What a tremendous weekend we’ve just had at Ashburnham! Excellent teaching from Ian Coffey, relaxed time for making and renewing friendships, a time of spiritual refreshment and revitalisation. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and there has been a palpable sense of us drawing together as a church family across the congregations.
None of this could have happened without meticulous planning from our Steering Group led by Mark Neller. As a church fellowship, we owe a huge debt of gratitude for the many hours of preparation that went into the weekend and I want to give my personal thanks to the Steering Group for an excellent job superbly carried out.
But where do we go from here? - we don’t want all that we have learned at the weekend to be a flash in the pan. The weekend has highlighted some of the strengths and weaknesses of All Saints and in the coming months I want us to build on our strengths and shore up areas of weakness. Ian Coffey has given us some very clear indications of what we need to work on to become a missional church and we must not lose the impetus he has given us. Over the coming months, the PCC will be addressing these issues by discussing the book The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and the Ashburnham Steering Group will be debriefing with me on ways to move forward. Already plans are in train for a follow up weekend in 2013.
One story that Ian Coffey told has stuck in my mind – about the rather tatty diner near to a church where the minister went to meet a member of the congregation. The diner was not in good shape, but the minister was amazed as the owners brought out some extra cakes for the customers without charging. On subsequent occasions the same thing happened. Asked why they did this, their reply was ‘Because we want to show magnanimity’. This is a great picture of what I want All Saints to be – a church which draws people because of its acts of gratuitous generosity within the community. God make us such a church.
Today is our Sailing the Course 2011 booking day. PJ recently interviewed our speaker, Rev Ian Coffey. Here are some of the reasons he gave for why we should book our place at Ashburnham for this September.
PJ: What is the value of a church weekend away?
Ian: I think the value of a church weekend is three things: First, it’s about friendship. We don’t just have 20 minutes at the end of a service we actually have a weekend to get to know some of those people. The second thing is that it’s to do with listening. We have an opportunity to listen to God outside of the normal confines of our environment. And the third thing is that it’s about vision. Because I’ve often found in my experience as a church leader those things that we’ve been reaching towards have crystallised... and we’ve seen the next step on the journey.
PJ: What are your hopes for our weekend away in September?
Ian: The prayer that I always pray... is that God would equip me in order that the words that come are not my words but God’s words. And the safety of that is that we’re coming from Scripture. I always pray that God would prepare people so that they are ready to listen. But I also ask that God would allow some of those moments to come, where we end up in conversations that are just a small spontaneous moment of God, where we open up about something, where we share with someone a need, they pray for us, something is said as a word of encouragement or affirmation... where we are perhaps walking on our own or talking with a friend, and the Lord Jesus draws close to us and we hear him speaking.
PJ: What would you say to someone who is in two minds about coming?
Ian: I just feel that often in church generally, we come in, we have the service, we maybe chat for a few minutes and we go out. And our relationships become terribly superficial. And the value of this weekend at Ashburnham, is that it’s an opportunity to go deeper – deeper with God, but deeper with each other - and away from the normal pressures of a weekend at home and all the things we’re trying to fit in. Here’s an opportunity for space, to reflect and to relax and to be together with God.