The Rector’s Writes….

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January 2020
It is fair to say that 2019 was dominated by political upheaval in our nation. And as I was thinking about what to say in this first Rector writes… of 2020 I did wonder whether one of the most familiar political slogans from the general election might help us to think about our hopes and aspirations for the New Year. You will no doubt be pleased to hear that I have replaced the B word that originally appeared in it by the word Christmas.

The slogan is: ‘Get Christmas done and unleash Britain’s potential’. An alternative version from another political party was ‘Stop Christmas: build a better future’.  These slogans tap into the fact that, rather like the B word they are about, people are often tired and weary of Christmas by the time they eventually get to it, or even wish they could cancel the whole thing.  And of course many people want to get Christmas done because it is a time when they feel sadness at the loss of loved ones or are very aware of what they lack in life, such as food, clothing, shelter or meaningful relationships.

However, the second half of both slogans has some resonance in suggesting that if we can get through Christmas we can unleash the potential and possibilities a New Year or a new political status quo brings.  These political hopes and aspirations may be unrealistic, but regardless of how we feel about Christmas it has to be good news that Jesus came to live among us and to experience being homeless and a refugee in the early years of his life.

Jesus not only identifies with those who find Christmas difficult, and encourages them to cast their cares upon him, but he also said he came so we might experience life in all its fullness. He knows all about our gifts and talents and he has plans to give us hope and a future.

So to adapt another phrase, Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas, and if we take his hand he will walk with us through all the ups and downs of another year.

With love in Christ, Andrew

DECEMBER 2019
Imagine for a moment that you receive a pledge card through your front door in the run up to the general election. On one side it has these five pledges:

  • to preach good news to the poor
  • to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • to recover the sight of the blind
  • to release the oppressed
  • and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

If you have not already thrown the card in the bin, you turn it over to find out whether this is the latest offering from the Monster Raving Loony Party.  Instead you see the logo of a cross and the words ‘Jesus Party’. Alongside a picture of Jesus is this promise: that he loves the people of Britain so much he will die on a cross to set them free from wrongdoing, and rise to new life so they can experience the gift of everlasting life.

Well I am being deliberately mischievous here. I have quoted the so-called Nazarene Manifesto from Isaiah that Jesus applied to himself in Nazareth.  It is however important that we ‘make our cross count’ by exercising our right to vote as Christians, and having God’s heart for the poor and oppressed in our country and overseas.

But it is even more important that we ‘make the cross count’.  No matter how good our political leaders are, they are never going to completely remove poverty and suffering from society.  But through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to everlasting life we do have the hope of life beyond death, where all sorrow and sighing will cease and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.

So as we journey through Advent towards Christmas, let us remember to fix our eyes on Jesus, ‘the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).

With love in Christ, Andrew

 

NOVEMBER 2019
I am writing this as we near the end of October facing a likely further extension to the Brexit process. The Diocese of Oxford has recently issued a Christian response to Brexit which I feel is worth sharing with you as it recognises that ‘Our calling as the Church in these times is not to take sides in this debate but to continue to be the Church for everyone … However, there is an important role at this time for practical expressions of love and hope by communities and individuals.’ They therefore offer the following ‘Twelve ways to love your neighbour as yourself, a Brexit checklist:

  • Give extra support to the food banks in your area. There may be temporary shortages of some foods. Prices may rise.
  • Watch out for the lonely, the anxious and the vulnerable. Levels of fear are rising and may rise further.
  • Reach out to EU nationals in your neighbourhood and workplace.
  • Make sure people have access to good advice on migration and travel, and qualified advice on debt and financial support.
  • Remember the needs of children and young people. Our schools and churches can be a place of balance and sanctuary for our children, who may be feeling upset and anxious.
  • Support the statutory services. A lot of good, solid planning has been done by local authorities.
  • Think about the needs of particular groups in your area. What are the local challenges where you live?
  • Work together with other churches, faith communities and charities.
  • Invite the community together … to listen to each other about what concerns them looking forward.
  • Watch over other faith and minority ethnic communities.
  • Encourage truthful and honest debate. The renewal of our politics will need to be local as well as national.
  • Pray in public worship and private prayer.

