From the Clergy - February 2018
From the stable to the desert
At the beginning of this year, as a family we were fortunate to spend three days in the heart of the Forest of Dean. On one particular day, whilst walking in a fairly remote part of the forest we saw an incredible sight; 7 wild boar on the charge! Six females followed by one gargantuan male at the back. Fortunately, we were close enough to have a really good view but not too close to be in any real physical danger!
From years of living in Gloucestershire and visiting the Forest of Dean quite regularly, we knew of the boar being present in the forest, had often found footprints in paths, seen areas of land they had clearly churned up, occasionally heard them in the distance but had never actually seen any in the flesh. It was a sight to behold, a real gift to us at the start of the year.
And it is at the meeting point of gifts, animals and wilderness that we find ourselves during the month of February this year on our Christian journey of faith.
Having celebrated only recently the joys of Christmas, God coming amongst us in the flesh, our Emmanuel in Jesus and his humble birth in the stable surrounded by his young parents, shepherds and plenty of animals, we journeyed on through the Epiphany season of the revelation and realisation of who Jesus is; our saviour; from the gifts brought by the Magi, through to Nathanael meeting Jesus under a fig tree and Simeon recognising Jesus as the light to all people and nations. A lot of ground covered in as quick time as the boar on the run.
And now we have a significant turning point; from the stable to the desert. Just like us in those years before seeing the boar in the flesh, Jesus’s coming was signposted to all humanity. All the tracks in the path (biblical prophecies of Jesus), physical signs along the way (God appearing through angels) and hearing stories of all that was to come (through the prophets) point to the one revealed in the flesh in a humble stable who would go on to swap a wooden manger for a wooden cross.
It is the revelation and realisation of Jesus appearing at his birth in the flesh that is essential in our understanding of all that happens through Lent in the wilderness. As we turn to the passion and the end of Jesus’ life, as his birth did, his death brings the gift of hope and new life to those who trust in him.
Just like with the boar in the forest, many may have sensed something of God in their lives; seen some footprints in their own or others lives in the past, heard something about him from others (maybe a shared answered prayer), seen some activity that they thought was of him but have never quite encountered Jesus personally and received the love, forgiveness, grace, hope and mercy that is at the heart of the Christian faith.
So, at this crucial turning point, may God lead us all on from the joy of the stable to the pain of the desert, but helping us to remember that just as in his life, Jesus is always with us, through our joys and the sorrows, the high and lows, the pain and the elation. May he give us opportunities to help others sense his presence in the flesh as we journey on together.
Prayer as we approach Lent:
Lord, thank you that you are always with us. Thank you for coming amongst us to reveal yourself to us. Thank you that as we respond in faith to your love and presence amongst us, that you will reveal more of yourself in our lives birthing in us your hope, grace, compassion and love. Help us to know in our wilderness times that you are with us. In Jesus’ name Amen.
Revd James Pickersgill
Why be moral when you could be rich?
Derek Williams introduces a growing social and spiritual issue
“Morals don’t pay the bills,” claimed Wesley Perkins last November. According to a newspaper report he makes his money by buying recently-expired internet domain names, redirecting website users to porn sites, and demanding large sums to restore the sites and their legitimate content to the original owners. His actions are not deemed illegal.
Then in January this year Misha Glenny, author of the 2008 book McMafia on which the current TV series is based, claimed that “the battle has broken out for what is moral in global terms and underpinning this is inequality.” He added that political “leaders everywhere … are engaged in financial dealings and activities which are absolutely outrageous but seen as the way of the world.” Think no further than tax avoidance.
Most of us greet such actions and views with a helpless shrug. It’s not fair, not “right”, but beyond our paygrade to do anything about. The net effect is to reinforce the growing feeling that now, as it was in ancient Israel before the kings, “everyone does as they see fit” (Judges 21:25), so let’s follow suit. But where do you draw the line for yourself? How do you decide that something “legitimate” is morally wrong?
