Ok, so most of you will probably know that the origin of Halloween has two stories. The old Gaelic tradition of marking the end of the light half of the year and the start of the dark half of the year (only relevant in the Northern Hemisphere for October of course). The other story of Halloween is embedded in Christianity and the tradition of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day as it used to be called. All Hallows, since the time of Pope Gregory III is kept each year on the 1st November, the day before All Hallows is All Hallows Eve. Say it quickly and you can work out that's how we get to Halloween. Sadly Halloween has been commercialised beyond all recognition, but that's for another time.
Just like Halloween we live our lives by two stories. There is the story we present most of the time. The strong story. The story that is told to move, to convince and to entertain those we share it with. It’s the kind of story we present at an interview, when we want to impress people, the facebook story. Then there is the other story. The story that we tell only those closest to us, a partner or trusted friend. The story we tell those trained to hear such stories, a counsellor, or confessor for example.
The world has two such stories, it has story of progress, invention, community, battles won, peace achieved and disaster relieved. But it also has the other story of pain, war, injustice and shame.
The church has two stories too. There’s the story of faith, courage, sacrifice and perfect love. That’s the story of All Saints. And then there’s the story of fragility, forgiveness, fear and foolishness. The story of All Souls.
Now here’s the interesting thing. We all make the same mistake, in thinking that God wants just the posh story. The strong story. of success, achievement, faithfulness, and battles won. The story of the cancer victory, or the healing miracle, the prayers answered, the champion of our ailments. And of course God does want that story, he delights in that story. He sent his son to tell that story. But it wasn’t the only story that Jesus told. It’s not the whole story for us.
You see God wants us to tell the real story. The All Souls story.
In this story we acknowledge and honour the intensity of loss, the pain of sorrow. On All Souls Day we trace the tracks of Jesus’ own tears at the grave of Lazarus, and remember that its ok to mourn, to grieve and to weep. We remember that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We remember that before new life there is death, before we rise we fall, and before true peace there is always tumult and pain. The real story is the story where we acknowledge both.
Eleven years ago my father died. He was 63 years old. Out of the blue he was taken in to hospital shortly after Christmas and finally returned in the May to die at home. I cannot tell you the number of times I prayed that he might be well. I don’t think I had accepted at any point during his illness that my father would actually die. Although my prayers were for my father’s recovery, God answered them in a different way. My father was always going to die. There was nothing I could do about that. But God’s care was not just for him but for me too.
You may be expecting me to say that in our grief God is closer to us than at any other time, that when we call to him, he responds, but I don’t see it like that. I think that sometimes there is a distance between us and God that is so tangible it cannot be ignored. There are times when we feel so far from God it hurts deep inside. When you feel your prayers are falling on deaf ears.
But there is a gift.
It’s strange. I see now that in the darkest moments when you feel most disconnected from God there is a gift. It might sound odd, it might even sound hardhearted on God’s part but God creates for us a space so we can grow closer to those we love. It was when I felt furthest from God that I actually felt closest to my father. In the void and the abyss of doubt and grief, and even anger at why it was happening I was closer to my father than I had ever been.
Let me give you another example. Mother Theresa had a crisis of faith. For many years, whilst working in that hospital and community in Calcutta Mother Theresa felt separated from God, she could not hear him or feel him. However, it did not stop her praying, reading, or loving. In fact during that time her ministry in Calcutta was exemplary, and has been considered a model of devotion and Christian living. In the detachment from God she found a renewed compassion for the world.
Here is another example. Jesus’ death on the cross. At the moment when the world’s pain and sin were on the shoulders of the Christ, when he had been rejected by his own people, cast out of the city, bearing the sins of the world, his most darkest hour, Jesus cried out the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet in that moment, when he felt the dark abyss opening and the profound sense of disconnection from his father he redeemed the world. He was glorified, and opened his arms wide to reconcile the world to God.
I know that this won’t be the case for everyone, but at the time I felt furthest from God, I felt closer to my father than at any other time. It was God’s gift to me and was the answer to my prayers. My God reduced so that the love between my father and me would be enlarged. And I thank God for that. I thank Him each time I remember my father.
