Previous Letters from the Clergy are available on this page.
Peace Drives Away Fear and Ushers in Life
As the disciples were locked away in fear after the crucifixion, Jesus comes among them, bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ identity and presence with the frightened disciples brings peace: “Peace is with you.” Jesus is the embodiment of God’s peace now made visible in the nail-torn hands and the lanced side. In these signs Jesus sends his followers into the world in the same way the Father has sent the Son into the world. As the disciples are commissioned, so are we, in the empowering presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus literally “breathes into” his followers the Holy Spirit (wind, or breath). John uses the same verb and tense used in the Genesis account of creation as God “breathed into” Adam the breath of life. The words that accompany the gift of God’s Spirit are words of life, forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. When sins are forgiven, they stand forgiven; when sins are retained, they are retained.
The absence of Thomas from the group on the eve of resurrection occasions Jesus’ appearance to the disciples eight days later. Thomas’ response to the disciples’ witness, “We have seen the Lord”, is his request to see Jesus’ visible wounds. When Jesus comes among them, the words of peace are spoken once again, together with Jesus’ offer that Thomas touch and see. Jesus’ words, “Do not remain unbelieving but believing” express the promise of Jesus’ presence. Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God”, brings us back to the beginning of the gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Jesus is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the fulfillment of God’s incarnate word. Jesus’ response to Thomas does not use scolding words as a question might imply, but a statement of reality: “Because you have seen me, you have believed”.
These words stand in parallel with the second half of the verse as words of benediction to all who have not had the experience of Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. Through the signs or works and words of the gospel and the experience of the disciples and followers of Jesus throughout the gospel, we too have seen and heard the living witness of the word become flesh. The concluding words of chapter 20 express the purpose of the gospel and the evangelist’s selection of signs and words that are necessary for us to see and hear. There is much more not written in this gospel, but what the evangelist has included fulfills the gospel’s intention in a twofold way: (1) “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and (2) “that believing you may have life in his name”. The heart of the gospel is in the centrality of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. In his Son, God has chosen to redeem our lives from sin and death that we may have life beginning now, even life eternal as God’s children in the name above every name, Jesus Christ. This is the message of Easter; this is the incarnate word made present in our world; this is the crucified and risen one who leads us in our daily walk of discipleship.
The Rev’d George M Rogers
From a Dust Heap to a Mountain Top
On Ash Wednesday, recall the words of the burial rite at the committal of the body which read, “We have entrusted our brother/sister N to God’s mercy and we now commit his/her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The essence of these very words will be echoed to you on Ash Wednesday by the priest when he inscribes the sign of the Cross in ashes on your foreheads on the first day of Lent: “Remember O man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.” Like Peggy Lee’s popular song, these words urge us to ask, “Is that all there is (to a life—dust and ashes)?”
The words spoken by God to Adam and Eve after the fall demonstrate the gravity of their offense of disobedience: “Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return,” and these words resonate with us today, reminding us that by nature and deed we always-already are these living bags of dust and ashes waiting to be buried. Likewise dust and ashes are not very valuable goods: dust accumulates as a result of neglect, and ashes are left in the wake of destruction by fire: dust is dust, ashes are ashes, and the only thing that can be done with these elements is to sweep them up and throw them away. The same can be said of our righteousness—which, at the end of the day when our energy to uphold our hypocrisy dissipates—wears like a threadbare and moth-eaten coat, and of our virtue which tarnishes, decomposes and disintegrates in the short span of a disingenuous, malevolent and spiritually penurious life.
So if it is the case that we are these filthy and useless things, why do we gather on Ash Wednesday and cover ourselves with even more of the same? Perhaps to remind ourselves not only what we are, but who God is, and what he did in and through the incarnation of Christ. Through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God demonstrates and offers an alternative to beginning in the rubbish heap, and after a brief, wretched and sinful life, returning there as a final destination. The alternative is “The Way of the Cross,” the paving of which Christ’s death invested worthless dust and ashes with infinite value. And the infinite value of this substance can be immediately realised by changing our purpose—or repenting and accepting what God offers us as an alternative to this tiresome path of doom: his mercy. Changing our purpose entails a change of perspective and disposition—from asking with sardonic self-pity, “Is that all there is?” to asserting resolutely “That’s all there is,” mindful of the fullness of grace. On the one hand, all we can pray for is God’s mercy. On the other hand (which may not know what the first hand is doing), God’s mercy is ALL we can pray for, because it comprises the totality of our intentions and is the very foundation of our faith in Christ.
In changing our purpose, we will also begin to act in surprising new ways—for example in beginning to practice a humble piety that is based on God’s mercy and not on pride or anxiety over the possibility that someone else might be outdoing us. A righteousness built and cultivated on divine mercy continuously checks and obliterates any attempts of rationalising and demonstrating that whatever virtue we might possess is rooted in the dust and ashes that we are. From the foundation of divine mercy, a magnificent temple can be built and we are the living stones of this structure.
God has committed himself to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has given us a sign of this commitment in the cross of Christ, and in each of our own very stylised crosses that he exhorts us to take up and follow him. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the great season of Lent, and we come to take upon ourselves the very sign of the Cross and to commit ourselves to Christ and await his inevitable return. Liturgically we may be preparing for Easter Sunday 40 days from now. But what we are doing is preparing to stand up and be counted: immediately in this place as disciples of Christ and ultimately before the great judgment seat of Christ—humbly hoping to be recognised as subjects of infinite value. Let us reflect further on the words of the burial office, that do not end with “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” but continue stating, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our frail bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body, who died, was buried, and rose again for us…”
To him be glory forever.
Our Saviour is not just for Christmas
The Slaughter of the Innocents is a part of the story of Bethlehem, and the birth of Christ. These killings, into which Jesus is born, designated very young children to be killed—birth to age 2—by military assault weapons and other means; by soldiers who burst in like madmen. These killings happened in Bethlehem, and they have happened in every age. Madness, mayhem, paranoia, zero-sum thinking: these are part of our human condition, which places our selves, fears and desires at the centre. But they’re not all that we are.
