Thoughts from the vicar
Sunday 14 May 2017
5th Sunday of Easter
Confirmation: At next Sunday’s evening service the Bishop of Chester will confirm 8 adult members and one young person from St Peter’s and a group of adults from a the neighbouring parish of Henbury and St John’s. Everyone is very welcome and it would be wonderful to have good representation from all the different congregations to support the candidates, to share in their first Holy Communion, to hear the Bishop preach and to enjoy the party afterwards.
What is confirmation? There is no one simple answer. Below are five aspects of confirmation that will resonate with today’s candidates.
Affirming faith: for some confirmation is the next step on the journey of faith. Baptised as a child, growing up within the family of church, confirmation provides that moment to say publicly ‘I am a Christian’ and to affirm their Christian faith
Renewing commitment: the faith journey can be a bumpy ride. Sunday School can be forgotten as football and friends take priority. University and early career time pressures can similarly squeeze out faith. A church wedding or the arrival of the first child is often a time to reflect on matters of life and faith, and perhaps through coming back to worship, or through an Alpha course, the decision is made to make a recommitment to the Christian faith, and confirmation is the expression of that commitment.
Accompanying adult baptism: spiritual promises are not taken lightly, and the invitation to be a godparent or our own child’s baptism invites the question ‘should I be baptised?’ For adults baptism and confirmation involve the same promises and are of necessity linked. Consequently the decision to be baptised is a decision to be confirmed, so both should happen together but for pastoral reasons we sometimes separate the two.
Joining the Church of England. It is wonderful when Christians move to the area and make St Peter’s their spiritual home. For many Christians nowadays the style of worship and type of Church community is more important than denominational labels. Confirmation is the route for those from other denominations and traditions who wish to join not only St Peter’s but the Church of England
Admission to Holy Communion: at the heart of Christian worship is Holy Communion, Jesus commanded us to do this in remembrance of him. Holy Communion nourishes us and strengthens us in our faith, it reminds us of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice. It is through confirmation that we are admitted to Holy Communion.
At a typical 9.45am Contemporary Communion service 20% of the congregation are not confirmed, if that is you I would encourage you to ask God in your prayers if confirmation should be the next step on your journey of faith?
Sunday 7 May 2017
4th Sunday of Easter
Writing this on a sunny Thursday afternoon, my plans for tomorrow’s day off is to spend it in the garden. Providing that is tempest, storm, rain or snow don’t arrive between now and tomorrow.
There are a number of tasks that need doing; stinging nettles have invaded the raspberries and need to be carefully weeded out, the grass growing between the bricks in the paths round the vegetable patch needs removing. There is ground to prepare ready for sowing.
Garden tasks often find parallels with Jesus’ teaching and with the Christian life.
Removing the nettles reminds me of the parable of the wheat and tares, how the two grew up together and how difficult they are to separate. Getting the grass out from between the bricks can sometimes be easy to pull out, but at other times it takes time on the knees and the help of the right tools. Just as the process of sanctification involves uprooting undesirable behaviours, some come out easily some need time on our knees. And whenever preparing ground for sowing, it is the parable of the soil that comes to mind.
The garden is a great place to remind us of God but is it more than the reminders of Jesus’ parables and teaching. Is there a bit of all of us that is searching for something we lost, somewhere we left long ago?
There are some who say the story about the garden in the second creation account in Genesis is not just about somewhere that we have left, but somewhere we are returning to.
Easter faith is about forgiveness and new starts through Jesus’ death on the Cross – the penitent thief is promised “today you will be with me in paradise” (the word used interestingly means the garden of a king with trees) and the resurrection points towards new life and new creation. And it is at the garden tomb that the women disciples first encounter the risen Jesus.
Jesus said, if every tongue was silent the rocks and “stones would shout out” in praise – does every garden proclaim God’s loving purpose and the path from creation to new creation?
Sunday 30 April
3rd Sunday of Easter
Many years ago, when a voluntary leader of the church youth fellowship, we arranged a practice for the annual youth fellowship versus choir cricket match on the local park. As we were getting set up a group of similar-aged lads to our youth group came over, in the way that happens with park sports where one big game is more fun than two small games. The lads were from the Gujarati- speaking community, a mix of those who had been born and grown up locally and some who had been expelled from Uganda some dozen years earlier. Although at that time there were Hindu, Christian and Muslims who all shared a common language and cultural similarities, these lads were Muslim.
Why the event has stayed in my memory was that they assumed we were Christian and said so – not in any accusatory or problematic way but in a warm, friendly, introductory way. The reason they’d assumed we were Christians was because we were white, English-speaking locals. We explained that yes, we were Christians (and where our church was) but that most white British people were not Christians, or nominally so at best. They were surprised and talked about how different it was in their culture. I can’t remember who won the match but I do remember it as a good day.
Over thirty years later, the relationship of faith to ethnic origin and culture has changed dramatically. Christians and Muslims can be found from every race and language group.
Back then legislation that prevented discrimination on grounds of race could act as a protection against religious discrimination against minority groups. The Christian church had enough power and influences to defend itself against the growing forces of aggressive secularism.
Today legislation defends minorities against racism, sexism, ageism and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. There is no such legislation to defend people of faith – whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu or other – and consequently comments to and about believers that would be unacceptable if they were made about gender or race, are regularly made about people of faith and go uncommented on. As Christians we need to name this and challenge it. If people are being ‘faithophobic’ we should tell them, it will not only make them aware of their need to change, but it will also help protect our Christian brothers and sisters and our sisters and brothers in other faiths.