Revd Howard’s November thoughts

We have just passed through another marker of the year…the clocks were put back an hour the other night to herald in and confirm that things about us are in a state of change. Officially we have moved from the hazy days of summer into the ‘’season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’’ as Keats described it. Autumn with the glorious riot of colour in our woodlands heralds the coming of winter …the end of the repeated cycle of nature that keeps the planet functioning and a reminder if one was needed that life is a continual procession of changes.

For many [perhaps most] of us change is not necessarily welcome…we do like to feel that we are in control of things and some things we can orchestrate but much we cannot!

As a professional scientist [well… geologist] I am very well aware that the world we inhabit has arrived at its current state by a long… very long process of change. In some of these changes we are beginning to understand the processes in operation but others still remain the subject of speculation.

Perhaps the change that currently is receiving greatest media attention is ‘climate change’ and more specifically the role that human activity has had/is having in those processes and that is a highly controversial area of debate not only in the scientific community but more generally. The current occupant of the White House has expressed his firm opinions.  But whatever the truth of these matters turns out to be…it seems quite evident that the human species in its relatively short occupancy of the planet [in geological terms] has had a disproportionate affect upon the environment of our home. Even with the current level of our knowledge and understanding of the processes it seems that the available data supports the conclusion that we need, as a species, to be rather more responsible and respectful of the planet upon which we live. This apparently straightforward conclusion however invokes debate as to precisely where does the responsibility rest….who IS responsible?? ..that is the question…me? him/her? major global companies? big business? or of course, Government? Is there a tendency to bat this question away like the ball in a tennis match…in an act of ‘self protection’??

This sort of question as to ‘where does the buck stop’ is not new and has occupied the thoughts of many ordinary folk as well as  thinkers and commentators [not necessarily religious] down the ages…just put ‘social responsibility’ into your favourite search engine to see!!

In a world that, like it or not, there are great changes happening socially, economically and environmentally it is time for all of us to recognise that we have a part ..Yes, it may seem small inadequate and probably ineffective against the backdrop of the global/universal scale.yet a Chinese philosopher’s words about the longest journey starts with one small step may be some sort of a guide to how we such face up to responsibility whenever we are challenged by change.

Revd Mark’s October Notes

Dear friends

As I write this to you, I am reflecting on the profound challenges facing our two churches of All Hallows’ and St Edmund’s. In some ways these are the same challenges we faced as I began my ministry here among you five years ago, but they are even sharper now than then. The challenges are sharper in one way because of the change in Diocesan leadership. Our new Bishop is calling on all the churches in the Diocese to develop strategies for growth. We are being called to grow: wider, younger and deeper.

I’m always tempted to remark that I’m doing pretty well on the first of those, but of course what we mean by growing wider is nothing to do with waistlines and everything to do with the breadth of our reach in our communities.

Hearing a call to grow younger can sometimes be heard as a sidelining of those who are older, but notice it’s younger not just young. Numerical growth can, of course, come through engaging even better with the population of older people around us, but the long term sustainability of the local church requires that it is engaging with people of all ages and refreshing itself with new, younger members. That’s not just some managerial strategy, it’s a theological necessity. The vision of God’s Kingdom is one where all of humanity is gathered together. The Kingdom is bigger than the church, but the church is called to be a foretaste or sign of the Kingdom, a place where all generations find a home.

Growing deeper reflects the call to deepening Christian discipleship; to spiritual growth; to doing what it takes to become more like Christ.

This call is challenging when we have declining, ageing congregations and rapidly diminishing financial resources. Just keeping our buildings and our services going and meeting our obligations to contribute to the cost of ministry is a profound enough challenge in itself. But without seeking to grow in each of these dimensions, we will not have the capacity to face those seemingly more immediate challenges. I wish I had the magic solution to offer, but I don’t. It will take all of us putting our hearts and minds together to address them, and will also take sacrifice. We may well need to be prepared to let go of long cherished ways of being church together in order that we can embrace those who don’t understand or appreciate what we do now.

That’s bigger than just changing our services. In fact doing that is unlikely to reach a constituency of people who are utterly disconnected from church. I doubt that there are lots of people out there thinking ‘if only that church was more trendy, I could go and worship there!’ Those that do want that are already getting it in other churches. Instead we need to start much further back. The first task is sharing our faith with people in generous friendship and seeing who among those with whom we share wants to go deeper. Even before that, we may need to evangelise ourselves: to re-engage with the roots of our faith and find again the God who loves us and longs for us to grow; to discover what God is doing around us, and to join in.

