We ran out of space on the Thought for the month page and had to delete some of the older thoughts. So here they are...
Thought for June 2014: Ever old and ever new
In his popular hymn “One more step” Sydney Carter talked of a faith that was ever old and ever new.
I was showing a class of children from Axbridge School round church this week and noticed two interesting dates. The list of Rectors of Axbridge in the back corner traces my predecessors back to a character called dom. Joseph in 1264. (The dom. bit is short for ‘Father’ and probably means that he was a monk.) When I did the sums, I realised that 1264 was exactly 750 years ago. So this year marks a significant anniversary. I don’t think this is the oldest reference to a church in Axbridge, but it certainly takes you a long way back to the reign of Henry III, and way before the present church was built. I find this line of continuity of worship and service and presence of my fifty five predecessors both humbling and exciting.
The other date was on some of the communion plate in the safe, which records that it was a gift of Mr John Waters of Axbridge in 1714. This was 300 years ago, and in the final year Stuart monarchy and the start of the house of Hanover. Residents of Axbridge have shared in Holy Communion in this place, holding that chalice and paten for three centuries.
This month we will be celebrating another significant milestone in the story of the church in this area when the new Bishop of Bath and Wells will be installed in Wells Cathedral on 7th June. Peter Hancock is the 78th bishop of our Diocese, in a line going back even further to the year 909AD!
Now that the controversy about where he will be living has been thankfully settled, we can get on with celebrating his arrival. He in turn can get on with the job he is called to do. In the charge, or job description, given him by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has been tasked ‘to share the gospel across the diocese of Bath and Wells and to nurture the confidence of others to do likewise…encouraging aspirations for a growing and flourishing Church’. To do this he will need a faith that is fresh and alive for our day. And so do we in Rowberrow, Shipham and Axbridge!
As he put it himself, “the good news of Jesus is life-changing and I look forward to seeing the lives of individuals and communities continuing to be transformed by his grace and his love”. (You can read a little of what he has to say by way of introducing himself on page 5.)
The day after the Installation is Pentecost. Bishop Peter has recorded a short sermon to be used where most appropriate in our celebrations. In it he speaks of the promised Spirit of God and of the exhilarating and terrifying journey that the disciples and were about to begin.
Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon us and clothe us with power from on high.
Thought for May 2014: A Christian Country?
The Prime Minister has been in hot water in the press recently over what he said at his Easter reception at Downing Street in which he called Britain a Christian country, and that Britain should be unashamedly “evangelical” about its Christianity.
“Some people feel that in this ever more secular age we shouldn't talk about these things. I completely disagree. I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives,” Mr Cameron said.
He went on to affirm, “I have felt at first hand the healing power of the Church's pastoral care, and my children benefit from the work of a superb team in an excellent Church of England school.”
Downing Street added “this was not to say in any way that to have another faith – or no faith – was somehow wrong….The PM has said on many occasions that he is incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make the UK a stronger country.”
The words, though, provoked a strong response from a group of writers, scientists, broadcasters and comedians…who accused him of fostering alienation and division. They also pointed to the fact that the 2011 census showed that the number of people in England and Wales who describe themselves as Christian has gone down from almost 72 per cent in 2001 to just over 59 per cent. “Politicians have been speaking of our country as ‘a Christian country’ with increasing frequency in the last few years”. Prof Jim Al-Khalili, the president of the British Humanist Association, said, “Not only is this inaccurate, I think it's a wrong thing to do in a time when we need to be building a strong shared identity in an increasingly plural and non-religious society.”
What response has David Cameron had from faith leaders?
Interestingly, Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "No one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country with deep historical and structural links with the established Church. . .We also believe that as a nation we will be stronger by recognising and celebrating the increasing reality of its multi- and no-faith traditions living in harmony."
The President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Vivian Wineman, said: "It is neither controversial nor problematic to speak about the benefits of the UK being a Christian country whilst acknowledging its multi-faith aspect. Our main benchmark for success is that society remains open, inclusive, and respectful of difference.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury was asked what he thought about Mr Cameron’s remarks. “We do need to be more confident,” he said. “At the heart of the Christian message is the idea that we have a friendship, a relationship with Jesus Christ who is alive and that the choice to be a follower of Jesus Christ is the most important and the best choice anyone can ever make in their lives.”
I believe we need to be more confident about telling our story! Mike Hill, the Bishop of Bristol, was sitting in a cafe with his daughter and got into conversation with someone who asked him, “Are you religious or something?” “I told him that I wasn’t religious, but I was a Christian believer. ‘What’s the difference?’ he asked. I told him that religion was about ticking boxes and trying hard, but that Christianity was about a God of grace who loves us even when we don’t deserve it and who sent His Son into the world to live amongst us, to die upon a Cross in order that we might be reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. ‘Never really thought about that before’ he responded.”