The story tells us that the Christ child was born into bedlam, mayhem, the madness which is our world. The child was born because, pervasive as this reality about us is, it’s not all we are. The story was written to give us hope. The story tells us that our salvation is born in the midst of such times, into the heart of our darkness, in a moment when time is shattered and new time begins. And our salvation is brought to us by a survivor of the worst that can befall, by a child whose light was not extinguished, a child who understands deeply what has happened, a child who remembers, a child who was not killed. This is the Child who grows in wisdom and stature, who amazes the rabbis in the temple, who has a perspective unlike anyone’s.
The story tells us that the people of Bethlehem were barely aware of this child. Devastated by the slaughter, picking up their splintered lives, their broken hearts, their stabbing fears, their traumatised surviving children, they also found among the wreckage the words that promise the Messiah will be born to them, especially to them. They carried this promise, in tears, as they buried their dead children.
The story tells us that God does not abandon us to face our peril alone. That God drew Mary and Joseph to this place and this time for this birth. We tend to think the slaughter was later, after the birth and after the flight, but it’s possible that the time frame here is very short, that the star brought the kings to the moment of birth, that Herod’s angry order was given impatiently early, that the rumours of murder were rife in the streets as Mary lay down in the straw. It’s possible that the carnage was beginning even as she gave birth. And so perhaps she gave birth among the slaughtered.
The hope of our time lives among survivors. We cannot outrun, outgun, or outwit what is monstrous in this world. But in facing the truth of our reality, we can see light in its darkness, and hear angels—messengers of God—singing there, for it is into this reality that Christ comes, why we celebrate Christmas.
May we remember that Christmas comes to meet our desperate need of our Lord and Saviour. God with us is the theme.
Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.
And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.
The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.
—G.K. Chesterton, from A Child of the Snows
I have just returned from a missional trip to South Africa. Having only returned a few days before the deadline for this magazine, I haven’t yet had time to properly process everything we did and experienced in that beautiful country. There will no doubt be more that I can say about this as time goes on.
The trip was many years in the organising. The religious community that I am a dispersed member of has been in a growing conversation with the southern dioceses of South Africa for some time. The trip was a response to prompts by them for us to explore what the Community may do to help deepen spirituality, prayerfulness and formation in that part of the world. It is clear that the Spirit is calling us to deeper relationships, and our trip was a preliminary visit to begin to explore what exactly that may look like in the future.
As I say, I have not had time to properly process the experiences and conversations we had during the twelve very busy days, speaking to and teaching parishioners, parish priests and bishops from many different locations and situations. But two things were most discernible from our time there: that we received as much as we gave and that our richness as Anglicans is strengthened by our global universal nature. We are a world-wide community joined together by prayer and the sacraments. We work best when we find ways of working together with one common aim; to pass on the love of Christ. When we pray in our own churches, we are not praying alone, but with every Anglican in our deanery, our diocese, our province and across the globe; but more than that we pray with every Christian of every denomination. When we say morning prayer, evening prayer, compline or celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we join with every other Anglican doing the same, and also with every Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist… They may be using a different form of words or following different formats to us, but at a much deeper level our prayers unite us with them.
It is in this world-wide movement of prayer that we find our strength and our sustenance. In the end, it will be our prayer that saves us and builds our church – wherever that church may be located.
May Our Lord encourage you in prayer and may the Virgin Mother of God, the Apostles and all the Saints enfold you in their holiness.
Wishing you every blessing,
Can you believe it? Easter is here!
As we walked through Holy Week, we really did feel ourselves walking the way of the cross. The great richness and symbolism in our services helped us in a tangible sense to feel that we were caught up in the life of God found in and through Jesus Christ. We were taken on a roller-coaster ride of celebration (Palm Sunday), Passover preparation and service (Last Supper & Maundy Thursday), through Calvary (Good Friday) and eventually to eternal joy (resurrection – Easter Day). At the beginning of Holy Week, we watched in shock as one of the most famous Christian landmarks of Europe, The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris at Notre Dame, was all but destroyed by raging fire. It was as if in the middle of our Holy Week journey, the fires of hell were once again attacking the core of our faith.
But even within a few hours, there was sense of new hope as people from all walks of life, and even the president of France himself, came out to offer support for the Cathedral’s repair and refurbishment. Out of the ashes, grew new hope for a future joy.
In like manner, our celebration of the Resurrection was a time of great heart-inspiring joy for our church community and for many more besides. As we celebrated the Great Easter Vigil together at 6am and the Family Vigil and Easter Day Eucharist at 9.30am on Easter Day, there was a real sense that our community was walking in the footsteps of so many of the Saints and Apostles who had made this journey before us. But more than that, we also became an example to our world. Always, the rhythm of our prayer, becomes the spiritual heartbeat of our communities.
I wonder, did you manage to bring anyone along with you this Easter? The message of Easter hope cannot be heard enough in our society and we, as Christians in the world, are the ones called to share it. “Easter brings new hope, resurrection promises new life”; confirmation that we were made for more than just this life. God created us for the BETTER life!
The Easter season continues through May, so let’s hope that God continues to bless us both individually and corporately by filling our hearts with new hope and new life.
For as St Paul reassures us: ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (1 Cor. 5:17)
May you and all those you love and care for be filed with resurrection joy this Easter season.
We live in a time of huge political turmoil. The Brexit negotiations have divided our country and polarized opinion. But the trend towards polarization began long before any vote on leaving the EU. In the early 2000’s, the religious sociologist, Michel Maffesoli, commented in his thesis called ‘The Time of the Tribes’, on how society had begun to break down and that social existence was becoming fragmented through groupings organised around catchwords, soundbites, brand-names and entrenched ill-informed opinions. Many of his predictions appear to have come true, and with the Trump era of politics we see an increased inability for debate and rational argument across the world; with each side entrenched in their own opinions and increasingly aggressive towards those who hold a different view. The age of reasoning seems long since passed and with its demise society has suffered terrible losses.
