Revd Mark’s February thoughts

Dear friends

This month, we begin again our journey through Lent. Before we get to Ash Wednesday, we have one of my favourite days of the year: Shrove Tuesday. I do love a pancake!

Of course for most people ‘Pancake Day’ has lost its religious significance, even if there might be vestiges of it in the background. Like many other formerly Christian feasts, it’s much more focused today on the products that companies want to promote. You may remember the TV advertising campaign of a few years back with the slogan ‘Don’t forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon Day!’ In fact, feasting itself has lost its significance for those of us who live comfortably in the West. We live with plenty, not scarcity, so we can basically feast whenever we feel like it. It doesn’t feel as special as it did in centuries gone by because many of us have more than we need all the time. The inexorable rise in the rates of Type 2 Diabetes is down to a number of factors, but one of them at least is the richness of our diets and our overindulgence in sugar and fat. One of the other names for this day is ‘Mardi Gras’ — Fat Tuesday. It’s a day when people typically eat more fatty foods than usual — a dangerous idea in our times of plenty!

There is some evidence that this feast, like so many others, has a pre-Christian origin, but Shrove Tuesday, as you may well know, comes from the word ‘shrive’, which means to absolve. The idea is that it is a day of preparation, of putting away excess with one last ‘blow-

out’ before we enter into the period of fasting. It is meant to be a putting aside of our over-indulgence in all kinds of ways and concentrating on prayer and honest self-examination. This too has some hangover into our post-Christian culture. Lots of people talk about giving things up for lent – often alcohol or chocolate. Some Christians in reaction to this often prefer to talk about taking things up; taking on a new discipline of action or prayer. That’s all good. But let’s not forget the discipline of fasting itself. It’s a practice observed throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New. Jesus spoke about ‘when you fast…’, not ‘if you fast…’. He assumed that his followers would practice it.

Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean going without food. It can mean eating more simply and perhaps eating less. Enjoy the feast of Shrove Tuesday, but use that opportunity to reflect on how our plenty is only possible because we have exported scarcity. Other countries grow the food we will buy at the expense often of being able to grow enough food to feed their own populations. Workers on the land that grows products for Western consumption are often paid a pittance. Even farmers in the UK struggle to make a living from the land under the squeeze from supermarkets. So I encourage you this Lent, unless you have a medical condition that would make it dangerous for you, to think about how you will fast and live for a time in a little more solidarity with the poor, because their poverty is not disconnected from our plenty.

 

Peace

 

Mark

Revd Howard’s Christmas thoughts……

Christmas is coming……….

It would be very easy to pen a few lines commenting on the gulf that seemingly exists between the current practice of ‘doing’ Christmas with all the accent on commercialism and the materialistic bias to the celebration and its origins. But in a way that wouldn’t help at all….Christmas has at its heart  a basic [but very profound] understanding that it has to do with giving and receiving and the relationship between individuals that such acts engender

The Christian tradition has as its basis a celebration that, in a Middle Eastern country some 2000 years ago, God himself chose to become one with his creation …with his people in an act that speaks clearly of,  and invites, a close relationship between God and Humankind. This is what makes Christmas special and different; it offers the removal .. the breakdown of any barrier between God and mankind.. so iconically and powerfully represented by the giving of that most precious gift …a tiny child.

It is in the experience of most of us that the appearance on the scene of a baby can be the means of strengthening and bonding human relationships.

The gifts that we, at this season, rush out to buy, carefully wrap and present may, in comparison, be relatively small and insignificant but perhaps we would do well to recognise that in the simple act of giving and receiving there is made the offer of renewed and strengthened relationships …the offer of love, hope and support…and who of us cannot honestly say that these are the relationships we desire and the world needs most?

A return to recalling that Christmas is the celebration of Gods offer of friendship, love and relationship to us would, without doubt, refocus our festivities towards the revitalisation of relationship one with another and back to the event that lies at the heart of the festival….and who would disagree that in this modern world that would bring about much needed change.

