Chaplain’s report (AGM 9th May 2021)

2 Corinthans 4:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to
show that this all-surpassing power is from
God and not from us. 8 We are hard
pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen, since what is seen is
temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Our small boat was approaching the Grand Banks off Nova Scotia. The hurricane had passed but it had stirred up a ferocious North-Atlantic swell. My time driving the boat on watch had past and my time for rest had come. As I lay in my bunk listening to my friends racing to mount and then surf down the back of the unrelenting waves, I felt the boat lurch hard and roll hard onto her side. Up had become sideways and the walls had become the floor. I hung strapped into my bunk. We lay ‘knocked down’ for a brief moment waiting and hoping. In response and, in a sense, in rebellion
against the ocean that tried to hold our boat down, a greater force pulled us back up into the vertical once again. The mighty keel lying hidden under the waterline offered all of its weight to gravity and leveraged us back into safety, ready for us to clear the decks quickly so we could continue to ride out the rest of the storm.

As I read the Corinthians reading and think back over the last 7 months (it was only October we had our last AGM and review) it feels as though we have been through (and are still in) the hardest part of the COVID journey. There is a sense of weariness as we take stock and rekindle a bruised hope, that maybe, the COVID tide could be changing. It has been a long and difficult season without some of the refreshing and revitalising sense of pioneering, adventure and ‘deprivation for the common good’ that helped us through the first lockdown. This last lockdown has felt long, and arduous. Our hopes have been repeatedly raised and dashed as we have looked forward to sharing Christmas and then Easter together. As we have formulated and shelved plans and events for ‘another time’. It has been a tough season.

We could easily be despondent and trudge with the same weary steps as the world – if it were not for an unseen power, an unbeatable force that plays havoc with the chaos. Despite the hardships and the weariness our community can bear witness to the faithfulness of our Lord and Saviour, God the Father, in action in His son and in power through His Spirit. The one who has, as ever, and ever will be, bringing new life, creating new opportunities, giving fresh provision, humble solutions and supernatural resources of peace, courage, wisdom and energy.

Or to shift from nautical images to vineyard ones. It feels as though our church life has had some of its most fruitful branches torn off, clipped, pruned back, but instead of withering there have grown back new, unexpected, unforeseen fruits. It has been a joy to meet with familiar faces almost daily for prayer and worship over the last 15 months at morning prayer. Church communications and even finances are relatively healthy. We have moved from and are moving into new premises that are strategically better situated and better equipped. One of our own has been testing her calling and
this year has been approved as an ordinand to pursue her ministry as a priest within the Church of England. We have had the privilege of sharing a brief part of Anna’s journey as she explores her calling and future. We have said farewell to some good friends whilst welcoming new members who we feel we know despite never really having met! It has been a joy and a relief to see a number of  our church family receive their immigration papers and start new homes and new lives in France. We have applied for and received a grant to help us reach out to the community around us with the  gospel and to other organisations to form partnerships with us. We have a very strong candidate who is coming for interview to start in September as an Anglican on mission in partnership with the  EPUDF. Friends across the city were blessed as church members arrived with Christmas gifts and cards as a token of God’s love and our friendship. Every Sunday we have been able to meet and worship together with family and friends from around the region and beyond. Theologians are struggling to make ‘academic’ the sensation of spiritual activity happening over the airwaves… there are times when the words of Jesus on each others lips stirs me to wonder and profound worship.

There is no doubt that our precious vessel has taken a bit of a pounding and in a sense been  knocked down’, but to my mind at least, I am conscious of an even greater force who, often invisibly,
has raised us up, set us straight and readied us to continue our voyage. We navigate through  uncertain times and the next season in our community life will not be one of bustle and business but of rest and regrouping. I look forward to a season of holy meals where we eat together, pray together, regain our strength and start to plan for the what next.

As ever, a huge, huge thanks to everyone who gives of their time, energy, resources and effort. Particular thanks to the preaching and leading teams, youth work teams, admin support, the  marketing for mission, Facebook, Mailchimp, and Bible study and home group teams. Many thanks
to the church council who at the most demanding times met weekly to review and update. Many thanks to outgoing council members and a very warm welcome to those inbound!

Many thanks to each of you who have been looking out for another, often unheralded and often at  great cost and sacrifice. Many thanks to each of you who contribute financially to enable us to
continue to do what we do.

None of this has gone unnoticed.

With every blessing in our blessed Lord, our Master and Commander,
your brother in Christ,