During the last twelve months there have been two major headlines and both occurred in November. The early days of the month brought news that Margaret Butler’s short illness was more serious than thought and within days our sister, crossed that narrow line which separates time from eternity. Margaret’s gentle and quiet personality was underpinned by a resilient faith in Jesus as Saviour and expressed in mostly unseen acts of practical love and diligent work on the Committee of the Thursday Fellowship. It came as no surprise that in her characteristically organised way, she had planned the content of her funeral service pointing us through the hymns to her Jesus Lord and Saviour.
November’s second headline was the joyful celebration the marriage of Rachel Merriman – whom some amongst us have seen grow from new born baby to stunning bride! A packed church celebrated with Rachel and Andy Ferguson as they committed themselves to one another in Christian marriage.
Less spectacularly – but no less importantly have been significant signs of encouragement. Over the year we have our welcome to visitors has seen them become frequent worshippers and becoming involved in some of the tasks within our congregational life.
In July and August we were able to encourage Chris and a team from Spirit in Sport – including Paul Merriman – as we commissioned them in a morning service and covenanted to pray for them daily in the final weeks of preparation and throughout their mission to Kenya.
As summer moved into September we partnered with Spirit in Sport in a Community Café on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Numbers have been constant, with a “core” of regulars and even some visitors from Montgomerie Road!! Early weeks are seeing early encouragements as the trial is extended into 2014.
The prayer times on the 1st 3rd and occasional 5th Thursday of each month have for a long time met in as a group of 2 or 3 but excited encouragement has been felt as the vestry is at time too small for comfort as they reach a regular 6 prayers!
The Pastoral Care Group Report flags some of the many pastoral issues within our small community. The recent news that two of our until recently very active ladies – both of whom having suffered health issues in recent months – have moved into residential care homes – serves as a reminder that each of us is prone to the curtailments and diminished energy that comes with growing age.
The shared community life of Immanuel in general and the pastorate in particular are also caught up in the pressures of change. As these reports are being compiled, nominations have been published for the Diaconate Election, we have been well served by the three retiring Deacons/Officers and I am personally deeply appreciative of their ministries especially as all of them are in full time employment (indeed I suspect that it has been the first time in many years since it could be said that the overwhelming majority of our Deacons are full time workers). These sisters and brother together with Geates Picken, who continues as a Deacon, have laid out their time, talents and energy in the service of Jesus and we value them and praise Him for their ministry.
We embark on 2014 in the knowledge that a further change faces IBC. Last July I shared with the Deacons and reported at the Church Meeting that I am planning to retire from the pastorate “on or around my 65th birthday in November 2016”. I gave this very long notice of my intention because the financial pressures, which have existed for many years, suggest that the familiar patterns of ministry and working will not be possible in the coming years so we have some limited time to explore options and address priorities and practices – we need this to be a matter for sustained and fervent prayer as we seek His way ahead for us.
As our theme text for 2014 reads in the Amplified Bible:
But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him]
shall change and renew their strength and power;
they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God]
as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint or become tired.
Your friend and Pastor
Within a week of my writing this, our news reports and TV programming will be dominated by the London Olympic Games, as the competitors from around the world gather for the latest Olympiad of the modern era, conceived by Pierre de Coubertin and for which he proposed as a motto “Faster, higher, stronger”.
After months and years of preparation, it is inevitable that records will fall as each strives to deliver their best possible performance. They have identified their goal, they have disciplined mind, body and diet to that end, life has had but one purpose in view.
The Apostle Paul, drew on the familiar Olympic imagery when writing to his young friend Timothy “I’ve run hard right to the finish”1Tim 4/7 The Message and in another place “straining toward what is ahead, I press on” Philippians 3/13 NIV. Whilst Paul knew nothing about de Coubertin and his motto – he was clearly fully aware of what lay behind it and we would do well to adapt that understanding and adopt that motto for ourselves that we may be increasingly
FASTER in our response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and in taking opportunities to speak to folk our Jesus
HIGHER in our estimations of what we can attempt for God and in our innovative ways of working in mission
STRONGER in our relationship with Jesus and one another so that our individual and collective demonstration of His life changing effect will be shown to those whom we serve.
The summer weeks with the break from our usual patterns of meeting together make it a time for more frequent prayer for those we know to be travelling, both near and far, and those who by living alone, may feel the disruption of fellowship more sharply than others.
Whatever the summer weeks may bring and wherever they may find us, let’s ask the Lord to give us opportunity for rest and relaxation in their less pressured days and refreshment in readiness as in Paul’s words “straining toward what is ahead, WE press on” in our ongoing mission.
With every prayerful good wish,