The Fruit of the Spirit ( Jan 2023 onwards)
For our theme this year, we are drawing on Galatians 5:22-25 to guide and nourish our faith journey together.
At our covenant service this year, we heard from John’s gospel that we are to abide in Jesus, and we are to be fruit-bearing Christians: ‘16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name’ (John 15:16).
What does it mean for us to be fruit-bearing Christians? How would you bear fruit for Jesus this year? For John, of course, to bear fruit means sharing in Jesus’ life-giving and liberating work, his spirit-empowered acts and deeds of love and mercy for others.
Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, a passage known as the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, helps us further on this. He identifies fruit-bearing as cultivating virtues – such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’.
These virtues, Paul tells us, are not religious codes or moralistic lists of “do’s” and “don’ts”. Instead, they are a product of living a life inspired by God’s Spirit. That is, it is the Holy Spirit within who forms us in godly virtues.
Our theme for this year is the Spirit and the pursuit of virtue and to reflect together on what it would mean for us, individually and collectively, to live a spirit-filled way of life, learning, virtue, and service. Which fruit of the Spirit needs attending to in your life this year? We are planning to do a preaching series on our theme later in the summer.
A look back at past themes in Chronological order from 2015 onwards
A Christ-like welcome ( Sept 2015 onwards)
We offer a Christ-like welcome when the needs of others are put ahead of our own needs, where we offer a generous unconditional love. Those who have experienced such a rare and precious gift describe it in this way – ‘ they exhibited a restlessness for they really cared about me and wanted the very best for me. I was not just a number. What was done was done with excellence and attention to detail and they were not just passively reacting to me but actively anticipating my every need even though we were initially strange(rs) to them’.
A Christ-like welcome is a very good place to start in being a fruitful congregation as for the first time visitor, the first impression is often key. During this year we have begun a discussion on how Christ-like we are, how welcoming and user-friendly we are – to all people – not just people like us.
In an Away Day we looked at the following passages
- Romans 15:7 – ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’.
- Matthew 20:28 – ‘Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve’
- Matthew 25:35,40, 18:5 – ‘Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me”, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me”‘.
- Hebrews 13:2 – ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’.
- Deuteronomy 10:19 – ‘God says welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the wanderer – Why ? ‘For you were once a stranger yourself (in the land of Egypt)’
- Matthew 22:8-9 – ‘Go into the streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet’.
The bible shows how Jesus reached out and met people where they were, in ways that were real and understandable to them. Whatever their background, education, age, gender etc. he loved them and welcomed them into the kingdom, encouraging them towards greater commitment, but willing to move forward at their pace; and through it all loving them unconditionally as those who were unique and special to God.
How that welcome is expressed in our welcome at the door, our notices, our guidance through the service, our choice and style of music and teaching, our fellowship over coffee and our follow up is part of an ongoing discussion at the quarterly worship consultations.
One project that has been completed is a refresh of all our church notice boards, notice sheets and the website you are on now, to make them more helpful to visitors and passers by. Further changes to leaflets and other publicity can be expected.
Whole Life Worship ( Sept 2016 onwards)
This theme tied in neatly with an ongoing focus on practical Discipleship with the two ‘Follow me’ books being used by the church’s many small home groups in the run up to Advent and during Lent. A look at a Celtic approach to being a follower of Jesus, was also a natural link.
Sunday worship is one of the ways in which we are regularly reminded of God’s love for us in Jesus, and then invited to respond to that love. The two great commandments of Jesus invite us to Love God with our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourself. These two are linked as we cannot say that we love God unless we show that love in practical ways to others, and indeed our care for others and ourselves, honours God and is therefore part of our worship.
To love God with our whole being is therefore to worship God with our whole being, using our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we love our neighbour and indeed ourselves as we continue that worship in our daily life, in the way that we care for others and for ourselves. You can see how worship is now being seen as so much more than just what happens for an hour or two in a church on a Sunday. But our worship on a Sunday is still central, and needs to be planned and led so as to encourage this wider worship and not simply be an end in itself.
This means that our worship should aim to engage us emotionally with our heart, and to make us think with our mind. It should create the space in which we are open to the leading of our spirit by God’s Holy Spirit and it should encourage real commitment and the sacrificial giving of our time energy and resources in the service of others. To love God with all our strength is an act of will and dedication that may not come easily.
Outward Generosity ( Sept 2017 onwards)
– In response to God’s generous and self-giving love,
we will reach out to others in every way we can;
giving all we can, to sustain and develop this work.
The focus during the autumn of 2017 was to look again at our financial giving to the church, encouraging a more regular and realistic pattern of giving, and in particular inviting individuals to commit themselves to giving percentage of their disposable income to support the mission of the church. In turn the church itself sought to increase the amount it was able to give to others. This resulted in a 20% increase in giving and an increase in planned giving through Standing Orders and the envelope scheme, and the church itself raised its support for other causes to 17% of its income.