Jeanette joins me in wishing that you all have a wonderful celebration this Christmas and that in spite of all the hustle and bustle of preparation there will be opportunity for love, joy and hope to recharge all our relationships.

God bless

 

Howard

The Revd Mark’s thoughts for Christmas

As I write I am reflecting on the community meeting that I just chaired. One of the questions that was raised was whether I was an appropriate person to chair the meeting given that I had expressed a clear view about the issue under discussion. Good question. Indeed the question of the local church’s role in the midst of such a conversation is one worth reflecting on. But it’s Christmas, surely we should be talking about stables and mangers? Well precisely.

God is for all people. That’s clear throughout the Bible. God has a particular closeness to the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but that closeness is for the benefit of all humanity. There is no partiality with God. And yet in the Incarnation, God comes and takes a particular stand alongside the poor and dispossessed. The God of rich and poor nonetheless is made known and present first and foremost among the outcast. Does that mean the wealthy can just go hang? The song of Mary at the angelic announcement of her pregnancy comes close to saying so:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)

And yet in the story of Jesus’s encounter with a rich young man, looking for guidance, we read that:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him (Mark 10:21)

God’s love in Christ is for all, and yet at the same time God takes a stand with the poor. So the local church, bearing the name of Christ, is for all the people of our community too. Yet our faith also inspires us to take a stand with those who do not have the riches that we do, whether that be financial riches, or the more important wealth of secure and loving homes and families. We challenge ourselves and others to be welcoming and open-handed, risking the conflict that may ensue.

It’s too easy and simplistic of course, to view ourselves as on the side of the angels and so to run the danger of demonising those who take a different view. We could always be wrong. But we do our best to discern the Christian response and to summon up our courage to inhabit it. We continue to love those who take a different view.

This Christmas, whatever conflict you face in your family, in your workplace, among your friends or in the church, I pray that you will be inspired by God’s coming to us to be ready to be clear about where you stand and why, but at the same time to love those who don’t agree.

Peace

Mark

Revd Howard’s November Notes

Looking out from my study, it is quite clear that we have made the transition into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ The leaves on the trees have become the seasonal festival of colour and the mists give a somewhat ethereal appearance to the views out of our windows. It is also the time of year when our individual and collective thoughts turn towards the timeless questions…’what are we going to do for Christmas.’ and ‘what can we give to …’

It so happens that one of the readings for today [All Souls Day] may help in those dilemmas. The verses from Luke’s gospel chapter 14, verses 12-14 record Jesus’ comments as he was entertained at the table of a prominent Pharisee

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.

 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luke 14, 12-14; NIV]

  It is not a matter of great scholarship to recognise what is being said here and what is quite remarkable just how contemporary this advice is even now.

We are informed on a daily basis of the needs of large sections of humanity, whether they be the thousands of refugees from war torn Middle East or those on the fringes of our own society, who find the needs for life even at the simplest level to be unattainable. The needs of all of these groups to the simple basics of life are immediate and are real. Like the example of Jesus, they too, are not able to repay any kindness

If we take Jesus’ teachings at all seriously then the advice is simple …our most appropriate first supportive act is to anyone who cannot repay…and there is a wealth of advertising material out there to let us know who they are. This responsibility attaches to all of us independent of our faith system but it is an imperative for the Christian. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Italian monk describes charity [caritas…Latin] as extending  ‘….not only to love of God but also to the love of neighbours…’

 And Paul in perhaps the best known section of his letter to the good folk of Corinth pronounces that of the three greatest virtues faith, hope, and charity, ‘the greatest of these is charity.’[I Cor.13,13;KJV]

 Perhaps all of this is simply a timely reminder that we do have an obligation to anyone who is in need irrespective of who and what they are …or where they come from….and this should be factored into our thinking and planning for the weeks ahead.

