Living the gift - Inhabiting the World Distinctively
This began with exploring the idea of a rule of life; that is, some sort of agreement for all Christians in the diocese to follow a certain set of commitments and disciplines about what it means to live a distinctive Christian life in the world today. But of course there is more than one way of doing this, and much of what each person does and the way they live out their faith each day depends on personality and circumstance as well as the needs of the world into which they are called to be signs of God’s Kingdom.
So although a rule of life remains a good idea for each Christian, there is no plan for a grand diocesan scheme. Instead we have produced something very simple and accessible: a holding cross, and distributed over 10,000 of these through every parish. Many of these holding crosses have been made in our link dioceses in Kenya as part of a small social enterprise project. Thousands of them were blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Chelmsford Cathedral when he visited the diocese in 2014 as part of the diocesan centenary celebrations. There is a text from scripture on each cross which is Jesus’ own summary of what it means to be faithful: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … Love your neighbour as yourself ” (Luke 10.27).
Growing and Going in Faith
The holding crosses are now being used across the diocese, with people young and old, to open up the issues about day to day faithfulness and discipleship. The crosses are being taken into every Church school in the diocese. They are being presented to the newly confirmed and the baptised. They are being given to wedding couples and the bereaved. Many Christians in the diocese now carry a cross in their pocket or handbag as a matter of course. They are also being used to communicate the gospel. They promote the principle that Christian faith is first of all a life to be lived. They also tangibly demonstrate that Christian faith is something to be held onto in times of need and celebration.
This is only a beginning; but it points to us becoming a Church that holds onto the cross and that sees in this scripture the foundation of all Christian living. The ‘Holding On’ course (available free on the diocesan website) has been developed as an accompaniment to help us all explore what it means to hold on to a rule of life.
More work is needed on this priority, particularly exploring further aspects of missionary discipleship and of what it really means to love God and neighbour in those areas of life where there is injustice, poverty, inequality and exclusion. Also, what does this mean for a creation which is so endangered by humanity’s lack of regard for the earth itself? The Environment Group is coming up with some challenging and imaginative ideas for taking this agenda forward. Issues of climate justice are relevant to everyone and particularly important for Christians who have been called to be stewards of the earth. And we are giving fresh thought to other issues of social justice and faith in action. This is all part of a transparent Christian life, where what we do each day as individuals and as Christian communities speaks of the loving purposes of God for the world.
A people of prayer and learning
With this, there is a great desire for us to be a more prayerful Church. This was a major conclusion of the recent Time to Talk 2 consultation. Teaching people how to pray must therefore become a priority for every Church. The Diocesan house of prayer at Pleshey, and other places in the diocese, such as the Quiet Garden movement, can offer help and provide spaces for rest and re-creation. In the chapel at Bradwell, the diocese is blessed to have a place of pilgrimage and formation – a place to learn how to be sent. Our Cathedral, under the leadership of the Dean, will be taking a lead in helping people across the whole diocese to develop their spiritual lives. We are supporting our schools and their leaders to express Christian ethos across the whole curriculum and deepen the teaching of Religious Education.
There is a need for a greater knowledge of and confidence in the scriptures. Many Christians are unsure of their faith and feel hesitant about being able to give an account of the hope that is in them (see 1 Peter 3.15). All this argues for a renewed emphasis on teaching and forming people in the Christian faith and as disciples of Christ. Making sure that every Church is helping people grow in their faith is part of this priority. The Pilgrim course, partly developed in the Chelmsford diocese, is one of a number of resources that can help in this ministry locally and our diocesan Course in Christian Studies is now held in a dozen centres around the diocese to bring learners together from a wider area.
A people of action
Prayer is not about changing God’s mind on something, but allowing God to change ours. Therefore we should be ready to become the answer to our own prayers by making sure we put our faith into action in every aspect of our lives: being a disciple of Christ in a missionary Church means participating in God’s purposes for the world. The faith we celebrate and believe in should always be visible in the lives we lead.
Some sort of spiritual direction is an excellent way of ensuring Christian formation is into the likeness of Christ and God’s priorities for God’s world. Our spiritual direction network in the diocese is headed up and being developed by the Revd Ann Coleman.
As we move forward, the Diocese of Chelmsford must carry on holding onto the Christ who holds onto us. In the coming years the Churches and Church schools of the diocese should aim and expect to become more prayerful, more transparent, and more engaged with their local community and with the global issues that affect the local. It should become more evident that Christian people are living out their vocation in such a way that the faith we celebrate on Sundays shapes and overflows into the whole of life.
The Church should be more generous. Part of a distinctive Christian life is to give to support not just the ministry of the Church, but its wider mission at home and across the world. At the same time the Church must play a full part in society including involvement in charitable work alongside other groups and faith communities that also make a positive difference in the world. The public living-out of faith each day will be the sign and the fruits of an inner, spiritual holding onto Christ. The Church will have been formed in order to be sent.