The former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, defined morality as “the inner voice of self-restraint that tells us not to do something even when it is to our advantage, even though it may be legal and even if there is a fair chance it won’t be found out. Because it is wrong. Because it is dishonourable. Because it is a breach of trust.”
He continued, “We are reaching the endgame of a failed experiment: society’s attempt to live without a shared moral code. … Without trust, self-interest defeats regulations, undermines institutions and eventually causes systems to collapse.”
Secular ethicists point to three principles for a shared code of conduct: the moral duty to help people in need; consideration of the likely consequences of our actions on others; and how our actions might contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The problem with this common sense approachis that it has no compelling basis and no sanctions.
Jesus and the Apostles (indeed the Old Testament lawyers and prophets too) gave a compelling reason for their more exacting standards. Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Paul, having explained in eleven dense chapters the significance of God’s love shown through the atoning death of Jesus, begins chapter 12 of Romans with “Therefore” and goes on for three more chapters of practical application: if Christ has done so much for us, this is how we are to behave in response.
In other words, people made in God’s image are meant to act as God does: fairly and selflessly. It is not impossible, but it may need supernatural help and courage. Lent (beginning on 14 February – Valentine’s Day!) is a good time to consider afresh that morals can pay the bills and that doing the right thing promotes the common good, including our own.
There is an extended version of this article with Bible references and ideas for further thought on my website:www.gentlerword.blogspot.co.uk, and a short story illustrating loose ethics at http://gentlertales.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-smoking-gnome.html
Wesley Perkins was quoted in a newspaper 27 November 2017. Misha Glenny was interviewed in The Times on 6 January 2018. Jonathan Sacks was writing in The Times 7 July 2012.
What can I do for Lent?
What are you giving up? Pamela Richardson from St Hugh turns that idea ‘on its head’. Read on to find out how.
Lent is rapidly approaching and this year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th. It is the time of year when many Christians ask themselves, ‘What shall I give up for Lent?’ Usually this involves sugar, or chocolate, or milk in our coffee and if we really want to feel good we give the money we save to a charity.
Over recent years,it has become a popular habit to‘add’ something to our lives during Lent. We might read a spiritual book, say an extra prayer each day, or maybe even go into Retreat and give God a little more time.
Last year I was invited by a friend to sign up for ‘40 Acts of Kindness’, run by the Stewardship arm of Hope, which some readers may have heard of. I duly registered; my friend and I agreeing to encourage each other daily. So, on each day of Lent I received an email from ‘40 Acts’ with three suggestions for an act of kindness. One was simple, one required a little more effort and one required more of a sacrifice of time or money. I could choose.
Lent 2017 turned out to be the most fulfilling ever. From doing something nice for a friend to sending a donation to a charity; from visiting a lonely person to doing a litter pick. I will never forget the look on a man’s face when I turned to him in a coffee shop queue and asked if I could buy him a coffee. ‘Why,’ he asked. ‘Because it’s Lent and this year I am giving, not giving up,’ I replied.
He was visibly shaken but accepted and it led to a good and positive conversation. Who knows what he told his friends?
So, I would like to encourage you to give ‘40 Acts’ some thought. You could still give something up if you want to, but this is so people friendly and
involves such love and generosity you cannot help but be blessed yourself. The web site is https://40acts.org.uk and registration is simple.
I wish you a thought provoking Lent.
Take a Priest to work
Barry Hill invites you to consider a novel idea.
In some schools it is increasingly common to have ‘take your child to work’ days – the hope being that children get to see what things are really like in workplaces rather than just what they hear at home. Whilst my school days are clearly well behind me and without drawing too many parallels, that’s the idea behind what I’ll be trying this Spring time in “Take a Priest to Work Day”!
As one theologian once wrote ‘If Jesus did rise from the dead, then everything will be different’. That means, as a Christian, I believe that God is passionately interested in every part of life – in everything from how we make sandwiches in a sandwich shop, balance budgets as a Finance Director, treat patients as a nurse, live well in retirement, design ad campaigns as a creative or serve the local community in local government (to names just a very few). God is passionate about it all and for Christians faith should make a tangible difference in everything.
