This was a church anniversary celebrating 58 years since the present building was opened. However, that fact was only part of the history of this worshipping congregation. People have worshipped on the site since about 1670 with the first meeting house being built in 1719. Pictures and letters framed and hung on the wall outside the hall show some of this history.
Situated in the centre of a pedestrianised shopping area, the current building has the distinction of being commented on by John Betjeman as being more like a fire station than a church.’ Functional’ is how members of the congregation describe it but its situation and functionality make it a building well used by the community and the church alike with a number of activities both for church members and as outreach. Over lunch we talked about being church in such a location and about the ways in which people can be encouraged to hear God’s story through such activities as MessyChurch.
For the service the Stowmarket congregation were joined by members of three village chapels – Haughley, Mendlesham and Stowupland. The service had been planned and was led by the minister and elders, my job was to preach and (with the correct authorisation) to preside at the communion service.
This was the third Sunday in Lent and there were many possible themes which I could have developed from the Lectionary readings. There was the tension between the urgent call in Isaiah to “seek the Lord while he may be found” and the reminder in the parable of the fig tree as told in Luke’s gospel about the patience which God shows with his people. Does God want us to act with urgency in which case there is perhaps need for more urgent action from us all or are we right to think that God is in less of a hurry than we sometimes are? But there is more in that parable of the fig tree as Luke records it (Luke Ch 13 verses 1 – 9) Does the picture of the gardener offering to ‘dig around it and put manure on it’ remind us of God feeding us, digging around our roots a bit, disturbing our comfort both as
individual and as churches. I believe that our God is a patient and merciful God whose desire is that his children should turn from their barren and unfruitful ways. So as he feeds us, digs around our roots, disturbs our comfort, he longs for the fruits of his labours to be visible in our lives. In the passages set for the third Sunday in Lent there is one theme throughout and that is the call for our repentance, a call to turn around and follow Jesus. If we can truly do that then we can show the world a group of people who truly demonstrate a permanent relationship with our merciful and loving God – and what better fruit could there be than that?