As of 2pm on 26th March, we have a new Vicar at St John’s – a huge (if virtual) welcome to Rev Dr Mark Lavender. Here is his first message to the church family:
A MESSAGE FROM MARK LAVENDER, NEW VICAR AT ST JOHN’S BBH:
These are strange and unprecedented times and we are all just realising what this new world means for us in terms of ‘meeting together’ as church. But as Pete Grieg, the founder of 24-7 Prayer, says it is a “dangerous opportunity”: “It’s dangerous”, he says, “so we need to take great care and follow government guidelines. But it’s also an extraordinary opportunity to invest in our relationship with the Lord, and in other key relationships. We’re going to support one another diligently, pray for one another consistently and love our neighbours practically, taking the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus … Church is not the building but the people – and now we’re going to prove it … House groups are the frontline of faith and now we’re going to show that’s true! We’ve said that prayer is meant to be 24-7. We’ve said that the Lord awaits us in a less hurried life. We’ve said that he is with us always wherever we are – and now we’re going to experience these things powerfully for ourselves.” Wise words, and ones that I commend to you.
I recently spent some time on retreat in preparation for coming to BBH and felt the Lord say a number of things to me through my thoughts and experiences. As I looked out of the conservatory window where I was sitting, I saw an ambulance draw up – an unfortunate sign of the times we are in. And yet rather than be an unsettling situation I found myself drawn to the symbol on the side of the ambulance:
The symbol probably stems from Greek mythology, however it bears a strong resemblance to the bronze serpent staff that God gave Moses to hold to protect the Israelites. (You can read about it in Numbers 21). And my thoughts were drawn to the fact that Jesus’ himself even refers to the staff as a ‘type’ of himself: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). A few observations from this: The serpent was originally the source of the curse (both in the story in Numbers and in Genesis) and yet Jesus is depicted as, and became, a curse in order to save us (by dying on the cross). The staff was a source of rescue and salvation. Those that looked upon the staff were saved. Jesus is therefore the one we should look to for salvation and healing. Jesus gives eternal life. And so out of this scene of apparent trauma and tragedy, there was the reminder of hope of a greater reality, that our God is with us and will save us if we look to Him.
I took from this experience the encouragement to look for ‘signs’ of God. To look out for His kingdom breaking in to our everyday and to seek him. God is at work, we just need to look for Him, so I encourage you to be on the lookout. Seek God in whatever you are doing and know the hope that He offers, to save us and to give us eternal life.
A brief update on us – the Diocese is busily getting the house ready for us and we hope to move soon, however this is clearly a fluid thing in current circumstances. In the meantime, we remain in Orpington, praying for you all and wishing we were with you in Broadbridge Heath.
As such I want to give my thanks to a number of individuals who’ve very quickly transformed BBH to an online presence with very little notice and have done a magnificent job, namely: Mark Bradbury, Rachel Ellis, Chris Robertson, Andrew Scott, Lou Bradbury, Ian and Lis Gardner, John Palmer-Felgate and Roger Stamp. I also want to thank the church wardens Liz and Anne, Sarah Tombling and Brian New for all they have done to keep the church going during the interregnum and their incredible dedication and loyalty to St John’s.
Ali, Hannah, Nathan and I can’t wait to meet you all and to emerge on the other side of this crisis some weeks from now, to gather together one sunny Sunday and to celebrate God’s faithfulness. In a sense, this period of isolation is like going through Lent in a time of anticipating the coming of Easter and all that symbolises. But until then, stay safe, look after one another and look for opportunities for God’s kingdom to break in as we anticipate the coming in fullness of what He has for us.
God is good, all the time.