ECCLESIASTES & I PETER – TWO APPROACHES TO TIME AND FAITH

A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at Evensong at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, on Epiphany 3, Sunday, Janaury 26th, 2020, the Eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Psalm 33:1-12, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, I Peter 1:3-12.

We’ve heard two very contrasting readings this evening – the first from Ecclesiastes 3, the famous passage, often used at funerals: ‘A time to be born and a time to die’; and the second from the first Letter of Peter, chapter 1, written to ‘You…who are being protected by the power of God for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’.  So, I thought that for a few moments I’d reflect on what these two readings have to say about time and faith.

Time is one of the concerns of the Teacher, Quoheleth, the, speaker in the Old Testament Book, Ecclesiastes.  We know nothing about him, apart from what we read in the book, and scholars are very hazy about when the book was written, where, why and so on.  It was probably written between the 5th and the 2nd centuries BC, probably nearer the 2nd than the 5th, written in Hebrew, but with Aramaic influences – Aramaic being the local variation of Hebrew spoken by the people of Israel before and around the time of Jesus.

It’s a complicated and confusing book – it may have been written that way, or it might have been re-worked by later editors.  The Teacher’s first words in the book are, ‘Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity’ [Eccles 1:2].  Which opening lines rather set the tone for the book!  Everything is but a breath of wind – the literal translation of the word he uses, everything is transient, useless, deceptive.

Quoheleth’s view of the world is fatalistic.  He sees ‘The world as changeless, with humans unable to comprehend its workings or to make any lasting impact upon it’ [Ox Bible Comm, p.423, q.v. for some of the background].  Humans can see all the injustice and pain in the world, but can’t do anything about it.  Quoheleth sees this as the way God has planned the world, and wonders how we should make the best of this situation.  ‘His answer, after reflection on his own experiences, is that humans should simply enjoy what they have: they are in no position to seek more, and greater comprehension is a source only of unhappiness’ [Ibid.].

Which takes us back to chapter 3: ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die’, and so on.

These words are ‘Often taken as a celebration of this fact, with each and every action given its own appropriate hour, [but] the context suggests that, for Quoheleth, it is more a source of resignation’ [Ibid., p. 424].

God has created and maintains a sealed system, in which nothing has a beginning or an end, in which there is ‘Nothing new under the sun’ – another of Quoheleth’s famous phrases [1:9], and in which humans can make no real difference, but can only stand in awe of the God who created such a system, and who keeps it in being.

Interestingly, during the 18th century, a strand of philosophy and theology flourished in England, known as Deism, following famous writers such as Matthew Lock and David Hume.  They had a very similar view of the world, with God as the so-called ‘Blind Watchmaker’, who set the world in process, but then has very little else to do with it, and just leaves it, like a clock that has been wound, to its own devices.

And there are still many people today who would take Quoheleth’s line.  Everything is just as it is; we can’t make a difference; ‘What will be will be’, and so on.

And yet, contrast that with what was read from the first chapter of the First Letter of Peter: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed’ [I Pet 1:3-7].

This is not a passive, circular view of time. That everything that has been will be again, that there is nothing new under the sun, that what will be will be.

This is a directional view of time.  The birth, life, teaching, death and Resurrection of Jesus have made a difference.  God has intervened in his world, and urges us to intervene as well.  Peter, in this Letter, is looking towards the end time, to which we are all heading, in our living hope, suffering trials and tribulations, loving God and loving our neighbour, and ‘receiving the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls’ [v.9].

You probably know that the Greeks had two words for time: Cronoß (Chronos), and Kairoß (Kairos) [Apologies – the website can’t cope with the Greek!].  Cronoß is time as a measurable resource, time measured in minutes and seconds, time as we tend to live it day by day, getting on with what has to be done, plodding through our daily lives, going from one thing to the next.  Cronoß is the sort of time that Quoheleth, the Teacher, is thinking about.

Kairoß, however, is time as the decisive moment, the now, the time of decision, the time when we have to make a choice, the time which is the right moment to act.

It’s not quite fair to say that Old Testament time was Cronoß time, and New Testament time is Kairoß time – but there is something in that.

Christ’s command to ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’ means that Christians are expected to make a difference to the world they inhabit, the world of which they are called to be good stewards. 

And the New Testament’s insistence that we are in the last times, that the end is near, whatever the different New Testament writers mean by that, also gives a new urgency to the decisions we make in our lives.

We are not just caught in an eternal loop, where everything is the same, and nothing changes.

We’re called to make a difference, to co-operate with God in the bringing in of his Kingdom. 

