The Rector’s Writes….

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JUNE 2018
June is a busy month for baptisms in our team of churches, with baptisms taking place on three out of the four Sundays in Corsham, Lacock and Neston. And on Sunday 24 June Gastard Church marks the birth of John the Baptist, its patron saint.

You may remember that John the Baptist reluctantly agrees to baptize Jesus and as Jesus comes out of the water the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove.

Surely one of the strongest reasons for being baptised is that it is something Jesus himself willingly submitted to, even though he had done nothing wrong and did not need God’s forgiveness.

We also learn something about the role of the Holy Spirit from Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit seems to have confirmed God’s presence with Jesus, commissioned him for the ministry which lay ahead, and given him the power to withstand temptation in the desert.

The idea of being anointed by the Holy Spirit after water baptism still continues to some extent in the Anglican Church through the service of confirmation.

However, the Holy Spirit is not limited to coming on people at confirmation, and the apostle Paul reminds us that we should go on and on being filled with the Holy Spirit.

So if you are a baptized follower of Jesus, just ask yourself whether you too need to go on being filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit. If you are not baptized, why not consider being baptized as a powerful symbol of new life in Christ? And if you are not confirmed, why not consider being confirmed as a public statement that you want God’s Holy Spirit to make God real to you on a daily basis, and to bring his presence, power and purpose into your life?

As we submit to baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, may we hear a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my child, with whom I am well pleased’.

With love in Christ from Andrew

MAY 2018
This year Corsham Churches Together has decided to relocate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from January to the week leading up to Pentecost on Sunday 20 May.
The creeds or statements of belief we share with other Christian denominations give us every reason to be completely united. No other faith believes in a God who relates to us in three persons, but we are united in believing in:
• God the Father, who loved the world so much he sent his only Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and rise to life again so that we might be forgiven for all we have done wrong and experience the gift of everlasting life.
• God the Son, who loved us so much he was willing to live as a human on earth and go through the pain of separation from his Father in heaven so that we might be set free from the power of sin and death.
• And God the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts through faith and makes it possible for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves.
We are united in believing in a God:
• who loves us unconditionally
• who forgives us for the things we do wrong
• who was willing to die for us
• who overcame the power of death so we have the hope of everlasting life when we die
• and who is willing to live in our hearts and have a close and loving relationship with us.
So I would like to invite you to join me at an ecumenical Songs of Praise Service at St Bart’s on Sunday 20 May at 6.00pm when we can truly unite as we sing God’s praise together and celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost.
With love in Christ from Andrew

APRIL 2018
Later this year Jodie Whittaker will make her debut as the thirteenth actor to play Doctor Who but the first woman ever to play the role; the handy ability of time lords to regenerate themselves after death has made it possible for a wide variety of actors to play the same character, and now the scope has been widened to include both genders.

Many of us may wish that we could experience regeneration after death and be returned to our loved ones. And yet there is no getting away from the statistic that one hundred per cent of people die. There appears to be little hope of life beyond death.

However, for Christians there is hope because of the death and rising to life again of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that after his death on the cross Jesus came back to life. He was not just regenerated in a different form but actually appeared as himself to more than five hundred people.

What evidence is there that this actually happened? Well, within the space of three days Jesus’ followers turned from defeated and demoralised men to people who were prepared to risk their lives telling people that Jesus was alive.

That is what Easter is all about. On Good Friday we remember with sadness that Jesus had to die on a cross so that we might be forgiven for all the things that we have done wrong and have our relationship with God restored.

However, on Easter Sunday Christians celebrate with joy the good news that Jesus is alive and can be known by us today. And everyone who believes in him can experience the hope of everlasting life beyond the grave.

So how about celebrating the real Easter this year? Whether you are old or young, male or female, rich or poor, married or single, Jesus died and rose again for you, and longs to have a meaningful relationship with you, so why not celebrate Easter by putting your faith and trust in him?

