Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Story

The story of the baby born in a manger is one that annually inspires celebration, giving and excess. One wonders why the simple story of a homeless peasant family has evolved into the complex celebration we call Christmas.

The characters of the story reveal some of the eternal attraction that draws us into the drama. Fathers are drawn to Joseph, who tries to protect his pregnant wife. He desperately searches to find somewhere they can rest. He sees the anxiousness on his wife’s face, he knows by the lines of worry that the time for the child to be born is soon. Place after place has no room for them, but at last they have a stable, a place to rest. Mary gives birth, Joseph looks on , proud; but then come the travellers with warnings. So as with all fathers, the desire to protect urges Joseph to flee with Mary and baby to Egypt.

The Shepherds come first. They help us share in the hope of the birth of the baby. Shepherds would have struggled to pay the bills, struggled to bring up their families, money would have been tight, many of them were regarded as “undesirables“. The Shepherd life was a difficult one. It is one that many can relate to in these time of “credit crunch”. The shepherd represent the hope we all feel and want to feel at the birth of the child.

The wise men arrive, probably when the baby is now a toddler, they seek understanding. They are rich, intelligent but that is not enough, they seek to understand what is going on! Their wealth is not enough. They know there is more than just our earthly existence.

Mothers relate to Mary, every mother will know the worry of a Childs birth and then imagine that you are not at home, you are in a strange place and you cannot find anywhere to sleep for the night. Your baby is due and you want the best for your child. You are frightened about child birth, it is your first, and neither your mother nor any of the women in your family are close to you. You are worried and your deliver your baby in a manger in a stable. Mary remembers the promises that the angel Gabriel gave nine months ago, the hope and expectation that Mary has, but who visits firsts? Kings, princes, rules, no lowly shepherds.

So most have someone to relate to in the Christmas story, Fathers, Mothers, the rich the poor, the hopeful those seeking more about life and perhaps God. All big surveys suggest a large proportion of the population believe in God. But how do we get to know God? Well the answers is the person at the centre of the Christmas story, the baby. Not just any baby but the baby Jesus, God’s own son. But why? But why would God come into the world as a lowly child in a peasant family? Because God knew we all struggle to know God, he sent his son to live and breath with us, to feel the trial and tribulations with us, to know what it is to be tempted, betrayed, scorned, wrongly accused, loved.

However we are drawn to the Christmas story, the person we need to be drawn to more than anything is the baby, Jesus. So if you want to know God, get to know his son first, after all God’s son said “Believe in God, believe in me also”.

Happy Christmas

Saturday, October 24, 2009

November - a time the Remember

Perhaps the defining moment of this decade, the first of the new millennium, happened very early, on the September 11th 2001. The Terrorist attacks in America have shaped the whole decade with the resulting global “War on Terror”. The cost has been stark:
865 Americans, 11 Australians, one Belgian, 219 Britons, 131 Canadians, three Czech, 25 Danes, 21 Dutch, six Estonians, one Finn, 35 French, 30 Germans, two Hungarians, 20 Italians, three Latvian, one Lithuanian, four Norwegians, 13 Poles, two Portuguese, 11 Romanians, one South Korean, 26 Spaniards, two Swedes and two Turks.

4,352 Americans, two Australians, one Azerbaijani, 179 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, one Czech, seven Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Fijian, five Georgians, one Hungarian, 33 Italians, one Kazakh, three Latvians, 22 Poles, three Romanians, five Salvadoran, four Slovaks, one South Korean, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians

This year alone, at the time of writing, 84 service personnel have died. What should we do? How can we respond? There is sadness, there is despair, there has been heroism, there is hope. But what can we do?

During November we have Remembrance Sunday, this year by the cenotaph in Wadworth, there will be a sea of crosses, to represent these deaths this year and perhaps to bring home the human cost of the “War on Terror”. I make no judgement on the rights and wrongs on why we are where we are but we I feel the need to recognise the bravery of our forces.

I remember reading when the death toll for Afghanistan that reached 217, those 217 soldiers is exactly the number of aircrew in 31 Lancaster or Halifax bombers of WWII which could be lost in just one night in a raid over a heavily defended target. RAF bomber aircrew knew that the odds of surviving a tour were less than 30% but they always held on to the belief it would not be their aircraft that was lost.

In WWI on a quiet day on the Western Front, British casualties were around the 2,000-mark each day.
That does not diminish anyone’s death or sacrifice in the current conflict, indeed the whole point of Remembrance Sunday is to remember everyone that has died in armed conflict and not to forget.

Therefore this year I am pleased we are correcting a mistake and rectifying an omission in our services. When I came just over two years ago, I was mystified that at my first Remembrance Sunday there was no roll of honour at Loversall. I didn’t read any name and no one asked any questions as to why I didn’t read any names. Then during the big clean up at Loversall before Easter in 2008 I found a Roll of Honour, weeks later, a woman approached me while I was in church to point out that that the wrong brother was listed as dead on the roll of honour. During storage the Roll of Honour had also become a bit “worse for wear”

Now Russell, our reader in training, has an interest in all things historical, and with a bit of research on his part, we now have identified the right brother that was killed. Russell has also identified where and when the soldiers died and were they now rest.