Whatever our views on Brexit we can be praying for our nation at this time, perhaps using the following Prayer for the Nation from the Church of England:

God of hope, in these times of change, unite our nation and guide our leaders with your wisdom.  Give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

With love in Christ, Andrew

OCTOBER 2019
About one hundred and fifty years ago a Welshman from Abergavenny named Robert Thomas arrived in Korea as a Christian missionary. He handed out portions of the Bible in Chinese, as the Bible had not been translated into Korean.  In 1866 disaster struck at Phuong Pheng, when the trading vessel Thomas was aboard came under fire. As the sailors fled from the boat, the Koreans killed them. True to his mission, Thomas leapt from the boat carrying a Bible. “Jesus, Jesus!” he cried in Korean to the attackers, offering them the Bible. According to one account he was beheaded, but others think he pleaded for his life and was beaten to death. Apparently his efforts had been in vain. But the man who killed Robert Thomas kept one of the Bibles, wallpapering his house with it. People came to read the words, and a church grew.

Today 40% of South Koreans are Christians and the nation has twelve of the largest Christian churches in the world. Robert Thomas is hardly heard of in the UK, but he is known everywhere in Korea.

On Sunday 13 October we shall be joining with other Christians in the Corsham area to mark Bible Sunday at an Ecumenical Service at Corsham Baptist Church at 6.00pm. This provides an opportunity to celebrate the foundational role the Bible plays in the lives of Christians throughout the world.

I have recently started using the Bible in One Year app which features a commentary from Revd Nicky Gumbel also available as a daily email. I feel very lucky that I can access the Bible in so many different ways as the best-selling non-fiction work of all time is still unavailable to speakers of over 4,100 languages and dialects.

In the UK there is a different challenge; there are nearly as many Bibles as TV sets, but they are mostly unread because people do not appreciate the Bible’s relevance to their lives.  Bishop Tom Wright has described the Bible as ‘a single great story – a drama in which we are invited to find our own part’. Why not try reading or re-reading that story today?

With love in Christ from Andrew

SEPTEMBER 2019
This issue of Church News will be coming out the week after our Team Holy Communion with Bishop Viv the day after the feast day of St Bartholomew the Apostle.  The use of the title Saint perhaps suggests that there is a two tier system in place: sainthood for a small number of first class Christians, and standing room only for the rest of us in second class.

As the hymn ‘For all the saints’ puts it, ‘we feebly struggle, they in glory shine’, reflecting the view that the saints are those who have gone before us into heaven after death. So maybe saints are super-spiritual Christians we cannot possibly hope to be like, or they are already in heaven.

But that does not reflect the New Testament understanding of sainthood. The apostle Paul would probably have been horrified to think there was a saint’s day named after him. He encourages the church in Ephesus to ‘keep on praying for all the saints’.   He could not mean the Saints with a capital S that we celebrate today, as the church had not begun to create Saints at that stage. No, what he was referring to was those whom God had called to be his people, that is, all Christians.

So in fact we are all called to be saints who follow Jesus. No matter how humble or ordinary our backgrounds, we too can follow Christ. No matter what mistakes we have made, we can be forgiven by Jesus. And no matter how unremarkable we are, we can still do remarkable things for Jesus through his presence and power at work in us.  We have the help of God’s Holy Spirit and the comfort of being surrounded by a great cloud of saints who have gone before us into heaven and are willing us on towards the finish line of the Christian race.

So as we begin a new season of the year following the summer holiday period ‘let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), so that we do not grow weary and lose heart, no matter what we experience as we follow him.

With love in Christ, Andrew

AUGUST 2019
Are we willing to accept the true costs of following Jesus in order to see God’s kingdom come and his will done on earth as it is in heaven?

This question leads us to re-examine our walk with Christ. It calls us to consider how willing we really are to give up many of the things we value in life to follow Jesus.

And yet the rewards of being a follower of Christ far outweigh the costs. What are those rewards?

  • forgiveness for all the things we have done wrong
  • freedom from guilt about our sins, and a peace that lasts
  • life after death and a place in heaven
  • the unconditional love of our heavenly Father
  • a close relationship with Jesus, the Son of God
  • the help of the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus
  • and power to live each day as God intended us to, putting him first and loving others as much as we love ourselves.

Between September 2019 and March 2020 ( excluding December and January) there is an opportunity on the first Sunday of the month to explore what it means in practice to follow Jesus as we follow a series of teaching based on the Beatitudes – the challenging collection of sayings by Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount.

