Richard Wilson, Rural Dean, shares his journey and sets out a vision for 2017…
I began the new year in a fog. I was low and even good things felt flat for me. Hope seemed an empty word. This is a new experience for me for I have been gifted by God with an overly optimistic outlook on life. But after Christmas I was empty – despite the signs of hope all around me that I couldn’t deny. Tory suggested we might do a ‘Daniel Fast’ – a kind of vegan fast, without wine or processed food or bread. And that we might pray.
Praying and fasting as a spiritual discipline is hard work but it has made a huge difference to us. It has totally helped us to reconnect and to find our feet at the beginning of another year – to rediscover a vision for our lives, our work and our city… It has been such a rich learning time for us both.
I am so grateful to see things shift – to feel hope rise, to see God change things and answer prayer, to see people stepping into faith, to see important but difficult conversations bring things to a head so that things could change, and to feel a new clarity of the way forward in almost every aspect of our lives – home, family, church, work, health, relationships…
As a deanery of 21 benefices, we share an exciting and life-giving vision for the Anglican church here in Bath and the surrounding villages. We want to see God at work in every community drawing people to himself and becoming his disciples – completely surrendering their lives into his will, finding peace, forgiveness, healing and freedom – turning away from sin and turning towards Jesus – seeking the kingdom of God first, before and above everything – selling everything they have so that they can buy the field with the treasure in. We want to so see hundreds of people discover life in Christ over the next few years and hundreds more rediscover it all over again and being re-energised by the Spirit to live lives of purpose and meaning in the Kingdom of God
We want to see everyone living as a disciple in our churches and every disciple equipped, encouraged and released into mission on their frontlines – in the world but not of it. We want to see a new wave of ordinary believers rediscover their calling to be carriers of the message of Christ and feeling confident and excited about sharing this message with their friends, neighbours, colleagues, and acquaintances. We want to see an explosion of invitations and conversations and testimonies right across the city and the wider region as ordinary members learn once again what it is to live and tell the story of God in their lives.
We also want to see a harvest being gathered in. Jesus told his disciples that the harvest was ready for reaping and we are praying for more harvesters to be sent out into every community in our Deanery so that heaven will break out in joy as sinners repent and believe again and again, as families are transformed, as relationships are healed, as businesses are reordered in line with the Kingdom and rule of God and our city is transformed one life at a time.
We have a vision for everyone to be a disciple, everyone to be a disciple-maker, every church to be a discipleship community and everywhere to be places of discipleship invitation. We long to see, and are praying for hundreds of people to step into the kingdom of God, to be baptised into Christ and his life and his Spirit, to confess their sin and find forgiveness and to become truly fruitful in every part of the life of this city – carrying God’s presence into every part of the city – being presence carriers rather than burden bearers.
I believe that God is leading us into deeper unity together – unity of message and unity of mission. He is inviting us to prioritise mission and evangelism over and above all the other many other things we are committed to. He is calling us deeper into prayer – alone in our prayer closets and together in houses of prayer right across the area. I believe that he is calling us to plant new churches into new areas, new demographics, new people groups and to take risks in investing significant resources into mission to the poorest areas of the city which have traditionally been the hardest places of mission and church life. I believe he is calling us to refocus our work and effort – to let some good things go – for the sake of new things, new missions, new work. And I believe that he is calling the grand-parents to help create a church for the next generations beneath them – let go of the reins and to offer their wisdom and care to new leaders younger than them who will be able to create a church for a new generation of people across our city.
I believe we are close to a tipping point. A point where we will see a new energy and freshness in our personal discipleship and relationship with God – a point when our worship, in its rich variety across the area, will be refreshed and re-invigorated and renewed – a point when we will find new energy and life from investing in prayer – a point when we will rediscover our purpose, as believers, as the rescued and forgiven people of God, to be carriers and evangelists of this wonderful story, this treasure within.
In all this, I am not unaware of the challenges we face. Pride, jealousy, fear, judgement and prejudice could all get in the way and we need to renounce them whenever we find them rising in ourselves or between us. We need to create a deeper culture of trust between us, a culture of listening and caring, of challenge and support. We live in a turbulent time – culturally, morally, economically, socially. We are all caught up in working out how to respond to the dramatic change in views on sexual ethics in our culture and our church. And these issues are bound to further stretch our theology, our relationships, our unity, our view of mission – perhaps even to breaking point – we won’t be able to avoid travelling this road together… It’s affecting every single one of us. Now is the time for us to cry out to God for help and for wisdom and for truth.
Of course, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. We may be hard pressed on every side but we are not crushed; we may be perplexed, but we will not succumb to despair; we may be persecuted, but we will not be abandoned; we may even be struck down, but will not be destroyed. Jesus is Lord. He is reigning until all things have been placed under his feet. His name is above all names. He is the King above all kings. We have nothing to fear. Perfect love will lead us and will drive it out before us.
Let us, at the beginning of this new season of change, in our deanery, in our city, in our nation, in our diocese, in our lives, be faithful to God – the creator of all things – seen and unseen. Let us remain steadfast in the teaching we have received from our ancestors and in the word of God. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the apostles teaching and let us seek first God’s kingdom in all that we are and do. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope. And finally, may the God who gives endurance and encouragement give us all the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as one church, one body in this city that ultimate belongs to him.