A big part of the role of the church when it gathers, normally on a Sunday, is to support people in knowing this the rest of the week (amongst the most important parts of the service is at the end where we say ‘go’ to love and serve God in and with the people we meet during the week ahead). Prior to ordination I used to work in flight simulation (largely various forms of engineering, sales and service) and found sometimes the Church and its leaders were better at learning from and honouring that which I and others in the congregation did when not gathered together, sometimes less so.
From January to May, I am keen to spend a few hours in a wide variety of workplaces learning from those that work there, so that we can help Sunday church better serve and reflect the needs of the rest of the week. I appreciate having a priest who is not trained spending an afternoon pulling pints, serving customers or helping with spreadsheets might be a little unsettling or inconvenient, but would deeply appreciate the opportunity to understand how the churches of Harborough can best serve the local community. You don’t need to be a church-goer and it would be great to connect with a wide range of people (if I get too many offers, I’ll try and pick a good cross section).
As we approach Easter, Christians remember the kind of people that Jesus spent most time with. Generally they were not the religious leaders, or society elites, but the rest of society. It is this ‘Everyday God’ who we seek to follow in this.
Please do contact me to explore whether this would work for you and your workplace on email@example.com
Revd Barry Hill
Make “Truth” your 2017 Resolution!
Derek Williams offers some contemporary considerations of this well-used word
Oxford Dictionaries declared that “post-truth” was their word of the year for 2016. It means that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. It is a development of a word popularised by US comedian Stephen Colbert. He described “truthiness” as preferring one’s wishes to be true rather than believing what is factually true.
It has long been the case that many newspapers and some broadcasters gear their coverage to pander to the interests and opinions of their audiences. In turn, we tend to buy, or tune into, media that reflect our views. On social media, where fake news is now spreading like fire, and as destructive, we “like” or “follow” those who think and feel like us. So unconsciously we collude with “truthiness” and contribute to “post-truth” attitudes.
It’s not a new problem. The seeds were sown at least as far back as the 1960s, when traditional constraints were questioned and cast off in the name of freedom. Rapid developments in the scientific community revealed that previously-held truths were inaccurate, and demonstrated that with every new discovery we learn how much more we don’t know.
So it’s easy to shrug our shoulders with Pontius Pilate, faced by Jesus on the one hand and a mob baying for blood on the other, and ask cynically “What is truth?” Who knows? And we adopt the fallacy that all “truth” is relative: what is true for you may not be true for me. Hence, “post-truth”: if it feels good to me, it’s true.
That is not what Christians believe. Without needing to become obscurantist, and certainly needing to retain an enquiring and open mind, Christians believe that there are crucial objective truths that never change. And those truths form the basis for successful, meaningful, truth-full Christian living.
They are summed up in the creeds that we recite in our worship. Because they are summaries, they are open to discussion and interpretation. But they are based on some absolutes, not least that God is the supreme determinant of what is true and false, right and wrong. Some truths are not relative, even if our brains, superb as they are, cannot fully comprehend both the what and the why. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
When Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) he meant that he was the truth about God and the truth about life, demonstrated in human form. He spoke and lived truthfully.
The apostles call us to do the same as far as our human limitations allow. Instead of being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” we are to “speak the truth in love” and thus “grow up into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
So this year, why not resolve to learn more of God’s truth; consider rationally all sides of arguments and issues; and be measured in voicing opinions?
An extended version of this article together with Bible study suggestions is on Derek’s website: www.gentlerword.blogspot.co.uk
New Team Rector Appointed
After a false start and following the lengthy process described by George Marshall in the May edition this year a new Team Rector has been appointed. We welcome the Revd Barry Hill and look forward to his taking up office early next year.
Bishop Martyn describes how the new post will work. We reproduce his letter to the parishes in full below.
“The Bishop of Leicester is pleased to announce the appointment of Revd Barry Hill as the next Team Rector of Market Harborough combined with Diocesan Resource Church Enabler.
Barry will take up his new appointment in Market Harborough in Spring 2017 (working half-time) and this role will be combined with a new half-time diocesan role enabling the development of ‘Resource Churches’.
