Dear Friends …
Even in Lent — a penitential season — we are encouraged to look forward in hope and expectation. From the very first words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, Lent is given only in the promise of Easter. It is a season of preparation, at the end of which comes resurrection, new life. Just as we hear how God came down to us at Christmas, in Lent we journey with Christ, so that, come Easter, we may look forward to being raised to God in Jesus. Turn from our sins, certainly. But know that God is with us along the way, and that Lent is a journey through to new hope. I don’t just say these words as generic promises. I do believe that we should look to proclaim the ideal of the Kingdom of God; but I also believe that in our lives together, God’s Spirit is at work now, answering prayer, and giving us the means to be the “firstfruits” of the Kingdom.
Thus I come to a prayer answered for me. In the buildup to Lent, it’s been much on my heart — and reflected my preaching — that we should be taking special care simply to be still with God and to pray. We are a busy parish, and I’ve long been encouraged by the enormous energy that we all give to God and church day-to-day. Yet it is by making room in the small still places that we allow God space to re-charge us: to focus our minds, to calm our spirits, to prepare us for the next round. So I have asked us, whatever else we might do to mark Lent, consciously to make this Lent a season of prayer for our parishes, Maindee & Lliswerry, and for our wider ministry area. A particular concern of mine has been St. Philip’s Church — a gem of a building with loads of potential as a community resource in Lliswerry, but one which has lain fallow in an area of the city that is too often neglected. I have been praying for guidance and for help — from God and from the Church.
Now, on the one hand, I don’t think that prayer is a magic talisman to get stuff out of God. But, on the other hand, I do think that when we present ourselves very simply before him, individually and collectively, he listens, and we become engaged. And I think that has been the case here.
Just as Lent began, I was made aware of a grant from the Diocese — a pilot scheme that may be expanded in years to come — to fund a youth and communities worker for a year, starting in April. Simultaneously, I happened to be in conversations with the Lab — the flagship “pioneer ministry” community in the Diocese — about how they were to go forward with a host of personnel changes this year and the likely withdrawal of the Methodist Church from the project. There was a desire that the Lab not come unmoored, and that it find better roots in our Ministry Area.
And so, with a small nudge from the Diocesan Office, I found myself in the position of needing to put together a grant application in less than a week(!) to fund Edward Hodge — a young man beginning to discern his own role in ministry — as the new leader of the Lab, with the aim that he and the Lab should work more visibly within our churches and communities across the ministry area. The Diocese essentially are asking us to administer Ed’s part-time employment, whilst the Lab itself is looking to find better mooring and prayerful awareness and support within the umbrella of the established church structure. In return, I am hoping that we shall receive insight, and energy, and an ability to reach into parts of the community where the institutional church has struggled to gain a foothold in recent years.
We are still discussing what this new partnership will look like, as we develop Ed’s role. This is, as I said, a pilot scheme, and thus a journey into parts unknown. We know that the Lab will continue working with St. Teilo’s in Alway, with expansion to try to develop St. Philip’s enormous potential. But Ed will be available to us all to support, consult, encourage, and sometimes challenge our ministry. The hope is, essentially, that we (the parishes) and the Lab can help one another discover our various strengths and flourish better together than we would be apart.
And so it begins. Just when I start to think “what on earth shall I do about …”, God still has surprises in store for me — and, i hope, for you. I’ll look forward to introducing you to Ed more directly in a few weeks’ time. But I’m delighted today to extend to him our warmest welcome and to ask you to keep him in your prayers. I still don’t know exactly what resurrection will look like here, but I’m prepared to believe it’s on its way.