Thought for the week, 13th August;At the end, God

This week I was at the bedside of my father as his life came peacefully to an end after 95 years. Death, loss, is never easy to deal with but I felt it was the right time for Dad to go and his ending was as good as I could have wanted. I am sometimes asked (or told!)  if having religious faith helps me to cope with death, particularly of those closest to me. I think by this people mean that I have a hope that I will be reunited with Mum and Dad, my grandparents and others once I am dead. The truthful answer is rather more complicated. A few years ago, a book was published called “Heaven is real”, based on someone’s near death experience when this individual became convinced that in Heaven a detached house with a car in the drive awaited the deceased, along with his/her relatives awaiting. To be honest, this picture of Middle-America suburbia sounds to me more like a vision of hell. The classic Christain picture is that after death, the deceased sleep until everyone is resurrected in a one-off event. I can buy more into this picture, but I am also reminded of the words of the head of Cuddesdon College, Bishop Humphrey Southern, who when I was training to be a vicar once observed that in his opinion, most theology is pious speculation. He was speaking tongue in cheek, but he was making a serious point. The General Resurrection has some truth in it, but I would not want to push it too far. What I think really gets closest to the truth are the words of a great American Old Testament Scholar called Walter Bruggermann, a man in his 90s, who was asked what he thought would happen when he died. He replied that in words to the effect that he neither knew nor cared about the details; for him it was enough that the God of Life prevails, even in the face of human death. As St Paul put it almost 2000 years ago, there is nothing that can cut us off from the love of God, not even death. Rest in peace Dad, and rise in Glory. 

The second anniversary draw of the 100 Club – a time to celebrate!

The 24th draw of the 100 Club was made by David on Thursday 4th August. Number 97 won Paul £49 and number 43 won Jenny £24.50 whilst her son-in-law David also won an equal sum when his number, 35, was drawn.

Through the generosity and support of Club members, St Mary’s now has a new portable heater and maintenance work that had to be postponed due to a lack of funds has been completed. The roof has been made secure by replacing and fixing broken and loose tiles. The guttering has been repaired where needed and painted and lime mortar repairs have been made to porch and eastern gable end of the church. As you may imagine maintenance of such an old building is always ongoing and we have been informed that in the not too distant future further roof work will be required to attend to failing laths.

This summer Club funds supported the planting of three flowers beds in the churchyard; one to commemorate the recent Platinum Jubilee and the other two to enhance the ecological diversity in the church grounds by providing nectar rich flowers for bees for as much of the year as possible. The Club also hosted a Jubilee picnic which was enjoyed by all those who were able to attend.

The book club that is located in the church is being well used and there are many books covering an eclectic mix of genres. This facility is open to all and we welcome you to come and take something that interests you. There are many recent best sellers to be found there too!

Shropshire Council recently informed us that we are unable to continue to hold the bonus draw at Christmas when all the income generated from ticket sales has been returned to winning members as prizes. Under the regulations that govern small lotteries such as ours the maximum prize money cannot exceed 80% of the total collected. This means that the rules of the Club have had to be amended to reflect this. We are not sure why it has take two years for us to be notified of this issue.

As you are aware the Club was established with 100 potential memberships on offer. Obviously numbers fluctuate slightly as members join and leave which affects the level of prize money paid out each month. We have never sold all the numbers available and the PCC has decided to extend the invitation to join to supporters of St Bartholomew’s Church at Glazeley. In practice this will mean that new members will be asked to indicate which church they wish to support and the fundraising element of their membership subscription will be allocated accordingly. It was felt that given the time and effort put into running the Club it should be put to best use and help our neighbours in Glazeley. The biggest benefit for all members is that prize money may well increase as we welcome Glazeley supporters.

Thought for the week, 7th August 2022; Our burning world

In the light of the driest July on record, this is a poem composed in 2020 by the Rev Malcolm Guite, as part of a collaboration with the composer Rhiannon Randle. It references Isaiah 51;17-10 and Mark 13:32-42, but the words speak for themselves. 

Our burning world is turning in despair, 

I hear her seething, sighing through the air: 

‘Oh rouse yourself, this is your wake up call 

For your pollution forms my funeral pall 

My last ice lapses, slips into the sea, 

Will you unfreeze your tears and weep from me? 

Or are you sleeping still, taking your rest? 

The hour has come, that puts you to the test, 

Wake up to change at last, and change for good, 

Repent, return, re-plant the sacred wood. 

You are my children, I too am God’s child, 

And we have both together been defiled, 

But God hangs with us, on the hallowed tree 

That we might both be rescued, both be free.’ 

Thought for the week, 30th July; Jouneys

Queues at airports and the ports, train strikes and locally, trying to work out which roads are still open; travel at the moment is not easy. For most of us, the journey is little more than an irritation; we travel simply to arrive at our destination. But there is another way, where the journey itself is more significant than the destination; this is pilgrimage. To go on a pilgrimage is a spiritual exercise, the journey is a way of travelling deeper into ourselves. Pilgrimage is open to anyone who is wants to explore their own spirituality, whatever they might call that. Abdul Rashid, the England cricketer, has recently been talking about the Haj, his pilgrimage to Mecca. Undertaking this once in a life is considered a duty for a pious Muslim and it is clear it has had significant benefits for Abdul. He has spoken to his team-mates about how it has taught him patience, self-discipline and gratitude; all important attributes for a professional sportsman. Of course, there are other ways of learning these, but I suspect the experience of the pilgrimage will stay with Abdul and will have changed him.  

