One of the things that is most obvious to us all who live and work in these parishes is the sheer beauty of the place and the most constantly voiced thankfulness that I hear is that we are so lucky to be here. Yes we are lucky but we are also responsible.
All of us have a responsibility to care for, to tend and to respect the natural world around us and in the church we add to this that this natural world is a glorious awesome gift from the mystery we name God that must be cherished. So much of what we do has an impact on creation, the way we shop, all that we consume and throw away. However this impact is mostly hidden from us and as we live surrounded by beauty, the sweat shops and factories that produce our consumables around the world pollute the environments of others and scar the earth. We are not so naive that we don't see this we just don't join up the dots. The environmental movement has lectured us again and again to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and although we may be getting somewhere with the last two (Council obligations and Bootsales, Wightbay and charity shops!) there is no evidence that we have reduced our consumption at all.
It seems to me that our consumption is something to do with an emptiness that has crept into our lives, it is an attempt to find contentment, even love. As our sense of living worthwhile lives gets attacked by the media, social isolation and materialistic values that judge us on the size of our car or wallet, so we look for short term fixes like a trip to the shops or an Amazon session to help us feel better. I have felt this many times myself and I wonder how our churches can help to give us creative ways to address this longing.
The most fundamental thing that the church offers is the radical, society changing, life fulfilling teaching of Jesus that is preached every week... but this is not purely an advert for Sunday services! The church as a spiritual harbour for our lives gives a breathing space were we can think a little more clearly about what is truly important. Where we can pause and reflect and by offering pastoral support for people who are struggling and social gatherings for us to find nourishment in relationship, we can prioritise love and care.
With all this in mind do keep your eyes open for lots of new things that will be developing this theme. The new Eco Church Sunday afternoon gatherings at St Helen's Church, the Book Group and new house groups starting in September.
We in the West have forgotten that as human beings we need nourishment for Body, Mind and Spirit or our lives can spin out of control into a relentless unsustainable consumption. Our churches offer that food for the Spirit; come and see.
Recently the Diocese has been encouraging all the churches to think about how we grow in numbers attending church and in our love for our communities. Some members from our churches gave up their valuable time to attend a weekend course called LYCiG (Leading Your Churches Into Growth) and they hosted meetings at the beginning of this year to tell you all what they discovered. We have been thinking how we can best use some of what we have learnt, and pass on some of the really good encouragement. Because so much of what we will be thinking about affects the whole life of the church it seems that the best place to look at this is in the PCCs but also much wider than the PCCs so......
You are all invited to one of the following meetings*
Monday 9th July 6.30pm St Helens (St Catherine's Chapel)
Tuesday 10th July 6.30pm St Mary's Brading (Church Hall)
Thursday 19th July 6.30pm St Peter's Seaview (Church Hall) All of the meetings will be an hour long
with a glass of something and nibbles (PCC after)
The small planning group have been responsive to feedback already received and would like to assure you that the material that we are using is really practical and well suited to our churches and we are sure that you will enjoy it. It helps us to discuss ideas and think about positive actions that the churches can easily take and it is encouraging as we reflect on all that we are already doing.
For myself I have spoken clearly in my sermons about how I see the church as a very special place in our community, as a Haven for those in need and those seeking meaning for their lives. Growth is about letting people know that Love can have a place and a name, about welcoming all people and being visible in that welcome. This LYCiG material, appropriately used, can help us with this. See you there!
*(PCC members please attend the one in your church before your meeting).
Well, it is all now official, and a new 'Benefice' has been born as the churches of Seaview, St Helens and Brading and Yaverland are now a working partnership.
This grouping of churches, with myself as the vicar for all of them, will take a little while to settle but try not to worry as I come from a valley of eight parishes and ten churches so have some experience of churches working together!
My understanding is that the key to a vibrant united benefice is 'difference', with each church shining out in their own way. Each of the churches has strengths that are distinctive, histories that have shaped them and the surrounding communities that they serve vary in culture. This focus on the local is maybe a shift from the view of the recent past that advocated monopoly thinking and economies of scale at the expense of diversity. However it is now thought that unity in difference is in fact a more creative and encouraging model for not just church but in the secular world too.
