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Sunday, 1 March 2015

A covenant of fruitfulness

Today I was welcomed as the new Associate Vicar for Partnership Development at St Martin-in-the-Fields. As part of explaining the commission I have been given for this role by the Bishop of London I stated that: I understand partnership as a response to God’s endowing Spirit in which each party brings forth its unique gifts to make a relationship more than the sum of its parts. I understand development to mean working with all parties to advance partnerships at the pace and in the depth suitable to the relationship. I understand being an associate vicar to mean, as a priest, speaking to God for the people and for the people to God, and as a pastor helping the people of this place to grow in faith, holiness, ministry and mission.

In his sermon, the Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, said the following in setting out the significance of this new role for St Martins and St Stephen Walbrook:

"... like Abraham and Sarah we’ve been on a long journey. And we’ve made many precious and wondrous discoveries. And we’ve been called by God. And what we’ve been called to is a covenant of fruitfulness, which calls us both to be faithful to God and to bring forth fruit that heals the earth. We can’t do the second without the first. But we can’t be content with the first if we’re being offered the opportunity and we’re hearing the call to do the second.

And this brings us to the licensing of our new associate vicar for partnership development, and to the formal beginning of our partnership with St Stephen, Walbrook. If we were content to enhance our heritage, to strengthen our programmes, and to deepen our common life, we wouldn’t be hiring Jonathan and we wouldn’t be partnering with St Stephen’s. The reason we want today to mark the beginning of something special is because we’re exploring ways to convey our message and identifying how we can enhance our impact. St Stephen’s is an admirable church with faithful people and a glorious building; but by partnering with us, St Stephen’s is saying, ‘We want to walk a journey like the one you’ve been on, we want to find abundance in scarcity, we want to expand our programmes and deepen our common life so we too can be a blessing to communities beyond ourselves.’ And it’s the nature of partnership that at the same time St Martin’s will also grow and change and learn through what the people of St Stephen’s teach us about ministry and mission and faith.

Jonathan is here to walk with the people of St Stephen’s as they make this journey together. And Jonathan is among us to develop a range of partnerships with communities and communions near and far, of which St Stephen’s is, we hope, the first. With St Stephen’s we are making a covenant of fruitfulness inspired by the covenant God makes with Abraham. Our hope is not just that through this partnership St Stephen’s will develop its commercial, cultural, charitable and congregational life so as to become self-sustaining, but that before long it is partnering with other institutions to lead them on a similar path.

Over time we trust we will develop many such partnerships. In some we’ll offer services such as estate and HR oversight to institutions so they can concentrate attention on their programming and common life. In others we’ll walk alongside churches as they develop a model like ours of growing a commercial arm to galvanise their culture and make them sustainable. In others again we’ll be looking to bring our national profile alongside local initiative to enhance work around poverty and destitution. And in others again we hope to partner to help congregations grow in relation to disability issues or enhance other forms of inclusion like our Sunday International Group. In these and many other ways we’ll be looking to establish a covenant of fruitfulness with partners and friends all around the country and beyond.

We could settle for enhancing our resources, developing our programmes, and deepening our common life. Those are all fine and demanding things, and most churches in the country would be overjoyed to have such an aspiration. But we’re being called beyond that. We’re being called to share our message and to influence the wider church and world. And right now the way we’re seeking to do that is by making mutually-enriching partnerships and working with other institutions to help them better realise their vocations. Why? Because we believe that’s God’s way. God in Christ didn’t shout from afar or keep a light hidden on a hill far away. God in Christ made relationships one by one, some close and constant, some occasional and passing, and came alongside people of all kinds, opening up their hearts, setting their souls on fire, and lifting from them the burden of oppression or pain or guilt. That’s what a covenant of fruitfulness looks like. Today we cross that threshold and enter that covenant."

Listen to the full sermon by clicking here -


Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields - Amazing Grace.

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