The Teaching Day reviewed

An Account of the Teaching Day with Russ Parker at St John’s on 26th April 2014St John's Church

This was written on 30th April by Stella Jennings using notes submitted by various people. This is not a complete account of what happened or what was said.
There was a general feeling that we had had a helpful day together during which much had been accomplished; but that this was one step in an on-going journey of going forward.
The account is written in the hope that it will be a helpful summary for those who were there, and those who were not. 250 people attended for all or part of the day.

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At the start of the day Marcus led us all in a time of prayer and worship.

Welcome and Apologies by the Church Wardens

Brennan Horne gave a welcome to Russ Parker, and Bishops David and Andrew on behalf of us all and outlined the day ahead.
Debby Bridge read through the list of approximately 50 apologies from those who could not attend on the day. These included four members of staff: Catriona Foster was speaking at a training day for older people in another part of Birmingham; Jon Tattersall and Ben Baker who were with the Pathfinders on their weekend away, attended for part of the day. Antony had written a letter which was read out by Debby explaining his absence.

Letter from Antony Spencer
Dear friends,
I am really sorry that Pat and I are not able to be with you today as we are on a visit to the USA that has not been possible to rearrange. We do hold you all and the gathering today in our prayers as this is an important step in the healing process in which Russ is leading us as a community.

The outcome of the listening process and the subsequent announcement that Nigel was standing down as vicar has drawn us into unexpected and uncharted territory. This has placed a greater expectation and responsibility on me as associate vicar and I am really grateful for the active support and counsel of Bishops David and Andrew under whose direct authority we are now working. The staff team has been through a hard, and for some, a bruising time but I am pleased to report that the whole team is now meeting and working together effectively and well. Steve Foster and I have also met with the churchwardens very helpfully and we continue to value their counsel, input and hard work among us. I believe all this augers well as we move forward in the short term and as, in due course, a new vicar is appointed.

Moving forward in a wholesome and healthy way necessarily requires that we seek to settle unresolved issues of the past so I take seriously my response to Russ’s question, ‘What is God asking me to do in response to the Report that will enable me to help my church move forward in the renewal of its life and flourish in its calling?’ One important aspect of this for me is to ensure that any unresolved misunderstanding between Nigel and me is settled. We have discussed things many times in the past but there may be some matters that remain unresolved. With this in mind I was in touch with Nigel prior to Easter to ask whether he would be willing to meet. We will follow this through when we return.

There may be other things that the Lord requires of me which I will follow through in due course. However, I thought it may be helpful at the outset of this day for me to let you know the actions I have taken. Meanwhile Pat and I pray for the church and especially for Nigel and Annie each day as they and we all face up to these changed circumstances.
With all good wishes for a successful and helpful day before the Lord.

With much love in Jesus, Antony.

Introduction from Bishop David
Bishop David gave a resume of the background which led up to the invitation for Russ Parker to come and conduct the process outlined in his booklet: ‘Healing Wounded Churches’.
He added that “God is still blessing us here” and that “St John’s is expected to play its part”.

Teaching Sessions with Russ Parker

Individual Response
Russ had written to us before the teaching day and asked us to think about the following question:
What is God asking me to do in response to the Report that will enable me to help my church move forward in the renewal of its life and flourish in its calling?

In response to this he asked us all to write down our individual answers to this question and to come forward and place them under the wooden cross on the dais. A time of silent and thoughtful concentration followed before people came forward in a long line to place their answer under the cross. This was a poignant moment for all of us at the start the day.

Russ encouraged us by reading a prayer ‘God of the last chance’ and stressed that God had not let go of us!

In contrast to this Russ then asked us to think about all the ministries, service and activities that went on at St John’s and to celebrate them. He said that “we should celebrate the good or it will shrink”. He suggested two areas to start with that had been mentioned in the report, and asked the leaders to stand up, inviting us to clap as they did this. It was then over to us to shout out different ministries to celebrate, and for the leaders to stand up.

This became a lengthy process designed by Russ to encourage us to see all the good things that were going on in the Church. By the end virtually all of us were standing up. Russ later said that he found this time very moving as one and another had turned round to look and make sure no area of ministry was left out.

Summary of the Listening Process and the issues arising
Russ summarised the listening process that had taken place in January with 250 people taking part. The main question had been: What are the stories currently shaping the church? The responses to this question had all been recorded by the listeners and the main issues drawn out by Russ in his report.

He went on to say that today we are going to look at:
How to deal with the majority issues that came out of the listening process:
How to attend to differences in those majority issues;
What does Jesus require/ask of me?

