From the Clergy
Revd James Pickersgill reflects on despair to hope and doubt to belief through Ascension and Pentecost…
For many football supporters, the final of this seasons Champions League (being played on or around the time you are reading this article) is the culmination of one of the most dramatic competitions ever to take place, helping in part to ease some of the hurt of painful and shameful European football nights in recent years.
Many of the big name clubs expected to go all the way this year fell by the wayside in the knockout stages and then in both semi-finals, both English clubs who got there faced uphill battles in their second-legs as both lost the first games - there was much despair and doubt amongst supporters.
However, over two glorious nights in early May, Liverpool scored 4 goals at Anfield to oust the mighty Barcelona and Tottenham won away in Holland against a resurgent and youthful Ajax after also being 3 goals behind – scoring the last of the goals they needed literally in the last second of added time of the match! (We even had someone in church on the 12th May who had prayed and said to God if Spurs score their third goal he would go to church on Sunday!)
Incredible comebacks when all had seemed lost; despair had turned to hope, doubt to belief – how much drama the final will deliver only time will tell?
But of course, the greatest drama and comeback of all time was not performed on a football field but in and around Jerusalem by God himself as Jesus died for our sins but then rose from the tomb to conquer death once and for all.
The drama that the early disciples encountered throughout their time with Jesus, especially in the final days, and then subsequently after he had risen and appeared to them, was enough for a whole lifetime. No wonder they all reacted in different ways to such unexpected occurrences over that forty-day period - God, the one who is outside of human time, gave the disciples added ‘human time’ to process all that had happened and all that was to happen – just like the football comebacks, they were pretty hard to imagine or believe even after seeing it! But, these appearances did convince His disciples, after their time of doubt, unbelief, trouble, confusion and astonishment, come to the point of believing that Jesus, beyond any doubt, had risen from the dead.
For followers of Christ today, we do not have the benefit of first-hand experience of the drama and seeing the comeback of Jesus as the first disciples encountered. But as Jesus said to Thomas, after he had seen and touched his resurrection body; “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:24-29.
Belief in God and putting your trust in Jesus as the one who can save us, comes through the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost to the disciples and other followers of Jesus – the official birthday of the church, the body of Christ here on earth. The bodily resurrection appearances may have finished after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, however, with the manifestation of the Spirit, God’s eternal and intimate relationship with all creation continues to this day.
Amid our doubts and despair in life, it is our strong God who rescues us, not our strong faith, because faith isn’t just us holding onto God, it’s God holding on to you.
So in this church season of Ascension through to Pentecost, as we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ and ask God to ‘appear’ in the hearts and lives of those we are praying for (the encouragement we were given at the services on the 12th May – Vision and Planting Sunday), may we, and countless others, know the joy of sins forgiven and despair and doubt turned to hope and belief in the new life that Jesus, the greatest comeback King of all, still offers to those who ask and believe.
We praise you, O Lord, and we bless you:
By your dying, death was destroyed,
by your rising, life was renewed
by your Spirit, may we be filled with your glory.
These items are extracted from the church's monthly magazine 'The Quintet'. You will find many more itmes of interest in the magazine itself. It is available from the back of each church at a cost of 70p per issue. You can also subscribe to the Quintet for £7.00 per year, which is a saving of the cost of two copies per year. Just give your name and contact details to a member of the clergy and we can set you up. You can also contact the editor, Richard Pomeroy, 01858 462273, who can help you.
I don’t understand – but I still pray
Jo Giles tells of how she coped when her prayer wasn’t answered as she expected.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer. Unfortunately due to a previous misdiagnosis of asthma, the cancer had already spread to her liver and the prognosis was bad. She refused chemotherapy but sought healing in various other ways. One day, I asked her if anyone from the church had prayed with her. She said the local minister was praying for her but had never offered to pray with her. I asked if I could bring my minister so we could pray with her. She happily agreed, so a few days later we spent an hour talking and praying with her.
It was a special time during which she gave her life to Jesus and we also prayed for healing. The presence of God was tangible in a way I have never felt before or since. As we were leaving, her husband said he had felt incredible peace as we had been praying. I went home feeling drained but believing for healing.
