The question posed for me to answer (on no more than two sides of A4) was:
Assess myself and my Church against the five marks. Where are we?
The five marks are: (via)
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Again I struggled to answer this on two sides of A4 and ended up editing quite heavily. I did leave the first mark, for the most part, unscathed. You’ll see why as you read on.
Cross, Sunset, Holy Island, Northumberland by Ian Britton
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
This is the central, most important aspect of these five marks for me – everything else is either derivative or carries this first mark with them in action. By carrying out the other four marks you are, through your actions, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.
As the website of the Anglican Communion also points out this first mark is a summary of what all mission is about, because it’s based on Jesus’ own summary of mission. The website points to several readings on this point, but the one that best describes this first mark for me is Mark 1: 16-19.
Jesus calls his first disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 ‘Come, follow me.’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. (NIV 2011).
To now sit and assess myself and my Church against this first mark is to assess all marks of mission. Do I proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom? Am I a disciple of Jesus? Does my Church proclaim the Good News? Does my Church create disciples?
I could write several pages on just the first question. I am humble in my belief that I do proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom – I say humble because whilst my calling, my sense of mission is so wrapped up in this first mark I am also horribly aware of how far short I fall. I believe the best way to proclaim the Good News is through action. I so often find myself asking where God is in my actions, where he is in my decisions. Too many nights I sit and pray and seek forgiveness for actions that do not proclaim His Good News.
My Church is somewhat different. Bledlow connects with the parish in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom in the way one would expect. There are a wide variety of services – both liturgical and some new non-liturgical options that connect with people in a way that opens the doors of the building to hear the Good News – but also stay with you afterwards. I love the pew sheets because they allow you to take the readings away and re-read them – I’m sure most people don’t do this, but it’s there when people need it. Jennifer is tireless in pursuit of this first mark – supported by a community that loves Christ and the parish, it’s people and it’s Church.
Throughout the Gospels we are told of Jesus proclaiming the Good News to the poor,
“So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Luke 7:22 NIV 2011.
Bledlow has its share of people who may be considered poor – but on the whole we are a very wealthy parish. Mission here, for me, is about bringing the Church to the door of the poor and letting them see the challenges people face every day. It’s about opening the doors of our Church so that those inside can see out. It’s about proclaiming the Good News to those already within the Church – it could be argued that this is a more challenging job!
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
I strongly feel that by proclaiming the Good News we nurture new believers – and with that in mind it is fair to say that I nurture new believers where I am able. I actively demonstrate my faith and welcome conversation about the Church and about Christ wherever I am – in work, in the pub and in Church. I pray that I teach when I lead the odd service for families and when I talk to people about Christ in a less formal way – I think I can get a great deal better at that. Each time I visit a new Church or see a teacher I’ve not seen before I am mentally scribbling notes to help improve my teaching. This has now manifested in a ‘ways I can be better’ document, and an ‘ideas for church’ document I keep on my phone.
Holy Trinity certainly teaches, baptises and nurtures new believers in a way that is consistent with the type of parish and the congregation. Jennifer & Matthew are incredibly welcoming and through events like the village Fete, high-days and holidays engage with the wider community to enable nurture for those on the edges of faith.
To respond to human need by loving service
How can you teach, nurture and proclaim the Good News without responding to human need by loving service? You cannot teach without an understanding of the person or people in front of you; you cannot lead without serving and you cannot proclaim the Good News unless you offer loving service in the name of Christ.
Do I respond to human need by loving service? I hope I do – I hope that my vocation with the Church mirrors that of my time spent nursing, working in care homes and with other vulnerable people. This is at the heart of my faith. This is where I find God most easily.
My Church is a loving community of people who really care for each other. They come together in times of pain and in times of celebration – they hold each other carefully and prayerfully. There is so little politics, so little of the expected cliques and gossip that can harm a congregation. I am blessed to be part of this Church.
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
Christians throughout the world combat unjust structures and challenge violence every day – as a family we are strong and by supporting charities and other NGOs that work in these areas we can have a large impact. I try to support these through both financial donations and by alerting others to the work that they do – as does my Church.
Beyond that we have work to do in our every day lives – do I, as a Director of Blackwell’s ensure our structures are supportive, ethical and ‘good’? I believe I do and I work hard with the board to ensure that fairness is felt throughout the company. I’m not always successful and it’s easy to be ethical when you’re profitable. When you’re a company that loses money, and has done for several years, that can be more of a challenge.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
This mark very much falls into the field of ‘looking after God’s creation’ for me. Taking care of our world and the people in it. On a personal note I ensure I recycle, encourage others to do so and to also think about their impact on the world. I do this in a very typical English middle class way – I recycle – therefore I take care of the world. It is of course a great deal more complicated than that and this mark is the most difficult for me to asses as I do so little to uphold it. I need a good deal more thought and prayer on this.
My Church carries out recycling, promotes charities that care for the world – but I’m sure there’s more we could be doing in this area.
Note on bible verses.
At this stage in my Biblical study I can’t say that I have a favourite Bible. I skip between whichever is nearest to hand and I have to say that my little travel NIV Bible from Hodder Faith is nearly always within reach so tends to be my first port of call. Most of this piece was written in Starbucks in High Wycombe so that was the Bible I had with me. At home I tend to use the Collins NRSV Anglicised Version for the Church of England and if I’m preparing something for the children in church I fall back on old faithful – The Good News Bible.