Russ introduced the idea of Revelation 2 and 3 as an audit of the church by Jesus, particularly mentioning the Ephesian church (Rev 2:1-7) for our consideration. There is a pattern of some good things to celebrate, but also Jesus tells them what they need to change.

The process of the report was about the majority voice. If all opinions had been included it would have increased the division. The discipline of today is about the majority voice. Individual opinions are valid but for later and private discussion, and he invited any who wished to talk further to ask for an individual session with him. (This invitation is still open.)
So his challenge was: What does God want me to do to help my church as we move forward?

He challenged us to embrace the many things that are indicative of the blessings in this church; but to take the recent report seriously.
Four examples of individuals in the bible were given who had taken ownership in a confessional context. The context was Representational Confession which he commended to us for our consideration.

Representational Confession
Teaching on Representational Confession was given from the accounts of the following people from the Old Testament
Moses in Exodus 34:8-9
Nehemiah 9
Ezra 9:6-15
Daniel 9:4-19
On none of these occasions were individuals singled out in any of the prayers. Inclusive language was used – WE and OUR. The intercessors were not necessarily personally involved in the past actions, they spoke on behalf of their people past and present, even if they were not even alive at the time.

He then asked us to consider
The Lord’s Prayer which is also written in collective language, using OUR and US.
Finally he took the example of Jesus as written in
2 Corinthians 5:21
There are many theories about how what happened on the Cross made it possible for our sins to be given. He put forward the idea that on the Cross Jesus could have been saying sorry for OUR sins? Could Jesus have been the representative man for all?

Today is not about looking for individuals to take the blame or find fault but rather about us taking responsibility. This is not the same as fault and blame. So he asked us: Whose people are you? Is this your people or not? He encouraged us to take part in a time of representational confession, adding that “our weak spots can discolour what we see”. He acknowledged that this act of representational confession would be very hard for some; that others may not be in that place yet; whilst many might be ready to do take part.

Time of Confession and Prayer
Russ reiterated the majority issues which arose in the Report and the fact that they are not accusations but observations.

Staff and Incumbent working relationship breakdown
Decline in numbers gathering to worship and financial giving
Significant concerns with the style of ministry and the lack of clarity over the direction of Church – where are we going?
He added that the petition put on the internet had been mentioned during the listening process.

He asked people to gather at the front of Church and pray openly for each other and on behalf of each other, in respect of these issues. A lengthy time of confession and prayer followed with everyone standing on the dais round the cross, or at the front and in the aisles. Many people took part in this time praying prayers on behalf of the church, some with tears and crying out to God. People were asked to raise their hand if they had special difficulty with any issue or problem and those around laid on hands and prayed. It soon became clear that this was at the very heart of the day and the nub of why we were there.

The ministry of Blessing
Russ then talked to us about the ministry of blessing reminding us of two famous blessings:

Numbers 6:24-26; 2 Chronicles 30:27. He then shared the following teaching:
Blessing equals to ‘bend the knee’; the person doing the blessing is the one who bends the knee.
Blessing also means: to ‘speak well words’ so that others may flourish.
Blessing in this way is not asking God to bless them, but rather pronounce it over them.

This teaching was followed by a time of blessing of Nigel and Annie for their future ministry elsewhere; and then for the current leadership of the Church.
Before this took place Russ had reiterated that “Nigel and Annie have elected to leave us and this must not divide us”.

A timely word from Bishop Andrew
Bishop Andrew who currently has oversight of the day to day ministry at St John’s shared some concluding remarks and asked us to consider 1 Peter 5:6 and the exhortation to “clothe yourselves with humility”.

He said that he had been asked whether St John’s was in ‘special measures’? In reply he had said that: “We are in special, difficult and challenging times, but we are a special church in special times”.

He shared his experience of posture in worship: standing for singing; sitting for preaching; and kneeling for prayer. He suggested that sometimes kneeling was forgotten. He challenged us to commit to kneeling before God for five minutes each day, and suggested that we did that there and then.

Both Bishops knelt on the dais together, and the rest of us knelt in our places. Bishop Andrew ended by reading 1 Peter 5:6: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The end of the day
A closing prayer was said by Bishop David whilst we all knelt in prayer. He thanked Russ Parker for coming and leading us in this very important day.

As Nigel and Annie have stepped down from their role at St John’s they were not present on the day.

1st May 2014 Posted in: Hidden Posts by Stella Jennings 0

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