As I have thanked God over the years I have begun to realise the lesson learnt, that in actual fact God was never absent. God was in the gift. He was closer than I could ever have imagined. I was blinded by the grief, but have now woken up to his presence in every moment of my life, even in the darkest moments. He was at the bedside of father, he was in our hands held together, he was in the cloth that wiped his brow. He was in the hands of those who cared for him. God was always in the gift, the gift of love that my father and I shared in his last days.
One of the great problems of faith is how we reconcile our belief in a loving God with the reality of a suffering world. I learnt that God was in my father’s suffering, he was there bearing the pain, taking each breath with him, in every blood cell lost, in every tear shed. This is the God of the cross, of the wilderness. He is the one who comforts and is close to the brokenhearted. He will comfort you, and strengthen you and care for you. And even when he feels far from us, his gift of love is not.
Acts 435 was inspired by the works of the early church, as described in the Acts 4:32 to 4:35. The early disciples shared their possessions and passed money to the apostles to give to anyone who had need. Acts 435 was set up in 2009 in recognition of the increasing needs of people in UK poverty in a time of recession and austerity.
It was the brainchild of a Yorkshire businessman who recognised the donor fatigue in charity giving where donors want to be connected with a specific cause and know their donation is not just going into a general pot of funds. This is particularly important for those with only a small amount to give, so that they can be sure their gift will make a difference.
By partnering with local churches and charities, Acts 435 enables a direct connection of people in need with people who want to help. Advocates, who are local volunteers, meet with clients who have been referred by local agencies such as the Foodbank or job centre where a crisis need has been identified. This can be anything from being able to top up an electricity meter, buying school uniform, purchasing work boots or replacing a fridge. Requests can be made for a maximum of £120 and a limit of three requests per client. The advocate posts the request on the website and donors can give online in amounts from £5 to £120. Requests are essentially met by crowd-funding and 100% of every donation goes to the person in need.
Acts 435 is a very real way of giving to those in need in your local community and giving a helping hand to those who are really struggling. It maybe that you yourself need a helping hand at a time of crisis. To be referred you will need to been seen by an official agency who will refer you on. You don’t need to have a faith to be referred, Acts is for all those in need.
A small gift can make a big difference in lifting a burden or preventing a crisis for the most vulnerable in our society. If you would like more information about how you can help, or be helped, please contact one of the advocates, via the online contact form, at All Saints Church (asht.org.uk) or at email@example.com. You can also get more information from acts435.org.uk
A year ago someone came to the food bank in crisis because of an issue with debt. Last week she came back. Her husband had left to go off with their babysitter, leaving her with three young children to look after and their finances in a mess.
This is just one typical story. There are as many personal stories as there are foodbank customers, but the general common denominator is that people, self-respecting people who wish for nothing more than a normal life with a job and a happy home, fall into crisis and visit the Foodbank as a last resort, as a result of a referral from another charity or agency. It becomes all the more poignant where children are involved, and they make up one third of those we feed.
Truro Foodbank fed over 19,000 meals last year to 2,121 people in crisis who were referred to us by other charities and agencies.
We look set for an increase in that number this year. In each case those coming to us receive a food parcel with a three day supply of nutritionally balanced food and, just as importantly, a listening ear from one of our volunteers or staff and, where appropriate, and offer of prayer.
Truro Foodbank is just one over 400 Foodbanks within the network of the Trussell Trust, which last year gave 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis. Out of humble origins has grown this nationwide movement that has not only fed the hungry but has raised the consciousness of society to the issue of food poverty in our supposedly affluent country.
I can say with complete confidence that this has been a prophetic move of God, working through his church. I was privileged to be one of the trustees of the Trussell Trust in 2004 when the nationwide Foodbank network was launched, with a vision to grow 50 Foodbanks within five years from a starting point of one. It seemed huge at the time and was rooted simply in the faith that this was what God was calling us to do, rather than in the availability of finance (there was none) or even substantiated fact. There were no statistics to prove the need and indeed to begin with there was opposition in some quarters from those who said that food poverty did not exist in their communities; God alone knew the real need behind closed doors, which only became apparent once the early Foodbanks were opened.
The launch of the Foodbank network was inspired by Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in”. This was the spark that lit the flame that became the fire, and that’s what happens when Christians take small, faltering steps of faith in response to a vision God has given them. God provides the growth.
