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Archdeacon’s Charge 2011

This year we come together in the Easter season with the images of Christ’s death and resurrection still very much in our heart and minds. We have looked back to the earthly life of Jesus and now we look forward to the life of the church after Ascension – the ongoing life of our church.

The Gospel passage I have selected for this visitation I hope will direct our hearts and minds to the shared task set before us as Easter people.

John 21:1-15

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Setting the scene

Let’s put ourselves in the disciples’ place for a moment. Jesus had called you to be a disciple, and you had left all to follow Him  You had hoped for the promised Kingdom to be immediately established by the Lord You had even hoped for a prominent place in that Kingdom. Instead, He was put to death. Three days later Jesus was raised from the dead which was demonstrated by many convincing proofs, appeared to you and many others. In some of these appearances Jesus explained from the Scriptures that His death was necessary to forgive the sins of those who believe.

The questions in your mind, if you are thinking as the disciples were, would be numerous. What is going to happen next? Is the Kingdom to begin now? What is the nature of discipleship? What does the Lord want me to do now? If I were to go out and preach, what would my message be? If I am not to preach, what shall I do?

It was out of this frustration, I believe, that Peter decided to go fishing. What else was there to do? Several of the other disciples must have felt the same way. Going fishing, something they were all familiar with, surely was better than sitting around wondering what to do next.

In those days men usually fished at night, but after a long night of effort, there were no fish caught. Our Lord, unrecognized by the disciples labouring in the boat, stood on shore about 100 yards distant and called to them. “Friends haven’t you any fish?” They had to admit that they were empty-handed. Then Jesus instructed them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat promising an abundance of fish. Without question they obeyed, still unaware of the identity of the One giving the instructions.

When the nets became so full of fish that they could not be lifted on board, John, always the first to perceive the true nature of things before Peter, said to his companion, “It is the Lord?” Peter, true to his character, put on an outer garment and plunged into the water, not willing to delay his meeting with the Lord. The others, more sensibly, waited the few moments it took to beach the ship.

On shore, the large catch of fish was sorted and counted. Jesus had a meal prepared for the seven, which He shared with them. The disciples puzzled over this appearance, and yet they knew for certain that it was, indeed, the Lord

Let’s see how this might fit with us!

Think of your own church communities  trying to keep afloat in an ever changing sea, the tides and currents of society often are unpredictable and out of our control. Then let’s look at our boats. We have boats, masses of them in the form of church buildings often very beautiful and ancient boats, not always fit for purpose and due to their age and size constantly in need of attention and expensive repair and yet we have them, we inherited then and they play a big role in the life of the communities in which they are set and are part of our nation’s heritage.

And from these boats on this changing sea we are called to proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ to the people we encounter and to grow our church communities.

That is our primary task to worship God and proclaim Good News.

It is easier just like the disciples did to return to or continue doing what we know, doing it as well as we can even if the sea is getting bumpier and our numbers are dwindling.  We just simply keep going and then Jesus comes onto our shore and says, if you really want to grow then you need to do something differently, make a change, if you do there will be abundant growth.

And that is what we are been asked to do – to make a change for growth. We are being asked to make a change in order to catch more fish. And why? Not, because we just want to ensure the future of our church, or that many more people will help with the paying of the Common Fund, of which both of these are true, but because that is what God requires of us.  – We are charged with the great commission at the end of Mark’s gospel.  Our task is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all the world and we have our part to play here in Devon in the Exeter Archdeaconry in your Mission Communities.

The question I need to ask and answer is do we have the skills and resources to carry it out. The Diocese is encouraging you to engage in a strategy of “Moving on in Growth” which has all kinds of ideas and suggestions and targets, this had been met in the parishes with all kinds of understandable re-actions

Don’t get too hung up on the figures and targets but rather see what this strategy is trying to help you do, to build our church here in Devon.

Its has four main components:

  • to increase the size of our worshipping communities;
  • to establish our Mission Communities;
  • to foster vocations to ordination and reader ministry and we are doing well with this;
  • and to equip ourselves with the skills and knowledge needed to communicate the faith to others,

We are asking a lot of you, but no more than Jesus asked of his disciples as they were commissioned to build his church.  Remember, these were ordinary fisherman who through their relationship with Jesus were able to transform the world.

And I want at this stage to pay a big tribute to the clergy of this archdeaconry. They are the ones being asked to work with you to cast your net on a different side of the boat, to do things differently. For them it is not always an easy or welcome task, they too have needed to learn new skills and find resources. They deserve our thanks and praise as they continue to serve God in his church, a church to which they have dedicated their lives, even when the sea gets rough and not always recognisable. Your care and support for them is crucial for the health of our church communities and the kingdom of God in this place.

And it can be done. We have mission Communities throughout the Diocese which are growing not only in number but spiritually as well.

The church communities which are growing in the Diocese are because they have made appropriate changes – things like changing some of their worship styles, better provision for children and young people, improving their welcome and integration. Some one said to me: “I don’t want a friendly church, I want a church where I can make friends!” There is more lay involvement in leadership and better small groups and pastoral care and last but not least improvement to buildings but this comes at the end of the list and not at the beginning. It is a natural progression of what has gone before. I had a wonderful phone call some months ago from a priest asking what do we do, the church is not big enough to fit us all in?

Now I have never met anyone in the churches in this Archdeaconry that do not want their churches to grow for whatever reason. I do however meet people in churches who are resistant to making any changes at all.  But the National statistics show that churches that don’t change are shrinking by 22% and churches that make a minimum of one appropriate change have grown by 3%

Introduction to Anna and or the booklet

Let’s return to the text where we began…

After the resurrection the disciples faced a puzzling dilemma.  What did Jesus want of them now? Should they return to their old occupations? Their old ways of doing things.  If not, what is their task?

In answer to this dilemma, our Lord reassured His followers that they were to understand one aspect of discipleship as that of continuing what Jesus had begun and what they had been formerly called to do, the sharing of the good news of the gospel.

This miraculous event did more than reaffirm the calling of the disciples to be ‘fishers of men.’ It also assured them that their Lord would be present with them in this endeavour, though not in His former physical manifestation. It promised them divine

guidance and power to accomplish the task of the evangelization of the world.

They came together to share a meal and establish a different kind of relationship with the risen Christ.

This is our primary task, the task of the whole church so let’s resource ourselves and in Jesus words to Peter in the following verses of this passage strive to feed his lambs and tend his sheep.

“Hallelujah Christ is risen!”

2 comments to Archdeacon’s Charge 2011

  • Oliver Simon

    re Archdeacon’s Charge:
    The Great Commission is in St Matthew’s Gospel, isn’t it?
    The final section ‘Introduction to Anna or the booklet’ doesn’t intrinsically make sense

    Good wishes


    Revd Dr Oliver Simon
    Director of Studies Training Centre for Ministries and Community Development
    Diocese of Mauritius

  • Hi Oliver – just a quick response – I think what came out as a heading in the document was actually a stage direction for Penny, who in some Deaneries introduced Anna Norman-Walker, the Diocesan Missioner, and in others shared details of a booklet….

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