Exploring Christianity

Rector’s thoughts for August

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in thought for the week | 1 comment

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I worked for the Prison Service. I did this for quite some time, eighteen years or so. I saw many wonderful and spectacular things. Every once in a while, every few months or so, a cohort of young persons would arrive in prison that were on the ‘accelerated promotion scheme’. I never really minded this because not only do I genuinely believe everyone needs to be given a chance, but also the propensity for comic moments increased by about 70%. The problem for the Prison Department was that somewhere in the selection process I believe they had clearly forgotten that knowledge did not equate to Wisdom. Often the antics of these young fresh-out-of-university officers resulted in moments of pure hilarity. For instance, on one occasion I remember one young officer who was soon to be in charge of an entire department, hand-cuff himself to a walkway railing instead of hand-cuffing the prisoner who has hitting him over the head with a Hoover – that scenario needs some further explanation to fully understand entirely, but really it could only have been him. What really made the spectacle all the more strange was that young man thought to add gravitas to his appearance by growing a large straggly beard and smoking a pipe – I know, the recollection of the scene amuses me to this day. Wisdom is, as we all know, not something that can be bought, or indeed bestowed because you have a beard or smoke a pipe. Now as I am writing this it occurs to me I know a few people around here that do have beards and smoke pipes, but the inference is purely coincidental – I assure you. Wisdom is something gained with experience and with time. It is also something in the Christian sense that creates right action. It is the result of doing the right thing, and it is the ability to see and cut through all the nonsense and leads to the making of proper informed and enlightened judgements. In Proverbs 11:30 we are told: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. How do we do this? Well at the beginning of each service we have a summary of the law, and it goes something like this. ‘Love your God, love your neighbour’. How do we do this? Well, I’ll give you another example. The other day I attended a rather pleasant meeting at the house of one of our most active church members, attended by a profusion of other active church members. The meeting was to discuss the Upper Itchen Community Visitors group. The whole evening was a really pleasant opportunity to talk to the assemblage about all the wonderful work they do – visiting people in hospital, and in their own homes. It is surprising – but I realise it shouldn’t be – how many people they visit. It is also surprising how quietly they get on with the job, no fuss, no commotion, just the desire that no one in our villages and community is left on their own, or that anyone who is ill does not receive a visitor. This group do great work. And of course it...

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Rector excels at table sports

Posted by on Oct 29, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

Earlier this month, I discovered something quite remarkable about myself. It was at my eldest daughters 25th birthday party, held in a marquee in the Rectory garden – I discovered I am truly awesome at Beer-pong. Beer-pong, just in case you are unfamiliar, or have not attended university in the last twenty to thirty years is where you rack up beer glasses containing some sort of libation, just as you would a snooker rack, at each end of a long table. You are then required to throw a Ping-Pong ball into any of the glasses at your opponents end, and if you do so they have to drink the contents. Now, believe me when I say I do not wish to encourage binge drinking, because obviously the drink does not have to be alcoholic, but if it isn’t what’s the point? In this instance it was, and I will confess it was the most fun I have had in years. My opponents, variably around the age of twenty five years old thought it absolutely incredible that they were unable to beat me, a middle aged vicar able to triumph over all and sundry at their own game, their incredulity absolutely palpable. The thing is, between rounds of Beer-pong and whilst gathered in the old battered ex-army marquee, the young people sat along long benches, talking, laughing and asking an infeasibly large amount of questions, some of them quite deep, considered and intelligent, they asked the type of questions many people have; but often avoid, these young people were doing theology – I also, and perhaps because I’m wired this way could not get from my mind the Da Vinci(esc) last Supper type image that was in front of me, a collection of friends, gathered together along a long table – weird! The thing is the reoccurring question, the reoccurring theme was not seemingly is there a God, but how do we know Him? I enthusiastically proclaimed – ‘Jesus!! He is the only way to truly know God, because God is love, and unless you love Jesus you cannot truly love God’. If I am honest, I am not sure why these young people seemed to not already know this? I earnestly pointed out to them that actually Jesus is the coolest bloke at the party, His first miracle turning water into wine was just the start of Him letting the world know He is the coolest bloke at the party, wherever He went people thronged to see Him, be with Him, touch Him, because He is amazing! As I finished my homily to stunned silence, the chilled silence and the situation was salvaged when my youngest daughter shouted, anyone for...

