Imagine a Church where…

Christ Church Annual Church Meeting: 1st April 2012

May I invite you to put your hand up. Now please take it down if you joined Christ Church in 2012. Welcome to Christ Church! Put your hand down if you joined in 2011. Thank you. 2010? 2009? 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997? You were here when Joanna and I arrived. Well done. For those who were here cast your mind back. For those who have joined since, imagine…

Imagine. Imagine if you walked into Christ Church on Sunday 1st April 1997 what would you have experienced? First of all, you would have entered via the long corridor and in through the tower doors. If the weather had been warm you might even have entered by the tower steps. The white divider would have been closed and the seats would have been in rows facing the chancel. The curtain and cross covered the Ten Commandments and Lords Prayer. The Communion Table was in the middle of the podium with two seats on either side. A wooden lectern stood in front of the table and behind a communion rail. To the right in the transept you would have seen a robed choir and to the left our organist playing. You would have found a Morning Prayer order of service card and hymn book in the pocket in front of you as well as a Bible. There was a large kneeler on a rack under the seat in front of you. And I would have been wearing a clerical collar and robes.

Fifteen years ago, Christ Church was blessed with one part time paid secretary called Margaret Duckworth who worked in the Vestry Office with me. We relied entirely on a wonderful team of volunteers headed by Enid Mellor and Anne Cotton who assisted with Sunday services; Phil Elsdon and John McNaught were the Church Wardens; Jane Clarke was the organist and choir master and Debbie Elsdon coordinated the children’s ministry with a large team of enthusiastic volunteers.

The white divider would have been closed because the Sunday school for 3-8 year olds met on the other side during the service. There was a side room for the crèche. The Explorers 9-11 year olds met in the Vicarage lounge and the Pathfinders 11-14 met in the old stable opposite the Vicarage. Virginia Water was in those days blessed with a flourishing Crusader youth ministry with over 200 teenagers. Led by Ken and Gill Morgan they met in our Church Hall behind the parade of shops near the railway station.

In the preceding year, Sunday morning attendance had averaged 147, including the children. On Sunday evenings attendance averaged 58. We had 75 children and teenagers registered and we were literally bursting at the seams. The Church budget in 1997 was £85,000.

The biggest challenge we faced was a lack of space, especially for the Sunday school and youth ministry.

In the next few years, as attendance grew, if you arrived late for the morning service you had to queue in the Corridor for the first five minutes while the children heard a talk and sung a song and then left to go to their Sunday school through the side door. Then the adults could find a seat.

And at the end of the service, the Sunday school had to clear up quickly and vacate the Centre before we could come through and have refreshments. Sometimes it was a little chaotic. In place of the book shelves were large white cupboards with a sloping roof holding additional chairs and the vacuum cleaners.

Hospitality at Christ Church was important in those days although cooking in the kitchen was a challenge. We had one simple domestic cooker. For some reason you could only use two rings at a time, or the oven, but not both. In those days we innovated with things like an overhead projector for the songs and talks at monthly Family Services. These along with the youth services were the most popular services of the month.

Increasingly at Family Services and Festivals, because there was no Sunday school, we experimented with the divider open and created a wedge of extra seats, although those on the edge could not see very much. In 2000 we opened our Millennium extension and saw weekly Sunday Club attendance grow from 63 to 96.

This enabled us to re-order the layout of the Church to include seating in what was the Centre. This has, however, only been a temporary solution….

After a considerable gap, the Diocese designated Christ Church a training parish again and gave us a curate, David Gibbs.

We then recruited Andy Burns as a part time youth worker shared with Crusaders when East to West was still just a twinkle in his eye. Paul Simpson became our first part-time Student Pastor in 2004. Then we took the big step to employ a full time Youth Pastor, Jon Herbert in 2003, the Mark Teeter from the USA in 2005 and then Andy Bruins in 2008. We also began an Apprentice scheme in 2005.

The staff team as we now know it began to take shape in 2007 when we consciously put our energy into investing in people and adding more services rather than extending the church building.
Our priority in recent years has since been to expand our volunteer base rather than add more staff.

Highlights for me in the last 15 years have been the way the church family enthusiastically entered into creating a series of Five Year Plan and now our 2020 Vision. The three fold – win – build – send motto became the driving force for shaping our priorities. We joined the Willow Creek Association and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

The music group began to play at every service. We dispensed with clergy robes. The services become more informal. We introduced Christianity Explored as a central feature of our evangelism strategy, First Wednesday as a focus for prayer and mission and Thursday night courses for our discipleship strategy.

We flood lit the Church and car park and created new sign boards. We turned the corridor into the Church Office and converted the Vestry into the back office. We bought a mini-bus and then a second.

We added projectors to the Church and all the Centre rooms, as well as improved speakers, mixer desk and spotlights. We then turned the Church round and bought more seats. We doubled up Sunday morning services as another way to cope with growing attendances.

Mission has always been a priority at Christ Church but we have in recent years been blessed with a number of church members also serving full time with mission agencies. I share that passion for mission. In the last 15 years, indeed for the last 35 years I have invested several weeks of the year, invariably including holidays, to participate in mission initiatives, mostly covertly, serving the underground persecuted church in various parts of the world through evangelism training, bible teaching and leadership development. I now take about 8 weeks of the year to assist with mission projects and we also encourage the church staff to give a lead in mission as we aspire unashamedly to be a sending church. Our philosophy is not only win and build but also send.

In the last 15 years we have equipped and trained four curates, David Gibbs, James Hughes and Ro Mody who are now all serving as pastors of parishes in East London, Hartford and Bournemouth. Francis is presently seeking the Lord’s guidance for his next appointment too. We have sent at least two people for training for the ordained ministry, Richard Coleman and Glen Mansfield. Nick Hardy was licenced as a Lay Reader. Two apprentices, Andy Cook and Ed Cope became Youth Pastors and Andy Bruins became Associate Pastor of the Co-Mission Church in Kingston. Many of our other apprentices and youth workers have gone on to undertake theological training.

The fact that we had an unprecedented ten candidates for five vacancies on the Church Council today is evidence of the health of Christ Church as well as the enthusiasm and servant heartedness of many individuals within the church family.

And what of the future? In 2012 we hope to publish exciting plans for a brand new church building behind this one. It will seat around 500 people, so that this building can be adapted to create a hall and additional rooms. It will be the most ambitious initiative in the 175 year history of Christ Church.

But clearly “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1). Humanly speaking, however, our future as a church depends entirely on you. That is why we take membership so seriously at Christ Church.

Next Sunday, on Easter Day, the most important day in the church calendar, we will be inviting you to rededicate yourself in the year ahead to serve the Lord in and through Christ Church, praying, serving, giving, sharing from what he has entrusted to you, to build his church and extend his kingdom to the glory of God. And I for one, count it a privilege to be part of that exciting adventure.

Imagine a church

…for doubters, seekers and believers that becomes something that everyone wants to be part of.
…of every age, race and colour putting their relationship with God first, meeting together regularly to worship Him and becoming one in Christ.
…of fully devoted, spiritual Christ followers passionate for an ever-deeper relationship with God.
…where everyone is fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit, exercising their God-given gifts in a joyful and fulfilling service.
…where every member is totally committed to making disciples of all nations.

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)