Letters from the Rector
Let all mortal flesh keep silent and with fear and trembling stand.
Christ our God descended - our full homage to demand.
It is about this time of year that I begin to write our family’s Christmas newsletter: sharing the important news and events of the year with my relatives and friends who live overseas. So this year, the family newsletter I will be writing is to you, because you are part of the family, God’s family, the church family. And the news that I long to share with you is the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is the reason why we celebrate Christmas.
Yes, we all love Christmas; I do, it's my favourite time of year. I love the buzz in the shops in the run up to Christmas. I love the thought of decorating the Christmas tree, eating scrummy chocolate Matchmakers, seeing Santa Claus, singing carols and opening my Christmas stocking on Christmas Day. Yes, I still get one for having been a very good girl! It's a few days off work for many, precious time for families to be together, parties to go to and lovely foods to eat - especially my mum’s Yorkshire puds. Somewhere, though, in the midst of all the festivities, we seem to have lost the awe of what the first Christmas meant and still means today: is Christ even in Christmas?
Two thousand years ago, a helpless babe was born in a smelly manger because there was no room at the inn. In reality, a young girl called Mary was chosen by God to give birth to the Son of God, who would be called Immanuel, meaning God is with us. At the Feast of the Epiphany, three wise men pointed out the way for us to know God. They knelt down to the Christ-child in awe and recognised the baby Jesus for who He was, who He is and who He always will be: because Jesus is Lord and Saviour of the world. And I should know, because this wonderful, loving God in Jesus Christ saved me and I will forever stand in awe of Jesus my Saviour.
So as we approach this Christmastide, let us remind ourselves of what it's all about. Let us stand in awe of God as we wonder at the Nativity and as we hear the church bells ring on Christmas Eve, proclaiming that Christ the Saviour has been born. Let us give thanks that we can be in communion with God, who created us to have a personal and unique relationship with Him.
For this is the true gift of Christmas - Jesus. The same Jesus who loves you, who longs for you to know Him. But where do we start - how can we know Him? Well it's as easy as lemon squeezy, just begin with the question of ‘Who am I?’ And then look for Him - not in the shops, the bank or in material things, but in the Bible, because that's where you'll find God. The Bible gives us sight of God, it reveals the love God has for you, His precious child, and reveals the trust that we can have in Jesus our Saviour, whom He sent to us as His gift at Christmastide.
So dear friends, come and join us as we stand together in awe at such a Saviour. You'll be amazed at what the gift of Jesus will bring you.
Wishing you every Christmas blessing,
Yours in Christ,
As we look back to the first disciples and Apostles of Jesus, we only hear little bits and pieces about them. Who were they really? What did they think and feel; what were their personalities like ? And what can we learn from them today?
Let's look closer at Mary Magdalene. What has happened to Mary Magdalene in the telling of her story – and what was her role in the Gospel story? St. Mark’s & St Luke’s account of the Gospel tell us that she was full of ‘demons’ but what kind of demons were they?
Then we hear that this Mary has a sinfulness about her and is despised and outcast from Jewish society. Even Judas moans about the cost of Mary's precious offering in anointing Jesus with her perfume. How quick others were to condemn her. And yet how slow they were to miss the goodness of Mary’s selfless act.
Because what Mary did, was to use perfume previously used for sinful and forbidden pleasure, to now be used as an act of praise to God. But let's not forget that Mary was the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus in her encounter with Him in the garden. It is when Jesus calls her name so lovingly, that Mary recognises Jesus in the gardener she believed Him to be. So overjoyed was Mary, that as she goes to embrace Him, Jesus tells her, ‘do not hold onto me.’ This is when something so profoundly graceful happens to Mary.
Instead of grieving over her loss in having to let go of Jesus a second time, she has to let go of her grief, and in doing so, is ready to obey Jesus’ instruction. So Mary becomes the Apostle to the Apostles and entrusted by Jesus, the very first evangelist, ‘ to go and tell the others that the Lord has risen.’ It was only when Mary ‘let go’ that God could work through her.
