In the last few weeks prior to Christmas the Church of England was headline news on several occasions. Just one was a good news story, the choice of a new Archbishop of Canterbury who, as a former oil executive with experience in Africa, certainly breaks the mould for the type of person traditionally in the frame for this job. He will need all his diplomatic skills, for the other stories all came into the bad news bracket – no women bishops, no gay marriages, and falling numbers of Christians.
The reduction in the number of UK residents who claim a Christian affiliation affects the CofE particularly, for some Christian churches are holding steady (like the Roman Catholics) and some (such as those supported by immigrant communities) may be even be growing. Most of the loss is down to a sharp fall in Anglican worshippers and adherents. One knee jerk reaction to the conjunction of three issues – fewer believers, no women, and no gays – is to say that the decline is because the church is completely out of
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
November, when the clocks have gone back, is always rather a gloomy month. December should, of course, be even gloomier, but the Christmas festivities actually mean that it isn't. The Christian church does not help the November mood by holding three commemorations of the dead in the first two weeks of the month. These are All Saints Day (on the 1st), All Souls Day (on the 2nd) and Remembrance Sunday (which this year falls precisely on Remembrance Day itself, the 11th).
To take the last first, the original Armistice Day commemoration was established on the actual day when the war on the Western Front ceased in 1918. There is now no-one left alive who can recall that moment. But it has seemed right to the nation to continue to commemorate those who fought and died in 1914-18 as well as, of course, the many fallen in later wars. The day has taken on a new life in the light of servicemen's and women's
During the Olympics and Paralympics and, before that, the Jubilee, everyone commented on what a positive feel there was about the country, with a great deal of deeply felt patriotism on show. And, so many felt, how good it would be if those attitudes could be carried forward instead of the usual carping criticism which seems to blight national life.
And then comes a tragedy like the murder of two young policewomen in Manchester, and Britain seems to be not simply a self-critical place but one where the criticism is amply justified.
I must leave a deeper analysis of these contrasts to those better qualified. But let me just set against that terrible event a morning when I was the recipient of great kindness from
It was nice to welcome Keith and Norma Justice and a party of their parishioners from Manchester to coffee in the church recently. Keith was the Vicar here towards the end of the 1990s and showed an obvious talent for getting things moving (better than me, I think!). He has just officially retired but, like me, is carrying on for a while in a semi-voluntary capacity. Anyway, we wish them both well as they move towards retirement.
Did you hear a church bell at 8.12 a.m. on the first morning of the Olympics? Everyone was asked to ring any sort of bell then and, thanks to Vicky Hunton, our church wasn't left out. It's a truism by now that this great sporting festival, together with the Jubilee, has encouraged a marked feeling of patriotism and 'togetherness' in the country. All the Jonahs are already saying, 'But it won't last'. Maybe so. But let's hope that a little of that cast of mind which looks for the best rather than the worst will linger.
I'd like to thank Matthew Wiles for his enthusiastic participation in the preparations for the church's 135th anniversary service last month. As many of you will know, he is now the face of the
Wentworth (New) Holy Trinity was dedicated on 31 July 1877, or so according to Roy Young, the village's historian. I hope it was actually consecrated (meaning formally blessed by a bishop) for if not, all our brides today are being married, if not illegally, then at least irregularly. A church which is unconsecrated (like Harley) cannot be used for weddings. If any brides are reading this, please don't concern yourselves! I'm sure all is well.
The village the church was designed to serve may well have had a larger population than today. Few new houses have been built – an almost unique distinction and part of its charm – but families were probably larger. Virtually all of them would have gone no further than they could have walked, apart from a few farmers who owned a horse and, of course, the inhabitants of the 'big house'. As late as the 1960s, Gordon Scott tells me, estate officials such as the surveyor had to draw a car from a pool and return it by
First, a few 'thank yous'. The church's Art Festival, held this year over the Jubilee weekend, made a total profit of around £1800, subject to a few further expenses. We should be grateful to all those who worked so hard, in particular the organiser, Ernest Bradley, the 'tea lady' Tyrrel Bingham, and Jules Shaw, who brought together all the outside attractions. There were many others in what was very much a team effort. It was particularly gratifying to see a lot more people helping with the mammoth task of hanging the more than 500 pictures. And Winne Weldon has decided to retire as a sidesperson after many years in post, so thank you to her.
Sylvia and I have just begun this year's Start! or 'new Christians' Course, meeting on Sunday evenings at 7.30pm at our home, 2 Kirkstead Abbey Mews, Thorpe Hesley. Most people today, at best, have only a 'Sunday School' knowledge of Christianity, the majority far less than that. The aim of the evenings is to learn a little more of the basics of Christian belief and to discuss this is in a non-judgemental setting. That is, no particular level of commitment or of knowledge is assumed, either at the beginning or the end.
Newspapers do not usually print anonymous letters but in one recent instance the 'Church Times' did. One can understand that the writer might not have wanted his Vicar to associate the sentiments expressed with him or her! Here is part of what was said.
“The Church of England operates a two-tiered society where clergy and their concerns take precedence over anyone else. This does not communicate an affirmation of the many volunteers who keep the Church of England going
The Church is in crisis over the future of its ministry. We are becoming an increasingly volunteer-led organisation, and it is imperative that the Church grasps the implications of this change in terms of pastoral support and inclusive affirmation of the laity . . . There is a lot of fawning and flattery over those who are ordained, as though their very status made them a cut above us all. Now that we are in crisis over ministry numbers, we cannot afford to maintain this attitude.
Peter tells us that we are all a holy priesthood and that we are all able to offer sacrifices acceptable to God (I Peter 2: 5).”
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I didn't like the phrase about 'fawning and flattery'. But this was not because it isn't true, but because, to an extent, it is. Vicars are treated, most of the time, with a degree of