Dale Appleby

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Weekly Reflections

Where is the hope? Part 1

Where is the hope?

Is there really any hope for an ageing church? Mainline denominations, like ours, have been in decline for a long time. But we are still here. So maybe we will just keep on going. Like many of us still in the church. We just keep on going.

But we know that we individuals won't just keep on going. We will all die. And before that some of us will start to wear out, and some will spend some time at the end of our lives in some kind of care.

And many of our churches won't just keep on going either. Many are wearing out. Many can no longer maintain their buildings. Many can no longer maintain a full-time paid ministry.
Increasingly central church administrations are worried about a huge and looming maintenance bill hanging over their church properties. Increasingly new ordinands are not entering full time paid ministry.

Where does hope lie? Or is there no real hope. Is it better to plan for a comfortable demise. Perhaps by combining parishes, sharing clergy, and otherwise arranging to keep going the services and organisations that we find most helpful.

That is in fact the common approach most churches have. Many of us would say that is not what we want. But it is what we do. One of the reasons is that we don't know what else to do.
Or if we have some idea of what to do, we don't think we have the ability to do it.  This is because the usual hope (apart from divine miracles) is to look to increasing the number of young people - "the future of the church".

However the solution does not lie with young people. It lies with the old people.

The old people are the ones with the most experience. They are the ones who  have invested most in the church. They are the ones who have laboured and struggled. They are the ones who at various times in the past have had remarkable success in building the church. In many respects established churches belong to the old people. it is their church. And they are the ones where hope lies. But not in more activity and effort. They must use their wisdom, experience and love for God to hand on a blessing.

When old Joshua farewelled the leaders of Israel, he urged them to obey what the Lord had spoken through Moses. To be very strong. Not to be sidetracked by the other nations. (Josh 23.6ff).

When David was dying he charged Solomon to be strong. To observe what the Lord required. To walk in obedience to him. (1 Kings 2.2ff).

When the apostle Paul farewelled the elders of the Ephesian church for the last time he urged them to keep watch over themselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. He committed them to God and the word of his grace which could build them up and give them an inheritance (Acts 20.17-38).

There is the clue for the oldies. An inheritance to be received and to be bequeathed: a church built on the word of his grace.

The hope for the church in Perth lies in the old people handing on, while they are still alive, - to those who are younger - the commission to do what God has called them to do. To build his church.To make disciples. To feed and protect his flock.

It will be wonderful when the next history of this church is written, for this generation to be remembered as the ones who handed on, not a tradition to be preserved, but a commission to be carried out.

Who handed over not just permission, but commission to grow and build the church. Who handed over their church to others, knowing that it was always really Christ's church.

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