St. Paul’s, Weston-super-Mare, the church where my Somerset family worship, considers that it is a poor attendance if less than 300 folk of all ages come to the 11 a.m. “People’s Service”!
Although, to be honest, it would not be my choice of worship and has little resemblance to the Church of England in style, they certainly “pull them in”, despite the sermon being rarely less than 45 minutes! I was bound to ask my son Denys, “What is the attraction?”
The music is mainly singing Choruses, supported by a Group (with very loud drummers), few, if any traditional hymns, and everyone is handed a coffee as they enter to take with them to their seats.
Yet it attracts a wide range of worshippers, professional people such as doctors, solicitors, executives and middle class together with life’s failures such as drug and alcohol addicts and all the social problems that seem to beset seaside towns with their variegated communities.
“That’s the answer”, Denys said. “People look around the town and note that within it is a community of Christians who are seeking to carry out Jesus’ commands; to heal the sick, feed the hungry, proclaiming the Gospel to the poor and disadvantaged, ministering to the elderly and young families alike. The young people are taught to assist with this work.
People see “The Gospel” in action through The Church as it seeks to make a positive difference to people’s lives”.
St. James (Jesus’ brother) in his forthright Epistle reminds us that “Faith without works is dead”! (James 1, v22-3, v1-end.
That is why, from the beginning, Christians sought to act in loving service to the sick and needy and were foremost in ministering to the outcasts of Society (with whom Jesus delighted to mingle and eat).
It is because of this that similar churches, mainly evangelistic in style are prominent in the list of communities that seek to fulfil these commands.
Note the impact that “The Church on the Roundabout” at Newport has on the people that pass it daily and its obviously welcoming exterior.
The truth is, outsiders could see us as self-centred. Too often The Church is pleading for help from the community in which it is set, but rarely asks that Community what we Christians can do for them. In every community, no matter how large or small, there are lonely, elderly people, hungry or financially poor families, people with problems of guilt, youngsters who are disillusioned and anxious for their future, driven to despair or self-harm.
“Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13)
This has been the Church of England’s failure, where despite its privileged position as “The Established (Official) Church” in years past it has not always been very concerned with issues that affect people’s daily lives.
However, a cautionary note: whilst we should all desire to help those who need it, if we were to embark on a burst of philanthropy, simply that it might encourage people to join us for worship, it could echo Archbishop Thomas a Becket’s words in “Murder in the cathedral” (T. S. Eliot); “The last crime is the greater treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason”.
If we seek to do good to others it must be for their own worth; it needs to be for love of people, conscious that they are all valuable to God, for whom His Son died.
We, all of us, need to be proud of our Anglican heritage, but we need to be more proud of humbly following the example of Jesus and the saints who put people’s welfare (physical and spiritual) at the heart of God’s message of love.
In the dark, far-off days of the 1950s, with the awakening of some clergy that “Outreach” would need to be a priority, reaching out to a generation that had lost faith in almost everything. Movements arose, one of which was “Parish and People”..
This was intended to transform the relationship between priests and the people committed to their care.
This was the moment when a new name for the weekly Sung Eucharist appeared, “The Parish Communion”. The Communion should be the spiritual and “renewing” point, each Sunday.
A Parish Meeting was to bring priest and people together to be partners in the Divine enterprise and to think less of the idea of “Going To Church”, but instead “Being The Church”. Every member should consider themselves part of the parish team, discovering talents and knowledge they could put at God’s service.
The common idea at the time was that everything depended upon the priest, supported by the PCC which seemed almost to be apart from the congregation. Yet in the Early Church there was this sense of being altogether, the decisions being taken by the whole gathered people rather than by the PCC and priest.
Together with this sense of sharing in the worship by God’s people, which needed to involve participation by as many as possible, there was set aside time and opportunity for instruction and social gatherings under the title of the Parish Meeting.
The Church was to be a Community where everyone as a valuable member could make their individual contribution
This regular (Monthly?) gathering was to be the opportunity for instruction in the Faith as well as a social gathering, especially when it included food and eating together. Remember that in the Early Church, most worship began with a meal where eating together was a bonding community activity .
Having worshipped God at Sinai the Jews we are told, “sat down to eat and drink”, a normal component part of the worship in Old Testament times.
