The cross of All Saints Highertown has on the main horizontal beam the words ‘I can’t breathe’ which were the last words of George Floyd before he died.
They are also reminiscent of Jesus’ last words and moments on the cross – Mark 15:37 “And Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last.”
By placing the words ‘I can’t breathe’ on the cross we want to show that as Christians we believe the injustice that was experienced by Jesus is representative of all injustice, including that which was experienced by George Floyd, and the experience that many people of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Community experience in this country today (we recognise that if Jesus were in Britain today he would be a member of that same community).
The purple cloth represents that much of our church community are holding prayers of repentance today for our complicity in shaping an unfair and unjust society. Equality should be of utmost importance to all Christians and yet we have so much work to do. This acts as a message to our community that we are ready to do the work, and ensure that racism in all its forms is seen as the evil it is and eradicated; racial disparity and inequality should have no place in our community, in our church, in our country and in our world.
We want to participate in peaceful protest and this was felt to be a worthwhile collective example of our support for all those who desire the same. The protest will be on display for Sunday 14th June, once it has been taken down the work will continue.
Pentecost and the Tower of Babel
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5 The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
I believe it is the task of the church, the whole church, to interpret scripture and faith, for the benefit of the world and to the glory of God.
Just like the first Pentecost, an empowered church, stimulated by the Holy Spirit and inspired by God’s word, is transformative, unifying and positively disrupting.
It changes lives, brings people closer to God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
It not only points out injustice, it seeks to resolve it.
It not only highlights prejudice, it seeks change, understanding and reconciliation.
In doing so it brings down barriers of division; religious, political, linguistic and societal.
When we read Luke’s account of Pentecost in Acts, it is easy to be captivated by the supernatural, this breath-taking event of the Spirit’s work – tongues of fire, howling winds, speaking in tongues –
but with any supernatural event in scripture the more important thing to grasp is what these things point toward, not necessarily the event itself.
So, here is what I want to say today. Among many things the events of Pentecost teaches us that God delights in diversity and difference. Let me explain why.
In a world that all too often chooses division over difference, conflict over dialogue, and the few over the many; the Church of God that was empowered by His own Spirit, almost 2000 years ago, presents an important alternative; an important truth in today’s world.
That God delights in diversity as well as unity and he yearns to see his creation transformed by the Gospel and through his Church. This means we have a massive responsibility.
Pentecost is not so much the birth of the church as if often said, Ascension Day is the birth of Church, check out last week’s talk.
But instead Pentecost is a glimpse of what church can be, if we embrace the Holy Spirit and the Word of God for the benefit of the world and for the glory of God.
It is not so much the beginning of the Church’s journey, but a glimpse of where we are heading. In Acts 2:17 Peter is reading from the prophet Joel when he says, “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Peter is reading out a vision of a future, of what will come when the Spirit is poured out on God’s people.
I included the story of Babel from Genesis this morning intentionally, in order that we might appreciate the festival of Pentecost in a new way.
A while back I was encouraged to read former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ commentary on the passage from Genesis chapter 11. And in this it explains that what is now Pentecost for Christians was actually a time and still is when Jews hold festival celebrations of Shavuot,
meaning the Festival of Weeks, a festival that celebrated the wheat harvest but also marks the gift of the Torah (a summary of the Law), God’s law, to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Pentecost for Jews is about the Mountain of God, and the emphasis is on Heaven meeting Earth in the giving of the Law. The story of the Tower of Babel – is the story of another Mountain and relates well to this Jewish festival.
So while we may understand that, its also worth noting that In Christian terms the story of Babel has more recently been used as an antithesis to the Pentecost event.
In other words that Pentecost is the Tower of Babel in reverse.
Instead of people being scattered and confused in the story of Babel, at Pentecost they were in one place, one voice and of one mind.
Language is the common link.
In Babel God confuses them by scrambling the language,
at Pentecost God unifies by interpreting their language.
Now although this is quite a neat idea – I’m not sure its correct.
For a start it presents God and the story of Babel as the fall guy, suggesting that somehow God’s judgement over Babel was being reversed by the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost.
If that is the case then how are we to associate Babel and Pentecost at all.
Well first we’ve got to see how the story of Babel relates to account of Genesis as a whole.
Jonathan Sacks suggests that if you read Genesis carefully you’ll see that its entire focus shifts between chapters 11 and 12.
Up until chapter 11 and the story of Babel, the book of Genesis is concerned with humanity as a whole. Represented by stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel – archetypes of humanity, but also of conflict too. Conflict between husband and wife, and conflict between siblings. The message is universal. That in our freedom humanity also has a problem.
Beyond Adam and Eve, and before Noah and the flood, the world was ‘nasty, brutish, and short.’ These chapters act as a warning to the reader of what happens when civilisation fails.
