Vision 2021

Rev. Jonny Grant

The defining image of this church I’ve used since arriving over 7 years ago is that of a spiritual garden. This is especially relevant right now as Esther Grant and Alex McClew led a team of volunteers to weed & plant out our surrounding gardens on Saturday, which are much larger than you’d imagine. Also, among the many amazing facts about St Paul's is that in 1970’s we had our very own “Biblical Garden”, outside the crypt door, complete with a Cedar of Lebanon, Rose of Sharon & Judas Tree. The above image is a map of that garden.

Through Scripture, the Garden was place where God was intimately present with his people. First, of course, God walked in Eden with Adam & Eve in the “cool of evening” (we seek to replicate the “cool of the evening” in our building during the winter months, the temperature is actually biblical!). Then, Solomon’s Temple was decorated as a Garden to evoke Eden. In fact, it’s other way around: Eden was created as a Temple; as God’s house; & so it’s no coincidence that Solomon’s Temple was a Temple Garden. If you look around our building, you’ll see so much of the wood and stone are carved in that same Garden Imagery. So, the most fundamental thing we can say about this church is that we want it to be a place where people meet & experience God, through the Holy Spirit.

If I were to sum this up, it's wanting St Paul’s to be a place of “irresistible life.” That when people come here they experience that unusual warmth, welcome, and that we would all be desperate to soak in that presence at every opportunity; at least every Sunday! Last month we baptised 11 people and a few of them shared their God stories with us. I loved what Portia shared about her first Sunday at St Paul's (and every Sunday since). She described experiencing a profound sense of warmth, welcome, acceptance; God is in our place. Benedict has also share about his experience as a curious university student living here on campus, wandering into our baptism service last year and experiencing something 'different'; a sense of warmth, togetherness, and purpose. And he hasn't stopped coming since. As a vicar these are the most encouraging, envisioning things that I can hear.

Father Prebble unexpectedly experienced Holy Spirit while praying in Lady Chapel in 1966 and started speaking in tongues, before giving a spontaneous testimony of that experience later that day at St Matthew’s in City to a stunned audience. It sparked St Paul’s central role in wider Spiritual Renewal which happened in New Zealand at that time. In 1980s Head of Satanist church in Auckland walked through those doors when no-one else was around & was knocked off his feet by Holy Spirit. He came to faith soon after. This place has always been alive with God’s presence.  

On Pentecost when Spirit fell on the first believers, Peter tells crowd that this is fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit on everyone in Last Days. It’s another way of saying that God’s externally known presence would become intimately known & experienced within the church. That’s the spiritual garden we’re cultivating here, across a whole range of practices, courses, events, and the way we shape our Sunday worship.

So, What sort of Garden are we seeking to Cultivate here?

One of most interesting things I’ve learned, both pastoring this church, and planting on a Jurassic scale at our wild land near Pakiri, is that churches like gardens are places of infinite creativity and diversity. When I plant up at our land, I’m constantly amazed by how each tree or plant takes its own unique shape & growth pattern depending on what it is, where it’s planted, and how it’s fed. Two identical trees right next to each other can take very different forms as they develop and grow. It is the same with the church. Although we have specific visions and plans for how this spiritual garden will take shape, its boundless diversity is constantly surprising, disrupting, and exceeding our expectations.

So, we firmly believe that for this church to come to the full expression of who she’s called to be, each person has to grow vigorously according to what God has called them to be. That’s about both the quality of the soil of this church and the conviction and ambition of each of us as disciples; this is no passive project.

I recently spoke about the profound change that happens at Pentecost described in Acts 2. In the Old Testament, God’s presence was often depicted as a single fire, which mirrors how He led his people; by anointing, filling, and empowering one specific person or leader for a specific task. And everyone else followed. It was unity through conformity. One God, one leader, one people. But at Pentecost, the most radical change that happens is that this single fire of God’s presence separates and fills not just one leader but every believer.

The point of this is that now, in church, every one of us has God’s empowering presence. His presence is now expressed through diversity of gifts, callings, and vocations of His people. That’s the sort of church we want to be. Each person growing and thriving in their gifts, callings, and vocations. One way I’d love to see this expressed is through passing on of wisdom & support from one generation to another. We have an incredible wealth of experience in this church. Just as saplings grow up in a forest under a protective canopy, we want to promote the passing on of generational wisdom and support so over the next few months we are piloting a mentoring initiative.

What does this sort of Garden look like?

St Andrew’s Chorleywood is a very unassuming church in a small commuter town in the countryside outside London. I was quite disappointed when we finally drove past it one day! In the early 80’s John Wimber visited the church and triggered an extended season where this tiny little church reshaped the spiritual landscape of the UK and quite a lot of the world. Their vision was to pass on the ministry and life of Holy Spirt they’d experienced so vividly through John Wimber, with an emphasis on what they described as “every member ministry” (that Pentecost idea that everyone in church could carry this ministry).

Vicar David Pytches and our friend Barry Kissell founded New Wine, which became one of the ways this new form of worship and ministry spread through whole country and beyond, and most miraculously, became a ‘normal’ expression of Anglican ministry. The Youth Leader at St Andrews was a shy and retiring man of Greek origin by name of Mike Pilovachi who launched a hugely influential ministry to young people called Soul Survivor. In that same Youth Group was a talented, genuinely shy young guy called Matt Redman, who ended up rewriting how most churches in UK worshipped.

When I think of the Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Spirit came in wind and fire and settled on every believer, I think of St Andrews Chorleywood. This unassuming, unlikely little church in the English countryside. And I also think of St Paul’s. Because this place has played a similar sort of role at various times in its history. We can’t force God’s hand but we can prepare the spiritual soil of church to receive the seed of Spirit and produce a “superabundance” of life like the fourth soil in Jesus’ Parable of Sower in Matthew 13.

I’d describe what we’re aiming for as “holy ambition.” This involves coming to understand who God really is (His vast scale, power and plans) and understanding our role in that (that we’re entering into something so much bigger than what we can do). So, my commitment as the Vicar is that we’re a church that is pursuing God’s kingdom plans with all of our strength and refuse to build ministries that fit our own personal limitations. Sometimes that takes time to get right and to establish but we won’t settle for things that lack the fullness of that holy ambition.

This is a project that needs everyone involved.

We've set out 10 Strategic Priorities as a church which will shape where we put our energy and resources over the next 10 years. This church is involved in a vast array of different projects and ministries which give expression to this mission and these priorities.