Thought for the week, 21st October; Christian service

And so the nightmare in Israel and Gaza continues. I really have no words that are adequate, perhaps a truly honest posting would finish at this point. But there is one detail this week that has lodged in my mind. Something that does not seem to have been reported in all  the coverage about the terrible rocket attack on the  Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is that it is administered by Episcopalian Church in Jerusalem; the Anglican (ie Church of England) church in the Middle East. It was founded in 1882 by the Church Missionary Society, the missionary society of the Church of England. At its core, are the Christian values of love and service, although it offers care to all, regardless of creed or nationality. Within the church, we often speak of ourselves being the “body of Christ”, the people who attempt to do the Christ-like work in the world, bring the Christ-light into the world. So often this just seems to be words; just ocassionally I can see it in happening.

The Middle East

I have set up a table in Billingsley church with prayers and readings for the situation in Israel and Gaza, for those who wish to have a place to reflect on the terrible events there. The church is always open.

Thought for the week, 14th October; Despair and Hope in the Middle East

Then the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus]. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 

(Mark, 15:16-20,16;1-8)

October 100 Club draw

100 Club Draw Results – October 23

The draw took place today at St Mary’s Church the lucky numbers were drawn by Sue Russell from Church Cottage.

Here are the lucky numbers:

1st = 95 D Poyner

2nd = 3 S Middleton

3rd = 78 B Williams

A huge Congratulations 👏🏻 to all the Winners your prize money is on the way to you, and thank you for your continued support, it’s very much appreciated.

We still have numbers available if anyone would like to join and support St Mary’s.


Thought for the week, 7th October; Coming together

Over the last few weeks I have attended a number of events organised by our local churches that might be termed “social gatherings”. A coffee morning at Billingsley a month ago, a breakfast at the Down organised by Glazeley and Chetton churches, the harvest supper at Chelmarsh. None of these are explicitly “religious” gatherings; the nearest we came was when I said grace at the harvest supper. The coffee morning and the breakfast are to raise money for the churches; the harvest supper is simply to thank the local community for supporting the church. However, for me the most important thing that all these events do is to bring people together. It is always a pleasure to see new faces at them. For the most part, these people will not come to church and may have no formal religious faith at all. However, we welcome them as part of our community, no matter what they may or may not believe, following the insight of the Hebrew scriptures that we are connected as we are all made in God’s image. As a vicar, I believe that God is at work in these gatherings every bit as much in a church service. There are words (sometimes) attributed to the poet William Blake which speak to me about this; “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see; I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three”.

Thought for the week, 30th September; Fully consensual

Sexual relationships have been much in the news over the last couple of weeks. There has been GB News, where a presenter spoke of how no “self respecting man” would want to sleep with a female journalist, whose views he did not share. And still the story of Russell Brand continues; the allegations that he had intercourse with women against their will. He of course denies these and so they remain unproven; his defence was that he was “very, very promiscuous” but all his relationships were fully consensual.

I used to take the line that what two consenting adults did in the privacy of the bedroom was their own business, provided it did not break the law. To some extent, I still have that view. But St Paul in particular, warned strongly against lust and the “desires of the flesh”. In his world, at least in the higher echelons of society, casual sex was often the norm; a means of self-gratification and a way of advancing oneself. Paul rejected this as it was simply lust without love, without any consideration of the long-term effects of a series of casual relationships might have on either person. Mr Brand last came to general attention when he recorded a mocking interview with Andrew Sachs, about how he had slept with his granddaughter. Brand eventually apologised to Sachs; my understanding is that the unfortunate granddaughter was a vulnerable adult with an addiction problem, in no position to give effective consent. To Brand’s credit, it has been reported that he eventually apologised to her as well and paid for her treatment for addiction. But perhaps this illustrates the problem with saying that being “very, very promiscuous” is OK as long as it is consensual; one person’s self gratification can so easily be at the expense of the others wellbeing. Paul knew this.

Thought for the week, 23rd September; rising and falling

Over the last couple of weeks, in my job at a university, I have had the difficult job of having to decide and (in some cases) tell students that they must leave the university. Sometimes this has been because they have failed exams, sometimes because of misconduct. This is never a pleasant job; many years ago, I recall how a colleague complained that staff would queue up to congratulate students on their successes; the same people were nowhere to be seen when bad news had to be given. Perhaps this is just as well, it does help to have some experience at undertaking this demanding pastoral role. It is essential to remember the welfare of the person concerned; no matter what the circumstances, we have a duty of care to them. It is important to tell them that whilst they no longer have a future at the university, they most definitely have a future outside it. With the benefit of grey hair, I can see that for some friends and relations, the best thing that happened to them is when they were forced to change direction; in the long run, this was a liberating experience, that allowed them to develop in new ways.

This idea of a fresh start is a very strong theme in Christian and Jewish teaching, indeed it features in most religious traditions. At the heart of Jesus’s teachings is the Greek word “metanoia”, which we translate as “repentance” but has the idea of a change of mind, a turning from the old that does not work to a new, better way. There is a sense in this that failure is inevitable, but we have it in our power to chose a better way. I do not talk theology at my failed students, but I am very aware that I am drawing on this to encourage them to look forward.

Thought for the week, 16th September; Church Going

“Church Going” is a poem by the late Philip Larkin, a person of robust views, not always in sympathy with the call of the Gospel. He famously described himself as “an agnostic, I suppose, but an Anglican agnostic, of course” . But he took his uncertainty about God seriously. In “Church Going”, he describes visiting an empty church, open for worship but with nobody inside. As he wanders, glancing at the open Bible with its “hectoring verses”, pretending to read a lesson, he ponders on the future of the building; perhaps unintentionally, on the future of the entire church itself in the face of apathy and unbelief. His conclusion is surprisingly upbeat and one I find myself agreeing with as I minister in the rural churches of this benefice and deanery. The church building is a “serious house”, there for when we need to be serious about our own life and death.

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognised, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.

September ‘harvest’ 100 club draw

100 Club Draw Results – Sept 23

The draw took place at St Mary’s Church @ the Harvest Festival Service, the lucky numbers were drawn by Stewart Page our guest speaker.

Here are the lucky numbers

1st = 72

2nd = 44

3rd = 3

A huge Congratulations 👏🏻 to all the Winners your prize money is on the way to you, and thank you for your continued support, it’s very much appreciated.

We still have numbers available if anyone would like to join and support St Mary’s.