After the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah and all humanity, that life is sanctified and sacred. It should be looked after and cared for.
Again, the message is universal. That in our freedom humanity has a solution.
In Genesis 12, this changes radically.
The bible begins to tell the story of just one man – Abraham.
He is commanded by God to leave his home, and travel to an unknown destination. God makes a covenant with Abraham but it is not a universal one – it is just with him.
Neither Abraham nor his descendants are commanded to convert the world. To the contrary, they are charged with the task of being different, countercultural, a challenge to the status quo. Hence the unusual structure of Judaism.
The God of Israel is the God of all humanity but the religion of Israel is not the religion of all humanity. (Jonathan Sacks’ words) It is simultaneously particular and universal.
So why the sudden shift in chapter 12?
The answer must lie in the story of Babel, at the point of change. Chapter 11. So let’s look at it carefully.
The people of Babel set themselves to build a tower that reaches heaven. God “confuses their language” and the project fails.
The story begins with what we read today as an ideal – “the whole land had one language and the same words.”
Surely this is a good thing, but the bible seems critical of it.
Why would this not be a good thing?
To confuse matters even further it has already been said in the previous chapter that humanity had been divided into seventy nations ‘each with its own language’.
So, the division of languages had already happened prior to Babel. When it says “the whole land had one language and the same words.” this first line is a little confusing, it might read as an ideal but is it? It remains perplexing until we come to understand the context.
Thanks to archaeology we know the answer.
The Ancient Near-Eastern area of Mesopotamia in which this story was set, was also home to the first empires of the region.
And we know from the study and research of archaeology that the neo-Assyrians developed the technique of imposing their own language, Akkadian on conquered people and nations.
Emperors of the time, such as Ashurbanipal II (mentioned in Ezra and 2 Chronicles), and Sargon II, boasted that they made all peoples “speak one speech” and conquered many nations with strange tongues and incompatible speech, and caused them all to “accept a single voice”.
The one language and same words of Babel was not an ideal instituted by God, but actually the result of ruthless empire-building. It was a symbol of oppression and dominance.
The three-hundred-foot tower of Babel was an icon of imperialism, of empire building, not by the people themselves but by the their oppressors.
The story of Babel is therefore a critique of imperialism, the imposition of a single culture on a diverse and varied world.
The story of babel is followed by the story of Abraham, the man commanded by God to be different to show that God loves difference. God was teaching them a lesson, but it wasn’t a punishment that they were confused and scattered, it was a gift.
The gift of being set free, liberated from a world-view that forced everyone to be same.
Now, when we read Luke’s account of Pentecost, and we hold the story of Babel in our minds we start to see the same lesson come through.
The speaking of tongues was not so that we forget who we are. Luke makes a point of listing all the places that the people had come from. It is a celebration of unity in difference and diversity.
It shows that through the power of God’s Spirit the Church can be a place where diversity is chosen over division, where dialogue is chosen over conflict, and where all are cared for, not just the few.
How encouraging it is to see the church throughout the world today deal with the outbreak of Coronavirus in rich and varied ways.
No two churches are the same, services online are different, faith in action is different, because our communities are different. People are different.
Pentecost is a reminder of our charge to be radical changemakers, persistent peacemakers, courageous groundbreakers, generous caregivers, and indeed, to be Spirit-filled liberators.
Pentecost isn’t so much the birth of the church but a snapshot of the church in action.
A Church that proclaims the good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favour.
Among many things the events of Pentecost teaches us that God delights in diversity and difference.
So go ahead, let the Holy Spirit in, be yourself, be different, be good news.
A sermon by Revd Elly Sheard
(Chaplain to Truro and Penwith Colleges)
Isa 58: 1 – 9a
1 Cor 2: 1 -12
Matt 5: 13 – 20
I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘spirituality’. It’s a bit of a buzz word these days and whilst we as Christians probably link our spirituality very closely with the practice of our faith, there are many people in our society who would call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. Certainly, in my work as chaplain at Truro College the ‘spiritual but not religious’ phrase is one I am familiar with. Indeed, whilst as we all know, the number of people practising any form of religion in our society has been declining for many years, the numbers who would claim to be on a spiritual search, or following a spiritual path, has risen steadily over recent decades and continues to do so. Many of these people would, I suspect, largely agree with this definition that I came across on the internet: “Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all.”
And I think that probably makes quite a lot of sense to me as well. I do agree that spirituality is something that describes an essential and universal human experience – that all of us are seeking and searching for answers to the big questions of meaning with which life confronts us. And I do agree that spirituality, as the word is used in common currency today, is a broad concept with many variations – indeed, perhaps we might want to say that spirituality is a word that can mean whatever we want it to mean – and that my meaning of ‘spirituality’ is as good as yours.
