Friday, 19 October 2012

Learning from our Past

On Sunday we give thanks to God for being part of a community of believers that has existed in Worcester for 130 years.
While the shape, make-up, and  location of this community has changed dramatically during this time, the fact remains that a faithful Gospel witness has been maintained throughout these years, and that is a cause for great thanks to God. 
One of our long-standing church members, Ron Maddocks, has put together an exhibition of the history of the church that will be on display on Sunday and if you're around, please take the time to look at this and read the amazing history of the church. Ron has also written a booklet that recounts God's faithfulness over the years. God-willing, we hope to make this available soon.
Who would have thought that the small group of railway men who met to study God's Word together in the Passenger Guard's room of Shrubb Hill Station on July 2nd 1882, would grow over time, in God's grace, to be a community of people meeting in a purpose-built church, serving a modern housing estate of 5,000 homes situated to the north-east of Worcester?
God is so good!
As I have learned about the history of Woodgreen in these last few weeks it has occured to me that there are some vital lessons we need to hold onto as we look to the future.
Here are just three.
1. Mission is part of our DNA
In 1882 a man called Thomas Beechey invited a small number of Christian railwaymen to attend a meeting in the Passenger Guard's room of Shrubb Hill Station. Because of the long and irregular hours worked by men on the railways, they were prevented from attending church services. So, in order to reach out to this specific people-group, a work was started: not in a church building but on a station platform!
Innovative outreach and a passion for lost people to come to know Jesus, has been part of Woodgreen's DNA  since the earliest days of the church. Until 1959,  the church was known as the 'Worcester Railway Mission', because outreach was at the centre of church life. It was this passion to proclaim Jesus that led the church to eventually move to Warndon Villages, with a desire to reach the new housing development being built there, and to release two groups of believers to plant churches, first in St Johns and then in Perdiswell.
We must learn from  our past!
Mission has always been part of Woodgreen's DNA, because that is what Jesus told his disciples they were to do: to go and make disciples. British culture has dramatically changed over the last 130 years, meaning that the methods we use to reachout have had to change and adapt. However the Gospel has not changed.
And so as we look to the future: considering the possibilty of a coffee shop on the premises; seeking to engage positively with our local community; and running various numerous outreach events and Holiday Clubs (for young and old alike), we need to be as committed to the Gospel as our founders were and as innovative and creative as they were as well.
2. Bold steps of faith are part of our heritage
In 1896 the fledgling church plant moved into a purpose-built building in East Street, near the city centre. The church was to meet there for 99 years before moving to the current premises on Warndon VIllages.
The story of how God opened the door for this move is remarkable.
By 1987 the church congregation had outgrown the East Street premises and so Sunday morning services moved to Rose Hill School in Warndon.
A building team was formed to try to secure land on the new housing development to the north-east of the city. However there was dismay when the local council informed them that the final decision was in the hands of the developers. The potential plot of land that had been identified was worth £200,000. A meeting was therefore arranged with Charles Narburgh, the Director of Bryant Homes, at the company's headquarters in Birmingham.
When the church's ambassadors were greeted with the phrase 'Come in, brethren', they sensed that God had gone before them. It turned out Narburgh was a Christian who was as enthusastic about the possibility of a church on the new estate as they were!
In the end the plot of land that should have cost £200,000 was secured for just £2,000.
God had blessed the church's bold step of faith.
We must learn from our past!
Woodgreen's history illustrates that when God's people step out in faith, with a desire to see his kingdom extended and his name honoured, he blesses. He doesn't promise that the journey will be easy or straightforward, but he does promise to bring glory to his name.
And so as we look to the future, what bold steps of faith should we be considering? The great thing about audacious steps of faith is that all the glory goes to God. What opportunity will we give him to get himself the glory in the years to come?
3. God will supply our every need as we trust him
Although  famous names such as Mr Cadbury, the Earl of Plymouth, Mr Lea and Mr Perrins  and Rev W Awdry (creator of Thomas the Tank Engine) have all contributed to church building funds over the last 130 years, as an independant church, the overwhelming majority of money needed to build and  maintain the work of the church has come from those who attend regularly.
The building in East Street cost £1050, a very signficant sum at the time. However  99 years later, final cost of the current church building on Warndon VIllages amounted to nearly £1 million. On top of this has been a steadily growing budget to maintain the outreach of the church and employ pastors, youth workers, overseas missionaries and those training for Christian work.
And yet the wonderful testimony of the last 130 years is that God has provided for our every need through his people's sacrificial and joyful generosity.
We must learn from our past!
As we look to the future and see more opportunities than we have the financial resources to meet, we should remember that God is able to supply our needs. It was in the context of giving that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor 9:8)
As we look to God to guide us into the future, we also look to him to meet our every need, so that by his grace we, like those who have gone before us, can continue to abound in every good work.
By a strange coincidence, Woodgreen hosted one of the FIEC's many 90th birthday celebration meetings last Wednesday. The FIEC's National Director, John Stevens, wrote this week on his blog (HERE) about the right and wrong way to learn from our past. In the light of our own anniversary, I found his comments very helpful:
We may learn from the past, but that is very different from seeking to relive the past. There is a great temptation and pressure to preserve, restore and maintain it for nostalgic reasons, as if the church was some form of living history museum rather than an army on the march to victory...

It is all too easy for Christians to live looking back to the glory days of the past... and to assume that we are being faithful by preserving our heritage... As I was reminded when I was preaching on Sunday evening from Romans 8v18-27, Christians ought not to be backward looking people, living with a nostalgia for a vanished past. Instead we ought to be those who are living for the future, pressing forward and straining ahead looking for the glory that is to come with eager expectation. In the meantime we need to make hard choices to ensure that our limited resources are put to best use in advancing the gospel in the present time, fighting the battle where it is raging.
As we celebrate God's faithfulness this weekend, may God help us to look back with gratitude, but then press on with a determination to use our resources to advance the gospel in our day and age.