Letter from Mary – June 2022

Dear Friends,

We will be celebrating the coming of the holy spirit at Pentecost next weekend – it follows ten days after Ascension. In Luke’s gospel we read that just before His Ascension Jesus said to his disciples “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.” After the very first Ascension Day the disciples were gathered with others in Jerusalem. There they were devoting themselves to prayer while they waited for the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, before they carried out Jesus’ instructions to spread the gospel throughout the world. They recognised their reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit.

During the time between Ascension and Pentecost the Archbishops ask us to join the global wave of prayer ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ calling all Christians to pray for more people to come to know the love and peace of Jesus Christ. Just as the disciples were reliant on the Holy Spirit so too are we – we are powerless in our own strength, but John reminds us in his gospel (John 14:16) “the Father…will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth”

On the 5th June we will also be celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee at a service in church followed by a BBQ and party afterwards, giving thanks for her 70 years of faithful service. Like the disciples, God is calling us to open our hearts and open our doors and to spread the gospel. We all have lots of opportunities to do this in our lives and by our prayers. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations offer us another opportunity to extend a radical invitation to everyone in our village and beyond to join us that morning. It gives us the chance to build relationships and be bold in our faith-sharing.

Though the Queen does not frequently publically refer to her faith in many of her Christmas messages she does talk of her personal relationship with Jesus and its importance in her life. Two such examples are: ‘Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.’ and “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace…is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.”

The Queen is an example to us all, she has led a life of faithful service in this country and beyond. Let us pray that our faith is reflected in our lives of service, love and care for others and for our world.

We also have the chance to get involved later this month in refugee week (20th-26th June)- Refugee Week’s vision is “for refugees and asylum seekers to be able to live safely within inclusive and resilient communities, where they can continue to make a valuable contribution.”

The theme being explored this year is ‘Healing’. “Healing means recovering from a painful experience or situation, so that we can continue to live. No-one understands this better than those who have lost their homes and had to build new lives from scratch. We have much to learn from refugees about holding onto hope when going on seems impossible…Those going through the asylum system also know that healing is an ongoing process, made harder by poverty, housing difficulties and the threat of being detained or deported.

There are many ways we can get involved, there are local organisations we can support. The new Nationality and Borders Bill is cruel legislation that will undoubtedly cause harm. Most of us want an asylum system that is fair, orderly and humane – there has been an outpouring of welcome shown to people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan. We can advocate for changes, that show refugees they can truly feel safe in our country. We need to act with care and compassion – as Christians we are reminded in the Letter to the Hebrews (13:1-3) to “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

May we who know the blessings God pours upon us, seek to be a blessing in the lives of others through love and service.

Mary

Letter from Barry – May 2022

Room with a View. Not.

Now here’s an absurd story that I recently came across.

Two men were long-term patients in the same hospital ward. The ward had only one window. One of the men was fit enough to prop himself up, so the nurses gave him the bed next to the window. The other man was mostly flat on his back all day. He therefore had to ask his neighbour what could be seen out of the window. The propped up patient described a park with a lake on which were ducks and a couple of swans. One day he described children playing football and on another the Spring flowers beginning to show through the borders of the lawns.

At first the bed-ridden patient was grateful for his friend’s vivid description of life outside the window. But as the weeks went by his gratitude gave place to jealousy. Why couldn’t the nurses swap the beds round once in a while to give him the chance to see the park, the birds, the kiddies and the flowers? After all, with help, he was capable of sitting up for a few minutes most days.

One night there was a kerfuffle on the ward. Doctors and nurses were scurrying to and fro. The curtains around the bed by the window were being opened and closed at regular intervals. By morning the bed was empty. The body removed. With almost indecent haste the other man asked if now he could be switched to the bed by the window. Somewhat reluctantly the nurses agreed to move him. The minute they left the ward the man painfully pushed himself up on one elbow and looked out of the window on to a blank wall.

On one level the story is, as I suggested at the outset, absurd. Taken literally it presents us with one rational and resentful man, and another man delightfully deluded. But that’s to miss the point. The story, of course, is really a parable about contrasting attitudes to life. Optimistic or pessimistic.
Half full or half empty. Sunny or sullen. There are those who look on the bright side and those whoseemostly doom and gloom.