Today is the Eve of the Liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, discovered almost accidentally by the Red Army as it advanced across Poland towards the end of the Second World War 75 years ago.  The camp was run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland, and between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people, mostly Jews – children, women and men – were deported there, 1.1 million of whom were murdered.

It was only as the camps were discovered and liberated that the full scale of horrors perpetrated on the Jews and others were realized, something not helped by widespread anti-Semitism outside the German territories.  As the camps were liberated, efforts were made to document what had happened there.

Battle-hardened soldiers who were used to death were shocked by the Nazis’ treatment of prisoners. Red Army General, Vasilii Petrenko, commander of the 107th Infantry Division, remarked, ‘I, who saw people dying every day, was shocked by the Nazis’ indescribable hatred toward the inmates who had turned into living skeletons.  I read about the Nazis’ treatment of Jews in various leaflets, but there was nothing about the Nazis’ treatment of women, children, and old men.  It was in Auschwitz that I found out about the fate of the Jews’.   The few articles about the liberation in Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, in line with Soviet propaganda, failed to mention that Jews were the ones being written about. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_of_Auschwitz_concentration_camp]

In our prayers I’ll use a prayer written for Holocaust Memorial Day written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and the Senior Imam, Qari Asim.  It feels like a real Kairoß moment that these three have come together to write a prayer which people of all three of the Abrahamic Faiths can use with integrity.

The Germans were working in Cronoß time.  For them the Jews were an inconvenience which had methodically, and with careful planning, to be eradicated – 6 million of them.  The Red Army, whether they knew it or not, were working in Kairoß time – a significant moment, as Auschwitz was liberated, when some realized what had been going on in Nazi Germany.

There is indeed ‘A time to be born and a time to die’. And there is a ‘Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’, and we live between those times – we live in the Cronoß, the ever-flowing stream of time, the 14 or so billion years since our current universe was created; but we also live in the Kairoß, the moment in time when we have to choose, and where our decisions make a difference.

I want to finish with a quote from Book one of Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, said Frodo.  ‘So do I’, said Gandalf, ‘And so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ [JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/time].

Good advice!

The  Prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

(The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis and Senior Imam, Qari Asim, have united to write a new prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2020.)

Loving God, we come to you with heavy hearts, remembering the six million Jewish souls murdered during the Holocaust.

In the horrors of that history, when so many groups were targeted because of their identity, and in genocides which followed, we recognise destructive prejudices that drive people apart.

Forgive us when we give space to fear, negativity and hatred of others, simply because they are different from us.

In the light of God, we see everyone as equally precious manifestations of the Divine, and can know the courage to face the darkness.

Through our prayers and actions, help us to stand together with those who are suffering, so that light may banish all darkness, love will prevail over hate and good will triumph over evil.

Amen.

ALL ARE CALLED – (And Worship Review/ Simplification/Year of Pilgrimage)

A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at Holy Ascension Hyde on Epiphany 2, January 19th, 2020

I Cor 1:1-9,  John 1:29-42

I’ve got a fairly simple plan this morning – I want to reflect briefly on today’s readings, and then to discuss two or three particular issues for us as Churches this year.

One of the themes of this Epiphany Season is the calling of the first Disciples – in each year of the three-year Lectionary we hear different accounts of the start of Jesus’ ministry, and how he called his inner circle of Disciples to be around him, to follow him, to learn from him what the Kingdom of God means, and to continue his Kingdom work by spreading the message, and by calling others into his service.

I don’t know whether you noticed how the word ‘called’ sounded like a bell through this morning’s readings.  Four times across the two readings, and four different callings.

Firstly, it’s used at the end of the Gospel Reading, as the climax of Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples.  It’s quite a strange conversation – you’ve got it in Partners if you want to have a look.  John says ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’, and the two disciples follow, which is quite logical.  Jesus turns and asks what they are looking for, and they ask him where he is staying.  He says, ‘Come and see’, and they went and spent the rest of the day with him – and all this happened, curiously, at about four o’clock in the afternoon.  Clearly, something very significant is going on here.

One of the two disciples was Andrew, and he went and fetched his brother, Simon, whom Jesus immediately named as Peter, the rock.  And they stayed with him for the rest of his earthly ministry.

Jesus’ call to his first disciples in John’s Gospel is very invitational – ‘Come and see’.  ‘John has pointed to me; you’re following me, so, come and see.  Come and see what I’m doing, who I am – and by doing that, you may want to follow me always’.

But then he says to Peter, ‘‘You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter)’ [Jn 1:42], which we would translate as ‘Rock’.  ‘You are to be called Cephas’.