 

With every good wish and blessing

Howard

Revd Mark’s October Notes

Dear friends

What a lot of things are happening this month: harvest, the book festival, our Gurdwara visit, the Diocesan conference, St Luke’s Day and All Hallows’ Eve (a very special occasion for All Hallows’ Church). In the midst of all this, we might miss something happening in the weekend when the clocks go back. Sunday 25 October is Bible Sunday. We’ll see from our visit to the Gurdwara that the Sikh scriptures are revered like a living Guru. In fact the sacred book is called Guru Granth Sahib. In synagogues the Torah scrolls are treated with the utmost reverence and replaced at great expense if they suffer any damage. Muslims similarly revere the Koran.

Sometimes it can feel in Anglican worship as if the reading of the Bible is merely a preliminary to the main event: the Eucharist (Holy Communion). I hope our celebration of Bible Sunday this month, however, might make us approach this wonderful gift that we have with renewed reverence and enthusiasm. Just as we believe Christ is present in bread and wine, so I think it is a holy expectation to expect to encounter the Word of God in the word read and preached. That’s not to ask, as a preacher, for one’s words to be held as above critique or correction, but to say that in approaching the Scriptures, we are drawing close to God.

Sometimes the Bible feels like our friend: it brings comfort and encouragement. Sometimes it feels like a puzzle: it is not always easy to understand or relate to our everyday lives. Sometimes the Bible feels like an irritant or even an enemy: it confronts our cosy ways of being with wisdom from another world and time and holds us to account.

There are all sorts of ways we can read Scripture, whether that be studying it on our own, participating in a reading or study group, hearing it read in church or sharing in Dwelling in the Word. But whatever else we do this month, I hope our thanksgiving for the gift of the Bible will encourage us to seek God in its pages and allow it to do its work of transforming us.

At the beginning of November, we’ll be visited by two friends from Sk?vde in Sweden. Here are a few words or phrases you might like to try out:

Hello – Hej (hay)

Goodbye – Hejdå (haydoh)

Yes – ja (yar)

No – nej (nay)

Thank you – tack

Thank you very much — tack så mycket (tak so mick-et)

You’re welcome — varsågod (var-sho-good)

Please – vänligen (ven-lee-gen)

Welcome — välkommen (vell-commen)

Nice to meet you trevliqt att träffas (trev-lee-get treffass)

Sorry – förlåt (furlott)

Coffee break — fika (fee-kuh)

Peace be with vou — frid vare med dig (fridd varruh med

day)

God bless you – Gud vålsigne dig (Gude vell-seen-yuh day)

Together – tilsammans (till-sam-mans)

_peace

_Mark

Revd Howard’s thoughts for September

The Meteorological Office now tells us that summer has gone and we are in the autumn season…with all that promises!!

I hope that you all have been able to enjoy the summer and have happy memories of the holidays.

We are now, in the Church’s year, well into the Trinity season [ends 25th October] and thoughts and planning begin to turn to the commemorations and festivals that lie ahead …Remembrance Sunday, the Harvest Festival, our Patronal Festival,  a number of significant Saints days and of course the major celebration of Christmas.… Much to think about and prepare for in the days ahead and there are other matters that are making the headlines in the media that we as individuals and as a Christian community would do well to reflect upon.

Perhaps the most disturbing of these are the daily stories of human tragedy as people from a number of African and Middle Eastern countries feel the need to flee their homes to escape persecution and oppression and seek refuge in European lands. The influx of large numbers of extra people into Europe raise not only serious practical socio-economic questions alike in poor and wealthy lands but also moral and ethical questions about human relations and responsibilities.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless to do anything about the enormous needs that are identified but the Judeo-Christian teaching has always been clear… from ancient times the Jews were taught of their responsibility not only for the poor of their communities, but also to make special provision for the welfare of itinerant travellers and those from foreign lands – a teaching that was not only endorsed but extended by Jesus himself. The parable of the Good Samaritan [found in Luke’s Gospel  …chap 10], gives unequivocal guidance to the understanding of who is one’s neighbour and comes down firmly to suggest that anyone who comes with genuine need falls into that category. Without exception, Jesus’s sound bite on the matter, the two most important commandments, cannot be clearer for the Christian… ’’Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself…’’

No, we cannot solve all the needs we hear about, but we can and ought to do whatever we can in our means to support those organisations and charities who are able with help to respond effectively to those outside our shores, and also to those in need in our own society…such action is after all at the heart of our belief and faith. I know that ‘Charity begins at home….’ but it doesn’t say where it should end!