And perhaps this is where it gets tricky. The individualized nature of our society means that we, rightly, respect the dignity of each person as an individual, but it also means that when it comes to spirituality we consider it a very private realm and, too often, we end up leaving people, especially young people, to fend for themselves in this absolutely fundamental area of their lives.
It is an attitude that the Apostle Paul would have had no truck with. In our reading this morning from his first letter to the Corinthians he makes it very clear that in his view there is a clear difference between one sort of spirituality – a worldly spirituality – and another sort of spirituality – a godly spirituality that derives from the dwelling of the Spirit of God within the lives of Christian people.
In today’s terminology we might want to draw a distinction between the individualized, DIY, model of how spirituality works in the lives of many in our society and the spirituality that has developed and is still developing in the lives of ourselves and our fellow Christians – a spirituality through which our sense of personal meaning and purpose is filtered as we come to know ourselves as sons and daughters of God.
Some Christians would want to say, I think, that there is no place of meeting – no overlap - between these two ways of thinking about spirituality. You are either within the fold of Christian believers, in which case your spirituality is grounded in your acceptance of God’s redemptive and life-changing love for you and the whole of your spirituality follows from this. Or you are not within that fold, in which case you have nothing solid on which to base your inner life – no way of facing up to those big questions that life inevitably throws at you – and you are left to fend for yourself or perhaps to make up your spirituality as you go along in the ever-changing sea of ideas and teachings that swirl around in our society today.
I suspect even Paul, may have had much sympathy with this view – that your spirituality is either worldly or Godly and there is no middle ground. But I am not so sure.
Jeremy has asked me to say something this morning about my work as a chaplain at Truro College – and I am getting there! In my daily work at the college, I am surrounded by several thousand staff and students of whom only a very small proportion have any contact with the church – or indeed with a faith group of any kind. I haven’t actually done any kind of proper survey, but I strongly suspect, however, that a significant majority, if asked, would say that they are spiritual people or that they are interested in spirituality. And as I get to know more and more of them, I cannot with all honesty say that, because they are not conventionally religious they are somehow unacceptable to God or, even worse, bad people. Of course they are not. Here in Cornwall, Christianity still has a significant foot-print in our society, and especially when it comes to behavior and ethics many people still have a basic Christian grounding in their lives, even if they don’t recognize it as such. But that is fading fast and increasingly among the young, knowledge of even the basics of the Christian way as a possible guide for their spiritual path through life is something that increasing numbers of them would regard as incomprehensible. Tales of criminal activity in high places and statements from church leaders on sexual matters that are completely at odds with the ethics of nearly all our young people do not help. Yes, those ethics may have been developed along the sort of DIY lines that I mentioned earlier, but the radical inclusivity that they often embody are a vital – and I believe good - part of young people’s spirituality today.
So how do we navigate this challenging mix of spirituality in our modern world? Despite the fact that Paul seems to have been drawing much more black and white distinctions in his correspondence with the Corinthians, I do wonder if things were really that straightforward even then. And certainly today, spirituality is varied, nuanced and complex – and if we have the privilege, as I do, of being able to speak and act in this area in the world outside the church as well as within, it seems to me that we can only find our way through humility and prayer, through love and respect for others. My first responsibility as a chaplain is to listen, carefully and with respect, to those whose views may be different from mine. And that may take a long time and never really comes to an end. Only by listening and doing our best to understand where others are coming from will we be in a position to speak about what we have found in the riches of our Christian spirituality – and, of course, only by engaging intentionally with our own growth in that spirituality will we be in a position to have those conversations when the opportunity arises.
The lifelong human journey of spirituality – whether Christian or on some other path – is the most exciting and important part of our whole human existence. Perhaps we might even say it is what we are made for. And in today’s world, where spirituality is the source of so much lively interest all around us, it is surely vitally important for all of us that we hear the call of our Christian faith to engage with this quest – and thus to be able to be of service to our fellow-citizens in the process.
The following article was written for the Threemilestone Contact Magazine.
One thing is for sure we won’t soon forget these last few weeks, and we won’t soon forget the next few weeks. Schools and colleges have closed and moved to online classes, the country faces the economic pressure of everyone having to stay at home, entire nations are entering into quarantine, the NHS is under severe and life threatening pressure, and the care sector is seriously struggling. Tragically, people are dying. We haven’t faced such a crisis since the second world war.
I find myself wondering “What next?”
One possible answer to this question would be to follow the trajectory of shock and sorrow to its appropriate conclusion, in other words to expect the worst and to prepare ourselves for the worst. And some might say this is a fitting response, since it will lead to acts of self-preservation and the protection of what we care for most and who we love most dearly. Obedience to the government guidance on staying at home, self-isolating and social distancing are expressions of this, and are absolutely the right course of action.