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Rector’s thoughts for July

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

It is amazing looking back over the years that I have been ordained – as a Curate, as Priest in Charge, as Rector – how many opportunities there have been to learn, to comfort, console and to calm, to learn and to grow. Every minute has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. When I think back to my ordination – all the anticipation, excitement and desire to make a difference, not to mention apprehension and concern about being ready, your ordination is a fearful thing. I do not think that any amount of training prepared me for what was about to happen. I mention this because this month we welcome Caroline Strudwick to the benefice as our new Curate. Caroline is a self-supporting minister, which means she is not paid a stipend but rather supports her own ministry, and she is to remain a permanent Deacon. Her ordination takes place in Winchester Cathedral on July 5th. We welcome her and look forward to her ministry. Being a Deacon in a church though is a curious thing – a brilliant gift. Deaconship (if that’s a proper word) traces its origin back to St Stephen who is generally considered to be the first Christian Martyr, and his story is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. St Stephen was sentenced to death by stoning because he had challenged the leaders of the synagogue, creating a not-too-insignificant amount of enmity between himself and them. The various bigwigs in the synagogue responded in the only way they knew how: they protected their authority and status by enacting the time-honoured conflict resolution policy of having your opponent stoned to death. Saul of Tarsus, who was later to become St Paul, witnessed St Stephen’s stoning. In fact Saul, as he then was, did a very courageous thing and held the coats of those doing the stoning. The important point about being a Deacon though, is that all ordained Clergy are first ordained Deacon – from high to low. Bishops and even indeed Archbishops are first ordained Deacon before they are ordained Priest, and then consecrated as Jesus’ personal bag carrier once lifted to high station. Being a Deacon is about service and prayerfulness, coming among a community and working with them to make Jesus known wherever they are. It does not carry the functions of a Priest – consecration of elements for Holy Communion, absolutions etc. A Deacon’s role is about proclaiming the Good News, service to God, and serving the church and community. All that said and done, being ordained will present many challenges and new experiences to our new curate – many of which she will never have even considered. Not so long ago I remember reading a piece about a priest who for many years had contemplated becoming a chaplain in the army. He underwent all the tests and medical examinations only to find he could not proceed due to asthma. He talked about the process of reflection that went on in him as the process proceeded. He admitted he was required to confront many of his fears, the biggest of which was the fear of not being brave enough to be an army chaplain. This notion of being brave and what that meant was a real struggle for him. He considered what...

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Rector’s thoughts for June

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

Well what a few weeks I have had. Firstly, right at the beginning of May, I and a number of great people set off on our bikes from Wells Cathedral to Winchester. It was a brilliant and fun challenge to undertake, some 106 miles, but also, and this is the really good bit, the endeavour of these 11 riders (+3 the second day) has raised in the region of a whopping £6,000. Amazing! and thank you to everyone who supported, contributed, participated. I am very grateful, and very happy – thank you. The other day, ooh how I laughed, ooh I was so very amused, ooh how I nearly ended up in casualty with numerous ribs bust. Someone reminded me that the reason I had time for such strange things as cycling from Wells to Winchester, was because I only work Sundays. Now I know everyone is busy, I know everyone is working hard……as I write this, sat looking out to my garden, I can see a squirrel busily burying his nuts in my lawn. Everyone, even the squirrels, are busy. Believe it or not, I am busy. For instance, at the time of writing, (and it’s only the 16th of May) I have already this month undertaken 17 meetings, received 232 emails, and in the last four weeks, sadly, taken 4 funerals, and we won’t even mention tea drinking – of which I have to say, I do a lot. I know what you are all thinking, whingeing is so unattractive – true, but why I mention all this is because recently I read a very interesting document called ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’. It’s free to download on the internet. If you even have a modicum of interest in the future of the Church of England, and the future shape of ministry in our diocese, this might be a good document to have a look at. It’s quite interesting, and short. The document is clear there is no single recipe for numerical growth in the church, although I do not think this is of primary importance – spiritual growth and discipleship are far more important. Being willing to change and adapt, having a purpose, focusing on mission, are all far more significant and important goals. The thing is, what ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’ does say is that amalgamations of churches, which incidentally we are, especially larger the number, is unlikely to lead to growth. The vicar ends up focused upon administration, buildings and maintaining the Sunday worship rotas. Little time is left for much else. In the next ten years 30% to 40% of clergy retire, and nothing like the numbers needed to replace them are coming forward. To stand still our diocese needs to ordain every year 13 or 14 new deacons and priests. We do not. The shape of ministry is going to change whether we like it or not. The shape of our church is going to change and in the not too distant future either. Our diocese has set plans into action that will seek to license 30 or 40 Lay Parish Leaders every year, Pioneers, Preachers, Mission Leaders, Outreach/Youth workers, Licensed Lay Ministers, licensed and working in parishes and the community. The character of how we do church is through absolute necessity, going...

