lead us to be loving and real in how we treat each other and in what we do together, to show others who are not yet part of St Paul’s that we are together in Christ. And so as well as looking upwards we also look inwards and outwards. By inwards we mean that everyone in the church family matters, is valuable, and that we learn to love one another (and to love ourselves by the way). By outwards we mean that St Paul’s isn’t a cosy club for certain religious types but a group of people which, knowing God’s love for ourselves, values the wider community and wants to share God’s love wherever we find ourselves.
 
And where the upward/inward/outward circles in the diagram overlap? This is where we capture the phrase ‘in the name of Christ. Amen.’  Everything we are at St Paul’s is, or is to be, because we are people who know Jesus Christ and who know what he has done for us. That is why his cross is at our centre, in the middle.  It is only in Christ we can know true peace, and it is knowing God’s peace which allows us to let go of anything in the past that has been unhelpful. 
 
Here at St Paul’s we intend being a local church which continues to ‘grow up in faith. ’ A local church whose activities and actions are directly geared to its Vision, not peripheral or coincidental to that Vision. A local church which seeks what God wants through small groups, Informal Worship services, and additional quiet times of prayer – not just weekly or monthly attendance at communion.  A local church which makes connections with those parts of the wider community which do not instinctively see The Church of England as having anything to offer them. A local church which does this through the relationships and lives of its members as well as through organized community events, whether ‘churchy’ (like the popular programme of Christmas services) or more ‘social’ (like the recent blues concerts and barn dances, or the established quiz nights).
 
St Paul’s isn’t here to survive, to find ways of reviving old ways, groups and organisations, or necessarily to repeat past successes. We are not here to be a nice safe place for nice safe people, but are here to allow ourselves to be continually changed by God in order that He can do His work in us and through us. We wish to see and to respond to what Jesus has done for us all on the cross, that at the heart of us is his heart of love for us. If we do not grasp this, then the ‘life’ of the church becomes increasingly empty.
 
Of course words alone are pointless, and the PCC has decided upon some initial practical projects: refurbishing the extension (‘the Centre’) at the side of the Church (which we completed in summer 2008), replacing the churchyard path and seeking to extend the garden of remembrance.  All these will matter to many in the local community. We have increased our support to Christian partner organisations, including the Kingston-wide Christian youth agency Oxygen and The Amos Trust which works for peace in the Holy Land.  We have re-styled our services of worship on Sunday mornings so that more people can find a welcome here.
 
The PCC does not claim that all of this is new but, just as there has been at various times in the past, there is currently a fresh focus at St Paul’s. We are discovering more of what it means to exist not for ourselves, but for God and for others – especially in the local community but further afield as well. Things are happening here, and will continue to happen as together we explore and develop what ‘in peace, loving and serving the Lord’ means.
 
Please pray for this, your local parish church. Tell me what you think. Know that you will find welcome and belonging here - and that you can be part of our building for a renewed future.