But what about us - we may have to let go too; of the stereotypes and conceptions we have of others who are different from us. This might be in how we think or see the mentally ill, the addicted, the homeless, people’s sexuality and so on.
Or, it could be in letting go of past hurts and the need to forgive others. You see, unless we are able to forgive we cannot move on from the hurt and know God’s peace. If we do hold onto the hurt though, it can very often seep through every layer of ourselves and into our relationship with others which can be damaging.
Life is not black and white; it is a grey world and as Christians we are called to live within many shades of the grey. We are not called to judge others, for that alone is God’s role.
Instead God calls us to love others because we are all, no matter who or what we are, whether we are saint or sinner at times, we are all created in the image of God.
So like Mary, are we ready to encounter the Risen Lord, to see the world through His eyes and to allow ourselves to be changed?
This may seem a strange reaction, but the fact that the work has started signals the end of a very long, arduous and often frustrating journey for everyone at St. Paul’s. Ever since I joined the PCC a few years ago, meetings have been dominated by the issue of the chancel damage, but it started many years before that. So many people have generously lent their time, attention, skills and expertise to trying to identify the problem, the cause and the solution, and a lot of precious time and money has been directed to this. Now, thanks to the efforts of so many people; to the securing of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus other bodies; and above all thanks to our Lord’s gracious provision, the end is in sight.
I’m sure that the repair project will bring its own headaches and hold-ups. We have probably all experienced some kind of disruption at times in our lives, and I’m sure most of us find it challenging and even stressful. But disruption can be healthy and cathartic. It can provide an opportunity to evaluate what went before and to identify positive changes for the future. It can make us look afresh at things and processes which we’ve inherited and accepted unthinkingly. It can spark new ideas and initiatives. It can lead to growth and regeneration.
And this is just as true for us personally. As individuals, we need to continually evaluate our beliefs, our behaviours and our attitudes if we are to become more like Jesus Himself. We may at times have to face the breaking down of some long-held beliefs and be prepared to accept changes in our lives if we are to flourish and grow as children of God. The greatest enemies of growth are complacency and a stubborn determination to cling to the status quo, regardless of need.
The greatest innovator and iconoclast the world has ever seen was our Lord Jesus. He completely shook up the old order and forced those with eyes to see to take a good look at the status-driven, exclusive and legalistic practices into which God’s chosen people had descended. He encouraged us to look at everyone through the loving eyes of God rather than through the eyes of selfish, self-protective people. He made humble fishermen the leaders of a movement which would in time become the greatest religion in the world. He was born in a stable and died on a cross, completely turning on their heads the concepts of kingship and servanthood. And that death on the cross and the victory of His resurrection mean that the punishment for our sin has been paid with no cost to ourselves at all, which is counter to our innate concept of justice. Jesus was a true revolutionary!
So we will put up with the dust, the dirt and the disruption. It will not stop us worshipping our Lord with joyful fellowship, and it will not put us off coming to church. And when it’s over, we will be able to do so much more for God’s glory than before. We can have a more flexible space to welcome new groups into the church for activities. We can welcome the less physically able to come up to the altar for communion by means of the ramp which will be installed. And we can focus all our time and attention on what we as a church really exist for: to bring knowledge of the love of our Lord Jesus into the hearts and minds of His people, both inside the church and in the community that we serve.
Wishing you all God’s blessings,
For some of us mathematics is something that we were perhaps glad to leave behind at school or university. Or, like me, you may have preferred the sums of multiplication to simultaneous equations. For others though, mathematics is a language and a different way of expressing things.
What about God's mathematics though, where one cross plus three nails = 4 given? How on earth can we understand God's message to us in this example of God's simple sum?
Well, from my own experience, I know that before I came to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, I was on a different journey to the one I am now on. You see, in believing that Jesus is Lord my journey will take me to the shores of heaven because through Jesus' victory on the cross, He has gone ahead of us all to welcome us home one day. That my friends is called being saved by the grace of God and we all need saving.
