Many years ago, I was asked to preach at the Easter Offering Service for Network as I think it was called at the time. The printed order of service asked for two things to be put in a prominent position in the worship area, a map of the world and a mirror. As the Easter Offering was to help projects in developing countries, the map of the world made sense but why a mirror?
When I was growing up, missions meant overseas. Churches had Home Mission Sundays but somehow it wasn’t as exotic as somebody coming to talk about their experiences in other parts of the world and besides which Britain was a Christian country, so we didn’t really need much in the way of mission here. Those areas in this country which had been seen worthy of mission in earlier years were now largely covered by Social Services, so it became very easy for mission to become putting our small change into an envelope and feeling that we’d done it.
As a result, I think we took our eye off the ball and believed that things would go on forever the way they always had been. Because of that, the Church lost much of its sense of purpose and outreach and with it, its value in the community. People outside the Church couldn’t see what was happening and increasingly came to see it as irrelevant to the world and to their lives.
Which is where the mirror comes in! Whilst mission must be about the poorer parts of the world, perhaps more so than ever at a time when inequality is as great as it’s ever been and aid budgets are being cut, it’s not something that we can just pass on to other people. It has to begin with us, and it has to include the communities in which we live and work.
I am well aware of much of the work being done in the circuit, the support that people give to the food bank, the work being done at the Wickham Festival and through events like Faith al Fresco when circumstances permit. But how much do we know about the needs of our communities? Twenty-five years ago, I was working with three churches in relatively poor inner-city areas. One of them reached the point of closure and I was asked to use some of the time I gained working with a church plant on a new estate. The estate was seen as being relatively affluent and my other churches questioned why I was being asked to work there rather than in areas they saw as being in genuine need. I even questioned it myself but then discovered that the needs there were different, but just as real. It was a commuter estate where parents were leaving early in the morning for London and not returning until late in the evening. There was a tremendous sense of loneliness and isolation amongst young families and the church being planted there was attempting to fill the gap.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. The same goes for sharing his love. Let’s commit ourselves to helping those in need at home and abroad and to being active in the communities in which we live so that those around us might look at our churches and see how relevant they are, and because of that how relevant the Gospel is, to their lives. We need the map and the mirror!