Friday, 21 November 2008

St Paul's Engaged

The following is taken from a supplement to our weekly "Epistle" notice sheet, to summarise some of the big things happening at St Paul's just now. We see important connections here and are using the idea of St Paul's Engaged as a way of thinking about the way these initiatives work together.

Following on from our Grace, Gratitude and Growth process it's clear that several ideas and initiatives are pointing to a new phase in the life of St Paul's. There are lots of exciting developments just now that are located on the 'boundaries' of church and neighbourhood. They go to the heart of our mission and purpose and build on St Paul's long record of being confidently engaged with the people of the neighbourhood. St Paul's Engaged means discovering new passion and imagination for growing this work. We sense that the initiative and creativity for these things begins outside of ourselves, that God is leading us forward in surprising ways. There are just too many to be described in a regular weekly 'Epistle', so this special supplement aims to keep everyone informed about what's going on. Give thanks for all that is good, celebrate God's grace, and work to see St Paul's Engaged!

Grace, gratitude and growth
We had a big response to the GGG process in October and November. It's become apparent that God is leading us forward in a number of key areas. Over 70 different people were involved but not everyone had a chance to be at every event. Here's what we did:

We made a key assumption throughout the process: that every good thing that we have experienced in our church life stems from God's grace. Thinking about all that is "true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise" re-connects us to spiritual resources that get overlooked when we focus on traditional problem-solving in our own strength (see Philippians 4.8).
We remembered the foundational stories of our church community and we heard about the great moments when we've moved forward together. In these we found revelations of God's character and clues about the key themes that are characteristic of St Paul's in its mission. These five key themes are:
  • Learning and growing
  • Children
  • Outreach
  • Hospitality, fun and food
  • Prayer
We dared to dream - dreams that are expressed in the affirmative, as if already happening to us; that point to real desired possibilities; that are faithful to our collective reflections (not our own pet subjects or hobby-horses); that create new relationships, including partnerships across boundaries (young and old, recent member and long-standing member, church and community, etc.); that bridge the best of "what is" and "what might be"; that involve us learning new things; and that challenge assumptions about our routines or our organisation of things.

A week later our evening worship was interrupted. We were reflecting on how Acts 2.42-47 reflected the priorities that God had laid on our hearts. A young man in considerable need came into the chapel just as we were thinking about our engagement with the wider community. We'd planned a service of eucharistic sharing in bread and wine; we ended up caring for a family and sharing tea with the emergency services. People began to ask, "could God be giving us further clues about re-orienting our worship and service?"

Open Church
A careful and considered discussion about opening our church building more often took place at the DCC. We decided that a time of focussed praying was needed and in this separate event, there was a remarkable unity in sensing God's encouragement to take a greater risk in this direction. To start with, we've decided to open the church from 8.30am to 12.00 on Wednesdays to Sundays each week during Advent, with the hope to see this continue or expand. The Chapel will be available for people to come and use for their prayers.

Prayer and Praise
You're invited to join us in Prayer and Praise in church on 30 November, 14 December and 11 January, from 6.30-8.00pm. We'll focus on the areas of growth that emerged from GGG in the two services in Advent and, in January, on Alpha. We'll plan these services with a light structure, so that we're open to God in prayer. We expect that these will be important times to discern our next steps. Everyone is welcome.

Little Angels
The Little Angels mums and tots group is meeting an important need among local parents and carers for friendship and a place to take pre-school children. As young mums themselves, Keely, Lauren and Tina are doing a great job in leading the project and they will be giving a presentation to the DCC in January. Gwynneth is going in regularly for storytelling.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Our Barnabas Centre is used by a thriving AA group who offer key support on a twelve-step programme for facing up to the realities of alcohol use and a supportive environment for retaining sobriety. We are pleased to partner with AA in this vital work and we applaud the members of the local group for all that they do.

Mental Health Support Project
This new initiative is in partnership with Voluntary Action Blaby District, whose Mental Health Project offers a variety of social support groups, self help courses and a Befriending Scheme that aim to provide the skills people need to enable them to cope with their difficulties, increase their confidence and self esteem and lead an independent life. The first meeting of this group at the Barnabas Centre was held in November and should run every week for the next five years.

Parkinson's Disease Society
Our welcome to the Parkinson's Disease Society took a new direction when Jill was in conversation with the local organisers. From this chance conversation, we are looking forward to up to twenty church members joining to sing Christmas carols and a Christmas message on Tuesday 2 December at 10.30.

Carers' Project
The Carers' Project of Voluntary Action Oadby and Wigston continues to meet at The Barnabas Centre every month to support people who have a major role in caring for a family member. It may not seem a lot, but a monthly meeting breaks patterns of isolation and offers valuable support and encouragement.

Alpha 2009
Nineteen people who came along to explore the Christian faith at our last Alpha Course. We're starting our next course on 20 January and are hoping for a really good response. Here are some quotes from people who came on Alpha at St Paul's in 2008:
"I enjoyed being part of a diverse and friendly group of people on a Christian course that was informative and challenging. The structure of weekly sessions with input by the leader to the whole group, followed by the excellent DVD’s, and ending with small group sessions worked well. PS: and the supper each week was great also."
"Alpha at St Paul's presented a warm and friendly place that gave me the opportunity to explore the Christian faith and meet people from all backgrounds and points of view."
"It was a life changing experience that not only brought more depth and meaning to my life but also changed my approach to life, which in turn has benefitted the people that I meet in the course of my day."
"I have always had a faith, but I always had questions that needed to be answered. The Alpha course helped me to answer those questions. In fact a lot of the questions that the course itself asked were similar to those that I wanted answering."
Remember, these aren't the words from some slick marketing team. They're the words of people who responded to invitations and came to Alpha at St Paul's in 2008. So who will you invite to Alpha in January 2009? Do look out for the publicity, get involved and pray for Alpha 2009.

Chapel Prayer board
People are increasingly using the chapel prayer board to make requests that will be prayed for at our morning prayer meetings, and also during the 9.45am Thursday Holy Communion. Please spend a few minutes visiting The Chapel and use it for your own private prayer or with others.

Courses from Care for the Family
Anita, Paul, Chris, Sue and Teri recently attended an Engage conference and training by Care for the Family. The excellent material gives clear ways of understanding and responding to community needs. We've recognised the importance of beginning this in a manageable way but already it's exciting to plan for really practical and helpful courses in relation to basic financial management and the issue of drug use. We're taking our time to get this right, so don't expect to see the courses up and running until the latter half of 2009 and into 2010. There will be opportunity for more people to get involved as time goes on.

Renewal leave
Simon's three-month sabbatical begins after Easter. We're hoping that it's going to be a refreshing and a stimulating time for all of us. We're glad to be part of a well-resourced and capable parish with St Peter's, to enjoy excellent ecumenical relationships with Churches Together in Oadby and to be part of one of the most developed Mission Partnerships in the Diocese.

During Grace, Gratitude and Growth, someone looked at all we were exploring and with some surprise they noted, "We're strong!" Let's use our strength to help others, to lend a hand and in our partnership with God in mission to our parish, and to keep St Paul's Engaged.