Processions and walks of witness have always played a part in the life of God’s people. One example of this recorded in the Old Testament is when King David paraded into the city of Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant, playing joyful music on harps and cymbals (1 Chronicles 15). In the New Testament we’re told that Jesus rode on a donkey as he too processed, with his friends, into Jerusalem as the festival of Passover began.
It is often said that sharing stories of hope, of what God has done and is doing in our lives can inspire, encourage and enthuse. I hope this story will do just that. It began on Open Farm Sunday 2017 with a visit to St Bartholomew’s Chapel on Corton Farm, Portesham. That day, I met Anne and Mike, now in their nineties, on whose farmland the Chapel stands. Generous in their welcome and hospitality, they shared the story of their family and farming life and worshipping in a rural community.
Childrey is a vibrant rural community with an award-winning village store and a good Church primary school. St Mary’s, which is listed in Simon Jenkins’ Best One Thousand Churches, is central to community life. The Grade One listed building dates back to the 12th Century although the site goes back a thousand years, to Saxon times. But, with an elderly and dwindling congregation, churchgoers realised they had to consider the long-term sustainability of St Mary’s. What began with an £80,000 appeal for works including a new kitchenette and loo grew into a huge, multi-faceted project to keep St Mary’s alive and relevant in a small village with a population of just 500.
‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)
Susan saw a flier about Christmas services in her village church and decided to go along to the carol service. She said, ‘I’m not religious, but I like the old hymns and carols.’ The Vicar made an impression on Susan. ‘He seemed like an ordinary guy and when he talked about an Alpha course starting after Christmas, I decided to go along.’
I am intrigued as to why some people find the diversity of Christian denominations a problem when they can happily accept multiple chains of supermarkets. They all have in common the sale of food and other items. Some might claim to major on quality, while others emphasise price. Some are known for the speed at check out. Some provide greater choice of products. But they are all about provisions.
Christian leadership is often associated with church-based roles. However, there are many individuals who, like me, live out their Christian faith in leadership roles beyond the stained-glass windows of our church buildings. I enjoy opportunities when I can openly combine my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and my day to day work, so I jumped at the chance of delivering this year’s Germinate Lecture, Salt, Light and Feet of Clay: Celebrating the ministry of lay people.
CPO was founded over sixty years ago by three tobacco advertisers who came to faith and wanted to use their gifts to help the church do better in conveying its message to the wider world. For some the idea that good design, carefully chosen words or a campaign with a strong visual identity might have anything to do with mission is hard to compute. But Jesus told his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them… and teaching them to obey everything [he] commanded’ (Matthew 28:16-20). Our world is noisy and competition for a hearing is fierce. We do the gospel a disservice if we don’t deliver it in a clear and engaging way.
Everyone thinks their community is unique – and they are right! No two rural communities are the same. The Highlands of Scotland, the west coast of Wales and the uplands of Cumbria and Teesdale are as different from the Fens, the Somerset Levels or the coast of Fife, as feta cheese is from cheddar cheese. The ingredients are similar but the look, taste and experience of the finished product are very different.
One of the perennial challenges facing rural churches is how to engage effectively with children and young people, to find ways of connecting them with the story of Jesus and the life of the worshipping community. The Benefice of Lower Swale in North Yorkshire was facing just that challenge so they decided to start small. Literally.
The creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are endlessly fascinating. The language of God’s creation is at once both breathtakingly beautiful, and mysterious and strange. We hear God talking, speaking thought and intention into the cosmos, which coalesces into reality. All the things we know and encounter have their origin in the breath of God, God’s creative Spirit, bringing all things into existence from nothing. And from these first things all else unfolds in the course of God’s good time, from cosmic black holes to new species of creatures on our planet. We are still discovering the miracles of God’s creation.