Eating together has a sacramental aspect, it is a sign of fellowship, for using the words of the Catechism, it is a far cry from the Puritanism of the post-Reformation for it can be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”.
Jesus, seems to have loved a party. Criticised as being “a wine-bibber and a friend of sinners”, He was different from the traditional Jew, but very much a man who would approve of the concept of “Parish and People”
19 May 2019
ME I am battered and bruised after a fall last Sunday, but I haven’t broken any ribs and thorough tests at St. Mary’s indicate that I am still basically up together! Thank God.
It’s some while since we had a flurry of meetings and plans for “Outreach”, seeking to bring the Gospel to our parishioners, including a summary of what we should be doing to implement our Bishop’s great plans (which includes borrowing a large sum of money to implement them). Yet there seems to be no great missionary activity going on in the Island around us.
Which brings me to one of my “High Horses” and I want to talk about the “4 Cs” of Outreach, and remembering that I am also a trained printer, brought up in a pub, served 4 years in the coal mines, I have always used these influences to impinge on “Mission”. Therefore, we turn to the essential that is “Communication” for which The Church exists.
So much so, that for years I carried around from parish to parish a complete printing plant with which I could produce teaching that I hoped would reach out to the general population, of whom the greater percentage are completely ignorant of the Gospel and the Christian Faith.
Therefore, at the top of my list comes “Communication” which comes from a Latin word which means “to share”.
Matthew records at the end of his Gospel that Jesus at the Ascension gives a command to His gathered disciples “You then, are to make disciples of all nations . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you to the end of the age”.
Are we doing that? Have we an excuse for not so doing?
Never before has so much technology enabled us to produce printed matter so cheaply and efficiently, and in every parish I have worked, the plan has been to open a line of communication between The Church and the people we are called to serve.
That is where many parishes fail, for they do not even bring the people’s attention to the great festivals and observances to enable them to know exactly what Christmas, the Cross, the Empty Tomb signify.
Acting in faith, over many years we were enabled to send a Parish paper (tabloid style) into every house in each parish as we did in growing Wootton (still going strong after over 40 years), that I used to describe as “The silent visitor”.
It got through the letterbox and was able to say what needed to be said, in understandable language and it had its effect (not always pleasing everyone, but then Jesus wasn’t worried about that either).
It doesn’t need tremendous financial cost with the ability to produce acceptable communications very economically.
Unless we teach our local community the truths of the Gospel, we are depriving them of the benefits that faith brings to us in good times and bad, depriving people of the recipe for peace and stability, which are the fruits of the Gospel.
If our faith means anything positive to us who are The Church, we have a duty to our neighbours to ensure that they may not miss out because of His Church’s lack of energy and thought.
In the 1940s, surveys showed how little the average person in this country (which was supposed to be “Christian) knew about the Christian faith and this knowledge is even more minimal, even non-existent for the majority in this 21st century.
Might we consider as a first step in Evangelism, the issue of a suitable broadsheet prior to each of the Church Seasons, explaining what it is all about?
During my short tenure as Hon. Priest-in-charge of St. Michael’s, Swanmore (2011-2013), we did just that and by the time I left there, “The Messenger” as it was called had begun to change people’s perception of their parish church for the better.
“C” is for “Communication” and we are Christians because over the years, people have shared their faith with us to our spiritual benefit; ought we to be doing the same?
My student friend, John Scott and I came out of the College bicycle shed with our bikes, (no students with cars in those days) ready to go off to nothing more exciting than a Bell-ringers’ meeting.
As we did so, we were accosted by our College Principal, and motioning us to stop, he said “You two men are together far too much to be healthy; I don’t expect to see you going out together again”.
With that, off he went.
We looked at each other, wondering what might be erotic about joining with ringers of both sexes, with nothing more exciting than a bout of Grandsire Triples, a tea, followed by a service for Ringers.
However, we obeyed, simply by going off separately and meeting further down the A10 to continue our afternoon. So, he never saw us going out together again.
If he had known that John and I shared accommodation, (with separate bunks) at Youth Hostels, whilst on a cycling holiday of East Anglia, we would probably have been instantly expelled!
Now, why am I considering this subject? Simply because on “Panorama” last Monday evening, there was worrying evidence regarding the way that the Anglican hierarchy had tried to suppress any accusations of clerical (and other churchmen’s) abuse.
