Rector's Monthly Letter

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.


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.


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.