So for this Remembrance Sunday we have produced a revised roll of honour with more details and will be putting it in the Memorial book bought in Remembrance of Garth and Nan Collin. I will be used at the 9:30 service AT ST KATHERINES ON THE 8TH NOVEMBER. SERVICE AT THE CENOTAPH IN WADWORTH WILL START AT 10:55.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Changes are afoot........

Jane the children and I have been in the Parish for just over 2 years. In one of my early sermons I talked about the mission of the Parish and remember describing how the motorway junction formed a cross in the parish. During the first 2 years, I returned to the theme of God’s mission in the Parish and we have done some work to more fully understand the parish within which we all live.

Some will remember previous magazine articles about exactly where our parish boundary ends, some will remember putting pins on a map at Pentecost showing where they lived, some will remember me then adding where all weddings and baptism and funerals were all from. Soon after we started a register of who was attending church. You may remember another article about who came to church and were they lived.

Over the first two years I have prayed, read and sought God’s guidance on what all the information means and what we are to do next. At the PCC meeting in September we discussed a document I had written “Towards a Mission Shaped Parish” which brought together all the work that had been done and added some discussion. There was a broad acceptance of the document with a minority unhappy about some of the conclusions.

Key decisions are:

1 Have one morning service at 9:30 at St John the Baptist which will be the focus of traditional Anglican worship in the parish
2 Have the afternoon service at St Katherine’s, within which over time, we will look at alternative worship styles and forms which will appeal to wider and different parts of the population
3 A midweek communion service at St Katherine’s will be held at least once a month
4 Re-organise our money into a parish account

I know not everyone will be happy at these decisions but they must be seen in the wider context of God’s mission in the parish. If you want a copy of the whole report then please ask me,

All churches talk about attracting more people to church, especially the younger age groups, but we often fail to remember the huge cultural changes that have taken place in the last 60 years.

We live in “Changing Times”
• Sunday has changed
• How we relate to others has changed – neighbour and network
• Culture is now diverse and church is often not central in the mixture
• Christian faith is less known
• Spirituality is in, Religion is despised
• Often today we have to start at the beginning
• Greater fragmentation & mobility
o so no one kind of church will do
• A network society with “place” and “territory” weakening
o From “where” to “how”
• Christendom is over
o So the Jesus story is not known
o Culture doesn’t bring people to our door
• Post-modernity
o Tolerance is tops, over personal convictions
o Most agree Modernity is over
o Choice, feeling, experience are in
So religion is seen as choice

Several recent reports/books/pamphlets argue:
1. The existing parochial system alone is no longer able to deliver its underlying missionary purpose
2. We need a mixed economy – no longer promoting one way of being church
3. There are only expressions – previous and fresh
4. All churches need re-shaping in this light

That quote …
“We have to ask whether we are capable of moving towards a ‘mixed economy’ church, recognising church where it appears and having the willingness and the skill to work with it”
The Archbishop of Canterbury in the General Synod, July 2003

Mixed Economy means growing a mixture of inherited and emerging expressions all of which are becoming Mission-shaped

Society has changed – so must we

• UK is becoming more diverse – in many ways
• To be a Church for the nation is a call to embrace the diversities
• No one form of church will do
• Shift from monopoly to diversity

Learning to be a “mixed economy” Church
• We don’t stop all we are doing
• Existing ways, done well, can reach the nearest 40%
• Creating new ways to connect with the furthest away 60%
• A “Mixed Economy” Church is traditional and fresh expressions all facing outwards

We are therefore concentrating on what we do well, and trying to do other things better and differently. These are exciting times and I hope you will join me as we explore God’s mission in the parish and reach out to all.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Back to Allsorts

As I write this, supermarkets have just changed their marketing focus from summer holidays to “Back to School”. As you read this, parents will be cheering as very soon the marketing promise will become reality and children will be going back to school. Children, Teachers and support staff may not be cheering as loudly if they are cheering at all.

For some this will be a new experience, whether as pupil starting out in class or teachers taking up their new posts. Some will be moving schools; some will be starting examination years. For some it will be their final year in school.

Our first Sunday in September we focus on education in our prayers and services. All age Sunday School at 3 PM at St Johns Wadworth continues our theme of looking at the Christian perspective of songs fm the musical Mama Mia. This time we look at “The Winner Takes it All” and how in apparent defeat with death on the Cross, Jesus rose victorious on Eater day. After All Age Sunday School all will be encouraged to attend the Great Big Tea Party in aid of persecuted church world wide.

Few people now realise the Christian influence in the formation of our education system. All denominations in recent centuries working tirelessly to enable the dream of all being able to read and write. Much is unappreciated in pure Heritage terms of our Historic Churches. The second weekend in September from Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th we are taking part in a national initiative of the English Heritage. On Thursday 10th, Friday 11th and Saturday 12th Wadworth St John the Baptist will open in the morning 10-12 and Loversall St Katherine will be open 2 – 4. Refreshments will be available, as will members of the congregation to highlight some of the churches history. On Sunday 13th both Churches will be open simultaneously from 3 to 5 and will be followed by a short act of worship. So please come along and discover the great history on your doorstep.