As we move through this part of the year with the points of reflection on the gifts we receive… Remembrance of others’ sacrifice in wars, of the gifts of Harvest and the greatest gift of all in Jesus, Son of God… perhaps it is a good time to recall our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters… our neighbours in their need.. not only in practical ways but also remember that there is great power in prayer too…and each of us has the means to do that.

God bless…

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

(Traditional Gaelic blessing)

 

(Revd) Howard

Jess writes….

Time flies!

It’s hard to believe that I have already completed a year of ordination training. Time really has flown by. Over the past ten months I have been challenged and stretched, surprised and blessed.

Joining the family at All Hallows has been such a blessing. I have been loved, encouraged, supported and comforted at times of need. The year has had its ups and downs as we have journeyed through the restructure that was announced by St John’s College in November 2014, and as we as a community have set out as the first students on the Community Mission Pathway (CMP). As Mark, our vicar, acknowledged in last month’s article, some of the hopes for this pathway have not been realised in its first year, and this has led us to reflect and seek a way forward as a community.

Over the last six weeks I have felt led by God to consider the future of my training and it is with great sadness that I will be leaving Nottingham this summer and moving to Durham where I will join the community at Cranmer Hall. The restructure at St John’s brings with it uncertainty about the third year of my training and the academic pressures greatly impact my desire for balance and wellbeing.

It has been a really challenging time as I have sought to understand why this is happening. Why did God call me here in the first place? Why would he be calling me on now? I have prayed and asked all my questions and it was in church just two weeks ago when I felt God remind me that at times we just have to accept that there are things that we won’t understand right now.

Stepping out blind requires faith, and whilst it seems scary, I trust that God will be faithful. I very much see this as a message for All Hallows at this time as I have been so encouraged during my time here to see a congregation so committed to working through change and uncertainty.

Just this weekend, our guest speaker, Revd Andrea Russell spoke to us about journeying with God from one side to the other, as the disciples did when Jesus said ‘let’s go across to the other side’ in Matt 4:35-41, where Jesus calms the storm. Andrea spoke powerfully about the reality that we are called to journey through the storm when our desire would be to journey round it. In 1 Thessalonians 5:24 we are promised that ‘The one who calls you is faithful, and he will continue to be faithful.’

As I journey on from Nottingham to Durham, still very much in the midst of a storm, I will hold this parish in my heart and in my prayers, expectant that God in his faithfulness will honour his calling on both my life and yours as a congregation. I very much hope that I will have opportunities to visit you all in the future, and I know Mark and my fellow students will keep me posted on how you are doing.

With love,

Jess x

Some post Easter musings from Darren Howie (St John’s Student)

Another Easter has almost come and gone, sadly and virtually slipping away again into the back of our minds, only to resurface again next year as we approach another Easter. Throughout this period of the Christian calendar, we are encouraged to reflect on themes of “new life” and “resurrection.” So every year I hear words like these I do my best to understand and embrace the hope they are supposed to convey. However, do these words really mean anything? Do they point to anything significant about what actually has happened in the past, what can happen now, or what will happen in the future? Are words like “resurrection” and “new life” not just Christian buzz words that are actually little more than, perhaps, the spiritualising of everyday concepts such as ‘self-help’, ‘fresh starts’, and ‘second chances’?