Another possible answer is to imagine an alternative trajectory that is not shaped by shock and sorrow, but by compassion and grace. This kind of answer takes seriously how the current experience shapes culture, community, and individual character. It looks for ways to flip the horror of a given situation into an opportunity to build something new. I’m talking here about growth, potential and progress. Consider the acorn for instance. The acorn is potentially an oak tree. It yearns to become what it is not yet but ought to be. We are no different. Out of the Winter comes the Spring. What will the Spring look like for Threemilestone when all this is over?
Both answers are correct. But for me the overriding narrative in Threemilestone and the surrounding area is one shaped by grace, compassion and good will. It is a narrative that imagines what we might become when we all get through this. It is a narrative that tells the story of a community that cares for the whole, lives for the whole and defends the whole. Just take a look at what is being achieved through the local volunteer initiatives coordinated by Russell Keeble at Threemilestone Methodist Church and Cllr Tudor. And take a look at the small acts of kindness being offered between neighbours. It is evident that social distancing was never going to mean social indifference, and self-isolation was never going to mean self-interest. These kind of things are proof that good work for the sake of the whole does far more than it initially intends – picking up a prescription for someone when you do your essential trip to the supermarket helps one person, but it also shapes the whole community. It gives more water to the acorn!
Further down the road in Highertown, Malabar and Penn an Dre things are the same. Malabar Residence Association are coordinating volunteers with a system to stay in touch with the most vulnerable, and here at All Saints Highertown we’re running a Community Comforter scheme to do the same. More water for the acorn!
I call to mind the words of St Paul who reminded the early persecuted church that nothing can separate us from the love of God. He says, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If St Paul were writing today, he may well have even included Covid19 in his list. The point is this, the reality of our situation is horrendous and understandably frightening for many. But my prayer, my faith, my hope is that the narrative of love and compassion will suppress the fear we all feel, and comfort the mourning to such an extent that we see the oak fully grown, and our community life profoundly changed for the better.
The work of the Church is more important than ever, to be Christ to others, to heal the sick, mend the shattered, befriend the lonely, lift up the poor, and liberate the captive. God’s love for us draws us into participating in that divine work with our own hands and feet. God’s love for us—and our love for God—expresses itself in love of neighbour. May we all give ourselves to this service.
Yours in Jesus
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Priest in Charge at All Saints Highertown
Over the coming weeks All Saints will be doing its best to support other community initiatives, as well as its own to help the most isolated and vulnerable in our neighbourhoods.
All Saints Church is committed to living out the gospel in word and deed. Whether we are in church, in our homes, in our work places we will be praying. Whether we are in church, in our homes, in our work places we will want to help, and we are ready to receive help too.
We are all in this together, for sure. Christians are driven to action by the love of Jesus Christ, that every person has received by grace, and so whilst it is important to keep safe and virus free at all times (and follow the clear guidance of Public Health England), the church community is looking for ways to put our faith to action in new and creative ways.
On our website there is a new page dedicated to identifying need locally and coordinating support locally. We are not seeking to duplicate what is happening elsewhere unnecessarily, but we aren't wanting to stand still either, so this web page is our effort to get stuck in. If you can help, or if you know someone who needs help head to https://www.asht.org.uk/covid19.html
We look forward to hearing from you.
A pray - Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. May they know your peace, as they work together to care for others.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many, or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. In place of our fears give us hope.
Jesus Christ, healer and comforter, make us whole.
In your name we pray. Amen.
Right now, the anxiety so many people are feeling is palpable.
Anxiety and fear can seem like loaded terms among believers because the Bible tells us over and over: “Do not be afraid.” This could be taken as a command and we could use it as a way of rebuking ourselves for not trusting God enough.
However, this lack of grace for ourselves creates a vacuum which fear is always ready to fill. And it incorrectly tells us that we’re meant to drive out anxiety by sheer willpower as if we’re alone and meant to stay that way.
There is another way of taking the call not to be afraid - as a tender invitation to know God’s peace, even when we are worried.
The following are thoughts on what might help as all accept that invitation to draw near, to bury our face in God’s bosom and know more of the divine rest in an uncommonly overwhelming time.
We have an amazing gift in prayer and sometimes if we’re stressed enough we forget to use it. Right now, you can speak out all the things you’re thinking and feeling in one great, big mind-body-heart-spirit dump, without filter, without searching for the right words. You might as well tell God all of it without feeling you need to refine it or even clean it up. God knows. You could even write your prayer.
For some, it’s not so much that we forget to pray when we’re brought to our knees but that speaking this way actually adds to our anxiety. We may also wonder whether there’s any point to praying. Prayer grows distressing rather than remaining a channel for release.
If this is so, we may find it helps to quietly sit with God, to be still and know. Perhaps this is a time to explore contemplative prayer. There are many forms of contemplation with long histories in the Christian tradition Our family has been practising the examen for Lent and it might be a really accessible place to start. We use the “Examen for Children” in the prayer tools on Pray As You Go, which is free.
Media and Social Media
Many of us are already feeling utter fatigue while reading the news and scrolling through social media. At one point this week, I could almost hear the sound effects from every zombie film I’ve watched whenever new figures flashed up on a news report. I took that as a sign to stop checking the “Live” news, updated minute by minute.
There are months of this ahead. It’s too soon to grow weary. And it’s no surprise we are when everyone is shouting on Facebook with another meme or opinion piece or yet another news report that contains information beyond anything we can take practical action on.
What could protecting your mind look like in this space? This will mean different things to different people. It could mean choosing to not to check the news on your phone. Some may find that encountering it this way makes it more immersive and even more immediate. The news is designed to hook you in and personally engage you, to make you feel like you must stay in touch with every update - and it feeds your fear. Somehow holding it in the palm of your hand can make it harder to unplug from its sequence.
However you consume it, it may be helpful to consider limiting how often you check it so that you aren’t all-consumed and then too burnt out to turn to God (as mentioned above) or do anything else.
This might also be a time to curate your social media feeds. I’ve been hiding posts or selecting “Snooze for 30 days” on Facebook friends who are posting too much or too frantically on a single issue (click the three dots in line with someone’s name for this option). It’s about noticing how much of this thing I can cope with. Some people have chosen to avoid social media altogether or certain social channels.
Whatever we think about anything that’s happening, we could probably all agree that we’re collectively experiencing an information overload like no other. Regardless of the geographical location, occupation or interests of the people we’re connected to, at the moment there seems to be no relief.
It’s understandable that people are posting a lot. They may be processing their own worry. But we still need to choose how much of that we can take on and everyone’s different.
Perhaps it’s worth taking a moment now to think about what we’re all adding to the noise. We could consider what we can do to ensure we create enough mental breathing space for everyone. We can ask God to give us wisdom as we do this.
Focus on the present
When we are swept up in fear, we can psychologically disconnect from the day to day. This is where fear gives way to hopelessness and perhaps mistrust of others.
What could bring you home to the present moment? For me, spending time with my home educated children grounds me in daily life. Their needs are immediate and ongoing. Work is fairly grounding. My deadlines don’t seem to notice the minute by minute live news. In my volunteering, families continue to need breastfeeding support over the phone and online.
Focusing on the present could also mean exercise or cooking or decluttering. What needs to happen today? It might seem mundane and unimportant but they could help pull us out of the frenzy while also keeping us in motion.
These are acts of love when done in service of God, ourselves and each other. Perhaps we would value them more if we learned to reframe the work we do, however small or ordinary, as a spiritual practice in itself.
One of the most powerful things we can do in this uncertain time is to think about the ways we can help others.
I’ve seen friends reaching out to check in on other friends’ relatives whom they live closer to. People are offering to drop groceries or cooked meals on door steps should the self-isolating or less mobile need it. They’re making contact with charities to locate older or other vulnerable people who need help getting groceries. Even our toilet paper subscription company suggested we offer toilet paper to our neighbours, which I’ve done, along with asking them to text us if they need us to pick up or drop something.
Support groups are gearing up to offer more over the phone and online to meet expected gaps. People are slipping notes with their numbers through neighbours’ doors with suggestions for help they could offer - even saying that they’re up for a chat if someone who’s self-isolation wants a friendly phone call. I’ve even seen people gathering funds for folk in their community who may start to struggle financially.
It is much easier to offer help than it is to ask for it so please think about what you can do and who you can help - then make it that bit easier for them by saying something. That said, if you need help, please ask. We want to love you.
For more on the Christian precedent for offering radical hospitality in a crisis, listening to this conversation on The Hopeful Activists Podcast (it’s just 9 minutes).
To finish where we began, this is a time to pray together. Reaching out may mean offering to pray for someone if they’d like to, offering to do it then and there or later if they prefer - because it’s hard to ask for these things and it’s also hard to decline if you’re not comfortable with it. Reaching out may mean praying over the phone, especially with someone who finds themselves alone.
Fear won’t be driven out by willpower. We could hurt ourselves and each other trying. Fear is a normal response. But love is what keeps fear in its proper place so it doesn’t overrun our lives. This is a time to love each other and to lean on the God who loves us and is love.
Adele Jarrett-Kerr and her family attend All Saints. She is a mother, writer, home educator and breastfeeding counsellor. She blogs at adelejarrettkerr.com She also works with her family’s biointensive farm near Falmouth and hosts a podcast about human connection called Revillaging - you can listen through her website or wherever you find your podcasts.
