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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bread for the Work: Living sacrifices

The weekly Bread for the World evening Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields is an opportunity for us to gather as a community to share together in prayer, music, word and reflection. At last night's service I was interviewed about my journey to St Martins and St Stephen Walbrook and about the partnership development role with both churches. My comments were made in relation to Romans 12. 1 - 8:

One of the reasons why I am here at St Martins in the partnership development role is because I have an interest in supporting people in living out their faith in their workplaces. In other words, doing what St Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Rome; offering the whole of your life to God as an act of worship, which includes your work whatever or wherever that may be, paid or voluntary. Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of this passage: “Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

This was an important passage for me when I worked in the Civil Service for 18 years prior to ordination. What did it mean to offer the work that I was doing then – which involved seeking various ways to assist disabled people to find and keep jobs – to God as an act of worship? For me, it meant doing my work as well as I could – bringing all my experience, skills and understanding to the role – and doing my best for those I was seeking to assist – by offering as holistic a service as I could within the constraints of the role instead of going through the motions by doing the basics of the role but no more. I also explored opportunities to make connections between the work I was involved in and the social action that churches and other faith groups were engaged in. This led to a project which demonstrated the value to Jobcentre staff of engaging with their local faith communities and provided them with resources to enable that engagement to happen effectively.

When I was ordained this continued to be a focus of my ministry. So I have provided working people with weekly work-based reflections and prayers, written resources on being a Christian at work, led a network on Faiths in London’s Economy and have set up ESOL courses and social enterprise projects in parishes. As a result, when the shared partnership development role with St Martins and St Stephen Walbrook was advertised providing the opportunity to minister to working people in Central London and set up partnerships between churches and the organisations around them, it seemed too good an opportunity and too close a fit with my interests to overlook.

St Stephen Walbrook is in the heart of the City of London. It is the parish church for the London Mayor of London, as it is located just behind the Mansion House where the Lord Mayor lives. As with all the City churches, St Stephen Walbrook has a relationship with the Livery Companies – the trade associations and guilds - that have operated in the City of London in some cases since Medieval times. Walbrook, itself, is the street which runs between Bank Station and Cannon Street Station. As a result, every weekday morning and evening thousands of people working in the City pass by St Stephen Walbrook on their way to and from work. Like most City churches, St Stephen Walbrook has a ministry primarily to those who work in the City and this has generally involved lunchtime services and recitals plus special services linked to Livery Companies and businesses.

As part of the partnership between St Stephen and St Martin we are shortly going to add to this mix three new initiatives. The first we are calling Start:Stop because we hope it will enable working people to start their day by stopping to reflect for 10 minutes. St Stephen Walbrook will be open on Tuesdays from 7.30am and every 15 minutes up till 9.30am, we will begin 10 minutes of reflection using a bible reading, meditation, music, prayers and silence. In time, it may also be possible to make these reflections available online for working people who are unable to get to Walbrook. The second new service will bring the Choral Scholars of St Martins to St Stephen Walbrook and enable us to build a partnership with the Guildhall Art Gallery and the City of London Corporation while offering Christian reflection on key life issues. The Guildhall Art Gallery has recently rehung its collection thematically using themes such as Faith, Family, Work, Leisure and Imagination. Our new service on Monday lunchtimes will explore these same themes through music and liturgy. Our third new initiative has been to invite the Lord Mayor of London to St Stephen Walbrook at the end of his year in office to enable him to give thanks to God for the achievements of that year. This service of thanksgiving in November will focus on the themes of the Lord Mayor’s Appeal Charity which are creating wealth, giving time and supporting people.

In the longer term, we would also like to build a network of people able to offer support and consultancy services which could enable businesses to address issues of diversity, ethics, faith literacy, relationships, social enterprise, social responsibility and spirituality as they affect customers, employees and suppliers in workplaces and the markets.

We often think of worship as being about the services which are held in church but, when St Paul says offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your true and proper worship, he is saying that what we do outside church in our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life is our real act of worship. Time spent gathered together as we are tonight should resource and re-energise us to live as Christian people in our homes, communities and workplaces, wherever those may be.

St Paul seems to be saying here that our natural inclination as human beings is to be focused on our own self interest. Our thinking needs to be transformed by our faith in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who was focused on the needs of others. It is when we are transformed by the renewal of our minds – so that we think and act, to some extent, in Christ-like ways – that we can then live lives, which through service of others, are an act of worship to God.

This has, I think, always been a key focus of St Martin-in-the-Fields as it helps people explore the Christian faith and the big issues of our times and involves people in caring deeply about building a more just and sustainable world. The new focus that is now being given to partnership development here - through the partnership with St Stephen Walbrook in particular, but also through many other existing partnerships - can provide an opportunity for St Martins and its’ people to share experience and resources with others but will also enable us to learn from the example and ideas of others so that our understanding and practice can also be challenged and changed. As we do so, we will be putting into practice other aspects of what St Paul says here about offering ourselves as living sacrifices. Being a living sacrifice means using our gifts and talents in God’s service but in such a way that we don’t end up thinking we are in some way better than others or better than other churches as a result.

As we reflect on what it means to be a living sacrifice, we can pray: Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my intellect, and use ev'ry pow'r as thou shalt choose. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee. Amen.


Take O Take Me As I Am.


Pat Marsh - said...

Thank you for your posts, which always interest me.

I am interested to know the source of this stunning Eucharistic image?

Thank you

Jonathan Evens said...

I'll try to find out. It's the image St Martins regularly use for their Bread for the World service, but I don't know where it comes from.

Pat said...

Thank you.