As each church looks to see what they are best at so it is necessary to be honest about the weaknesses too and as a benefice explore how each community can offer help to the other. We will also be looking at ways in which we can work creatively together and enjoy a wider fellowship across the churches. We will be observing how that liberates more people for niche events and services such as evensong, new theologically challenging and exciting house groups and groups developing Christian Spirituality, as well as like minded people to continue and enhance deeply rooted service to our communities.
Most importantly as spring turns into summer we think about how this new Benefice reflects the creative power of love; love between us and for those around us. How our churches can continue to be a haven for those in spiritual, physical or emotional need. This is a quality of our Being and not our Doing and a new start gives us a perfect place for reconciliation and restoration as we follow Jesus' teaching and forgive one another and serve one another.
Just a short piece this month as I arrive to say a heart-felt thank you from myself and Phil for your welcome as we arrived in the Parishes. It is for us a very happy return home to the Island that we love and to communities that we are very much looking forward to being a part of.
The main priority for me, as your priest, is that I am available for everyone in the Parishes, for those who attend church regularly as well as those who do not and for those who look to the church as a place of blessing and a spiritual anchor in stormy times.
Our beautiful churches speak, in their presence and their architecture, of the historic longing of people for connection and meaning. They belong to everyone, as do I. I am really looking forward to supporting the PCCs and our local ministry team as they continue to do their valuable work sustaining the fabric of the churches and offering pastoral care alongside uplifting worship. I will also get involved in the community, in the schools and supporting local clubs and businesses wherever and whenever I can.
So with that in mind please do invite me for tea, for a chat, or a dog walk on the beach!
I find names fascinating. The process by which somebody is given their name is so haphazard that it can hardly influence the person, and yet we treat the name as an insight into a person's character or abilities. That is not always true, and sometimes names seem to have been chosen to confuse. The names given to English Acts of Parliament for example: If you see a title such as "For the Preservation of Game" you can be pretty certain that it empowers certain people to kill as many pheasants as they can manage in a morning and afternoon, which is a pretty roundabout way of being impressively "green".
This month starts with Easter Day - the Christian commemoration of that event which we believe is the hinge of human history - when we celebrate the Resurrection or Raising of Jesus Christ from death to life. The name "Easter" is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon, either alluding to the idea of the light of the Risen Christ which was symbolised by the rising sun (in the east), or like many other instances, taking over former pagan celebrations previously connected with this time of year - there was a cult of a pagan god called Eostre - and the Celtic missionaries from lona and Lindisfarne who brought the Christian Gospel to the English were adept at attaching the new ideas to the best of what was reassuringly healthy and familiar.
But what do we make of the name of that other more sombre festival which came just at the end of last month - "Good Friday" ? Whatever can be "good" about the commemoration of the judicial murder by crucifixion of a man whose judge had said was innocent of any crime? It could only be "good" if what happened was of far greater significance than first appeared.
Yes, we Christians believe that Good Friday is good because it tells us four things: first, the evil things we do have consequences (we know this of course, for they hurt us and those we love, and God himself). Secondly, we find it impossible to deal with all the consequences of evil, no matter how hard we struggle. Thirdly, because Christ did not deserve any punishment - he alone of all mankind never sinned - his death on the cross has dealt with all the consequences of sin. The Prayer Book puts it like this: "he made there by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."
Nobody has sinned or ever will in such a way that their sins have not been dealt with by Christ's sacrifice. And that's the fourth thing we learn from Good Friday: Though we could not deal with the consequences of our sins God sent his Son to do what we could not do.
How do we know that this is true? Because though Christ died on the cross on that dark Good Friday afternoon, after three days God raised him from the dead on that first Easter morning, when the women who had known and loved him went to the empty tomb, just as the day was dawning, and met him on the way.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.