Lent is misunderstood, even by those of us who should know better. Sadly, we are just as likely to see giving up chocolate as a sufficient response. In fact, Lent is about preparation, which involves examination of our lives and where we should be allowing God more power, which may mean giving up some things and beginning other things. And it is about power-the power we cling on to-God does not overwhelm us, instead wanting a response of love and surrender.
During Lent we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness-he did not respond with force but by complete dependence on God. Throughout Jesus’ life we can see he spent many hours alone with God in silence, not just because he was the Son of God but because he chose to have a relationship through prayer with God. He expects us to do the same, although we are weak- remember how he chides the disciples in Gethsemane when they fall asleep as he struggles in prayer ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?’ Matthew 26:40.
Most people find silence very hard as it forces us to face up to what is really in our minds and sometimes it can be the sheer triviality of it all that appals us. Once we manage to still ourselves, we realise our minds are full of the small events and chores of the day, the constant noise of the media in all its forms and our own grudges and resentment often surface as well.
Silence and sitting in the presence of God must be cultivated and there are many books and resources to help us do this, not least the rich heritage of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which unlike the Protestant tradition never lost the knowledge and practice of contemplative prayer.
The world is full of overwhelming noise and pressure, antagonism and poisonous hatred which seems to be becoming mainstream. A group of people living in the 3rd to the 5th centuries thought so as well and began to live in the deserts of North Africa to get away from it. Known as the Desert Mothers and Fathers, their spirituality is being sought out again by Christians desperate for a way to live the gospel of peace. One of their number, St. Anthony, said ‘A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us’.
The desert might be metaphorical for us today but it is more necessary than ever to go into it willingly and seek to be transformed for the sake of the world that God loves.
In undergoing this transformation, we empty ourselves and show the beauty of God’s love and bring peace to our world. We can do this by taking Lent to be more mindful of what we buy, how we spend our time, what we read. We can bring God’s peace with a smile, a listening ear, a loaf of bread baked, a donation made, a letter written, a job done for someone who cannot repay us. There are a thousand other ways God will show us if we stop to listen in the silence.
This week's blog has been written by Kirsty, Parish Administrator for All Saints and also an ordinand in training.
This blog was written by Adele Jarrett-Kerr. Adele and her family attend All Saints, she is a writer, home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, feminist, and Christian. Her frequently updated blog is a great source of support to families thinking about home-schooling, and also a place where ideas are shared for simply encouraging family well-being. You may also like to take a look at soulfarm.co.uk which is Adele and Laurence's community supported farm that helps growers and the community work in partnership to develop sustainable local agriculture.
Some years ago, a friend of mine shared a meme on Facebook that read: “Don’t let your disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God.” I remember feeling at the time that the phrase let both people and God off the hook.
If the Church represents Christ’s hands and feet, at what point do we say that institutional damage goes beyond the individuals and right down to the roots? Yet I see inside the Church the same capacity to heal and harm that exists outside of it, just clothed in different language. Both within and without, we are struggling, where we make the effort to struggle, to find language that will make sense of a world in which we can no longer pretend to have universally shared beliefs.
Even as I talk about “the Church”, I’m aware that it’s an idea that means different things to different people who potentially fall under its umbrella. Depending on your theology, the term can be surprisingly expansive or limited in its reach. Who’s in? Who’s out? What assumptions can be made about someone who uses the label “Christian” or connects their spirituality with the Christian tradition?
Choosing not to let our disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God could mean brushing off actions that should not be ignored, avoiding difficult questions because we’re actually a bit afraid of what the answers might be.
The Bible is full of people being real with God about their rage, despair and agony. God can handle our big questions. We can handle them too. If the Church is to remain a source of hope and a place where real community happens, we must face the shadow and ask big questions of it too.
This is where I find myself, disappointed with the recent statement on marriage and sexuality from the Bishops of the Church of England. There is nothing pastoral in its tone, nothing to indicate care for any it hurts or to understand the perspective of the people whose humanity it ignores - people who are part of the Church of England too.
I was initially relieved to see some attempt to reign it back in with an apology (probably because I am personally unaffected as a cisgender woman in a heterosexual marriage) but ultimately this too misses the mark when the statement didn’t just upset feelings. It represents a fresh betrayal when the CoE has been conducting a lengthy study of gender and sexuality, the results of which have not yet been published.
Many inside and outside the CoE called the statement out of touch. Many others claimed it was right that the CoE should remain at odds with the wider culture. We’re called to be different. Should that mean disengaging from the reality of the lives around us, refusing to listen to people who are bravely, and even generously, showing us where the hurt is?