Understanding the Beatitudes and trying to live them out is one of the best ways of following God and living the Christian vision for the world. It is about living and travelling as pilgrims together every day. This series follows on from the Pilgrim course offered at the same time last year at the main morning services in Corsham and Gastard.

As before there will be a handout for you to take home with some questions you might like to explore. To go alongside this we will provide two groups in the week following each Sunday – one in the daytime and another in the evening – to meet with others who may like to discuss and explore the material further.

So if you are keen to grow as a follower of Jesus and be a positive influence for Christ please do look out for further details of the teaching series over the summer and plan to be present if you can.

with love in Christ, Andrew

JULY 2019
We have recently started a period of Ordinary Time in the church year running from Trinity Sunday through to Advent and the run up to Christmas.  There are very few periods in the year when clergy are not busy, but this period of Ordinary Time does provide some opportunities for rest and relaxation over the summer months. And it is certainly a good time to evaluate where we are in our relationship with God before the busy autumn period.  Jesus was pretty clear that following him should be our top priority because without a vertical relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit our horizontal relationships with family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues will be so much less satisfying.

But what does putting God first look like in practice? How can we be more committed to following Jesus? Well, I think we need to relate to him through three activities, which are:

  • Prayer, where we communicate with God and discover that he wants us to trust and love him so we can love others as much as we love ourselves
  • Bible study, where we learn more about what God is like and what his will for our lives might be
  • And spending time with other Christians, where we support each other in our walk with God and seek advice about how we are using our God-given time, talents and resources.

We obviously do all these things when we come together on Sundays: we pray, hear the Bible read and receive biblical teaching, and spend time with each other.  But let’s encourage each other to engage in these activities during the week as well, even if to start off with it is just being committed to prayer for a few minutes each day.

If we want to see growth in our numbers then we need to ensure we are all growing in our commitment to Jesus, because as we do so we shall grow in our presence and influence within the wider community and become increasingly attractive to those who are not yet active followers of Jesus.

With love in Christ, Andrew

JUNE 2019
This month I thought I would write about two spiritual practices that I have been finding helpful in recent months.

The first of these is contemplative prayer. Since my sabbatical in summer 2017 I have been trying to spend twenty minutes in silent prayer most days.The advantage of this kind of prayer is that it allows God to get through to me without my brain or ego getting in the way. I have however had to develop ways of dealing with the inevitable distractions which arise, usually by repeating some appropriate Bible verses when I feel my mind wandering.

When I do manage to focus on God I often feel a deep sense of peace about the day that lies ahead (I usually do this first thing in the morning). As time goes on I have also found God putting his finger gently but firmly on unhealthy thoughts or actions I need to address.

Another practice that emerges from this is the habit of lectio divina or meditative reading of the Bible. The advantage of this, as with contemplative prayer, is that it allows God to speak directly to me about a passage of scripture without a commentary affecting my thoughts. Obviously we will come to some passages thinking we know all about them, but my experience is that as we allow the passage to speak to us on its own terms we are often surprised by the new insights that emerge from a relatively unfiltered reading.

Typically lectio divina involves reading a passage slowly three times and listening out for a significant phrase or word, something that challenges or encourages our faith, and something to go away and do as a result.

I hope this encourages you to find ways of connecting with God that work for you, and if you are unsure what those ways might be why not talk to a fellow Christian who knows you well and might be able to offer you a spiritual practice that fits with your personality?

With love in Christ from Andrew

MAY 2019
I am sure many of us caught the live coverage of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral during Holy Week. I found it very moving to watch a building that had stood for hundreds of years apparently burning to the ground over a few short hours, and I went to bed wondering what would remain of the building by the morning.  Well, we now know the firefighters managed to salvage a remarkable amount of the stone structure, and very quickly plans were announced to rebuild the cathedral, with the pledging of multi-million Euro donations and the launch of a competition to design and build a new spire.

I suppose all clergy and ministers have a tendency to draw a spiritual message out of news items, and I was not alone in seeing some parallels between this story of hope and reconstruction emerging out of apparent tragedy and the hope of the resurrection following on from the tragic death of Jesus on Good Friday.

And as the season of Easter continues I think it is worth asking two questions about the ongoing impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

What difference does Jesus’ death make to us? Is he just someone we mourn as a good teacher, or does his death really mean we are forgiven for our sin or wrongdoing?

What difference does his resurrection make? Are we happy to leave Jesus lying in the tomb, or do we really believe that he rose from the dead and offers us the wonderful gift of everlasting life after death?

