November is not only a month of remembrance but also that of anticipation: the 'expectant waiting' which is so vital to the period of 'Advent' in the Church Calendar, which begins on the 29th November. In this period of 'waiting' we focus on the world's needs: it's sorrows and it's wrongdoing. We look at the suffering, the injustice, the oppression and violence still present in our world; and we recognise our need of a Messiah, a Saviour. And miraculously, God himself comes as our saviour, humbly and vulnerably as one of us, entering fully into the deepest of personal woes, the darkest of global crises. In the darkening month of November, we anticipate the light of hope which will shine 'In the bleak mid-winter'. I love the following poem by R.S. Thomas which is often read at Christmas, but is perhaps better read during Advent:
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
On Saturday 19th September this year, Lynn New along with four others from around the Diocese of Portsmouth, was Licensed as a Lay Reader. Lay Readers have a particularly valuable role in the leading of worship, in preaching and teaching, and in the work of pastoral care and sharing of the good news of God's love in our churches and communities. Each one of those Readers Licensed, is a uniquely created human being, and each one brings their own unique gifts and experience to their ministry.
It is not only Lay Readers who are called by God however. The Christian church is a place where everyone matters and where everyone can play a vital role in the life of the church and its care for God's people. Some ministries happen almost invisibly, flowers are placed and replaced, woodwork polished, garden and graveyard tended. The lost are befriended, the sick comforted, those seeking answers are given more questions and food for thought. Collectively and individually our broken world and its people are held in prayer before a loving God.
Sometimes these ministries seem like ineffectual drops of goodness in a world where there is such need and such sorrow, and yet again and again I have heard people tell how even the smallest of acts has brought healing and peace to their lives.
If you are feeling nudged to participate in this 'work of the Kingdom' - don't hesitate! No matter how big or small your act, you can make a difference, and as you do so, you will sense God's grace and love moving in your life too, and a deeper sense of belonging and peace.
And spare a thought for those particular ministries of Lay Readers in our diocese who have studied and worked so hard to draw closer to God and to God's people. They Bless us through who they are and what they do.
Looking at the two words bracketing the linking 'in' of the heading of this article, you can rightly assume that I am musing about (principally), two things: Companionship and Community.
The word 'companion' derives from the Old French word: 'compaignon' - meaning 'One who breaks bread with another', and has its origin in the Latin words com, 'together with' and panis, 'bread'. We might think that breaking-bread together is something which normally happens when people who are already established as friends or at least acquaintances come together to share food. Yet in many cultures and beliefs it is the act of sharing food (of which bread is often a staple), which initiates relationship. The word communion comes from the Latin communion 'sharing in common' and relates as much to the sharing of thoughts, feelings and beliefs as it does to holding material things 'in common'.
In the service of Holy Communion (sometimes called 'the Lord's Supper' or 'Eucharist') enacted and celebrated by Christians throughout the world, we share in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine as we remember God's great love for us and God's giving of Godself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the Eucharist we say: 'though we are many, we are one-body, because we all share in one bread'
It is Jesus Christ 'the bread-of-life' who brings us together, despite differences of background culture, social status, gender or lifestyle. Jesus often brings together people who would in other circumstances be so aware and focussed upon their differences that they would hastily speed-off in opposite directions.
The church is not meant to be a group of homogenous individuals all talking the same way or liking the same things. True, those individuals will discover areas of 'communion' - of shared thinking and feeling, as they break-bread together. Yet a healthy church will demonstrate the diversity of God's creation and God's love for all people in all their variety, and then that church will celebrate that diversity as we recognise God's love for each of us and as we in turn share love for Jesus.
Idealistic? Delusional? I'll let you judge. Yet I am never so aware of God's love for people, all people, than when I take services of Holy Communion. I am so aware of God's love for people at these moments that it even blasts my own prejudices and preconceptions to smithereens and I feel, as Michael Ramsey once said: 'With God, with the people on my heart, and with the people with God on my heart'
Once, all 'holidays' were Holy Days (which is how we get the word), and represented the only days when ordinary folk could get some respite from what for most, were days of drudgery and hardship.
Setting some time aside for God, became not just a helpful thing for the soul, but a vital change and rest for the body. When I was at school, there was much talk of the need to be educated for leisure (sadly, I wasn't!) - the notion being that advances in technology and computing would liberate humanity from being 'slaves' to work and instead 'work' would become vocational, creative and fulfilling. This has only happened for a very few of the world's population, and even those pursuing careers of their choice, are now slaves to their smartphone, and the constant pressure to respond to email or text.
Holidays are to be recommended! But can I suggest that we make them 'Holy Days' too? Can I encourage you to spend time with, or searching for God, and to cast your burdens and your stress at your loving creator's feet?
Jesus said: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11. Verse 28).
Happy Holy Days!, May God bless you and those you love,
Whatever our actual age might be, we are all God's children - known, and loved by God.
Yet the records of Jesus' ministry in the first century show us how much value Jesus placed upon infants, children and young adults. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each* record how some of those following Jesus tried to prevent people bringing their children to see and hear him or to be healed by him. In those days children, along with women and some other sections of society were treated as not worthy of learning or participating in debates about life, politics, or religion. Jesus constantly raised the status of children and the underprivileged giving them a 'voice' and central role in their society.
It is in accordance with Jesus' own teaching and ministry that as a church family we endeavour to recognise that children are 'the church of today' and 'the community of today' just as they may become the church and community of tomorrow.
Our local communities at Nettlestone, Seaview and St Helens are truly blessed to have among them two wonderful Primary schools which enliven and enrich our local villages. Neither Nettlestone nor St Helens Schools are church schools, but they seek to be embedded in the life of the local community, including the church and I am delighted that St Peter's and St Helen's have many opportunities to engage with and support these schools and their staff and pupils.
As a parent, I know just how valuable my son's friendships at St Helens are to him — and to us as a family; (how much his friends and their parents have helped us over the past year, to settle here on the island).
As Priest-in-Charge of St Helens with Seaview I am energised and enthused by the conversations I have with pupils and staff at both schools. Our Sunday worship is enriched by members from both schools singing in the choir or being part of 'Children's Church'. It is all part of preserving and developing our local community. Our local schools are vital to village life and deserve our support especially in times of austerity.
I shall be inviting each of the schools to write for a 'Schools News' page in future editions of this magazine so 'Watch this Space!'