MIND THE GAP!                  

Andrew  Have you ever been on the tube in London and heard that mysterious voice warning you to MIND THE GAP as you get on or off the train? Well, this morning I want us to think about a different kind of GAP but it’s something that every Church should have.

John  What sort of GAP do you mean? Are we going to dig a moat round the church to step over as we come in through the door? Perhaps we could fill it with Holy Water?

Andrew  No, it’s nothing like that. GAP is an acronym. G – A – P stands for Growth Action Plan.

John  It sounds more like the sort of thing a top company dreams up when it falls on hard times and there’s a crisis. Call in the consultants, fire the chairman. The company needs growth, expansion, money to invest. Time for a radical overhaul. Root and branch change. Hardly appropriate for a church like All Saints.

 If you put it like that, I suppose it might put people off. It gives entirely the wrong idea. Unlike a company, growth for a church is not all about money. We’re not asking the shareholders to stump up even more cash to avert a crisis. Growth for a church is about Growth in Faith and Growth in Numbers. We want to grow as a church so that we can do the work that God has called us to do. And if we get that sort of growth then there will be more of us who will want to give more so the resources will be there to meet our needs. It’s when churches are declining that money is a huge problem.

John  All right but what about change. Haven’t you made lots of changes already?

Andrew  Well, there have been a few changes. Scramblers come up at the end of Mass to tell us what they’ve been up to but I think most people are OK with that. We try to have young people helping at the Family Parade Services and I don’t think that worries too many people. And there are more types of service now. All Sorts for young families and traditional Communions and Evening Prayer once a month. But the Eucharist is what All Saints’ is all about. We are a Eucharistic Community and our life and worship is centred on the Mass. It is the way in which the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ is made real to us. We’re not going to change all that and lose our identity. It’s God’s way of growing Christians. But if we really value all that and it means so much to us then we will want more people to join us and see what following Jesus is all about. There are many good things happening at All Saints and we have no intention of changing them.

John  What do you think these good things are? What is best about All Saints?

Andrew  Well, we have a committed PCC, excellent Churchwardens, sound congregation, representatives on Synods, good Scramblers’ leaders, events and fund-raising, active participation in prayers and readings, a welcome team, outreach to residential homes, music, school assemblies, Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, Senior Section, parade services, PYC. The list goes on and on.

John  And the church is regularly used by members of the community?

Andrew  There’s the All Saints pre-school and playgroup, CRUSE, keep-fit and healthy living we may even have the privilege of sharing the building with Christian Communities from other traditions and you mustn't forget the stall-holders and quiz teams.

John  So All Saints seems to be an active, stable, confident church with a strong community focus. We more or less pay our way?

Andrew  More or less but we do have a few financial challenges.  We would be much better off if we were a growing church. But growth is a about sharing the Good news of Jesus so it’s exciting stuff.

John  Are you proud of this church?

Andrew  I feel very humble to have been called to lead this church and to be able to share in the life and worship of an active Christian Community. That’s God’s way of being proud.

John  Well, if everything is so good and people are reasonably happy with the way things are going why do we need a GAP? We need a DCAP (‘deecap’) not a GAP.

Andrew  So what’s a DCAP?

John  A Don’t Change Anything Plan!

Andrew  I think we have to be careful about becoming too inward looking. We have to ask ourselves what God wants. We have a large parish and we aim to reach out into every part of it. The Church of England is a Christian presence in every parish and we hope to be at the heart of the community. We need to grow to make that a reality. That was the aim at All Saints before I arrived. We’ve made progress in some ways but there is much to be done.

John  But isn’t that your mission – to make Christ known in this parish?

Andrew  One of my colleagues in Kettering now describes himself as Vicar and Mission Leader. That’s not a bad description of the work of a Parish Priest. The mission of the Church involves all of us because we are all members of the laity, from the Greek Laos, meaning people of God. The Church is people, not buildings. We don’t go to church – we are the Church. We even have a mission statement.

John  A mission statement? Is that another of your new ideas? 

Andrew  Well, no it’s not because it was here before I came.

John  So what does it say?

Andrew  We pledge ourselves to serve God in worship and prayer and to welcome others into the joy of following Jesus Christ. We aim to encourage all, as individuals and collectively, to use their talents to respond to the spiritual and community needs of the people in our parish and throughout the world. We will continue to work with other churches in the Deanery, in the Diocese and ecumenically to fulfil this mission.

John  I notice that each sentence starts with the word ‘we.’

Andrew  Yes, quite a coincidence, that. Perhaps it’s because we are the people of God.

John  Can you read the second statement again, please?

Andrew  We aim to encourage all, as individuals and collectively, to use their talents to respond to the spiritual and community needs of the people in our parish and throughout the world.

John  So what you’re saying is, we need to use the talents of all the people here to maintain a thriving base at All Saints but also to reach out further into the community in order to continue God’s work there. 

Andrew  Yes.

John  But is there enough talent here?

Andrew  Absolutely. The talent needs to be realised and released. Quite a lot of people, including me, don't realise the gifts that God has given them until they begin to use them. The gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to build up the Church but if we don’t take the risk of faith we bury them rather than use them. That was the tragedy of the servant who buried the one talent his Master had given him.

John  How will you find out what talents people have to offer?

Andrew  We will ask them but also ask other people to suggest what their friends have to offer. Meeting together often helps people realise the gifts they have been given and enables them to release them in the service of God’s Church.

John  So you think a meeting is the next step?

Andrew  Yes. We begin with prayer. Asking for God’s help. Then people will be able to make their own suggestions about what God is saying to us and everybody can get involved. We can put all the ideas together, pray about them some more and then put it all together in one big ….

John  PLAN

Andrew  Yes, plan. We can call it a GAP if we like or a GASP (Growing All Saint’s Plan) but I might be less happy about a DCAP it’s a bit like decamp or defeat.

John  Yes, but what if it doesn’t work. What if we don’t grow?

Andrew  Remember harvest? Only a couple of weeks ago … If the plan is a seed planted by God then it will grow – maybe not straight away – maybe not in my time here – but if we believe in God then we believe in Growth because it’s God who makes Churches grow.

John  So what about this meeting?

Andrew  At the last PCC, right at the end, we started talking about how to make connections with the people in our parish. There wasn’t time for any discussion but that seems to me where growth will start: if we are deeply rooted in the Lord then we will grow outwards to make connections with our community. Anyone can come along to a PCC and join in the discussion and if we make that item first on the agenda then we could make a start on our plan. Visitors can go when we get to the rest of the agenda.

John  So when’s the next PCC
Andrew  Monday November 12th 2012 at 8pm after the Mass. Remember, if we believe in God then we believe in Growth.

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