This month is packed full of goodies, like a box of sweets. There are family reunions to look forward to at Christmas, there are parties or meals out, concerts in church, and all sorts of different and enjoyable services. I hope you enjoy it all. But, at the same time, that you remember what all this is for.
None of it would happen if it were not for the birth of a baby in a shack in war-turn Palestine just over 2000 years ago. Jesus, those who gathered around the manger learnt, was more than he seemed; He was God's very own Son. Those who met him in adulthood discovered the same thing, that an admittedly extraordinary man was even more, a Saviour sent from God. To me, his coming demonstrates one thing beyond all doubting, that Almighty God, seemingly so far away, so 'above it all', actually loves each one of us, humble, ordinary, and imperfect as we are. That is the message of Christmas, it is reason for happiness that wells out in celebration and in song at this time of year.
A different occasion which can leave people nursing a new, joyous and at the same time disturbing feeling is confirmation. It was a pleasure last month to attend a service at St Peter's Barnburgh where five people from Holy Trinity were confirmed by the Bishop of Sheffield. I hope and pray that, wherever they end up in life, that moment will remain with them and that, in his mysterious way, God's Spirit will work in and through them.
As you will know, the Church of England nationally has failed to agree on the vexed question of female bishops, for despite the fact that 74% voted in favour, this fell just short of the 75% approval required. There is no question at all that there will be women bishops, and within most of our lifetimes. But the church is now condemned to spending yet more precious time and energy debating this issue, rather than facing much more pressing issues. Between 1968 and 1999 Anglican Church attendance almost halved. From the years 2000 to 2009 it went down again by 11%. There are many bright spots, Christmas attendance for example. But the general trend is down. If we believe that the good news that God in Christ loves each individual is important, nay, life giving, then it is that which we need to be concentrating on. I pray that the church will cease arguing for a while and concentrate its attention on bringing the gospel to the people of this country.
Those of you who come fairly often or even occasionally to Evensong at the parish church will be aware that the numbers coming are now very low. The church council has recommended that we normally only have one evening service a month, at least during the winter. So I shall experiment with this idea and we'll see how it goes. Note that, as a result, there will be NO Evensong on the first Sunday in January. When we do hold an act of worship it may occasionally be a Communion.
Do you feel older? Maybe you are in that happy stage of life where you feel much the same from one day or year to the next. Some of us don't! It is noticeable that some of the congregation at Wentworth are showing signs of age these days. This presents two problems:
1. those who take various responsibilities are either having to relinquish them or finding harder to fulfil them;
2. the core congregation (those who come nearly every week rather than those who come – and are very welcome! - for special occasions) is shrinking a bit.
You can help by thinking, 'is there something I could do? Or a person I could give a hand to?' And, equally if not more important, you can reflect on whether any of your acquaintances or friends might like to join us for worship. Why not make a New Year's resolution to ask someone? Or, if you'd find it easier, pass their name on to me or to Sylvia, and one of us will call.
A while ago someone lent me three books of sermons by Eric James. I thought I knew who it was, but it wasn't! If they are yours, please get in touch and I will return them to you.
And finally, many thanks to those who came to trim the churchyard hedges recently, especially to Mark, who did all the cutting. It's a hard morning's work, but well worth it, as it makes the churchyard look neat for another season. Thanks also to Wendy and the team for what seemed to be a very successful Christmas Fair. People appeared to enjoy it, quite apart from spending their money, so a good afternoon on all counts. It was nice to see Walter back with his stall.
Dr Charles Collinson, of the well-known local family line of GPs, is retiring at the end of this year. He will be much missed by many people in the village whose family he has cared for over the years. I think his two great qualities have been a willingness to come out to people in distress, and a willingness to spend time in the surgery talking to patients. Both are things calculated to give reassurance and support to those who are worried or in pain in the true tradition of the family doctor. He will be known as well for other reasons, such as the help he has given at successive music festivals. We wish him a long (and healthy!) retirement.