About Setting Gods People Free (SGPF)
SGPF is an initiative across the Church of England to enable the whole people of God to live out the Good News of Jesus confidently in all of life, Sunday to Saturday. SGPF challenges a culture that over-emphasises a distinction between sacred and secular to a fuller vision of calling within the all-encompassing scope of the Gospel – not to limit vocation to church based roles.
What does it mean to live a faith ‘Sunday through to Saturday’? How can we be the Church in such a broken world?
Bishop Rachel talks about the culture change before us, as we move together towards freedom in Christ.
She says, “Living and sharing a Jesus shaped life … that’s what discipleship is all about […] This is about being the seasoning of salt throughout our world; the shining of light in places of immense pain and struggle; being the fragrance of Christ wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Living and sharing a Jesus-shaped life. And this is not about super confident people walking round with big cheesy grins and slick words and set formulae about how to do evangelism.
“This is about our identity in Christ – being more fully who we are as we continue to go on becoming who we have been called to be – it’s about authentic discipleship in places of pain and struggle as well as places of ease and joy.”
Transformwork UK has been working with the SGPF team in Liverpool, among other places. You can hear Grace’s testimony in the video below. The event focussed on Christians who may be struggling in the workplace.
Find or start a workplace group here →
In the Diocese of Gloucester one of our priorities under the Faith strand of our LIFE vision is ‘nurturing confident disciples to live out their faith seven days a week’.
I recently heard that in parts of the Anglican Communion there is a focus on ‘living and sharing a Jesus shaped life’… that’s what discipleship is all about.
Our Church of England report ‘Setting God’s People Free’ – has an emphasis on the culture change needed such that we might all live and share a Jesus-shaped life Sunday through to Saturday.
At every ordination service (for deacons, priest and bishops), there are introductory words spoken by the bishop or archbishop, which are words about the WHOLE baptised people of God – lay and ordained – ‘people’/Laos – but sadly, so many people see services of ordination as being all about the clergy – the same can be true of Chrism Eucharists on Maundy Thursday.
But all of these services are actually about the whole Church – and it is only within that big picture that ordinations and renewal of ordination vows can take place. Let me read those introductory words to the ordination service:
God calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
‘The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom.’
I am passionate about every member of the body of Christ being nurtured and supported to live out our baptismal calling ‘to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of God’s kingdom’ every day of the week among the people and places of our lives. It’s why I’m so glad that our Gloucester vision has that priority of ‘nurturing confident disciples.
How is every person who gathered for worship on Sunday living now, right this moment, as an authentic disciple – joining in with God’s work of transformation?
This is about being the seasoning of salt throughout our world; the shining of light in places of immense pain and struggle; being the fragrance of Christ wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Living and sharing a Jesus-shaped life. And this is not about super confident people walking round with big cheesy grins and slick words and set formulae about how to do evangelism.
This is about our identity in Christ – being more fully who we are as we continue to go on becoming who we have been called to be – it’s about authentic discipleship in places of pain and struggle as well as places of ease and joy. It’s all about BEING the Church.
Let me read a few verses from 2 Cor 5:
17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…’ And so, says Paul, “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us…” We are ambassadors for Christ. Amazing!
At my inauguration in Gloucester Cathedral in September 2015 I spoke of my deep desire for us to trail the wet footprints of our baptism wherever we go. That image actually comes from a quote from Michael Jinkins. Writing about Christian baptism he says: “we are soaked to the skin in the death of Christ. Our union with Christ drips from us…. We trail wet footprints of this drenching wherever we go; we never dry off” (The Church Faces Death p.23)
I love that! How do we encourage one another to trail the wet footprints of our baptism everywhere we go Sunday through to Saturday. And I use the phrase ‘Sunday to Saturday’ because it reflects theologically what it means for us to be the church -gathered and sent. It’s true that not all our gathered worship takes place on a Sunday but for many it does and it‘s from Sunday that we are sent out – and then gathered back in.
Again it’s about our identity – our identity as the church – understanding ourselves as the Body of Christ which is gathered and sent – gathered and sent. In a rather simplistic way I talk about DOING church and BEING church…
Again and again I see us colluding with a false identity in seeing church as all about the activity connected with DOING church. The gathered worship of the Sunday Eucharist, or the PCC, or the children’s activities, or gathering together for midweek morning or evening prayer; or home groups (If it involves a rota then it’s probably about DOING church). And of course all of that is important: our corporate prayer and worship is core to our identity as Christians and the Church – the Body of Christ.
We are a Eucharistic community nourished by God, seeking to give God glory and grow in faith and love so that we can nourish God’s world – but perhaps we don’t always see the bigger picture.
Of course it is all there in the words and theology of our liturgy – a gathering and a belonging, a confessing; thanksgiving and a nourishing in the Word and in bread and wine… and then being sent out ‘to live and work to God’s praise and glory’ or as we pray in another prayer of sending out:
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
|we who drink his cup bring life to others;|
|We whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
…And then those words echoing the Apostle Paul’s word from Romans 8:
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
|so we and all your children shall be free,|
|And the whole earth live to praise your name.
How does our gathered worship acknowledge where people have gathered in from and to where they are being sent out?
If you are a leader of gathered worship how do you encourage and nurture a deep understanding of what it means for each person – in places of struggle as well as joy – to go out into the week ahead, in peace… to love and serve the Lord …?’
