DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST,
“May the name of our Lord Jesus be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Greetings to you all. I hope you don't mind my rather comprehensive letter to the parish but it felt necessary and good to share with you my own reflections at this time, and with them the hope and joy I feel in knowing what God has started and will indeed finish here at All Saints.
But first it is fair to say that the last 6 months have been extremely difficult. It has been sad, challenging, and messy. The impact of a community not being able to gather, not being able to pray together, not being able to talk, eat or sing together has been manifold. Beyond the church, people have been impacted in profound ways by social isolation being forced upon them, unplanned financial challenges, health difficulties made real, and bereavement in the family. I could go on. Nobody is immune to these things. During this time, the usual anchors, safety nets, checks and balances have been put under pressure, some have even collapsed completely. Having said that, there have been many examples of how new anchors, and safety nets have emerged as people support people, and the church supports the wider community. This has been particularly evident within the pastoral team, the foodbank team, the Acts 435 team, Children’s Clothes Bank, CRRN and the continued online presence of AA, Singing for the Brain, and the various other groups that in the past have been used to meeting at All Saints. These groups, led predominantly by volunteers, have touched the lives of those for whom the impact of Covid19 has been overwhelming.
These challenges have also been the backdrop to significant areas of change and growth in the church planned well before Covid19 was ever a concern. Transforming Mission was planned and prayed for in 2018, and the Lifehouse Project in 2016. In 2016 we also made a decision to open the doors of the church to the wider community, to hand over space, time and resources to likeminded organisations to serve Truro, and as a result the profile of the church as a place of sanctuary, support and healing is now well known.
In light of this I want to share with you what I feel God is asking of me and maybe, if you concur, the church as a whole at this time. It is very simple. This thought/vision has not left for me for some time and comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica. A church that was experiencing many trials but had been given an incredible gift. Although Paul was speaking specifically about persecution, his summary in chapter 1 verses 11 and 12 share something that is very relevant to us.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
His message to the church during great trial was simply this… that the name of our Lord Jesus be glorified. In other words, as they lived their lives, sometimes in real affliction and trial, they could nevertheless live them in such a way as to bring honour and glory to our Lord. (As we face our lives, in different walks of life, in different opportunities for service, is it true of us, as it was of these Thessalonian believers so long ago, that our lives are the means of bringing glory to the Saviour?)
Each of us will have many things we are hoping for, praying for and looking for at this time. As with Paul’s words we pray that by his power God may bring to fruition every desire for goodness, and every deed we have set out to do by faith. Transforming Mission and the Truro Lifehouse are both God ordained plans for this church, and beyond, and we pray that they will be brought to fruition even in this time of great uncertainty.
I realise that for many of you it will feel like these plans for resourcing the church and building the Lifehouse are actually making the church you once knew well, feel very different, especially, at this time, when we are all having to learn to live in an unfamiliar and disturbing ‘Covid world’. It may feel like some of the spiritual anchors, words, services and people that you have long appreciated feel more distant, and maybe even lost in the midst of all this change. And so, I want to be very clear to you all when I say, that through the Transforming Mission and the Lifehouse Projects we hope to build out of where we are rather than replace who we are. There have been significant answers to prayer over the course of these projects, and at each milestone we have been reminded of what God has instore for His church, and it is good. The foundations laid down over many years are what we are building from, and it is only from this strong base, of fellowshipping believers called to serve Highertown and beyond, that we can fulfil the vision that God has called us to live out. As we do this, in all ways, we should always keep at the heart of our work the joy we experience when the name of our Lord Jesus is glorified in what we do for him.
Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months we will be striving to further live out the words of our vision statement, ‘To be a Christ-centred, Spirit-led, growing Church that proclaims the love God in word and deed, in faith and justice to the people of Truro and beyond.
The statement is already a word of intent, but in our desire to be outward looking and affective in the world we can too easily miss the implied instruction too, i.e. to live it for ourselves; “to live a Christ-centred life, to live a Spirit-led life, to live in order to glorify him…”
It’s a bit like the difference between swimming against the current and catching a wave. If we take the aims of our vision and share them as if they were an indicative statement of our faith and not as words we live by, we will feel ourselves paddling against the force of the Spirit. But if we seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus, and centre our thoughts and actions on him, we are putting ourselves in the best position to catch the wave. When our work lines up with God’s hope for His church, the power of the Spirit is more likely to wash over us, and help us move forward together. Together is important here, fellowship is important here, and what we mean by church is important here. These projects and the life of the church in this season are tasks that are beyond us all, but it is not beyond God.