Billingsley Church is part of the “Small Pilgrim Places” network, but all of our churches are places where anyone can go to pause and reflect. There are many other places around us that also have this spiritual quality. And perhaps, if going to one of these, you get stuck behind a tractor or at traffic lights, that is also an opportunity to accept the delay and live in the moment, on your pilgrimage. 

Thought for the week, 16th July; Disagreeing with grace

Yet again, America seems to be tearing itself apart over abortion. Battle lines are drawn between conservatives and liberals, often apparently between the “religious” and “non-religious”. In fact the debate is more nuanced; whilst the Bishops in the Roman Catholic church are overwhelmingly anti-abortion, opinion polls suggest there is not reflected in the pews. In the Episcopal Church (the equivalent of the Church of England), Bishop Michael Curry, who spoke at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, has spoken of his sorrow at the decision to restrict abortion. 

The issue is complex and difficult; it raises questions of both science (when does independent life begin?) and ethics (how do we balance competing rights and duties). I would not presume to tell people what they should think; I am not really sure of what I think. Perhaps this is one of those times I draw strength from the Bible. Not by using it as a text-book of embryology; something totally alien to the spirit in which it was written, but by seeing how its writers argued and disagreed. We can follow how individuals struggled to live Godly lives over the best part of a millennium, how different views, sometimes quite contradictory, were held in tension. Disagreements could become heated as views were strongly held, but somehow people found ways of living with each other. It is that spirit which we need to learn from. 

Thought for the week 9th July; the deeper silence

I recently reflected on the ministry of the Rev Richard Cole, broadcaster, one-time pop singer and recently retired parish priest. He has now written a detective novel, “Murder before Evensong”, featuring Daniel, a vicar as the sleuth. I have not read this, but very recently an extract was published in the Church Times, which I have slightly adapted below. Daniel is about to say Compline, one of the services the Church of England took from the monasteries and incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer. It is said late in the evening, when all the joys and tribulations of the day are done. (Once a week I say this service over Zoom, if anyone wishes to join with me). 

“He opened [his prayer book] but he needed not the text, for the order was always the same and he knew it by heart. As an invariable prelude he said silently the Jesus Prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. Each petition was slow, measured, geared to his breathing and as his mind and body stilled [the arguments of the day] began to fade from his thoughts. And in the vacated space silence unpacked itself and through the static and hiss, a deeper silence came like the depths of the sea”. (Sarah Meyrick, Church Times, 17-6-2022). 

I pray to hear the deeper silence. 

July draw of the 100 Club – a special thank you

Yesterday the 100 Club draw for July was made by Mike and Bonnie Garvey. It is great that all three numbers drawn belonged to first time winners. The results were; 1st prize, 42, netting Win £49, 2nd prize, 61 and £24.50 for Tom and finally number 49 winning Lin £24.50. Congratulations to the lucky members.

Mike and Bonnie have supported St Mary’s Church since they arrived in Billingsley six years ago in many ways. We thank them for their generosity and hard work and wish them all the very best as they move to their new home in the Cotswolds.

Thought for the week, 2 July; Religion and politics

How far should religious figures be involved in politics? The father of Theresa May was a vicar; he would not allow his daughter to display election posters in the vicarage as he thought these might act as barriers between him and his parishioners. At the other end of the spectrum was Bruce Kent, the former chair of CND who has just died He served as army officer during his national service in the 1950s and then was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic church. He could have achieved high ecclesiastical office, but he set it aside for his commitment to what he understood to be the Gospel of Christ; in particularly, a passionate belief that possession of nuclear weapons was a moral evil. He worked tirelessly for nuclear disarmament. Eventually he resigned from the priesthood, convinced that his calling as a Christian meant he could not in conscience abide by the strictures of the church. Bruce Kent had no time for those who though religion and politics could not mix; for him, his faith had to be lived out in the political world. In vicar-speak, he believed he was called to speak with the prophetic voice, just as in Old Testament times, the prophets spoke truth to the corrupt rulers of Israel and Judah. 

Whilst I incline to the views of Theresa May’s late father on trying not to impose my own views on others, I always fully supported Kent’s right as a Christian to become involved in politics, although I did not share his analysis. I am glad today that Christians are still prepared to enter the political fray and argue for policies or parties based on their Christian convictions, even when I disagree with them. What I do ask is that they do so with humility, however strong their own convictions. I have always been impressed by the attitude of a Quaker, who I once heard praying.  Quakers are famously pacifists, I was in no doubt he stood on nuclear weapons, but he finished his prayer by asking for humility, in case he was wrong and those who disagreed with him were right. Perhaps this is an attitude many politicians could learn from.