And so back to Truro. Truro Foodbank has grown from within the churches, with All Saints Highertown and Truro Methodist Church providing amazing support as the base and outlets for the operation, with a number of other churches also generously providing volunteers and financial support. But it’s also the community at large that provides so much of the vital lifeblood of the Foodbank – the ongoing donation of a tin here, a bag of pasta there as part of a regular shopping trip, or when we have food collections or donations at times such as harvest.
Now however, for the first time, we are starting to see food donations decline, even as our numbers fed look set to rise with the arrival of universal credit. This is not peculiar to Truro, it’s a national trend and perhaps is a result of people’s resources being stretched. Our other vital needs are for finance and for volunteers. Our finances are under pressure, but are essential in order to fund our overheads and our small but very dedicated team of part-time foodbank staff – Bob, Janet and Andy.
This continues to be God’s work, done in his way and trusting in his resources, as we witness to his name by feeding those in crisis. So thank you for the support of so many who will be reading this, and please go on. And if this is new to you, please consider joining the cause with donations of food, finance or time, as you are able.
You’ll be hearing a lot about the Foodbank over the next month, as we are calling this September “Foodbank Month” with a number of events going on.
For further information on how to donate or get involved, please visit https://truro.foodbank.org.uk
Chair of Trustees for Truro Foodbank
Written for the Quaker gathering at Friends Meeting House, Truro
How we see the refugee is how we see ourselves.
It seems to me we live in a world full of fear at the moment. Fear that is bred from a misunderstanding of ownership. We are educated and nurtured in this country to understand ownership in a very personal way. There are a number of cultural goals that are set for us from a very early age. Goals such as status i.e what position in society we should achieve, property i.e. what place we should occupy in society, and relevance i.e. what role we should take within society. We are conditioned to believe these are our goals, and that they will in turn give us all that we need to live a healthy and valued existence. In fact, our own identity is formed and given value by these three indicators of status, property and relevance. Our very identity is intrinsically connected to what we own in society, where we are in society and who we relate to in society.
This is where fear creeps in; when we believe that these three pedestals of our existence are deemed to be under threat in some way. The fear comes from knowing that there are some in the world who do not conform to this understanding of value and purpose. It is the case, I think, that those who do not attain these goals are not as valued in society as those who do. In fact, to give people such things as status, property and relevance with no forseen effort on their part, would mean some kind of break down in social order. Why should we give them anything when we have worked so hard to achieve these things ourselves? Rhetoric, such as that of Nigel Farage, the self-proclaimed ambassador for the decent hard working individual, is an example of how fear disregards compassion for the sake of these three pedestals of our modern culture.
The refugee crisis is the tragedy of our modern time, it is a redefining moment for Western Culture. It is redefining because it calls into question the three indicators of value and worth in our society. It threatens to breakdown what has built the culture that we live in.
Our response to the refugee, if compassionate, self-sacrificing and life-giving subverts what has helped establish our own identities, and national identity. But this is critical, since it is indeed reshaping and reforming our identity for the good.
Our identity should not be formed by status, property, or relativity; but instead be formed by mutuality, justice and righteousness.
In our current system - status is a product of capitalism and competition. Neither are inherently bad things, but taken too far they quickly entertain the idea that those who succeed are worth more than those who fail.
Mutuality is a product of compassion, empathy and support. Which assures us that there are some things more valuable about every human being. With mutuality as an indicator of worth, the refugee becomes us – we choose not to be fearful, or under threat but instead see ourselves in the pain and hurt of the refugee, because of mutual love. Mutuality gives no time for ‘us’ and ‘them’ terminology but only entertains the truth that if you are hurting then I am hurting too. In a world of individualism, egoism and self-aggrandisement – the refugee reminds us of our vulnerability, our susceptibility and our weakness, and therefore in mutual love we should look to offer ourselves as they have done. Mutuality breaks down any barriers of status and encourages us to look into the eyes of one another to see who we are really are. When we do so we learn that those who are said to be our enemies are in fact our brothers and sisters.