With love in Christ from Andrew

MARCH 2018
I have recently enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics. In particular I was struck by the perseverance of Lizzie Yarnold, who managed to come back four years after winning gold in the skeleton bob in Sochi to win gold again in PyeongChang. This was despite having a chest infection which made it difficult to breathe as she catapulted herself down the track!

It’s really important to set ourselves goals and have something to aim for, but it’s not always easy to achieve those goals. There are many things that could easily put us off. Often, we just need to keep going: we need a lot of perseverance.

The Bible story about Jesus being tempted in the desert that we heard at the beginning of the season of Lent reminds us that Jesus never gave up, even when he was tempted to do the wrong thing. His goal was to use the time in the desert to be close to God. Jesus continued with this goal even when temptations were placed in his way that could have distracted him. He persevered.

Most of us have been tempted to give up at some time, so what can we do when we feel this way?

Here are three ideas.

  • First, acknowledge that it is not easy to persevere and that everyone is tempted to give up.
  • Second, try to be strong and say ‘no’ to people or things that are tempting us to give up.
  • Third, remember to pray to God and ask him or other people to help us at any time.

So if you have set yourself some targets or goals for Lent, try to persevere with God’s help and the help of others, and maybe even keep going when Lent comes to an end. As Romans 12:12 puts it: ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.’

With love in Christ from Andrew

FEBRUARY 2018
One of the criticisms people make about the church is that it is obsessed by sin. Many people were brought up in churches where a lot was said about God’s judgement on sinners, but very little was said about God’s love and forgiveness.

On Ash Wednesday (14 February this year) there is the opportunity to reflect on our sin, or wrongdoing, at the beginning of the season of Lent. In the evening there is an invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other churches for a service at St Patrick’s Catholic Church at 7.30pm.

The reason for this special emphasis on confession of sin is that during Lent we are preparing to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. And it is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can receive forgiveness for our sins.

So we take more time to reflect on our sins so the celebration of Easter becomes even more joyful and meaningful for us. God did not have to send Jesus to die on the cross, but because he loved us so much he was willing to let his son suffer and die so that we might be forgiven for our sins.

We are not perfect, but we are forgiven sinners. So we can go back to God again and again, asking for forgiveness and receiving it through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is why Good Friday is good news for Christians, and why Easter Sunday is an occasion for great rejoicing.

At the ecumenical service on Ash Wednesday there is the opportunity to receive the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads. This is a visual reminder that we do sin, but that God chooses to forgive us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

So please join us if you are able to on Ash Wednesday, but also use the season of Lent to experience God’s love and forgiveness afresh and come to Easter Sunday full of joy in your heart.

With love in Christ from Andrew

JANUARY 2018
As we near the end of 2017 we may well wonder where God was during a year in which we witnessed the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a rise in international terrorist threats, and ever-increasing numbers of refugees fleeing from conflict and persecution.

I am writing this a week before Christmas, and without wanting in any way to give a trivial or easy answer, I think Christmas provides us with the confidence to believe that God is with us, no matter what we have been through in the past year.

The Christmas story reminds us that God brings light into the darkest situations. When he saw that humans were walking in great darkness he sent his one and only Son Jesus into the world into the world for a purpose, and that was to bring salvation to all people.

Jesus came to die so that we might be forgiven for all the things we have done wrong and experience life in all its fullness. By rising to life again after three days Jesus enables us to have a relationship with him every day. He also provides a future hope of everlasting life when we die.

Lucy Winkett, the Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, summed this up well in her Christmas message in the Radio Times, when she wrote that ‘the meaning of this principal Christian festival is that human beings are not abandoned or alone in the face of the huge challenges we face. God is with us, say Christians, full of grace and truth.’

So as we celebrate Christmas and prepare to begin a new year, my hope and prayer is that we can once again renew our hope and trust in the God who comes alongside us and shines light into the darkest situations.

And let’s put our hand into the hand of Jesus and allow the light of the world to remove darkness from our lives, show us the way ahead, and open our eyes to see what we can do to change the world he came to save.

