Author: Graham Stacey

Let’s be an Orchard

We are as far away from Christmas as it it possible to be.
But, and I know you are not going to thank me for this, 
I want you to imagine a Christmas Tree.
Crammed full with beautiful decorations,
sparkling and shining,
lots going on… and then it is twelfth night.
The Christmas tree decorations are taken down 
and stored carefully in a box.
The tree itself is relegated to the curb side,
or perhaps that goes up in the loft too.
With Christmas trees, there is lots of show, but they do not last.

Now let’s consider our reading from Galatians.
This wonderful passage which lists the Fruit of the Spirit; 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, 
faithfulness, gentleness, self control.

Here, rather than having in mind the dazzling Christmas Tree, 
we would do better to call to mind an orchard.

In an orchard, particularly during the season when Christmas trees sparkle, there is not much of a spectacular show.
But, cared for and nurtured, the trees in the orchard move through the seasons and go on producing fruit year after year.

Paul distinguishes between the two as ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’;
and this is all about identity.

We are born flesh, with our identity established by our human family, ethnicity, class, geography, education, and so on… 
And these are not all bad things, but they can be precarious.

By contrast, when we are born in Christ, 
our identity is rooted in God. 
We are renewed and restored. 
We move through death to new life. 
And that new life bears fruit.

I want us to notice that Paul makes another distinction
when talking about flesh and Spirit.
He talks about the works of the flesh 
and the fruit of the Spirit.

In the flesh, we have to work for our identity. 
We have to behave in ways that keep us inside our tribe, 
we have to achieve certain things to progress, 
we have to conform to expectations placed on us by society. 
Our identity is earned.

Whereas, in the Spirit, our identity is given. 
We do not need to strive for the fruit, 
just as the apple tree doesn’t have to strive to bear apples – 
it’s just what it does.

And when we look at the list given in Galatians, we can see that.

You will know yourself,
if someone is trying really hard to love you, 
it doesn’t feel a lot like love. 
At best you may get a sense they like you.
True love comes out of who we are. It just is. 
It is not something we strive for.

Of course we know that we then have to invest in our relationships, we have to nurture them by making time, and so on, but in essence, the love is there.

Likewise we might consider generosity. 
If someone is trying really hard to be generous, 
that doesn’t feel like generosity at all. 
It feels begrudging. 
True generosity comes out of who we are. It just is.

Again, we know that we then have to be disciplined in our giving, we have to make conscious choices to allow our generosity space, but in essence, generosity is there.

Our identity in Christ does not rely on ourselves, 
on our hard work or achievements, 
our identity rests entirely in God, who, 
by the Spirit, affirms our identity through the fruit in our lives,
both individually and as worshipping communities.

That is not to say that we no longer take any responsibility – 
we are called to align ourselves with the Spirit and, 
perhaps most difficult of all, to surrender to God.

This is the essence of discipleship;
not striving, but resting in God and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit in the way of Christ.

And when we do, we will see these qualities, 
we will see the impact our discipleship, 
our coming in line with God’s call on our lives, 
our resting in the Spirit, 
has on the community that God is building amongst us.

This fruit comes not like decorated Christmas trees – 
which do sparkle and look magnificent, but are not real.
This fruit comes like the orchard – 
less sparkle, but deep roots.

Last Sunday Andrew Braddock came to share with us the recommendations that have come out of the review he conducted in our team.
As we move into a time of considering the implications of these recommendations, it would be helpful to keep hold of this image of the orchard. 
It is not that we all need to be apple trees – 
there is huge variety within fruit trees, 
with different shapes and textures, colours and flavours.
But, they all bare fruit.

It might be that the worshipping community you are part of, 
or in your own discipleship, 
it feels like it’s winter time at the moment. 
You may not feel there is much fruit going on… 
but that is not to say that the fruit isn’t coming!

The winter time is an essential part of the cycle. 
It’s a time to pay attention,
to ensure healthy fruit comes in the summer. 
It’s a time to prune and fertilise.

It might be that the worshipping community you are part of, 
or in your own discipleship, it feels like it’s summer time at the moment. There may be an abundance of fruit! 
We celebrate with you – that is a very exciting season.

We are not to envy one another, and where we are in that cycle. Nor are we rivals – God provides plenty of fruit to go around.

As we discern together what God is calling us into, 
and particularly as we meet to talk and pray over the recommendations Andrew has brought, 
it is going to take faith to make choices that allow fruit to grow;

Finding Joy in our diversity, and celebrating that;

Resting in Peace, in living together and nurturing the Shalom 
that Andrew discerned we long for;

It will take Patience – this is not going to happen overnight;

We will need Kindness, to each other – preferring one another’s needs;

It will take Self control – when we are tempted to revert to 
‘my patch’ thinking or hankering after a past that is no longer possible;

We will need Gentleness – when we disagree about the how and the when we make the changes that are needed;

It will take Faithfulness to our calling as disciples of Christ, proclaiming the Gospel afresh in our generation;

We will need Generosity to one another which will allow us to move beyond ‘silo’ thinking;

Above all, it will take Love. Love for God, for one another, 
for these communities, for those within and without our congregations… 
and resting in God’s love, knowing these are God’s churches.