Such tribalism is the enemy of community. It entrenches us into small groups of people who are just like us and we increasingly only associate with people of a similar age, social standing, or whose opinions shore up our own. But true community breaches all such barriers – it allows for people of differing views and demographics to come together and learn from one another. This is the way humanity is designed to live.
As people of truth, we Christians recognise the inability for any individual to hold all the answers. Our God is so big that we cannot force him into a box of our creating, hemmed in by our own narrow perspective. In nearly every argument, both sides hold some element of truth and only by reasoning and bringing all views together can we hope to move closer to the answer we seek.
As we approach Holy Week and Easter, we see the build up to the tragic events that led to Jesus’ murder on the Cross. Each character in the narrative holds a tiny element of the truth, but only God in Jesus holds truth in its entirety. As each person clings to their own perspective and refuses to see the bigger picture, we see followers flee, crowds turning to attack and rulers authorizing appalling cruelty just to hold on to their tiny regimes of earthly power. And all the time, it is the truth that is killed, as we see the holder of all truth slowly and painfully dying on a scaffold of wood.
But, of course, truth cannot be thwarted by human agency, no matter how corrupt or ill informed. In the end the truth will out. As Christ rises on Easter Day, his disciples are fortunate enough to see truth for what it really is – life giving, eternal, hopeful.
All things pass, and the political madness we see in our world today will also pass. Let us pray that ‘The Time of the Tribes’ will also pass soon. As Christ’s followers, we must work for the building of true community and not entrenched tribalism. As conveyors of truth, we must push for compromise amongst the political elite and pray for a return to open fair debate and reasoning in our world.
As Jesus’ disciples today, we hold on to a truth that is beyond political allegiance or human agency; a truth which existed before time began and offers eternity. If we can model what it is to be reasonable and to respect other people’s opinion, then we have it in our capabilities to begin changing the world for the better. It might mean us walking the path of Calvary to get there, but such a journey always leads to new life.
May Christ keep you faithful and give you strength this Holy Week, and may he lead you to resurrection joy come Easter.
With every blessing,
It seems amazing, but I have now been at All Saints’ a whole year and so much has happened in that time. We have done so many wonderful things to continue God’s mission in this place. We have, on numerous occasions, seen our church full to bursting and filled with life despite many, many significant challenges along the way. Sadly, many dear friends have had to stop ministering to us, through circumstances beyond and outside of our control, and we have struggled with an increasingly relentless workload as our congregation ages and individuals hand over roles that they may have been doing for many years. Sometimes the self-realisation that we need to step back can be the most difficult thing. As can a sense of underachievement. We can experience fear and grief of losing something we once held dear. Frustration at all the missed opportunities and all things we wanted to do, but never quite got the time. Disillusionment that despite our best efforts, changes in the world have limited our effectiveness. All these things can, if we are not careful, lead to real sense of despondency, cynicism and eventually the unfair criticism of others.
It would be a lie, if were to say that such despondency and cynicism has not affected our body at All Saints’, and that is, of course, only exasperated by the fact that we see so few people of working age and so few children in church. This is, of course, something that has been creeping up on us for many years. And it will take a very, very long time to turn things around. For many, they joined All Saints’ when their children were young and have seen them grow up, fly the nest and begin raising families of their own. Many no longer come, for one reason or another. Is it any wonder if we feel despondent? Where is God in all this?
Well, he has not left us. He never leaves us. We just have to want to find him. And that means searching! But, we have all the tools we need at our disposal, we just have to be flexible in how we use them. Study, learning, prayer are all central.
The other day, a parishioner said to me that as the parish priest I should stop spending time in prayer on weekdays and only pray on Sunday mornings. That way I would have more time to attend to the ‘parish’s demands’. I would like to suggest that any parish that thinks its priest shouldn’t pray is not in a very good spiritual place. And I know that the majority of you would be appalled by the thought that your priest shouldn’t be praying. But as outlandish as this suggestion to stop praying may be, it does, I think, expose an elephant in the room.
Many people think that the answer to every problem is just more action. But action without prayer is prone to just make things worse. How can we know what God wishes us to do, if we do not pray about it first? And prayer is not a lone activity. How can we know what God wishes our community to do if we do not pray in community?
When we are in the midst of difficulty, the answer is not to stop praying, it is to pray harder! And to pray together! And then we need to be willing to respond to what God calls us to do and accept the change he wishes to bring about so that we can move closer to him and draw others closer to him as we do so.
There is now lots of research to evidence how churches grow and how they attract younger people. Two things come out of the findings and they are almost universal across all the studies. The two main findings can be summed up in two words: Integrity and adaptability. If we are to hold ‘integrity’ in the eyes of others, then prayer and attitude in the community is central (so we must avoid the perils of cynicism). Likewise, ‘adaptability’ also requires us to see the bigger picture, God’s picture, and respond, no matter where that takes us.
This Lent, the best thing you and your friends can do for All Saints’, is to pray more (not less) and pray that we all grow in integrity and adaptability. Let us pray that All Saints’ may become a beacon of openness and safety for everyone young and old.
Blessings this Lent,
February is a funny old month. Statistics suggest that for many of us, February is a month when we feel a little down in the dumps. Rates of depression are apparently higher and many of us just battle-on trying to get through another cold winter month. It is worth contemplating where that darkness comes from: the sun hasn’t left us; it is just that we have momentarily moved away from it. In November our location on the Earth finally turned away from the Sun to such a degree in its cycle that the days became significantly darker. During February, the darkness continues, but our position on the Earth begins moving back towards the light.
