Having moved from place to place over the years, it is good sometimes to return to a town I once called home. I recently had the pleasure of walking through the doors of the parish church in which I was married, at which our children were baptised and which supported me as I explored my vocation to ordained ministry. It happened to be a very significant weekend for the parish. They were celebrating 20 years of their outreach ministry - a drop-in centre that reaches out to those whose lives are severely blighted by alcohol and substance abuse.
As I heard stories of how people had emerged from their addictions and had begun to get to grips with the underlying problems in their past, I was touched by the significance of this ministry. My friends from many years back had committed themselves and their church building to the most vulnerable members of society. As a result they witnessed the sort of healing amongst individuals who normally fall furthest through the net.
In particular, I was pleased to see that they were working with health authorities to address the physical symptoms of destructive lifestyles. Nurses from the local primary care trust are in church 4 days a week to address the health needs of clients, even as centre workers and volunteers are promoting growth in confidence and hope.
I have seen this sort of ministry also in the United States and in Canada. I am sure it goes on in many other parts of the Anglican Church. Parish churches are responding to needs and demands that are not easily addressed in formal health care settings. The level of trust, care and long term commitment creates a context where those with the deepest problems may discover hope for their lives. As those who carry the gospel of healing and salvation, church members bring the power of the Holy Spirit to awaken this hope and point others towards a life with meaning.
To the good people of St. Luke's Church, Bolton, UK, I salute you and pray for God's blessing on your ministry. May others be inspired by your example.