We’ve never worked out our understanding of God and the Bible in a cultural vacuum. It’s disingenuous to say that personal stories and social shifts have had no part to play in our readings. Historically, we have collectively changed our minds about things, from slavery to marriage to religious practice.
Change can be scary. It can feel destabilising. It can trigger a domino effect. Choosing to rethink long held beliefs can threaten to take apart all the others. We’re exposed. We wonder what’s left.
I believe we can sit with this discomfort. God will enable us to do the hard things. Whatever we feel in the face of these issues is little when compared to those who have suffered at the hands of the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality. We can learn to de-centre ourselves and listen, really listen. We can decide to move beyond the safety blanket we’ve made of only talking about sex and instead have full-bodied conversations that also acknowledge identity and love.
I realised when I read the Bishops’ statement that disappointment can reveal what we hold in high regard. I’m disappointed because I care about the Church of England. I’ve chosen to worship here and to find community here, hoping that my children are safe, hoping that anyone who wants it can find shelter. By staying, I hope I am playing a part in making it so. The Bishops are not the Church after all. Mingled with uncertainty, my disappointment points to my hope.
Christians in Politics Course 2020
Whether it be for environmental protection, workers’ rights, gay rights, gender equality or democracy it is fair to say that the 2010s was the decade of the activist. Millions of people have taken to the streets in the UK. people of all faiths and none have felt so energised, impassioned and upset that the only course of action left for them has been to protest. Almost all of it has been peaceful, some has been intentionally, and dare I say, justifiably disruptive. Civil disobedience for the sake of social transformation should always be the last resort, it should always be incredibly well planned so as not to put people’s lives at risk, and should always be incredibly well implemented so as not to make the disruption the issue, but instead move people to think about the problem. You can make up your own mind which protests have met this standard!
Political activism has been guilty in the past of short-sightedness. Paying too much attention to catching the wave of feeling and being ignorant to the bigger struggle. It has often been impulsive. It is my belief that long-lasting change is more likely to occur through a social activism that is engaged in people’s lives, and the subtleties of ordinary political and community life, dialogue and debate. Church community work, grassroots work, and community progressive ventures are great examples of these things.
It is interesting that activism is rarely about reforming education. A pre-emptive activism that seeks to negate the need to protest might be to actively help create a curriculum that is biased toward the social needs of the future; reforming education so that belief, virtues and ethics are taught as subjects alongside core disciplines like Maths and English. This might better help our young people (and indeed adults too) to understand ‘vocation’ in terms of ‘life purpose’ or ‘calling’ instead of wealth, status, or material success.
Christians should be transforming culture according to the standards of God’s Word, and the way of Christ. Which is to love God and to love those around us. In the past, for the love of God and neighbour Christians have indeed influenced culture in such areas as eradicating poverty, teaching of literacy, education for all, political freedom, economic freedom, science, medicine, the family, the arts, and the sanctity of life. But within every generation there rises new social or political challenges, the key thing here is to realise that for things to change people have to show up. Christians in Britain also ought to remember that we can no longer see ourselves as a cultural majority. Change doesn’t come from a position of power but a position of witness. So how do we witness, and what should a Christian activism look like?
Why not join us for the first session of the ‘Christians in Politics’ course at All Saints Highertown. It is for people in the church as well as out of the church, for those that feel like they want to make a difference but aren’t sure how, and for those that feel they are making a different and would like to share.
All over the UK the Church is doing an incredible job. We’re running foodbanks, mentoring at-risk teenagers, counselling those in debt, being friends to the elderly, sheltering the homeless, running parent-toddler groups, homework clubs, music/arts workshops, healing on the streets, sports camps, working with prisoners, community choirs. This is wonderful. But there is a danger. Martin Luther King said that as Christians we enjoy being the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside. It often feels good to help someone and see the change up close. But he went on to ask, “Who is going back to the Jericho road?” In other words, who is making sure that no one else gets mugged. Do we need more street lighting? More CCTV cameras? More police on the beat? The thing is that those political decisions happen in fairly dull committees pouring over statistics and reports. Not as exciting as seeing that change right in your face. But if we don’t show up in those places, the Church may spend the next fifty years trying to be the nation’s paramedic, treating the victims of a flawed system but failing to bring righteousness and justice to the system itself.
It’s good to be the Good Samaritan but it’s also good to give him the odd day off. Some of us need to be in the system. Might that be you? Don’t just vote. Show up!”