They say life is what you make it. I don’t altogether go along with that. It seems to me that some people don’t get much of a chance to make much of life. Even so, there’s enough truth in the saying for us to know what it means. So may be that ‘absurd’ story is not so silly after all.

Barry Overend

Letter from Alastair – May 2022

Dear friends,

Our journey to Easter this year has been profoundly shaped by the war in Ukraine and so this year I want to think about how we view the story of Easter with conflict as our backdrop. The first Easter took place in the arena of occupation; separatist fighters were crucified either side of Jesus while the Jewish authorities were caught up with the realpolitik of first century Palestine.

The Easter story reminds us that life, death and redemption are always set in the midst of war. The Cross and resurrection of Jesus are the crucial plays in the most important cosmic battle in the whole of history; between good and evil, love and hate. Because of the cross, love and goodness will always win in the end, but it is a huge battle for them to gain the upper hand. We live in the in-between times when victory has been assured, but fighting is fierce and on-going. Jesus tells his disciples that at the end of time as we know it, he will usher in a new Kingdom, but until then the fight is on. As Christians we are called to dare to believe that hope is possible; that we have the wherewithal to pray and pronounce the healing and gracious resurrection presence of the Kingdom here and now, in enemy territory. That is the challenging adventure that Christians live in, wherever they live in the world. War and conflict are like volcanoes of hatred and evil erupting on the surface. In the face of such aggression, whether in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan or Ethiopia, acts of kindness, of sacrificial love might seem as pointless as the saviour dying on the cross. We may want to yell at Jesus and tell him to ask for his legions of angels to swoop down and banish the evil. We might feel a better solution is to follow in the footsteps of Peter who severs the ear of the temple guard, but Jesus tells us as he told Peter – that is not the way to true peace and reconciliation.

Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated for speaking up for the poor against a corrupt regime wrote “The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into farming tools.” Love is neither theoretical nor weak. According to Romero there is a violence to love. Not a violence that hurts others, but a violence that resists all that hurts people and stands up to the powers that exploit and destroy God’s beloved children. It is a violent passion that shouts, “No more! In the name of Christ, no more!”

It is vital for Christians to hold on to the fact that God’s way, his sacrificial way of love, will win out in the end. For Ukrainian Christians, as they pray fervently for peace, they understand that they are in the situation for the long haul. We may want to ask the question, why does God allow this to happen? I find people of little or no faith often want to ask that question precisely because they don’t believe in the God who seems to allow it to happen. We certainly want to ask God, where are you? But to think that the God who empties himself of power to come among us in the person of Jesus is inoculated to the suffering of his people is completely wrong. Jesus models that he is the absolute opposite to President Putin. He doesn’t force himself on the world in strength. He allows hatred to bubble up precisely because he gives us free will to take the right path or to make our own path. His reaction is an offensive of love. He sits with the child who has lost her parents, he inspires incredible acts of kindness from strangers, he is like the father who covers the body of his child as a shell lands on the house. He gives strength and courage to the weary so that they can keep going.

When we dare to hope, it is not a naïve optimism. The hope that Jesus’ friends are called to inhabit is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. In God’s economy, death is never the end, goodness and light are never defeated. At times it looks as though it has been, but Jesus draws us deeper and closer to him so that our hope builds. Christians are called to be hope-filled even when the superficial signs are not promising. Christians are called to be agents of hope, praying and acting for the Kingdom. When we follow God he leads us in his mission to be alongside the broken-hearted, to give sacrificially, to show kindness and generosity to the stranger. It rarely has a victorious look to it, but then neither does the man hanging limp on a cross. But ultimately the love of God wins and we are called to be the signs of that victory shining in the darkness and fractured nature of our world as we live as people of the resurrection.

Grace and Peace

Alastair

Letter from Ros – March 2022

Dear friends,

It is a privilege to be writing to you again as we approach Lent. What is your focus for the Lenten season? How will you prepare for celebrating Easter?

When I was a child I was aware that one of our neighbours always used to stop smoking during Lent. It was a practice that then stood him in good stead when later in life he developed heart disease and had to quit smoking for ever. This neighbour cultivated year on year self-discipline and managed to break, for a few weeks at least, the habit of smoking.