Working through these recommendations is not going to be as simple as putting up a Christmas tree.
It is going to be much more like attending an orchard.
There will be some things that can be attended to in moments, but some of these recommendations will need careful nurturing over seasons.

That is going to take the discipline at the root of discipleship. 
Naturally we are attracted by sparkle, 
and indeed Christmas trees have their place, 
they help us celebrate which is important, but it is not the fruit.

Just like the blossom is not the fruit, as attractive as it is – 
if we stick with the prettiness of the blossom, 
we will not see the fruit mature.

We’re not alone in our longing for quick fixes and shine. 
In the Gospels we see that people were attracted to Jesus’ miracles; the extraordinary.
But our Gospel reading today is a stark reminder to us that what Jesus calls us to is faithful, sacrificial discipleship. 
This is not glamorous, 
but rather a day to day living out of our calling as disciples.

So, as we consider the recommendations of our review, 
there will be much opportunity for conversations,
and if we take those seriously, 
it will mean asking ourselves some hard questions.

Are we up for putting in the time, energy and dedication 
it takes to nurture this ‘orchard’ vision of our discipleship 
and worshipping communities?

Are we up for considering the long term health of this ‘orchard’ God has trusted us with?

Do we long for abundant fruit – 
even if we may not get to see it for ourselves – 
are we willing to invest now for the sake of the future?

Are we ready to make difficult decisions about what we need to fertilise, where we need to prune, what needs extra support…

It is tempting to go for ‘Christmas tree’ discipleship – 
quick fixes that bring a feel good factor – 
but I believe God is calling us to long term, sustainable, 
fruit focussed discipleship.
And I believe that, with the help of God, the recommendations of the review give us some great tools to continue this work.

Team Review by Revd Andrew Braddock

This review has been carried out by the Revd Andrew Braddock, the Director of Mission and Ministry in Gloucester Diocese.

Over a series of weeks, Andrew held informal discussions with various groups within the life of the team, including the Team Council, LMTs, clergy and readers.

Andrew gave the report on the 22 June 2019. Over 40 people attended that meeting and there was some representation from nearly every church.

You can read the report here. Or you can see the presentation slides here.

 

Celebration of our wonderful Church Wardens

On Thursday 9th May most of our Church Wardens were admitted to office, encouraged and celebrated in a wonderful service led by our new Archdeacon Hilary Dawson.

Our Churchwardens are vital to the health and wellbeing of our worshipping communities, and this service was a fitting charge for them.

This is a good moment to remind us of what is the Church Warden’s responsibility, and what is not!

Churchwardens have a leadership role within the church community, and share with the Clergy its vision and mission.

“The church is called to be pastoral — to look after individual people:
to be evangelistic — to tell people the Good News and invite them to accept it;
to be social — to help… those suffering from racial, economic and other forms of injustice; and to be ecumenical — to encourage good relations with other Christian denominations.” (p32 & 33, Practical Church Management by James Behrens)

But, of course, this is the call of the whole church, not just our Church Wardens!

Specific responsibilities include;

Property:

Ensuring our buildings and churchyards are kept in good order. How this is done will vary hugely from Church Wardens who are more than happy to climb ladders and mend broken slates to others who have someone they know who knows a great builder. There is no right or wrong way of doing it, just someone who has an eye on things.

Worship:

Ensuring that our buildings are ready for worship, that there is a system for getting supplies of consumables, that there are rotas for different responsibilities and that a proper record of monies is kept. If the person expected to lead the service doesn’t turn up, the Church Warden is recognised as someone who can step in.

Again, I would say that in a healthy church, working as the Body of Christ, it would be better if there was someone taking care of ordering supplies, another sorting out rota’s, and someone else recording monies, with the Church Warden just checking that everything is covered – not doing everything!

Care:

The Church Warden should take care of the Clergy and their family, their expenses and their time off. Having someone there who is asking, ‘how are you doing?’, ‘have you booked a holiday?’, ‘could someone else do that instead of you?’… makes all the difference to Clergy who do not otherwise have that day to day collegiality.

Of course, that care extends to the congregation and community as well. The Church Warden will be committed to praying for those they serve.

Other than those key areas of Property, Worship and Care, they are to;

  • Attend PCC meetings
  • Attend the annual Archdeacon’s visitation
  • Attend Church Warden and Treasurers meetings
  • Produce an annual fabric report for the APCM
  • Produce an annual Articles of Enquiry report for the Archdeacon
  • Ensure the record of services book is correctly filled in with congregation numbers and details of the collection, president and preacher

Again, whilst responsible for the above Churchwardens do not have to do them all themselves: indeed it is good practice if others share in these areas. Churchwardens can delegate!

Our Church Wardens are so important, and, just as we hope they will care for the Clergy,
I hope that you will care for them. Ask them ‘how are you doing?’, ‘have you booked a holiday?’, ‘could someone else do that instead of you?’… and, whenever you can, thank them for their service to us.