With love in Christ and every blessing for 2018 from Andrew

DECEMBER 2017
While shopping earlier this year I happened to notice that the till screens in one store provided some prompts to encourage staff to be welcoming to customers. As we are now entering the season of Advent when we are encouraged to think of others and welcome visitors to church events and services I thought it was worth sharing these tips with you.

Under the heading Friendly staff were encouraged to make eye contact, smile and say hello: simple advice perhaps, but it is so important that when people come into our church buildings the first contact they have is with a friendly person.

Under the heading Interested staff were encouraged to be listening and asking. People often come to church wanting to be listened to and engaged with, and it is good to develop the practice of listening and asking open questions that enable people to share something of their lives if they wish to.

Finally, under the heading Willing there was a prompt to be helpful and enthusiastic. If visitors come into our buildings and feel that no-one helps them to feel at home and that people are unenthusiastic about them being in church they may go away and never come back again.

These are very simple tips for being welcoming to the many visitors we receive in our churches at this special time of year, and we need to seize the wonderful and rare opportunity we have in Advent and at Christmas to engage in a welcoming and positive way with the wider community.

However, providing a friendly, interested and willing welcome is of course something that should happen throughout the year and is the job of all church members and not just those who are sidespeople or ministers involved in greeting people at the door.

Mary and Joseph struggled to find a warm welcome in Bethlehem before Jesus was born, but as his followers we are called not just to welcome Jesus into our hearts afresh this Christmas but also to share his love by welcoming others into our midst.

With love and every blessing for Advent and Christmas, Andrew

NOVEMBER 2017
One of the books I read on my sabbatical was about the challenges of ministering to multiple churches. It encouraged leaders in such contexts to be a ‘non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious systems’, recognising that the stresses and strains experienced in teams of churches such as ours can be substantial. I don’t know whether I manage to be a ‘non-anxious presence’ as your Team Rector, but whatever calmness I may communicate on the surface, I am often paddling furiously under the water! So when we are told not to worry about anything in Paul’s letter to the Philippians I don’t find it easy to take this advice to heart.

My own experience is that I find it very difficult to surrender control to God when I am worried about something. This is usually because I think I am able to take care of the situation myself. Even if I have brought something to God in prayer I still find myself carrying my troubles around with me and considering different strategies for dealing with the outcome of a worrying situation. If things turn out alright I wonder why I wasted time worrying about them and usually forget to thank God for a satisfactory result. However, if things go wrong after I have handed them over to God I am tempted to blame him for the outcome and forget that he has been there to comfort and support me in the midst of it all.

How about you? If you also struggle with giving your worries to God in prayer, perhaps we can agree to make the effort to focus on all that we have to thank God for, to trust him to be near when we need him, and above all to offer up our prayers and requests to him. May we be able to say that we have experienced that peace which the world cannot give as we hand over our worries and concerns to God during the coming month.

With love in Christ, Andrew

OCTOBER 2017
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who worked so hard to cover my absence from the Team during my recent sabbatical, and also to thank you for your prayers for me and the family during that time.  So what did I do during my three months away from the Team? Well, a sabbatical is meant to be a 3 month period devoted to sustained re-creation and reflection about one or more aspects of ministry.

Sustained re-creation was achieved through the absence of email, telephone calls and face-to-face contact with people about work, and spending quality time with the family. Reflection consisted of three strands:

  • Reviewing my calling to follow God, with an emphasis on developing a practice of silent contemplative prayer – this came out of reading a book by Ian Cowley entitled The contemplative minister: learning to lead from the still centre, where he says this: ‘the heart of priestly ministry is, first, the call to an ever deepening relationship of love for God, and, second, to lead others into that relationship and to enable them to respond to God in loving service and mission. The heart of our vocation is to know God and to teach our people to pray and to respond to God’s call’. This review was carried out through reading several books, attending a day course led by Ian Cowley, and visiting a parish in the Diocese of Salisbury which has a regular monthly silent prayer group.
  • Reviewing my calling to ordained ministry in general after twelve years in ordained ministry – this was accomplished through further reading and attendance at a guided retreat.
  • Reviewing my calling to serve in multi-parish benefices and in particular to leadership in the Greater Corsham and Lacock Team – this was achieved through reading and reflection on my experience of multi-congregation ministry throughout my time as an ordained Anglican minister.

