You’ll be hearing the words ‘healthy and sustainable churches’ a lot in our diocesan life at the moment. As we navigate the challenges of the pandemic and seek to be a faithful Christian presence, we want as many church communities as possible to be healthy and sustainable – in other words, alive and kicking now and for the foreseeable future!
We know this is not just our work. It is God’s Church, as it is his mission, of which we are a part and in which we share. It’s not all up to us, and isn’t that liberating! So our first call is to keep faith in the God who keeps faith in us.
Being healthy and sustainable are not ends in themselves, just as the Church does not exist for itself alone. William Temple famously said we are the only organisation which exists for those who are not our members. Jesus told his disciples, ‘as the Father has sent me, I send you’. In other words, they had a job to do, which was to live the life of Jesus and reflect the glory of the Father’s Kingdom. And so do we have a job to do, not by preaching at everybody all the time nor by trying to be God, but simply by reflecting his love, compassion, justice and freedom by being who we are.
This is why I pray for a humble church which is healing and sustaining – for itself, its community and the world around. This is the sort of church which attracts me just as much now as it did when I first answered the call to priesthood. It is a church which is world-facing and life-affirming, a church with fuzzy boundaries, confident in knowing that we are not God, but content with letting God be God, and discovering what that might mean for us!
This pandemic has changed so much in our lives, but many of the basics remain. We have a pretty good idea of what it takes for communities and individuals to flourish. We recognise the behaviours which are life-giving, just as we know those which undermine our common humanity. These things haven’t changed, and neither has our Christian calling to fulfil the biblical imperative to love as we are loved. In the words of a former bishop of Worcester, it is still a case of ‘alleluia and on we go.’
So, what does it take for a church to be healing and sustaining? What do you think such a church will look like?
The Venerable Robert Jones
The Archdeacon of Worcester