A week later she died. I was devastated. Not only was I grieving for my friend, I also felt terrible that I had offered them hope of healing that had come to nothing. I was angry that God hadn’t healed her and couldn’t understand why he would have left three young children without their mother. At the funeral, I hugged her husband, and told him how sorry I was for giving them false hope. He stopped me and assured me that wasn’t how he felt at all and he thanked me for going to pray with them. I later learned that she had been extremely peaceful as though the fear of death had left her.
I still don’t understand why God didn’t heal her. But I know my friend went quickly and peacefully. She was at peace with Jesus, and the Bible teaches that salvation is the greatest miracle of all. Beyond that I can only trust that God is always good.
Has this experience stopped me praying in faith? Absolutely not! I pray about everything, large and small. I have prayed for my daughter whose foot was riddled with verrucas and they disappeared. I have prayed for lost pets that have then been found (and a hamster that was never found). As one of the contributors on the Alpha videos says, “when I pray coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t!”
When we pray for our own and others’ needs, we are being obedient to the Bible’s teaching. Prayer is primarily about relationship with God who, like an earthly parent, wants his children to ask for what they need. Jesus says “Ask, seek, knock …Is there anyone among you who, if you child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for fish, will give a snake?… how much more will your father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:7-11). However, God’s greater “good” may be different to our limited human desire.
We’re called to be like children recognising our dependence on our Heavenly Father and to rejoice with one another over answered prayer. But at the same time, we comfort one another in the pain and disappointment of seemingly unanswered prayer. After all, we are citizens of heaven, but residents of a fallen world.
Jo Giles is shortly to be licensed as a Reader in the team. Pete Grieg’s book God on Mute and Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God explore this topic further.
David Johnson illustrates some of the history of stained glass windows with some local examples
Attitudes to stained glass in churches and ecclesiastical buildings have changed considerably over the years. In earlier times when people were less literate than now decorated windows were often used as teaching aids and means of communicating stories from the bible in much the same way as medieval wall paintings. Many expansive east windows covered episodes in the life of Christ, as the great Hardman east window of St Dionysius. Such pictorial identities can often elude modern worshippers.
Rood screens depicted apostles and local saints, and some of these have survived particularly in East Anglia. In some cases this led to the glorification of individuals as saints, and as such they and similar stained glass frequently fell victim to Protestant influences in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Others sought to illustrate the progress of Christianity such as Jesse windows tracing lineage back to Adam and Eve, or present an image of important stages in the gospel story or the early Christian church.
There was a huge revival in the installation of stained glass under the Victorians, but the motivation by then had changed. Such windows commemorated worthy individuals, even whole families, who had died, with appropriate biblical references as to character. There is an excellent example in the chancel of St Dionysius – eight windows dedicated to members of the Saunt family. It was a huge and costly family statement.
The same church has a window devoted to music, in this case commemorating Bill Wright, its longest serving organist. Another in Little Bowden church was devoted to the youngest son of the Redlich family, who was drowned in the river Jordan in 1939.
Later, memorials to organisations were common, with several commemorating those who fell in the two world wars, or served in the armed forces (Great Bowden). In the 20th century stained glass windows marked fund raising efforts, as at the east end of the south aisle in St Dionysius, or sought to reflect a particular artist or group of artists – even a whole genre of artistic endeavour.
Our appreciation of them has changed too. We categorise their value according to the quality of the design and craftsmanship, even the merits of the artist, rather than the message they convey.
Recently there have been two successive gospels in St Dionysius which have told stories illustrated by two of the church’s best windows in the chancel – the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ visit to the sisters Martha and Mary. Perhaps we need to use these as examples when they illustrate our readings, rather than as attractive adornments which simply beautify our churches.
Stained glass is now largely ignored in the modern church where people matter most. Perhaps we should take more notice of them in our services.
Team Vision Day: ‘It’s not about us – it’s about our Community!’
How can the five Anglican churches most effectively reach out to the 93 per cent – the huge majority of the 23,000 population in the parishes who don’t yet have a living faith in Jesus Christ? Lin Ball focuses on this question as she reports on Team Vision day last month
That was the big question facing all those who gathered for the Team Vision Day in June.
Team Rector Barry Hill reminded everyone of the Archbishop William Temple quotation: ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.’
He said he wanted us to challenge the statistics that said that across Europe someone is 33 times more likely to join a new church than an existing one, and 33 times more likely to become a Christian in a new church than an existing one. Developing both ‘what is’ alongside ‘what could be’ will be key, he stressed.