I pray we may find the courage, heart and love for the task.

 

With love from Mark.

 

Revd Howard’s August Notes

August ramblings

Now that August is here, it’s time for summery thoughts in anticipation of those long, hot sunny days basking in the fine weather of this season. Time to get away perhaps for a few days from the ‘normal’ pattern of living, to recharge one’s batteries, time for some ’me’ time and needed R & R….I hope that your plans in the coming weeks are achieved just as you dreamed.

Thinking back on the events of the past few weeks and months it would seem that it is not only us but much of the world that is in need of some ‘time out’ to allow clearer assessment to be made of just where the world is going to. Leadership in many places and at all levels, including that of the most powerful and influential nations seems to be confused about how to respond to the needs of  ordinary people and how appropriate relationships can be developed and maintained across international and cultural boundaries. Is there perhaps a tendency for isolationist views  to be gaining ground?

Perhaps a significant facet of this traditional period of relaxation and of recreation is to give opportunity for a space to review our life aims and objectives, not primarily from the narrow vision of ‘self’ but within the  broader picture…there is much wisdom in the old Chinese saying.. ‘the longest journey begins with a single step..’…individual actions do matter and can bring change.

In this connection, I was reminded of the appropriateness of an Old Testament lesson for  Sunday [7th Sunday after Trinity]…an account of a conversation between Yahweh and the  new young King of Israel, Solomon. The young ruler in reply to Yahweh’s question ‘what shall I give thee??…’ asked ‘…give your servant an understanding heart to govern your people…that I may discern between good and bad…’ [1 Kings 3, v 5-12]. Solomon’s vision was based upon his acceptance of his responsibilities to all and sundry… not a bad model to follow it seems to me!! [and Yahweh came to the same conclusion too!!]

This summer can be our chance to be re-created….to re-define our aims and objectives looking ahead, a time to review and be refreshed.

I trust that you will all enjoy the period ahead and face the future refreshed and strengthened.

God Bless

Howard

The Revd Howard’s thoughts for May

Random musing!!

One of the really good things about this time of year I think is that we are surrounded by change….almost imperceptibly . Fields, hedgerows even our gardens show dramatic changes ….yes I know its all about Spring but somehow I for one am always surprised by what I see

But there are also the changes about us too that are not nearly so welcome …I am still surprised by the much publicised actions of how badly people as individuals and communities respond to each other…hostility is never it seems off the human agenda. And yet there are also perhaps even more occasions [less reported] when  we can see benevolent humanity in action

There was this weekend something hugely uplifting I felt in the pictures of one marathon runner supporting a fellow, but physically suffering, athlete across the finish line in the London Marathon sacrificing his own finish time in order that the other could finish the run, achieve a time and gain his medal too!!  A trivial episode maybe but illustrative of what can and often is achieved by ordinary folk in their lives…helps redress the imbalance of horrors taking all the limelight

I guess action like that one and the changing signs about us of new life and new beginnings is just what this season of Easter is all about..namely …HOPE..

Desmond Tutu, [not unusually!] seems to get it right

‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’

There are many many signs of hope about us if we can only let ourselves see that the light is more powerful than the darkness…illumination that can ‘guide our feet into the way of peace..‘ to quote someone else [Luke 1,79]

I pray that the effect of the evolving Spring of Hope will enlighten your lives.

Howard

The Revd Mark’s thoughts for March

Dear Friends

I’m sure you were more aware than usual of the proceedings of the General Synod of the Church of England in February* Even if you wouldn’t normally be interested, it’s been all over the media. Sex sells. The media are never more interested in the Church than when we are talking about it. Except that we weren’t. Not really. This is in part where the issue comes from. Christians can tend to get so hung-up about people’s lovemaking and whether they regard it as legitimate or not. As the Archbishops said in the pastoral letter after the ‘take note’ debate in synod, what we’re discussing here is not an issue or a ‘problem’ for the Church, but people and their lives and their relationships. It would be hard to read the Bible and conclude that sexual morality is not important, but when we’re discussing marriage and what it means; sex is only a part of that, an important part, but a part nonetheless. Personally, I’m not persuaded that the Bible condemns sexual expression between two people, whatever their genders, who are in a loving, committed relationship. Others disagree. Some certainly do so out of homophobia. I would find it hard to agree that if the people I know of that ‘traditional’ mindset are coming from that place. But I have not had to live with the prejudice and stigma that my LGBT friends have endured, often, sadly in churches.