So thinking more positively, February is actually the month when things begin to change – the days begin to lengthen, mornings and evenings are a little lighter, the frost is crisper and the bulbs begin sending their shoots up to break through the soil. If we are lucky, we might even get to see a bud or two.
In the Church calendar, February begins with the feast of Candlemas, otherwise known as ‘the Presentation of Christ in the Temple’. At the Candlemas service, a representative sample of the candles we will use to give us light throughout the year will be blessed, reminding us that ‘the light shines in the darkness’. The Gospel narrative set for Candlemas carries a significant theme of change. If Mary and Joseph were in any doubt about the kind of change that their new son might bring into their lives, all uncertainty is banished when they take Jesus for purification at the Temple and the priest Simeon says; ‘this child is destined for the rising and falling of many. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’. Christ, the light of the world, the very essence of God, brings his light to the darkest places; dark places within us and within our world, but we should not expect the darkness to give up without a fight.
So, whether we feel as though the glass is half empty or half full is, I guess, all dependent upon our own individual perspective. But either way, February is a month to prepare for the changes to come. Changes born with the coming of the light. Changes that might just bring us into a new way of looking at ourselves and the world.
There are no certainties in life, except the sureness of God. Whilst the world changes and moves around us, God, like the sun, is always stable and unchanging. If we can put our trust in Him, then all the changes of the world will not touch us, because we will be rooted in an eternal stability that is only found in Him.
So may you be blessed with the surety and strength of Mary, Joseph, the Holy Family, the Apostles and all the Saints in glory,
Happy New Year! Happy Epiphany!
Christmas is now drawing to a close and the New Year is upon us. With every new year, we are called to reflect upon all that has happened over the past twelve months. To rejoice in all the blessings: all the successes and all that is good in our lives. And to consider all the things that have not gone so well: all the missed opportunities, the times we have been distracted from seeing God’s guidance and, yes, upon all the failures at our own hands.
In the Church calendar, we are now entering the season of Epiphany and it is fitting that this should fall at the beginning of a new year. The story of the Wise Men travelling to seek out the Christ-child, the new King, the Prince of Peace, is a poignant and thought provoking one. These strange foreign dignitaries have to travel hundreds, possibly thousands of miles. This was an uncomfortable journey wracked with risk and danger, taking them many months to complete and it accidently leads them to the palace of the ruthless ruler, King Herod. I wonder if, reflecting on their journey many years later, they count their bumbling into the hands of Herod as a mistake?
They finally find the young child that they are seeking, not amongst the rich and powerful as they first expect, nor in the palaces or stately homes of the realm, but instead in a stable, living in squalor and extreme poverty. Had they really travelled hundreds of miles for this? How can the young king that they have so eagerly sought, the one with such potential and promise, be born here, in these conditions? We are not told of their inner thoughts as they finally find their young king, but I wonder how much disappointment is hidden behind their kindness to the Holy Family seated around the manager? What must they have thought as they stumble across this scene? I wonder if they hand over their expensive gifts out of devotion to this most holy baby, or out of pity for the circumstances he has been born into? This is, of course, all conjecture on my part. But it does make you think, doesn’t it?
In the end, of course, it doesn’t much matter. The only thing that matters is that the three Magi complete their journey, guided by the star and by God (whether they recognise him or not). In hindsight, they may have regretted their misguided jaunt to Herod’s palace. But, perhaps, without doing so they may not have found Jesus at all. It would seem, that God is even able to use their mistakes to bring about a positive ending.
Just as the New Year causes us to reflect upon our personal journey in the world and to make the necessary changes to positively journey on for the next twelve months, the story of the Epiphany, indeed the entire Epiphany season, calls us to focus on our journey under God. It is right that we should rejoice and give thanks for all the good stuff, but even our mistakes and failures are an opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes without the odd error, we cannot be set back on the right path for the journey ahead. And just as with the three travelling kings, so long as we keep our eyes open, gazing at the star shinning above our heads, God will reroute our spiritual satnav and we will eventually find ourselves face to face with the treasure we ultimately seek, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, enthroned in glory. But we must be prepared to find him in the most unlikely of places. Because if we really wish to find him, he is likely to be found in the places we least wish to go.
May God be your guide this Epiphany and may you find your way towards the Prince of Peace. With many blessings,
The Journey to the Manger
We have now entered the season of the church year known as Advent. Advent is a time of self-reflection and preparation prior to Christmas, the day of Jesus’ birth. It is a time of great anticipation and excitement. All very good, but the danger is that in all the eagerness, we can begin celebrating Christmas before it is even on the horizon.
Of course, the commercial drivers of our economically-obsessed world draw us in, because Christmas is a real money spinner. The earlier the money starts rolling in the better. The trouble is, it rips the heart out of the season as the deeper meaning and joy are turned into excesses and personal over-indulgence as the profit margins of the big corporations swell.
But the real danger is that, if we fail to properly prepare through the season of Advent, then Christmas loses its deep ability to transform our souls – all we get is some superficial fluffiness that will be long since departed once January arrives.
To take faith seriously requires asking some really searching questions of oneself. It means looking at the very deep parts of ourselves, even those parts we have been hiding for years. Rather than speaking sweet-nothings into our ears, Jesus speaks eternal truths. He doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, he tells us what we need to hear. To follow Jesus means a complete change of lifestyle and that change is ongoing throughout our life. Just when we think we have nailed it, so God reveals to us new parts of ourselves that need the corners knocking off. We know somehow that the person God is calling is the real ‘me’, but we fear facing up to the false parts, the parts we so often revel and delight in.
The Christmas story cuts right to the heart of what it means to be human. It reveals psychological and spiritual truth that is impossible to run away from. Think of the people who recognise Jesus’ true divine identity first.
His mother – a pregnant single teenager from a faithful but poor family, only married to her betrothed weeks before the birth. The husband is not the boy’s real father. But, there is no doubt that Jesus (God in human form) transforms her whole being as she becomes the mother of God and in turn now mothers humanity for an eternity through her Son.
