Park Grove Methodist Church
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PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE DISTRICT
CHAIR, THE REVD LESLIE NEWTON
Last year quite a lot of churches were spending time discerning their ‘20/20 vision’. It was a fitting ophthalmic phrase to adopt in seeking renewed focus for the future. Good as many of these conversations no doubt were, the arrival of Covid-19 has had the effect of transforming the landscape.
As we now spend time looking ahead again to our future life with Covid-19 may I suggest we take seriously another important opticians’ test: the quality of our peripheral vision. The eyesight of fighter pilots, for example, is carefully tested to ensure they are able to focus not only on what lies directly ahead, but what lies at the edge of visibility.
So, why should we pay close attention to our peripheral vision? Because it’s so often ‘at the edge of things’ where God is to be most deeply encountered. God’s heart is always focussed on those who find themselves ‘at the edge.’ As soon as we settle into a comfort zone – be it in a building, or on a particular programme, or a way of being church - God is likely to be beckoning us to the periphery
We can’t really follow Jesus without recognising this ‘edginess.’ It’s there throughout his earthly life, right from the account of his birth. It’s seen in his embrace of tax collectors and sinners, in his healing of lepers and the ‘unclean;’ in his gradual but deliberate journey from Galilee towards Jerusalem, and his unceremonial crucifixion on a rubbish dump at Calvary. In Acts we see just the same edginess for the early church, as time and again the apostles were pushed way beyond their comfort zone, and towards the edge.
The account of Philip in Acts 8:26-38 is a perfect example. From a flourishing place Philip is sent to the ‘wilderness road.’ But there he discovers God at work, and has a life transforming encounter.
Pope Francis puts it like this: ‘Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in Order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel’
As tempting as it may be, especially in these Covid days, to gravitate quickly towards our comfort zones, please do spend some time looking towards the edges. Let’s embrace some hard questions.
• Whose voices are making us feel uncomfortable? Whose voices are we not yet listening to? Are there
new and younger voices? Do we need to be challenged by them: perhaps they are prophetic voices in our midst?
• Are we too focused on our buildings? Are some of them acting as our master rather than our servant, absorbing energy, money and time that could be released more creatively?
• Who among us is offering a fresh creative energy, challenging us to do things differently?
• Who are on the edge in our communities? Who are being overlooked, going hungry, sofa-surfing, struggling to make ends meet? Who need our support because their relationships are crumbling, or their mental health is poor? How can we share Good News with such as these?
These are really tough questions to address, I know. But I firmly believe that it is in taking seriously our peripheral vision that we’ll discover a fuller appreciation of how God is at work in our midst and seeking to shape our future.
Journeying to the edge is always risky. It always involves letting go and trusting. But isn’t that the life we’re called to, the way of losing our life for Christ’s sake and in the process finding life in all its fullness?