Canon Hugh Wright, Vicar of St Catherine’s and Holy Trinity, Ventnor, and Rector of St Boniface’s, Bonchurch, has written a great article for Church Times about the Church's need to wake up to its place in an increasingly secular society.
As we emerge from lockdown, so the Church of England, along with so many organisations and businesses, is reviewing its structures and way of being in the world. We are being asked on our Parochial Church Councils to think about our Vision, our Mission and our Strategies. More simply, who are we and what are we trying to do?
I start with a thought, a sad vision of our towns, villages and country-side without churches; without open, dedicated, sacred spaces to creep into when life is hard, to light a candle or ask for the blessing of a child or a relationship, or to grieve the dead. The bulldozed church is no longer there to remind us that life is not iust about material goods; and is it really likely that some other beautiful space, dedicated to the mystical journey of our souls, will ever be built again?
So for me the Church is the building... your church, for it belongs to everyone in the Parish, whatever religion, culture or creed, it belongs to you.
I have a hopeful vision of a place where loving everyone, even our enemies, is preached and taught. Because for me the church is a place where great leaders through the ages have arisen to speak out for peace and reconciliation. They have also called for change and the tearing down of unjust structures in society, they have defended the weak and cared for the suffering.
The church holds no exclusive rights to this human capacity for selfless love, but it does encourage it, applaud it and teach it. It is also a place for unconditional forgiveness and the possibility for every person to change.
So the church for me is a community and a structure that is an encouragement to be better than I am and the best I can be,following others and inspired by Jesus’ teachings and life.
We would love to know what you think: ‘What is the church for you?‘
I've now been retired much longer than any post I've held in my working life.
Before that, after school I did my National Service in the Fleet Air Arm, worked as a Clerk in the Metropolitan Water Board, started training, but failed my exams, and was out of college for 3 years, earning my living, in a variety of iobs for a while before being allowed to resume my training at St Aidan’s College in Birkenhead in I959, where this time I successfully passed my exams and was ordained in Leicester.
In both my colleges, many of us students conjectured that the Church of England went to considerable trouble and expense to transform ordinary people like us, whom God had mysteriously chosen to become his priests, into ‘gentIemen', thus separating us very efficiently from our future parishioners with disastrous results.
I did, however, greatly enioy learning as much as I could about the Church’s Liturgy (the round of worship, particularly the Sunday Services} and the sacraments like Baptisms, Weddings and so on. They're all covered by that word ‘liturgy’ .
That word was not an English word at all. It is a word used by the ancient Greeks (the ones we say who invented democracy), and to them it meant the responsibilities that belonged to every man who was a citizen, and they would have been puzzled by any idea that their liturgy did not cover matters of faith and belief. Of course it didn’t apply to women and slaves: they simply didn't have those sorts of rights or responsibilities - so much for democracy.
The Church took over the word liturgy to describe our relationship with God. Because God created us as spiritual beings in a body of flesh, every person performs their liturgy by being themselves.
Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God - yes, God chooses women and slaves and every body - men too.
Sometimes a ‘Thought from the Vicar’ is easy and upbeat to write, sometimes it is harder; because sometimes life is harder. So I write this for those of you who, like me are waking today with a feeling of sadness, fear or meaninglessness. If you can’t find a reason to do the things you have to do today, if you can’t face doing that list of things that the day ahead and other people demand of you.
I think that for me these feelings are connected to this crazy covid time. The stop/start of our uncertain lives and the exhaustion of trying to keep the ‘show on the road’. I think it is because of the enormous disruption of the last year and now ‘getting back to normal‘ is being dangled in front of us. But maybe we do not want ‘normal’, maybe parts of lockdown life were beautiful; do you remember birdsong and walking and empty roads, maybe you enioyed home schooling or working from home was good for you. Everything is beginning so fast and I for one am exhausted and overwhelmed.
As I thought about this, I turned to the Bible reading for the day... Jesus said, ‘Why do you worry about what you wear and what you eat, why do you worry about wealth? You are more than clothes and food and material things, look first for the Kingdom of God.‘ Looking for the Kingdom of God, what is this, is it one more thing on our to do list?!
And then I remembered. The Kingdom of God is found in the moment, not in past pain or future difficulties. It is right now. It is this room, in my home, in the soft warmness of the Jack Russell that is snuggled beside me. The Kingdom of God is in the thankfulness for the breath in my body, in the glorious sensation of the warm water and bubbles as I do the washing up.
The Kingdom of God is knowing that the only person whose opinion of us matters is God’s, and God's opinion of us is that we are good enough and that we are unconditionally loved iust as we are.
I am still frightened of the day, weary and uninspired, but I have a voice in my head reminding me that each moment is a God given GIFT, and I know that thankfulness will work its magic and soon the clouds will pass,
PS: if life is tough for you, don’t be afraid to say something and you can call me or a member of the team anytime.