As the coronavirus outbreak continues we continue to feature regular video messages from the Bishops and Archdeacons on our Diocesan YouTube channel.
All messages have been well received and you can still view all the past messages on the channel here.
Today's weekly message is from The Venerable Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn, and the full text can be read below the embedded video. You can also download it for printing here.
We know of many parishes providing information in printed form and sending via Royal Mail to parishioners who are not able to get online. If your parish is doing that, why not add these weekly messages to your future mailings?
I think Jesus loved trees. He often used trees and plants to describe the growth of the Kingdom of God or the rule of God in the world. For example he told the story of a mustard seed which from the smallest of beginnings grew into a tree so large and strong that the birds of the air could nest in its branches. Jesus also warned that you can tell the health of a tree by the fruit it produces, and that a tree that does not bear good fruit is fit only to be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Here at Whalley Abbey we have lots of beautiful old trees that have been here for generations. They remind me of the many parish churches across our diocese that have been rooted in the same spot, often for a century or much longer. Vision 2026 is all about healthy churches transforming communities. As Jesus used trees to talk about God’s kingdom, I invite you to meditate on a beautiful tree like this and think of your parish church. In what ways does a healthy tree like this give us a picture of a healthy church?
First, a healthy tree has deep roots, that spread unseen as wide as its branches. How deep are the roots of our church? Do they go deep into God, who is the ground of our being, through inspiring worship, deep prayer, meditation on Scripture, the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Or are the roots of our church too shallow or stunted to sustain the great canopy of activity above?
Second, a healthy tree is growing. Can we think of those who have joined our church in the last few years and what made them come?
Who are the missing groups of people we need to reach if our church is to reflect the diversity of the parish it serves?
Third, a healthy tree bears good fruit. What kind of fruit is our church producing? Do outsiders see the fruit of the Holy Spirit revealed in love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control within our church family?
Fourth, a healthy tree is good for its environment. As environmentalists keep reminding us, trees are the lungs of the earth, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. In what way is our church having a transforming, life-giving effect on its wider community, breathing the breath of the Spirit over its parish? What are the areas of dis-ease in our community where the church could make a difference?
Fifth, a healthy fruit tree sometimes needs to be pruned, in order for it to bear more fruit (John 15.1-6).
Re-establishing church life after lockdown gives us the chance to ask some difficult questions, rather than simply trying to restart things which are no longer fruitful or healthy. What are the things that absorb a lot of time and effort in our church but do not help us to fulfil our vision?
Lastly, a healthy tree produces new saplings. When was the last time our church started a new service or planted a new congregation? If saplings enable the tree to reproduce itself for future generations, what sort of new service or congregation might help our church to reach the young or those outside?
Like healthy trees, may our parish church be deeply rooted, grow steadily, bear good fruit, breathe life on its surroundings, and produce saplings that carry its life to future generations.
The Venerable Mark Ireland
Archdeacon of Blackburn