All Hallows prides itself on being an inclusive church. We have become a safe haven for a handful of LGBT people who have not found the same welcome elsewhere. Inclusivity is in our DNA. If that means anything, it must also mean that people who hold to what’s regarded as the traditional teaching on sexuality should also find a welcome here. That welcome and inclusivity does mean that anyone has the freedom to wound others with their prurient questioning or by presuming that they can teach others about their lives. The basis of our welcome has been, and I believe should continue to be, that we celebrate our differences and the richness that gives us. There may be spaces we can create for honest and compassionate conversation but never singling anyone out for special scrutiny.

In this season of Lent, perhaps we could take some time to consider the radical hospitality of Jesus. In this time of self-reflection we might ask ourselves, who is it that I exclude, in my thinking, in my words, or in my behaviour—consciously or unconsciously? Diversity is a gift of God in Creation. By opening ourselves even more fully to difference this Lent, we may grow in our knowledge and love of God and neighbour.

Peace

Mark

The Revd Howard’s February thoughts….

My Musings…..

To say that things sometimes fail to go according to plan is not a particularly deep thought; for most of us, it is a common truism and our life path and plan has to be in constant review and re-assessment. This train of thought has been set in motion for me as I muse over the events of the beginning of this New Year… No matter where you stand on any political spectrum it remains true for us all that the results of the voting of last summer to leave or stay within the EU and the more recent Presidential election in the USA dominate much media space and introduce, unexpectedly perhaps, that element of surprise and ’whoever would have thought that could happen…’ into our lives

I was reminded that this is not a new phenomenon by a reading for evensong last Sunday…the story of Jacob’s adventure into the desert [Gen 28, 10-22] and his unexpected experience of God himself acting in the everyday events. To say the least Jacob found himself challenged and compelled to rethink his life choices

I just wonder whether in our more contemplative moments we as individuals may see the unexpected events as some sort of a wake-up call to encourage us to reassess our attitudes to questions and situations that perhaps we regarded as too remote to be that important?

How do we really feel about our relationship with neighbouring countries and cultures…and not only on that macro scale but closer to home how do/should we relate and what is our real responsibility to the communities and neighbourhoods of which we are physically a part? Something about being ‘our brother’s keeper….’ comes to mind!

All of this is perhaps a bit deep and certainly challenging but none the less, a reflection of what may face us…a reminder that whether we like it or not distant events do impact upon each of us in some way and challenge us to respond.

Fortunately as Jacob, with the problems he saw coming his way, was soon assured that there was help  alongside ..’’I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest…’’said the Lord [Gen 28,v15] …are we being reminded too that there is a power greater than ours to aid in bringing peace and justice into the world…maybe our resolution for this year ought to be to seek something of that divine help too

Blessings

Howard

Revd Mark’s Christmas message

Dear friends

It seems that we might be living in the era of the strong man. Putin in Russia. Assad in Syria. Mugabe (still) in Zimbabwe. And now Trump in America. In a time when everything seems uncertain and insecure, it is very tempting to try to go back to a time when we imagined things were different and our family, our tribe, our nation, was strong: make America great again. This is not America, of course, but that tendency lurks in our own culture and politics too.

What does this strength look like? So often, it is reflected in a sort of machismo, an unshakeable self-belief, a demolition of opponents and an aggression towards outsiders.  ‘Power‘  is so often associated with this sort of strength that I personally don’t like to use the word. Can there be any sort of power that isn’t about muscling your way to the top?

I think there is. The Bible talks about the power of the Holy Spirit. It always struck me as odd to talk about power when thinking of the person of the Holy Spirit that the Bible portrays as a dove, but the original word ‘dunamis; is much more about dynamism and energy than the sort of power exercised by supposedly strong men. This is the energising power of love, of strength displayed in love and gentleness. Above all, this is the power of God – the creative energy behind the Universe – being revealed in an infant in a manger. Let us be inspired this Christmas and beyond, in our work, in our play, in our families, in our friendships to make this sort of power the principle that shapes our actions and our relationships. Let us risk weakness in order to experience the power of love. In the end, it is this power, the power of love, not the aggressive strength of powerful men, that will help us navigate through these changing times.

