Thoughts from the vicar
Sunday 26 March
Where did Mothering Sunday begin?
It is often thought and taught that the origins of Mothering Sunday can be found in the nineteenth century practice of giving servants a day off to visit their homes and their mothers, and that the celebration has a secular origin in the generosity of those wealthy enough to employ domestic servants.
But the origins go much further back. In the twelfth century the practice was introduced for the members of the daughter church in a diocese to bring a gift to the mother church of the diocese for presentation at the altar. It must have been quite a journey from here to Chester in those days. This pilgrimage to the mother church in Lent draws on the Old Testament practices of pilgrimages to the Holy City, with the people of God gathering together to worship and celebrate. The early medieval period was also a time when the king was extracting revenue from the church and bishops as well as from landowners. So a liturgical development that was popular in the pews, and also a much needed income generator, would have good reason to become an established tradition.
Alongside this, larger parish churches became the mother church for smaller churches around them, instead of the minster or cathedral. So with their journeys now shorter, people could come together more easily to celebrate the then well established tradition of Lenten gift-bringing. The granting of time off for domestic staff to go home and visit parents was driven by this desire to visit the mother church. It was the religious practice that gave birth to the secular celebration rather than the other way round.
By the early twentieth century, there was a desire to reclaim Mothering Sunday for the church and new liturgies and religious practices began to be developed – and those traditions shape our worship today.
One clear difference between the secular and Church world is what the day is called. We call it Mothering Sunday, in recognition of the origins of the festival – and because mothering is not restricted to mothers – whereas the secular world speaks of mother’s day.
This Mothering Sunday it is good to give thanks for all who mother us and also for the care and comfort of Mother Church.
Sunday 19 March
3rd Sunday of Lent
The story is told of a family travelling to an unfamiliar part of the country for their holiday. Despite the sat nav, maps and instructions from the holiday company the family are unable to find the cottage which is their destination. Eventually having gone round the maze of small country lanes for what felt like hours they spotted a local farmer walking along the road. They pulled alongside, wound down the window, and explained to the farmer that they were lost and told him the name and details of the cottage they were looking for. The farmer thought for a bit, shook his head and said “if you want to get there I wouldn’t start from here!” and then walked on along the road…
There are some folks who think the same about Christianity, that God is a bit like the holiday cottage – well hidden, that the instructions to find him are written in ancient languages that are unclear, and that he’s really difficult to find. For other folks they would be like the farmer – you need to start from somewhere different if you want to get to God.
Today’s Baptism service at 9.45am reminds us that neither statement is true about God. God is not well hidden, he declares himself in the beauty of creation around us, in all that is good in the world; he speaks to us through our conscience, and far from us needing to seek him out, he comes looking for us. As last Sunday’s Bible reading declares “God so loved the world he sent his only Son Jesus Christ”. In Jesus, God comes like a good shepherd to seek us out and gather us back into the fold.
For those being baptised today it is the beginning of their Christian Journey. For all of us on that journey we not only have scripture to teach us and the Holy Spirit to prompt our consciences, but we have in Jesus a friend and a guide to lead, help and protect us.
Sunday 12 March
2nd Sunday of Lent
Long ago, so long ago that it lost in the mists of time, but the ancient records say probably on October 5th 2010, a group gathered for Bible study. The Bible study was open to everyone and had a few simple rules. Which if they were chiselled into stone by an old testament author would read:
- Remember that we gather at 8.00pm on the first Wednesday of the month unless it be August or Ash Wednesday and that the gathering shalt be in the vicarage lounge.
- Thou shalt not read the passage beforehand.
- Thou doest not need to know anything.
- Thou canst bring whichever translation thou likest best (and if you are Steve, the one with many versions that all admire).
- Thou shalt not bring along Bible commentaries or texts in Greek and other ancient languages.
- Thou shalt honour thy neighbour’s point of view.
- Thou shalt fear not when the passage is difficult and finding what it means is challenging.
- Thou shalt not forget that refreshment be served afterwards.
We started back then at the very beginning of Luke’s gospel. One of the group would read a small section, then perhaps someone else would read the same passage but from a different translation. The passage would be discussed – what jumps out at you, what questions does it ask, what challenges you? Or sometimes we would imagine the scene – what was happening, who was there, what might they have said or done?
As we gathered month by month, we discovered that God gave us fresh insights, that passages we had read or heard many times had new depths of meaning. The promise that “all scripture is God breathed” was fulfilled in a rich variety of ways.
This week, after six and half years, we came to the end of reading Luke’s Gospel. It has been an amazing journey of learning and discovery. Over that time about twenty people have shared with the journey at one time or another. We marked the completion with champagne and cake.
On the first Wednesday of April, we start a new book of the bible, a new journey of exploration and discovery, a new opportunity to let God speak to us. All are welcome.