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Build the Church


In 1975 I went to my first prayer group and was warmly welcomed by a man called Denis. I was a shy 15-year-old with all the baggage that comes from an alcoholic father. He was a blunt Yorkshire man who, with his friend Teresa, had been walking in the ways of love for many years. He exuded kindness and compassion, all because of his unshakeable belief in the goodness of God.


I had experienced a huge encounter with God which Denis had been part of and he wanted to make sure that I grew in my relationship with God. He and Teresa became hugely important in my formative years, encouraging me to pray and to read and study the scriptures.


Denis was always laughing. Even when life was tough, he smiled and laughed and thanked God. I learnt from him what it meant to say that God is good even in the worst of times and that the goodness of God was not dependent on the circumstances of my life. It was Denis’s relationship with Christ that filled him with gratitude and Jesus’s revelation of God’s love that flowed from him. It was his experience of the Lord in his life that mattered and which enabled him to be a beacon of light to others.


I often think of the question that Jesus puts to his disciples: ‘Who do you say I am?’ It leads me to ask myself whether I have a living personal relationship with Jesus. It’s Peter who answers Jesus’s question when saying, ‘You are the Christ’ – the one set apart to give life real meaning. Peter is the one to respond because, just a few chapters earlier, Matthew has him walking on the water. He has experienced who Jesus is. He knows that it’s his relationship with the Lord that brings him life and that when he fixes his eyes on Jesus he can even walk on water. So he's able to say, ‘You are the Christ’.


It’s on that sort of faith that Church can be built. It’s to him that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are given and what are those keys? Love, forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion and mercy. The question for us is whether we want to give our lives to those realities or not. Do we want to build a Church based on relationship and all that means – relationship with the Lord and with one another – or do we want to continue to build up a structure that is weighed down by the scourge of clericalism and power and authoritarianism. My sense is that a Church built on those things will ultimately collapse and maybe that’s what we’re beginning to see.


However, a Church built on the power of faith in Christ and one another can never be overcome; a Church that is a servant seeking only to love, forgive and let compassion reign will last until the end of time. Let’s have the courage to open ourselves to the Lord and build that Church.

Fr Chris Thomas

I often think of the question that Jesus puts to his disciples

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