I was thinking about these things the other week as a walked along the Hook towards the Water Sports Centre — and I had a little moment of clarity when I saw a sight that would have been an ordinary one any other time of the year. It was a lonely, public, garbage bin in desperate need of being emptied. The bins have been forgotten, I muttered. And to add insult to injury others who were on the path that day just seemed to be taking no notice. And I thought I had moved up in the world into a more respectable neighbourhood. In Rushcliffe, you see, garbage is collected regularly, on time, in my street (Holme Road) for example, every Thursday without fail. You rarely see overflowing refuse, anywhere. That is of course, except when there’s a statutory holiday, such as Easter. Such as the day I was enjoying my walk, and my own company, along the Hook. Statutory holidays alter the norm -almost everyone in Lady Bay knows this, except me initially.

As I continued my stroll and as it dawned on me that it was Easter, the sight of the garbage toppling over the edge of the bin it got me thinking. It sort of symbolised a culture where Easter (or at least its historical meaning) is ignored, forgotten, or trivialised and commercialised. Easter comes and goes and we barely notice. We throw our garbage away and it’s business as usual. Life carries on, as it always does. It doesn’t seem to change anything and it’s good for little more than an extra day off work.

Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, the lonely and full garbage bin reminded me that life will inevitably go back to normal but that the ‘normal’ always contains its fair share of ‘garbage’. Taking the garbage metaphor to the extreme, you could say that those of us who celebrate Easter do so in the full knowledge that the coming year will contain a reasonable amount of struggles and trials. None of our lives are ‘garbage-free’.

There are few times of the Christian year more enjoyable to speak at than Easter. But I’m painfully aware that a large portion of the people in our community, those who might be reading this reflection, for instance, might find it difficult to find the joy, because it’s not true to their situation. Perhaps, like me, you have been listening to words about resurrection and new life, yet at the same time have been through, or are at present slap bang in the middle of varying forms and degrees of garbage. For example, we live in world ravaged by cancer and other diseases, families struggling with the fallout of addiction, mental illness, and suicide, lives touched by the economic downturn… And those are just the stories we happen to be aware of. How does ‘resurrection talk’ sound when you’re surrounded by garbage?

Of course, there’s nothing new about this question. The hope of resurrection has always been located in a world where suffering was the norm, where garbage is to be expected. The promise of newness has always been spoken to people more familiar with tragedy than to those who are adamant that they are in no need. The Easter message is that there is more to the story than we see, but this message has never been proclaimed into a context where newness and hope were self-evident realities.

Even when life goes back to normal. Even when it is the middle of June or September or November, and Easter is memory, and it seems like we’re up to ears in garbage and pain—when the flowers of spring are replaced by the scorching heat of summer or the wind and the rain of winter. Even when we’re surrounded by garbage, the memory of Easter, of new life, of resurrection, no matter how vague or distant, lives on, and it reminds us that hope always has the last word – that summer and winter will pass – that spring will arrive – that garbage will be collected and life will go on, even beyond death.

Darren

The Revd Mark’s Easter notes

Dear friends

 Some years back, a friend of mine wrote a comic Christmas play called, ‘Scrub that Manger!’ Underneath the laughter, he was making a serious point about how the toughness of the story gets lost underneath layers of sentimentality. We like to focus on fluffy lambs and pretty stable scenes rather than teenage pregnancy, family disgrace, despotic rulers and state-sponsored mass murder.

 It’s understandable. Christmas is a time when we have an opportunity to help children especially connect with the Christian story. It’s sensible and proper to downplay the harsher aspects. It’s a family show after all.

 It’s much harder to do that with Holy Week and Easter. That’s not to say there isn’t sentimentality at this time of year, but bunnies, eggs and chicks have far more to do with pagan sensibilities than the Christian story. It is possible, if we’re just Sunday Christians, to go from Palm Sunday to Easter Day without anything in between.

 I think there’s another, more subtle thing that we do, though, with the most important events in the Christian year and in the Christian story. We rush to the end, or at the very least we tell the whole story from the perspective of the end.

