Earlier this week I wrote a general reflection on 2018. However, before the old year fades completely from our minds, I thought it might be useful to write something more specific to Woody Road. What have been the key events of 2018 and what are the lessons to learn?
One of my chief reflections from 2018 is that we seemed to say goodbye rather a lot. Indeed I remember a period over the summer when for several weeks in a row some form of farewell to somebody was part of the Sunday morning service. That is one of the inevitabilities of life in Oxford- it is a city where people are often in transit and this year we saw an unusually high proportion of our students graduate. There is a genuine pain in saying farewell so often- I still miss many of those who have spent time in WRBC but have moved away. However, I also reflect on the encouragements:
– Those we said goodbye to are now in at least five different countries (six if you are a fan of Scottish independence!). They may have been simply being polite but many did testify to the beneficial impact that the church had had on their spiritual lives during their time here. Other churches in a variety of countries are now receiving the benefit of that. This is a significant ministry that the Lord has given us as a church- to encourage those who may only be with us temporarily and then send them on. Recognising this should help those of us who are around more permanently to keep being welcoming and befriending new people as they arrive.
– One of my personal highlights was being at the induction of Steve Titterton as assistant pastor of Davenport Road Evangelical Church in Derby after three years as our trainee. Steve had a major impact on our life here, not least as one of the group that founded Grace Church Kidlington. Seeing him head through a door that the Lord had opened was a huge encouragement and precisely how I hoped that our trainee scheme would work. Please pray as we seek to appoint a new trainee from this summer.
This autumn we said a different sort of farewell to Ismay. Our oldest church member, Ismay’s evident joy and trust in the Lord was a great blessing to us over many years. It was a privilege to take her funeral and be able to declare with confidence that, because for her to live was Christ and to die was gain, she was now with Christ which is better by far. It is on those occasions that we are reminded that the Gospel really does make a massive difference for in it there is an answer to the last enemy.
Despite losing so many people, many church ministries have continued to flourish. Our work with young people continue to grow with a new team building on those who have gone before. CAMEO (our group for senior friends) has added monthly lunches and additional visitors. I am aware that our evangelistic fruit probably isn’t at the peak it was shortly after we returned to the new building but it has been lovely to have nine baptisms this year.
We have seen new people in new roles. We are so thankful to God for bringing Phil and Briony Butcher to us. Seeing Phil settle into his role so quickly and naturally as pastor with special focus on Grace Church Kidlington has been simply wonderful. Watching the way GCK has grown- particularly in outreach- as a consequence has been a definite highlight. Likewise it has been fantastic to have Sharon on board as our Waterways link worker, using her outstanding relational gifts for that community work. One of the challenges I could see coming a few years ago would be what we would do when Lois stood down after her hard work as our treasurer. To be honest, by now I should be used to the Lord providing. Again He has done so through Voon and Jenny taking on that role, with Emma joining the staff team to work alongside Jenny as administrator. It has been simply astonishing to see how God has brought the right people to fill different roles so often this year.
But it is not just those in titled positions. When I was writing Christmas cards a few weeks ago I was struck by how often I found myself writing the phrase “Thanks so much for all that you do!”. We really are immensely blessed with a large group of workers who are sacrificial in their use of time. I am deeply grateful to God for that.
The need for perseverance
As ever, we tried to cover a range of material in our Sunday sermons. The series I most enjoyed preaching was in March where I got to spend four Sunday mornings looking at John’s portrayal of the cross. That felt like holy ground. I hope that our Behind the Mask series was helpful for those who weren’t feeling “fine”. But a fair chunk of our time has been spent in Hebrews 11 and Revelation. Both of those emphasised the need for perseverance. Indeed I think that is the pastoral purpose of Revelation. It is written to those who were suffering to show them the Kingdom so that they might have patient endurance. Christians are engaged in a struggle as the dragon rages against Christ’s people- attempting to frighten or deceive them. This past year has certainly been challenging for some of our missionaries as they have faced hostility. At a lower level I have been reminded how the convictions we hold as a church about biblical marriage are increasingly seen as outdated and unloving. A formative experience for me was witnessing a church that had asked me for input effectively dispense with a biblical approach to the issue because it was incompatible with modern society. I came away from that with a fresh sense that churches like ours are likely to face increasing challenges in the years ahead. That will be hard- we don’t like looking weird. Hence, the need to persevere. I hope that our time in Revelation was useful in spurring us towards that. Of course, we need to continue to do evangelism. But increasingly I am being reminded that a vital ministry of the church is encouraging those who profess faith in Christ to persevere to the end and be saved.
So- much for which to give thanks over the past year. I have no doubt that 2019 will bring both opportunities and challenges. However, we trust in the Lord who has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us.