Some of you will be familiar with something called ‘This Time Tomorrow’. It’s a very simple activity promoted by The LICC – The idea is that one or more people in a service of worship share what they will be doing at the same time the next day – and people are encouraged to pray for them. And then how do we use intercessions in our public worship to express something of our identity as disciples and BEING the Church, ambassadors for Christ?
We’ve probably all heard things along the line of the person who said how nice it was to be prayed for because they were on the food bank rota or because they were on the crèche rota… or because they’re a member of the youth group or PCC – But they had never been prayed for in their work as a GP or a shop assistant or as a grandparent or as a member of the school’s sports team.
One of the things I said at my inauguration as Bishop of Gloucester was that I would endeavour to discourage people from introducing themselves to me by their church-activity. By that I mean not saying ‘I’m Agatha and I’m the churchwarden from St Oswald’s’ or ‘I’m Barry, the children’s leader from St Swithuns’ but rather to introduce themselves to me saying something about their identity in who they are in the context of the people and places of their lives..’I’m Agatha and for a lot of each week I volunteer in the local charity shop.’ Or whatever it might be…
It has been incredibly difficult. Perhaps because I’m a bishop people continually define themselves to me by their ‘doing’ church activity – even if we get beyond the ‘I’m the church warden from Dingly in the Dell’, even when I push farther and say, but when you’re not living that aspect of life, what does your week look like – people tend to still list the things that they do connected with ‘doing church’: On Thursday I lead a home group – or on Wednesday I take home communions.’
Please don’t hear me knocking any of that – indeed I want to fan the flames of all of that – but it concerns me that I often really need to push to get at things such as ’ I’m a grandparent who helps my son with the grandchildren; – I’m at school and do a lot of sport; or actually I’m unemployed and spending a lot of time looking for a job; or I’m spending a lot of time in a hospital waiting room at the moment …
THIS is the landscape in which we need to discover more of God’s reconciling and transforming work in us and THROUGH us: ‘…we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us’
There is something here about being set free from the limits of our definition about who we are as Christians – Discovering more about our identity as Christ’s followers – the Church gathered and sent. Discipleship is not an activity x 2 it’s about who we are. And we are loved, known and called by name to be ambassadors for Christ, Sunday through to Saturday.
And one of the key things for me about the SGPF report is that it shouldn’t be adding yet more things to people’s ‘to do’ lists – but it should be encouraging us to discover more of our identity as Christ’s followers and what it means to BE the church.
I pray that we might DO church differently such that we will BE church differently. And the culture change won’t be quick or sudden – although we have been talking about this for a number of years. I will begin to feel we are getting there when over coffee after a Sunday or midweek service people aren’t talking about who’s on the rota next week or the arrangements for the midweek home group or who’s bringing the biscuits next week, but rather people will be talking about what they are facing in the coming week and how they can pray for each other – and then the following week catching up with how things were.
I will begin to feel we are getting there when notices in services aren’t only about the activity that is taking place around the worshipping community but also include mention of something that someone in the worshipping community is facing or doing in the coming week and how people might pray for them.
This is about people who are parents and carers, and students, and children with particular interests or concerns; or those looking for paid employment or those who are housebound – or those in various professions etc. etc.
I will know we are getting the right culture change when intercessions diaries of parishes and benefices don’t simply include praying for people in particular streets of the parish but also name the places where people will be spending time – shops and pubs and leisure facilities and farms – and also the daily activity of people: praying for parents on one day; or school children on another – or praying for business people – or carers at home – or students or those involved in sports clubs etc. etc.
And in ALL those intercession topics praying for people to be courageously and authentically living out their faith in who they are. Living and sharing a Jesus-shaped life.
My dream is that when I go to a worshipping community on a Sunday, people will be telling me that they just HAD to be there in order to be able to live their week ahead. In other words people won’t be waking up on a Sunday morning and wondering whether or not they will go to gathered church that morning or stay in bed because it’s been a hard week or a late night, but rather there will be a sense that they can only live their week well if they begin it in the place of gathered worship.
And then my dream is that the liturgy – the worship – will be lived in such a way that it acknowledges that people have gathered from many different places of their week – and people will connect with confession and praise and the reading of Scripture, and will be fed by bread and the wine in a way which acknowledges the week that HAS been and sends people out into the week that’s just beginning. And before the prayer of sending out and the dismissal at the end there will be space to connect with the reality of being sent out into the week ahead, in places of pain as well as in joy, to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord….’
And for bishops it’s very important that when we gather for those services which seem to be about clergy – ordinations or licensings or the chrism Eucharist – it is very important that we are explicit about this being about the whole people of God.
Personally, it’s why at licensing services of new clergy I use those words of commissioning which are used in confirmation services. Those responses which are there for the whole people of God:
‘Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?’ AND ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?’
To both of these questions people can respond with the help of God, I will… and ideally I’d like to add ‘Sunday through to Saturday’.
And at confirmation services when candidates are given a lit candle, there’s a strong emphasis on the candidates and all followers of Christ being sent out into the places of their lives to shine as a light in the world – It’s about ALL of us. Well, so much more I could say but I’m going to stop here – and it’s important than rather than being overwhelmed by all of this we might each decide to do ‘just one thing’ differently to be part of this culture change and strengthen our identity as disciples and our identity as the Church.
And so a closing Prayer – and it comes from the baptism service:
May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.