It was a delight to join a three day gathering of GEAR, of over sixty colleagues on Saturday February 16th at the Hayes (Swanwick), albeit only for part of the day. I was happy that I could participate in two of the sessions and to bring greetings to the gathering on behalf of the United Reformed Church. It was also great to meet and greet both familiar and unfamiliar faces.
The theme for the gathering was “Growing the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit” which was led by Revd Paul Stokes and largely based around Paul’s book (written along with two other colleagues). Having received a complimentary copy from Paul, I started my reading on the train journey back and have now completed my first reading of this timely and necessary volume. In my view, this is recommended reading for all church leaders and would urge you to get a copy and use as a discussion in your ministers’ group and church elders’ meetings.
What was evident from my encounter is that prayers, worship, study and conversations held the programme together. It is not often that I attend a church gathering where prayers are said for what the speaker was about to share and for hearts to receive! And, while I am aware that many are praying for those of us who are in some form of leadership role in our Church, my heart felt “graciously warmed and lifted” when Ian and Sally prayed for me and for the whole of the United Reformed Church before I departed.
Paul’s insights on “foundations”, about the need for leaders to embody the kingdom of God, walking the way of Jesus and receiving empowerment of the Holy Spirit, as well as growing congregations embodying kingdom values were timely and went to the core of the matter: the conversion of hearts and minds that WE, the leaders and members need in order to experience and inhabit the presence of God’s Spirit. How can we grow into a deeper knowledge and experiential understanding of the dance steps in cooperating with Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Can we look afresh at the basics in cooperating with the Holy Spirit as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles?
There was so much more of significance that Paul shared with his eager audience than I can write here. What stuck with me and resonates well with my recent blog “vision and agenda: minding motives”, is the agency given to God acting (and we responding), intercessory prayers, the blessings received in cooperating with the movement of the Holy Spirit, being open and welcoming to the giftings of the Spirit, discerning and responding to kairos moments, and especially the importance of obedience!
I left the GEAR Conference all fired up and praying for the miracle that is waiting to happen: that we all can grow to become more open to God’s Spirit moving in our lives and in our collective life together so that the human categories we use to define each other and restrict our partnership with the Holy Spirit will crumble. For the bottom line is that “we love because God first loved us”!
God-always-with-us, we pray that your Spirit will bring freshness to our thoughts and words and actions, so that we can dream new and creative possibilities, discern the challenges before us, find life-giving ways to care and embrace, and dare to take risks in the adventure of walking the way of Jesus. Amen