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The breadth of Christian ministry

I try not to write much about church - the purpose of these laos reflections is to help equip the people of God to minister (= serve) God's grace, mercy, love and truth in their everyday lives. But recently I attended a retirement lunch for the Dean of Peterborough and two thoughts sparked.

First, the cathedral is now looking stunningly beautiful. Michael Bunker has presided over an appeal that raised £7.3m over 9 years and everything is now in better condition than for a very long time. In particular, the extraordinary ceilings, one of which dates back to 1250, are quite breathtaking. So is fundraising Christian ministry? And is spending it on renovating a building OK?

When the present building was begun in 1118, I imagine it was to glorify God. Today we have a building that by any contemporary standard is to the glory of God, and which speaks of a transcendence that sometimes is lost in a focus on the immanence of God: no visitor to the cathedral could fail to be gripped by a sense of something ‘more’, something ‘other’. And if fundraising involves asking people to give to that project, persuading them to spend on something that will outlive them and be for the benefit and blessing of all, perhaps that is ‘Christian ministry’. We are called to live the tension between Jesus’ “you always have the poor with you” (Mark 14.7) and Paul's “remember the poor” (Galatians 2.10), between the extravagance of Old Testament worship of an awesome God (try Exodus 25-28 or 1 Kings 6) and Isaiah's rant about false religion (chapter 58).

Secondly, a number of people praised the dean's work, but the most fulsome speech came from the CEO of the Greater Peterborough Investment Agency. Gloria Milne applauded Michael's involvement with the city over more than a decade, both through his leadership of the ‘civic church’ and his participation in the economy and life of the city ( for more). So is chairing Peterborough Tourism, for example, Christian ministry?

Much is written these days about the church being ‘in exile’, a stranger in a foreign land, and Jeremiah 29.7 gets its share of quotation: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” And Bishop Tom Wright, writing a foreword to the new Christian Aid Act Justly 2 resource, points out that “Paul's greatest letter reaches one of its highest points (Romans 8.18-30) with the news that God will heal the world and fill it with his love and beauty… God wants us to share in [that] task here and now.” The Dean's engagement with the life of Peterborough could be a pretty good example of that?

The placard on the way in says: “The Cathedral's mission is to promote the glory of God and to be a sign of his kingdom in the world.” That'll do for my local church, too.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls


So is fundraising Christian ministry? And is spending it on renovating a building OK?

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