This address was given by The Revd Bob Day at Chorlton Central Church on 5th June 2016
(the date of the Church's Annual General Meeting) and a few weeks before voting in the
rancourous and divisive E U Referendum.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
I Thessalonians 5.11
Building community can be a very frustrating business – why is it people don’t listen and understand? If only they would do it ‘my way’ all would be well, and all manner of things would be well. Each of us has our own ideas and picture of what being part of a community means. The mosaic picture we are developing will say something about our own community; not just in the images that are represented but also in the methodology we have adopted. There was a telling moment in developing the advertising that said, “Do you want to help us fill this space with mosaic”. The message this conveyed to me was, “we’ve decided, you can come and help”. It suggested to me that other locals who would see the mosaic daily were not really being part of the creative process, and full participation or involvement was not the churches aim. How sad when the community around the church is probably full of artistic ability and enthusiasm. I say this not in a critical way but as a learning opportunity. It is speaking the truth in a spirit of love and I hope that I’m not abusing Biblical privilege.
The danger for the church is that it is protective of itself and is not always as welcoming and open to other people’s ideas as it claims to be. Recently Pope Francis went to meet a senior Muslim cleric in Cairo. Asked to comment by journalists he said, “The message is in the meeting”. A couple of weeks ago Sarah, Ian and myself went to the Marble Bar to meet the mosaic group which meets at the Church and to see their exhibition of finished works and to hand out posters inviting people to the workshops; we were well received and good conversations flowed.
I would be the first to acknowledge that building community is about internal relationships and making sure that these are based on good Christian values such as love, joy, hope and peace. How we interact with one another is important; we need to encourage one another and build up one another. Mutual respect, speaking the truth in love, taking responsibility and being accountable to each other are at the heart of a community that is healing, sustainable and fulfilling. These qualities, however, take time to develop and need to be continually nurtured. As our reading from Ephesians reminds us:
'...the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.'
We have all sorts of strengths in our congregation. Individually there are loads of talents and gifts; it seems to me that a crucial aspect of our life together is how these are joined and knit to form a functional and effective garment that promotes the growth of the whole body. As this is our AGM day it’s a good time to reflect on the past year and wonder how as a body we will go forward.
The making of a mosaic also encourages us to look at our external relations with those people who live and work around us for the common good. An example is of all those people who have been meeting at Chorlton Central Church over the last few months to try and discern how to make Chorlton a dementia friendly community. All sorts of collective actions and ideas are being carried forward and a launch will be coming soon; I would hope that this is something more church members could involve themselves in. Certainly the Together Dementia Support open and fundraising day last Sunday afternoon demonstrated the power of participation and involvement from many members of the church and community working together; it was a great advert both for Together Dementia Support and for Chorlton Central Church. Events like these get us on the mind map of local people in a positive way. The issue of external relations may cause us to ask a provocative question: “Does the community save the church?” One might argue that the message is in the meeting!
This brings us to the third aspect of engagement; that of managing the boundary between the internal and the external, the inner and the outer. Thus the issue of who welcomes and how the welcome is made to visitors on a Sunday and at other times during the week is one that needs our attention. As does our visiting of other groups in various locations around Chorlton. Yes we have a message to offer but we also have a need to learn about how God is already busy at work with our neighbours. Our eyes and ears need to be open and receptive.
The writer of Ephesians is, I think, concentrating on the church and its message. How are we to build one another and the whole body up? Love and encouragement are at the heart of this process. Today we will vote on those who will lead us as Deacons. Just keeping the show on the road takes time and effort. However, they and each one of us has an additional and more important task; to contribute meaningfully to the picture of Christ both inside the church as we must grow up in every way into him who is the head as well as to recognise and celebrate the pictures of Christ we see in others. Maybe the gospel, the Good News we are called to proclaim, is as much about collective celebration as it is about individual salvation.
Is there a wider analogy that we can apply to the Ephesians reading? It’s not just about the church; its also about the community – a much contested word I know. How can church and community working together, join and knit together all the various different interests and concerns in Chorlton? Too big a task? Especially when we sometimes find it hard to properly manage our own affairs. Maybe mosaic making is a small and yet significant way to start a conversation. One that will encourage us to a wider engagement and help us to explore a community based theolgy
Let me finish with some words from Plato and then a poem of my own called Compassion is a Song.
Every heart sings a song, incomplete,
until another heart whispers back.
Those who wish to sing always find a song.
I want to sing compassion
from the depths of my being
to another soul
who is struggling to make sense
I want to sing hostipitality
but often my words only
resonate with hostility
for the other
who I do not fully
welcome as a guest.
Not out loud of course
as I wouldn't want them
to know I'm afraid
and unsure of how I feel
about their strangeness:
forgetting how odd I am !
Let me sing a note or two,
to see how they will respond.
Do I hear a whisper
from their heart ?
Let me listen attentively
to the anxiety of the other
who finds me different
and has similar mixed feelings;
because of past hurt,
rejection and indifference.
How can I be in tune ?
Singing on their wavelength
without abandoning my own.
let me sing with a compassion
that reaches seep into the soul
and leads to a duet of beauty.
Now I hear, not an echo,
but refrain that amplifies
and enhances my song.
Complete if we can both
sing with compassion
so that hostipitality
is transformed by love
Compassion is a Song.
poem copyright © Bob Day 3rd December 2012
'Hostipitality' is a term used by Jacques Derrida to show that we are internally conflicted by a desire for hospitality in the face of hostility.