I took this photograph inside Holy Trinity Parish Church at Ashford in the Water, in the Peak District. Two-thirds of the way around a delightful circular walk, Sue and I stopped to eat our sandwiches and then popped in to look around the church. I noticed something quite surprising; the lectern was facing outwards so that a casual visitor like me would see the open pages of the Bible and perhaps read some of the text. Now in my experience such bits of Anglican church furniture are usually large, bronze and clad with an impressive eagle; almost always they face down the nave towards the door. This simple wooden lectern is quite different. It is as though it has been intentionally turned round to face those who enter the church.
And to those who do, the Bible is open at Isaiah chapters 40 and 41. Looking at the text, two passages in particular grabbed my attention. In chapter 40:21 and again in verse 28 the questions “Have you not known? Have you not heard” are striking. They are not phrased in an accusing manner, rather the sense here is one of deep regret that God’s promises have gone unheard by those who most need them. I say this because of the great promises and truths which then follow on in 40:31 “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” and 41:9 ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off ’; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God”
Turning this gospel outward so that it is world facing and engaged is what God expects the church to do as naturally as you and I breathe, so essential is it to our life of faith as Christians. This is why ‘Reshaping for Mission’ is such a vital task for the Methodist Church.
The evidence of our eyes and memories tells us that the church we serve has for a long time been like a lectern upon which sits a closed Bible. As it faces the door the gospel of God’s radical love in Jesus is only apparent to those who know where to look and what to read. The outward-facing lectern and the open Bible challenge us to be more acutely aware of the ways in which we can put ourselves in the place of the stranger, for it is with the stranger that Jesus stands. The hopeful promises of the gospel are not a closed book, they are meant to be seen and experienced ‘in plain view’ at the heart of our communities. All across Lincolnshire we are rising to this challenge with renewed faith and ever deeper trust in God, for the sake of those who ‘have not known’ and ‘have not heard’. What better way to start a new Methodist year?