From the Clergy
Ode to Joy
What place for joy in our expectation of Christmas?
The Christian Gospel is full of joy, joy in the Kingdom of God being close at hand, joy in the coming of a messiah to save us from our sins. It is there on the night of the nativity, as the angel announces joy to the shepherds: 'I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2.10). The multitude of the heavenly host praise God, and after the shepherds have greeted the child and told Mary of these things, she ponders these words in her heart. Throughout the New Testament, whatever the reality of cross and suffering, joy remains.
In the words of the apostles we find joy paramount. St Paul, ‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances’ (Thessalonians 6.16). St Peter, ‘Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.’ (1 Peter 4.12). It’s as if, from outset, joy is encoded within the DNA of our Christian life.
The problem is it’s not difficult for us, as Christians, to find ourselves on a very different track from primitive Gospel joy. So many things distract us and consume our feelings. The modern secularised Christmas bodes ill for true joy, for joy does not come from hyper-activity, over-consumption, or self-gratification. Quite the opposite! For the Gospel tells us that it’s only in emptying ourselves that the joy of Christ fills out hearts, it’s only in concern for others that we find true freedom. Then there is the risk of us (as Christians) being overly serious, strict and self-righteous (a kind of rigid, grim and calcified piety), which prevents us from tasting the effervescent joy and abundance of God’s over-flowing love. And, lastly, there is the risk of being so pressurised with good works, with plans to save the church and improve structure that we simply don’t have time for joy!
Thankfully when we lose sight of what really matters: the Spirit’s gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; (Galatians 5.22), there are plenty of people to draw us back to the fullness of our joy in Christ. I think of our leaders, Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis, in their infectious joy and attractiveness. I think of my patron St Francis of Assisi, who even as his death approached, was filled with joy and sang the praises of God’s creation. Above all, I think of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who loved sinners, who ate and drank, who looked to the beauty of creation, and found himself steadfast in prayer, constant in good works, and fulfilled in others’ company.
As Jesus’ first words in Matthew’s Gospel put it - after inviting disciples to follow him - ‘Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ What more could we want for Christmas than this pure unadulterated heavenly joy?
Rev James Shakespeare, Team Vicar
Visit of the Bishop to The Welland Valley Mission Partnership
Bishop Tim, the Archdeacon of Leicester Tim Stratford, the Diocesan Secretary, Jonathan Kerry and Mission & Ministry’s Nicky McGinty visited Market Harborough and its surrounding villages for the weekend of 15th and 16th November. The purpose of the weekend was to launch the new local mission partnership, celebrate links with local communities and encourage the mission of our church.
On Saturday the Bishop met with the three local Church of England Academy Head-teachers, before visiting the historic Market Hall (there has been a market in the town since 1203) and town centre.
Bishop Tim was especially well received by Stefans Jewellers, following a ram-raid robbery incident 24 hours earlier: the company considered it a divine visitation!
Later a group joined the Bishop and Archdeacon in a pilgrimage walk, joining up three benefices that now form the new mission partnership: the Harborough Anglican Team, the Welham benefice and the Langtons and Shangton.
Following the walk, pilgrims were refreshed by a well-deserved glass of Langton Ale, while visiting the Langton micro-brewery!
At the same time another group met in Harborough to consider ‘what makes a healthy church?’ Over the weekend there were also visits to a range of ecumenical social projects, including the local Foodbank, Street Pastors and The Bower House counselling centre.
On Saturday evening the Bishop delivered a talk at St Dionysius Church on what the Bible says about money.
On Sunday a special liturgical celebration was held at Church Langton, drawing together congregations and choirs from 13 local Churches, launching the new mission partnership. There was a packed church and the Bishop also confirmed five local candidates. The visit ended with a tour of a local livestock farm.
The weekend was full of joys and affirmed all that is happening locally, as well as a commitment of local parishes to working more closely together in mission.
Top: L to R James Shakespeare, Janet Gasper, Alistair of Langton breweries and Tim Stratford, enjoying the Langton Ale refreshment.
Middle: Bishop Tim is pictured outside Stefans' shop on The Square. [Ed. A very good place for a Bishop's picture obviously!]
Bottom: Bishop Tim talking to a market stallholder selling local eggs, with Barbara Johnson.
The Pilgrim's view
On a dull but at least a dry day 18 supported the Bishop in his pilgrimage from St Peter & St. Paul Church, Great Bowdon via Great Bowdon Lane to Welham and then on to St. Leonard’s Church at Thorpe Langton.