Left to right [with apologies for quality of photo taken on my smashed phone!]:Deirdre [Church Warden of St Laurence], Cyril [Church Warden of Whiteshill with Paganhill], Archdeacon Hilary, Iris [Reader Emeritus, St Laurence], Joy [Church Warden of Holy Trinity, Stroud], Amanda [Church Warden of Holy Trinity, Stroud]
Rob [Church Warden of Slad with Uplands] was there too but managed to sneak out before I nabbed him. Deb [Church Warden of Slad with Uplands] and Dick [Church Warden of St Matthew’s] will be sworn in by Archdeacon Hilary in the coming month.

Gestation and Birth

Over the past couple of months, I have been speaking about the Annunciation [Luke 1:26-38] and offering the metaphor of a pregnancy to help us think about our life together within this team.

Of course, there is no one successful way of communicating when we are so many across such an area, so here are those thoughts in printed form for you to read, ponder, disagree with, discuss, ask me questions about… it will also be up on our new team website;

www.stroudparishchurches.org.uk, which you may want to direct people to if you think they would be good to include in the conversation.

Grace and peace, Kate

As you know, I was appointed as Team Rector, to care for and facilitate the life of the Stroud Team. But where do I, and we begin in this? I offer you a metaphor that may help our thinking about the life of the Team; a pregnancy.

For Mary, as well as the stirrings of new life, and the expectancy of all that could be, there was surely fear, so much to let go of,
and a sea of uncertainty ahead of her.

As the Stroud Team, conceived some years ago now, we have experienced some miscarriages, there have been those who,
subconsciously or consciously, would have liked to abort this new life.

There have been hopes and expectations, anxieties and uncertainties. None of us can pretend that this has been an ideal start. And yet, God asks, the new life keeps returning, and there is a stirring in the womb.

Linguistically, womb and wound both derive from the same root; an opening. Both do, or can, involve trauma, and we would be foolish not to name the traumas we have been through in this gestation so far. If we ignore those wounds, infection can set in, and healing is less likely.

To name those hurts will require honesty and trust, patience and listening, but we cannot underestimate how important this work is.

And now we are in this season.

This new life of the Stroud Team is growing. As with any new life growing, some will yearn for their single life, where they only had to consider themselves, where there was less responsibility.
This is understandable, and recognises that, as with Mary, there are many of our old expectations and norms to give up, and lots of uncertainty ahead. People feeling this way may want to deny this new life is even here, and cling to the single life. But none of that changes the fact that the new life of our Stroud Team does now exist, and that the old single life is no longer an option.

For others, they will accept, they will say their yes to this new life,
but they may be overwhelmed by the uncertainty. They may struggle to trust that this is a gift, and rather see this new life of the Stroud Team as a burden, an extra thing to worry about, life draining.
This too is understandable; it is thoroughly human to be wary of what we don’t know. It is hard to put down old patterns of being and move into something new, no matter how much we long for transformation. But none of that changes the fact that the new life of our Stroud Team is ripe with possibilities.

And there will be those who say a heartfelt yes and welcome this new life as a gift from God. Not naive to the challenges and struggles of gestation, but full of hope for the new life that emerges.  They may be well aware that the old single life is becoming unviable and they long for God to do a new thing.

For many of you here, you may move from one position to the other, and back again, from anxiety to denial to hope and back…

But now is the time. Wishing it wasn’t so will not change anything, because this is who we are. The life of the Stroud Team is growing,
so the question we are left with is what kind of parents we are going to be?

Because this is not my new life, at most I am simply the midwife.
This is not my baby, this is something we are part of. This is our new life, and we can only nourish it from ourselves. Of course, if some members of the family of our Stroud Team continue to deny its existence, the new life will not thrive as it could.

Who knows how long the gestation will be…
and who knows what complications there may be…
but it is my longing, and the call that brought me here to minster alongside you, that we would all move from denial, through the fear and anxiety of the early stages to the hope and excitement of the imminent new being, and all that will bring, trusting God to be faithful in return for our faithful yes.

As a diocese we have this key verse of scripture; ‘I have come that they may have LIFE and have it to the full.’ [John 10:10]

My hope and prayer is that we could each find our yes to what God has for us, and the new life that has begun as our Stroud Team, so that we can each nourish and nurture that new life, that we can commit to seeing it grow, that we can be expectant and excited.
Not hankering after the single life that was, but actively moving towards the new life that is emerging.

I really do believe that this is ripe with possibilities, and together, we can indeed find life to the full. But, as with all of life, we will get out what we put in.

In all of this I ask for your prayerful honesty.
As we accept that things are not, and cannot be as they were, and as God calls us into this new life, can you say your yes?
Even if that is simply to offer the grace to allow this life to grow.
Are you courageous enough to name the wounds that have been inflicted in this gestation so far, and the fears you have as this life grows? Are we committed enough to one another to seek and offer healing? And are we willing to be open enough to dare to imagine the fruitfulness of this new life?

We are not in a rush, but this morning, as we gather together, to worship, to celebrate and to eat together, is a great way of nourishing this new life that is stirring.