These are churches committed to the principle of generous giving and to sending people out from the Resource Church to establish fresh expressions of Church and new congregations and to resource mission and ministry across a wide area. Over the coming years, the Market Harborough Team will grow into being the first ‘Resource Church’ in the Diocese of Leicester.
Market Harborough is ideally placed to become a Resource Church both because of its size, its ministry team (which will be further strengthened by the appointment of an Associate Rector) and its location
Barry has worked with the Diocese of Leicester as Diocesan Mission Enabler since 2009. During this time he has overseen the development of fresh expressions of Church across the diocese and has played a significant role in encouraging local churches in their calling to serve their local community. He was previously Curate of Emmanuel Loughborough and has a background in the aviation business.
Bishop Martyn commented: “I am delighted that Barry Hill is taking up this exciting new role. He has been a very effective Mission Enabler in the diocese and this is the natural next step as the diocese commits to a strategy of developing a number of Resource Churches in different contexts around the city and county.
“Market Harborough is ideally placed to become a Resource Church both because of its size, its ministry team (which will be further strengthened by the appointment of an Associate Rector) and its location. I am particularly pleased that our first Resource Church will be in a vibrant market town and will be well placed in the coming years to resource mission and ministry in the rural South East of the county.”
Revd Barry Hill said: “The opportunity of a significant increase in resources for churches in making a bigger impact across a region is a wonderful God-given opportunity as we seek to invite the nine out of ten people who are not a regular part of a Christian community to know the fullness of life Jesus offers.
“I am delighted to take on this new role, working with very able colleagues in serving and leading the five Anglican churches of Harborough, and working in partnership with the wider community, the other churches of Harborough, and the Welland Valley Mission Partnership."
The Diocesan Resource Church Enabler role is being funded by the Church Commissioners and the diocese is hoping to access further funding to develop a number of other Resource Churches around the city and county.
Please pray for Barry, Pep and their two children as they prepare for this significant transition.”
Retreat at Monastero di Bose San Masseo Assisi, 16-19 June 2015
This summer I had an unforgettable experience, staying at a monastery on the edge of Assisi, home of the much loved St Francis. Going on retreat, usually for three days a year, has always been important to my Rule of Life, and a major spiritual resource for my ministry. This year, partly in preparation for receiving a new curate but also because of my life-long love of Francis, I decided to venture beyond our shores and try something new! The opportunity arose for me to visit a unique ecumenical community, now occupying a beautifully restored 11th Century monastery, that Francis himself is thought to have prayed in. The experience was profoundly renewing and will stay with me for a very long time.
I first discovered St Francis at the age of 14, and my vocation is bound up with his influence, the way that Jesus Christ has spoken to me through him. Interestingly, San Masseo sits astride Assisi’s hill, more or less equidistant between the various Franciscan pilgrimage sites.
It is close to the Church of San Damiano (a short walk away), in which Francis, the romantic young knight, first heard Christ call out to him: ‘Francis, repair my Church, which you see is falling down!’ Ten minutes’ walk up the hill, on the eastern side of the city, is the Basilica of St Clare, Francis’ female counterpart, who founded a contemplative order of nuns, living in strict poverty. In this Church hangs the original Byzantine cross from which Francis heard the Christ speaking to him.
Further down the hill, on the Assisi plain, is the large Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, containing the little Portziucola Chapel, restored by St Francis himself. Here he heard, in the words of Matthew, the call to ‘Preach the kingdom, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers… taking nothing for the journey.’ All of which St. Francis, with his early companions, went out to do! He set the world on fire with the love of Christ and showed that the Gospel is first of all a life to be lived.
The last site that I walked to from San Masseo (alongside the dramatic Basilica of St Francesco, which frames the whole city), is the hidden hermitage of the Carceri, some six kilometres walk up into the beautiful hills of Mount Subasio. Here is a place of immense stillness, peace and contemplation, where Francis adored God and his bounteous creation, allowing himself to be equipped for a life of mission and service. I too was privileged to pray there, a still point in a fast turning world. Having walked there in the heat, I was grateful for a lift back to Assisi with some visiting Catholic priests, one of them a Congolese seminarian, who told me about life in his home country.