With ages ranging from 9 to 80 + and accompanied by 3 dogs, we all enjoyed good company and conversation as we travelled via footpaths and quiet country lanes on a real country walk. For a few minutes traffic noise came back as we passed over the Motorway and then past brambles, unhappily now without their blackberries, fields of sheep and then, new to many of us, a large fishing lake.
Further on, we passed riding stables and children’s play centre, then the old Manor Farm in Welham, before joining the road to Thorpe Langton. Here we needed caution as cars and vans became more frequent, particularly when complicated by teams of cyclists coming from the opposite direction.
Then past the Langton Brewery, (where we were promised a return trip) before arriving at Thorpe Langton, mentioned no less than 3 times in the Domesday Book of 1066, past the Bakers Arms and a welcome right turn to St. Leonard’s Church (built in 1240). A warm welcome from the Church Warden plus tea and biscuits and a bowl of water (and possibly a biscuit) provided for our dogs.
First estimates of the walk had been for some two and half miles but later calculations suggested 4 and some of us thought, possibly nearer 5 miles had been achieved.
Following our tea break, the visit to the Langton Brewery site was fascinating as we had an enthusiastic explanation of modern day brewing (and a glass of Caudle Ale).
We were told that over the past 6 years there had been a steady expansion of the business and introductions of special local named brews, particularly for Leicestershire pubs. They now supply many licensed premises plus direct sales from the farm shops. A special Christmas sale is on now.
All in all a very pleasant and meaningful afternoon and pilgrimage for all involved.
Editor of The Quintet retires in February!
As I have already said, I shall be retiring as editor of the Quintet. The February issue will be my last one.
The editor's work is mostly word processing and emailing. Nearly all the material comes by email and without me having to ask for it. The 5 church correspondents contribute well, along with our special correspondent: Gordon Birch. Many other good people also submit items regularly.
The advertising is all handled by the advertising manager and the printers direct. Also, the Quintet Advisory Group guide me on policies, plans and good ideas. It is definitely a Team effort.
The job could be shared. There has been one offer to do the repeat items, such as service times, prayer diary, dates and opportunities. We urgently need a second person who could do the other content: selecting, tidying and editing the text, making it fit onto pages.
Could this be you? Will you offer?
Three life events- marriage
Welcome to this, the second in a trio of occasional articles about life experiences that can bring out the most extreme emotions in all of us. This month Gordon Birch talks to the Rev Janet Dudley about the sacrament of marriage.
One of the things which inspired Janet Dudley to consider ordination was her dissatisfaction at the wedding of a friend's daughter. "It was awful. The clergyman never once referred to the couple by name. His whole delivery was cold and distant and there was no address," she recalled. "But when people came out of church they said 'what a lovely service'. It was then that I realised people had a very low expectation of the Church," said Janet.
Since that time, the Church of England's stance on marriage has moved forward in many ways.
"When I got married 54 years ago we had no preparation meetings with the vicar. You just turned up at church on the day and got married. It was quite impersonal," she added.
But these days most couples have at least three meetings with clergy.
"At the first meeting I ask the couple about themselves and why they want to get married in church. It helps to build up a relationship with them. At the next meeting I go through the service with them and explain what it means and the third one is with the families and bridesmaids and is combined with a rehearsal for the ceremony," explained Janet.
"I try and help them see that I believe in God and that his blessing will have an effect on their lives too," she added.
The content of the service has changed too. The Book of Common Prayer states the first reason for marriage is 'the pro-creation of children'. In today's service that is the last on the list. At one time women promised to obey their husbands, but today couples make identical vows.
"In days gone by the woman belonged to her father and she was handed over to her husband. The Church's attitude was to make women and people in general subservient because they were conscious of sin in a way we are not conscious of any more. People were cowed by the Church because it had a lot of power. Now, marriage is a coming together of equals. The service is about joy and love and the couple playing a new life in the community."
Couples are also encouraged to personalise their marriage services with favourite readings and poems.
People's circumstances and life experiences these days are very different by the time they think about marriage. And in many instances the couple's children will attend and are encouraged to take part in the ceremony.
"Most people now have either been married before or are living together and, in certain circumstances, the Church of England will now marry divorced people. When that started I felt very strongly that divorced people should have a separate service, but I don't feel like that now," she said.
"All the pastoral services are a privilege to conduct, because you meet people at vulnerable times of their lives - but marriage especially and you send them on their way rejoicing," said Janet.