Alongside this there was encouragement to be more outward looking and to look again at what time, energy and experience could be shared. This led to an increase in volunteers in certain key areas, though there remains a shortage in some other groups, which has not been helped by the unexpected departure of our Families and Children’s Worker when her husband was moved at short notice to another job. It is anticipated that we will return to this theme in 2019 as we look at ‘pathways for giving and volunteering’.
Following Jesus Together ( Sept 2018 onwards)
– We will grow in faith and discipleship and care for each other,
as part of a wider group – ‘the body of Christ’ – I Corinthians 12:12-21, 25-27
A Questionnaire was distributed to individuals during the Away Day in September that identified six different areas that a small group could help with in terms of pastoral care and spiritual development. These were 1. Fun and shared interests 2. Friendship and Pastoral Care 3. Bible Study and Topical Discussion 4. Faith Application and Social Action 5. Prayer 6. Worship
Existing small groups were then asked to decide what the two main focuses of their groups were, and what new area they would wish to explore and develop. The minister was then invited to visit and lead a discussion on this and offer resources that might help them to build on their strengths and move into the new area.
Love in Action (Sept 2019 onwards)
– We will share God’s love with others not just in what we say, but in what we do and who we are’ – 1 John 3:18
This theme will focus on the practical care that we are able to offer as individuals and as a church to those in need. It includes our role as volunteers giving our time, energy and expertise in the services of other and our financial and prayerful support of local, regional and national projects and charities, including our existing support for those in Kenya. Pathways for giving in new ways will also be explored. The logo for the year features a heart shaped ‘creature’ with a heart shaped smile, an open hand and a banner. This illustrates the love that must lie at the heart of all we do and say and the twin aspects of caring with a reactive response with practical care and the preventative work of campaigning on behalf of those without a voice.
The church first adopted a yearly theme in September 2015 with ‘A Christlike Welcome’ (see below) and followed that with ‘Whole Life Worship’ from September 2016 (see below), ‘Outward Generosity’ from September 2017 and ‘Following Jesus Together’ from s September 2018 (see below)
In the coming year we are looking at ‘Love in Action’ a variation on the fourth of the five practices in Robert Schnase’s Book – ‘ Five Practices of a Fruitful congregation’ (Abingdon Press), and will again launch the year with a day together on Saturday 14th September from 9.45am – 3pm led by the minister and Tim Lornie and others from ‘Just Love’ based in Cambridge. A list to sign up for the day is on both sites – The closing date is 8th September .
‘How2Be’ Church (Sept 2020 onwards)
– We will revisit every aspect of ‘Our Calling’ to ‘serve the present age’ and be the people we need to be. – Deut.10:12
In response to the Covid 19 Corona Virus Pandemic which led to the suspension of ‘normal’ activities at the end of March 2020; the closing of churches and a period of lockdown that is only now being eased; we will take a fresh look at what it means to be a church in this new situation. We will begin by looking at ‘How to be church’ in relation to the four areas of ‘Our Calling’ which remain the Methodist summary of church life. In the four Sundays of September 2020 we will explore how we might be Worshipping Together, Learning and Caring Together, Serving Together, and finally Evangelising Together… ‘as never before’.
We have been forced, or led to do these things in the past 5 months ‘as never before’, now, going forward we need to choose to do these things ‘as never before’ in order ‘to serve the present age’ which for the foreseeable future will be very different from the past, and to together be the people we need to be; hence the logo of a bee.
All of this will mean that we take a fresh look at our online presence, and seek help and guidance in this area, whilst recognising that many of our existing congregations are still reliant on other forms of communication. One of the challenges will be how we can move forward together with a variety of formats and approaches. The weekly CWEO (Connecting With Each Other), newsletter notice sheet, that began in April 2020 has been and will remain a key tool in this new approach to being church.
Caring for God’s world (Sept 2021 onwards)
– We will actively engage with the TearFund Climate Change Emergency declaration process and continue to explore other ways as individuals and as a church to better care for God’s world. (Genesis 1: 27-28)
In response to Climate Change that is now having a devastating effect on all countries, and on the poorest people most of all, we will follow the prepare, declare and impact stages of the Tearfund programme as we first prepare at a personal level; encouraging greater awareness and a greener lifestyle as individuals and as a church. We will then declare at local level with other groups at the start of November to coincide with COP26 Climate Conference, urging and praying for far reaching policy changes and words being put into immediate action by all governments. And we will then continue into 2022 and beyond to make those changes that are within our control as individuals, as a church and at local level, to build a more sustainable world as ‘good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us’.
see https://www.climateemergencytoolkit.com/ for further details