 I find it interesting that the day we most gloss over is Holy Saturday. It often feels like just the gap between the shock of Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection. But I think there’s more to it than that.

 Sometimes we cannot help telling even Good Friday from the perspective of Easter Day. On the other hand our liturgies and ways of approaching the story do draw us into an experience of its power. Real tears are often shed on Good Friday.

 Holy Saturday liturgies on the other hand are infrequently observed. If we do take part we find they rush us on to the Resurrection. The Vigil either begins with or ends with the ‘Service of Light’. That mitigates against us being able to enter into the desolation of the first generation of disciples in that first Holy Week.

 They hadn’t really been paying attention when Jesus spoke, as he sometimes did, about his death and Resurrection. They ere confused and shattered by his humiliation and death. They were sceptical and perhaps even hurt and angered by the first reports of his empty tomb. And those first witnesses wondered who had desecrated his grave rather than recalling his talk of being raised. Imagine how they felt on that first Holy Saturday.

They didn’t understand or know that Jesus would be raised. They were just left with each other to mourn and ponder all their shattered hopes. It was over. Jesus was dead. Dead and buried.

 We are Easter people. The Resurrection is fundamentally the Gospel to which we bear witness. Jesus is Risen. This is the Good News. But without the desolation of Holy Saturday, we are in danger of cheapening the grace of God. This isn’t a plea to turn up to a service. This is an encouragement to spend some time in your own way this Holy Week and in your own Christian discipleship more generally, imagining your way into the desolation of Holy Saturday.

 That’s not because I think it’s good for us to be miserable in some masochistic way. It’s because before we can offer people the hope of Resurrection, we need to understand the depth of their loss, their sadness, their grief. If we cannot stand with them in those experiences, we demean them by rushing to offer hope. Our faith doesn’t leave us in our desolation but, by God, it does meet us there. And that’s the other point. It’s not just other people’s loss, sadness and desolation. It’s our own too. It’s damaging, I think, to our emotional well-being to rush ourselves on, to deny even, the depth of those experiences in our own lives. In the cold, dark, deathly places, where God is absent, dead even, even there God is with us. God stays with us, waiting. Only when we attend to those experiences in our own lives and find God  here, and experience Resurrection there, can we offer people Good News with real compassion.

 I pray that this Holy Week, this Easter, we may all have a deeper experience of God’s presence with us in the darkness and so be enabled to celebrate the dawn with deeper joy.

 With love from Mark.

The Revd Howard’s Easter thoughts….

Easter thoughts….

Easter is a moveable feast… its date each year being dependent upon the full moon after the Spring Equinox… a glance at the opening pages of a Book of Common Prayer will give instructions as to its determination. The church calendar and the celebration of other festivals depends very heavily upon the date of Easter but that is not all and certainly that is not the most significant feature of that celebration… Easter, and all that it stands for, changes our understanding of God and His relationship with His creation and us as a part of it. Can you for one moment imagine our faith without the event of Easter? … the historic events of Passion Week, the trial and cruel execution of the Man from Galilee would have ended everything… just another well intentioned man overcome by the opposition of those who felt threatened.

But we are aware that this is not the case… there was the miracle of Resurrection and the Easter dawned as a beacon of hope and promise to a world shrouded in the blackness of sin and death… Easter changed it all ushering in the possibility of Peace in place of anger, Hope for despair and Forgiveness of our transgressions… the world then 2000 years ago was in need of such a transformation and who would argue that our 21st century world is not still in the same need??

As we walk our path through the torment and sadness of the way to Gethsemane let us remember the vision that is Easter… the beacon of hope and light leading us onward to the promise of eternal life secured for each of us by the sacrifice of our Saviour Christ .

Perhaps some words of Cardinal Basil Hume [former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster] place Easter in its right context:

‘’The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake‘’.

There is nothing wrong with the image of fluffy chicks, gambolling lambs and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs to enhance your enjoyment of this season that has indeed changed all things!!

A joyous, hope-filled and happy Easter to you all …

Howard