Immediately, as Peter begins his journey with Jesus, he’s given a new name, a new identity.  In Christ, we are called to a new place and given a new name.

There’s a fascinating, and not often quoted, verse in Revelation 2[:17]: ‘To everyone who conquers… I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it’.

And names are an important part of the Baptism Service, when our given names become our Christian names.  Peter is given a new name when he is called into Jesus’ service.

And turning to the passage from I Corinthians, we see that there are three more callings here.

Firstly, Paul is ‘Called to be an Apostle’.  Although not one of those who met Jesus, Paul and Luke record several times his conversion on the road to Damascus, and his calling as an Apostle, one who is sent with the message to others.  Paul responded to that dramatic calling, and has been a huge influence on the shape of the Church ever since.

And then Paul tells the Corinthians that they are ‘Called to be saints’.  The Greek word be uses for saints, the word which is used throughout the New Testament, is ἅgioiς, the holy ones, and it refers to all of the Christians in a particular place.  So, we are all called to be saints – ‘All are Called’, as a recent Church of England report on lay ministry puts it.

And, lastly, he writes to the Corinthians, that they are ‘called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ [I Cor 1:9].  We are all called to be part of the Body of Christ, to be Christ’s eyes and mouths, hands and feet, in service to the world.  All are called.

Which brings me on to the particular issues I’d like us to think about today,

The first is Simplification – at present, the Avon Valley Churches comprises seven Churches in four Parishes – and each of the four Parishes is a separate legal entity.  We had a Joint Open Meeting of the four PCCs last November to think about whether we could simplify our structures – essentially, to become one PCC, which could deal with budgets, Safeguarding, policy issues, good governance, and so on, and freeing up local Church Committees to look after the day-to-day running of the Churches and their worship and mission.  And on Monday, we had the first meeting of the Simplification Group, comprising two representatives from each Parish, some of the ministry team, one or two observers, and chaired by an outside facilitator, Jon Whale, our Benefice of the Future man at the Diocese. 

When I was ordained in 1986, each of our four Parishes had a priest to look after one PCC – that is no longer the case, and the amount of regulation, much of it good, which has been imposed on PCCs in the last few decades has increased enormously.  It no longer makes sense to have all of this regulation repeated four times, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with a much better structure in the coming year or so. 

I realise this is a particularly big ask for Hyde PCC, only recently part of the Avon Valley Churches, and having had a lot of changes in the past few years, but if we can get it right, I think it will be hugely beneficial for all of the Churches.  The first meeting was very positive, and highlighted both the advantages and the challenges, and we’re meeting again in March to look in more detail at some of the issues we’ve identified.  So keep all of the PCCs and the simplification Group in your prayers – it will inevitably be quite a challenging process.

The second issue is the Benefice Worship Review.

The Avon Valley Churches hasn’t reviewed our pattern of worship for some years, and certainly not since the new Benefice, including Hyde, was formed just over two years ago.

At present, we are reasonably well-staffed – although 4 ¾ of the seven members of the Staff Team are volunteers, and a sixth one, Mike the curate, is time-limited.  But while we are not in crisis, now seemed to be the time to look at our pattern of Services across the seven Churches of the AVC.  Last September, this was discussed at the Avon Valley Churches Coordinating Group, the ACG, comprising Wardens and Officers from the four Parishes, and the ACG tasked the Staff Team with carrying out the Review.  We began by identifying some basic principles, and they were that our Future Pattern of Worship should be:

  • Sustainable – whether or not our Leadership Team changes.
  • Allow room for growth – not so full a programme of catering for the needs of our current congregations that there is no room for anything new to grow.
  • Appropriate – The right worship for each Church.
  • And include Lay Leadership – Each Church should have (at least) one Lay Led Service each month, so that we are growing Lay Worship Leaders and sharing the gifts of the wider congregation.

In October we shared these principles, and invited members of all of our congregations to respond, and about 30 people did so.  All of the very varied Responses we had can be seen on our website.

In November, the Staff Team met, reviewed all of the responses, and made some proposals which have been shared with the four PCCs, and made available to everyone else.

In December, Hyde PCC discussed in detail the proposals made in the review, broadly welcomed them, and agreed to discuss them with the congregation today – so, as you know, there will be the opportunity over coffee, and before lunch, to reflect on these in more detail.