Thought for April 2014: Food, Glorious Food!
From The Great British Bake Off and Come Dine With Me to Masterchef, and from Mary Berry to the Hairy Bikers, we do like our food and the celebrities that cook! A great chunk of the television schedule is taken up with cooking. While we drool over the creations, it is perhaps not surprising that the nation’s average waist line expands. At the same time the scandal remains that too many of the world’s poor go hungry.
Lent is a time for us to think more carefully about the food we eat, and the way we eat it.
The Bishop of Taunton is fasting every Wednesday throughout Lent as part of a campaign to highlight hunger in Britain. He has joined other faith leaders, celebrities and foodbank volunteers across the country. Bishop Peter says: “The number of people needing food aid is still rising. This is an opportunity to show solidarity with the thousands going hungry in Britain today. I pledge to fast every Wednesday between now and Easter, and I urge others to consider showing their support too, by taking part in a nation-wide day of fasting on 4th April.” End Hunger Fast is a national campaign on 4th April to show the government that Britain is hungry for change!
There is clearly something very important about food that goes beyond simply providing our bodies with fuel.
A friend of mine, Doris Gibbons, needed to move to sheltered accommodation. She was moving from the home where she had grown up and lived all her life, and had serious decisions to make about what she could take with her and what would fit in her new flat. The one thing that she had to get in somehow was the family dining table. It held so many precious memories for her. Food is an important focus for family, belonging, and hospitality.
In Holy Week this year we have two opportunities to join in significant meals.
- On the Wednesday of Holy Week (16th April) we will share a Seder meal together in the George Thiery Room of Shipham Village Hall. Because of the limited number that we can cater for, this will have to be a ticketed event. If you would like to come, please look out for details of how to book. The meal, specially prepared, enables Jews each year to relive their history. Each part has symbolic significance – for example the salt water represents the tears that the slaves in Egypt had cried, and the Passover lamb represents God’s deliverance. The story that the meal re-enacts has significance both for Jews and Christians.
- On Maundy Thursday (17th April) we will be celebrating a Thanksgiving for the Eucharist at Axbridge Church, remembering the Last Supper that Jesus shared in the Upper Room with his disciples. It summed up the hospitality of his love and acceptance of them. It reminded them of the friendship they had shared and the new community they were called to be. It was a seminal moment that Jesus used to interpret the meaning of his death, and how they should remember how he would be present with them.
In the sharing of bread and wine Jesus invites us to his table as his friends. We are reminded both of God’s sacrifice for us, and the assurance of a future heavenly banquet.
Happy eating – and, when it comes, Happy Easter!
Thought for March 2014: Flooding
Our homes mean so much to us. They speak of memories and hopes, and the energy we have put into them. Over the past weeks we have seen the heartbreak and sense of hopelessness as both homes and businesses have been wrecked in the flooding of the Levels, and in other parts of the country. Whole communities have been struggling, and some properties have been inundated by water and sewage since before Christmas.
The pictures and the stories behind them, have touched many hearts across the country. One Rabbi wrote to our bishop, ‘On behalf of my community, a Jewish congregation in London, I would like to express our concern for the sufferings of so many people in villages and on farms, our respect for their resilience and determination, and our admiration for the courage and kindness of everyone who is trying to help. We also want you to know that you are in our thoughts. We pray for better times and better weather and that across all the faiths we learn to respect and care for one another, for nature and for God’s world.’
One vicar in the midst of it all, Revd Jane Haslam, said that the Church's role was to be there throughout. "In a rural community like Moorland, with no shop or school, we have a presence and are still there. We held a service in nearby North Petherton at the weekend, asking people to gather and comfort and pray for each other, and more than a hundred came. We are there with people in their sorrow, but also to say: We have hope, too."
Somerset Community Foundation is well placed to relieve the immediate hardship that individuals, families and communities are facing and support their recovery over the coming weeks and months. Support is already being distributed, but they need to ensure that everything possible is done to alleviate the immediate crisis and support a swift recovery. The response to their appeal has been heartening, and any further donations can be made to them at Yeoman House, Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 6QN.
For more than a month Somerset has been headline news. The intense media and public interest will soon be gone, but these people will be living with the consequences of the flooding for months ahead. May we continue to hold them in our thoughts. Here are the words of prayer from the Levels that we echo in our hearts:
Lord of Creation,
we are tested, almost beyond endurance,
by the rising waters and the rain of tears.
Amidst the fear-full floods,
as homes and farms are submerged and villages deserted,
be with us;
in stewardship of our land;
in nurture for our community;
in lament for all that is lost.
Bless us we pray, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Last Updated by AG 26 August 2017