If we truly believe that out of the sadness of Jesus’ death comes forgiveness and freedom from guilt, and that as a result of his rising to new life we have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, that should make a huge difference to how we live our lives and the impact we have on those around us.

With love in Christ, Andrew

APRIL 2019
Back in February I shared the following list of ten things that were cool in a sermon in St Bartholomew’s. They were posted on Facebook and spotted by our Team Vicar Adam Beaumont:

  • Saying ‘thank you’
  • Apologizing when you’re wrong
  • Showing up on time
  • Being nice to strangers
  • Listening without interrupting
  • Admitting you were wrong
  • Following your dreams
  • Being a mentor
  • Learning and using people’s names
  • Holding doors open for others

During the season of Lent we are encouraged to examine ourselves and see whether our actions are a good advert for the Christian faith or not. If we all adopted a similar list of cool things to do it would have a dramatic impact not just on our relationships with each other in church but also on the wider community.

As Colossians 3:12-14 puts it:

‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’

During April we have a public opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to each other as we hold our Annual Parochial Church Meetings (after the main morning services on Sunday 7 April, Sunday 14 April and Sunday 28 April in Gastard, Neston and Lacock respectively, and at 7.00pm for 7.30pm on Monday 29 April in Corsham).

There is also an opportunity to support and encourage our churchwardens as they begin a new term of office by attending the Archdeacon’s Visitation on Thursday 16 May at 7.30pm at St Paul’s Church, Chippenham.

So please do join us to thank all those who work so hard to support the life and witness of our churches throughout the year, and in the meantime why not see if you can tick off some of the other cool things to do on the list?

With love in Christ, Andrew

MARCH 2019

How would you feel if the church building you know and love was razed to the ground or sold off to be used as a home or commercial premises?

Now don’t worry, I am not proposing this because I recognize that church buildings act as a focus for worship and often have a deep effect upon the people who visit them.

Our church buildings have the capacity to attract and inspire people and draw them into God’s presence. However, the church is not primarily defined by buildings, but by people.

1 Peter 2: 9 says that the church is ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means ‘an assembly’ or ‘gathering of people’. So strictly speaking we become the church whenever we gather together as the people of God, wherever that may be.

God is not just to be found within church buildings. Instead we can take him wherever we go, both as individuals and as the people of God, his church.

And as our Annual Parochial Church Meetings approach we have a rare opportunity to record our active commitment to being the people of God by signing up for the completely new electoral roll in each of our four parishes.

Every six years each parish in the Church of England has to close its electoral roll and start a new one. This is the sixth year, and so it is time to make a new roll for each parish in our Team.

Those who are on the electoral roll are able to stand for office and vote at the Annual Parochial Church Meetings in April. The roll is a list of people who are not only followers of Jesus but also committed and active members of our five churches.

I am deeply grateful for the way so many people give generously of their time, talents and financial resources to support the life of our Team and its outreach to the community.

I therefore hope you will take the opportunity to mark this commitment by signing and returning the application forms to the relevant Electoral Roll Officer in your parish over the coming weeks.

With love in Christ, Andrew

February 2019
One of the joys of being a vicar is being able to take weddings, and this year we have over twenty couples preparing to get married in the Greater Corsham and Lacock Team of Churches.

It is always a delight to meet together for a marriage preparation morning early in February and look out over a room filled with couples of all ages very much in love with each other and excited about their wedding.

This year our preparation morning takes place just before the beginning of National Marriage Week, which runs from 7-14 February (ending with Valentine’s Day). National Marriage Week aims to highlight the benefits of healthy marriages to society, media and governments, whilst seeking to educate and inform couples about the benefits of an ever improving relationship.

When I ask couples why they want to get married in church, they often comment on the added significance and weight they attach to a church wedding, where they feel God is present.

As I often say during weddings, in Christian marriage there is always a third person involved, and that person is God. He wants to be involved in the relationship and wants the marriage to work.

And if we seek to build what we might call a ‘vertical’ relationship with God, we should also find that his love for us enables us to have good ‘horizontal’ relationships with others, whether we are married or not.

So perhaps we can use the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday 6 March this year, to work on our relationship with God and with others as we prepare to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Day. Through his death on the cross, Jesus showed how much God loves us, and as we respond with love for him we should find all our relationships with others are improved.

With love in Christ, Andrew