Let me say a little bit more about San Masseo, where I spent most of my retreat. The monastery is a home of the Bose community, from North Italy, who live a life of prayer, hospitality and manual labour. All guests are welcomed, after the Rule of St Benedict, as if they were Christ. This in itself is a transforming experience. The hours of prayer, in the beautifully simple stone Church, are profound and melodious. I had never experienced the liturgy in Italian before! Lectio Divina is an important part of their life, listening for God speaking through the Bible. Food is simple and wholesome. The monastery is surrounded by vineyard and olive grove, which sounds romantic, but involves back-breaking work for the small community of brothers. Guests are housed in a well-equipped guest house. I truly appreciated, within the context of the liturgy, the gift of silence, for meditation, reflection and writing.
How did San Masseo affect me? It restored in me the simple joy of faith, of knowing that ‘the Lord is near’. I was reminded that at the heart of my active life is prayer, the wellspring from which all else flows: an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. I found myself, as an Anglican, strongly connected to the universal church, of which we are a part, and much encouraged by our ministry in Harborough. I found myself drawn to make connections between faith and contemporary life at many different levels. And I glimpsed an outflow of creativity, as I reflected, prayed and read, including the following stanza - part of a longer poem, ‘Pilgrimage of Trust’ - about my time in Italy:
Returning to the fire which first drew me
Landscape bathed in iridescent light
Drawing from the well which first irrigated me
Water cascading onto thirsty ground
Inhaling the breath of wind flowing freely
The Spirit blows where it wills, Assisi fills
Feeling the fertile earth beneath my feet
Bursting with life, flower and grasses greet!
The invitation go on Retreat, joining with a community of prayer, enjoying their hospitality and soaking in the beauty of silence and creation, is a life-changing opportunity. It may take us time to overcome our inner restlessness (it does for me), but it is well worth it. The benefits are immeasurable. Why not try it? God may be trying to show you something.
Rev James Shakespeare
An Amos Trust Alternative Pilgrimage
Two and a half years ago I went on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land and visited many religious sites. I also went to a Palestinian refugee camp and a farm as well as hearing speakers from Palestinian and Israeli organisations sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
This time the emphasis was on the plight of the Palestinians living in Israel/Palestine. The pilgrimage was ‘alternative’ because, for the majority of the time, we visited Palestinian projects in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Hebron, the Jordan Valley and Haifa. We did have a couple of days to visit the sites in Jerusalem and Galilee as well.
We learned what life is like for people who have to live in the shadow of the separation wall, are forbidden to drive on main roads, and endure the uncertainly of house demolitions.
The wall at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.
The painted slogan says ‘We can’t live so we are waiting for death’.
The skips are for rubbish, which is infrequently collected and so has to be periodically burned.
Hebron, where Israeli settlers have moved into the Palestinian city. We could show our passports and walk past the IDF soldiers into the settlement. Palestinians cannot do that, or return to their confiscated homes in the area.
A demolished house on the left.
Palestinians have to apply for a permit to build, but these are rarely granted, and so they are forced to build in the knowledge that the IDF can come along and bulldoze their houses at any time and with little warning.
The house on the right was rebuilt with the aid of Amos Trust volunteers shortly after Easter. The family of nine had been living in one room in a nearly refugee camp. Although they hadn’t fully moved in all 35 of us were invited inside, seated and served mint tea! This house is less likely to be served with a demolition order because of the involvement of the international community in its rebuilding
What hope for the future?
Peacemakers like these men, a Palestinian ex-fighter and a Jewish rabbi, who became united in the cause of peace once they started talking to one another – something that just doesn’t happen under normal circumstances - and started the Roots Project.
For more information please visit websites such as:
The Amos Trust - www.amostrust.org,
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions - icahduk.org/
The Roots project - http://www.friendsofroots.net/
Ma’an Development Centre