In Jeremiah 29 we read about the good plans God had for his people Israel – plans to prosper them and not to harm them, plans to give them a future. It’s a famous passage that, while it was a message given to Israel for a specific time and context, encourages us in our own time. We can be confident that God has good plans for us too – both as individuals, as families and as a church. Our task is to routinely seek his will as purposefully as we can and to allow his priorities to shape ours.
Woody Allen once remarked, “If you want to make God laugh – tell him your plans.” Perhaps this reveals his Jewish roots, as it echoes a simple Yiddish proverb, “We plan. God laughs.”
It makes us smile, because the truth behind it is that for all our planning and worrying, things rarely turn out the way we think they will. There are always too many unknown forces at play. We have learned this all too well these past few years.
But despite this, planning is a good thing and it’s also a God thing. Just as he had good plans for his people years ago, he has good plans for us today…
With this in mind, with an appropriate dose of humility, as we start 2022 together as a church family, I want to share a few plans we have as a church leadership for the days and months ahead.
Renewed rhythms of prayer
Before anything else, we want to reprioritise prayer at the centre of our community life together. The reasons for this a many, but here a few.
- Firstly, and perhaps most simply, because it is in prayer that we are resourced for a deep life with God. It is a place of connection. It is a place of processing. It is a place of understanding. It is a place of expression. It is a place of blessing. It is a place of intimacy. Without prayer we whither. Our lives need it. Our church needs it. Our families need it.
- Secondly, while prayer can be hard even at the best of times, perhaps over these last two years, as the pandemic has prevented us from gathering and connecting, it has been harder still. Many of us have noticed a gradual drying up of our prayer lives, both as individuals and as a church community. This has left us feeling hungry and thirsty for more of God. It’s time to respond to this felt need and encourage each other in prayer once again.
- Thirdly, we need to pray to prevent us being overwhelmed. As both the scale of the challenges ahead of us and the size of the opportunities that God is calling us into are significant it is possible that our hearts can begin to feel heavy. Prayer is the antidote to fear, and our hope and energy levels will be directly proportional to the level and depth of our prayer life.
There are many ways we can encourage each other to go deeper in prayer. We could set up a prayer triplet with a couple of others meeting regularly, we can make sure the prayer time in our Life Groups for doesn’t get cut short, and we can share stories of answered prayer with others when we meet them. At the start of the pandemic many of us started using the Lectio 365 app to help us each morning. Perhaps now is a good time to use this once again. (Check out the evening prayer and their ‘families’ app too if they resonate)
But in addition to these, to help us go deeper in prayer together in 2022, we are planning a series of monthly ‘prayer weeks’ to draw us together around common themes and at common times for us as a whole church.
Our first prayer week will be Monday 17th – Friday 21st January where, on this occasion, we will be praying for God to help us as we seek to create a ‘culture of discipleship’ in our church life, in our families, and as individuals.
So that as many of us can pray with others as possible, we are planning a number of different meeting times both online and in person.
Our new teaching themes on Sundays and mid-week
At our early 8.30 communion service at St Mary’s and at the Heath Church we use The Lectionary to shape our discipleship, but at the 10.30am and 6.30pm services at St Mary’s we are starting two new series based on Mark’s gospel, and we are encouraging small groups to follow this mid-week to further embed the learning and deepen growth.
Mark’s gospel is an action packed and engaging read and to accompany these series, we have ordered 200 ‘Journaling Mark’s Gospel’s’ to give away to those who want to make the most of this time. On one side of each page is the text, and on the other is space to write notes, thoughts, or prayers. Look out for these on Sunday.
On Sunday evenings, we will be exploring how we can create a strong culture of discipleship among us in an age of distractions, hurry, online relationships, sexual freedom, expressive individualism, loneliness, relativism, and polarisation. The culture we live in is anything but neutral and it often shapes our thinking and behaviour without us even being aware of it. As followers of Jesus in our specific historical context, we need to develop a way of both interpreting our own culture and creating a culture among ourselves that enables us to remain faithful to God, abide in Christ, and bear fruit.
