Thought for the Month (June 2014)

Dear Friends,

I recently met a man from Chile. We talked about the amazing growth of the Christian Church in South America, contrasted with the sorry state of many Churches in the UK.

Kate and I were in New Zealand. It was our last Sunday with the family after celebrating our Golden Wedding anniversary with them. The local Church advertised a 5pm service. "Fine," we thought, "evening service, then back in time for one last meal together before we flew home the next day." But it was a 'Pizza Service', a kind of Messy Church, followed by all-age worship until much later in the evening!

There I met the man from Chile, just retired from his last tour of duty with SAMS*, and he put to me this idea of the dove and the olive branch. The dove flew over the waters covering the earth, searching for dry land, eventually returning to the Ark with an olive branch in its beak as proof that it had landed. The dove of God's Holy Spirit flies over the waters of this world's Churches, searching for a place to land, but cannot, until it finds an olive branch. The olive branch is with the Church of God in any place where the needs of His people are being met. Find that need, and the Spirit of God will land, and that Church will grow.

In Chile, the olive branch of Church growth is in working for justice for the poor and landless and in political and legal support for those exploited by rich landlords and big business. The Churches in Chile are growing fast.

What about Hawkenbury, Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells? What are the needs that the Holy Spirit wills us to meet here on our own patches? What should be our Olive branch? True, there is still some poverty and homelessness in our area, and the Churches have responded with, for example, Winter Shelter and a Food-Bank, both traditional areas of Christian Charity, but our communities have other needs: there are problems of loneliness and isolation among the old, problems of aimlessness, sexual promiscuity and drunkenness among the young; and as for the well-off, middle-aged, middle-class, in our self-satisfied and affluent society, those who are rich in things but poor in soul, perhaps this group has the greatest need of all.

At Pentecost, on Whit Sunday - to give it its old name - we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in flames of fire to the early Church, and we yearn for our Churches to be filled with the same Spirit as in those early days. What we have to do - suggests the man from Chile - is for each Church to find its Olive branch of community need. So as we pray this Whitsuntide for the renewing of God's Holy Spirit among us, let us also pray that God will make us aware what our own particular mission should be, that the dove of the Holy Spirit may land with us and our Churches may grow.

May God bless us all with fresh insights into the mission of our Churches this Whitsun,

Bob Webb (Elder & Secretary, Tunbridge Wells URC)

*SAMS: the South America Missionary Society, which is based in Tunbridge Wells - hence our common ground with "the Man from Chile."

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church