As we start into Lent what do you have mind?

One model for Lent is Jesus’ own experience of going into the wilderness after he was baptised by John the Baptist, his cousin, in the River Jordan. The gospels all record Jesus baptism but only the first three gospels record Jesus being led or driven into the wilderness where Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by the devil. The gospels then record how after this wilderness experience Jesus then began his public ministry. John’s gospel for some reason skips the 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.

Jim Crace wrote about Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness in his book ‘Quarantine’. Quarantine means 40 days. Crace’s book is not written from a Christian perspective so helps us look from a different perspective on Jesus’ wilderness sojourn. Remember too that Jesus frequently returned to the wilderness, away from people to pray and to meet with His Father. After Christianity was accepted by the Roman Empire women and men moved from their comfortable urban homes to live in the desert, to experience the challenge of a hostile environment as they had experienced before the official adoption of Christianity in the 4th century.

Desert fathers and mothers lived in caves, remote places away from creature comforts. They would encourage those looking for knowledge of God and themselves to ‘go to your cell and your cell will teach you’. Do we have a wilderness, a cell, a place of aloneness where we can go and meet with the Lord, where we can leave the comfort of home behind us, even for an hour or two and come back refreshed because we have met with the Lord, or wrestled with our demons. A cursory reading of the bible shows us the many experiences of God that happened in the desert. During Lent let us impose on ourselves some desert boundaries to our lives in order to make space in our lives to experience afresh the living God.

The gospels of Matthew and Luke give similar accounts of the three temptations experienced by Jesus. Satan was trying to get Jesus to follow his way, to turn from being his father’s son, God incarnate. We are similarly tempted to trust in ourselves or others rather than the Lord, to follow our own inclinations rather than God’s and to worship success, and other good things in life (even church!) rather than to worship the Lord from the very core of our being. The apostle Paul talks about ‘Jesus being tempted as we are tempted’ – the three temptations recorded in the gospel mirror the temptations what we as Christians face as we seek to follow the Lord in the context of our everyday lives.

At the Service of Baptism the one being baptised is signed with the cross on their forehead. They are encouraged to:

Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
against sin, the world and the devil,
and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.

Are we ready to carry on this fight during Lent, to take a hard look at ourselves and God and to meet afresh with the Lord. Lent not only helps us to refresh and refocus but to be renewed, ready to experience afresh the Easter narrative of death, resurrection and new life. The Lent groups are about stepping out of the boat and walking with Christ. Let us pray for each other as we travel through Lent towards Easter.

May you know the goodness of God during this season,
Ros.

Letter from Mary – February 2022

Dear Friends,

Despite the cold, wet and windy weather we have had lately, it is lovely to see that signs of spring are beginning to emerge. There are already signs in the garden of new growth: early snowdrops and crocuses are appearing, daffodil shoots are rising boldly up into the cold air, hopefully about to add a splash of colour to the ground. I’m sure they will be welcome sight for many, as they bring hope of the spring to come, of new beginnings, rebirth and better warmer weather.

On February 2nd the church celebrates the festival of Candlemas which is considered to be one of the oldest Christian festivals, it celebrates the light that comes to banish the darkness. Candlemas is half-way between the shortest day and the spring equinox, (so hopefully lighter nights are not far away)!! Some people also believe it can predict the weather for the rest of winter.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

Candlemas was the day when people brought all the candles to be used throughout the year to church to be blessed. They were asking God’s protection on their homes and families for the coming year. The lights of Candlemas were a reminder of the light of Christ shining in the darkness, bringing hope in the midst of uncertain times.

We are reminded at the beginning of John’s Gospel that Jesus came to be a light in the darkness of this world and to shine out as a sign of God’s presence among us. ‘ The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.’ (John 1: 9)

At Candlemas we reflect upon the presentation of Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the recognition by the elderly Simeon and Anna of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. When Simeon encounters Jesus he declares: ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ (Luke 2:29-32)

Candlemas offers us the opportunity to look back over these past weeks of Christmastide, giving thanks to God for the gift of his son. Simeon sees that the child is the light to enlighten the nations, his words reveal that Jesus is the Messiah of all of God’s people.

