02 April 2004

Easter message of Hope for the world and the church

The President of the Methodist Conference Rev Dr Neil Richardson:

"Christians give the impression that Easter commemorates Jesus coming back to life. Easter is more than that. It is about God, as well as Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is a sign that God, who is our ultimate environment, is both indestructible and endlessly resourceful in the face of evil and death.

In a world racked by terrorism, unresolved conflicts and flagrant injustice we need such a message of hope. The all-loving, all-compassionate Creator of all people declares war on no-one, even though every nation falls far short of the Creator's best intentions for them.

The churches in Britain can easily feel overwhelmed by current challenges, not least by the apparent indifference to their message and witness. Yet the Church at its best challenges injustice, feeds the poor, and presents the human face of God. Across the UK many Methodist churches are fulfilling this calling by opening their doors to the communities around them, providing lunches for the lonely and elderly, supporting the fair trade campaign, raising funds for projects in poverty stricken areas of the world, and much, much more. The church can never be complacent, but we should thankfully recognise all that is being done.

This year I have visited churches whose role in their community is little short of heroic. Four examples must suffice:

Lune Street Methodist Church in the centre of Preston operates an open-door policy, and provides accommodation on its premises for homeless young people.
Peterhead Methodist Church in Aberdeenshire has recently started a drop-in centre for the lonely and homeless people of the town.
Woodhouse Close Methodist Church, in a very deprived area in Bishop Auckland, houses and supports a huge range of activities including luncheon day clubs, play groups, a mother and baby clinic and a club for adults with special needs.
Blucher Methodist Church, on the western outskirts of Newcastle, small though the church is, runs a weekly club for the children in an area with few social and community facilities.

Many similar stories could be told. So, although we should not underestimate the challenges before the churches of Britain in a time of bewilderingly rapid change, and in a very secular materialistic culture, there are grounds for encouragement. Above all, a church which tries to be faithful to the loving purposes of God, by being a God centred church rather than a church centred on itself, can take heart. A church which tries to be faithful to the loving purposes of God, in these and other ways, has good reason to be hopeful.

Both for the church and the wider world, however, the real grounds for hope lie not so much in anything we may do, but in the enduring presence of God in his world. Easter affirms and celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. In the words of David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham:

God is,
As he is in Jesus,
Therefore there is hope"

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