Shepherds in the field – uneducated, simple of living (and mind?) and outcasts from society. Dirty, poor, only good for chasing off wolves. And yet it is this simple living and undistracted life that enables them to see Jesus for who he is, God’s Son,
Wise Men from the East – foreigners with strange customs. Feared by the native people of the land, open to false accusations and little respected. The king uses his power over them to try and trick them into being his spies. But their preparation and hope leading up to them spotting the star, mixed with their vulnerability of travelling through a strange land, help them to see this Jesus with clarity, instantly recognising him as a gift from God and giving him gifts in return.
King Herod – a jealous, judgemental and manipulative king who sees the baby Jesus as a threat. His fear and anger blind him from seeing the goodness and the wider truth. He too recognises who Jesus is, but is too afraid of the change Jesus will bring to his comfortable world, and so he refuses to move closer to God. Selfishly worried only for his own status and earthly power, he commits terrible atrocities, all the while turning his soul black.
As we gaze into the crib on Christmas morning, we find a little child’s kindly, loving eyes gazing back at us. This child can be a gateway into a living hope that transforms lives and whole societies. The Christ-child, Jesus, imparts such goodness that it can cleanse the depths of our souls. This gentle gift from God has the power to heal us. We must not be too afraid to move closer. Do not fear what he may find and bring out into the open in order to heal it. Do not turn away and return to self-destructive ways.
If we can bear to let him in, things become so very different. A cleansed soul is a freed soul – able to live in truth and love. But this deep healing and joy doesn’t happen with a fleeting glimpse once or twice a year, it requires commitment to the continual journey. This Advent, be careful of jumping straight into Christmas without first walking the self-reflective way of the season. Take time to properly prepare, though self-examination and prayer and come one second past midnight on the morning of Christ’s Mass, the joy of the season will truly be yours. All the burdens of the soul will be lifted, the darkness that so often overshadows the vision will be removed and the fear that clings so closely will be banished from the heart.
May the Holy Family in poverty by the manger inspire you this Christmas and may the simplicity of a baby born to transform and save the world be ever your strength and guide.
With every blessing this Advent and Christmas,
A Season to Remember.
As the nights lengthen through November and the weather cools, we are naturally drawn into a spirit of reflection. As I write this letter, we are preparing for the many events that will take place over the next month designed to enable many different people, from many different walks of life to encounter the merciful compassion of Christ in the blessed liturgical offering of the Church.
On Saturday 3rd November, the Rhythm of Life group will be holding a Contemplative Prayer session in Church at 10.30am. This is open to all and will allow us to spend 30 minutes in the quiet reassurance of God. The very next day, 4th November, we will be celebrating the day of our Patronal Festival, All Saints Day, with an All-Age service at which the Revd Jane Winter will be coming to preach for us. These All-Age services are wonderful opportunities for us to welcome new generations to our church and enable young and old to meet God through the divine mysteries in a format that is both familiar and yet a little more easily accessible by those who are unused to church. In the evening, we will have our annual All Souls’ Requiem Mass at 6.30pm to commemorate the faithful departed – a very special and symbolically rich service of Holy Communion, as we unite with the eternal realms in glory through the sacrifice of the Eucharistic feast.
On 11th November, our theme of remembrance continues. We will be joining with dignitaries from across the borough and from Canada, together with armed forces personnel, members of cadet forces and the Royal British Legion. This year is especially poignant as it is 100 years since the end of the 1st World War. This year, it all begins at the war memorial at 10.40am for Armistice Day commemorations, before returning to church for the Remembrance Day Service which begins at 11.40am. This includes devotions at Canadian Corner. Dignitaries then move to the Civic Centre in Bromley for the signing of the friendship agreement with Thunder Bay, Canada, to cement the cross country friendships begun through the Canadian Military Hospital that was based in Orpington during the 1st World War. These events are an opportunity to remember and honour the sacrifice made by those whose lives have been cut short in order to defend freedom and liberty across the world.
On Monday 12th, there will also be a short service of ‘Light in the Darkest Hour’ at 6pm in Canadian Corner, as our friends from Canada prepare for their departure the following day.
On Saturday 17th November, there will be a Lectio Divina Scripture reflection session at 10.30am run by the Rhythm of Life Group – Lectio Divina is a very rich way of engaging with scripture, both prayerful and reflective – all are welcome.
This list is, of course, not exhaustive and there are so many other events taking place throughout the month – so keep a keen eye on our notice sheets.
Each week, we come together in reverence and devotion, through our prayer and song, as the Body of Christ to meet him in the Holy Mysteries. As such, we are reminded of the Divine Mercy of our loving Father, who meets us in both our moments of pain and elation, who cares for us and forgives us, no matter what. It is not always easy for us to entrust ourselves to God’s mercy, for it is so vast it is beyond our comprehension. But our God will not let us fall. In Christ we trust that the Holy Spirit draws us deeper into the one Body. So we unite around the Breaking of Bread, the Body of Christ, as people from all walks of life. And our humility and devotion forms us into the Body of Christ in the world.
May all the Saints and Angels, watch over you and keep you in the mystical body of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
With much love and many blessings,
“We are all one, just as Christ is one”
The Vicar’s Letter
Many of you will know that when my family and I moved here back in January, we had Chickens. These feathered ladies were introduced to a variety of experiences following our move into urban living. That ended with a sly urban fox deciding to provide his family with a feast that Roald Dahl’s, Fantastic Mr Fox would have been proud of. I can hear Mrs Fox declaring to her cub those famous words, ‘A feast it shall be! Oh, what a fantastic fox your father is! Hurry up child, and start plucking those chickens!’
The thing about chickens is that they have to establish, what is often referred to as, a ‘pecking order’. Until they learn to get along, things can become somewhat violent – but nothing a carefully aimed broom handle doesn’t quickly sort out! This repeats itself every time a new member is introduced. I would suggest that this particular model of community is not something we should aim for at All Saints’!