Inhabiting the world distinctively
- Using the holding cross as a means to explore prayer and our pattern for living
- Making nurture and discipleship courses available to people in each worshipping community
- Encouraging participation in the Course in
- Christian Studies and establishing further local CCS centres
- Enabling the faith we celebrate on Sunday to shape the life we live on Monday
- The Retreat House at Pleshey as a centre of teaching on prayer
- Celebrating our schools as fully part of our extended Church and ensuring they offer life enhancing encounters with God
- Challenging ourselves on our care for the environment and our giving
- Local parishes supporting schools through the development of Chaplaincy, Prayer Spaces, and other initiatives such as Open the Book
If we are doing all this, what might we expect to see?
Some of the indicators might include:
- A prayer life that listens and responds to the need of a community
- Greater personal focus on being missionary disciples in our daily lives
- Use of the Chelmsford holding cross privately and collectively
- Growing numbers exploring God’s call in all areas of life and ministry
- Increased numbers taking the opportunity for Retreat or spiritual direction
- Proportionate and generous personal Christian giving
- Church-sponsored work in the community
- Our Church schools flourishing in their invitational and distinctive Christian ethos
- Increasing numbers in discipleship, nurture and training groups
Some of these we can measure and perhaps others we could survey from time to time. Individual worshipping communities might like to think about the most relevant indicators of progress locally.
Some stories from around the diocese
Prayer needs to be at the heart of all we want to do and be for God. The Revd Ruth Patten describes a prayer event held in summer 2015 in Great Dunmow.
We held a “Day of Prayer” at St Mary’s, Great Dunmow. The church was open throughout the day and we supplemented our usual services of Morning Prayer and Holy Communion with Midday Prayers, Evening Prayer and Compline.
We set up prayer stations around church to help people to explore praying differently. Each station offered something to think about, something to do and something to take away. Our Church school provided a prayer station about journeys and our Youth Group devised one with a giant iPhone that they re-named “iGod!” Our beautiful “Vine Window” provided the inspiration for another prayer station. We’re close to Stansted airport,so we had a “baggage check-in” to help us lay our emotional ‘baggage’ before God. We helped people to explore “prayer beyond words” with images, objects and music. There was also a guided prayer walk outside.
Experienced ‘listeners’ were available in a quiet, private space for those who wanted to talk or wanted somebody to pray with them. Our Diocesan Bookshop also provided a book and gift stall for the day. Bishop Stephen joined us for a light lunch and a “Q & A” session on prayer. People of all ages, including children from school, enjoyed quizzing Bishop Stephen and seemingly simple questions provoked lots of deep insight for us to ponder.
The Chelmsford Holding Crosses have inspired people of all ages to think about, and share, their faith in all sorts of different ways. Nick Hutchings, Head teacher at St John’s CofE Primary School in Colchester, recalls the impact they made on the pupils there.
In April 2015, Bishop Roger visited St John’s CofE Primary School in Colchester. The school had a wonderful morning, where he shared a story and talked about the Chelmsford Holding Cross, and then visited each class and presented them with their own cross.
This caught the imagination of the pupil-led worship team at the school. This team of five children run an act of worship for the whole school once a week. No adult is involved in the planning or running of the worship; the children plan it from the opening phrase, to a closing prayer, based on the school’s values of Courage, Peace, Hope, Faith, Respect and Compassion.
The team were due to lead an act of worship at Dedham CofE Primary School, and now they had their idea for the theme for that. They talked to Bishop Roger, and asked if they could have a holding cross to use for the act of worship at Dedham. In June the team duly ran the act of worship, and presented the cross from St John’s to Dedham. It was a great way to build links of Christian faith between the schools, and memorable for all the children and staff involved.
Serving our communities, showing the love of Jesus in tangible ways, is a key way in which the Church can be a transforming presence. Mark Webb shares how St Andrew’s, Westcliff-on-Sea, sought to do that in their context.
St Andrew’s Church, Westcliff-on-Sea has been running Open House for a number of years now. On Sunday evenings Open House is a place where homeless or vulnerable people and those on the edge of society can come along and feel welcomed.
We provide a hot meal for all who come, and a place for them to feel safe and part of the local community. Around 25-30 people come along each week and as this ministry has developed it has been wonderful to see relationships develop, not just between those we serve but between the volunteers and those that attend as well.Over the last 12 months we have had over 120 different people attend at one time or another.
Open House also operates on two afternoons during the week. The common theme across the midweek and Sunday groups is that it is a place where those who come can be open, and share their stories and worries in a safe environment without prejudice.
Our aim in leading Open House is to try to incorporate the ministry of Jesus into what we do and to share God’s love with those we encounter. We have been blessed by God time and again with the resources to enable us to run Open House through volunteers, donations and prayer.