Certainly, our College did its best to make us aware of the temptations that might befall the clergy and in our community of 35 students there was never a hint of inappropriate behaviour.
Yet, at the same time, there was much pressure on clergy regarding their marital status.
I had to take Hazel to meet the Principal, before he would give permission for us to become engaged; fortunately, he did approve of her and the engagement, but with the proviso that we weren’t to marry until I had completed my College Course, plus at least 3 years as an Assistant Curate, making up to 5 years before we could tie the knot.
Looking back over 65 years of Ministry, clerical life has changed dramatically, and for those of us who were ordained in the dark ages, as you can see, we were made very aware of the terrible responsibility that accompanied the priesthood.
Listen to this; “Have always printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they (the people) are the sheep of Christ, which He bought with His death, and for whom He shed His blood. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault and also the horrible punishment that will ensue”.
(from the 1662 Ordination Service for priests)
Looking back over the years, considering the many and varied people I have encountered, I have tried to live up to those standards.
When dealing with people I have met (including many boy choristers and servers), I have tried to remind myself, that who or what ever people may be, they are beloved by God and for whom, His Son died. Not always easy.
What the Panorama programme showed, is that standards have slipped over the years in many directions and at times, the Church’s concern over its image has taken precedence over the needs of those who have suffered abuse.
Our clergy need our prayers, that their Ministry (with its own peculiar temptations), be one of Love and Service, so please hold them in your prayers daily.
Recovering from our Easter celebrations, we turn back to the “Pattern Prayer” for the final thought:
As a child, I wondered why, when God wants us to be good, we pray that He won’t tempt us to do something naughty, but on its face value that is what we have been praying for the last two millennia.
The modern version prays that He will not “put us to the test”, as if God wishes us to do difficult things, or resist irresistable temptations, just to prove we are good “soldiers and servants”.
Sounds a bit like school when we were goaded to do silly things, just to prove we were one of the gang.
Poor “Bunger” Young who doing a dare during the school lunch hour at Sandown Secondary School, fell into the large water-filled pits at the brickworks that used to be behind the Broadway, trying to cross it over a 6” plank.
When asked by the Headmaster why he had done such a thing, his ”dare” was dismissed and accompanied by “six of the best” because all of us involved had broken school rules.
Is it likely that God would impose tasks upon us, just to test us out?
Yet, it is a common idea that we suffer in all manner of ways because we have done something wrong and this is our punishment.
We cry, “Why do I deserve this” when calamity upon calamity enfolds us.
Some pilgrims try to make their journey more “holy” making it more difficult (and painful) by putting peas in their shoes or travelling the last stage on their knees.
It should be made plain that God doesn’t wish us to suffer more in this life than we need. After all, Jesus spent so much of His Ministry, alleviating their pain or problems.
Where there was no bread, He fed the 5,000; when people had been in pain or difficulties He eased them and taught others to do the same.
It may well be, that some calamities fall on us, because we have lived or done things which have caused our difficulties, often despite warnings or good advice.
The good God by His divine alchemy often turns what appears at first sight to be disasters into blessings. The Psalmist says “It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may understand the loving kindness of the Lord”, and Paul tells us that God will not test us beyond our resources (1 Cor. 10, v13). In other words, He doesn’t ask the impossible of us.
J. B. Phillips translates it “Keep us clear of temptation and save us from evil” which is an entirely different thought.
It is commonly assumed that God sends suffering and misfortune either as a punishment for past failings or a way of testing our obedience that as a result we shall become better Christians.
If you think about it, God doesn’t need to act like this, deliberately putting obstacles in our way.
Daily life sends enough of these, for the Devil is constantly attacking and misleading us. (Yes, I’m convinced there is one, Jesus thought so too so I am in good company).
Temptations are much different in this generation than in my youth and I am sorry to say even more effective; the influence of the Internet, the media and the general breakdown of accepted moral standards challenge today in ways we older folk never experienced.
Our “Pattern Prayer” gives us a template setting out our priorities, which is essentially “God first, ourselves last”. The Lord’s Prayer is brief, reminding us that the length of our prayers is no indication of their worthiness. Jesus said so.
“Good prayer is like a bikini; it may be brief as long as it covers the two essentials!