For Hyde Church, the main proposals are that:

  • Quite a lot of things don’t change – 9.30s on 1st and initially 4th Sundays, Youthspace, 4.00 Slot, all as at present. 
  • 2nd Sundays, 8.15 Holy Communion as at present (but 15 minutes earlier) – on the other Sundays the 8.15 would be at Fordingbridge and Breamore, so there is a BCP Communion in the AVC each Sunday, but we avoid duplicating exactly the same Service at the same time in different places – in effect, Fordingbridge loses two of its BCP Communions.
  • The main difference most people would notice would be initially on 3rd Sundays, when there is a proposal for a new Morning Service, without Communion, in a format to be explored – at some point in the future, this Morning Service will move to a 4th Sunday, but for now, to accommodate the Staff Team we currently have, the 3rd Sunday seemed a more appropriate Sunday – I can say more about that over coffee.

As we looked at the overall pattern, one of the things we were very aware of was the number of Communion Services happening at overlapping times – as Services of Holy Communion can only be led by priests.  Two of our Parishes, Breamore, and Hale & Woodgreen, already have a mix of two Communions and two Morning Services each month, and the new pattern proposes that for Hyde and Fordingbridge as well.

This pattern can only work if we are able to identify and train more Lay Worship Leaders and preachers across the four Parishes.  This is a really important part of the proposals, because if we don’t, we’ll find that the number of Services were are able to sustain will decrease over time.

We have a good tradition of Lay Worship Leading here in Hyde, but we have come to rely on the three Worship Leaders who were trained some years ago, and so now we need to identify and train some more if we want our generous pattern of worship to be sustainable in the longer term. 

So, as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, which I’ve written about in Partners over the past couple of weeks – if you missed last two week’s Partners, you can find them on the website – as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, could you think and pray about whether you might be being called to be a Lay Worship Leader or Preacher.  We’ll be running training here in the summer for the former, and the Diocese is running the one-year Bishop’s Permission to Preach Course later in the year.  Or you might be think about whether you are being called to train as a Licensed Lay Minister or for ordination.

If you think you might be being called to any of these things, or just want to know more, do have a word with any of the Ministry Team. 

And if you’re not yet ready for that, you might find the new Alpha Course, which began on Thursday, and continues for the next five weeks, might be helpful on your pilgrimage.  It’s not too late to join.

And we’ll have time to discuss the Worship Review, Lay Worship Leading, the Year of Pilgrimage, or anything else, over coffee after the Service.

As you think about these things, keep in mind my earlier point: it’s clear from the New Testament that ‘All are Called’ – each of us is called by name, and all are called to different ministries.  This ‘Year of Pilgrimage’ could be a wonderful time to reflect on our calling as Saints and Disciples here in Hyde and in the wider Church, and, really interestingly, my colleagues and I have already had three conversations in the past week with people who are feeling a vocation, a calling, to lay or ordained ministries – it’s all very exciting.

I’ll end with the Collect for the 5th Sunday after Trinity:

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people; that in their vocation and ministry each may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.   AMEN.

THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST: TRANSCENDANCE & IMMANENCE

A Sermon given by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge, on the Feast of the Baptism of Christm, Sunday, January 12th, 2020.

Acts 10:34-43, Matt 3:13-17

I’ve got a fairly simple plan this morning – I want to reflect briefly on the Baptism of Christ, to talk about two theological terms, and then to discuss two or three particular issues for us as Churches this year.  I shall be around at the end of the Service if anyone has further comments to make.

The Baptism of Christ – We’ve jumped very quickly from the visit of the Wise Men to the Baby Jesus at Epiphany last Sunday to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry today – a leap of about 30 years.  And we’ll stay with the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel Readings for the next couple of weeks, before returning to the baby Jesus in the Temple for his Presentation, at what we now call Candlemas, on the first Sunday of February.

But there is a common theme through all of these readings in the Epiphany Season, and that is Jesus being revealed to the world for who he is.

Last Sunday, the revelation, the manifestation, the Epiphany, was to the Wise Men, Gentiles, non-Jews.  Today, in his Baptism by John at the River Jordan, the revelation is to those around him, those who ‘Saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove… and a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’’ [Matt 3:16f.].  From his Baptism Jesus is propelled into the wilderness, where he has a period of reflection and temptation, which we’ll commemorate in Lent, beginning at the end of next month, and when he returns from the wilderness he calls his Disciples and begins his public ministry.

This period of Epiphany focuses on making Christ known to the world.  That is our primary task as the Church; more important than caring for Church buildings, as wonderful as a Church like this is; more important than having fine liturgy, as beautiful and uplifting as I hope our Services are; our primary task as the Church is to make Christ known to the world.  As we heard in our reading from Acts, ‘He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead’ [Acts 10:42].  The Baptism of Christ urges to look upwards to God, inwards to the Christ who has promised to be with us; and outwards to the world around us, which needs to hear the Gospel message – upwards, inwards and outwards.

