The Rector’s Writes….

The latest Rector Writes can also be found in Church News

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

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

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

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

January 2019
People who make New Year resolutions are often teased about how long their resolutions will last. And certainly there is plenty of evidence that many people join fitness clubs immediately after Christmas but never attend them during the year. But are we wrong to make fun of New Year resolutions? Surely they can be a good way of ensuring we are making progress with our lives year by year.

And that is certainly something we should consider seriously as Christians. After all, the apostle Paul encouraged early followers of Christ to keep on striving towards the goal of being called heavenwards and to run the race with perseverance; in other words, to keep on progressing with the Christian faith.

One way we can do this is explore what is means for us to be baptized followers of Jesus, and there is the opportunity to continue to do this as we resume our Sunday morning series of teaching based on the questions asked at baptism.

As before there will be a handout for you to take home with some questions you might like to explore. We will also continue to provide two groups in the week following each Sunday to meet with others who may wish to discuss and explore the material further. These groups meet in Corsham but are open to everyone in the Team.

We start on the first Sunday in February by considering the question ‘Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?’ and continue in March and April with the questions ‘Do you repent of your sins? and ‘Do you renounce evil?’

So if you are resolved to grow as a follower of Jesus and be a positive influence for Christ during 2019 please do look out for further details and plan to be present if you can.

Wishing you every blessing during 2019,

When a user on said her mother-in-law had decided to charge her family £17 a head to attend this year’s Christmas dinner it sparked a mixed response, according to BBC News Business Reporter Katie Hope.  Some thought it was fair enough given the cost, while others said it simply wasn’t in keeping with the season’s spirit of togetherness and generosity.  The authority on etiquette and behaviour, Debretts, the publisher of the A-Z of Modern Manners, is unequivocal that charging guests is unacceptable.  “You have invited them to your home, and it therefore isn’t appropriate to expect them to contribute monetarily to the cost of your dinner,” said Managing Director Renee Kuo.

But there’s no getting away from the high cost of Christmas.  The typical family spends a whopping £750 on Christmas each year, according to Steve Nowottny, News and Features Editor at MoneySavingExpert.  “Throw in the pressure of catering for extended family too and it’s little wonder rows can erupt,” he says.

This all contrasts with the story of a lady who started offering a Christmas meal for free to people on Facebook a few years ago and has seen the initial response double each year to the point where she now intends to run an operation serving one thousand people this Christmas.

At the heart of the Christmas story is the free gift of something beyond price: the gift of God’s only Son Jesus Christ to live on earth, to die on the cross so that we might be forgiven for our sin or wrongdoing, and to rise to life so we might experience everlasting life beyond the grave.

There’s no charge for this wonderful gift, which God shares freely with all, and we have the privilege of offering the people of Greater Corsham and Lacock a free gift of God’s love through our many services and activities over the coming month. Please do check out the details in this edition of Church News, come along yourself, and invite others to share in this wonderful gift at Christmas.

With love in Christ, Andrew