Rev. Andrew Cunnington
4th October 2015
Embracing The Climb

I’m not sure if you have a free Friday before the winter closes in, but if you do, I wonder whether you’d fancy a stroll?

We’d need to get ourselves down to Eastbourne on the train and then head down to the seafront.

It’s lovely walking along there, right beside the sea, but after a mile, we’ll need to cut back to the road before coming to a lovely café on a bend. And beyond the café a chalky path ascends rather alarmingly, steep and distant, and maybe you won’t like it when I tell you that’s the way we’re going.

On The South Downs Way. Up and over the Seven Sisters, and for the next three hours you won’t be walking on the level very much and for the next three hours your lungs will reach bursting point and your feet will ache as you embrace the switchback walking that is up and over these hills.

You can stay at the cafe if you want, but I’m afraid I won’t be coming back to get you.

I f you would come with me, I can promise you that the views will be magnificent . The sea, the rocks, The huge skies. The peace.

And when you feel you can’t take a step more in the buffeting wind, I’ll turn to you and say, you know, this walk is what life is, continual ups and downs and not much flat. Full on exertion and quite a bit of pain, but the beauty that unfolds as you climb, look, surely you can see, that the beauty is worth it.

In these weeks we’re plunging into the stories from the Old Testament that we might otherwise have forgotten about and today we have good old Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Except it doesn’t actually say that in the bible, in fact you won’t even find a coat of many colours mentioned, just reference to a somewhat grand affair with long sleeves. Like the one you bought me.

But Joseph would have understood the way walking over the Seven Sisters reflects life, because from his birth to his death, he was up one minute and down the next.

Up as the beloved Son of his Father Jacob. Down as his brothers despised him for it and sold him into slavery.

Up as he landed on his feet in the court of Egypt’s Pharoah. Down as he is thrown into prison mistakenly accused.

Up as he administers the land during years of plenty and years of famine, down when his family turn up as starving wretches.

A switchback ride of a life.

What is also interesting is that Joseph was actually the first ever Parish Stewardship Officer!

During one of the ups he is placed in charge of looking after the storehouses of grain for the entire land so that the people would not go short when times of sudden famine struck.

In the same way, when the disciples signed up to follow Jesus , I think they might have hoped that they would be walking on the flat from that time forth. They were alarmed to discover that they would be going up to Jerusalem and that the climb was steep and from there out to Calvary, even steeper and even harder, so much so, that most of them fell back.

And the ups and downs of life and faith tend to come without warning. Just look honestly at the terrain of your own life.

And so we have struck a sudden steepness if we are going to maintain the life we share here.

Last week I couldn’t help but be proud. I felt like Joseph in his coat of long sleeves.

I was at a meeting with the great and the good, as is my wont these days, and we were being addressed by an officer from the Church Commissioners and he was regaling us with statistics about the current shape of the Church of England. ..and now, he said I am going to name some parishes in your Diocese.

We’ve put in all the data we have between the years of 2004 and 2013 and we’ve listed the top twenty parishes in Southwark Diocese according to whether they are financially sound and mission strong, and up came the list and there we were at No an unexpected Top of the Pops chart entry.

I sat up very straight in my seat and looked round at my fellow real life Archdeacons and others and stuck my nose proudly in the air and sniffed.

Now actually, I’m afraid I would question some of the figures that put us there, but according to their criteria, that’s where we were at the end of 2013. And we were there because of a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and believing in a vision of the Gospel for our place and time.

But I soon sat back in my chair and slumped a bit, because I knew I would be preaching this sermon and telling you that I don’t think we are at No 8 anymore!

You only have to look round on a Sunday morning and see that there are more gaps in the pews than previously, and that if you look on the little sheet handed out to you this morning, you will see that this is reflected in our level of giving.

Just last year from our regular giving we needed to raise £83k to break even and by the end of August we had raised £51k. 62% of the total, and by the end of the year we reached our target.

This year because our overall attendance has gone down a bit, we have to raise only £80k to break even but by the end of August we had raised just £38k ,48 % of this.

I don’t believe any of this is due to any disenchantment with St Matthew’s but it’s the result of people moving away – some of them into ministry of course, it’s the result of people just not being able to be as generous as they were once able to be, it’s the result of rising costs in just being the church, that not everyone is aware of.

You will see on the same sheet the stark fact that it costs £3,200 per week to run St Matthew’s the way we do, and my wife will tell you, when it comes to spending money, I am a bit of the Scrooge mentality. So I think you will struggle to find money wasted here. If you do ..tell me..!

It still needs to be stressed that we do not get grants from Government, that there is no money from the Diocese to keep us afloat. The Diocese itself has faced some alarming deficits of its own.

Our breakeven figure for 2015 on the budget is £150,000. We have to raise this ourselves . Its all done here. We rent out the curate’s house, we rent our car parking spaces, we rely on income from the hall, but when we take into account all that, we still have to raise £80k this year from our giving, form money in the plate, from standing orders people make. And in this respect , there has been some wonderful generosity, and until now we have kept pace.

I was approached , just a couple of months ago to see if I would like a full time Curate for St Matthew’s for next year, I didn’t even discuss that with the PCC, we can’t afford it.

One of the key features of our Mission Action Planning was to see if we could fund a Youth Worker in conjunction with St Mark’s Reigate, we have had to pull out from that. The funds are just not there.

You have been very generous with the funding of a new boiler and that money is ring fenced for that work, but we now do have to watch every penny we spend.

Although I have never seen him in a coat of many colours, our Treasurer Ray is a bit of a Jospeh like steward. We have built up some reserves!, but if we now spend those up to meet this shortfall, we leave ourselves rather exposed for the future.

The little sheet outlines the equation in a way I hope makes sense, and the only thing I can do really is say, we’re out on the Seven Sisters at the moment and we’ve hit a patch that is steeper than we thought. My plea this morning is utterly predictable and it is two fold.

Is there any way you can help us to close the gap in our deficit for this current year, by considering a one off donation to the church and then knowing that the situation will not get any easier in 2016, is there any way you can review your giving and increase what you give each week and if you are not part of our planned giving scheme, would you think about joining that. Regular giving is so very helpful because it means you give regularly rather than just on the Sundays you come.

There are Gift aid envelopes at the back of the church for any one off gift and there are simple forms to complete if you can change your overall giving into the future.

I guess we are all a part of St Matthew’s because we believe in it. We each know about the steep climbs that life imposes upon us, and that we need to accompany each other as we walk on.

As you ascend those climbs of the Seven Sisters your body will protest at the strain, but the harder you climb, the more beautiful the view and it is the beauty of the Gospel in action and the Christ who empowers us, that I hope will drive us on today for the climb ahead…

GENESIS 37: 3-28 MARK 10: 2-16