A healthier one might be what comes next. Once things have settled down, the whole community works together, as though they were one homogenised unit. There is occasional bickering between the hens, but over time that becomes rarer and rarer.
Of course, nature holds many other examples of how communities can flourish. Bees’ work together in a complex mix of communication and roles. No one bee works to their own agenda, they are all a part of a social system that ensures the entire hive thrives.
For lions, wolves, army ants, the same is true. The pride, pack or colony have to work together if they are to survive the challenges of the world. Interestingly, resent scientific research into woodland trees has also discovered that they communicate through their root and fungal systems, and this works across species. They let other trees, even those different to them, know about nutrient sources, moisture, weather conditions, illness and invasive parasites or plants. If a tree is lacking nutrients or is sick, other trees pass on essential nutrients to them. It even looks as though some trees will sacrifice themselves to save others from poor soil, weather or disease.
It is worth us thinking about these complex relationships and communities, and how they live together and thrive.
As the Parish Church of Orpington, we have long since claimed that we are ‘All Saints for All People’. This is a wonderfully positive aspiration. But what does it mean to be a church for ALL, for everyone? What does it mean for us to be modelling ourselves on the most diverse communities in nature, where every single individual, including newcomers and those different to us, are an integral part?
As Christians, our Church community is based in the love we see in God. Such love requires service and self-sacrifice if it is to be true. In practice, this will mean occasionally letting go of our own preference or lowering our expectations in order to meet the needs of others. St Paul tells us that ‘Love does not insist on its own way’. In other words, we need to be willing to make small sacrifices for the good of the entire community. If our community is to thrive, we must never stop trying to master what it means to be a body that is willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of others, where each of us is working for the good of all.
May we all be united in the one fellowship through the blessing of Christ and His Church together with Mary, the Apostles and all the Saints in glory.
Your friend in Jesus,
“In every generation, Christ calls us home”
The Vicar’s Letter
It was the look on their faces as they approached the blessed body and blood of our Lord for the first time at the Altar rail; hands outstretched and eyes wide in awe. 10 adults and teenagers coming to Confirmation each year and another 10 children receiving First-Communion at a much younger age. During my time in Geddington we built up a strong tradition of bringing people, young and old, to the Holy Table through these two avenues and it invigorated the congregations with a sense of holiness and awe. This was backed up with a teaching programme for youngsters in Sunday School and for adults at other times that were intentionally aimed at helping each individual to grow confidence in the faith. As young people and their families grew in number, so the church community began to deepen spiritually and become more open to new (and old) ways of faith (we sometimes need reminding that the Church of England pre-dates the Reformation by a millennia!).
We must never forget that the church is here to bring people into a life-long relationship with the living God, through the ministry of His Son. For us, that means, most principally, meeting Him in the breaking of bread, where we encounter his true and real presence (“This is my body, given for you.” Luke 29:19). When people encounter and come to faith in the living God through our ancient parish churches, they are becoming a part of a rich history of prayer, reverence and pilgrimage, often spanning centuries (in Geddington’s case 850AD and All Saints’ Orpington 1000AD). By the grace of God, this rich legacy will continue long after each of us have been reunited with the saints eternal. Our history of engaging new generations, in every generation, has been impressive. Even in recent times, we will have rich memories of individuals who have gone on to grow a life-long faith as a result of our church’s ministry to them.
In a recent article however, Fr Kevin Smith, Priest Administrator at Walsingham, laments by saying that “The absence of children and teenagers (and their parents), evident in many of our churches today, is a real cause for concern and demands our prayers and attention”.
As in Geddington, over the coming months and years, we will be developing our leadership and approach to the way we engage our youngsters, in church, Sunday clubs and wider engagement. All this in the hope that we can once again see growth in this essential area of church-life and ministry (more on this can be found further on in this month’s magazine).
But this focus is not just about newcomers and youngsters. Our ‘prayers and attention’, should also be for the growth and deepening of faith of our entire church community, and for ourselves (especially if we have been spiritually dry for some time).
Over the coming months, there will be numerous opportunities for you to deepen your faith and walk deeper into the mysteries of God. So keep a look out for the monthly teaching and discussion events, quiet days, Lectio Divina, contemplative prayer and regular Eucharists. The Confirmation Classes – Teaching the Faith, are due to begin this month and are not just for those who wish to be confirmed, they are also for those who are simply curious to explore their faith further and for those who maybe feel they need a bit of a refresher. Such a course can be especially good if you have been finding spiritual things a bit of a struggle recently.
Above all, please continue to pray for this chapter in our Church’s work. Pray that many more young people and their families may come, be inspired by faith and remain. And pray that we may all continually encounter the love of God and the joy of the Gospel which lies so deep in the heart of Mary, Joseph, the Holy Family, the Apostles and all the Saints in glory.
Your friend in Jesus,
Socrates said, ‘the secret to change is focussing all your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new’.
This is similar to the advice of the famous life coach, Tony Robbins: ‘change is inevitable, but progress is optional’.
Whilst God is unchanging, the world is not. That means that God is constantly calling us to change in order to remain in touch with him, as the platform from which we operate shifts. The narrative of the Bible shows us what happens when we fail to respond to God’s call to change. God’s people, Israel, flourish when they are positive about God’s call to change, but they reduce in number and faithfulness when they are not. At the time of Jesus, it is those who embrace the change Jesus brings who become his followers. Those who resist him become his opponents.
Our faith in Jesus calls us to be constantly seeking to change. Every week in our services we confess our sins and we repent. Literally speaking, the word repent means to want to change. When we are brave about embracing change, then suddenly the world becomes a brighter place. The difficulty is that some of the most valuable changes can be the most challenging.
