A dynamism all its own
Well, what a year 2022 has been for BRF and its ministries. Whether I think of:
- Songs of Praise at the start of the year
- the celebrations at Dorchester Abbey in the summer
- the online service in April
- Messy Church Goes Wild and the Messy Church International Conference at Swanwick
- the numerous new Anna Chaplains who have been commissioned over the past twelve months
- the excellent string of Living Faith publications, old and new
- the exciting developments in Parenting for Faith
- or our lovely Centenary Prayer,
this year has had a dynamism all its own, led so brilliantly by Richard and all the team. As the chair of trustees, it has been an immense privilege to see everything coming together and I know that my fellow trustees have felt that too.
No one, I suspect would have been more surprised by all this activity than our founder, Revd Leslie Mannering, as he sat down in December 1921 to write a letter to the congregation of St Matthew’s, Brixton.
In it, he said, that he believed that the time was right, in the new year, to launch The Fellowship of St Matthew to encourage people’s spiritual growth in the areas of prayer, Bible reading and Holy Communion. He wrote, ‘It is the living dynamic of personal religion and personal service for Christ that really moves men and things… When, in any parish, there is a large body of people who really pray and really intercede, there are literally no limits to the possibilities of spiritual advance.’
‘When, in any parish, there is a large body of people who really pray and really intercede, there are literally no limits to the possibilities of spiritual advance.’
— Revd Leslie Mannering
From little acorns
The growth of The Fellowship of St Matthew into the Bible Reading Fellowship in the years that followed did, of course, prove his point. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, he was someone who firmly believed that with God all things are possible, and that ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. So, if he were to look today at the growth of all our ministries in recent years, there would be something very familiar to him about their stories, reflecting in their development the same pattern he saw in the Fellowship a century ago.
But alongside all the excitement of the past twelve months, we have all been very conscious of the tough times so many have been facing, both among our own staff, but also all around the world.
Indeed, one of the things that I am proudest of is the fact that we have been able to get Rachel Turner’s book Comfort in Uncertain Times: Helping children draw close to God through biblical stories of anxiety, loss and transition translated into Ukrainian for wider distribution. As if Covid had not been enough, the war in Ukraine, the floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, the famine in Somalia, COP27, the energy crisis, and the ravages of inflation have all served as a constant reminder of the fragility of so much of life on planet Earth.
One of the things that I am proudest of is the fact that we have been able to get Rachel Turner’s book Comfort in Uncertain Times translated into Ukrainian for wider distribution.
And all of these, too, would have had a familiar ring to Leslie Mannering. Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 rang true in his generation. Wars, famines and natural disasters were all too well known. He himself had served in World War I with the Royal Field Artillery and the Border Regiment as part of the Royal Army Chaplains Department. He had known too the devastation wreaked by the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918–20, and yet, in the midst of all that suffering, he remained a man full of confidence and faith, quietly assured in the God who can, and who does, do great things.
Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains.’Matthew 24:4–8 (NIV)
Challenge, confidence and faith
Looking ahead to the coming year that same mix of challenge, confidence and faith remains very much a part of the experience of ourselves as the trustees of BRF ministries for this chapter of its journey. As we’ve discovered this past year, there is, thank God, no shortage of wonderful people to carry on so much of the good work in this generation. Finding the resources to enable them to do what they have been equipped to do is much more of a challenge.
Long gone are the days when what we sold to support people in their spiritual growth in Bible reading and prayer could finance all our ministries. Today our annual budget is over £2 million and almost two-thirds of that has to come from generous donations from trusts, individuals and gifts in wills – a very tough call when everyone is under such pressure at the moment.
There is, thank God, no shortage of wonderful people to carry on so much of the good work in this generation.
This year is proving very challenging financially and, as our founder would have encouraged us to do, we are praying hard about this. We are so grateful for the faithful and generous support of so many who have supported BRF in the past and for those who stand alongside us today.
Please can I ask you to pray with us that more gifts and donations will come in so that the ministries may continue to flourish. After all, as we were all reminded very forcibly this summer, even mighty oaks cannot survive without water.
I wish you a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmas.