Church Away Day Saturday 7th September 2019
A personal reflection by Kaye Knowles
Arriving at the Niland Centre, Bushey Heath, on a cool yet sunny morning it felt as though autumn was on its way and Sue’s theme for the Church Away Day was apt: ‘The seed within the fruit’. Thirteen members of St Andrew’s met in the peaceful and airy premises of the Niland Centre to spend a day of contemplation and fellowship together.
We began with a short opening worship followed by the first activity. This involved us writing our thanks to God on sticky notes. We were invited to place them on two sheets. One was labelled ‘Church’ and the second was labelled ‘Other’! It was clear when Sue read out a few of the notes that we at St Andrew’s value our fellowship, our minister, our lay preachers, not to mention the benefits of our Church Centre! We also gave thanks for our immediate families, for our health, for the knitting circle and for ‘books, and having the time to read them’ amongst other comments. It was a heart-warming way to start the day and the mood in the room was lifted. It fitted into the day’s theme as we were celebrating the ‘fruits’ of church life.
Next we divided into three smaller groups and Sue handed out Bible passages for us to study with questions to consider. After some time, we fed back to the whole room. My group was given John 15:1-11 in which Jesus compares himself to the vine and talks about the value of pruning and the importance of dwelling in Jesus’s love. We talked about: the source of the fruit we bear (the Bible, teachers, parents, life experiences), what ‘fruit’ might mean (behaviour, beliefs, gifts and talents), the meaning of ‘pruning’ (we referred to the literal pruning of bushes and how it might mean questioning our behaviour, stopping our bad habits, being willing to change our minds and challenging assumptions) and finally we discussed the ‘fruits’ we’d like to see develop or grow in ourselves or in the church. We all wished to discover a deeper faith. Our group talked about how the church might develop and how services might be improved. It was at this point that the issue of chairs was raised… my group included two lay preachers who were emphatic about the difficulty they had when preaching to a small congregation who ‘hid’ in all corners of a church! It was agreed that a simple development within St Andrew’s might be to reduce the number of chairs put out and to encourage our congregation to sit next to each other!
Our next session was based on the Holy Habits and before lunch we focused on Worship. We answered five questions which prompted us to reflect on worship in St Andrew’s. We exchanged experiences of other church services and practices and compared them to that of St Andrew’s. Once again chairs, their arrangement and number, was a theme! Here are some of the suggestions made after this discussion:
- To produce a welcome leaflet for newcomers
- To encourage welcomers to usher newcomers to seats
- To change the layout of the chairs to an arc, approaching a semi-circle shape (more friendly)
- To have a weekly achievable ‘challenge’ for members to encourage Christian living
After a sandwich lunch and a short walk in the grounds of the Niland Centre we gathered together for the afternoon session. Sue led us in ‘Sing hosanna’ after which we had discussions in our small groups on the Holy Habits of Prayer. We read about two churches who had revitalised their church’s prayer life in different ways and considered questions about prayer at St Andrew’s. Each group made plenty of suggestions on what St Andrew’s might consider for the future including:
- Creating a dedicated place for prayer within the Sanctuary. The space in front of the sound desk and between the piano was suggested as a suitable space.
- Introduce prayer meetings at the following times aimed at different groups of people
- Monthly 10:00 – 10:20 am before Sunday service (for members of the congregation)
- A weekly lunchtime short prayer meeting for Church Centre members, locals and members of St Andrew’s who might prefer a daytime meeting
- A 7:30 pm prayer meeting before Elders meeting aimed at members of the Church Management committee, Church Centre committee, Elders and members of the congregation or public who can only attend in evenings
- Invite different members of our congregation to read out the Prayers of Intercession
The title of the next activity ‘sowing seeds’ was enacted literally! In a nostalgic throw-back to primary school we each filled a jam jar with mung bean seeds and Sue gave us instructions on how to grow them. As an allotment owner I take great joy in watching vegetables and flowers grow and know I will enjoy watching my mung beans sprout…and will enjoy eating them even more.
Finally, we briefly looked at Eco Church and our small groups considered how we might better preserve our environment in different ways. Time restraints meant that we were unable to share all our thoughts. We agreed that we should investigate this subject in more detail on another occasion.
We ended our day with an `Agape` meal – which means sharing fellowship with food and drink. In this case we enjoyed yet another cup of tea or coffee and ate delicious cake baked by Marion McNeill. As we ate and drank Sue read out a reflection on growth.
We left feeling a strong degree of fellowship and inspired to ‘prune the vine’ and thus make improvements to our spiritual development and to our worship practice at St Andrew’s.
Thank you to our minister, Revd. Sue McCoan, for presenting an uplifting and highly enjoyable Church Away Day. It was 5 years since the last one. Our table proposed we should hold an Away Day each year!