Jesmond Parish Church (JPC) is a thriving evangelical Anglican congregation of the Church of England in Newcastle. Solas’s Andy Bannister had spoken for them online during the pandemic, but was invited back to speak in person recently. JPC is a very missional church, which is quite focussed on taking the gospel of Christ to their city. They invited Andy to speak, with the specific remit of speaking to the many people they draw to their services who are not yet believers in Jesus. They are a church which is popular with students too, which also means there are always young people present, many of whom are thinking through life’s biggest questions and exploring the Christian faith.
Andy spoke at three services on the Sunday, to between five and six hundred people. The early service was ‘Covid-friendly’, in which masks and social distancing were still enforced- to allow people who were not able to mix more freely to attend church in person with confidence. The morning service was specially designed for visitors who might not be familiar with church, The congregation were encouraged to invite friends and the leaders explained the elements of the service as they went through it- not assuming any prior knowledge or familiarity. In fact the folks at JPC invited any newcomers to observe the Christian faith in practice as they worshipped, prayed, and read scripture together.
An especially lovely element to the services were the interviews they did with people who have come to faith in Christ over the last two or three years. They were interesting, engaging and really helpful for not just encouraging Christians but helping people looking into Christianity to see what becoming a Christian looks like in practice. In the morning the person speaking had no background in the church, but was drawn in through friends – and found real faith in Christ. In the evening the testimony was of someone who was brought up in church, but had no real personal faith – and had to discover what that meant as an adult. Both of these were really helpful stories!
In the morning Andy preached on “Can life have meaning without God?”, using John chapter one as his basis. He explored some of the problems with Atheism but brought the talk to a conclusion with Philip’s plea to Nathanael about Jesus, “Come and see!” Jesmond Parish is about to launch a Christianity Explored Course, which is a wonderful way for people to come and see who Jesus is. You can watch the talk here.
“Christianity: Intolerant, irrelevant and out of date?” was Andy’s title in the evening. Underlying all of those accusations is the concept of freedom. One of our culture’s primary beliefs is that every individual must be free to do whatever they want. Christian faith is seen as a negative, or even harmful thing because it is perceived as restricting that freedom. Andy argued however that there is no such thing unfettered freedom – nobody can be entirely free from constraints. The question we all have to decide for ourselves then is ‘what are the best constraints to have’ and under what constraints will I flourish? Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and burden is light” and as such promised that in following him people would experience ‘life in all its fullness”. This talk is online here
Jonathan Prycke, Senior Minister at JPC said, ““We greatly appreciated Andy Bannister’s ministry at Jesmond Parish Church last Sunday. He spoke on ‘Can life have meaning without God?’ and ‘Christianity: irrelevant, out of date, intolerant?’ Andy very helpfully gets under the skin of these questions. He helps those who are not yet Christians to see that their secular materialist assumptions about life don’t hold water, before pointing them to Jesus as the one who makes sense of life. Andy joined us last year by video when we were only able to meet together online, so it was wonderful to have him with us in person as we begin to open up again. The church faces great challenges after its battering by the pandemic. But we know that our calling to take the gospel out to the community around us has not changed. Indeed, there are great opportunities created by the way that the foundations of people’s lives have been shaken over these last two years. Andy’s visit helped us to communicate with those outside the church who are asking questions. The model that he gave us also helped to encourage and equip those of us who are Christians in our own witness. We’re praying that the Christianity Explored course that we advertised at these services will be a place where seekers can continue to ask their questions, and can encounter Jesus in the pages of Mark’s Gospel.”
Andy said, “It was great to be back in front of a large live audience and to bring Jesus centred messages to them from the book of John. JPC is wonderful church which is really outward looking and evangelistic. Their leadership team are really strong, and the people really responsive and engaged. I hope to be able to work with them again. At Solas we’ll be praying that their Christianity Explored course is a blessing to many people in Newcastle.”