Each month, one of our clergy team contributes an item to our Parish Magazine that is designed to provoke thought and reflection about a topical issue. For recent articles, see below.
April 2019 - Broken and Restored
Often in our prayers we pray for the ‘broken’ world in which we find ourselves. Each of us could probably write a wide ranging list of what we mean by a ‘broken’ world – brokenness in the relationships between nations states, in the destructive influence man is having on his environment, in the extremism of certain philosophies and religions, in the excesses of the irresponsible use of power, and, at an individual level, in the rising tide of divorce and in the apparent inability of people, at all levels in our society, to enjoy their lives and interests without the use of drugs, or alcohol or some other artificial stimulant.
Recently an example of this ‘brokenness’ was brought home to us when, one night in February, two men broke into the church, caused quite a lot of damage, stole a few small items of silverware, and fled. Why did they do this? From what has transpired since, it is unlikely that these two men were motivated by some anti-Christian or anti-church sentiment, but much more likely by their desperation to find some money to fuel their dependence on drugs. Those of us who have been involved with cleaning up the church, and praying for its healing and restoration, have had cause to reflect on the brokenness of these two people’s lives and how that might have come about. Our emotions have been torn between a desire to apprehend and punish, and the imperative to love your neighbour and forgive. The damage to the church is not ultimately important; but the effect of this incident has been to draw members of the community closer together. We have set about restoring and cleansing the building, and prayed that it will continue to be a focus for the wider community of Bishop’s Stortford. Within two days of this sad event, the church was open again for anyone to come, pray, worship, or just be quiet, as it has been for many centuries – a reminder that part of our mission is to be an example of community life where life in all its abundance can continue to be enjoyed.
The most significant damage done by our intruders was to the two crosses on the altars. The very heavy cross on the high altar, which has on it the figure of the Lord risen in glory, was used as a battering ram and ended up with the top of the cross bent over. The smaller nave altar cross had also been used to try to gain entry to the vestry and was completely broken. I hope the irony of these broken crosses has not escaped you. The cross, the great universal symbol of the Christian faith, is itself a symbol of brokenness, pain and death, one of the most barbaric ways of killing ever invented. Yet we hear from the cross words of forgiveness, words of compassion, words of the thirstiness, words of victory, words of promise, words of utter desolation, and words of commendation into God’s hands. Here is a powerful mixture of brokenness and restoration, of despair and hope, of injustice and forgiveness, of death and resurrection. These are the themes that will, or should be occupying our minds, our prayers and our actions as we meet Jesus again on the road to Jerusalem during Lent and Holy Week. If you really want to capture the joy and celebration of Easter, you should give yourself a chance by entering in to at least part of the Lent and Holy Week programme, which you will find elsewhere. Experience the foreboding atmosphere on Maundy Thursday; the United Service at the URC and silent march on Good Friday; the devotional three hour service at St Michael’s on Good Friday; the promise and surprise of resurrection early on Easter morning and our celebration later. Throughout these days we shall continue to pray for our broken world as we draw closer to Jesus, who was broken for us, expressed in these lovely words:
Broken for me, broken for you,
The body of Jesus broken for you.
He offered his body, he poured out his soul,
Jesus was broken that we might be whole:
Come to my table and with me dine,
eat of my bread and drink of my wine:
This is my body given for you,
eat it remembering I died for you:
This is my blood I shed for you,
for your forgiveness, making you new:
Broken for me, broken for you,
The body of Jesus broken for you.
With my love and prayers for a very blessed Easter.
February 2019 - Happy Birthday, Christingle!!
It was some time in the 1970s, I can’t quite remember exactly when. News went round the village (by word of mouth in those days) that something new was happening. There would be a special service called a Christingle, with a collection to support The Church of England Children’s Society. I knew a little about the Children’s Society, to give it its modern, abbreviated title, since we collected funds for it each December when we sang carols around the village. And the Christingle service sounded interesting. So I went along.
I don’t remember much about the service, except that the Christingles, when they appeared, looked rather strange objects, to my boyish mind. An orange with some red tape around it, four cocktail sticks pointing upwards out of the fruit, with raisins skewered upon them. And a candle in the middle, which no doubt we lit. Presumably we were told about the symbolism of the Christingle: of the orange which represents the world God has made, the fruits which represent his gifts to us, the ribbon showing us Christ’s loving blood-sacrifice which surrounds the world, and his light represented by the candle shining in the darkness. I seem somehow to have ‘always’ known what the Christingle means. But I mainly recall thinking that the Christingle service was very different from Matins, which I usually went to, and wondering if this strange new ritual would catch on.
My village’s first Christingle was one of the early ones held in the Church of England. The idea started at Lincoln Cathedral in 1968. So this Christingle season has marked the 50th anniversary of its introduction to England. Happy Birthday, Christingle!
Originating as a Moravian tradition, the Christingle was taken up by the Children’s Society as a way to share Christ’s message of light, as well as raising funds and awareness of its work as a charity. Many Christingle services continue as ‘Children’s Society’ services. But the Christingle has taken on a life of its own, now popping up in churches and schools in all sorts of contexts and formats. For some people it’s their annual moment to come to church.
I still feel a bit of my boyhood ambivalence about the Christingle and wonder about its attraction. I guess for the children there are the sweets (which seem to have displaced the raisins of my youth). And for the adults there’s the prospect of seeing small children’s faces lit by candlelight and gazing in wonder. But when I use my imagination and really think about all its symbols, I begin to see its power. I think of the world, so small. And so precious, like an orange to an eighteenth century Moravian. I think of my fortune in enjoying such an abundance of the earth’s fruits. And I think of the cost of Jesus’ love, its grand embrace of us all, and the light it brings to our darkness. When I really think about the Christingle I’m grateful for it, and for the pioneers who brought it here when I was small.
Perhaps you come to our Christingle every winter. It’s on 3rd Feb at 10 am this year. Maybe you haven’t come to one for ages, or perhaps it’s just not an occasion for you. But if you’d like to join us in this anniversary season, to worship Christ, remember old times, share the wonder, or just give thanks for 50 years of Christingle, you’ll of course be most welcome.
May Christ’s light be with us always.