by Canon Vyv Wainwright
I want to take you back over to Dublin in the year 1895 so that you can meet someone called Albert Mooney. Albert and his darling wife Catherine are strolling back from mass in the late morning sunshine. Albert is reflecting upon the sermon by Father O Conner which was so dull that it even left the church building drifting not only over Alberts and Catherine’s heads but the vast majority of the congregation who sat there board out of their minds before slamming the door shut with a gust of wind.
As they stroll back Albert is aware of a voice that is good and clear and sounds passionate about what it is speaking about. And soon they come across a stone chapel with its doors wide open. Inside it is packed with people listening intently to the young man at the front who is well dressed, but no dog collar and holds everyone’s attention.
Both Albert and Catherine are captivated as they listen to this man talk about the life and work of Jesus in ways that they both understand and can relate to. It is a moment that changes their lives for ever.
In 1898 we find Albert and Catherine living in Liverpool, England. Catherine is a Sunday school teacher whilst Albert is doing something he never thought he would, he is preaching on the streets down at Albert Dock and a crowd gathers to hear him.
So, what has happened we asked to bring this about? Well let us just skip back a bit to a all-night prayer meeting which occurred at Fetter Lane London bang opposite the former offices of the Guardian newspaper. Here you will find two brothers, whose Dad was a vicar, called John and Charles and a mate called George. And all night long they are praying. How nice we think.
Yet what an amazing turning point this was in history. Because out of that prayer meeting rides forth John to only preach 44,000 odd sermons and his brother Charles sets about writing loads of hymns whilst George jumps on a shop and sets off to America. In doing all this it could be argued that they set off a major revolution. A revolution which would see every day folk to not only start to follow Jesus but also empower them to go and do as John has done and preach the word of God wherever they could be it in city, town or village and even hamlet. Sound like something we read in the Acts of the Apostles we ask?
People not only heard the Good News but they also learnt, through Sunday schools to read and indeed even write as well. And then they went out to share the good news themselves. It was a game changer. Not only did they preach, they built chapels and schools as well in many cities, towns, villages and hamlets but not only in this country but across the world.
And as you can imagine the mitres of the Church of England were shaken and their crosiers even rattled. What to do? A firm and fruity letter to the Times newspaper perhaps? Actually, they did do something about it and thanks be to a former Bishop of Peterborough alongside with an Archbishop or two and a group of fellow bishops that I am writing this article today. Say hello to the Reader. Say hello to someone sent out to teach and preach the gospel and making contact with the unchurched and de-churched. Say hello to something new in the Church of England in 1866. And say hello to a growing army of women and men called to this ministry. Say hello to some amazing stories of ministry but I am not going to share those in this reflection, sorry.
Splendid we all say and well that was that and happy days. Yet in 2005 a bouncy Bishop arrived at guest what? The National Readers conference like a child who had drunk some brown, sweet, fizzy liquid. This man was so excited and so enthusiastic about a new form of church and ministry that he set the entire conference alight. He introduced to the world two new things. One, Fresh Expressions of church and two, something else. So excited was everyone about it that suddenly a great wealth of new opportunities opened before the eyes of the Readers and well today this new form of church is out there, as they say and it is for ever expanding and drawing people to the Good News of Christ. People who felt that Jesus and church was not for them. But now they do.
And Fresh Expressions of Church has brought about a new form and genre of ministry. Fact is that there is a new type of minister and ministry is out there on the block or in the lane if you prefer. Behold welcome the Pioneer and welcome pioneering ministry. Welcome the people who do things differently because to be honest because most of them are different and sees things differently.
Now back in March 2020 the doors of the cathedrals, churches and chapels of this land were all locked shut. COVID 19 had arrived and well it was just too dangerous to meet for worship. But as they say when things get dangerous then the dangerous get going and so we see the Pioneers get busy and really creative. If you think church is dead then think again, think Pioneering.
On the last Sunday of March 2020, a guy with a beard, an orange Puffa jacket, beanie hat, jeans and walking shoes is seen to step out into Gunthorpe Close Oakham with his darling wife. He stands at the centre of the turning circle at the end of the close. Gathered around the perimeter of the circle are Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist Christians plus folk who were ‘only there for the sermon.’ And this man does as his great Grand Father Albert Mooney did back in Liverpool, he preaches the Good News of Jesus. He had never done that before but now he has. Thank you, Great Grand Dad.
It is amazing to think that thanks be to three guys gathering for an all- night prayer meeting in Fetter Lane London has led all the way to Gunthorpe Close Oakham Rutland. And if you want to think about it even further, we could argue that actually none of this would have happened if it had not been for the events of the upper room, the coming of the Holy Spirit that any of this would have happened at all.
When King Solomon came to the grand opening of the Temple, he naturally admired the craftmanship of the masons, the carpenters, the architects and surveyors. But then he appreciated a slight technical glitch. You cannot possibly contain an Almighty, all loving God in such a tiny space. Our God is everywhere all the time and always moving in amazing and incredible ways to do amazing things. Pray that we like Solomon, like the disciples, like John, Charles and George not to forget Albert, we can open our eyes to the presence and power of Almighty God and join in with his mission to this world. Amen.
Canon Vyv Wainwright- Reader
Image © ROOTS for Churches Ltd www.rootsontheweb.com. Reproduced with permission.