Thoughts from the Vicar
Sunday 15th September
13th Sunday after Trinity
One of the wonderful things about St Peter’s is that we have both the building of St Peter’s and also the Norman Chapel, in which we hold worship every week. The Norman Chapel has a wonderful, intimate atmosphere and is a great space for smaller services. One of the challenges of such a building is the stone steps that separate the two ends of the space and about ten years ago we considered, with the architects, the options of levelling the floor.
Levelling it down was impossible due to the existence of a vault under the raised east end and consequently, we spent some time considering putting in a level wooden floor with steps and platform lift in the west end. Although it would have had the added benefit of solving the historic damp problem, it was thought to be an unnecessary expenditure at the time. For our service of Holy Communion in the Norman Chapel, the minister celebrates on the raised area and then communion is distributed from the steps.
For all of us who distribute Communion there is the constant anxiety of a trip and tumbling onto those receiving. In addition, the steps have also meant some of those who would like to help with the chalice at Communion are unable to do so.
We have recently been looking at the accessibility of both our church and our worship so that all feel welcomed.
As I mentioned in July, one of the first responses has been to change the layout of the Norman Chapel, so everything happens on one level. This has a number of advantages: the trip hazard is removed, the ministry of the chalice is open to a wider group of people and the acoustics are improved. The response to the change has been overwhelmingly positive.
I am, however, aware of some problems and a few folks have highlighted some other disadvantages of the new arrangement. Some things, like which way to face for the creed or how to receive the offertory, we can soon establish a pattern for. But others, like the change in atmosphere because the space is more intimate and loss of awe, are more difficult to address.
Clearly a majority like the new arrangements but what of the minority? Is it a case of winner takes all and their thoughts don’t matter? Absolutely not. When church members comment on matters of faith and worship it is vital that they are heard and responded to. Hence, we have modified the new layout to address some of the concerns. We try to listen, hear the concerns and respond seeking, as good Anglicans, the “via media” - a lesson, perhaps, that could be wisely applied in other contexts.
Sunday 6th September
12th Sunday after Trinity
September is for many a time of change in family life. Children move into their new classes with new teachers, some make the transition from primary to secondary school and others move from one school to another. It is the time for buying uniform, joining the queue in the shoe shop for feet to be measured and new shoes to be fitted and purchased. It is a time of new school bags, sports gear and stationery, making sure all is ready for the new school year.
For some it is the first time they will be participating in this annual ritual of preparation for school. During today’s Family Service we pray for the Church children who have moved up into Reception. It is a time of change not only for the children but also for parents and it is good, as St Peter’s church family, to mark this important step in family life together in church, with prayer.
One of the great things about the new school year is it offers the opportunity for a new beginning and a fresh start. If as a pupil you hadn’t seen eye to eye with last year’s teacher, this year could be different.
New starts and new beginnings are not just for children and young people. They are central to Christianity. The Good News of Jesus is that we all can have the slate wiped clean, make a fresh start and make a new beginning. Even those things we have done that we don’t forgive ourselves for can be forgiven by God, because of what Jesus has done.
This new start is different from the preparation for the new school year.
With Jesus there is no queue, no need to take a numbered ticket and wait your turn.
No need to put on a uniform to cover up who you are or to be the same as everyone else.
Best of all, Jesus has picked up the bill and paid the price in full for your new start.
That is Good News!
Sunday 1st September
11th Sunday after Trinity
Surprised by grace: Did you enjoy the cricket?
Sunday afternoon was set aside for those exciting post-holiday activities: filing, desk-clearing, sorting and tidying the study and what better accompaniment than to put on the radio and listen to the cricket? It was an afternoon that started full of hope, but then as is so often the case in English sport, wickets fell faster than piles of paper were sorted and filed, England were nine down with defeat looming and the Ashes looking set to remain with Australia.
But the story didn’t end in the way so often experienced by English sports fans; Ben Stokes creatively innovated and Jack Leach battled determinedly and the total needed crept down. The impossible became at first merely unlikely and then possible. Behind the voices of the commentators it became clear there was a third player on England’s side: the crowd were cheering every forward block and willing every lofted drive over the boundary. As the winning line came nearer the speed of study- tidying activity slowed, one of the lads came in to listen and, as they say, the rest is history.
There are two aspects of the win that have captured the thoughts of sports journalists. The unexpectedness of the victory and the character and ‘rehabilitation’ of Ben Stokes from drunken Bristol brawler to national hero.
Where and how does this connect with faith? The key is grace! Like the victory, grace is unlikely, unexpected and undeserved. Grace (God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense) transforms our defeats into God’s victory. Unlike sporting ‘rehabilitation’ grace does not need to be earned, it is a free gift. We do not need to perform heroic acts to receive the love of Christ, grace works the other way around. Grace opens the door to God pouring His Spirit, His living presence into our lives producing a desire and ability to respond by doing amazing things for God.
However, unlike sporting heroics, grace is for the many and not the few - all Christians can go out to ‘bat for God’ but the enemy we face is not the Australian cricket team or any peoples of any nation, tribe or language. As St Paul writes “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In the months ahead we will be exploring some of the ways in which, as a Christian we do this and the difference we can make in the world.