And that brings me on to my two theological terms.  Where do we think of God as being when we worship?  Where do you imagine him, when you pray here on a Sunday morning?  Do you think of him as being out there [point Eastwards], high and lifted up, as distant from up as he can possibly be?  Or do you think of him as here in the midst of us [point to the space in the middle], made real in the words of Scripture and in the sharing of bread and wine?  Now, both of these are truths which have been discovered through Scripture, and expressed in Christian history – God high and lifted up, God distant from us; and God in the midst, God closer to us than our own breathing.

And the theological terms for these thoughts are transcendence and immanence; transcendence and immanence.

Transcendence, God above us, often expressed in the Old Testament as a God who is dangerous, a God not to be messed with, God of awe and majesty.  In the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest could enter only once a year into the nearer presence of God, and it was a risky thing to do.  When the Ark of God’s presence was being carried to Jerusalem, the bier wobbled, someone put out his hand to stop it falling, and was struck dead – he had touched the presence of the living God.  The Old Testament often expresses God’s transcendence, his distance from us.

But remember, at the Crucifixion, the veil of the Temple was torn in two [Matt 27:51].

The New Testament often expresses God’s immanence, his presence in all things, his closeness to us.  Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them’ [Matt 18:20].  And he promised to be with us when we share bread and wine in his name.  Transcendence and immanence.

In the Church of England, I think it is fair to say that our worship has traditionally been more about transcendence in the past, but in the last half century there has been something of a rediscovery of his immanence, which has affected quite a lot of what we do in worship.

How we think of God affects how we worship him, how we arrange our Churches, what language we use, and what we do with our bodies in worship.

It affects, for example, which way the priest faces when presiding at Holy Communion.  Does he or she face East, with his or her back to the congregation, expressing God’s transcendence; or does the priest face West, facing the congregation, expressing God’s immanence, his presence with us in our celebration?  One of the biggest differences between the BCP Communion which we use at 8.00 on a Sunday, and the Common Worship one which we use at 9.30 is how we acknowledge one another.  At the 8.00, it barely matters whether there is anyone else in the congregation – the worship is almost exclusively between me and God.  At the 9.30, we share the Peace, we acknowledge one another to be members of the Body of Christ, we sing together, we are gathered around a table.  It’s a very different theological statement of what we are as a Church.

Do we use traditional language, the language of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, or perhaps even Latin, expressing a very formal relationship with God, who is far away and far above us; or do we use modern language, emphasising God’s closeness to us, a more intimate relationship?

The Baptism of Christ urges to look upwards to God, inwards to the Christ who has promised to be with us; and outwards to the world around us, which needs to hear the Gospel message – upwards, inwards and outwards.  And the ways we experience God are likely to be a mixture of transcendence and immanence.

Which brings me on to the particular issues I’d like us to think about today,

The first is Simplification – at present, the Avon Valley Churches comprises seven Churches in four Parishes – and each of the four Parishes is a separate legal entity.  We had a Joint Open Meeting of the four PCCs last November to think about whether we could simplify our structures – essentially, to become one PCC, which could deal with budgets, Safeguarding, policy issues, good governance, and so on, and with Local Church Committees to look after the day-to-day running of the Churches and their worship and mission.  When I was ordained in 1986, each of our four Parishes had a priest to look after one PCC – that is no longer the case, and the amount of regulation, much of it good, which has been imposed on PCCs in the last few decades has increased enormously.  It no longer makes sense to have all of this regulation repeated four times, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with a much better structure in the coming year or so.  The first meeting is tomorrow evening, so keep us in our prayers – some of the Parishes are more eager for this than others, so there will be a good deal of delicate negotiations.

The second issue is the Benefice Worship Review.

We haven’t reviewed our pattern of worship for some years, and certainly not since Hyde became part of the Avon Valley Churches just over two years ago.

At present, we are reasonably well-staffed – although 4 ¾ of the seven members of the Staff Team are volunteers, and a sixth one, Mike the curate, is time-limited.  But while we are not in crisis, now seemed to be the time to look at our pattern of Services across the seven Churches of the AVC.  Last September, this was discussed at the Avon Valley Churches Co-ordinating Group, the ACG, comprising Wardens and Officers from the four Parishes, and the ACG tasked the Staff Team with carrying out the Review.  We began by identifying some basic principles, and they were that Our Future Pattern of Worship should be:

  • Sustainable – whether or not our Leadership Team changes.
  • Allow room for growth – not so full a programme of catering for the needs of our current congregations that there is no room for anything new to grow.
  • Appropriate – The right worship for each Church.
  • And include Lay Leadership – Each Church should have (at least) one Lay Led Service each month, so that we are growing Lay Worship Leaders and sharing the gifts of the wider congregation.

