So goes the story of a tourist visiting the Emerald Isle who asks a local from Cork how to get to the big city of Dublin. “Argh,” says the local man with a look of disgust, “I wouldn’t be starting from here”! Today we are speaking about who we are as a church, and our sense of vision for the future. As we do this, it’s also important to discern where we are now and how we move ahead towards what God is calling us into.
Like the early stages of a new relationship, we are often most attuned to what God is saying when he first calls us into a new context or project. I vividly remember when Esther and I first arrived at St Paul’s during Easter 2014. We had a strong impression of the things God had for St Paul’s—to be a place of spiritual renewal for the wider church, and a source of mission to those around us, including the 60,000 students that migrate through our parish.
That and much more lies ahead of us, and St Paul’s is already a garden bursting with so much life that I’m constantly surprised throughout my week by ministries that I’m still discovering in our remarkable church. And yet, at the same time as our garden blooms, we are in a year of significant rebuilding that will eventually enable us to fulfil our visions for the future.
The image God has set before me for this year has been that of Nehemiah’s calling to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The essence of the story is that the walls had to be restored before the city could thrive, and this project involved everyone in the city, with each family and group working side-by-side. This restoration project was led by both Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra was a priest who worked with worship and words, while Nehemiah was a builder who worked with stones and mortar. Both were sacred tasks that were equally important in restoring God’s people.
This year we, too, have been steadily rebuilding our own ‘walls’ across a whole range areas—across our leadership and staff, across our ministry and volunteer teams, and across our congregation and our finances. Like Nehemiah we are also rebuilding our physical walls, although we stand on the shoulders of previous generations who have set aside capital in trust to help restore our buildings. It’s been hard work but—like ancient Israel—this call to restore and protect our church deepens our resolve, commitment and unity as a community of faith.
Earlier this year, as a church, we filled a significant hole in our finances. Despite that, we still face a challenge. So, today, I want to thank those of you who financially support St Paul’s. And I also want to invite those of you who call this church “home”, to stand alongside us in the joyous project of restoring the walls of our church so that it may thrive in the work God has set for us.
Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant