Anna Martin has been at St Helen's for over a decade—long enough to see plenty of people leave!
When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing a blog about why we can love seeing our friends leave St Helen's, she said, "How many times have you used the phrase 'reach, build, send'?" The answer, as you'll see, is quite a lot...
Have you heard that phrase at St Helen's yet? It's a summary of what we're committed to as a church: reaching out to people and bringing them into the church family, building them up in love and fellowship as we're taught truth about Jesus, then sending them out to serve Jesus in the wider worldwide church. On paper, that sounds fantastic. But, my word, does it take some doing in practice!
Why? Because 'reach' is tough but exciting. It's Christianity Explored courses, and guest events and carol services. 'Build' is tough but where your deepest friendships are made. It's RML and discussing the sermon over some food in St Andrews, it's summer afternoons in Victoria Park or football on a Saturday afternoon.
But 'send'… well, 'send' means saying goodbye. And sometimes, that's just tough.
So, here are two comforting verses that help me rejoice when people move on.
First, Revelation 7:9: ..."I looked and, behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…"
We will all be part of this great multitude, together forever, with Jesus. Beat that! When our friends go, they reach and build elsewhere, meaning more people before the throne, giving Jesus the glory and honour he deserves. All this building is going somewhere—the throne room of Christ!
So our friendships aren't taking a hit just because we're not at the same church anymore. We're joined in a deeper unity than ever can be split by something as temporary as time and space. This verse means we can wave our friends off gladly because we'll be with them, every other Christian and Christ in eternity! Leaving is great and we're just really shallow and ungodly if we're not skipping down Bishopsgate every time someone leaves, yes? No!
Second verse, Acts 20:37: ..."And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him…"
When Paul left a church he'd been at for years, there were a lot of tears. There's nothing wrong with being sad that our friends are going - after all, we'd be doing 'build' wrong if 'send' never hurt! We can't share our lives in meaningful friendships with each other and not feel a wrench when we're separated. It doesn't mean we don't believe Revelation 7:9. I'm fairly sure the apostle Paul had some godly priorities concerning the eternal church, and he still had a good sob when he had to leave his friends!
These verses help us remember to give 'build' our all, not to hold back on making friends with 'new people', to be at RML and Sunday services and to throw ourselves into sharing our life with people who may well move on in a few months or years. They also give us permission to find that hard in the here and now.
But what a reunion to look forward to! So, on your marks, get set…reach, build, send!
(Editors note: Anna didn't mention it, but she too is about to leave...)