Later in February on Racial Justice Sunday we are called to engage in the righteous struggle for racial justice for all. The Bible has a lot to say about justice because as God’s Word, it reflects God’s heart for justice. It can be argued that we should love justice because God does! Racism and racial discrimination are justice issues because they deny basic human dignity to women and men who are made in the image of God. They assume all are not equal before God and are not part of God’s family. Paul reminds us in Colossians “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Showing us very clearly that we are all equal before God.

This year Racial Justice Sunday is focussing on the three ‘R’s’ remembering the importance of racial justice; reflecting on human diversity and thanking God for it; responding by working to end injustice, racism and ignorance through prayer and action.

The coming of spring brings with it hope and the promise of new opportunities. So in February, think about your hopes for the future and the new life and joys that may come.

May you be filled with Christ’s grace and blessings in the coming month,

Mary

Letter from Ros – Autumn 2021

Boldly go where no one has gone before….

The actor William Shatner who spoke these words as Captain James T Kirk in the Star Trek TV series has himself boldly gone where very few have one before by making a trip up into Space in Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule courtesy of Jeff Bezos.

Very few of us will have that some opportunity to go up into space but day by day, week by week we have opportunities to boldly go where no one has gone before. As Christians we are called into relationship with God and invited to be part of the Kingdom of God, to incarnate the presence of God in the communities we inhabit.

As we learn to listen to the Spirit of God, we will get an inkling of the life that we are called to live, the ‘good works that are prepared beforehand for us to do’ (Ephesians 2: 10). There are unique ways that we can demonstrate to those around us the presence of God. Not just by sharing our faith but by doing things that demonstrate our trust in God, our love for God.

There will be times when we have the sense that God is calling us to boldly go – not necessarily with a big fanfare as the Space Ship enterprise but in a quiet unassuming way to see a need and to have the courage to fulfil what we believe God is calling us to do.

When I was younger, we used to sing a chorus with the following words:
Be bold, be strong,
For the Lord your God is with you,
I am not afraid,
I am not dismayed,
Because I’m walking in faith and victory,
For the Lord your God is with you.

This was a song I and other young Christians sang to each other to encourage ourselves to trust in the Lord and to take that step into the unknown in our walk with the Lord. There are many examples in the Bible of men and women who boldly went during their daily lives. When I sing this chorus the Old Testament character Joshua comes to mind and the way he was encouraged to be strong and courageous (or brave) as he took over from Moses and lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.

Our opportunities to ‘boldly go’ can be such things as reaching out to others – to offer help, ask for help, to encourage, to sit down and get to know them. We can feel daunted and unequal to making the first move, but God wants to enable us and equip us to open our hearts to others, to listen to them, to help, to be a friend, to show God’s love in a difficult situation or to try and right a wrong. Whatever it is – a large or small matter – God wants to enable us to ‘boldly go’ and be his emissary, his presence in the mess and busyness of our daily lives.

Let’s ask the Lord where he wants us to ‘boldly go’ and believe that he will give us the words to speak, the courage to act in a way that brings life and light to the lives of those around us. Little things count and remember that we are often called to do small acts rather than big dramatic things. Small acts that demonstrate the presence of God to our communities.

May the Lord bless and direct us as we ‘boldly go’ in the days and weeks ahead.

Ros

Letter from Alastair – September 2021

More tea vicar?

In the final weeks of August we have entertained well over 150 people in the vicarage garden, hosting teas, community leaders and even a triple 18th birthday celebration and we still have a youth BBQ to come in early September. We have been regularly asking, more tea? Or more beer? I am not writing this to blow our own trumpet, but rather to celebrate the fact that we can finally meet up, especially in our gardens. It has been a tough 18 months but getting people together has done us all a world of good. Some folks have hardly been outside for months and even the Parish councillors commented that this was the first time they were meeting without the interface of a screen.

As we begin the road to normality it is important to give thanks for all we have managed to do in these last months. We have started singing in Church, we have been able to have refreshments outside after our services and weddings and baptisms have begun again. A great step towards normality occurred last Sunday when we were able to meet for worship in the park. Many members of our Church congregations met together, sang hymns and listened to some lovely tributes. It felt all the more special because we had not been able to meet for so long.