I am starting to share some of the fruit of these reflections with the Team as I get back into a rhythm with work, but in the meantime would appreciate your continuing prayers for wisdom as I ease my way back into ministry and plan where to direct my energies in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

Once again, thank you for the gift and privilege of time away from the Benefice, and for the many expressions of support and encouragement I have received since my return.

With love in Christ, Andrew

SEPTEMBER 2017
During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill, provides some thoughts this month:
In my job I get to meet (and share tea and biscuits!), with a lot of different people each week. Unsurprisingly, the weather is a favourite topic of conversation; it is often the starting point from which a bigger or more significant discussion may develop. Given the rather cool temperatures that we had this August, the state of the weather certainly shot right to the top of the small-talk charts list. But whilst we bemoan a soggy summer, it remains a fact that the world’s average temperature has hit the highest level on record for the last three years in a row. The frequency of extreme weather events is also increasing. As I write this, more than a third of Bangladesh is currently underwater, with flooding there resulting in the worst humanitarian crisis in years.

Addressing a crowd, Jesus squints at the sky and says to them, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens… You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’ (Luke 12:54,56). As global warming nudges the mercury ever higher we peer up into an uncertain sky, wondering where it will all end. The question is not so much what should we say about the weather, but what does the weather say about us?

AUGUST 2017
During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill,  provides some thoughts this month:
Arrow prayers. A name for quick prayers said, or thought, at a moment’s notice. No more than a couple of sentences long and sometimes as short as one word (“Help!” is a good one).  Arrow prayers are a way of keeping in touch with God in the midst of a busy day, things to do, places to go, people to see etc. They don’t replace ‘proper’ prayers, any more than a passing “Hello” replaces a proper conversation with a friend, but they do help us to include God in the normal stuff of life.

The bible reminds us that we should pray for our leaders and St. Paul often asks his readers to pray for him (see Colossians 4:3-4). We have just passed the half way point of our Team Rector’s Extended Ministerial Development Leave (or, to decode the church speak, his sabbatical), so I thought I’d share one of my own regular arrow prayers with you.  Living where he does, I pass The Rectory regularly, often several times a day. It has become my habit to use the sight of Andrew’s home as a reminder to pray for him, particularly during this period away from parish ministry. So as I negotiate the mini roundabout on my way to St. Bart’s I send up an arrow prayer: Dear Lord, please give Andrew clarity and refreshment (think glacier mints!). Amen.

JULY 2017
During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill, provides some thoughts this month:
I recently received a note from someone who’d visited one of our churches whilst it was open during the week. They felt that they hadn’t received the warm welcome they were expecting from whoever was in the church at the time, and wanted to know what I thought about this. The argument ran along these lines: Jesus always had time for people, we’re Jesus’ followers, so we should always have time for people too (even if we think we might be busy doing something else). On the face of it this is a perfectly reasonable argument, but it does fail to recognise that whilst we ARE the people of God, we are also the fallen, imperfect people of God. Each one of us is a work in progress, a stage on the way. As Jesus’ followers we would like to be like him, but we aren’t there just yet.

When we identify ourselves as Christians we put our heads above the proverbial parapet and we invite others to judge us against a standard that we cannot possibly measure up to. But we must do it nonetheless; and be honest about our brokenness (apologise when necessary!) and point people towards the One who loves us despite our failings.

Previous months of “The Rector Writes” are available in Church News or from the archive by emailing admin@corshamandlacockchurches.org.uk.