Imagine if we had to carry all our mess around with us and not be able to park it at the foot of the cross because by now we would surely all be weighted down with guilt, anger through our own sins. But we have a God in Jesus who took away our guilt for in Jesus we can be forgiven, we can be set free as forgiven from our sins, we can be set free to know the truth . And the truth my friends is, that Jesus loves you.
Of course, to the most important mathematical equation asked, what do you get in Jesus + You together? And the answer dear friends is Salvation and the many spiritual and physical blessings that God wants to pour out upon you.
July / August 2017
'The Prodigal Son.'
During our lives circumstances change, and we change. How we perceive our lives and the things we value change too. We may feel that our friends change. Or, it could be that our health and even our relationships change. And, sometimes, our Christian faith may change, too. We can become spiritually disconnected, lose touch with God and with what really matters. Yet, for many, there is often the feeling that there is something that seems to keep nudging them or calling them back.
It can seem an enormous thing to take that first step: to go beyond the entrance to your local parish church and find out what's on the other side. But as the Church, we are here for you. As your parish priest, I am here for you and to help you. So if you are searching, wondering, plucking up the courage, then please do contact me on 01509 890972.
During my life as an ordained priest I am amazed at the many people that I have met who have been away from the Church, sometimes for as long as several years. Yet, as in all of us, there is something that eventually draws people back, particularly when we feel vulnerable and find ourselves turning to God for help and asking Him to hear our prayers.
The Bible is the world's best love story between God and His people and it is an exciting moment to discover God's amazing love for you. Out of all the parables that Jesus tells us, I believe that the Prodigal Son is the most moving because we can’t help but be captured by the story of a father’s love for his wayward child.
This imaginary story tells us about a father who has two sons, and when the youngest son comes of age, he asks his father for his share of the family inheritance. The father grants his request and it is not long before the younger son has wasted his inheritance on wasteful and extravagant living.
After the money has run out, the younger son struggles to survive but then comes to his senses and realises that he could go home to his father and say sorry.
You see, like many people, I too have experienced having been a prodigal son/daughter and I realised that there was something major missing in my life. At some point we all come away from God, though the reason will be different for each of us. We may grow away from our faith at some point; or it may have been 'uncool' to go to church; or we left the Church a while ago and forgot the way God called us to live, so now live the way of the world.
But how wonderful it is to know that our loving Father God will always be here to welcome us home to His Church. This is what Jesus' parable of the prodigal son teaches us: that no matter what we do, no matter how many mistakes we've made, no matter how much we've messed up, God is willing to accept us back. God cares about us, He loves us: yes, even you and me!
Did you know that there is more rejoicing in heaven by God and by all of His angels when one person comes back to faith and to the Church than over a whole bunch of righteous people? So at this point in your life, have you noticed, realised, had that lightbulb moment that there is something in life you once had and now want back? That, my friends, is Jesus!
'The Spirit lives to set us free... Walk, walk in the Light.'
Every week, many Christians affirm what we believe in the words of the Nicene Creed: 'We believe in the Holy Spirit, The Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.' But what exactly is it that we mean by believing in the Holy Spirit?
On June 4th this year, the Christian Church will celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost. We are told that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples had gathered together in one place. Then there came from heaven a rushing of wind and what looked like tongues of fire coming to rest on each of the disciples. From that moment, all of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages as the Spirit directed them.
Let us rewind though to the ministry of John the Baptist, who had prophesied that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Then on Ascension Day, when Jesus ascended into heaven; Jesus had asked His disciples to wait for the gift that His Father had promised to send. So on the very first day of Pentecost, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit is fulfilled in the disciples.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was exalted and sits at the right hand of God, having received the fullness of his Father’s delight. Then the first thing that Jesus then did was to pour out God's delight on his people. In other words, Jesus received the fullness of joy from God and then passed this on to us in the presence of The Holy Spirit. So in receiving the Holy Spirit, the personal, eternal joy and delight of the living God, we are called to live in the Spirit and walk in the light and in the joy of fellowship with other Christians.
We believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: but do we recognise that it is the Holy Spirit who is God acting in the world today? For it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus that we offer our prayers to God. It is the Holy Spirit who sustains and guides us in our Christian daily living as we walk in the light.
Jesus' promise of the Spirit is for us today too. God in Jesus will always come to meet us: to renew and transform us so that we in turn can be transforming in our communities, showing God's love, in mission and evangelism. It may not be as dramatic an experience as those first disciples underwent on the day of Pentecost. But we can be absolutely certain that the Holy Spirit is present in the Word of God, through the Holy Eucharist and in each other, as we are all bound by the same Spirit.
So Come and celebrate Pentecost with us at St. Paul's (9:30 am), St. Mary's (11:15 am) on June 4th, where you can be sure of a very warm welcome.
See you there......
Do you remember who first taught you to pray?
For me it was a combination of my mother and going to what we then called Sunday school. We were taught the 5 finger exercise, nothing to do with musical scales but easy to remember.
Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication and our little finger for self came last.
Bishop Michael Ramsey expressed it this way:
To be with God wondering…. that is adoration.
To be with God gratefully…. that is thanksgiving.
To be with God regretting…. that is confession.
To be with God with others in your heart…. that is intercession.
Prayer is rather like a multi-facetted diamond – when God’s light shines on these different facets – different colours show up.
As you look back, are you aware of changes in the way you pray? As we grow physically and mentally has your experience of prayer developed too?
Prayers may be formal or informal, written, memorised, liturgical, spoken aloud, extemporary.
Prayer may be felt as a desire, a longing for God, being reflective, using scripture to move us into prayer: entering into a Bible story imaginatively by being part of the event can also move us into prayer. Contemplation is a silent waiting on God.
Prayerfulness: how we live this – in the way that we are – attitudes, actions and our relationships with others.
There is a lot there to explore and experience. We may be drawn to different types of prayer according to our personality, age and spiritual development. They are not meant to beat us up but to enrich our lives.
In Luke 11:1 Jesus is praying and his disciples are with him. When he had finished they asked “Lord teach us to pray, just as John did his disciples.”
The Jews were praying people. There must have been something different about the way that Jesus prayed that drew them to ask that question. Jesus gave them what we call today the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer we are taught, say, at most services. It can become familiar, too familiar perhaps. Do we always realise the enormity of what we are saying?
The first 2 words alone are pretty mind blowing and perhaps give us a clue about what was different about Jesus’ praying and a way of addressing God which he invites us to use. Who is the God to whom we pray? A stern disciplinarian, school teacher, policeman, a judge, a sugar daddy, distant, uninterested? Jesus says Our Father. We are invited to call God - the Creator of all that is seen and unseen … Father, not my father or your father but OUR Father. Was this what was different in the way that Jesus prayed? Relationship.
By the use of prayer, we can learn to know God as the best father we can imagine, who knows us better than we know ourselves, with whom we can share everything whether we see it as good or bad. A father who will challenge us, face us with ourselves and not let us get away with things, never turn his back on us. As you read John’s Gospel look at the relationship we are invited into with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is that what you yearn for? An adventure perhaps you are already on.
You may find a book here which will help:-
“Anyone Can Pray” - Graeme Davidson
“Deep Calls to Deep” - David Foster
“Approaches to Prayer” - Henry Morgan
“For God Alone” - Bonnie Thurston
“How to Pray” - John Pritchard
Wishing you rich blessings on this adventure in prayer with Our Father.
'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
When I was a child I can remember playing a game of making a tower of pebbles on the beach. This was great fun and kept me amused for hours as the tower toppled over again and again, until finally the foundation pebble held everything together.
As we journey towards Easter, it strikes me that Easter Sunday is like a foundation pebble upon which our Christian faith is built, and around which all other Christian events of the Liturgical Year are centred. At Easter, millions of Christians around the world celebrate and proclaim the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: that Jesus has risen from the dead and has had the victory over sin and death, and that He is Lord forever and ever, Amen. So you see, Jesus is the foundation stone which our faith is built upon and centred around. Jesus is the rock on which we can depend and have life in abundance in Him.
