New Year Letter from the Rector – January 2014

Dear friends,

It is now 4 months since I became the Rector here at St John's. Lisa, the boys and I would like to thank you all for making us feel so at home – we have been very moved by the welcome we have received.

What was our first impression of St John's? Primarily, I think it was the friendliness of everybody. The church is so welcoming. Everybody who came to my Institution from Tonbridge noted this. Likewise, our dear friend, John Pearce, commented on how such friendliness marks St John's as a truly Christian Church.

It has to be recognised, however, that we live in challenging times. Traditional Christian values are being eroded in society. Nationally and regionally church attendance continues to fall. Dioceses and parishes are struggling financially. Here in Elmswell, the Methodist Church is currently on hold and our own parish share continues to rise. I am amazed, but thank God, that St John's is able to benefit from having its own minister rather than having to share him with several other parishes.

Our challenge as the people of God in Elmswell is to not lose heart, but to step up to the challenge as a team. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 12 describes the work of the pastor-teacher as one who "prepares God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Verse 16 goes on to explain: "From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

These verses define the task of ministry as a team effort. I'm delighted to see how much teamwork already goes on at St John's. I particularly feel very supported by the two churchwardens, John and Graham, and the PCC secretary, Jean, as well as many other individuals. I can also see people working tirelessly to clean the church, maintain the grounds, contribute financially, provide refreshments and hospitality, assist in the children's work and enable our high standard of musical worship. The list could go on and on. I wish to thank everybody very much for their commitment to Christ and his Church.

You may have noticed some changes I have been introducing and I would like to take this opportunity to explain the rationale behind some of them. The changes are driven from the desire to see God's kingdom grow here in Elmswell - to see people come to faith and their lives transformed by the gospel. This needs to continue to be a team effort. At my interview I described myself as one who wishes to enable others to use their God-given gifts to serve the church, as we together engage in the mission of God. I am, therefore, encouraging people to get involved in serving and developing their gifts. One way in which you may already have noticed this approach is in the wider range of people assisting in leading our worship and in teaching up front.

I think we can be very optimistic as we look to the future. We have a lovely historic building, which I wish to see made even more accessible for our worship and for the community. This explains my desire to see staging put up at the front of the nave and to see improved projection facilities - not to mention improvements to the church driveway. I am seeking to get the right balance between respect for our heritage and being culturally relevant to younger generations.

Having spent my first Christmas here, I'm delighted to see how many people are still open to the Church and the Christian faith. Many were here at the Village Carol service, the 9 Lessons and Carols service and on Christmas Day. I was particularly delighted by the number who turned up to our very first Christmas Eve children’s service, "I can't wait for Christmas," where 110 people came along - many of whom are not regular churchgoers.

We clearly already have a very strong foundation to the work God calls us to in Elmswell. God's Spirit is at work and I believe he is calling us as a team to go deeper in our faith journey with him and to commit ourselves to serving him in worship and holiness and our community in evangelism and love.

I continue to look forward to working with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, during 2014 and beyond.

In Him,

Peter Goodridge
Sun 19 Jan 2014