Thank you thank you thank you! Our St John’s family has been incredibly generous and responsive to our forward vision. Due to people giving quickly, sacrificially and deeply we have all the money we need to move from Pews to Chairs! I am overwhelmed at this blessing.
We are now fast approaching our planned date for the arrival of our new chairs and the departure of the pews (w/c 8th July); meaning THIS Sunday will be our last with pews. As I have reflected on this for myself, I am aware of a range of emotions. It is sinking in for me that this is a significant moment of transition for us. It is a transition that is exciting, but emotional too. Here are a few thoughts that I hope will help in this moment of transition.
Physical change to a building that is a spiritual home are significant. The pews have been a part of the fabric that has shaped our worship, community, our very culture. Like an old friend they have a familiarity about them giving a feeling of stability and permanence. For some of us who have been part of St John’s for many years, we have memories tied up with these pews: we can remember special people who sat on them and even remember where they sat, we can remember special events that occurred while we sat on them – funerals, weddings, moments when we encountered God’s presence during services, wonderful choral performances and so on. Making a change like this for some of us, I think feels like it might feel if our parents decided to refurbish the home we grew up in changing the place we associate with good feelings, memories and a sense of home.
So there is a natural process which is a bit like grief when we go through a change like this. It is important therefore to recognise this and to pay attention to what is going on inside of us. The challenge of replacing pews is that the actual act of doing so is necessarily rather abrupt – we will go from one week to the next and the change will happen, and not many of us will witness the change taking place. It’s abrupt because practically speaking, we need a process of removal and installation which is best done all at once. But because it is abrupt, we need to pay particular attention to how we feel about it and do what we can in the time we have available to help this process. So this Sunday in both our services, we will be marking our final Sunday with Pews with some prayers and symbolism that will help us. As we prepare for this, I encourage you to do one or more of the following:
Spend some time in personal prayer and pray specifically about this – bring your feelings before God, pray for others who might be affected, pray for this coming Sunday, our last one with pews, and pray for our future, a future with chairs and the new possibilities they will release. Be present on Sunday, our final Sunday with pews. Talk and share with others about how you feel about the replacement of pews with chairs to help you process it.Pop into church during next week to witness the actual process of removing pews and installing chairs – come and pray or lend a hand!Be present in church on Sunday 14 July, our first with chairs and witness the difference they make and celebrate and give thanks for this.
‘Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’
But we are not just transitioning from something but transitioning to something; it’s an end but importantly a beginning. We are leaving our ‘season of pews’ behind, and we are welcoming the ‘season of chairs’. Of course we are not actually welcoming the chairs as such, but welcoming the new possibilities that chairs enable – the flexibility which will enrich and enable our shared life together and our mission. Always there is a relationship between our physical environment and our spirituality. What I am most excited about is the spiritual impact of making this physical change – how flexible seating will enhance our worship and encounter with God, deepen our sense of community and enable our mission.
We are making this change because we feel God calling us to make it, because we believe it is key to realising our vision because it will unlock exciting possibilities. It is a transition that is part of a wider transition we are making. I have spoken several times about my sense of significance over the period from Jan to Sept this year - it is during this period that we are making this transition from parish church to resourcing church and from a church that has been the recipient of a ‘church plant or graft’ to one that will be a planting church. There are number of transitions that we are making in this period – transitioning our vision, transitioning our leadership team, engaging all the key leaders across our church and our ‘Phase 1’ buildings changes.
Our vision as a Resourcing Church is to…
‘…be the family of God on mission seeking to transform Clarendon Park and beyond with the love and power of Jesus Christ.’
There are three key elements to this: to ‘make disciples, transform communities and plant churches’. Replacing pews with chairs contributes to all three of these. A key feature of a Resourcing Church is generosity and as we have been generous by being willing to make the transition from pews to chairs and in giving to make this possible we have contributed to our Resourcing Church goals.
Flexible seating will enable our ‘up, in, out’ shared life together in many new and dynamic ways.
Enabling mission through increased flexibility – Flexible seating enables a wide variety of uses of the building that lead to mission, build community and generate income. For example, we could accommodate a larger Alpha course meaning that more people can grow in faith and find Jesus, we could much more easily accommodate Friday Sparks making more space for parents and young children to find community and make connections, new and a wide variety of other different missional uses of the building would be possible enabling the elderly, lonely and isolated find friendship and find Jesus.
Enable Growth – chairs will more than double our seating capacity. Research that shows that congregations typically stop growing when seating capacity reaches around 70% - we are already frequently at this level.
Enable Contemporary forms of worship – flexible seating would enable different seating arrangements which would enable creative approaches to prayer and worship that would connect with today’s culture in a more relevant way.
Increased income – flexible and contemporary seating will make the church a much more attractive venue for hire
Flexible seating enables us to make a positive contribution to our wider community:
School – our school is growing. Currently we can only accommodate the school in two halves, very soon even this will not be possible. Being able to seat children on the floor would mean we can accommodate the whole school in one go which carries tremendous symbolic significance.
Food bank – we are planning to become a foodbank distribution centre, a vision more easily realised if we can use our space more flexibly, enabling us to provide food for those in hardship.
Lettings – flexible seating enables our church to be used by many more groups for many more circumstances. This enables greater income and new relationships.
All of the above contribute to our vision to plant churches. If we can use our space more flexibly we can use our church as a centre for training and leadership development more easily.
We are so excited by the vision we as a church family have for the installation of flexible seating. It has been a real family effort in raising money for it. We will enjoy the chairs and the difference they make over the summer and then look forward to holding a party in the new space early in Sept to celebrate it.
I have been so excited and overwhelmed by the response of our church family to the vision of our ‘Phase 1’ building plans. So far over £20,000 has been pledged or given – Praise God! We are well on track to being able to realise all our plans. It truly does feel like a family effort. We have done this together, our generosity is making phase 1 possible and more than that of course it is enabling the resourcing church vision behind it. Thank you to everyone who has given so far. Additionally, we have been awarded the grant we have applied for which will contribute a further £10-12,000 which feels like further signs of God’s blessing upon us.
But we are not there yet – we need another £10,000 from grants or giving to achieve all our Phase 1 ambitions. Please can I encourage you if you have not yet given, to go ahead and give. Remember the ‘ask’ is for every person who considers themselves to be a member of our church family and who is able to do so, to pay for one chair for themselves and each member of their family plus one! The Plus one is important as that chair represents a place to sit for someone who is not yet part of our family, so it is a step of faith, an act of hospitality and generosity as we seek to be a family that grows. In addition, consider buying a pew. So please do this on or by Sunday 7 July.
I know what it is like, many of us have good intentions to give, but are not good at admin! So please do put at the top of your to do list this week actually making the gift. You can do this by cash/cheque in an envelop in next Sunday’s collection or on our website by clicking https://stjohnthebaptist.churchsuite.co.uk/events/fjlpdr2y
The St John’s PCC is excited by the possibilities ahead. We want you to share our excitement about this next ‘faith-step’ that we believe God is calling us to make. It is the responsibility of all of us to respond to God’s leading in this. Will you join us in praying and giving towards this exciting Kingdom initiative.
‘And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ 2 Cor 9:8