However, we are not just going back to the normality of before. To carry on the analogy, we will be offering some Earl Grey and maybe even some peppermint tea into the mix. Our worship will have many of the same ingredients but also have a fresh look as we move into September. If we have learnt anything over successive lockdowns, it is that we are just as much Church even when we cannot be in the building!

The 8 o’clock service will continue to offer worship for those wanting something quiet, reflective and traditional, although sometimes with a hint of spice! Then at 9.30 each Sunday, apart from the first Sunday of each month, there will be a new, informal multi-generational service called CONNECT which will be held at the Parish Centre. The time together will allow us all to experience God together focusing on our own preferred learning style. At 10.30 there will be a more traditional communion service in the Church building followed by coffee. On the first Sunday of each month there will be a 10 o’clock All-age service at St Mary’s called CONNECT TOGETHER which will combine modern and traditional styles of worship. In addition to the morning services, there will be a couple of evening services; a monthly healing service and a monthly modern worship service. And finally the mid-week communion service will move back to Thursday mornings, but at the slightly later time of 10.30.

I hope many of you will try one of our new services. There will be plenty of tea, but I hope you enjoy the new flavours. As always our services will be characterised by a warm welcome, supportive friendship, great hospitality and an opportunity to encounter God and one another. I hope to see you soon – you would be most welcome.

Alastair

Letter from Ros – July 2021

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your warm welcome – after 7 years living in Istanbul it was time to ‘come home’. By the time you read this letter I will have been home for about two months. I am living in a home that I have owned for 14 years but only lived in for 4 years. One chapter has closed and now it’s time for a new chapter living nearer to family and friends.

There is a sense that I can echo T S Eliot’s words (from Little Gidding Part V):
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Moving back to Istanbul was a time of exploration, of getting to spend time with Turkish friends, making new ones and being part of both a Turkish and English language Anglican Church. I am conscious that although I have returned to my home that a lot has changed in Burley and in UK which I am learning about as I unpack my shipment from Istanbul and settle back into life here again.

Over the last four years I have written a history of Christian women who have lived in what is now modern-day Turkey. Women who span the last 21 Centuries. I am in the process of publishing the English version on Amazon and will let you know when that is published. I embarked on this project knowing of a few well-known Christian women from the area. My book tells the story of about fifty-three women who have lived in what is now Turkey. In the first century, Turkey was known as Asia Minor and with other provinces was part of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire in York – his statute which is outside York Minster marks that fact. He eventually became sole Emperor and moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, a city we now know as Istanbul. He established his city in the fourth century and oversaw the Council of Nicaea that met at Constantine’s insistence, to clarify Christian belief. On most Sundays we say the Nicene Creed which was a product of that church council.

During the last few months I have enjoyed joining St Mary’s for Sunday services and after church coffee time by zoom. It has helped me get to know the church again and learn about your lives here. Thank you for welcoming me warmly to those zoom sessions.

I have enjoyed the teaching about prayer and intimacy with God. We all struggle with being intimate with God and the sermons based on John Eldridge’s ‘The Sacred Romance’ were a challenge to my way of knowing God. The Spanish mystics, in their desire for intimacy with God, were taken up with the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book, that describes the yearning of two lovers for each other. It is also a picture of our yearning for God and his desire to be known by us. One way of becoming more intimate with God is to learn to be silent in God’s presence. To set aside a couple of times a day when you sit in silence in the Lord’s presence. Learning to listen for his voice and to feel his presence with us. Start with just five minutes or less and gradually increase the time you spend in silence. I use a timer to tell me when my time is up – it saves paying more attention to the clock than to the Lord!

Someone shared with me the following parable about listening:

A young ruler is sent to the master to learn the basics of being a good ruler. The master sent the young man into the forest and tells him to return only when he can describe the sounds of the forest. When the young man returns, he describes the sounds of the birds, the crickets, the leaves rustling, the grass blowing, the bees buzzing and the sound of the wind in the forest. The master tells him to go to the forest again and listen to what else he can hear. For days, the young man sits silently in the forest listening to the sounds he heard before; then suddenly he begins to hear faint sounds unlike those he had heard before. The more carefully he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the youth. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

Quickly he returned to the master and reports what he heard, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard – the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” To which the master replies, “To hear the unheard is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler.”