In our society, property is seen as an indicator of value and worth, a measurement of success. We work hard to obtain the material things in life, and therefore they become icons and trophies of our labour. Working hard is a virtue, the part we play in building up society is important – and there is nothing wrong with being rewarded appropriately. However, we have switched the purpose of our hard labour from the building up of society to the obtaining of possessions. And our identity has switched appropriately. Celebrity is celebrated. Wealth is the goal. Property is the target. Community orientated vocations are way down the pecking order. Refuse collection, primary care staff, education, the health service, farming and fisheries, manufacturing have succumbed to the powers of banking, footballers, and energy company execs.
Instead of property being the target of our existence and the shaper of who we are, maybe justice would form our identity instead. Justice is a word that is so easily misunderstood. The word Justice has been damaged over time by our own society. It is now a product of fear. Justice has become a word associated with judgement, punishment, penal discipline and sentencing. The Ministry of Justice is more to do with law and order than actually to do with justice.
Justice is more to do with fairness, equality, likeness and impartiality. If there was one outstanding theme in the bible, for example, then I would say it is justice. Time and time again the objects of concern for God’s people were the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the poor. Justice is seen in the bible as the defender of the most vulnerable, irrespective of their status, property or familial relativity. However, it is not because they have no status, property or familial relativity that they are deemed to be in need of justice it is because they are simply in need, and that they are human beings.
For the refugee justice should look the same – their status as human beings and that they are in need is the only excuse we need.
When we share the struggles of our refugee brothers and sisters, we are not giving them status, property or relevance, we are simply treating them as human beings, in mutual love and with justice. If we make status, property and relevance our gifts then we are just creating disharmony and an unhealthy power dynamic (we are the giver, they are the receiver), and we are in danger of making the object of our task our egos, and satisfaction. True justice bypasses any social markers of value and disregards our own ego desires, and challenges us to give all that we have to protect the humanity of the other.
Lastly the word relevance is concerned with how we relate to one another, but its goal is concerned with obtaining prestige and respect. When I am introduced to someone else I am often announced as ‘this is Jeremy and he is a vicar’. What I do is an important part of who I am. How many times have you heard someone say when asked what they do – ‘oh I’m just a house wife.’ Or ‘I’m just bricklayer’ or ‘I’m just this or just that.’
The role we play in society has a level of importance if we are to be concerned with status, property and relevance. In this model the refugee challenges the position we have because the fear we are supposed to feel undermines our own worth. If instead we thought of righteousness as the indicator of worth and value then the way we would see the refugee situation would be very different.
Righteousness is another word that is misunderstood in today’s society. In the past it has been associated with piety, purity, and church going. It has been in the same camp as religiosity, and often, pomposity and self-importance of the church. However, the true meaning of righteousness is about being in a right relationship with one another, and with God. Being in the right kind of relationship with your fellow brothers and sisters means that righteousness is more to do with peace, equity and even-handedness than to do with religious piety. Righteousness is better named as primary justice. Since if we had the right relationship with our brother and sisters in Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Palestine then we would have no need for the kind of justice I described just now. The quartet of the vulnerable (orphan, poor, widow and immigrant) would not exist. When a van carries aid to Calais, or you put £10 on justgiving account for homeless of the refugee fund you are living righteously. When you occupy your mind with the sufferings of your brothers and sisters in Greece, Lebanon or Jordan – you are living righteously.
I believe, we need to build a society that is formed and shaped not by our goals for status, property and relativity – but for mutuality, justice and righteousness. The refugee crisis is the greatest tragedy of our generation, it is redefining us – we have to decide in which world we belong. The celebrity, materialistic self-serving world, that is hell bent on protecting and defending our achievements of status, property and relevance. Or, the one that retains a humanity of mutuality, justice and right relationships.
I’m not sure who said it originally but it’s true, ‘kindness is just love with her workboots on.’ I saw a lot of kindness today.
Back in January I attended an open meeting at County Hall to discuss the refugee situation and how Cornwall could respond with a warm and kind welcome to our Syrian brothers and sisters being resettled here. At that meeting Manda Brookman shared her vision for a more connected Cornwall, a more collaborative compassion, where those who had a heart for welcoming refugees and those helping to tackle the crisis overseas could work more closely and more efficiently together. The idea also led to the opinion that all that had been achieved (by the many many groups around Cornwall) is really worth celebrating. There have been a lot of workboots, a lot of kindnesses and, dare I say it, a lot of learning too. So, part of this vision was to share all those things with added space for gratitude and thankfulness. Manda’s idea came to its fruition today in the event ‘Cornwall: a million stories of sanctuary’.