In October we shared these principles, and invited members of all of our congregations to respond, and about 30 people did so.  All of the very varied Responses we had can be seen on our website.

In November, the Staff Team met, reviewed all of the responses, and made some proposals which have been shared with the four PCCs, and made available to everyone else.

Fordingbridge PCC has agreed in principle to the proposals made in the review, and there are one or two questions still to be decided – the Worship and Pastoral Care Committee of the PCC is meeting early next month, when a decision will be made.

For this Church, the main proposals are:

  • Quite a lot of things don’t change – Allsorts at 10.30 on 1st Sundays – but with a review with the Allsorts Team of the current format; 9.30s on 2nd and 4th Sundays; Sanctus and Evensongs as at present (although there is the suggestion the Evensongs might move to 6.00 – thoughts welcome).
  • 1st and 3rd Sundays, 8.15 Holy Communion as at present (but 15 minutes later) – on the other Sundays the 8.15 would be at Hyde and Breamore, avoiding duplicating the same Service at the same time in different places.
  • The main difference most people would notice would be on 3rd Sundays, when there is a proposal for a new Morning Service with Choir, but without Communion, in a format to be explored.

As we looked at the overall pattern, one of the things we were very aware of was the number of Communion Services happening at overlapping times – as Services of Holy Communion can only be led by priests.  Two of our Parishes, Breamore, and Hale & Woodgreen, already have a mix of two Communions and two Morning Services each month, and the new pattern proposes that for Fordingbridge and Hyde as well.

This pattern can only work if we are able to identify and train more Lay Worship Leaders and preachers across the four Parishes.  This is a really important part of the proposals, because if we don’t, we’ll find that the number of Services were are able to sustain will decrease over time.

So, as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, which I’ve written about in Partners last week and this – if you missed last week’s Partners, you can find it on the website – as part of our Year of Pilgrimage, could you think and pray about whether you might be being called to be a Lay Worship Leader or Preacher.  We’ll be running training here in the summer for the former, and the Diocese is running the one-year Bishop’s Permission to Preach Course later in the year. 

If you think you might be being called to this, or just want to know more, do have a word with any of the Ministry Team. 

And if you’re not yet ready for that, you might find the new Alpha Course, beginning on Thursday, might be helpful on your pilgrimage.  Heidi will say a bit more about that later on.

If you’d like to discuss the Worship Review, Lay Worship Leading, or anything else I’ve mentioned this morning, I’ll be around over coffee – we could gather with our coffees at the front of the Church.

As you think about these things, keep in mind my earlier point: our primary task as the Church is to make Christ known to the world.  It’s not about what we like, or about what we’ve always done.  It’s about making Christ known to the world. That should be our guide in all that we do, both in Church and in our daily lives.

BONHOEFFER’S LAST CHRISTMAS – AND HOPE

A Sermon preached at the Midnight Service, December 24th-25th, 2019, at Holy Ascension Hyde, by Canon Gary Philbrick.

Tit 2:11-12, Lk 2:1-14

75 years ago tonight, at Christmas 1944, the German Pastor and Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was spending what turned out to be his last Christmas imprisoned in a Gestapo Prison in the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse in Berlin.  He was well-known in Germany, and in other parts of Europe and America, had been a Pastor to the German Lutheran Church in London, and was very involved in the Oecumenical Movement in Europe, at that time in its infancy.  A couple of months earlier he had been moved from the Tegel Military Prison in Berlin to the much harsher and more dangerous Gestapo Prison, from which, the following April, a few days before the end of the Second World War, he was taken to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and at the very end to Flossenbürg, where he was murdered on the personal orders of Hitler after a very brief show trial.

I’m thinking about him quite a lot at the moment, partly because it’s 75 years since all these events happened, and his martyrdom shouldn’t be forgotten, and partly because I foolishly agreed to deliver a paper on him to an academic theological society in the Spring.

What was this Pastor, Theologian, Oecumenist and Teacher, doing in prison?  Since the rise of Hitler in 1933, Bonhoeffer had been part of that section of the Lutheran Church in Germany, called ‘The Confessing Church’, which had opposed Hitler and all that he stood for.  The other group, the much larger one, called the ‘German Christians’, also opposed some of what Hitler stood for, but felt that the way to do that was by being part of the system, and hoping to change it from inside.  That’s not an unreasonable strategy, but on this occasion it was horribly wrong.