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We don’t have to be perfect to be useful to God

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

A water-bearer in India had two large pots, both hung on the ends of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot always arrived half full. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream: ‘I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts.’ The bearer said to the pot, ‘Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.’ Thank God, you do not need to be perfect for God to use...

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A very interesting thought from Matthew Parris

Posted by on Apr 25, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

I recently read a very interesting piece from Matthew Parris, The Times columnist and social commentator, that I wanted to share. It’s really worth a read and certainly very thought provoking… “Does the God of the New Testament exist? Please accept that I am not here trying to persuade you that he does or does not, but to communicate my surprise that the question is so little asked. I simply cannot understand why all those millions of my countrymen who mumble that they are ‘probably believers’ can regard their uncertainty as less than a personal emergency. Why are they not driven to find out more? The New Testament offers a picture: a God who does not sound at all vague to me. He sent His son to Earth. He has distinct plans both for His son and for mankind. He knows each of us personally and can communicate directly with us. We are capable of forming a direct relationship with Him. We are told that this can be done only through His son. And we are offered the propspect of eternal life – an afterlife in happy, blissful, glorious circumstances. Friends, if I believe that or even a tenth of that, how could I care which version of the prayer book was being used? I would drop my job, sell my house, throw away my possessions, leave my acquaintances and set out into the world burning with the desire to know more and, when I had found out more, to act upon it and tell others.” Matthew...

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Good Friday in Cheriton

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

I’m so looking forward to singing on Good Friday night the “Godspell” music which Gillian has been teaching us all. I didn’t know “Godspell” before then apart from the occasional song but the music is wonderful and it should be a powerful service. I say powerful, because feeling that power behind the goings on in church is what really connects you in mind and body with God and I don’t think I would find it easy to be a Christian without having felt that, it’s so tangible! At this time, we think about Christ’s suffering but often just in the back of our minds with our main thoughts being on Easter at the end of the week. However, I’d really encourage anyone to get involved in the build up to Easter to reaffirm your faith and experience Jesus’ presence. It’s the best time to really tap in to that presence of God on earth and, to me, it’s one of the times in the calendar when I feel him closest to our mortal world again. Feeling just a small part of the energy and atmosphere surrounding him at the time he died on the cross is incredibly thought provoking and powerful. I was lucky enough to see the Passion Play in Broad Street, Alresford, last year. You could have heard a pin drop, the atmosphere in Broad Street that day was amazing and everyone seemed to really feel it even if they were just walking past. This year, I’m sitting up in the night on Maundy Thursday with the church Youth Group to hold a vigil like Jesus’ disciples did the night before he died. I know some of them fell asleep – I really hope I don’t! I think that will be spine tingling in the middle of the night and I think we’ll all experience the emotion of that night nearly 2000 years ago. I’m not suggesting you all stay up all night to try and feel close to Jesus Christ but the service on Good Friday in St Michael’s, Cheriton, will have a really strong emotion running through it and it’s worth soaking it all up. It should be very compelling as well as enjoyable. Hope to see you...

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Rector’s thoughts for April

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

In the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 4), just after Jesus is taken to the wilderness and tempted by the Devil, or evil if you prefer, He finds himself in the synagogue, and given the opportunity to read a text from the ancient Prophet Isaiah. Jesus chooses to read Chapter 61. This is not a mistake on Jesus’ behalf. He chooses it in particular. Jesus tells all those present that the prophesy Isaiah is proclaiming has in fact been fulfilled – and they are looking at it. The reading in both Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 are rather graceful and beautiful, but Jesus is also doing something the Jews find very difficult to hear. In fact, broaden that statement and we have something the world to this day finds difficult to hear. Jesus says that He is the one whom Isaiah is talking about, the one who will bind up the wounds of the oppressed, He is the anointed of God, and He has come to preach the Kingdom to those that will listen. The Jews, whilst amazed at His testimony, reject Jesus and are filled with rage. Jesus accepts that a prophet in his own home or town does not receive honour. Jesus is driven out of Nazareth – actually they intend to kill him by throwing him over a cliff, such was the anger and hatred they felt. To this day there are many who do not, and have not, allowed the message that Jesus was giving to the Jews in the synagogue, and to us, to enter into their lives. And the message is an easy one: Love God, know His son Jesus, and if you do that, you will love your neighbour – and in doing so you will receive salvation. Now, before everyone starts shouting ‘Who is my Neighbour?’ I will usurp and misquote Wesley when he said: ‘the whole world is my parish’. How many people, do you think, regard the world as their neighbour; do we even get on as parishes in the same benefice, deanery, diocese? I am thinking about all this because yesterday, in Tunisia, maniacs ran amok killing innocent people. That morning, as I do every morning, I had earnestly prayed for peace in the world, and an end to the darkness that causes so many to suffer…. And whilst in the gloom of regret, all I could think about was this reading from Isaiah 61. ‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. You shall be called priests of...