We have had to come to terms recently with many changes that are beyond anyone’s control. At a time when the church has had to adjust to the inevitable difference in style the arrival of a new priest brings, we have also lost our supporting clergy. When I accepted this job, it came boasting a large clerical staffing team. I am having to come to terms with now having to try and manage on a fraction of what it was then. So many good byes of people I have loved working with and thought I would be working with for a good time longer. This has put extra pressure on your vicar’s time, even before we have managed to get into a rhythm. Some of the things we have been used to, will inevitably now have to change.
Another change comes with my season in life. This parish was excited at the thought of having a younger vicar with a family. It didn’t want someone approaching retirement. It was also excited about having someone who was a member of a dispersed monastic community. These things are very positive attributes for a new vicar, but they do place different responsibilities upon a parish and the way it cares for its vicar. For all of you in the parish, this has been (and will continue to be) a steep learning curve.
I tend to be an over-worker – those who have access to my diary will testify to that. I don’t always manage to get my days off and often miss valuable family time. I work upwards of 60 hours a week. So there will be times in future when I have to lay down some boundaries to put my family and personal wellbeing first. For some, that will be difficult to accept. But respecting these boundaries will be essential if your vicar is to thrive here.
When I was asked to become your next vicar, the interviewing panel from this church were clear that this congregation wanted and needed change. They laid down a bit of a gauntlet and a challenge. They asked me to try and increase the number of families and young people. They asked me to enrich and expand the liturgy, music and its sense of prayerfulness. They also asked for the church to increase its outreach to the town and the non-church population.
As you all know, the parish has been consulting very widely about what these changes might look like. In this magazine last month, we printed the report from the most significant part of that consultation – the Vision Day (June 2018). Everyone from the church was asked to either attend that day or pass on their thoughts to the PCC so that they could be included in the day’s discussions. Thank you for all those who took the time and effort to do that. We will now be implementing the outcomes of that day in a prioritised fashion over the coming months and years, as best we can.
For those of you who did not take up the opportunity to be involved in this consultation, please try to resist the temptation to criticise from the side-lines. Instead show your fellow churchgoers support as they try and implement the vision. Their suggestions deserve respect since they have come from careful thought and process. Not everything we try will be successful, some things will only be partly successful and some will be liked by some and not by others. Whichever of these is true for you, your support and generosity in how you respond will be greatly appreciated and have a huge bearing on where our church goes from here.
Because as Tony Robbins reminds us: ‘change is inevitable, but progress is optional’. Let’s pray we can progress. Thanks for your support.
With every blessing,
As I write, the sun is shining and summer is well and truly at its peak. This summer All Saints’ church has a whole host of wonderful events for you to get involved with. We have a Parade Service and Youth Fun Day on the 1st July. On 8th July we have a day of celebration and yet sadness as we celebrate our Dedication Festival and say goodbye to our Associate Priest, Jenny Driver. On 14th July we have our ‘Out of Focus’ group’s Hog Roast and Jazz evening, which promises to be a wonderful night. It is open to all so book your tickets! We will also be celebrating the Feast days of Ss. Peter & Paul, St Thomas, St Mary Magdalene and St James the Apostle.
In many ways, our July calendar epitomises everything that the Christian Church is. We are called under God to learn from our past and build upon it, each day reimagining a glorious future under God. The remembrance of the saints’ days helps us to ponder their marvellous first-hand witness and learn from the message of their testimony. These were people who either walked the earth with Jesus or (as in Paul’s case), were entrusted with the task of building the Church by Jesus after his resurrection and ascension. The fruits of their labours were immense as the Church spread to every country on the globe as a direct result of their mission under God. Christianity transformed the world from law-less societies, into ones that began to be built upon the rights of individuals. Most of the freedoms we experience today are a direct consequence of these early Christian teachings. But the mission didn’t end with these early Saints. We are not just called to benefit from the work and witness of past Christians. Today we share that mission, and it is a mission we cannot take seriously enough. We have been entrusted with the same responsibility for growing the Church and passing on the message of the Gospel to new generations. And we live in a moment, where that calling has never been more needed.
This is something our friend Revd Jenny Driver has done with courage and kindness these past years. As we say goodbye to her, we cannot but feel that the task left to the rest of us is all the more immense. Jenny is a real inspiration to so many. How on earth will we ever fill the huge void that will be left in our church as Jenny leaves?
But God never stops probing and encouraging us. Just as we look back at past wondrous works of God’s disciples in building his Church, be it 200 years ago or just yesterday, we also know that God’s grace has not left us, nor has his desire for his Church to keep growing been abandoned. He continues to call each of us into his service for the good of the Kingdom. What is he calling you to? Because he is calling you to something. Together, our church will keep growing and keep moving forward. With your positivity, generosity and support, our church will see huge numbers of young people and new people entering our fold and God’s grace will transform us into individuals and a community that welcomes and accepts whoever he sends into our fold. Every new person, be they 1 year old or 100, is a genuine gift from God for our benefit as much as theirs. It is this conviction alone that will fill our church, as we give thanks to God for every person he sends us as his gift.
God bless, enjoy the summer and never lose heart nor turn away from serving our living God.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can feel as though life is just too busy and chaotic. I look at my diary and it is difficult to know where to begin. In our busy world, it can be so hard to make the time and space for the important things. Often relationships, prayer and exercise have to come last on the agenda… or do they?
A professor of philosophy filled a jar with rocks and asked the class if the jar was full. Everyone said that it was. So the professor proceeded to pour pebbles into the jar and they filled the spaces. He again asked the class whether the jar was full, and everyone said that it was. So he poured sand into the jar, and it filled up the rest of the space left by the pebbles. He proceeded to teach the class a lesson about priorities in life.
The rocks represent the really important things such as family and friends (relationships), exercise and pastimes (physical health), faith and prayer (spiritual health). The gravel represents the other things of importance: such as work or school. The sand represents the stuff of little importance such as possessions and wealth.
