Eph i 23 (NEB)
by Rev. Antony W. Ball
‘INDEPENDENT CHURCH 1848’ is carved into the stonework on either side of the main door of our church building (note my small c) but our Church (capital C) was ‘born’ at the first Congregational Church Meeting which was on June 14th 1849, although regular services had already been held in the building since September 1848. We were not officially called ‘Isleworth Congregational Church’ until about 1881, although that name was occasionally in use from around 1875. Confused? So you should be! More confusing still is that we celebrate our Church Anniversary neither in June nor September but on the first Sunday in October, which is the traditional date for Churches which are unsure of the date of their foundation. Not entirely coincidentally, the United Reformed Church came into being on the 5th October 1972 and a service was held in our church on that day (I remember it well) at which we celebrated our decision to remain as an independent Congregational Church rather than join the URC.
‘So what?’ you may ask. Well, it’s one reason why this newsletter may seem a bit introspective – I’ve written this article and Phil. Andrews has contributed two articles, both of which might be seen in that way. It’s good to look in a mirror occasionally (not obsessively) – not just to check your hair/makeup but also to remind yourself of what other people will see when they first approach you – what immediate, outward impression you’re going to make on them. Scripture says that the Church is the ‘body of Christ’ – and Paul expounds on that at length in his Letters to the Ephesian and Corinthian Churches (Eph i 23, & iv, 1 Cor xii & Rom xii 5) – so when we, as a Church (capital C, meaning the people not the building) look into a mirror, we are looking at one part of the ‘Body of Christ’, which is a sobering thought.
Just imagine a stranger coming into our church during a morning service (as one did only last Sunday) and obviously observing a good range of ages and ethnicities, but what about personal interactions?
- As a Church, do we seem friendly and welcoming, or hostile and stand-offish?
- As a Church, do we seem meek and respectful, or assertive and overbearing?
- As a Church, do we seem cheerful or miserable, happy or sad?
- As a Church, do we treat people in the way we think Jesus would treat them?
- As a Church, do we seem open and generous or restrictive and mean?
Whether we like it or not, Jesus Himself is likely to be judged by things that we do (or don’t do) and by how we behave. People are likely to say of us: “He says he’s a Christian, but…” or “She goes to church, but…” so, as Christians, we are never ‘off duty’ and one of Paul’s phrases is that we’re ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Cor v 20). That’s an awesome responsibility – to be representing Jesus in the way that an ambassador would represent our Queen or our government.
As a Congregational Church, our church building is useful and (hopefully) helpful, but it’s relatively unimportant – we could be like the Hosanna Church and find somewhere else to worship – but wherever we are, and wherever we go, we are the Church; and we are ambassadors for Christ.