The latest Rector Writes can also be found in Church News
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Mumsnet.com 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
This month’s Church News will be published around the time Bible Sunday is marked in the church year. This provides an opportunity to celebrate the foundational role the Bible plays in the lives of Christians throughout the world. Bishop Tom Wright has described the Bible as ‘a single great story – a drama in which we are invited to find our own part’. And I thought I would use this month’s Rector writes… to make two key points about the Bible and how we relate to it.
The first point is that it is to be taken seriously by followers of Jesus. How do we know this? Well, Jesus read from books appearing in what we now call the Old Testament and sought to make them relevant to the lives of the people who heard them.
The second point to make about the Bible is that not everyone will find its message easy to accept. During his ministry on earth Jesus refers to the scriptures to point out that in the past God’s own people did not accept messages from God.
So I wonder whether the Bible is something you take seriously and regard as relevant to your life today, or do you find it difficult to accept its message, maybe because it clashes with what you believe? In the UK 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.
So I would like to end by inviting you to play a part in the still unfolding drama of the Bible. Make time to read it, to understand it and to wrestle with what it may be saying to you. If Jesus took the Bible seriously and played his own unique part in God’s great story, who are we to turn down the invitation to take part ourselves?
With love in Christ, Andrew
I have recently signed up for daily emails as part of an initiative called 100 days of prayer for peace, and I would like to commend this initiative to you as well. On 4 August 1918 King George V called a National Day of Prayer. One hundred days later the war ended. Remembrance 100 launched on 4 August 2018 with 100 Days of Peace and Hope – prayers, Bible readings, reflections and peace-making activities. Remembrance 100 is a collaboration between Christian denominations, ministries and chaplaincies to help churches mark the centenary of the First World War at the heart of their communities.
In his foreword to the free material available to download or sign up to from the website https://www.remembrance100.co.uk/100-days/ the Archbishop of Canterbury says this: “Our God is one who brings peace to hearts and calls us not only to stop violence, but to seek reconciliation. His reconciliation asks that we disempower memories of destruction and their hold over individuals and societies. Through this we can learn to approach difference with curiosity and compassion, rather than fear – and begin to flourish together in previously unthinkable ways.
This kind of reconciliation is incredibly rare. Sadly, we see conflicts and fragile coexistence all around our world. That is why in the 100 days before this Remembrance Sunday, we think especially of those caught up in conflict, and those who pray for peace against all odds and act with hope when there is little light to be seen.
We know that the God who gave his Son to bring us reconciliation hears their prayers; we ask him to stir our hearts to join them in being peacemakers who cross the borders and barriers, radical in our generosity and welcome.”
I am finding the daily prayers really helpful in thinking widely and biblically about peace and reconciliation, so please join me in praying for peace in the remaining days until we mark the centenary of the end of the First World War on Remembrance Sunday.
With love in Christ, Andrew
Children may not want to hear this, but the long school summer holidays are drawing to an end. For many adults the summer holidays present a dilemma as often both parents need to continue working for financial reasons and increasingly grandparents are called upon to provide full-time care for children while their parents or carers are out at work. It is certainly noticeable how many of the older members of our congregations take a well-earned holiday in the first weeks of September to recover from the rewarding but often tiring work of looking after children during the summer months.
For those adults who are in full-time paid work the UK has an unenviable reputation for long working hours. According to the European Trade Union Confederation, full-time workers in the UK work an average of 44 hours a week, compared with about 40 hours in the 14 other longstanding EU member states. About 16 per cent of the UK labour force works more than 48 hours per week, which is the maximum set by the European Working Time Directive.
The UK has an opt-out, allowing employees to work more than 48 hours per week. The argument is that labour market flexibility helps reduce unemployment. However, the damage done to the quality of family life and to the physical and mental health of workers must surely be taken into account.
Does Christianity have anything to say about this? Well, the biblical principle of taking one day off in seven does a lot to reduce stress and produce a healthy work-life balance. And Jesus himself withdrew from the busyness of life from time to time to rest and pray. And he encouraged all those who were weary and burdened to come to him, and he would give them rest.
We may of course find it difficult to put this into practice, but we should be encouraged by the fact that God will be on our side if we try to work towards a healthier work-life balance.
With love in Christ, Andrew
The disciples of Jesus often get a bad press because they seemed to spend most of their time misunderstanding Jesus’ teachings. This always seems unfair to me, because unlike us they did not have the benefit of knowing that Jesus would go on to die on the cross and rise to new life.
And I think I the following questions would give me (and maybe you) pause for thought as we seek to be 21st century followers of Jesus:
• Are we on God’s side, or do we still misunderstand Jesus and what he came to do?
• Are we sometimes a hindrance to God’s mission today through our doubt and unbelief?
• Are we willing to deny ourselves, to walk in the way of cross and to value eternal life above all the treasures of this world?
Being a follower of Christ is not an easy option. However, if we commit our lives to him we not only experience forgiveness of our sins and the promise of everlasting life through his death and resurrection; we also experience his love, presence and power as we follow him day by day.
Between September 2018 and April 2019 there is the opportunity to explore what it means for us to be baptised followers of Jesus as we follow a Sunday morning series of teaching based on the questions asked at baptism. These questions help us to reflect on what we believe about God and how that really works out in our daily lives.
Each time 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