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Thursday June 11th in the Christian Calendar was St Barnabas Day and Christian denominations, including Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox, celebrated Barnabas – an early Christian who was instrumental in the growth and nurturing of the Church.
This church was dedicated to him when it was founded in 1902 as a daughter church of St Paul’s Parkside, just up the road. Barnabas and Paul undertook missionary journeys together and it was Barnabas who brought Paul into the early church, sponsoring him after his conversion.
Today we would normally be celebrating Barnabas and our Church’s life at our Parish Eucharist. But the Church is closed, we meet via technology, so today we celebrate him within our Parish Eucharist, our participation limited to the Facebook streamed service.
This limitation made me reflect on all the previous St Barnabas celebrations at our church, the meals we have enjoyed together after the service, and some years the barbeques in the Church garden, visits from guest preachers and sometimes the return to their Mother Church of those who have moved away, now worshipping elsewhere, but whose hearts are still here with us in Southfields.
This is fitting because a patronal festival is a celebration not only of the saint but also of the life of the Church, our community and life together as a family of Christian pilgrims.
We remember all those over the years whose contributions have strengthened our Church’s mission, whose dedication and prayer have helped forge bonds of befriending, encouraged those new to faith, supported the clergy, and those who have found their vocation in this place.
All of this remembering made me feel rather sad that this year is different – increasing feelings of isolation and missing contact with our congregation. It also reminded me of how glad I was on coming here, years ago now, to be serving a Church dedicated to a saint who played a pivotal role in the early Church’s formation and evangelism. And one who, like Paul, did not know Christ in his earthly life, nevertheless was loved and appreciated by the Apostles.
His parents named him Joseph. Barnabas was a name that was probably given him by the other apostles. It means Son of Encouragement, which tells us something about him and how he was seen by the other early Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles, he is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”. And he was generous and shared what he had with the other apostles, we are told in Acts 4 verse 36 – “There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means son of encouragement). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” In the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentiles, in Acts 15 verse 25, we read, ….. “Along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So Barnabas’ ministry in spreading the Gospel of Christ is recognised and appreciated by the apostles.
The Son of Encouragement was responsible for helping to establish the early church and brought many people to faith in Christ. A fitting saint to whom to dedicate this Church, built when the population of Southfields was growing, times were changing and challenging and St Paul’s up the hill could no longer cope with the expanding population.
We are living in changing and challenging times ourselves. We don’t know how life will change as we face new difficulties – economic, societal and clinical – in the years ahead. We wonder what changes face the Church, if its relevance will be further challenged. But we do know that its message of love and faithfulness, divine and human, will endure.
Like St Barnabas himself, the reservoirs we will need to draw from include endurance, faithfulness, wisdom and generosity of spirit, of time and money.
Patronal festivals are a good time to take stock – looking again at those that build up a Church as an effective lighthouse, showing the way to the lost and the fallen, encouraging the faithful.
Patronal festivals are about looking at where we are, looking at the small things as well as the big things. Small things mount up, one upon another, small steps advancing God’s Kingdom on earth. St Barnabas certainly knew about that. Becoming a Church, nurturing and helping its members to grow was what St Barnabas specialised in, sending out new disciples to further encourage and strengthen others in the faith.
When I was musing on all the past St Barnabas Days I remembered the year when we had two ordinands going forward to train for the priesthood – St Barnabas was their ‘sending church’.
In the ordination service, there’s a command to the newly ordained priest to “watch for the signs of God’s new creation”. To be the eyes and ears of the community that longs for God and desires to usher in God’s Kingdom. Parables Jesus told about the kingdom focused mostly on small things like salt, mustard seeds, pinches of yeast. That is how the Kingdom comes – small steps, small revelations of the love of God.
As Christ says to his disciples in this morning’s Gospel reading, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,” …..
Christ chose St Barnabas, as he has chosen all of us, to bear fruit that will last. That is the blessing that St Barnabas the Saint and St Barnabas the Church has given to the world and to the people of this place.