The Grace to go to Prison

One of the reasons for writing a blog is to keep everyone informed of the things we are doing as a Church, especially things that not everyone may be aware of. One of those areas is our “GraceWorks”. We use the name GraceWorks as an umbrella heading for the various ministries we do to serve our community.

Early Days

In the very early days of Grace Church, when I was laying out a vision for our Church’s future in a talk, I remember using ‘prison ministry’ as an example of something we would probably never do … simply because there is no prison in Chichester. Little did I know!

Fast forward a few years to now, to a time when our Church has a larger footprint than we ever imagined it would, and one of our key GraceWorks is serving the prisoners at Ford Prison.

HMP Ford – Our Prison Ministry


HMP Ford
is an open prison with around 500 adult male prisoners. A team from Grace Church, which includes people from all three of our sites, is actively involved in various activities at HMP Ford including:

  • Regular Sunday evening services in the Chapel at HMP Ford, with worship, preaching, prayer and fellowship
  • A Monday evening Life Group covering all sorts of topics and led by both Grace Church members and prisoners. This provides an informal time for teaching and fellowship, and also some social times, for example we held a quiz night that had around 50 people taking part
  • A prison Alpha course
  • A follow up Beta course

Well done Grace Churchers!

HMP Ford Christian Prison Ministry | Grace Church | Steve Petch Blog

Andy Nicholls runs our HMP Ford prison ministry

A few Grace Church members are also now part of the chaplaincy department at HMP Ford helping provide pastoral and faith related support to those prisoners. The need for this should not be underestimated! I want to say a personal, “Well done!” to the Grace Church team, and feel free to add your well done to mine everyone else!

Outside of the prison environment we’ve been working to look after a few ex-offenders who have connected with us on the inside and have now been released from prison and are living locally. The support and help needed in each situation is very individual, and we now have ex-offenders regularly attending Sunday meetings with us. What a privilege! We are truly blessed and I hope we are a blessing to them too.

Why minister to prisoners & ex-offenders?

In the parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matthew 25) Jesus said that, in the final judgement, he would say to his followers,

“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 

They will answer him, Lord, when did we see you in prison and go to visit you?”

Jesus’ answer: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

Our prisons ministry, led by Andy Nicholls, is a great chance to put that parable into practice, remembering that it is Jesus we are serving. If you want to get involved then do let us know, and in the mean time let’s all be on the lookout to welcome and bless anyone who visits our church week by week, remembering that each person is precious to God, whatever their background.

“All welcome! Come as you are!”

And let’s remember that in some cases the only difference between those in prison and those who are not is this: they got caught.

So let’s make sure that we, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.

Ten Years Of Grace

On June 18th this year we had a fantastic party to celebrate Grace Church turning ten years old. We had a BBQ, baptisms, bouncy castles, pic’n’mix, games, volleyball, a barn dance and more! Over 300 of us were able to attend and it was lots of fun!

Grace Church Chichester Bognor Midhurst 10th Birthday Part

Our 10th birthday celebration as a church

I can’t believe we’ve been here ten years already; it’s gone very quickly. In that time we’ve grown from one small meeting through to a church with three congregations. Some friends have been with us since the beginning; others have joined us along the way; some have come and gone; some have come and gone and come back again. We’ve sent people all around the world!

Lots of things have changed since we started (although, as you can see, Jo and I haven’t changed a bit!).

It’s good to look back and remember, and it’s good to look forward and dream, so here are ten reasons that Grace Church exists today, looking back first and then forwards!

Looking back: we exist …

  1. because Jesus called us into existence

Grace Church Chichester Bognor Midhurst 10th Birthday PartIn 2005, to our surprise, God very clearly called Jo and I to plant a new church in Chichester. As we began to explore that call we also found others who felt the same. 

  1. because people responded in faith to that initial call

It wasn’t enough just to hear that call, we needed to respond with faith-filled actions. Along with some others we moved house to begin establishing a new church in a new place. 

  1. because people have continued to respond to that call

All through those ten years people have felt drawn to get involved with what God has been doing with us. We have an ongoing vision to fulfil:

“To grow a dynamic Christian church, serving communities from the South Downs to the sea”

  1. because of the faithful commitment and service of so many people

So many people have shown so much commitment in so many ways over the years. Lots of time and service and money and commitment has been given so that Grace Church can be and do all we are called to! 

  1. because of God’s ongoing grace, protection and blessing on us

Grace Church Chichester Bognor Midhurst 10th Birthday PartIn Matthew 16v18 Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”

Philippians 1v6 says to a church, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion”

Jesus started this work, Jesus watches over us, Jesus will finish what he began – which leads nicely on to …

Looking forward: we exist … 

  1. to make disciples of Jesus

Jesus said, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28v19-20) – Jesus left his church with a big job to do! 

  1. to be a family

Grace Church Chichester Bognor Midhurst 10th Birthday Part

We need to live out our Christian life in community together; God’s church is his family! That means loving one another; caring in times of trouble; giving support and encouragement. It also means getting our rough edges knocked off – but that’s family!

  1. to be a light in the darkness

As the world gets darker we need to shine more brightly! The message of Jesus brings reconciliation with God and with other people! Local churches are the hope of the world!

  1. to care for the poor and needy

Our GraceWorks are so important – those we do locally and those further away.

  1. to tell people the good news of Jesus

Ultimately this is why we are here! We have an amazing message:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life”

(John 3v16)

I love our church. It’s been a great ten years together. I’m excited to see what the next ten years bring.

 

Some last minute thoughts on the EU referendum

 

I’ve recently joined Facebook as a way of staying better connected to people in the church. It’s been a really interesting experiment for me and so far it’s one I’ve enjoyed. Feel free to send me a friend request.

EU Referendum | Questions to Consider | Steve Petch Blog

This week, on Thursday, is the EU referendum: in or out? I won’t tell you which way I’m going to vote but through Facebook I’ve become aware that we have strong supporters on both sides of this issue. Looking to the wider Christian community it doesn’t take long to find people who would say it is our clear Christian duty to vote one way or the other.

Which way would Jesus vote? It depends who you ask!

A fresh perspective

I have another perspective for us to consider:

For the ‘Remain’ side: If your hope for peace, prosperity, justice for all and the good life rests on staying in the EUyou are buying into a false god.

For the ‘Brexit’ side: If your hope for peace, prosperity, justice for all and the good life rests on leaving the EUyou are also buying into a false god.

As soon as we look to something man made to be our source of peace, prosperity, justice for all and the good life we are buying into a false god. No man made institution can do that for us! What the countries of Europe need most is the gospel. They need local churches to be built who will reach out to their communities with the love of Jesus; we need to pray for his kingdom to come.

And let’s remember, whatever the result of this referendum, the EU won’t endure forever and nor will any kingdom or empire (see Daniel 2 for details!)

In the end, only Jesus’ kingdom will endure forever!

He alone is the Prince of Peace; he alone is the source of our provision; he alone is the one who judges the nations with righteousness and justice; he alone is the one who will lead us to the ‘good life’ that actually lies beyond this life in his coming kingdom.

So my comments don’t address which way to vote, and don’t ask me. Look at the issues, pray and make your own mind up. But let’s look at the issues with eyes of faith!

Possible questions to consider

  • Which way is best for the advance of the gospel?
  • Which way is best for the growth of the church?
  • Over the long term, which way will best serve the poor, including the poorly paid in our own nation?

I’ve seen each of these things clearly argued both ways, so it’s still not straightforward, but the effect on house prices or your pension pot or the cost of a holiday in Spain should perhaps not be our central concerns as Christians.

And consider this too: if we feel very emotionally attached to one side or the other and the wrong answer would make us feel very upset … maybe we’re putting too much faith in man made answers?

Maybe Jesus has been dethroned just a little bit in our thinking?

Do vote

I’ll vote, I encourage you to do the same, but as we do let’s remember that we are citizens of another kingdom altogether:

 

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Philippians 3v20

We just had our tenth anniversary as a church (and next week I’ll post an update on that with some photos). As a church we are able to embrace unity and diversity. We see it in the many different types of people who make up our church; we see it in our different ages and nationalities; we see it in our different preferences and cultures; we see it in being three sites but still one church. Let’s not allow a political issue, which concerns only a passing manmade institution, to divide us.

EU Referendum | Questions to Consider | Steve Petch Blog

And when praying about this referendum the Lord’s Prayer is a really good place to start:

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”