Yours in Christ – Revd Jeremy Putnam
Find out more about the Christians in Politics Course on our website www.asht.org.uk. The first session “Show Up!” starts at 7pm on 10th February (following dates are Feb 24th, Mar 9th, 23rd, Apr 27th, 11th May)
image: Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)
Beginnings and Endings
Cesare Pavese: “The only joy in the world is to begin”
Life is full of beginnings. There is our own personal beginning, our birth but there are also many other life events that we see as beginnings in their own right. Such as our first day at school, the start of a new job, the first day in a new house, or the first day of retirement. There are also of course the faith orientated life events such as Baptism, receiving Communion, and for some, confirmation to the Church of England. But what about the new beginnings we miss without taking a second thought, the kind of event that we skip past because we don’t see its importance at the time; but only see its real importance later in our lives. It might be a passing chat with a stranger in a coffee shop, a moment in time that marks the start of a lasting relationship. It might even be something like a missed train or a wrong bus, which begins a cycle of events that in turn brings about a new beginning of sorts. Life is jammed packed full of new beginnings.
Although life is full of beginnings we also face at various times many endings. Or at least what we might experience as endings. The most vivid and emotional of these of course is seeing someone we love pass away. And although it is often said that in every ending there is a new beginning, when we experience profound loss we have no idea what that new beginning looks like.
One of the many amazing things about Christmas is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus already knowing how it ends, or at least how we think it ends. What I mean is Jesus came to earth as one of us, and he came to earth with a particular mission and part of that mission was that he should die, at a particular time in history. So in many ways when we celebrate Christmas we cannot do so in isolation from the rest of God’s story of salvation, we must in fact remember his birth and his death and his resurrection. And therefore tonight is really Christmas morning, Good Friday and Easter day, remembered explicitly as we come together tonight to break bread in the presence of God. The experience of communion in this way reminds us that beginnings and endings are often rolled into one - that celebration and suffering are frequently intertwined, that sometimes mourning accompanies merriment and fear with festival.
In the passage at the start of John’s Gospel - John describes God’s plan of salvation as an act of creation through the Word - Jesus Christ, an act of salvation that encompasses pain and suffering as well as the joy and celebration. It is the cosmic life event, God’s word made flesh to bring God’s plan into existence. It mysteriously embraces every beginning and ending we can think of. God’s word came to bring life, in sense to be the beginning of beginnings and the ending of endings
In deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence. God’s word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. Just in the same way God called creation into being with his voice so in his ministry Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, called into salvation by God’s spoken word. It is this that we celebrate tonight. We celebrate the knowledge that through the incarnation - God coming into our world in the form of Jesus - we are brought into the same space that God occupies. God has moved in to our neighbourhood.
I said at the start life is full of beginnings, those that stand as major milestones in life, but also those beginnings that slip by unnoticed. Surprisingly it is the beginnings that go unnoticed that often lead to the most amazing events in our lives. A missed bus can lead to a divine encounter, a surprise meeting could lead to a deep and meaningful relationship, a casual remark from a friend could awaken a spiritual calling. All of which could easily go unnoticed if we aren’t attentive to God’s activity in the world.
In the same way God’s saving plan, his act of creation through Jesus Christ, began as an ordinary event in a small backwater town in Palestine. A lowly, humble, seemingly unwelcome place was the birth place of God’s Chosen One. And Mary - an unassuming woman, in faith became the divine portal for the outworking of God’s redeeming light. You see the Incarnation was never intended to impose salvation on God’s people. In the beginning was meekness, humility, humbleness and vulnerability not triumphalism or conquest. Jesus throughout his ministry narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, and passionate prayer. Never imposing his divinity over the freewill of God’s people. Just simply coming into our neighbourhood to be flesh and blood, to be one of us. But do we notice his arrival?
I wonder how many people passed by that modest dwelling place in Bethlehem without noticing, I wonder how many people the shepherds spoke to on their way to see the babe – and if they had spoken to others – I wonder how many believed what they said, I wonder how many carried on without taking notice of that new beginning.
I wonder whether the magi shared the purpose of their pilgrimage to others – and again I wonder what the reaction would have been.
What is our reaction on this Christmas morn? Will we pass by this day, this new beginning without noticing the profound difference it could make in our lives?
And what will be our reaction to those other small beginnings in our lives, the ones that can go so easily unnoticed, but where God is possibly working out his plan for us. Because what the Incarnation teaches us is that God actually wants us to miss the train once in a while; he wants us to get on the wrong bus. He wants us to step outside of our normal routine just for a moment so we can take notice of what’s going on. He is asking us to stop and seek out Christ among us, to hear his call like the shepherds did, to look for the signs like the magi did, to step out in faith and trust God like Mary and Joseph did. To praise the babe in our midst as the angels did.
May the Incarnation mark for us the beginning of beginnings, the ending of endings, may the Alpha and the Omega, the word made flesh enter our lives – and may we respond, may we welcome the babe and allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives - not just today but in every new beginning to come.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, and the word became flesh and blood. Amen.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.