Last Sunday, our Anglican lectionary fell upon the prophet Isaiah’s divinely-uttered poetry in Isaiah 65. This stunning book is often called the “5th gospel” because it so clearly anticipates what would unfold in Jesus and the New Testament. Through Isaiah, God expresses our future hope that all will be well: “Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy.” This picture of “new heavens and a new earth” is especially comforting after a traumatising week of earthquakes and aftershocks across the country.
With Advent just around the corner, we’re reminded that we have a foretaste of Isaiah’s future hope right now and that God is on the journey with us, like a proud parent filled with both joy and grief as we experience the ups and downs of the present age. The same goes for our life as the church, the heavenly-community-in-training.
This week you would’ve received letters from Bishop Ross and our Vestry, drawing to a close a process that began at the beginning of the year and was referred to at our AGM in May. For me personally, these last few years have been the best of times and the worst of times. The confidential and sensitive nature of the processes referred to in the statements has required me to remain silent in the face of the stories that have swirled around, which has been a deeply painful and complex journey for both Esther and I. At the same time there has been the great pleasure of leading a church that is so full of energy and life, and I’m constantly staggered by the incredible people we have in our staff team and congregation.
I am also profoundly sad that some people within our community have felt the need to move on from St Paul’s in the wake of this season. Our vision has always been for reconciliation rather than rupture. We wish this group well in their new gathering and pray that God will bless them richly with the new hope Isaiah describes. The statements from the Bishop and Vestry effectively draw to a close this prolonged chapter of transition and we now look ahead to building on the blessed foundation we have at St Paul’s. Leading the church through such a challenging season has been a steep learning curve for me — one full of lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
When Esther and I first felt called to come to St Paul’s, God planted a strong vision within us that this church would become a deeply relational community. That we would walk with conviction into the call to be a spiritual family and the intimately connected body of Christ. This remains a challenging vision for a fast-flowing city church that is always changing. But it’s a journey that I want to invite you into afresh in this coming year. The Apostle Paul, consciously echoing Isaiah’s words, says: “When someone is in Christ, look, the new creation has come!” It is our challenge and our inspiration to walk towards Isaiah’s vision of unrestrained joy in a future world where all is well. So today, as God encourages us to do: “Look ahead with joy.”
Rev Jonny Grant
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