Of course, Easter does not stop there. Every Sunday is like a mini Easter Sunday because it is the Lord's Day, where we come to worship God and give thanks for what Jesus has done for each of us. It is also where we are reminded that we are called by God to carry on Jesus's mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that, 'As the Father has sent me, in the same way I am sending you.' But what do these words mean for us today?
One day at the synagogue, Jesus got up and unrolled an ancient scroll. These are the words Jesus then said: 'The Spirit of The Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.' Jesus did not just proclaim these words from Scripture but took them a step further: He lived and fulfilled them. Jesus lived with those in poverty, He befriended those on the edge of society, He healed the broken hearted.
Like the pebbles that are joined together to make a tower, so are the people of God joined together in Jesus. The Church is not about the building, it is not about being a club but about a people, a body of Christ, a community whom God has called to become Easter people, Christ-centred and willing to continue the mission of God to the world.
As Christians, our role is to take up Jesus' mantle and embody - like Jesus - the Kingdom of God in the communities in which we live. Can we live out those same words that Jesus proclaimed and celebrate to make His Kingdom a living reality? What a privilege, what a joy!
Wishing you every Easter Blessing,
Lent: the period of forty weekdays lasting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, observed as a time of penance and fasting commemorating Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness. From Old English ‘lencten’ / ‘lengten’ spring, literally: lengthening (of hours of daylight).
Collins English Dictionary
Dear fellow members of the Benefice family,
For many people – and certainly for children - the first word to pop into their heads in response to the word ‘Easter’ might well be ‘egg’. One of our challenges as Kingdom-building followers of Christ is to work towards the day when the first word that anyone associates with ‘Easter’ is not the word ‘egg’ but a word such as ‘resurrection’, ‘victory’ or ‘risen’, or the name of our Lord.
But actually eggs have long had a part to play in our Christian faith. Indeed, it could be said that – in culinary terms – Lent is bookended by the eating of eggs: Easter eggs on Easter Day itself; and in pancakes, the traditional dish eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The reasons for this are connected to the history of Christianity in this country.
The historical way in which the Church required Lent to be observed– namely, by fasting in order to get closer to God – meant that eggs could not be consumed during Lent, and would have had to be used up before Lent started. Pancakes are a perfect way of using up eggs and fats.
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 74) gave this justification for abstinence from eggs in Lent:
…The Lenten fast is the most solemn of all, both because it is kept in imitation of Christ, and because it disposes us to celebrate devoutly the mysteries of our redemption. For this reason the eating of flesh meat is forbidden in every fast, while the Lenten fast lays a general prohibition even on eggs and milk foods.
Why would eggs be given on Easter Day? One factor may have been sheer practicality. Hens don’t observe Lent, so they would keep on laying during its six and a half week duration, thus producing a glut of eggs. This presumably reduced egg prices and made them accessible and affordable.
But there were other factors at play. The association of eggs with rebirth pre-dates even our Lord’s incarnation, and was prevalent in many parts of the world. Perhaps it was a way for early evangelists to assist people’s understanding of this key concept of Christianity. The Christian custom of giving eggs at Easter probably started among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs with red colouring “in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion”, and also with green and yellow.
The colouring of eggs is associated with various legends. One is that Mary Magdalene, summoned by Emperor Tiberius, asserted that Christ had been resurrected. Tiberius’ dismissive reply – “Christ has not risen, no more than that egg is red” - was followed by the egg in question miraculously turning blood-red. A legend from the Eastern Orthodox tradition presents either Mary Magdelene or Mary, the mother of Jesus, placing under the cross a basket of eggs, which were then turned red as the blood of Christ dripped onto them. And yet another myth has Simon of Cyrene as an egg merchant who had to put down his basket of eggs to help Jesus carry the cross. In his absence, the eggs changed colour.
