From the Vicarage

Politicians are God’s people too! (September 2017)

The ancient Chinese proverb ‘May you live in interesting times’ could almost have been coined with the present world political situation is mind. I’m writing this (uncharacteristically well ahead of time as I’m just about to go on holiday) on the day after it was announced that President Trump’s newly appointed director of communications would be leaving the job after only ten days in post. He was a little too free in his communicating apparently. Perhaps a little calm and stability has descended on the White House by the time you read this. And Brexit negotiations continue, though without any clear idea of what is being negotiated and how it will affect us. The task and role of the politician has always been precarious, and often of surprisingly short duration is they don’t get it right first time. Our elected politicians used to be highly regarded, treated with respect and deference. But now they have come to be looked on with mistrust, their motives and conduct under the kind of scrutiny that dew could emerge from unscathed, their professional and personal lives minutely examined and pulled apart, any forthcoming flaws seized upon as evidence of their mendacity, dishonesty and corruption.

 

Another commonplace expression: ‘religion and politics don’t mix’. That’s one that is only true if we believe that our faith has absolutely nothing to do with the way we live out our lives and our social interactions from day to day as individuals, or the way we organise our political life locally, nationally and globally. It won’t surprise you to know that I don’t believe that for a moment and I hope that you don’t either. It’s not a view that we find supported by scripture and in fact Jesus had a very great deal to say about how we must love the image of God in one another, and letting ‘the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2.5-11), we should follow him in offering ourselves to all of God’s people, unreservedly and without discrimination. From a political perspective, one of the ways in which we might do this is in recognising that the vast majority of those who put themselves forward for election on local councils or for parliament, do so wanting to make a difference, a change for the better, to their communities or to the country, or in the world, and for us to recognise that ultimately the impulse to love our neighbour comes from God – it is hard-wired into our human makeup – and that everyone needs God’s help. This is so, whether you are helping your elderly neighbour with the shopping or dealing with high and weighty matters of state.

I hope that we do pray for our political leaders, whether we agree with their views or not, whether we like them as people or not, because the burden of decision making that we place on their shoulders is a heavy one to bear, and they are as much God’s people as we are. Politicians have the same weaknesses and failings as we do. And, of course, sometimes they make mistakes, but mostly they act in the general interest and are rightly concerned for the wellbeing of all people.

We have an annual opportunity here in church not just to pray for our local politicians, which we do all the time, but to pray with them, and to meet them as people and share with them in articulating the concerns of this community before God. On Sunday 24 September at 3pm in the afternoon, we will be hosting the annual Civic Service at which we pray with and for our town councillors, following the mayoral elections held earlier in the summer. It’s a matter of real joy that the present mayor, Derek Giles, now serving his second term in office, and his wife Sandie are practising Christians and members of the congregation of St Mary’s Eaton Socon. Their vicar, and the mayor’s chaplain, the Revd Tim Robb will give the address at the service. The Mayor’s Charities, for which a collection is taken at the service, focus on young people, and the whole occasion will have a focus on youth. I would like to encourage as many of you as can, to come along and show your support for the work of the Town Councillors and to pray for them in the responsibilities they bear, as they and we re-commit ourselves in the coming year ‘to live and work to [God’s] praise and glory.

See you there!

Yours ever in Christ

Fr Paul

 

Being community (July/August 2017)

Elsewhere in this edition of The Messenger, Christian Laughton contributes an article about pastoral care – what it is, who receives it, who gives it, how it is organised. It’s one of the key strands of Priority 2 of our Development Action Plan, which you will remember was discussed and compiled last summer as we thought and prayed about our response to the diocesan strategy People Fully Alive: Ely 2025. Priority 2 focuses on developing a healthy church and leaders. I urge you to read what Christian has written and begin to think through the implications of what it means for us as a church.

This derives very much from the thinking that church is not so much a place as a community. From the earliest of expressions of Christian community made up of those who came to believe in Jesus Christ through the ministry of the first disciples, and then expanded around the shores of the Mediterranean, and eastwards as well, the church has always been defined as ‘community’. Church is particularly the coming together of the ‘Body of Christ’ to continue the work that Jesus began, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Church is not a place to which we come, but a community of which we are a part, and an essential part if the community is to reflect the life and love of God. It follows that community cannot be an abstract concept or a nice idea, and it isn’t just a collection of individuals who come together on Sundays. It is an essential part of who we are as the Body of Christ. During my sabbatical study leave last year, I came across a pithy quote from the radical German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community (even if their intentions are ever so earnest), but the person who loves those around them will create community’.

As ever, Bonhoeffer makes you think. But he identifies what lies at the heart of creating and maintaining community – community that spills over into love and service in the wider networks and communities to which we belong. If we start from the idea that we need to be a community, we probably won’t get very far, but if we begin by fostering caring relationships with those around us, community then happens. Christian in her article says that the pastoral care of a church community is something formalised into a role that is deemed (or assumed) to be the responsibility of the church ministers, and those who have specifically committed to exercising it with them. That’s perfectly correct and by the way, we need more people willing to commit to being part of a pastoral care team. Please have a word with me if you think it’s something you could offer. But it isn’t the whole story, because community flourishes when that care is given by one member to another, naturally and often informally. Sometimes that’s all that is needed, but there are often times when a pastoral concern needs to be shared and I hope that if anyone has a concern about someone who may not have been in their usual place in church for a few Sundays, or about which they know something that may not yet have reached the ministry team, then I hope that you will pass that concern on to me or to another member of the team, so that we can be aware and do whatever may be necessary. I really cannot emphasis too much what Christian writes when she says that we need you to tell us about something or someone about which you are concerned. Never assume that we already know. In many cases we don’t - unless you tell us. And by the way, never assume that someone else has done the telling - we’d rather be told by ten people than none.

Communities expand and contract as people come and go. For the past five years our wider community of St Neots and Eynesbury has been richly blessed by the presence of Revd Debbie Noonan, with Jesse and of course the arrival of Aidan three years ago. Where have those five years gone! It seems only the other day that Judy and I (with Ellie the dog) met Debbie and Jesse as they disembarked from the Queen Mary II at Southampton docks. It has been a very great joy to work alongside Debbie and to see the Spirit filled work she has done in Eynesbury as our two parishes forge stronger links, and the spirit of community is worked out on a wider canvas. Our joint adult confirmation programmes have been particular highlights. Sadly, as we know, the family will be leaving us for Montreal this month, as Jesse takes up his exciting new post as Principal of the Montreal Diocesan Theological College. Their departure is to be marked by a special service at Eynesbury on Sunday 16 July at 10.30, and the invitation to attend both that and the refreshments that will follow in Eynesbury Primary School is extended to all of us at St Neots too. You can also come to the 10am service here, and go on for the refreshments afterwards (which is what I shall be doing). However we mark their going, there is now a permanent place for them in our hearts and we will be keeping them very much in our prayers and thoughts. Friendship and community are qualities that can overcome distance and separation. They go with our blessing and our love.

Yours ever in Christ

Fr Paul

 


From the Vicarage
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