Thought for the month
“The statistics make sobering reading. I think I understand why they reach the conclusion they do. I don’t believe that the church will be extinct in 2043. But it will almost certainly look very different.
“Most of our clergy and people recognise the challenge we face … there comes a point beyond which it is simply very difficult to grow back because the existing congregation doesn’t have enough contact across the spectrum of age in its own community.”
Alison has asked us all to read David’s blog, to follow the links, and to prayerfully consider our response as we look towards the future and how we support and nurture the young within our congregations. For the key area of making contact across the spectrum of age, we might ponder the analogy from the picture above, which shows three ways of making links between communities: all are valid, all work (or will work), but the newest of the three has real and as yet untapped potential – time to do things differently, perhaps?
The latest in the Penguin Monarchs series “Elizabeth II: The Steadfast”, by Douglas Hurd, was published last week, just ahead of the day when The Queen will have reigned for longer than her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria (who was on the throne for 63 years and 216 days) and will become the longest-reigning Monarch in British history. The preface, written by HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (you can read the full text at this link), reflects on his grandmother The Queen’s commitment to a life of public service:
“… we find ourselves in a world that has changed dramatically, almost beyond recognition to the world that The Queen was born into, but where the role of charity, family, duty and compassion perseveres.
“I think I speak for my generation when I say that the example and continuity provided by The Queen is not only very rare among leaders but a great source of pride and reassurance.
“Time and again, quietly and modestly, The Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important.”
“All of us who will inherit the legacy of my grandmother’s reign and generation need to do all we can to celebrate and learn from her story.”
This prayer, which has been circulated to mark Wednesday 9 September, is a commission from the Archbishop of Canterbury:
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ exchanged the glory of a heavenly throne for the form of a servant, we thank you that you have given Elizabeth our Queen a heart to serve her people, and have kept her devoted in this service beyond all who were before her: encourage us by her example to serve one another, and to seek the common good, until you call us all to reign with Christ in your eternal kingdom. Amen.
Jesus said, ‘Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while’, for many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:31 (New Revised Standard Version)
The desert or wilderness is the place where, in the scripture, God often tests his people, and it is also a place for spiritual renewal. Our picture represents the very early Christian impulse to follow Jesus away from the crowd and distraction of daily life into the silence of the desert. Humility is a characteristic of Christian monasticism and this painting shows the figure dwarfed by the wilderness around.
We too must learn like those first disciples to go away to a lonely place, to a deserted place, to rest for a while. We must learn to look after ourselves, in order that we can serve Christ in the world. Not just our physical selves but our spiritual lives.
So, whether you are going on retreat to a remote and cold monastic house, or whether you are planning a holiday in the sun with family or friends, make space and time to be with God, to rest in God’s presence.
Know that because Jesus died on the Cross you are free, free to live life to the full, free to encounter God in the city and in the desert, and to live to the glory of God and for the well-being of all God’s people.
Adapted from Alison Cozen’s sermon at this link.
The end of June was marked by horrific happenings, and Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 on 28 June was a live service, so could reflect these. Rev David Bruce’s sermon has been greatly shortened for our thought for the month: for the whole of what he said, go to this link, where you can listen to the service or read the script.
The Psalms don’t sanitise suffering. Nor do they dodge the issue of believing in a good God, especially when, most of the time, the weight of evidence appears to be against such a belief. The families with relatives in Tunisia today, and people in Kuwait and France, reeling with news of their bereavement, must wonder where God is in the horrific events which have unfolded.
The theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the language of Psalm 13 as a “limit expression”, a statement of anguish limited by the horrible horizon of human distress. “O Lord, how long will you forget me?” It’s genuinely liberating for us to discover this language is sacred. That it’s OK to express the bewilderment, anger, outrage and fury at how life works, because God knows it already.
Psalm 13 has six verses. The first four are limit expressions, but the poet is somehow able to say, after everything that has happened, “But I trust in your unfailing love …”. Walter Brueggemann describes the journey through the gap from v4 to v5 as having three stages:
- Orientation. Human life is fine. Things are going well. There is stability. It’s easy to be grateful to God for the consistency of his blessings to us. Life is good. But then comes…
- Disorientation. Human life is not fine. We are in anguish. This is a season of hurt, alienation, suffering and death. Life is a mess. But then comes…
- Re-orientation. Human life is renewed. We are surprised, overwhelmed with new gifts from God. Joy breaks through the despair. Life is deeper.
It might take a day, or it might take a decade – but in the gap, at the limit, God does a work of unfathomable mystery.
The mobilisation of God is the antidote to despair. This is not wishful thinking. This is not just singing praise songs to make us feel better. This is living by faith – an audacious act of defiance, which says, “I am not going to fall over – I will stand”.
8 May 1945 was such a significant day for those who were there, that it’s probable that many will have in their attics an old newspaper with a similar headline. “Stirring and emotional scenes” indeed. Yet this year’s commemoration rightly reflects that there were many for whom the day of celebration was not unrelieved joy – whose nightmare had not ended – whether they were suffering physically, feeling the sadness of loss, or struggling with changed circumstances.
And for everyone there were challenges still to face. As Churchill said to the crowds that day: “…we must begin the task of rebuilding … doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance”. Of course, there was a major political upset soon to come, and a different set of leaders, but the same challenge – how to win the peace.
70 years on, our VE Day anniversary celebration has coincided with the aftermath of a General Election. In an amazing parallel, the new day dawned on the end of a conflict between passionately-held beliefs, with similar radical shift in the political climate, an unexpected but clear result, and both winners and losers. And what is arguably a more complex challenge to those in positions of power to “make this country a land in which all have a chance”. They need our prayers – as Bishop David said in his comment on the General Election Outcome: “we are living through times of profound change. Our prayer for Scotland, its people and its leaders, must be that we shall find at the end of our journey new and creative ways of relating to the peoples and nations with whom we share these islands. It is the duty of Christians to honour and to pray for those who exercise authority in the state.”