He went on to explain that if we fill the jar of life with the sand first, then there is no space for the other stuff. Similarly, the same may be true if we fill it with the pebbles first. In both these instances, we leave no space for the rocks – the really essential stuff. It is so very important to fill our lives first and foremost with the stuff that really matters. We can lose possessions, money, even our job and so long as we are healthy in body, mind and spirit and have good relationships, then we will still thrive. But if we do not live in good relationships with one another, if we do not look after our minds and bodies, if we do not nurture our souls, then a significant part of us dies and the best job in the world or the largest bank account will not compensate.
In its focus on holistic living, the monastic tradition has a lot to teach us here. The rule of St Benedict has endured as the most influential monastic rule in Christianity since the 6th Century and in our busy age, it is seeing a huge resurgence. That is because it teaches the art of balance as an essential spiritual discipline. If work, rest, recreation or prayer get out of balance with one another then a person will encounter difficulties. For most of us we get the balance completely wrong because we misunderstand what is most important. As we enter into this British summer, make sure you spend enough time with those around you, looking after your mind and body and nurturing your soul. Get those things put into your diary first. Once you have these things in good balance the other things will slip into place.
With much love and every blessing,
I have come to realise that there is much truth in the old adage; ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’. We can trundle along for years, assuming things or people will be there whenever we need them. But it is only when they are gone, that we truly recognise their value.
Having recently walked Holy Week together, we got an insight into the disciples coming to terms with so brutally losing their Lord. As they watched His body being carried to the tomb, they must have thought they would never see Him again. Then, three days later, He is not only with them, but has broken the veil between heaven and earth; giving them access to an intimate, loving God. For us today, God still remembers what it is like to lose a son, and His mercy and compassion rains down like pearls of living water upon our brow.
And the richness of the Christian year continues to inspire our faith. Ascension is almost upon us; that moment when Jesus ascends to His place at the Father’s side in heaven. I wonder what the disciples think as they watch him leave for a second time?
Well, this time it appears they make preparations for the Church Jesus has instructed them to build. A church with no exclusions, reaching out to people of every age, race and language. By the time Jesus has sent the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, His followers can’t wait to begin spreading the gospel and growing their numbers in order to bring God’s kingdom in.
In recent years, the time between Ascension and Pentecost has become known as Thy Kingdom Come Season. A week of prayer that the Spirit might transform our lives and our communities.
And this is our task today. Don’t believe all those scare mongers in the press who would have you believe that the Church is dying. The Church only dies if we stop spreading the gospel to new generations. Like the disciples, the Holy Spirit will move amongst us this Pentecost. If we are open to its promptings, it will transform us and our church, and we will grow in unimaginable ways. What will our community look like as God’s kingdom comes amongst us, I wonder?
To find out more about ‘Thy Kingdom Come Season’, please visit the Church website or look out for the information around church.
May God bless you with his Holy Spirit this Pentecost,
At the time of writing we are in the middle of Lent, preparing for Passiontide. Passiontide is of course that period of the year when we prepare to walk the path towards Jesus’ passion and death. But, by the time you read this we will be in Easter season. Sometimes people ask why we spend so much time and energy on Holy Week. Why don’t we just skip the uncomfortable bits and go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Day? Well, Christianity doesn’t give us a get out of jail free card so that we can avoid the bits of life that are difficult or we’d rather not face. For the disciples, Jesus’ resurrection would not have been nearly so transformative if they had not first experienced the fear and anguish of the crucifixion. The same is true for us, and our liturgy through Holy Week seeks to draw us into that same reality.
When I was serving a church on the edge of a large shanty town in South Africa, I was fortunate enough to make many friends. Amidst some of the cruellest poverty and inequality I have ever witnessed, there was something remarkable about everyone’s hope and positivity. Some of these beautiful people were living in the most appalling conditions and had been through so much heartache and pain. And yet it was rare to meet an individual who was sceptical about life. When I asked one of them where their wonderful outlook came from, they were simply puzzled. “What do you mean?” they said. “Jesus gives us our hope. His resurrection is our joy. He died so that we might live. It would be a dishonour to him not to rejoice, always!”
To live under the resurrection is the greatest gift we can know. Like a fine pair of spectacles, the resurrection transforms everything we see. But to live under the resurrection does not mean that we get to avoid the dark or difficult bits of life. No, the resurrection gives us hope during dark times and helps us to cope during hard times. Our world is already filled with enough negativity, scepticism and distrust. But we have a different outlook to bring and it is one that can transform the world around us. As Christians, the greatest gift we have to offer the world is resurrection joy. A joy that radiates from us and illumines everything around us. Because we know that Jesus did not die in vain, but instead that we are being caught up in the winds of an eternally glorious future.
So I wish you endless Easter Joy this resurrection season,
It is a delight to have been asked to become the next vicar of All Saints’. From the moment my family and I began exploring All Saints’ as a possible new home, we all felt that it was a special place with much potential. The order of the liturgy, richness of the musical tradition and positive mission to the community were all clear. This beautiful building as a powerhouse of prayer to help centre devotion and outward ministry tells its own story of a church deeply caring for the spiritual wellbeing of the wider community.
It is no secret that the Church of England is deeply concerned about growing the faithful Christians of tomorrow, and one particularly attractive aspect to All Saints’ was that it clearly did not wish to allow decline to continue; instead wishing to reach out to new sections of the community in order to grow.
Pursuing such inspirational aims will present us all with many challenges as we figure out together what God wishes ministry to look like here into the future. But such all things come in their own time. First we must get to know one another. You will need to get used to this priest’s strange ways and I yours. Please bear with me as I try and learn the names of all 200 of you – it may take a while! But united in all this freshness, I am convinced that we will feel the Spirit moving us to new horizons, as through our common church life we enter more deeply together into the life of Christ and the unshakable security of our loving Father.
With every blessing,