There was a host of contributions, filled with extraordinary and very moving accounts of courage, compassion, and sacrifice. The day moved quickly with a gentle efficiency that reflected the care and respect that Manda and others had for the subject matter. There was also a shared commonality that never outweighed the desire to learn more and to keep to a sense of openness - knowing our understanding is always shifting.
If you were there today, I wonder whether there was a particular talk/speaker that stood out for you. For me, there was something precious and valuable to be found in all of them, but I guess there were two or three that were significant for me, they tended to be the ones that encouraged and celebrated but also had an uncomfortableness about it too. Those that had a wake-up call, a punch in the gut; those that had for us - the parable for our time.
Paul Haines spoke about his Peace Walk from Rome to Jerusalem. On his journey he met a number of refugees, as well as the special people who sought to help them. There was a profound irony in his experience of meeting those who were walking away from war and conflict, while he walked the opposite way for peace. I am in awe of Paul’s commitment and dedication to peace, it reminded me of two things; firstly, we can all do something – as Ruby Brookman has said ‘this is everything about everyone’. No one is left out… of either the problem or the solution. Walking is something some of us can do, and what a powerful thing it can be. Secondly, that real change is sometimes a long journey. Even when we want the revolution we sometimes have to wait for the process of evolution to cut its course. Pauls’ journey taught me that we need to be in this for the long game, it’s lifelong.
Baraa Ehassan Kouja, curator of the ‘From Syria with Love’ exhibition (a collection of artwork by Syrian children whilst resident in a Lebanese refugee camp) spoke about what life is like in Syria at the moment. His words still resonate in my mind. His words were intensely provocative, honest and unfiltered. Baraa was able to share stories of individual people caught up in the conflict, the tales were offensive and violent and yet not left without hope. For Baraa had made that all important step that we ourselves hope to make; the step from acknowledging the horror (and even the part we have played in it) to a hope of another world. I was immensely inspired by Baraa and all that he has been able to do, he represents in my mind a future I long to see. Not some pedestalled idyllic future but simply a more compassionate one.
Amina travelled from London to be with us. The best way to describe Amina’s talk is one of testimony and witness. Amina shared her experiences of travelling from Somalia as a child refugee and starting a new life in London. What struck me about Amina was her sheer ability to reflect, on what was an incredibly traumatic time in her life. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that must be for her. Yet, through what many would naturally want to suppress Amina finds a force for good. Today Amina shares her story to raise awareness of the challenges facing asylum seekers as they seek to resettle and learn a new way of life. A timely lesson for all of us as we seek to welcome Syrian refugee families to Cornwall.
Alongside these three talks we had the awesome enthusiasm of Ruby Ingleheart, and the amazing gumption and initiative of Shelley and Liz as they spoke about their volunteer trip to Lesvos. We heard about the experience and wisdom of Tam whose work overseas continues to inform the work we seek to do here. We heard from Matthew Barton from Cornwall Council about the resettlement program and the Council’s work with START and volunteer groups to ensure that we can provide the best possible welcome we can. We heard from Magda Machlarz who heads up the Cornwall Refugee Resettlement Network and their work in supporting START and Cornwall Council.
Penzance, Wadebridge (Amanda Pennington), Truro (All Saints Church) and Bude (Mary Whibley) as well as the Eden Project were all represented, and shared their updates and thoughts on the situation too.
Someone wrote recently that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. There is a lot of fear around at the moment, particularly regarding immigration, and more so for welcoming refugees. Ultimately the fear derives from the human desire to protect and secure our way of life, which isn’t intrinsically bad, it just shouldn’t ever justify the alienation, exclusion, and apathy that we are seeing today. The three words I’ve taken away from today’s event are compassion, comfort and companionship. Compassion (meaning with suffering) because true compassion is not about us being the giver and someone else being the receiver. Compassion requires us to break free of any notion of superiority or inferiority and instead attempt to hold to the truth that to show compassion is to come alongside our brothers and sisters and share in the suffering.