Since 1933, Bonhoeffer had quietly worked across Europe to let people know what was happening in Germany, and that there were people who were resisting it.  He was part of the Abwehr, in effect a double-agent, pretending to be part of German Intelligence, but in effect working for those who opposed Hitler.  He also, strikingly, and felt it was part of his Christian duty, was a peripheral part of plots to kill Hitler – although this wasn’t discovered by Hitler until April 1945, which was what sent him into an absolute rage, and led to his order to kill Bonhoeffer about three weeks before he himself committed suicide.

75 years ago, at Christmas 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, the very last piece of writing of his which we have, and enclosed a remarkable poem, which is now sung as a hymn in Germany, the first and last verses of which read:

With every power of good to stay and guide me,

Comforted and inspired beyond all fear,

I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,

And pass, with you, into the coming year.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,

Boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.

At even and at morn God will befriend us,

An oh, most surely on each new-born day.

[Bonhoeffer, Metaxas, p.497f.]

They’re so profound, and so full of faith and hope and love, I’ll read them again.

Now, as well as wanting to remember Bonhoeffer, I’ve spent some time describing him and his last poem because of the unshakeable sense of hope which is found in his writings, a hope that is reflected in the Christmas story.

We began this Service with some Responses: ‘Tonight we are excited…  Tonight we are expectant…  Tonight we are on tiptoe…’  We began on a note of hope.

And as the first four Advent Candles were lit, we said ‘Waiting for your promise, give light and hope’.

And in the Gospel Reading we’ve just heard, we celebrate the birth of a child – always a cause for hope – but this child was the one of whom the angels said to the shepherds, ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’.  This child is a sign of hope for the world.

As we can read in Richard Crashaw’s words on the front of our Order of Service:

Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, Day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man.

Great little one whose all-embracing birth
Brings earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

And our first Reading, from the little-known Letter of Titus, says ‘We wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’.

In these weeks after the General Election, in these weeks leading to our formal departure from the European Union, in these uncertain and changing times, we need to keep hold of a sense of hope – the hope we see in the birth of Jesus, in the knowledge that Emmanuel, God is with us; in the knowledge that no matter what difficulties we go through in our own lives, God is still there, and cares sufficiently to send his own Son in to the world to bring us hope. 

We need to radiate hope in our own, lives, by the way we live – not pretending there are no difficulties in life, but trying to remember that those difficulties can be seen in the wider canvas of God’s plan for us, for now and for eternity.

We, as Christians, should stand for hope – because we know that Jesus, our Incarnate God, Emmanuel, God with us, came into the world at Christmas, preached a Kingdom of love and hope, died on a Cross on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Day to bring hope to all the world.  We stand for hope, and we should be working for hope, in our worship, in our communities, and in all that we do and are.

As Bonhoeffer wrote in his last poem:

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,

Boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.

At even and at morn God will befriend us,

An oh, most surely on each new-born day.

THE ADVENT HOPE DURING AN ELECTION

A Sermon preached be Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mark’s, Highcliffe, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8th, 2020, just before the General Election

Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12

Lord, open your Word to our hearts this Advent, and our hearts to your Word always.  AMEN.

75 years ago this Advent, in December 1944, the German Pastor and Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was imprisoned in a Gestapo Prison in the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse in Berlin.  He was well-known in Germany, and in other parts of Europe and America, had been a Pastor to the German Lutheran Church in London, and was very involved in the Oecumenical Movement in Europe, at that time in its infancy.  He had recently been moved from the Tegel Military Prison in Berlin to the much harsher and more dangerous Gestapo Prison, from which, the following April, a few days before the end of the Second World War, he was taken to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and at the very end to Flossenbürg, where he was murdered on the personal orders of Hitler after a very brief show trial.

I’m thinking about him quite a lot at the moment, partly because it’s 75 years since all these events happened, and his martyrdom shouldn’t be forgotten, and partly because I foolishly agreed to deliver a paper on him to an academic theological society next Spring.

What was this Pastor, Theologian, Oecumenist and Teacher, doing in prison?  Since the rise of Hitler in 1933, Bonhoeffer had been part of that section of the Lutheran Church in Germany, called ‘The Confessing Church’, which had opposed Hitler and all that he stood for.  The other group, the much larger one, the so-called ‘German Christians’, also opposed some of what Hitler stood for, but felt that the way to do that was by being part of the system, and hoping to change it from inside.  That’s not an unreasonable strategy, but on this occasion it was horribly wrong.

