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]

The Revd Howard’s thoughts for May……

Spring, when  thoughts turn……………..

I wonder how often it is that we recognise as important those unexpected and surprising events that change in some way our path of life? Some can turn our life upside down whilst others bring change that is barely detectable…  In   the last few weeks I have had at least three such events that were, to say the very least, totally unexpected .
The letter that arrived via Holme Pierrepont Hall from a former colleague at BGS in the 1960s was a real surprise, as was the phone call a couple of weeks ago from another one of my BGS team members whom I have not seen or heard from since 1993…  neither demanded a great deal from me but did furnish the opportunity to reflect on and to some degree relive that part of my life experience of years ago. Neither of these were in any way solicited, but were totally unexpected  and I guess that most of us have had similar and more dramatic unexpected encounters any of which had some impact on our life

This year the month of May contains a trio of Christian festivals that encompass and celebrate  the unexpected…Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity the former two of which fall very obviously into the category of the unexpected and surprising happenings for those early disciples of Jesus . It is true that they had failed to  understand the early warnings they had been given by Jesus as they travelled with him  and were consequently surprised at the permanent effect and changes that were made to their lives as he left them [Ascension] and as the Holy Spirit reappeared at Pentecost. The record that we have of these events quite clearly demonstrate the changes that the ‘unexpected and surprising’ had on their lives and provide us, too, with the assurance of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is God’s unsolicited gift to each one of us.

How can we fail to see God at work in the daily changing world about us as Spring arrives with the renewing of life in plants and creatures ? Or recognise that God is somewhere in this crazy mixed-up and often cruel world as we hear of acts of mercy and kindness enacted by ordinary folk upon others – even towards us from unexpected sources
Perhaps the reawakening of the Spring could /should be accompanied by a renewed understanding that God does act in unexpected ways…  will surprise us…  but only I fear if we accept that not only is his promise to be with us always is true,  but that may well be in ways that can surprise us…  conforming not to our expectations but to His greater pattern and plan not only for the world but for us too…  and I cannot but wonder what changes to us and the world  would be brought about if we really believed and lived our lives knowing that God is actually present and with us!!
The mind boggles…………….

Easter thoughts…. from the Revd Howard

It doesn’t really seem very long ago that we were putting the final touches to the celebrations of Christmas…..and now we find that Easter is almost upon us…. three more Sundays before that great festival…perhaps the greatest of our celebrations!!!

Lent has and is the time when we are meant to actively prepare ourselves to make that transition from the hypocrisy of Jesus’ detention and trial feel the horror and cruelty of the day of his crucifixion and rise to the joy and hopefulness of the Easter Resurrection… something of an emotional rollercoaster if we engage with it at all seriously. But it is a journey that we need to experience if the real significance of God’s involvement with his world is to attain its true meaning. It is often, quite truly said, that there can be no Easter without the pain and sadness of the preceding Good Friday.

At St Edmund’s as in countless other churches we will observe the journey during our ‘devotions’ on Good Friday… bible readings and suitable music enabling a solemn revisiting of the events through the trial to the crucifixion and onwards both in time and spirit to the glorious coming of light in the Service of Light on Easter Saturday before the magnificence of the Easter Eucharist on THE day itself at which service the words of the ‘Gloria’ [deleted from Lenten communions], is re-established with renewed heart and meaning….and with the renewal of  hope for this tormented world.

As with many other of the Christian festivals there is a continuing ‘creeping secularisation’ which seeks to replace the true meaning of the celebration with a commercially oriented alternative…. Fluffy chicks, chocolate eggs and newborn lambs can and are valid celebrations of the renewed life that comes into Gods created world at this time but they are no substitute for the remembrance and participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this act things were changed and hope was for us and for the entirety of the world and creation placed centre stage… and all the evidence I see is that we do need renewed hope in a future that will overcome the trials that so beset God’s world

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‘’.

I trust that the image of fluffy chicks, gambolling lambs and foil wrapped chocolate eggs will indeed enhance your enjoyment of this season but that they will too your faith that in that first Easter God in Christ has indeed changed all things!!

I look forward to welcoming you to our services as we join together in making our journey from the Cross to the Light of new hope and in celebrating that new hope in the world and in our lives.

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

Howard

The Revd Mark’s update on life at All Hallows

Dear friends

As we approach the high point of the Christian year with Holy Week and Easter, we are drawn to think about endings and new beginnings. This year we will face an ending of our own as the five students and their families who have become integral to life of our church move on to the next stage in their journey of ministry and training. It will be a time of mixed feelings as we share their joy and excitement at their Petertide ordinations, but also sadness as we contemplate the end of their presence with us.

This month, the All Hallows’ PCC will be considering again what part our church might play in a new partnership with St John’s School of Mission (previously St John’s College, Nottingham). There will not be another cohort of five or six students based for two years in Lady Bay, but we have been invited to consider receiving one student minister for three years from the autumn. The new model of training involves a student not simply being on placement with us but actually working for half their time each week as an additional minister in the parish. The most significant change for us in the potential new partnership would be that we would need to invest some of our own funds in supporting that student. St John’s would heavily subsidise that cost (meeting two thirds of the accommodation and stipend) but it still requires us to set aside a significant sum for us – £15,000 – to ensure that we can contribute £5,000 per year for three years.

Why would we consider this when our own finances are so stretched and people are giving so generously to keep the church running? Part of the answer is that this is an investment in growth, not simply an additional cost. A student minister would add additional capacity for mission and ministry in the parish. We’d be getting something like half a deacon for a third of the cost. Any organisation that finds itself under financial pressure does better to invest capital sums in the future rather than just running them down to meet operating costs. We are not talking about using money from general giving, but from legacies we have received. More importantly though, we need to discern together whether this is what God is calling us to do.

The financial questions are an integral part of our discernment, but ultimately this is a question of seeking God’s direction. We believe that understanding what members of the congregation think is essential to uncovering God’s leading among us. So if you’re a member of All Hallows’, please do take the opportunity in the next couple of weeks to let me or other members of the PCC know what you think, or even to put your thoughts in writing to me.

If there’s anything you’re unsure about please do not hesitate to ask. We also ask everyone reading this, whether a member of All Hallows or not, to pray for the PCC as we have our next discussion about this invitation this month at 7:30 pm on the 16 March.

Whatever we decide together, we look to the future with hope and expectation because our faith assures that every ending is also a new beginning. Our God has good things in store for us together in Lady Bay and Holme Pierrepont. Let us pray for increasing clarity in understanding what they are and what our part in bringing them to birth might be.

Peace

Mark

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