As I bring my report, looking back on 2018 and ahead to 2019, let’s reflect on the blessings that the Lord has shown to this church through the last 200 years.
Lamentations 3:22-24 says:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!’
As a church, over 200 years, we have been through times of blessing and times of troubles, times of growth and times of contraction and the Lord has been with us every step. Psalm 100:3 says: ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of his pasture.’ We are His people and He has brought us to this place.
2018 saw solid progress towards our vision and mission. We saw new people arriving, others moving on. There were two significant projects with which we were involved. The first was the commencement and growth of the Community Transformation project in Rwanda, in partnership with Tearfund. This has exceeded the expectations that we had and shows how the Lord blesses things when the time is right. This is already making a real difference to people’s lives. We had been in prayer for L’Eglise Vivante for many years and the time was right. We thank God for all that he is doing there. The other was hosting the Global Leadership Summit in November, which involved many people working together to put on an event that was appreciated by those that attended. There were some things that went really well and others that didn’t but we have learned from those and we will be hosting again on 8–9 November 2019.
So, if 2018 was a year when we saw steady progress, then I believe that 2019 is to be a year when we see the next move of God’s Spirit among us. I spoke last year about the challenges that we face as a nation and about the church’s witness to our generation. You may have noticed that this has not lessened in the intervening period. We are now even more aware of the struggles that this country is going through. In this time of immense challenge to Christian values, and the denial of truth, there is enormous opportunity. Nick, one of our Regional Ministers speaking recently, likened these times to the passage in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the whisper goes out that Aslan is on the move in the land. It still looks like winter, but a thaw is on the way. We are not yet experiencing revival, but the Spirit is at work in our churches, as he is here. He is at work in all of the ways that Robin highlighted at the end of his report and he is at work in the lives of many individuals who are experiencing healing and growing in faith. We praise God that there are many of those. Indeed we cannot even predict what the outcome will be of much of this growth.
We have chosen to celebrate our bicentenary with certain landmark events, the first of which was 40 Days of Prayer. I sensed an excitement about this; a commitment to it; that points to great blessing to come. When we chose our bicentenary verse it was with a sense of expectation at what the Lord was planning to do for us as we move forward, but also a realisation that such blessing would require commitment from us to be kingdom-builders.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us; to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
His glory is shown in the church not by making its buildings glorious but by working in the lives of his people. This requires our cooperation as a minimum. Some of you are new to the Baptist movement but for those of us that have been around a bit, William Carey’s call to mission is never far away from our hearts: ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!’ I suggest to you that in the year ahead we do just that; that we lean on our Father who can do immeasurably more and ask him to build his church and grow the kingdom among us.
With that in mind we have some other landmark events to celebrate the bicentenary.
On Saturday 22 June, we look forward to the visit of Carey and Geraldine Luce (Latty). We will be inviting people to come and join their pop-up choir for a workshop in the afternoon. This will be followed by food and then a performance in the evening. This will be a celebration of the life of the church. We shall be inviting our neighbours to join us (using the widest definition of neighbours!) and inviting back those associated with the church in the past.
It is an opportunity to engage those on the fringes of this community. We will be following this with a seeker service on the Sunday 23 June.
Before that we will be joining the other churches of this town to be part of a campaign called Love Stortford. Under the leadership of our friend John Barfoot from the Community Church, we will be working together to express God’s love for the town. There will be a number of ways in which we can get involved in the week leading up to the carnival on 15 June. There will be projects to tidy-up the town and refurbish Market Square. There will be a market stall and prayer and evangelism on the streets. We will be encouraging random acts of kindness. We will be reminding people that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. These two events together will provide a powerful opportunity to make an impact on our friends and neighbours and upon those that we call the ‘prodigals’ who have lost their way for now. We need to pray for these events and invite God to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.
The third landmark event will be on the weekend of our bicentenary when John Archer will be coming to give his mixture of comedy, magic and testimony on 23 November. On Sunday 24 November we will hold our Bicentenary Celebration Service when our speaker will be the Rev Peter Nodding. With Christmas following soon after this, this will be another period to invite friends and family to hear the good news and celebrate together.
Throughout this year we will also be working on developing The Bridge, which will provide further opportunities for incarnational evangelism in the future. Richard Jones and his team are already hard at work on this and I would like to thank them all for their commitment to this project.
I should also like to acknowledge some departures and arrivals. Barry, Wendy and Tracy have felt that this is the right time for them to relinquish the responsibilities of Deacon (for now!). We owe them each an enormous debt for all the work that they have put in over the years – and they have served for many years. Thank you to each of you, we really appreciate the service that you have given.
Mark Wheeler stepped down during the year as Chief Steward. Again I’d like to thank Mark for serving us. We are looking to appoint a replacement as soon as possible.
On the arrivals side, I am delighted to announce that Hazel Bintley has joined the Pastoral Team to serve along with Martin, myself, Alison, Margaret and Trevor; and Sarah McCulloch has agreed to become our Vulnerable Adult Safeguarding Officer. You may turn to Sarah for advice on safeguarding adults and with any concerns that you have.
Personally I would like to thank you again for the amazing support that you have given to Steph and to me. We continue to provide you with challenges, and you continue to love us. We are so grateful. I think that I am now the third longest-serving minister in the church’s history. I consider it an honour every day to serve you. Thank you for giving me that privilege. It is my hope that we will soon have news concerning the appointment of another member of the ministry team, but you will have to be patient a little longer for that.
Let me finish with another quotation from William Carey in his snappily entitled masterpiece An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens published in 1792:
Many can do nothing but pray, and prayer is perhaps the only thing in which Christians of all denominations can cordially, and unreservedly unite; but in this we may all be one, and in this the strictest unanimity ought to prevail.
Were the whole body thus animated by one soul, with what pleasure would Christians attend on all the duties of religion, and with what delight would their ministers attend on all the business of their calling.
We must not be contented however with praying, without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for. Were the children of light as wise in their generation as the children of this world, they would stretch every nerve to gain so glorious a prize, nor ever imagine that it was to be obtained in any other way.