This story can be applied to our desire to learn to listen to God. It takes time and intentionality to learn to listen and hear God. It is easy to give up and think we are getting nowhere but just by giving over a few minutes a day we can gradually learn to listen to and hear God speaking to us, meeting with us and reassuring us of his presence with us and with our world. The prophet Elijah met with God on Mount Horeb. He heard what the bible describes as ‘a sound of sheer silence’ (1 Kings 19:12). A dramatic encounter.

We are now in the long season of Trinity, with only the Feast of the Transfiguration, as a notable festival during this season. Trinity finishes with us celebrating ‘Christ the King’ on the last Sunday before advent. The liturgical colour is green – the leaves, the grass, the plants are green and the green shoots in spring indicate growth. I believe that it is good to see Trinity as a time of growth, perhaps in a way that we don’t during the other seasons of the year. A time of steady growth through the spring, summer and into the autumn. A time perhaps for some of us to grow in our experience and knowledge of God through learning to listen to God in silence.

May we have a growthful and exciting Trinity season as we listen and respond to ‘the sheer silence’.

Ros

Easter 2021

Dear Friends

I wonder what you have put your hope in this year. For most of us it has been an incredibly hard year and although we may remember some positive moments from last spring, where everything stopped, the sun shone, the birds sang and we clapped for the NHS on Thursday evenings, the reality of the hardship of this last year is immense. The separation from loved ones, the huge increase of mental ill-health and suicide rates, the economic turmoil not seen since the years after the second world war. Most of us in Burley have been incredibly fortunate and there have been some wonderful initiatives to support the vulnerable and strengthen our community, but no one has been immune from the detrimental effects of the pandemic. It is very important to acknowledge just how hard it has been and how our levels or resilience have been worn down.

I have to admit that there have been many times over the last 12 months when I have felt desolate and barren. I have allowed my perspective to be influenced by what I have seen and heard all around me. That spirit of death and diminishment has been literally spewing out of every media outlet continuously and I have often found it hard to hold steady when the spirit of uncertainty and fear has been so pervasive.

However, I have feen forced to ask, with the psalmist, where does my help come from? And the answer for Christians for 2000 years around the world has been and continues to be, Easter hope. Christians are called to be the people of all hopefulness because we know that death has been defeated and that God is more than able to bring resurrection out of the most traumatic and devastating of situations.

The Bible tells us that we can essentially live with one of two opposing worldviews. You can either live with hope in “the world”, where evil and darkness is always rampaging, where we try and fix the ever-increasing list of social ills in our own strength, relying on our good, but inadequate understanding of the universe and our part in it. Or we can live with hope in a “Kingdom perspective” where we put our trust in the creator of the universe, where we can allow our lives to be formed and transformed by Jesus Christ, the author of life and where our spirits can be inspired by His Holy Spirit. The key difference between people of these different worldviews is not moral but lies in the foundation of our hope.

Of course, I am not saying that only Christians can have hope! In fact, there is much in our human endeavour and courage, in our reaching out to others, that offers hope. But I would say that we are all able to access the divine spark which is part of our DNA; Christians believe that everyone is made in the image of God and therefore there is a rhythm of hope that we all can tap into. However, as a Christian, I know that Jesus has defeated the power of death and so I can live in a more intentional rhythmic participation with heaven. When things are going wrong, as they undoubtedly do, I know that God can and will intervene. I know that he can bring healing to those who are ill, peace to the worried, he can break the power of bondage to the addictive behaviours that many of us are seduced by. I also know that when I am feeling desolate and barren, that is not the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the world around me.

Paul, the writer of many of the letters in the New Testament, claimed that if the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t real then he would be a complete and utter fraud and our faith would be utterly futile. C S Lewis said something similar; “Christianity if false is of no importance and if it is true it is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

At St Mary’s, in collaboration with Love Burley, we are running an Alpha course starting on the 14th April. If you are wondering whether there is “more to life than this”, whether you have questions about Jesus, about his death or the power of his resurrection. Or if you want to know more about a worldview that gives you, not only hope for the world beyond death, but also a huge amount of hope here and now, come and join us on zoom for our taster session. This question is of infinite importance and most of us, if we are honest, have never really thought to ask it.