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A simple blueprint for life

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 in thought for the week | 0 comments

I had the good fortune to work with a motivational speaker recently who taught me the power of having complete faith in whatever I was doing when it came to achieving whatever I wanted to achieve. In order to achieve something you have to believe it completely otherwise you will always fail. You can only achieve what you can truly see yourself achieving. My original reaction was that that wasn’t necessarily always true. But, actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was absolutely true. We all have things that we start and then give up on half way through because we don’t really truly see ourselves achieving the end result. Think about New Year’s resolutions, get fit regimes, new healthy diet plans. We’re not going to stick at them because we don’t honestly believe we will. Successful people, however you gauge success, are successful because they truly believe they can and will achieve their goal, they stick at it to the bitter end and they pretty much always get there. It was great when I later discovered that the man I was working with was also a Christian and preached every Sunday in his local church. He was an amazing motivational speaker and he told me that he took most of his motivational teachings directly from the Bible. I had the privilege of going on to discuss a lot of other more in depth subjects with him and we studied a number of passages from the Bible together but the one he left me with as a kind of bottom line and blueprint for life was a verse from Proverbs which simply says “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is”. In other words – what you truly believe in your heart, you will become, what you have true faith in, you will...

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Rector’s thoughts for February

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 in thought for the week, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In 2007 a lady called Naomi Klein wrote a book called ‘The Shock Doctrine’. Its theme has at its centre the idea that around the world, in Asia, the Middle East, in the United States, and here too in Britain, there are people who are in power that are thriving on, and even exploiting chaos, bloodshed and catastrophe. They do this to remake, reshape our thinking, to use fear as a means of shaping our responses and the limits of our acceptance to circumstance, to their own end. This, at its extreme, results in a reduction in civil liberties, a watering down of the democratic process and perversely with all that has gone on in recent months, the reduction in the freedom of expression. Sometimes it is not simply the terrorist that wishes to exploit fear, but also those seeking greater political autonomy, greater powers for law enforcement, or anyone wanting to obtain ever-larger military organisation and hardware. It is not only the Jihadi we need to worry about now; it is our response to what comes next now the genie is out of the bottle. In light of the events in France in January it seems painfully obvious to me that the people behind the attacks in France were counting on this fear, on a knee jerk reaction to help promote the fear not only from within the liberal western populations they so ardently detest, but also to instil fear into anyone calling themselves a Muslim; to make them fear persecution, isolation and discrimination. The further one can disenfranchise the Muslim, the greater the possibility of recruiting them into the Jihadi world view. A world where you are marginalised and criminalised, where you are convinced that your only escape becomes the demand for Jihad, for war against the western crusaders whose structures, systems and freedoms need to be dismantled and eliminated. Now I know this is all getting very serious, but I wonder if (and those that do I hope you will indulge me) any of you really know what the differences are between Islam and Christianity? What are the distinctions? One particular and central tension between Islam and Christianity is that for Islam the notion of the Incarnation of Jesus is incompatible with the majesty and transcendent power of God. By this I mean that for Islam the human and the divine cannot be compatible. The idea that Jesus is human and divine is idolatrous. God is absolute Lord, and everything is in every way dependent upon Him. At the extreme, everything you do – breathing, walking, thinking, is all dependent upon God. The problem becomes then that this easily leads to the thinking that nothing can be accomplished without relying on God. There is no freedom, no agency; all actions are by and through Him, even the things we would consider to be evil and bad, which then can’t be because they are done by God. The human being becomes an expression and extension of the activity of God, for good and for bad. The distinction between the divine and the human is absolute. This for the Christian is a paradox, and a distinction the Christian would not recognise – it is bad people that do bad things, not a bad God doing bad things through...

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