These days, we no longer think in terms of complete abstinence and fasting during Lent – for which I for one am very grateful! – preferring instead to give up some kind of food or habit to which we are particularly (and unduly?) attached.
However, perhaps even more of a challenge than giving up particular foods, and an even more effective way to show solidarity with our Lord in His time of trial and temptation, is to work on an aspect of our lives which is preventing us from getting closer to God. This might involve not only giving up something but replacing it with something that will lead to spiritual growth and renewal.
Our Lord knows our weaknesses and – if we allow Him - helps us to overcome them. Our first step is to admit what they are, and to commit to dealing with them. Let’s use Lent to work with God to make us more Christ-like, and more like the people God intends us to be. Just as the cracking open of an egg can symbolise the breaking open of the tomb on Easter Day, let’s help God to help us break out of our worldly shell, and be transformed into the children of God that He knows us to be.
Wishing you a transformational Lenten season.
Yours in Christ,
For more information, see:
‘Pancake Day’ by Ellen Caselow. Available from www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Pancake-Day/
‘Beyond Ishtar: The Tradition of Eggs at Easter’ by Krystal D’Costa. Available from blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/beyond-ishtar-the-tradition-of-eggs-at-easter/
‘How the Fast of Lent Gave Us Easter Eggs’ by Anthony McRoy. Available from www.christianitytoday.com/history/how-fast-of-lent-gave-us-easter-eggs.html
'Behold, I stand at the door and knock'
For us life begins as a journey from birth. Throughout this journey, life will take us down all sorts of paths and avenues. There may be wrong turns from time to time and possibly dead ends or even feelings of being in some kind of maze and not knowing which route to take.
Then there are the questions of life that start to form in our minds, 'What is the meaning of a Life? Is Jesus real? Does heaven really exist? Who am I? If I become a Christian will I still be normal and can I still go down the pub? (Yes, of course you can!) Jesus Himself knew how to party at the wedding in Cana and even turned the water into wine when the wine ran out.
When God in Christ came down to earth and was born both fully divine and fully human, the baby Jesus embarked on the journey of what it was like to be fully human. Jesus experienced what we each experience: The ups and downs of life, the heartache of losing his cousin John and friend Lazarus, the joy of being at a wedding.
Then as part of his journey, Jesus took the decision to be baptised by John the Baptist in the River Jordan so that He could fully identify with us and take all of our humanity back into heaven at His Ascension.
But what does Baptism mean - is it just being dunked in cold water and getting our hair messed up or does something actually happen? In baptism, God invites us on a life-long amazing journey where, together with God's people, we explore the way of Jesus and grow in our relationship with God.
Baptism is the very first step in responding to the love of God, who knocks at the door of each of our hearts. Like the famous Painting, 'Light of the World' by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman, Jesus stands knocking at the door but the handle is on the inside of the door: We have to choose whether to open it and invite Jesus into our life. We have to choose to let Jesus in.
Baptism is a joyful time when we rejoice in what God has done for us in Jesus and where we are welcomed into the family of God and take our place as a beloved child of God among his people. Of course none of us really knows how Baptism works because Baptism is a sacrament. Yet what we do know is that a sacrament is a sign that God is at work among us because He loves us. In fact, God loves us so much that He sent His only Son Jesus to dwell among us so that we could have life in abundance in Him. Imagine that, life in abundance!
Some of us will have been Baptised as a baby or child so the next step may be confirmation, which confirms the promises our parents made on our behalf when we were young and now that we have the desire to confirm them as we are older?
One of the things I loved about preparing for my own confirmation was all the questions I could ask: All the things I had ever wondered about God came tumbling out and this deepened not only my faith but my relationship with God. So if confirmation is something you are thinking about then there is a course that will be taking place this year.
So where is the journey taking YOU? Is God knocking at the door of your heart? Are you ready to take the next step of your journey? If so then please come and have a chat with me, your Parish Priest Revd Lisa.
In His Name,