The same is true of the word companionship (meaning with bread). When we act as a companion to our Syrian, Eritrean, Iraqi, or Afghan brothers and sisters, we enter into the act of breaking bread. When we share bread with a friend we acknowledge that we are both in need of that bread. There is a mutuality of need and necessity. It pushes us into a radical space where we are changed too. As I’m sure you know volunteering and charity work when done well is never one way – it shapes us and form us for the better.
Lastly the word comfort (meaning with strength). When we comfort someone you are offering the strength that they need. This is the only word of the three that is one-directional. Comforting is the aid work and help that I know Cornwall has offered and does really well. Cornwall has many strengths to offer, she is a remarkable place with many strong compassionate people that care deeply about life, about the wellbeing of her people, and I am convinced that when our brothers and sisters from Syria settle here they will find Cornwall to be a comforting, compassionate and welcoming place. My prayer is that the Syrian families moving to Cornwall will have a renewed strength, to begin and prosper in this special land; that they will know the kindness of the people of Cornwall and truly live as one of us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
If you were playing a word association game and someone started with the word ‘Advent’ then it’s likely the next word spoken will be ‘Calendar’. Don’t you just love Advent Calendars? Every day during Advent you get that wonderful sense of journey and anticipation as you open each door, counting down the days. And what’s more, behind each door there’s often a little message about the Christmas story, oh, and of course… a little chocolate treat too. Marvellous!
Advent and Christmas is a time of waiting and a time of promise. It is also a time for gifts. Isn’t it true that the real joy of gifts - given and received - is the wait and the promise? It might be difficult to appreciate a gift when there is no expectation, hope or surprise? At Christmas the Church gets a chance to tell both stories, the one about hope, promise and expectation; as well as the story of fulfilment, joy and new life. The problem however is that the world is not very good at waiting. I suppose we’re good at queuing, but when it comes to the material things in life, we often want to take the waiting out of wanting.
The ‘buy now – pay later’ culture is the new moto of our time and if we’re not careful it can slip into to our faith and spirituality too. My hope is that this Advent will be a time of great hope and anticipation and that the waiting for you will be a time to reflect on the truth of Christmas and Emmanuel, the coming of Jesus.
Whilst there are two stories of Advent, of waiting and wanting, there are also two stories of Christmas. The church looks to tell the story that impresses, captures attention; the story of the Holy Family, the magi, the angels and shepherds. Then there is the story that is rooted in fragility, pain, fear and forgiveness, the story of Herod, the story of a desperate world in need of salvation. The story of a simple refugee family looking for shelter, and of perfect love found in the squalor of a borrowed stable. My job is to tell both stories, but it pains me to say that I think the church all too often shies away from telling the latter. Is the Christmas story really just about the wonder and awe we see displayed in our cards and gift wrapping, or is there more?
Part of the problem might be in the kind of news we are used to seeing. It’s harder to find good news stories nowadays. Reporters look for the dirty, and gritty stories of our time, and rarely give column inches to so called ‘good news’. The unconscious reaction of the church has been to readdress the imbalance by telling the good news story of Christmas but by leaving out the rough and gritty bits. The problem is, this version of Christmas is neither a good ‘news story’ nor ‘The Good News’ story.
Our lives are not neatly packaged; God doesn’t ask for our glittery and polished story, he delights in knowing our whole story and loves us for it. In the same way the world doesn’t need a neatly packed Christmas Story, it needs the messy, gritty, dirty Christmas. The one that reflects the fragility of the world, the one that honours the pain some people feel at Christmas. The one that acknowledges that some of us will be mourning, struggling, homeless and lonely. The truth is that Christmas was always for them, as well as for you and me.
Why not join us in telling the real Christmas story this year, and may God bless you and all who you love. Revd Jeremy Putnam.
The laws of maths and geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. If only the Israelites had paid attention to this when leaving Egypt, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken them 40 years to arrive in the Promised Land!
These days when we take a long journey we use the likes of Sat Nav or Google Maps, plotting our course based on a number of factors, such as distance, traffic and weather conditions. In Moses’ day they just had the stars - which was in a way, a kind of Sat Nav - but it certainly wasn’t the voice of Google Jane reading out the instructions en-route, “You have wandered too far into the wilderness turn around when possible.”