Peace, Mark

Revd Mark’s November Notes

Dear friends

Prussian general and war theorist Carl von Clausewitz, said, in the 18th century, that, ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’. That way of thinking, all too prevalent sadly even in our own time, diminishes the devastating impact that war has on human lives (as well as the environment). In every age, people have suffered catastrophic injuries in their bodies and minds as a result of armed conflict, but it was only in the last century that this destruction look place on an industrial scale. That’s why it’s so important that we keep alive the memory of the two calamitous conflicts of the first half of the 20th century and many more since. Once again this month we mark Remembrance with special services at All Hallows and St Edmund’s. These special commemorations do not glorify war, but remind us of its terrible cost for both combatants and civilians.

The Christian tradition leaves room for different views on war, but even if we are among those who believe that there are circumstances where it cannot be avoided, we must recognise that it is the greatest of human disasters. We just need to look at the terrible experience of people in Aleppo or Mosul in recent weeks to know that.

Violence is easy to condemn when other people in other places resort to it. But perhaps as we commemorate the terrible cost of armed conflict on Remembrance Sunday, we need to examine our own hearts and commit ourselves to peace not just on the grand scale in our ordinary everyday dealings with each other. Only if more and more people commit to peace in these small ways can we avoid the great conflicts that all too often devastate our communities and our world.

Peace, Mark

Revd Mark’s October thoughts….

Dear friends

I love the warmth and length of summer days. As the nights draw in, and green gives way to russet on the trees, I am prone to feel a bit sad. The colours can be beautiful but we know they are the colours of life retrenching ahead of the darkness and frigidity of winter. But autumn is also the season when we celebrate the harvest. This is the time when the storehouses are filled.

I think this might be a helpful way about thinking about the season we’re in at All Hallows’ and St. Edmund’s. The summertime of having our students with us has come to an end and we might be feeling like the life they brought has drawn back. But much as we might miss those bright summer days we might also think about what we might gather in to the storehouse of our life together.

Andi, Darren, Ed, Gail and Ivor, and their families, and Jess too, in the time she was with us, brought new life. But they didn’t take it all away again. Their presence was a catalyst for spiritual awakening and growth in a number of people. That growth in faith is something we need to harvest for the benefit of all. How has your faith changed in the past two years? How has your relationship with God deepened? How might this be a gift you can share with other members of the church and in time with others in our community?

These are the questions I invite you to ponder as we approach a new season in our life together. I’d be really pleased to talk with you about what the answer might be for you.

 

Peace

Mark

Revd Howard’s August/September thoughts….

I suppose that over the past week or so the topic that has dominated the media has been the Olympics in Rio. Unsurprising I guess, as they only come every four years and whether we are sports mad or not, there is considerable interest in just how well [or otherwise] members of Team GB perform.

As I write ‘our’ team is not doing badly… indeed, just as successful as the London 2012 Games and likely to be a better haul of medals at the end compared with any previous ‘overseas’ games. Proper justification for the money that has been invested in all aspects of training for potential athletes.
One of the aspects that comes across quite forcibly as one hears the interviews conducted in the after competition ‘slots’, is that the outcomes are the result of very considerable dedication and persistence in rigorous training over many years…. and what is also a common factor is the involvement of those close to the athlete, family and friends, who also have made, often not inconsiderable, sacrifices in their support. Family and social life put on hold to enable the athlete to achieve. Such dedication to a cause is a worthy example to those of us who stand by and watch…. a job worth doing needs to be worked at consistently and persistently and set-backs met head on and overcome.

Another emotionally powerful sign was in the opening ceremony [and will no doubt be repeated in the Grand Finale]… pictures of a group of about a dozen athletes completing under the Olympic flag. Significance? They were all refugees… unable to live in the land of their birth. A visual example of an organisation that found a way to restore the humanity of these folk helping in a small way to remove them from an anonymous statistics file. In this act they have been acknowledged as individuals, full people with talents and a future and worthy of consideration and affirmation.

It is good for us to be reminded in our world that we should as society and as individuals recognise the similarities that join us as ‘homo sapiens’ rather than allowing the differences we have and hold to dictate our actions towards others and particularly towards those whose backgrounds, beliefs and cultures differ from ours.

That group of refugees in Rio are but a tiny icon of the masses of similarly displaced and disenfranchised world-wide [the last figure I heard was that they number some 60 million!]. This is a major problem that faces all of the world and from which we cannot escape some responsibility as part of a rich Christian based society. Our involvement, our response is not necessarily easy, it raises big political and socio-economic issues but nevertheless our responsibility as Christians is clearly illustrated in the example of Jesus himself and given the definitive support and command when he said ’… anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me…[Matt 25, v40]