Thoughts from the Vicar
Sunday 29th September
Creation Series Week 1
Earlier in the week I bumped into a distressed dog walker: not one of the annoying ones whose dogs are let off the lead in the churchyard, or who never clear up dog mess, but one of the friendly ones whose daily walks coincides with morning prayer or locking church.
They asked a question, “Do dogs have souls?” It was not a theoretical theological enquiry but spoken out of the sadness and grief of the death of a much-loved dog. It’s a really good question at the start of our Creation season to explore our relationship with creation.
God is Creator - his timescale of creation is billions of years but being outside of creation and consequently outside of time, creation is instantaneous. The processes of creation, involving freedom and change, are set within the dynamics and constants of creation itself. Dogs are part of that good creation.
There are many understandings of soul, but in popular understanding it is the permanent essence, the central core of a person that may or may not be eternal.
How does a favourite dog engage with its owner? It has a series of behaviours: involving tongue, eyes, tail, movement, actions and responses. I expect every dog owner could tell the difference between their pet and an identical one within a very short space of time. A soul conveys none of that - without tails and eyes and paws, it isn’t a dog.
Christianity, like Judaism does not talk of the immortality of the soul. We speak of the resurrection of the body; a transformed body no longer subject to decay and death, but still a body. You need a face to smile, arms to hug, and a voice to praise and worship God. The Christian Hope is not of souls going to heaven but of heaven coming to earth in a mighty act of re-creation.
As dogs are part of God’s good creation now, they will be part of his new creation. All good characteristics that are loved and appreciated now will be so in our eternal future. Bodies and creation matter. How we are with each is not inconsequential. God calls us to be stewards of his creation now and that is why we can’t close our eyes ignoring the challenge of human climate change. Those who think the created order is of no consequence and just about going to heaven when you die, are not Christians but Gnostics. However, if tempted, imagine a body-less, creationless eternity, it’s very lonely. Compared with new creation full of life and love and all that is good
Sunday 22nd September
14th Sunday after Trinity
What is the greatest challenge we face as a society?
- Is it our relationship with the European Union?
- Is it rising wealth inequality, the gap between rich and poor which in this country is now the widest it has ever been?
- Is it the decline of basic morals like truth and honesty, faithfulness and commitment and the rise of self-centredness in its many forms?
- Is it the impact of social media on how we relate to one another and receive our information?
There are others we could add to the list but for many people the greatest challenge we face is environmental. The work of David Attenborough and others in TV programmes have brought home to many the changes that are taking place in our world and the disastrous impact on the earth and its creatures, of many human activities.
How as Christians should we respond? We affirm God as creator and that, as those made in his image, we are called to be stewards of His creation; we see in scripture how this applied in agrarian preindustrial societies, however how might this apply for us today?
Next week we will begin a four-week series at the 10.00am service as we celebrate Creation with a visiting preacher from A Rocha who will talk about the what, why and how of becoming an Eco Church. There will be special liturgy and prayers, some new hymns (to familiar tunes), an interactive prayer station and special activities for children on the theme of the day.
For many of us the consequences of our action or inaction will not be in our lifetime, but that’s no reason for inactivity. If we imagine our favourite grandchild or great grandchild talking to their grandchild at the end of the century, the consequences become much closer - by then what will have been lost if we ignore God’s instruction to be stewards of his creation?
- 29 Sept Holy Communion “Caring for creation”
- 6 Oct Holy Communion “Harvest of hands & hope”
- 13 Oct Harvest Family Service “Growing, gratitude and generosity”
- 20 Oct Holy Communion “Creation, contentment and care"
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.