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had a GPS device for faith, and hear the voice of God as clear as our mobile phones, handheld GPS devices and TomToms, helping us to stay fixed to the right path?
The psalmist wrote (Ps 119:105) “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Trying to articulate God’s vision for the church without listening for his Word is a bit like waiting for the Sat-Nav to give directions only to find you’ve locked it in the boot of the car because you thought you wouldn’t need it. The Word of God is what fuels the fire in our hearts, it is what fills the Church with passion, hope and Godly ambition for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A vision without the Word of God is a vision that has only an earthly sense of place and direction, and therefore we are left with a simple and logical utility like ‘The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.’
But as the Israelites showed, sometimes the shortest route is not the best route.
Our obedience to the Word of God may well take us on a slower and more challenging route, as it did the Israelites. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think that there is something to be said for taking the easy route because it makes us feel safe. On the other hand there is something profound in taking the road less travelled, even if longer, windier and more dangerous along the way, because in doing so we venture through new territory, experience life and grow in unexpected ways.
God has a habit of working out his plan over the course of time. Very rarely does he call for the ‘quick fix’, or the ‘easy win’. As you read through this vision document you may feel that there is a lot to take in; we have time for this. This is a plan for the next 3-5 years so that we have the freedom to do this on God’s terms, and in His way.
The reason why the Israelites took so long over their trip to the Promised Land is because God wanted them to grow and to learn about the wisdom and grace of God, learning to live with a provisionality and dependency on his Word. We must do the same if we are to see the Gospel prosper and our Lord glorified. We must do the same if we are to see God’s purpose fulfilled in us and the church. Lifelong and meaningful change in the world can only occur through a lifelong and meaningful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. So my friends, here it is, our chance to make a difference, to grow in faith, to grow in number, to live for Christ and to seek his Kingdom.
Let’s do this together.
Yours in Christ
Not so long ago a certain computer retail company paid an external consultant to train their branch managers on ‘how to remember’. The process was simple; anything you needed to remember was visually placed on an imaginary ‘peg’ in your mind. The idea being that all you needed to do was recall the peg, and the important things would be there too; in essence, you could program your brain to not forget. Ridiculous! I can’t imagine how much the training cost but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately, the outcome saw us managers able to recall random and fairly useless information at will, something that we didn’t really have too much difficulty with in the first place. Although entertaining at the time, one of the many mistakes the training made was to consider the act of remembering as something we do on our own.
November is a time when the act of remembrance can be a painful and tender process for many. All Saints Day can remind us that all too often following Christ can be costly; All Souls Day can remind us of the once filled spaces in our lives; and Remembrance Sunday can remind us of the high cost of freedom. November can also be a time of thanksgiving for the lives of those we have loved. Whatever emotions this month might bring it is good to remind ourselves that the act of remembering is not something we do on our own; in fact it is not something we can afford to do on our own. I would go as far to say that we cannot fully enter into the act of remembering unless it is done within a remembering community.
To be a part of a remembering community means that our memories become part of a bigger story. Our act of remembrance becomes a time where we rely upon each other, to support each other, to pray with each other. It is a time to help each other remember when we struggle to do so on our own.
Last month I celebrated with the Alzheimer’s Society their 4th anniversary of the Singing for the Brain group. The group that meets at All Saints on a Tuesday afternoon relies on the important truth that we can remember better together. Singing and music is particularly important as a way in to remembering together. Jesus demonstrated this well when he shared in the Passover with his friends, and worshipped in the synagogues.
Jesus taught us that remembering was an act that only fully made sense within a community, with others. He shared bread and wine with friends and asked them to remember him (Luke 22:14-20). And together the disciples realised Jesus had risen from the tomb when they remembered his words (Luke 24:1-8 & 30-31). These passages remind us that a remembering community can transform the act of remembrance into healing and resurrection.
My prayer for us this November is that as we remember we might also know Jesus’ healing, and be encouraged in the truth of his resurrection. May Jesus teach us ‘how to remember’ and with it may we receive his healing and life-giving power.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.