I’m not a surfer, but I do have a wetsuit. I have never worn it out. I know, I feel the shame. A vision that is hung on the wall and never lived out, is as good as a wetsuit that’s never seen water.
I am told that when the right wave is caught by a surfer at the right time there is a peace that is deeply felt. Some have said that it is like a profound sense of being safely carried by a force far greater than ourselves.
At times, over the last few weeks I have felt carried, but I am also very aware that due to the very reactive nature of the last few months, there are a few things that have been missed and have slipped a little. One of these things has been good communication, and another is the need to empower people in prayer.
We have been so used to holding church meetings after our morning services to help keep the church in touch with progress on TM and the Lifehouse, and it has been difficult to replace these with phone calls and online newsletters. Over the coming weeks however, our newsletters will be shorter (much shorter than this one!) and more frequent, they will also be topic specific so that we can focus more on the different areas of our church’s life.
We will also be returning to the Q&A format in our in-person services so that I can personally share how we are progressing; giving people an opportunity to ask their own questions. This will be broadcast and recorded so you can catch it online if you can’t be with us.
Prayer has never stopped at All Saints. Morning prayer has continued throughout lockdown and has been made available to people as a recording online and on our telephone service. And I know that many of you have been praying for the church and for all that’s going on at the moment in the world. I also want to share that the pastoral demands on the church, and in particular, its clergy have felt like an enormous weight at times especially in light of the kind of profile the church has in our community. All Saints Church continues to be a point of contact for those who are struggling with mental health, financial worries, spiritual matters, and grief and loss, and all these things require a great deal of care, time, prayer and support. Holding these things in prayer is the only way to sustain this support to those beyond the church. And so, I will be looking to those of you who are called to prayer ministry and intercession to take up the task of praying for your clergy, and for praying for those the church walks with and ministers to.
Lastly, I want to say that I am enormously hopeful. All Saints has been gifted with a clear and distinct vision, that was brought about by the Holy Spirit through the body of believers here. This vision will not only draw people to Jesus today and tomorrow but for many years to come. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved from of a spirit of doubt, but everything is achieved in hope; more specifically, in the precious hope that comes from knowing Jesus our Lord. Godly plans are not fulfilled by money, they are fulfilled by faith. As Jesus said, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” So, let us seek to glorify Him who gives us hope. Give ourselves to His way, and we will find the way.
Yours in Jesus Christ
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Priest in Charge | Resource Minister for TM Truro
This question has been my companion over recent months and years, not least because Reader Ministry was never in my vocabulary growing up, neither was it on my horizon as an adult moving through the various faith stages of growth prior to my latest challenge - no doubt a hangover from my Protestant background - Cassock, Surplice and Scarf!
Decisions we are faced with though, rarely stand in isolation; how often they follow God’s nudges woven into the canvas of our lives, as the Psalmist says - from the womb throughout the whole process of transformation, even before we were overtly seeking God. Jamieson’s analogy of the Chrysalis reflects perfectly my own journey to this point, as he considers the hidden transformation of a caterpillar to butterfly including its periods of disturbance, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, disorientation and disorder.
Jamieson writes that before becoming a butterfly, a caterpillar sheds its skin and hangs upside down on a leaf of the plant it has lived on for its whole life; this period of metamorphosis can be tricky, messy, a time of darkness, stillness and silence as changes occur under its skin before splitting open to reveal the Chrysalis. This phase also brings both crisis and a sign of new life, - it’s a new and unfamiliar space for simultaneously letting go and letting come, a temporary time of transition. Whilst the Chrysalis contains the caterpillar’s original DNA but little else, what emerges is inexplicable, fragile and born out of a period of profound grace; it seems God’s work can’t be man-handled by human hands and short cuts, without risking clipping the wings of a butterfly at birth and first flight, whether to Reader Licencing or something else.
