Finding Jesus Today

Alan Abernethy

As a bishop, Alan found himself increasingly struggling with the disconnect between church and local community. In light of this, Alan shares his thoughts on finding Jesus today…

In my reflections upon the life and ministry of Jesus I have been disturbed, challenged and encouraged. He was always spending time with those who didn’t belong, or who were on the edge, or who were judged not good enough. In the context of first century Palestine he did not fix the mess but somehow by his presence helped people in their situations find a new way of seeing themselves and living in their context. He helped people discover that they were made in the image of God.

I have also observed and spoken with my adult children and their friends whom can find church a strange place. These are people of faith, but find traditional church does not connect with their lives and experiences. “Churches for the most part, have failed to address the nagging anxieties and deep-seated fears of the people, focused instead upon outdated or secondary issues and proposing tried or trite solutions.” (George Lings ‘Reproducing Churches’). They want to engage with social and justice issues that are all around us in our society.

One of the joys in my life and ministry is being a member of the board of Church Army UK and Ireland. A Church Army evangelist had played a key role in my discipleship. In 2018 I had a sabbatical, taking time out from the role of a diocesan bishop in the Church of Ireland. This was a time for me to write and reflect upon Jesus and in particular the importance of the incarnation.

As part of this time of refreshment I visited various centres of mission and found Jesus present in the most exciting and challenging ways. The centres of mission seek to walk with people in the mess of what it is to be human and rather than try to fix them, the people who served in these centres walked with them in friendship and dispensed grace.

“For over a decade, Nick has worked with youngsters written off by the authorities as ‘unmanageable’ on three deprived estates bordering the South Circular Road – the Page, Middle Park and Brook estates. He has battled tirelessly to give them insight, self-esteem and employment prospects they need to eschew criminality and embrace normality as a life choice.”
(David Cohen, London Evening Standard, 27/02/2017).

Having read this article about Nick Russell and his work in Greenwich, I was delighted to meet him and his team. I am grateful for their welcome and hospitality in the midst of their heavy workload. It was a joy to spend time with his team and to hear their stories as to why they are so committed to the young people there. This is a commitment that goes above and beyond any job or duty, but is of the heart, mind and soul. They love and give of themselves to others and fight in their corner (metaphorically) and believe in them, when many do not.

I was also privileged to meet many of the young people with whom the team has built friendships. The young people are so grateful for this safe place that is a gift to them, and for the people who believe in them, even though they find it very hard to believe in themselves. I would love to tell you their stories, but that would be unfair, as they are personal and were given to me in trust because I was someone Nick described as a friend. Suffice to say, that some of the issues were knife crime, drugs, exclusion from school and deprivation. Table tennis, pool, punch bags, music, crafts, stories and laughter were all present, but the most important aspect was encounter face-to-face, and heart-to-heart, encounter, that has enabled hope to be possible.

This is incarnation, a ministry of presence, of being Jesus in the mess and not judging but loving into life. I was profoundly challenged, disturbed and encouraged by what I heard and saw, yet it was very clear to me that this is where Jesus would be and the people he would want to encounter if he was with us today. There is the nub of the matter, he is here today, present in those who serve in this centre of mission and all centres of mission and thereby, in those who serve others because of Jesus and their discipleship.

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