We can all learn much from the church history and the variety of problems church has faced. Many Christians world wide face persecution daily and this is nothing new. Ever since the church was born at Pentecost, Christians have faced persecution.

In the 3rd century after a particularly brutal persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Christians were ordered to turn over their Scriptures to Roman authorities. Some had obeyed this order. whilst others had refused altogether and suffered torture or death as a result. Many did something in between, such as hiding or fleeing. After the persecution ended, the church had to decide how to treat people--especially bishops--who had turned in their books or fled to avoid persecution.

If a bishop had complied with the order or fled, could he still serve as a bishop once the danger was over? Or if he had lost his authority as a bishop, should he be deposed? Should he be retained but made to do penance? And the sacramental acts he performed afterwards--were they valid? If he had ordained a priest or helped consecrate another bishop, were their orders valid? The church was split over this, especially in North Africa.
The central question was whether the authority of a bishop depended on his personal holiness and conduct, or on the office conferred by the church. Bishop Donatus (hence this heresy is known as Donatism) and his followers had argued that the personal holiness of individuals was what validated an office. A lapsed bishop or priest, therefore, no longer kept that authority.
A famous Bishop of the time, Augustine, on the other hand, took the view that church authority conferred in the consecration and office of a bishop held true, even if the bishop’s personal purity fell short of ideal. Such a bishop ought to do penance, but his acts as bishop were valid and carried the church’s full authority. And the orders and authority of anyone ordained or consecrated by such a bishop were valid. Augustine won the argument and this view is still the official church position today that a Deacon, Priest or Bishops actions are not in validated by their subsequent lack of personal holiness as they duties are carried out for God as officers of God’s church. God’s Church and we must remember it is God’s Church not ours, is bigger than any individual, whether it be Deacon, Priest or Bishop.
That does not mean Vicar, Priest, Deacon or Bishop can do as they like but it does mean that their actions as officers of the church still stand if they do go “bad”.
I started this article with a “Back to School” theme and I end it with a “Back to Church” theme as the last Sunday in September is “Back to Church Sunday”.
For Many of course church attendance is mere history itself and there are many reasons why people have stopped coming to church but if you used to some to church and have stopped, then think again, we want you back!
If the church has offended you in the past then please accept my apologies on behalf of the church. No human should stop anyone going to church, whether it is their past actions or ongoing hurt. If a vicar/priest/deacon/bishop has done something then come and talk about it and let’s try and sort out the problem.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting Married in Church

For many years it has not been easy to get married in the Church of England. As the population has become more mobile, more and more children do not live where they were born and where there has been a family association with the local church.

This has caused a lot of frustration and tension within families. Now recently the law has been changed to make it easier for couples to get married in a particular church. So you can now get married in a church if one of you:

  • was baptised in the parish concerned or
  • was prepared for confirmation in the parish or
  • has at any time lived in the parish for a period of at least 6 months or
  • has at any time regularly gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of at least 6 months or

That one of your parents, at any time after you were born:

  • has lived in the parish for a period of at least 6 months or
  • has regularly gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of at least 6 months or

That one of your parents or grandparents:

  • was married in the parish

Phew that was a long list!

Now the other thorny issue around marriage is if you have been divorced. Will you be able to get re-married in Church. Well in this parish possibly. I have conducted marriage services when one or both couples have been divorced, even when they have been divorced on more than one occasion. I do not automatically say yes and will need to ask a series of questions to establish certain facts.

Some of the reasons I am open to remarriage of people who have been divorced is the following:

A husband kills his wife, confesses and spends 15 years in prison. When he is released he meets another woman and wants to get married. If either of them fits the criteria earlier in the article then I am duty bound to allow the couple to marry.

A couple wish to be married and neither have been married before, but have both been in previous significant long term relationships with other people during which children have been born. If they again fit the criteria mentioned earlier then I am duty bound to allow the couple to marry.

Yet, a man marries his childhood sweet heart and they are married for 20 years but both have strong careers and they grow apart and get divorced. I am NOT duty bound to remarry either of this couple.

Many whom come to be remarried were not married in church previously.

I believe in a God who forgives all our mistakes, all our sins.

I am glad I have remarried couples, the repentance I have seen, the relief I have seen, the happiness I have seen, has been remarkable. Seeing God’s love flowing in people’s lives makes me happy to be part of the couples road to happiness

I suppose a divorce is often a time of great sadness, pain mixed with relief that it is all over. But a divorce often leaves a person yearning for healing and to whole again. I believe that often remarriage in church is one step of many that helps people to find wholeness again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sea Farers Sunday

Well this is my first Blog ever! I hope this will become the easy way to discuss happenings in the Parish. Today I will announce that Russell Eastham has been accept as a Reader in the Church of Enlgand and will preach today SeaFarers Sundays about his experiences working for the Mission to Seafarers.
I am excited about this development as I am sure Russells ungoing work with the Mission will enrich the Parish and enhnace the colloborations we have with the Prison Service.
Time for me to go to church.