Yet, being licensed for Reader Ministry on the 3rd October is not really about me and a Cassock! It’s about the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ who calls each of us to a make a unique and personal response to follow him by wholehearted faithful discipleship to “live in the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6) – it’s less about what we each do, or our reputation or even the church, it isn’t always comfortable and it definitely takes courage. It’s costly, it’s risky, it can’t be faked, whilst the encounter with grace eventually leads to freedom of flight.
As I prepare to ‘emerge’, on many levels, for the licensing service on October 3rd, I’m struck by these words: “I wonder where the responsible people are who will intentionally enter the public square for God with their stories. Then I realize anew that I am one. As are you. Our theology matters, and now is the time to share it.” (S. Codone). Now, during this unprecedented time of change in both society and church……, us.
So to the Cassock! It is quite old, and has been lovingly ‘passed on’ to me by a retiring Reader for which I’m very grateful, mostly because it reminds me that this is not about me and that I follow in the footsteps of others as part of a whole community of disciples. The surplice is new, the Reader scarf is blue, and I’m reckoning on borrowing your prayers…………..
Debbie Mitchell, Reader in Training
Jamieson A: “Chrysalis – The hidden transformation in the journey of faith”. Publisher – Paternoster.
Just two weeks ago we welcomed a new member to the church ministry team here at All Saints. Joff Phipps took up the role of Social Justice Missioner- full time, to help us develop the work we do with likeminded organisations, particularly those that seek to help the most vulnerable people in our communities. Over the past few years our church community has got used to hearing about matters of justice and how the Christian faith informs our engagement with them.
In that time we have come to the collective realisation that the Bible speaks just as much about social and political transformation as it does about personal and individual transformation. For Christians the two go hand in hand, personal salvation leads to communion in body and spirit. This is more important than ever as the impact of Covid19 takes hold, in the sense it affects us i. spiritually - not being able to meet for corporate worship and prayer, ii. physically – from experiencing ill health, bereavement and loss, iii. socially – from experiencing isolation and financial depression.
Paradoxically, whilst Covid19 has meant that many of us have felt disconnected from loved ones, we have also seen a community that has relearnt the value of interdependence. In a sense, we have rediscovered the virtue of living in recognition of who we need around us, and how we are needed by others. We are in affect living through a period of renewal, a sort of phoenix-out-of-the-ashes moment. I just pray that we do not quickly forget what we have learnt, even about ourselves. Renewal is the right word here, re-creation is another good word. Although painful, involving profound loss for many families, there is hope and a new beginning to be found.
The church is also experiencing that same sense of renewal, as it has done at different times within its history. Interestingly, every renewal movement in the whole history of the Church begun not with the richest and most influential people in society - giving their attention to church life, but with the church giving their attention to the poor and the marginalised. In Luke’s gospel chapter 4, Jesus stood in the synagogue and said, ‘I have come to proclaim good news to the poor’. How often have you seen those last three words ‘to the poor’ omitted or reinterpreted? Proclaim the good news! It’s like when some say ‘All Lives Matter’ when they see a Black Lives Matter placard. No, Jesus specifically said that he came to bring good news to the poor, that’s not to say that others will not receive it too – it just showed where his focus was.
The Church in Cornwall will need to do the same, to target where the need is greater – and so I return to welcoming Joff, our new Social Justice Missioner to the team. Yes, it is a team, a public effort. This is not a one-person task but the mission of the whole community.
As Bishop Philip North said last year to General Synod “A church that abandons those that experience the impact of poverty might well be financially better off. It’s just that it would no longer be the Church of Jesus Christ. If we abandon the marginalised, we abandon God. If we fail to proclaim the good news to the poor, we lose the right and the authority to proclaim the good news to anyone, anywhere.”
As our own church’s vision states “At All Saints we believe that every person, Christian and non-Christian alike, is valuable and loved by God. Yet despite this truth the world can still feel like a dark place for far too many people; injustice, oppression and prejudice are still very present in our society. Knowing that Jesus came to bring life, and life abundantly, All Saints seeks to be a church that takes seriously the pain of the world and strives to make a difference. Our mission is Jesus’ mission, he came to bring good news to the poor, and proclaim release to the captive, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.”
Blessings and peace to each and every one of you. Revd Jeremy Putnam
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.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.