Worshipping and Witnessing

26th January 2024

Last week I had three days out at the Winchester Diocese Clergy Conference. It was a really great time of fellowship and learning alongside over 175 other clergy – it was so encouraging to hear stories of parish ministry from other places, from the top of our diocese in Basingstoke all the way down to Bournemouth.

The keynote speaker was Bishop Graham Tomlin, Director of the Centre for Cultural Witness at Lambeth Palace. Across a series of three talks, he brought a message that was so refreshing and releasing for us to hear – but I think it was relevant for all Christians, not just clergy, so I will share it’s central theme.

Essentially, the Bishop said, that we must remember that our first calling is simply to Worship God and to bear Witness to his gospel. Another way of putting it is this: we are to ‘declare the praises of God, first to God himself, and then to the rest of the world.’ Worship and Witness – that is the essence of the Christian life. As long as we are doing this, we can be confident in our ministry and in the identity of the church, even if congregations are declining, even if our society becomes increasingly secular. The tide of Christendom goes in and out, depending on our particular cultural moment, but Christian Worship and Witness will endure as long as we remain faithful to these tasks.

You might be thinking – well, that actually sounds quite hard! To keep worshipping and witnessing despite the cost and context. But again Graham Tomlin was at pains to show that these tasks shouldn’t be a huge effort – they should feel natural and good for us. He used two great quotes, one from St Augustine which expresses the fact that our worship is primarily for our own benefit, not for God’s:

And another from Pope Francis: ““The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?”

Both these quotes show that our worship and evangelism should feel effortless, they should be an overflow of love. But that is a challenge isn’t it!? How easily we make these things into chores and duties. I was personally very challenged that I need to spend much more time just in the presence of God, hearing his voice, being filled with his Holy Spirit, letting His love well up within me. If we are not doing this, our Christian life may indeed feel like a chore.

So let me encourage you today – whatever you are doing right now (on your laptop, about to rush out the shops, about to scroll through social media) just spend a couple of minutes tuning into God instead and listening to his song of love for you. Our response of worship is then simply to sing it back to him, and then see if you don’t start humming the tune when you are out and about, so that others can hear it too.

Love and blessings to you all
Revd Jemima