Welcome to Lent

We often describe Lent as a season of Fasting. But, in truth, fasting has fallen out of favour. Now, rather than fasting, we are likely to give up something for Lent – biscuits, cakes, wine, sweets. Increasingly we are encouraged to take on something for Lent – more prayer, more bible reading, more charitable work. All of this is good but I want to suggest that there is still some benefit to be had by fasting.Lent

The dictionary definition of fast is: Abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.

So what are the benefits to us of abstaining from food or drink? Continue reading “Welcome to Lent”

I love Christmas, but …

I love Christmas. But I often feel that the Christmas I love and the Christmas I celebrate do not always seem to be the same thing … and I don’t think that I’m alone in this.

The Christmas I celebrate has two main features – Church and family. That’s good. That’s a big part of what I love.

Detail from the Reredos in St Mary’s Church, Chilthorne Domer

I love exchanging presents. I love Christmas dinner – with all the trimmings. I love the tree, the crib, the cards (well, most of them, anyway). I love the traditions. Continue reading “I love Christmas, but …”

The True Meaning of Christmas

The words the true meaning of Christmas crop up quite a lot at this time of year. Often they’re heard when someone is bemoaning the rampant commercialism and consumerism that accompanies the run up to Christmas_House_LightsChristmas. And then again you hear them when someone is complaining that the Christmas promotions in the shops in the high street and the advertisements on television appear to start earlier and earlier each year. You hear them when someone takes exception to the over-the-top Christmas decorations which some people put up outside their homes.

On the other hand, in an almost opposite case, you will hear them spoken when we hear of a local council or business “cancelling” the Christmas party or refusing to display Christmas decorations or preferring instead a “non-religious” alternative because the celebration of such an overtly Christian festival might offend people of another faith, or none. Continue reading “The True Meaning of Christmas”

… to cultivate the earth and take care of it

The fourth storm of the winter hFloodas brought chaos and anxiety to the north of the country. I know it’s the fourth storm because the Met Office now gives them names and this one is called Desmond. High winds have led to bridge closures, homes are without power, homes have been evacuated as the floods rise, the army has been called in and the government has called emergency meetings to discuss the right response to the crisis. All of this at the same time as the Paris Climate talks are taking place as world leaders endeavour to find a way to agree on the measures that need to be taken to minimise the effects on the world of global warming. Continue reading “… to cultivate the earth and take care of it”

Our Father …

The Lord’s Prayer has been in the news this week and has received lots of publicity. And all because a Church of England advert for the new Just Pray website has been banned from being shown in cinemas because it might be offensive to people of other faiths or no faith.

The outrage would suggest that the cinemas have got that wrong. Critics of all faiths and none have condemned the decision, but it’s probably the case that more heat than light has been generated in the debate.Lords_Prayer

I guess that it’s likely that more people have watched the advert in two days on YouTube than would have seen it in the cinema on its day of release – and certainly more people have noticed it – so it’s probably already been an effective piece of publicity. Continue reading “Our Father …”

What shall we do with all these Churches?

St_Gargoyles1On Friday in the Guardian Giles Fraser wrote in his Loose Canon column that the Church of England needed many fewer Churches. He suggested that if the Church of England were in a position to spend less time, energy and money on maintaining its many thousands of ancient beautiful and loved parish churches it would be able to give more time and attention to its most important work – proclaiming the gospel. He said that we need someone to do the same job for the Church of England as Lord Beeching had done for the railways in the 1960s.

By coincidence, in the Church Times on the same day, there was a report of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching at the consecration of a new chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in the United States, their old chapel having burnt down in 2010. Here the Archbishop posed the question, “Why is it that we are so addicted to buildings?” He said that sometimes the buildings are the servants of the Church and at others they are the Church’s “tyrants.” Continue reading “What shall we do with all these Churches?”

Required – the Wisdom of Solomon

The Anglican Communion is in crisis. That’s not really news, it’s been in crisis for many years.

The Anglican Communion is a grouping of national and regional churches which are in full communiCompassroseon with the Church of England. It grew out of the the British Empire as the Church of England sent, first, missionaries and then bishops to establish outposts throughout the empire. Those new churches eventually became autonomous and, modelling themselves on the Church of England and their worship on the Book of Common Prayer. It is often claimed that the Anglican Communion came into existence with the ordination of Samuel Seabury as the first Bishop of what is now the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA). The first Lambeth Conference (the meetings of the Anglican Bishops from around the world) was in 1867. The ties that bind these churches together are loose and born largely of mutual respect and a broad agreement on matters of doctrine. Traditionally the Anglican Communion has treasured its Union in Diversity bound only by it’s four Instruments of Communion: Continue reading “Required – the Wisdom of Solomon”

Merciful Like the Father

Pope Francis has declared 2016 (December 8th – November 20th 2016) to be a Holy Year of Mercy, with the slogan, Merciful like the Father. Holy Years come around about every twenty five years and they represent a period of remission from the penal consequences of sin, granted under certain conditions. As part of this year of mercy the Pope has indicated in a pastoral letter that priests may absolve those who have had abortions, the condition being that they have a profound sorrow for their actions. Up until now it has not been possible for abortion to be forgiven (except in exceptional circumstances) as it is considered a grave or mortal sin. Continue reading “Merciful Like the Father”

My Father was a Wandering Aramean

My father was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26.5). These words are a reference to Jacob. His grandfather Abraham lived a nomadic lifestyle. He drove sheep and wandered from place to place, setting up camp where he found good pasture. Sometimes he stayed for a short tRefugees_on_a_boatime and sometimes he remained for weeks, months or even years. But nowhere did he settle long enough to call it home. His son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (who was renamed Israel) lived this same nomadic lifestyle. In this way they accumulated great wealth but called nowhere home.

But they travelled always with a promise. God had made a covenant with Abraham in which he promised that Abraham would be the father of nations (it’s what his name means) and that God would provide him with a homeland and that his descendants would become a people beyond counting and a blessing to the world. Continue reading “My Father was a Wandering Aramean”

The Cloud

This week the church celebrates Ascension Day. Traditionally, this is one of the most important festivals in the church’s year. It stands in importance, I suppose, just behind Easter and Christmas. Ranking festivals in this way is, though, a little ridiculous; Ascension Day is what it is and has its own place in the round of Christian observation. Having said this, the observation of Ascension Day has declined over the last few years, perhaps because it is a midweek festival and we like to suppose that our lives are so busy now that squeezing it into our schedules is a low priority. But, I think too that it is the most difficult of all the events of Jesus’s life for us to relate to.

The celebration is all about Jesus taking his leave of the disciples at the end of the forty days following his resurrection. During those days he has by turn astounded, comforted, admonished and encouraged his followers in a range of, often brief, appearances. There are two accounts by Luke, one in his gospel and the other in the Acts of the Apostles. And here lies the problem for modern readers – the accounts of the Ascension. Continue reading “The Cloud”