Like the mustard seed
The Church, said Barry, is like the mustard seed – it’s small, but it grows deep roots so can grow bigger; it makes a big difference; and it re-seeds itself.
During a number of group discussion times during the day, members from the different congregations had opportunities to say how they felt about progress since the last Vision Day 18 months previously, and what excited them about ideas for the future.
Generally, it was felt that the passions people outlined in January 2017 remained, and that progress had been made. These passions were broadly defined as:
· Being more inclusive and welcoming
· Offering more people the opportunity to become disciples of Jesus
· Discipleship – deepening our faith
· Serving the community and being a witness
· Tackling social injustice
· Working more closely with other churches and Christian organisations in the town
Most people felt positively about recent changes, such as the influx of newcomers to the new 9.15 service at St Di’s, and ‘changes in gear’ to activities already happening across all five churches. Plans or discussions are in hand for:
· Starting ‘café church’ at Great Bowden
· Potentially a new youth-led worshipping community across the Team (possibly based at St Hugh’s)
· Further development in serving those who are older and more isolated
· Giving more opportunities to grow as disciples
· And (longer term) several other new worshipping communities.
Desire for unity
Concerns were expressed throughout the day about how to develop more unity within and across the congregations and churches, as well as becoming much more prayerful. Also, fresh challenges to outreach could be identified, particularly with the new housing planned – 600 new homes in the Transfiguration parish and 1500 in Lubenham.
And many people were concerned that more should be done to connect with teenagers, at a time when there was real worry about the mental health of young people.
Barry explained that it was hoped to extend Dawn O’Connell’s role as Children and Families Development Worker. Her current 3-year contract will finish in August but, after consultations over the last year with each PCC, the children and young peoples’ steering group and Team Council, a proposal has been agreed for her role to become permanent.
Dawn will take on strategic oversight for 0-18 year olds across the Team alongside the appointment of two Apprentice Youth Workers (each working 22 hours a week).
Half the money for this is being bid for, from the Diocese and a local charity, along with the five churches needing to sacrificially and generously increase giving (the cost locally being £100,000 over the next four years). Barry described this as a ‘significant step of faith’ to help meet the needs and opportunities across the town and villages.
In an exercise to discover what were felt to be the attitudes and behaviours that would help or hinder forward momentum in fulfilling the churches’ vision, people voted that the most helpful attributes were being welcoming, accessible and open, with devoting more time to prayer coming a close second.
In terms of attitudes and behaviours that hindered, the vote went to being critical, inflexible and grumbling as being the most unhelpful.
All responsible for growth
Bryony Wood, Team Vicar at Great Bowden, took up the theme of how the responsibility for growth rests with all of us.
‘Within the Body of Christ in Market Harborough, you are all called and chosen,’ she told everyone. ‘You are appointed and anointed; and when God calls, he equips.
‘Our purpose and passion are not about wanting a job or a title, but about being children of God, loved unconditionally, and called to be a blessing to our community. If we don’t, who else will?’
Countering the impact of loneliness
It’s a sad truth that many people spend their days with only their TV or
their cat for company. Loneliness, said Mother Teresa, is a terrible poverty. In western society, with its increasing emphasis on the individual, the consequent loss of community feeling has a great impact – and that is felt particularly keenly by the elderly among us.
Tea@Three aims to alleviate loneliness and isolation in Market Harborough by providing a warm and welcoming gathering on Sunday afternoons – regarded by many as the time when being alone feels hardest.
‘I like to get out of small flat on a Sunday for what can be a very empty day,’ says one regular guest. ‘I particularly enjoy singing some of the old tunes.’
Another says, ‘It’s great to be in company and mingling with people who are in similar situations. And it’s good to be getting some mental stimulation!’
The programme for Tea@Three on the last Sunday of each month is a varied mix of music, games, fun activities and interesting speakers – always accompanied by plenty of cups of tea and delicious homemade cakes. In the summer there is an outing to a local place of interest. The meetings provide an enjoyable opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones.
The venue for Tea@Three is St Dionysius Community Hall, on Coventry road next to the Harborough Medical Centre. As a number of those who attend have mobility issues, many are collected on the community minibus, with a qualified driver and his able assistant.
Although linked to the church, not all who attend Tea@Three are churchgoers. Some perhaps attended many years ago. No distinction is made, but all are warmly welcomed. No charge is made, though a number are happy to make a donation to running costs.
Please contact David Palmer on 07505 968767 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.