May I wish you a hope-filled, resurrection-inspired Easter

Alastair

Lent 2021

Dear Friends,

It is our deepest need as human beings to learn to live intimately with God – it is what we were made for. We learn from the opening chapters of the Bible that God created us to be in deep connection with Him and the metaphor used to describe this is walking together in the garden together (which has particular pathos at the current moment when we cannot properly walk together or visit one another’s gardens!). I often wish that my life was characterised by walking with God and talking with him about my dreams, my hopes, my desires and hearing his delight in me.

In the material world we live in, we invest a lot of time and money making sure things around us work to their peak performance and we buy insurance so that if problems occur, we can get them fixed. We can hear when our car is not working properly; there is a rattle here, a squeak there or a red light on the dash-board! If our boiler breaks down we have a service plan to get it sorted and if we feel unwell we know that we need to get checked out by a doctor (unless you are a man or a nurse in which case you will put it off!) But I wonder how much time or money we invest in making sure our spiritual lives are in tip top condition? The pandemic has made us all feel vulnerable in different ways, but one thing is certain; most of us feel significantly more anxious and our fuses are shorter than they used to be. But what do we do with that? Ultimately it is a matter of the soul (or spirit), the heart and we don’t really know who to go to in order to fix that. We are just generally out of touch with our soul and when a huge challenge overtakes us, like the trauma of the pandemic, we are lost. I am supposed to be in touch with my soul (as the vicar!) and yet I know for certain that I am just wishing time away; just get to the next school holiday or to the point where most vulnerable people are vaccinated… longing for Boris to say that we can meet together again!

And so we come to Lent. I would like to suggest that Lent is precisely the moment when we invest some time, energy and maybe even some money to look after our spiritual lives. It is a time to recover what it might look like to walk with God. It is spiritual detox. It is about recognising that some of the things we do every day, often without thinking, are so unhealthy for the soul. It is about really looking at our inner workings and being curious; that is making us anxious, why am I comfort eating, why am I obsessed about image or money or … (fill in the blank). It is not fundamentally about giving up chocolate or gin unless we are, in fact, addicted to those things. It is more about asking what is getting in the way of living a more balanced spiritually-healthy life? what is getting in the way of me feeding my spirit?

I think this year I want to encourage you to think carefully about intentionally adding something to your daily routine which will give you a spiritual boost. One thing I have found immensely helpful is the one-minute pause app developed by John Eldredge . It is simply an app on my phone that reminds me twice a day to have a 1, 3, 5 or 10 minute pause and use some reflective music and a prayer to introduce a sense of peace and serenity into my day. Why don’t you join our weekly prayer course on zoom on a Wednesday evening, or buy the accompanying book, Pete Greig’s “How to Pray.” Buy a Lent book that has a daily reading or a chapter for each week of Lent. Listen to some spiritual music, whether cathedral choirs or Hillsong worship music. I assure you that if you do that and give your heart and soul some self-care you will feel more peaceful, less anxious and more joyful as you go through Lent.

Alongside doing something positive, be mindful about what takes your focus each day and try and reduce the distractions. If you find yourself being sucked into hours of social media or endless WhatsApp conversations. If you watch/listen to the news several times a day. If you realise that your alcohol intake during lockdown has massively increased because it gives you comfort, then be more mindful and reduce it. For me, as well as being mindful about my chocolate and alcohol consumption, I have decided to stop sudoku. There is of course nothing wrong with sudoku, but I know that I am more likely to get lost in a sudoku puzzle than read a book. So I am going to hide my sudoku puzzles and prioritise reading through Lent and see how I feel at the end!

If we are made for a closer walk with God as I maintain, then intentionally thinking about how you are going to move through Lent will be a very valuable experience and will get you ready for the radical, explosive and amazing news of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

If you need any help or advice do feel free to contact me and do listen to our weekly service on the website www.burleyparishchurch.org.uk and check out our new podcasts. And of course, I would simply love you to join us for our weekly conversation and video about how to pray on a Wednesday evening. I certainly need that and I think you will find it really helpful too.

Bless you

Alastair