Since 1933, Bonhoeffer had quietly worked across Europe to let people know what was happening in Germany, and that there were people who were resisting it.  He was part of the Abwehr, in effect a double-agent, pretending to be part of German Intelligence, but in effect working for those who opposed Hitler.  He also, strikingly, and felt it was part of his Christian duty, was a peripheral part of plots to kill Hitler – although this wasn’t discovered by Hitler until April 1945, which was what sent him into an absolute rage, and led to his order to kill Bonhoeffer about three weeks before he himself committed suicide.

75 years ago, at Christmas 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, and enclosed a remarkable poem, which is now sung as a hymn in Germany, the first and last verses of which read:

With every power of good to stay and guide me,

Comforted and inspired beyond all fear,

I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,

And pass, with you, into the coming year.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,

Boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.

At even and at morn God will befriend us,

An oh, most surely on each new-born day.

[Bonhoeffer, Metaxas, p.497f.]

They’re so profound, and so full of faith and hope and love, I’ll read them again.

Now, as well as wanting to remember Bonhoeffer, I’ve spent some time describing him and his last poem for two reasons – Advent, and the General Election.  And there is a theme, reflected in Bonhoeffer’s poem, which joins them both; and that theme is ‘Hope’.

What sort of hope does Advent bring?  The reading we heard from Isaiah is a vision of hope for the Israel of his time.  The ‘shoot from the [root-]stock of Jesse’ is the one whom Isaiah thought of as a great leader of David’s line to bring hope to his people; and the one whom we as Christians think of as Jesus, coming to bring hope to the whole world.  This ‘shoot’ will be full of wisdom, he will judge for the poor with righteousness, and there will be such peace in the land that the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the calf and the lion will eat together, and the ‘earth will be [as] full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ [Is 11:9].  Advent is a time of hope, as we look forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth.

On Thursday, I spent the day in Breamore Primary School, doing Prayer Spaces – there were three prayer activities around one of the school values, Justice, and each class was divided into three.  There are five classes, so during the day, we each did our activity 15 times!  Mine was focussed on the words ‘Your Kingdom Come’ – a prayer for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven.  And the responses from the children were fascinating and delightful.

John the Baptist longs for that Kingdom to come.  ‘One who is more powerful that I is coming after me’ [Matt 3:11].  His vision is of a Kingdom where justice prevails – I’ve always thought that John the Baptist would be an uncomfortable dinner guest.  He cuts through hypocrisy and cant, and sees clearly the repentance and change which there needs to be to allow God’s Kingdom to break in.

Advent is a time of hope, as we long for the Kingdom of God to come, now, on the earth, in our own generation – a Kingdom of justice and peace and hope for all people.  And we long for God’s Kingdom to come at the end of all time, whatever that might look like, as all things are wrapped up in God’s love.

And there is a sense in which the General Election should be a time of hope.

We had an Election Question Time on Thursday evening in Fordingbridge Church.  All four candidates for this Constituency were there, and I shared the chairing of the evening with a sixth-former from our local school.  It was a good evening, and we heard about many of the concerns of voters, and the responses to them of the candidates.

If we took the words of Isaiah 11, and the preaching of John the Baptist in Matthew 3 to heart, what sort of hope would we expect from our political leaders?

We would learn that God is one the side of the poor and marginalised; that there is a concern for the quality of community life in our cities, towns and villages – we all belong together; we would hope for an economic system which is stable, sustainable, non-exploitative, and which shares its benefits with the whole of society; we would look for Justice – at home and internationally; and we would expect responsibility for and stewardship of our world in the light of the changing climate, and all the effects that that will have, especially on the poorest people in the world.  As the Bishops have written in a paper recently, we would expect our Government to be ‘working for the Common Good’, for a strong, stable and cohesive society.  And we know what an enormous challenge that is for any government.

As we come to vote on Thursday, and many people may have voted by post already, we need to pray for our political leaders, to pray for ourselves as the electorate, and to pray for our candidates.  Pray that the Election may be a vote for hope – and I think we’ll need a lot of prayer for that to be the case! 

We, as Christians, should stand for hope – because we know that Jesus, our Incarnate God, Emmanuel, God with us, came into the world at Christmas, preached a Kingdom of love and hope, died on a Cross on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Day to bring hope to all the world.  We stand for hope, and we should be working for hope, in our worship, in our communities, by our vote, and in all that we do and are.

As Bonhoeffer wrote in his last poem:

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,

Boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.

At even and at morn God will befriend us,

An oh, most surely on each new-born day.

And I’d like to finish with the Prayer which the Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Tim, has asked us to use in this election time:

God of hope,

in these times of change and uncertainty,

bring together our communities

and guide our local leaders with your wisdom.

Give us courage to overcome our fears,

to be patient and compassionate with one another,

and to seek a future

in which all may prosper and share;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN.