Not so long ago a certain computer retail company paid an external consultant to train their branch managers on ‘how to remember’. The process was simple; anything you needed to remember was visually placed on an imaginary ‘peg’ in your mind. The idea being that all you needed to do was recall the peg, and the important things would be there too; in essence, you could program your brain to not forget. Ridiculous! I can’t imagine how much the training cost but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately, the outcome saw us managers able to recall random and fairly useless information at will, something that we didn’t really have too much difficulty with in the first place. Although entertaining at the time, one of the many mistakes the training made was to consider the act of remembering as something we do on our own.
November is a time when the act of remembrance can be a painful and tender process for many. All Saints Day can remind us that all too often following Christ can be costly; All Souls Day can remind us of the once filled spaces in our lives; and Remembrance Sunday can remind us of the high cost of freedom. November can also be a time of thanksgiving for the lives of those we have loved. Whatever emotions this month might bring it is good to remind ourselves that the act of remembering is not something we do on our own; in fact it is not something we can afford to do on our own. I would go as far to say that we cannot fully enter into the act of remembering unless it is done within a remembering community.
To be a part of a remembering community means that our memories become part of a bigger story. Our act of remembrance becomes a time where we rely upon each other, to support each other, to pray with each other. It is a time to help each other remember when we struggle to do so on our own.
Last month I celebrated with the Alzheimer’s Society their 4th anniversary of the Singing for the Brain group. The group that meets at All Saints on a Tuesday afternoon relies on the important truth that we can remember better together. Singing and music is particularly important as a way in to remembering together. Jesus demonstrated this well when he shared in the Passover with his friends, and worshipped in the synagogues.
Jesus taught us that remembering was an act that only fully made sense within a community, with others. He shared bread and wine with friends and asked them to remember him (Luke 22:14-20). And together the disciples realised Jesus had risen from the tomb when they remembered his words (Luke 24:1-8 & 30-31). These passages remind us that a remembering community can transform the act of remembrance into healing and resurrection.
My prayer for us this November is that as we remember we might also know Jesus’ healing, and be encouraged in the truth of his resurrection. May Jesus teach us ‘how to remember’ and with it may we receive his healing and life-giving power.
October starts with our Harvest Festival, a celebration of creation, abundance and blessing. Marking the Harvest goes back to the biblical idea of giving thanks for the first fruits of the land, and acknowledging them as the gifts of God. This idea was continued throughout the centuries and was formally marked on the 1st August as Lammas Day by the English in the Middle Ages. The practice disappeared after the Reformation and all that was left was the secular ‘harvest home’; a celebratory meal at the conclusion of the ingathering of the crops and the origin of our Harvest Supper (or lunch in this parish!). In 1843 the Revd R S Hawker revived the Lammas Tradition in his Cornish parish of Morwenstow but kept it on the first Sunday in October as it was closer to the usual time for the traditional ‘harvest home’. The idea proved popular and spread to many other parishes and in 1862 the Church of England made official provision for the harvest service.
I’m sure that you will agree that we are so privileged to live where and when we do. We live in a land of plenty. Our farmers work tirelessly to produce our food, a wonderful range of goods is imported from all four corners of the earth and the shelves of our supermarkets are always full. There is so much to be thankful for. Yet once again as we count our blessings we cannot ignore the harsh reality that tonight, as every night, millions will go to sleep hungry. And this year our harvest thanksgiving takes place against the backdrop of numerous conflicts, which have forced millions to flee their homes in the face of terrifying and unrelenting violence.
Isn’t it true that any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too? And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, and then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
A record number of people received aid from UK foodbanks in the last year. The Trussell Trust said three days’ food was given out 1,084,604 times in the 2014/15 financial year. That roughly works out as 1 in every 200 people needing help in this way. Of course, the problem of poverty in this country is far more substantial and complex than a single statistic about food banks; but the need is there and food banks meet part of it. Did you know that we get the word bank from the old Italian word banca and the French word banque, and that both originally meant table? Maybe the term ‘food bank’ gives us the wrong idea of what is going on. Is it really a place where transactions occur? Where we pay in and let others pay out? No, food banks are more like food tables, places where we sit with others to eat. So how do we support the work of the food banks and how do we support those who use them?
The food offerings at our Harvest service this year will be given to Truro Foodbank and the Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust, both serve people of this parish and Truro. Your food offering will mark the start of a relationship, of a meal with friends. So please give generously.
While Germany and Sweden are building camps, providing aid, and taking refugees into their own homes, the British Government is building walls, fences and deploying guard dogs. Despite all this the overwhelming majority of people in this country are very eager to show compassion. Surely David Cameron and –dare I say it - our Archbishops can see that we must put aside the politics, statistics and scapegoating and assert our intention to help these people in need.
With your help, and the help of many other likeminded people All Saints Church took 100 boxes of food, clothing, shoes and toiletries to Calais to give out to the refugees. People donated nappies, children’s toys, shoes, blankets and tents. On sorting all the donations I was joined by teenagers on their summer holidays to do their bit! I received letters and messages of good will with donations to cover petrol and transport. It was incredibly moving to see the generosity of others in action; it made me think that there are some people in Britain who would even be willing to welcome the refugee in their own home too, and to treat them with the dignity they deserve, as a friend, instead of an interloper.
Jesus, and therefore we also, belong to a people indelibly marked by stories of Exodus and exile. Like the millions of Syrians today, Jesus and his family were forced to flee their home and find refuge. In Jesus’ case it was Egypt, the very place their own ancestors fled in the time of Moses. Today it seems that some Christians in the West act as if a comfortable existence is their divine right, that for some reason we have earned the right to take up a higher place in humanity, and to protect our privileged status at all costs. But closing off our borders to the needy, the oppressed, the persecuted, the desperate and the displaced of this world is an anathema to the Gospel of Jesus.
Jesus was forced to wonder from place to place, as King of a world hostile to him. He was ejected from the Holy City, the place his own Heavenly Father was said to inhabit, and then crucified on a rubbish dump. How many more children will wash up on the shores of Turkey until we realise enough is enough.
How many more debates will we have about net migration figures and EU border controls until we see that our own humanity is drifting away with the bodies of dead refugees?
We are one family under God, a single Body formed in the image of Christ and shaped by the Holy Spirit. It is my hope that our recent project to help the refugees in Calais, will enliven our commitment to look for the image of Christ in the migrant, the sojourner, the outcast, the refugee, and in all of us. So that together we can reclaim a humanity for those with an outstretched hand, both theirs and ours. Jeremy
He created the horizon when he separated the waters; he set the boundary between day and night.’ Job 26:10
The horizon has always been a captivating sight, a seemingly never-ending point both in space and time. A place that on the one hand symbolises the distance and awesomeness of God, whilst on the other hand can also remind the onlooker of the intimacy of God. As we look upon the awe inspiring sight of the heavens touching the earth we can also imagine how God’s life is touching ours, either through the story of Jesus, or through the power of the Spirit, or even through one another. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, and of course here in Cornwall we are often blessed with many coastal scenes like the one pictured above.
Setting a new vision for the church can feel a bit like looking out toward a horizon. In search of what the future will hold. In wonder of what God might have in store.
A while ago I was given a telescope to look up at the heavens. Suddenly I was gifted with an amazing new perspective of our night sky. As I looked upon the planets and the stars with a new clarity, and in particular upon our own moon, I realised something quite important. Do not look at a full moon through a telescope! It is not only hurts your eyes, but you don’t actually see much anyway, the sun’s light bouncing off the moon is so strong that it washes everything out. I soon learnt that the best time to look is when there’s a crescent or half-moon. Through a telescope you get an amazing view of where the light side of the moon touches the dark side of the moon. The edge of the light is called the ‘terminator’ and the clarity is breath-taking.
You can see every bit of detail– the mountains, the valleys, the peaks and craters; they are all clearly visible along the line where the light meets the dark. It is simply stunning.
One of the big questions for us as we set the new vision of the church is ‘where is God calling us?’ Well maybe God is calling us to a place like the one I see through my telescope!
What I mean is this: maybe God is calling us to be in a place where the light touches the dark. The place where things are clearer. A place where the brightness of the Son touches the darkness of the earth, the threshold of the kingdom where the pain of the world is touched by the healing light of our God, where hurt and anguish are calmed by the Morning Star; in other words, where heaven touches earth.
Isn’t it true that Jesus spent most of his time with those in darkness: the outcasts, the lost, the hated and despised? Jesus was, and is, the threshold where darkness turns to light, where things are seen with clarity and detail. So I hope that as we continue to discern God’s vision for All Saints we might consider our calling to the lost corners of our world, and to the shadows of our existence. Please pray for a clarity of vision and a consensus of opinion as we seek God’s will and seek to follow his Son to the place where his great and beautiful light shines bright into the darkness of our world.
Beyond here be angels!
At the edge of the map as they reached the point of known territory medieval cartographers wrote the words ‘beyond here be dragons’. It was a phrase used to denote dangerous or unexplored lands and seas, and its effect was to ward off travellers and seafarers from the unknown.
Every journey has its own ‘at world’s end’ where the next step – put simply – is into the unknown. No matter which way you slice it the journey of life whether spiritual or physical has a degree of uncertainty and insecurity about it. In life there are times we look down at our maps to see the words that we don’t really want to see. If you are anything like me then you’ll know we like being in charge of our own destinies. We want the questions answered and the route plotted out. However, no matter what stage in our journey with Christ, life has a tendency of throwing the unexpected at us, and sometimes it can all feel a bit like the words beyond here be dragons.
When Jesus called his first disciples they didn’t have any idea what the future looked like. The truth is, if Jesus had told them what laid in wait around the corner they may never have followed him - here lies the level of trust required to follow Jesus.
Following Jesus is not an easy road, it is an unfamiliar path and full of risk, but we do not walk this path alone.
Before Jesus healed the blind man at Bethsaida he led him out of the village by the hand. If you’ve ever led a blind person or partially sighted person, instinctively you know to stand by the person’s side and gently guide them by the arm. Jesus doesn’t do this; instead he leads the man by the hand (Mark 8:22-25). Jesus’ way is risky and unsettling, yet he is always with us and his hand will guide us.
Jesus knows that the unknown can be a frightening place, but time and again he encourages us with the same words: ‘Do not be afraid’ or ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’. Indeed, the bible says how God repeatedly sent angels, messengers and co-workers to people who feared the path ahead. Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Elijah, Mary and Joseph to name but a few. God’s word for them was one of assurance and peace. So maybe the words on the edge of the map shouldn’t read beyond here be dragons, but instead read beyond here be angels!
As All Saints begins this new chapter there are many unknowns and it’s difficult to know what the future holds for us, but with Jesus as our companion and the Spirit as our guide I am confident that we will know the blessing of God.
May God bless your journey and may you know that he is with you always. Jeremy.
I can’t prove it but I reckon there is always someone somewhere thinking about the next big thing. You know, ideas like the iPhone, or the electric car. Whether it be think-tanks, boardrooms, or the dreamer in the bath; someone somewhere is pondering on what the next and new big idea will be.
Grace is God’s best idea. Imagined and designed in the timeless think-tank of our Triune God, grace is the newest and the oldest idea on the block. If you’ve ever received grace then you’ll know what I mean when I say that it is the greatest gift. Grace is limitless, unlike the battery in your iPhone. Grace is unparalleled and unprecedented, it is available 24-7, more relevant than any human idea, more ‘in’ than any of the latest fashions. Grace is God’s trending tweet, the top result on the Divine search engine; and what’s more you and I have an equal amount of grace available to us, since grace is unmeasurable and unquantifiable. No matter where we find ourselves, what our needs are, what dreams we have, what mistakes we’ve made, what decisions we took, God is willing to bless us with his gift of grace.
In the midst of my final preparations for the move to Highertown I’ll have the opportunity to reflect on the grace I have received from the church in Portishead, and also the grace I have received from you. I thank God for your faithfulness to the task He has set before you, and I thank Him for your patience in this time of transition. I regret I cannot be with you today but I know the APCM will be a wonderful celebration of what you have achieved in 2014. Transitions and vacancies can so easily become a rather testing period in the church’s life, and a time when reduction and consolidation become the key phrases. For All Saints this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems to me that due to the passion and hard work of folk at All Saints 2014 can be seen as a time of growth and progress. I’m sure taking stock has been part of it, but what has come through loud and clear is your continuing desire to serve God and to grow in faith.
I pray that tomorrow you will have a tangible sense of God’s presence as you meet, and that his abundant grace will fill your hearts as you celebrate a year well served. Most of all I will be praying that we will all know the grace of God as we continue this new journey together.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore. Amen.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.