A Message For Our Churches from Alison Wooding, Assistant Dean of Community, Church Army

At the end of June, Yvonne Desroches will be joining us, along with her husband Simon, to be our new Curate. Yvonne will be an Ordained Pioneer Minister. She has also had a long association with Church Army. In advance of Yvonne starting her ministry amongst us, I asked Alison Wooding, Assistant Dean of Community in Church Army, to share with us what Church Army is, and how we can support Yvonne as she lives and serves amongst us. If you’d prefer to listen to Alison’s message, you can do so here

Sunday 3rd May 2020, 4th Sunday Easter Year A

Psalm 23

John 10:1-10

Here we are at the 4th Sunday of Easter, which in some Christian traditions has been named Good Shepherd Sunday, and is the day we celebrate and promote vocations in the church. This is now our 6th Sunday in Lockdown and none of the churches in our land have congregated together for those 6 weeks and yet, I feel we are still church… different, but still church because we all know the old adage, church is the people, not the building. The doors of our buildings are locked and the gates closed yet the church is alive and kicking. Through the wonders of the World Wide Web we are able to continue to gather together in our homes and worship through digital means. As we watch the youtube services and facebook sermons and the Zoom prayers, we are not mere spectators, but active participants in the continuation of Christs Church. Bound together in unity and worship through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks about being the gate, the point of coming in and going out. Perhaps these last six weeks have helped us understand more deeply the concept of coming and going. Of opened and closed doors and gates.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his letters from prison that when celebrating Easter from a prison cell, one becomes acutely aware that the door is the only way out. And, being a prison door, it can only be opened from the outside.  

When Jesus speaks of saving those who pass through the door, He has salvation in mind.  He’s offering an opportunity to step out into the world of life in its fullness just as we might step through a prison door into freedom and a new life. Just as we will eventually, when all this has passed, will step out of our front door into freedom and a new life.

The picture of Jesus as a gate as depicted in John 10, has with it the imagery of both a closed gate, behind which the sheep are safe and also an open gate which leads to life giving pastures.  The open gate allows the shepherd to come in to call and lead his sheep to where they can graze in safety.  The Psalm which is set for today, Psalm 23, and the rest of John 10 talks about Jesus being our shepherd, someone who protects, guides, leads and cares for us as individuals.  He leads us out into the freedom of a life that is truly fulfilled.  The Latin translation of shepherd, ‘pastor’, has tended to associate the shepherd image with ministry.

The passage links the theme of Jesus as the gate and with the role of a leader shepherd by emphasising that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd and will follow him through the gate.  There is an implication in the parable that we are to make sure that we listen to His voice. 

I wonder who has been the shepherd to you in your community during this time of social isolation, who has called you up to check you are ok and as soon as you hear their voice, you know who it is and you feel comforted? 

I imagine one of the voices has been Haydn, as your minister and the other pastoral carers within your community. I know that I have been communicating with many many folk in the Church Army community to which I belong and this is the same Community thet Yvonne Desroches, your future curate belongs to too.

Church Army is a community of likeminded Christians who’s heart and passion is for everyone everywhere to encounter Gods love and be transformed. A desire that everyone should learn to hear and recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Church Army evangelists are working within some of the most deprived and socially disadvantaged communities within the UK and Ireland. Communities where the vulnerability of the community, means they are an easy target for false leaders. Folk who try to persuade the young woman to follow them to a better life, only to lead her into dangerous and abusive situations or people who befriend the young and hurting teenager before luring him into a street gang from which he can’t escape. The kind of false leaders who encourage the young single mum to borrow money for the washing machine she desperately needs, only to land her with extortionate interest so that she is in debt beyond her means. Sadly, the current crisis is revealing so many false leaders who use the vulnerability of the current crisis for their own selfish gain.

Jesus declares himself to be the shepherd and those who follow him will learn his voice, as well as being able to discern the voices of the strangers.  In the resurrection stories, Jesus came calling people by their names: Mary Magdala in the garden of Resurrection and Thomas who had doubted.  Jesus went out calling to his flock whether they were on the road to Emmaus or out fishing in the dark.  Somehow they came to recognise his voice, not perhaps so much by actual sound, but by how his voice sounded inside them. 

Jesus called to the first believers and just as clearly He calls to us today.  He called to Yvonne when he led her into Church Army, she heard his voice and followed that call faithfully and I for one am so delighted, because in Yvonne, I at times have heard the voice of Jesus speak directly to me. As a colleague and friend, I have been in awe of the easy and gentle way Yvonne can engage with others, especially those in pain and confusion. I have been amazed at the number of people she has spotted a vocation in and encouraged them to explore what Jesus might be calling them to do. I have been humbled by her faithfulness to the Gospel and her desire to hear the voice of Jesus.

The voice she listened to when she felt prompted to explore ordination. I recall the pain she went through following that call and the sacrifice she has made to do so.

In Yvonne, you will have a mouthpiece… I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, although by eck she can natter… I mean in her you will be on te receiving end of a woman of God who’s faith and ministry within the Church Army, has led any many people to Christ and enabled them to be transformed. I pray that when Yvonne enters your gates, she will be a herald and a conduit of Christ. That together with her and the whole of those in leadership and oversight in your church family you collectively will learn to listen to the voice of the shepherd, listen to hear what he has uniquely called you as a Christian community to be and to do in your locality, within and without your gates.

Jesus says that He, as the gate, gives access to life in all its abundance; and as the shepherd, knows each of us by name and calls and leads us as individuals to abundant and eternal life.

I pray that each and every one of you will hear Jesus call you by name and that with the loving care of your shepherds you will accept the invitation of THE SHEPHERD and be called out from behind your gates and be engaged in the redemptive work of the kingdom here and now, regardless of the current crisis, may we all proclaim the freedom that can only be found in Christ Jesus and may he be our comforter and our guide into the future that awaits us all. Lord lead us all beside the still waters and restore our souls.


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