To help us journey together in it all pick up a free Journaling Mark’s gospel from the back of church for you to take away, and write notes in. We are also encouraging people to try reading (or listening to) the whole gospel in one setting. You’ll need a couple of hours to do this, but it will be really worth it. You might want to listen to it on your commute, when walking the dog or on a long car journey. I particularly recommend David Suchet’s version (he’s so good at making it come alive) and you can find that at stpauls/co.uk/marksgospel or for a one man dramatisation, check out iam-mark.com
Ash Wednesday, in early March, marks the beginning of Lent and in this season at the 10.30am services we will be reflecting on what it means to be made in God’s image and given the responsibility of overseeing and stewarding the creation he has made, especially in light of the environmental crisis we are facing. We will be exploring the practices (spiritual disciplines) of fasting, simplicity, giving, and service, as we seek to live into our calling and vocation as image bearers and disciples.
Through Lent at the 6.30pm services, we will be dwelling on the theme of God’s grace, expressed most powerfully in the gift of Jesus and his self-sacrifice, in the hope that this will deepen our own understanding of all that God has given us, and express itself though us in acts of grace and love to others.
Growing as disciples and growing leaders
As a church our central aim is to help people live life as disciples of Jesus. This matters to us because we believe that being a disciple is the way to discover the life God has for us – what the Jesus called, ‘eternal life’.
Jesus came to make this life available to us and we want to help and encourage each other in any way possible to experience it as fully as possible. Eugene Peterson called this journey a ‘long obedience in the same direction’.
To help us on our discipleship journeys there are always a number of activities, groups, and courses, happening at St Mary’s that are designed to help us keep moving forward in 2022.
For those exploring faiththere will be a new Alpha course (starting on the 10th Jan), and a baptism course. For those wanting to grow further there are Life Groups (check out the Life Group webpage), the new monthly prayer weeks, and a ‘Growing Leaders’ course for those wanting to develop their gifts in leadership. I’m also hoping to write a new course, called ‘Allegiance’, to run after Easter, exploring what it means to follow Jesus in our current context.
For those travelling through different stages and life-experiences we will be running a pre-marriage course, a wedding preparation morning, Parenting for Faith evenings, and the Bereavement Journey. As we look outwards and seek to give ourselves away, we also want to begin to build new momentum for church planting, pioneering, and local mission.
As the pandemic eases and we hopefully enter a new way of life in the coming year we look forward to developing and offering other ways of encouraging each other on the journey.
Planning for summer of mission to the rising younger generations – Satellites 2022
It may be over 6 months away but it’s not too early to remind you all about Satellites 2022, a festival for several thousand young people, held at Peterborough Show Ground between the 9th and 13th August.
Martin and Charles are very involved in helping to make this festival happen and as a church I’d love it if we really got behind this amazing mission opportunity. Given all that young people have gone through in the pandemic, never has a Christian summer festival felt so important for engaging young people with a beautiful vision of what it looks like to put God at the centre of your life 365 days a year.
Tory and I will be going and helping out on team (it will be great fun!) and it would be wonderful if you could join us. Find out more and sign up online via the Satellites website. Camping together will be a great community experience and build lasting relationships among us. Join us!
The gift of a new year
We often sing of how God’s grace is new every morning and how true that is. Every day is a new beginning for him and with him. We are always being invited in a fresh experience of life with him.
As an old year passes and a new one begins, let’s take the opportunity it offers us for a new start in our walk with God, individually and together. God is always ready to bring his renewal and start things again.
As Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”
As those living in Christ, new creations in him, in all we are facing in our lives and families, may we embrace the gift this new brings to us.
PS. News about Erin
I also wanted to let you know that Erin has been asked to help provide some pastoral support and leadership at St Margaret’s in Chipstead over the coming months while they go through a vacancy. She will be working there on Mondays and Thursdays and every other Sunday. Do pray for her and St Margaret’s at this time.