What is the Church?

No doubt, this period of global ill health and the fractures which it leaves have provided us cause for thought. Whatever age we may be, our circumstance has almost dictated the need to reflect on the existential issues of our time. In particular, society is concerned not only with the Covid pandemic but also with racism and equality through the Black Lives Matter campaign, gender justice through the Me Too movement, climate control and bio-diversity issues – the list goes on. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we contemplate our place in this cultural, political and geo-biological mix. ‘What is my life about?’ ‘How might I make a difference?’ ‘What will become of this world?’ ‘What do I believe? ‘What do I know?’

I saw somebody wearing a t-shirt this week which said, ‘You can change the world!’ The statement made me feel a little irritated. It seems that it’s easier to write slogans than to carry them into action. I wanted to say to the owner of the t-shirt, “how are you going to change the world?” I didn’t ask him the question, thankfully. My annoyance was located in the multi-national organisation which had sponsored the t-shirt slogan. I found myself thinking that I found it hard enough to change myself let alone change anyone else. Change has to start with me and not just on the outside of me but deep, deep within. If I want to affect change, if I want to campaign or become an activist, I must first of all seek renewal from within. 

As one who seeks the source of love, I believe that it is not through my own effort and willpower that change is exercised. My faith is quite clear – that I need a huge amount of assistance so that I can at least try to follow the right path. It is through the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that I am able to be who I am and do what I do (which is not that much in the world’s eyes). So the existential question which I continue to grapple with involves the Church and its place in the world. ‘What is the Church?’ I ask myself when I visit the sick in hospital. ‘What is the Church?’ when I talk to the drunk in the street. ‘What is Church’ when I read the banns of marriage for couples whom I might never see again. ‘What is Church’ as I slip on my clerical collar before another funeral. 

You may well have a well-rehearsed answer when people ask you why you go to church (or why you don’t go to church!) For me, Church lies somewhere in the mystery between heaven and earth. It is located before our birth and after our death and in the ordinariness of our everyday lives. It is in the changing seasons and the surprising life-stages of our vulnerable selves. It is in the hope that we harvest in our family and friends. It is the desolation, the consolation and the triumph of our faith as we confront the realities of the human condition. It is the whole cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and the promise of those to come and travel with us. It is you; it is me. This is Church.  

Congratulations Clare! It may have been a bit different but the calling is the same!

We celebrate Church and especially our little corner of the vineyard this Sunday through our Patronal Festival – St Michael & All Angels. Clare will be celebrating her first Mass after her ordination last weekend. If you are not able to attend, please check out the livestream – https://www.facebook.com/stmichaelssummertown and if that isn’t convenient remember to go to our YouTube Channel where you can play any of our recorded services – https://www.youtube.com/feed/my_videos

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We are also preparing for Harvest Festival. This year, I am particularly aware that many people will be facing financial difficulties which are likely to extend well into 2021. The health crisis will increasingly become a wealth crisis. This will be to the detriment of the low-paid, those on, or beneath, the poverty line. As we prepare for Harvest, please pray for those who are fearing the future. We will be glad to support the Community Emergency Foodbank as well as the local Cutteslowe Food Larder. Please do bring appropriate supplies and personal washing items for our Harvest collection.

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Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.