Thursday, 5 June 2014
Another Pentecost? Yes please.
As Area Dean I get to visit other churches, some to preach in and others to inspect. The growing picture is one of decay and decline, reminding me of that rather sad and dreary line from the hymn "Abide with me" which runs "change and decay in all around I see".
I visited one church recently which is in a desperate state. It’s a huge building with lots of space, a large hall and plenty of rooms for different meetings and functions. However it is full of damp, mould and patches of missing plaster. There is vegetation growing out of the wall and there is mould everywhere. Things are so bad that one of the wardens has to come in sometimes several times a day when it is raining, to empty on of some twenty buckets of water spread around the premises and which catch the drops falling from the roof where it leaks. One part of the worship space has been cordoned off because large chunks of plaster are falling off the walls. And as we met with the PCC there was a noise at the other end of the church and on investigating we spotted another piece of the masonry had landed just by the altar.
As we met we spoke of the glories of former years, choir festivals, full churches, Sunday Schools full to overflowing. Now the congregation averages 16 with an average age of about 70 plus. They looked resigned and defeated. Ultimately although it will be their decision whether or not to close their church, I suspect the building itself will make up their minds for them.
The picture is one of powerlessness, decline and deep sadness for past glories.
Step back 2000 years to Acts 1 and the promise of Jesus to his disciples. Earlier he has told them to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the ‘gift’ that his Father has promised. Then in verse 8 he says what that gift is, it is the gift of power in the person of the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity. This gift is given to impart power in order for the disciples to bear witness to the Risen, and therefore ever-present Jesus, to Jerusalem and "to the ends of the earth" (verse 8b). As the camera moves forward 10 days we see that promise begin to take effect on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit falls on the waiting disciples. And as we move through Acts we see how this explosion of power—'dunamis' from which we get dynamite - ripples across Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and outwards to the ends of the earth.
Now set these two pictures alongside one another. On the one hand a decaying early 20th century edifice with a dwindling, dispirited, ageing congregation, rooted in one spot, and near to closing a church they have invested their whole lives in. And on the other, a dynamic, powerful movement of excited and Spirit-filled individuals who are prepared to go anywhere, do anything and suffer whatever consequences that come as a result for the sake of their Lord and master Jesus.
What is missing in the first picture? Not money - some grant to renovate the building. Not more families to generate a Sunday School? Or a few extra young people to give a sense of new life? Not even a bit more energy to meet the demands of an institution which is trying to stand still as the tides of change sweep over it?
What is missing is simple. It is power. The gift of the Spirit. That inward spark of life that makes the spiritual heart pump faster, which enthuses the individual in his or her relationship with the Risen Christ. We need that power again. We need the Holy Spirit. We need another Pentecost. Nothing less will save us.
And the exciting truth is that God has never withdrawn that promise to his Church. As long as we are willing to carry out his will and purpose in the world and be his witnesses he will always make his Spirit available to us.
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” John 14:15-16
Jesus keeps his promises. Question is, do we trust him?