At our Carol Service this year I reflected on those end of year montages that you often see on TV programmes at this time of year. I am a bit of a sucker for them and I particularly enjoyed those on the Sports Personality of the Year programme that I caught up with subsequent to the carol service. I am not sure that anybody is about to produce one, but what might a montage of Woody Road’s year look like? What might be included?
Praise God- there are some significant high points. It has been wonderful to see ten baptisms take place this year, which is far more than I have ever known in a year during my time at the church. Some were of people who have become Christians very recently whilst others became Christians a while back but had never been baptised as believers. Some became Christians through the ministry of the church here whilst others had come to Christ elsewhere. It was a diverse bunch in terms of age, background and nationality but each one a testimony to the ongoing work of the Spirit today. We have had some wonderful Sunday gatherings this year which have included these baptisms and we want to give thanks to God.
We can also give thanks for the broader growth of the church. The homegroup that I am in would be a picture of that. Just over a year ago Tom, Brian, Jenny and I started a new group meeting in Summertown. The intention was to add people living within the ring road as they joined the church. The initial few weeks did contain some rather small meetings but a year on the group is now delightfully vibrant and pretty much at capacity, made up almost entirely of terrific people who have joined the church recently. Ours would not be the only group that have experienced this- the group meeting at the church building serving the local community on a Thursday does a terrific job in welcoming new people. Our group in the Headington area has split in two because of growing numbers. Numbers in the church do matter- each person is important to God and the growth of the church was measured numerically in Acts. So we should give thanks to God for a growing church.
Perhaps the main highlight for the church this year, though, didn’t take place in this country. Over the other side of the world, one language group received a New Testament for the first time in its history- the work of John and Lois and their team over 25 long years. One of the copies of that New Testament now sits in the church building (and the occasional person inadvertently picks it up to use during the service!) To be involved in praying for and supporting that work financially is a massive privilege for the church. We thank God for it and we pray that the Word will bear eternal fruit in that people group. I continue to be hugely encouraged by the church’s generosity in this sort of area- the figure passed on to another of our mission workers in real need this Christmas simply staggered me.
This year has seen the launch of Wheatley Community Church. This is a partnership of those living in Wheatley who had been travelling to various evangelical churches outside the village. They are still in the early stages of their life as a church but it has been good to see a vibrant and viable church developing and I have enjoyed preaching there four times during the past year. Our now disbanded Wheatley homegroup was always an encouragement to me in that they prayed for and had a heart for the people in their village as well as thinking about their own concerns. Our role in WCC proceeded directly from that. It has been good to see similar things going on in Kidlington over the past couple of years- notably the holiday club and the recent Christianity Explored group.
There are so many things that I could add. Any montage would have to feature a variety of people working very hard behind the scenes- there is so much going on in the church about which I know frankly nothing! And that is wonderful- people quietly using the gifts the Lord has given them to serve others. It has been great to welcome Steve as our trainee for the next couple of years. CAMEO- our group for our “senior friends” has become established and has produced an informal Bible Study group as an off-shoot. At the other end of the age spectrum is the vast amount of energy poured into our children’s and youth work. Our new Friday evening work- Grid Nexus- has been a particular joy this term with a great mixture of church families and those from outside the church coming along. Our partnership with other FIEC churches has also developed- with a regular group for our trainees being added to our annual Leaders’ Day and Good Friday Service.
It has been busy but not simply busy- there has been real spiritual fruit. I was hugely encouraged by a message from somebody who visited the church for the first time in a couple of years having been with us a few years back. He was thrilled by what he saw- particularly the increasing diversity in the church. His comment was that it was great to see what God is doing. And, actually, that is my sense as well. The danger of the preceding paragraphs is pride- aren’t we doing well? Our series in Revelation 1-3 should warn us of the dangers when a church thinks it is good and successful. But my overwhelming sense over the past year, especially when another person has come up to me and asked about being baptised, is of simply being an observer of the Lord at work. If there have been encouragements over the past year we definitely conclude that the Lord has done it. If there is background music to the montage it might be this song- Give thanks to the Lord.
We should give thanks to the Lord for He hears prayer. One of the definite highlights for me from the past year was our week of prayer back in January. We had well attended prayer meetings each evening and on the Saturday morning- the latter attended by Alan and Hannah on the morning of their wedding, which was an unexpected surprise. Somebody commented to me recently how many answers to prayer we had seen from that week. It is one of the great refrains of the Psalms- the Lord heard. It is our testimony from the past year.
Is there any music in a minor key during the montage? Of course there are ways that we have failed- where we have not prayed as we should or perhaps welcomed and loved people to the extent that we should. For many in the church this will have been a year of trials and challenges, of illness and bereavement. Our vision for the year was based around Psalm 27- in the midst of intense opposition David saw the Lord as his light and salvation so he need not be afraid. We reflected on the need consciously to bring our circumstances into the Lord’s light so that we didn’t seek to face them alone or without true perspective. Perhaps the sermon I have most enjoyed preaching this year (which I ended up preaching twice because of a recording failure) was from Romans 8:36-37. It is in the midst of trouble and hardship that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. And so our montage would contain stirring music when baptisms were taking place and the church was growing but also when people were facing intense pain and yet, through the Lord’s love, kept going and persevering. For that- along with so much else- we give thanks to the Lord for as a church we have known in the past year that He is good.