Rector's Monthly Letters

October 2019

Dear Friends

These last few weeks my mind has turned towards reflecting on what it means to be dependent on others. We are born totally dependent on our parents. As we age, for some we become dependent again. This time on our children, or on strangers to ensure our wellbeing. At other times in our lives, such as it is for me now, we find ourselves dependent again as we recover from surgery or illness. I for one rail quietly (or not so quietly!) against it; that loss of independence and a feeling of vulnerability. We have no choice but to trust those on whom we depend. With family, that comes more easily, but with strangers – doctors, nurses, physios etc, though we do not know them we have to trust that they want nothing but the best for us.

To be dependent on others requires us to find within a sense of humility. To be able to let go of that hard won ability to care for ourselves and to let others care for us instead. Peter struggled with it himself when Jesus prepared to wash his feet. ‘You will never wash my feet’ he declared.  Perhaps he could not bear the thought of Jesus humbling himself to carry out this task. That same humility is the humility we need to find in order to acknowledge and accept that each one of us is wholly dependent on God – on his love, his grace and his mercy. We need to let go of the notion that we can do anything on our own and trust that he has a plan for us. It is self dependency that breeds worry. To be self-dependent means that we alone are responsible for every aspect of our lives. To  depend on God means that we trust in his faithfulness and allow him to be a constant presence in our lives, guiding and upholding us day by day.

Some words from Psalms to help us:

Psalm 73: 26 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”.

Psalm 121: 1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 16: 8 “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken”.

Caroline

September 2019

Dear Friends

In my last letter I wrote about the time and space that I enjoyed during a recent retreat and the depth of experience that it enabled. During my retreat I felt closer to God and realised that this is something I need more of in my everyday life. I raised this with my Spiritual Director, saying that finding space was not an easy thing for me and observing that Jesus regularly made space to be with his Father. My Spiritual Director asked me the difference between finding space and making it. His question highlighted my lack of intentionality in this area. If we are serious about fostering relationship, whether with God or other people we need to be intentional about making time and space to enable it. It is easy for us to say that things are important or priority but the way we live our lives often speaks differently. Our actions speak louder than words and reveal more accurately the things we deem important or give priority to.

As the summer comes to an end, and before the increased activity of autumn begins, we have an opportunity to set our priorities for the months ahead. If like me, you feel that one such priority is to deepen your relationship with God then I suggest we need to make time to explore different ways through which we can connect with Him and establish the ones that work best for us. We must then make time to put those methods into practice on a regular basis to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by the seemingly important yet rather more trivial matters of everyday life.

Steve

August 2019

Dear Friends

A few weeks ago we entered a period described in the church as ordinary time. It is a time during which other than harvest, there are no special, named festivals. It is quite a long period, extending right up to Advent Sunday. Whilst I value and look forward to the special seasons and festivals, I also like ordinary time, simply because it is ordinary.

Our contemporary way of life seems to be characterised by frantic busyness and a push towards productivity. We feel we have expectations on us to make the most of every moment and experience and fill any gaps in our activity. The trend of people to make a ‘bucket list’ is perhaps, indicative of this. It is all fed I think, by our desire for achievement, and the belief that personal significance is found in what we accomplish. Ordinary time should remind us that the ordinary is important and special in its ordinariness.

I have just come back from a three-day retreat and the greatest thing that I was aware of during that retreat was space. I achieved nothing from a task point of view but I gained greater depth in the books that I read; was aware of a variety of insects and butterflies that I did not know existed; had conversations for the sake of having conversations and went running, not to achieve a fastest time but at a pace that I could enjoy and continue for as long as I wanted. It was a time to be and not to do. Summer is a great season for being. I urge you to find space to be and to value the ordinary.

Steve

 

July 2019

Dear Friends

Luke 24:48-49  ‘You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

Acts 1:8  ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Last month we celebrated Ascension Day and Pentecost. Luke, writing in his Gospel and in Acts quotes Jesus’ last words to his disciples before            ascending out of sight. He outlined the role they were to play in the work of God that he initiated, but they had to wait 10 days for the festival of Pentecost before they received the power through which they could carry it out. I am convinced that the same is true for the church in today’s world. We are given the same remit to be witnesses. A witness is someone who gives a reliable account. The church is to give a reliable account of Jesus. That is to portray him as he really is and to live in a way that is consistent with his teaching. Failure to do so gives a false picture of Jesus. We are also like those first disciples in that we cannot live this way by just trying harder. The life Jesus asks of us is one of self-sacrificial love; a scary prospect for us mortals to consistently model. Jesus though provides the supernatural power to change our hearts and motives.

As we celebrate Pentecost year on year we are reminded that the Christian life can only be authentic if it is supernaturally empowered. The Holy Spirit will challenge us to let go of our self-centered motives and comfort us with the peace only God can give when we do. Our role is to open our hearts to him and to respond to his leading and then we will find that we naturally become better witnesses of Jesus.

Steve

June 2019

Dear Friends

My attention was recently drawn to a UN report that summarised the influence of humans on nature. The findings were disturbing. For one thing it seems that we humans are destroying the very ecosystems that are essential to our own survival. Yet it goes far beyond that. From a theological perspective we are causing the breakdown of a creation that God has deemed very good. The human appetite for  ever-increasing economic prosperity has rendered the creation  somewhat less good than it should be.

According to the report one million species are now at risk of extinction and I wonder if the decline of species is a greater threat to the world than climate change. It has long been my view that God’s ideal for the creation revolves around a complexity of relationship and connectedness. Take things out of it and something else will also suffer and decline. Remove bees for example and plants will cease to be able to pollinate. Remove a specific habitat and the species that the habitat supports will no longer be able to survive. The creation depends on diversity and I suggest that this is the case because that is how God intended it to be.

Science has revealed to us the problem and we need science to help us find ways forward, but I do not believe that science alone has the solution. The problem is as much spiritual as it is practical. For the world to work well we need to refer to and live within the parameters set by its maker, for He is the one who determines the ways in which it works. We also need the humility to accept that without God we are powerless to change (to the extent that is required) our human nature that gives rise to unsustainable lifestyles and the political, social and economic systems that govern them.

Steve

May 2019

Dear Friends

During my time at Theological College we were encouraged in the practice of theological reflection. That is to think about experiences and events in the light of our faith and knowledge of God. For me, the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral has prompted much theological reflection. For in an essentially post-Christian country the outpouring of grief and multi-million euro pledges for the cathedral’s renovation is quite astonishing.

My first reaction to these things was what about Yemen and Syria and the floods in East Africa and even Grenfell? Doesn’t the human impact of these disasters render them more worthy of financial support and how did it come to pass that there are businessmen in the world with several hundred million euros to give away anyway? But to judge things as simply right or wrong is inadequate. Theological reflection is not about finding simplistic answers but about fully engaging with the questions for it is only with an open mind that we come to a deeper understanding of the nature of God and how people encounter Him. Clearly, Notre Dame is much more to the people of Paris than a religious site. It somehow embodies the story of its people. When it becomes vulnerable, the people recognise and become unsettled by the awareness their own vulnerability. It is significant that the people witnessing the fire found comfort in solidarity with one another and in the corporate recital of hymns and prayers. People unaccustomed to seeking God were suddenly doing so.

The reaction to the fire might be verging on a misplaced worship of buildings and human accomplishment and I would like to think that we could grieve and pray as fervently about the ongoing threat to God’s creation and the loss of Christianity to our culture. We should not though, underestimate the significance that ancient religious buildings have in the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Steve