Thy Kingdom Come

In 2016, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invited Anglican Christians throughout the world to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. They encouraged individuals and churches to make this prayer a focus in the time between Ascension and Pentecost, following the example of the disciples in the first two chapters of the New Testament book of Acts. At the start of Acts, we are reminded that, after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to “wait… for the promise of the Father”. Jesus had said that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit”.

The Archbishops’ initiative, called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, has gone beyond Anglicans and has been taken up by Christians of other traditions and denominations in 100 different countries around the world, with support from, among others, Pope Francis.

Today (30 May 2019) is Ascension Day when we hear the story of Jesus’ return to heaven. (I was talking to someone recently who remembers that when he was at school, they used to have trips out on Ascension Day – I don’t think that happens any more, although this year it falls in school holiday time.) Having watched Jesus ascend, the disciples return to Jerusalem and were ‘constantly devoting themselves to prayer’, waiting for the coming of the Spirit.

The promise of Jesus to the disciples was that

‘…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1.8

At Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), we see how that promise began to be fulfilled, with thousands hearing and responding to God’s message. In the rest of the book of Acts we read how the early church – including a reluctant convert named Saul – began to bear witness to Jesus ‘to the ends of the earth’, at least as far as Athens and Rome.

Eventually the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ – came to us, in Stretton, Appleton, and Appleton Thorn. The book of Acts doesn’t get quite this far: we need to tell our own stories of how the gospel was preached to us and how we responded to its invitation, and of how the Holy Spirit has led us to this point. And we need to pray for others to hear and respond – not simply to become churchgoers, but to experience the transforming power of God’s love.

The challenge is to think of five people you know, and to pray for them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. As you read these words, does anyone come to mind? A member of the family, a friend or neighbour, for whom you could commit to pray? Just a few minutes a day is all it takes! At its heart, we echo the prayer of the earliest church:

Come, Holy Spirit

Let your kingdom come

This year, Pentecost falls on Sunday 9 June. As well as our usual church services that day, there will be a united service for members of Bridgewater Churches Together at Hill Cliffe Baptist Church. The service starts at 6.00pm and all are welcome. (There will also be an evening service at St Matthew’s at 6.30pm that day which will provide an opportunity for us to pray together.)

On Sunday 16 June, the churches of the Great Budworth deanery are meeting for a service in the chapel at Arley Hall. In the past, this has taken the form of Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer, but on this occasion it will have a contemporary feel, using newer worship songs as well as some well-known traditional hymns. I have been asked to put the service together, so those who came to St Matthew’s on the evening of 26 May will have an idea of what we might be doing! Bring your own picnic to enjoy from 5.00pm: the service starts at 6.30pm.

Please set aside some time to pray for those you know to come to faith, and join us in prayer and worship: come Holy Spirit and let your kingdom come!

Alan Jewell

Jesus Walks on the Water

(Mark 6.47-end)

Along with turning water into wine and feeding the 5,000, the idea of walking on water is one of the best-known stories about Jesus. Although, I suspect that football fans who claim that their hero ‘walks on water’ might not know where that idea comes from.

The story takes place in the evening and through the night. Immediately before this, Jesus has fed the five thousand. In Matthew, Mark and John, these two stories also go together. (Luke doesn’t include it.) John’s gospel (6.1-25) tells us that Jesus realised that, after feeding the crowd, they wanted to make him king, and that is why Jesus beats a hasty retreat. In Mark, Jesus dismisses the crowd and goes up on the mountain to pray (6.45, 46) The disciples – never mind the crowds – don’t understand what sort of Messiah Jesus is, so he needs to get away from their inappropriate expectations, and try to persuade them that his is the way of service and suffering, not of whipping up populist mob mentality.

While Jesus is alone, the disciples are out on the lake (the Sea of Galilee), crossing to the other side and struggling with the conditions, battling with the wind and the waves. It’s early in the morning (between 3 and 6am) and Jesus comes towards them, walking on the lake.

The idea of Jesus walking on water is a striking image. The disciples think they have seen a ghost. They are terrified! Jesus has to speak to reassure them:

‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’.

In v48 we read that ‘He intended to pass them by’. It sounds as if Jesus did not mean to help them. Or maybe that’s just how it seemed to them. Or maybe this is to remind us of the story of Moses (Exodus 33.12-23) who saw God’s glory pass by. (Jesus comes alongside them.)

We saw in last week’s gospel (Mark 4.35-end), Jesus calming the storm, that the sea in the Hebrew mind, represents chaos and danger. (The Hebrew word of water – mayim – comes from a root – mem – meaning chaos. So, creation and the flood…) Here, Jesus has sent his disciples into chaos! (“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”) In the account of his stilling the storm, Jesus sleeps and castigates his disciples for their lack of faith. Here, he appears to be passing them by. But he gets into the boat and the wind ceased. Jesus brings order to the chaos.

I said last week that Jesus doesn’t promise to calm every storm in your life. But he does promise to calm you in the storms that surround you. We may say, with the disciples, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” We need to see Jesus walking towards us through the chaos, getting into the boat with us and saying:

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

 

Breakfast on the beach

John 21.1-19

How do you know you’re in the right religion? For me, it’s when Jesus says,

“Come and have breakfast.”
(John 21.12)

That’s my kind of religion! (Grilled sardines on the beach: what could be nicer?)

In his earthly ministry, Jesus had often eaten with his disciples and with others. Often with the wrong sort of others – the tax-collectors and sinners. Unlike John the Baptist, who lived as an ascetic, surviving on locusts and wild honey, Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:33-34; cf. Matthew 11:18-19).

We know what Jesus said and taught about God; how he proclaimed God’s love in word and deed; but we also know that what he did – including eating and drinking with sinners – was a demonstration of the hospitality of God. Who is this man that eats and drinks with sinners? Well, if he’s God, that tells us something about who God is. God welcomes sinners. And that’s good news.

All of this comes together in the accounts of the Last Supper. In John, we read that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, acting as their servant; in Matthew, Mark and Luke (and in 1 Corinthians 11.23-34), we have the institution of the eucharist: Jesus takes bread and wine (food and drink) and shares it with his disciples saying, “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. “Drink this…”

The risen Jesus is pictured eating with his disciples: on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple (Mrs Cleopas?) recognise him in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24.13-34). That’s followed by an appearance to the disciples in which Jesus eats fish. Again, I know I’m in the right religion: in that story, the risen Jesus asks, “Do you have anything to eat?” (Luke 24.41)

And here, in John’s gospel, Jesus, by the sea of Tiberias, arranges a barbecue of fish and bread for his friends. (Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday, if you’re thinking of something similar!)

After breakfast, Jesus speaks with Simon Peter. Some resurrection appearances are to individuals (like Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and in Acts, to Saul), some to groups. This account goes from an encounter with seven disciples to a one-to-one with Simon Peter. Simon, the fisherman, had been called to discipleship after a miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5.1-11). Jesus tells him “From now on you will be catching people” (v10). In this episode, Peter again recognises his Lord and responds to his call. The haul of fish probably represents the church that Peter and the others will establish. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, is given the opportunity, three times, to declare his love for Jesus. And he is given a job to do. He will feed and tend the Good Shepherd’s lambs and sheep. But he will also glorify God in his death.

Discipleship is a full-time commitment. It is not a hobby, an interest. It is a life lived as a follower of Jesus Christ. For Simon Peter, it was a literal call to give up his life. For us, we are to be a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12.1).

In our communion service, we hear the invitation of Jesus to come and eat and drink with him. We take bread and wine and remember him. We also hear again his call to discipleship. As a church we are to demonstrate the radical hospitality of God, to eat and drink with sinners. We are to feed and tend the sheep that the Good Shepherd calls to himself.

  • Do we today hear that call to be disciples of Jesus?
  • As a church, are we prepared to live the radical hospitality of God?
  • How do we best express our calling to tend and feed the Good Shepherd’s lambs and sheep?

How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place

I’m writing this having seen those terrible images of the fire which has ravaged the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Today there is aerial footage of the extent of the devastation but that doesn’t match the shock of watching video of the spire collapsing. Someone has commented that the last time the 850-year old building suffered major damage was during the French Revolution, and that it survived two world wars largely unscathed. 500 firefighters attended, risking their own lives in order to save what they could of the building. It was said to be within 15 to 30 minutes of complete destruction.

A priest, Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade, entered the building while the fire was raging in order to rescue precious relics held there.

And, bizarrely, while I am writing this, I answer the phone to someone from Lymm Fire Brigade. They want to arrange a visit to St Cross to arrange a safety inspection – today. I explain that it’s not a great time for me (it’s Holy Week) but hope that a churchwarden might be free to meet them.

The world’s reaction to the fire at Notre Dame has been swift and heartfelt. Pope Francis said:

Today we unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron said that Notre Dame would be rebuilt “more beautiful than ever”, hopefully within five years. “We can do it and we will come together,” he said. Billionaires and ordinary people around the world have pledged more than 5 million euros to support the rebuilding project, recognising that the cathedral is not just a house of religion, but a symbol of Paris and of France, and an icon that belongs to the world.

Others have expressed conflicting views: given the crisis we face over climate change and poverty, and the fact that people are still living with the consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which claimed over 70 lives, how can the world justify spending such a huge amount of money on a mere building?

In our own small way, we face similar questions with our churches. Like parishes up and down the country, we have buildings which are much loved and valued, but we find ourselves faced with having to fund repairs and maintenance from the pockets of small congregations of ageing worshippers. While we can’t claim anything to match Notre Dame’s history – Henry VI of England and Napoleon Bonaparte were crowned there, and its where Joan of Arc was beatified – we do have our own stories. St Cross and St Matthew’s are the places where people have been christened and married, and where loved ones are remembered. People come to us for a Christingle service or on Remembrance Sunday. They visit the churchyard on Mothering Sunday. They want us to be there for their grandchildren to have those experiences too. Our buildings are not essential: the early church met in people’s homes. But they do stand as a visible symbol of our commitment to be here for our community (not just the congregation).

At St Matthew’s we have just held our annual meeting. Questions were asked – rightly – about the gap between our income and expenditure, and the costs of repairs to the roof and stonework (amongst other things). We had just received the news that our faculty application – the permission to go ahead with the proposed development of the building – had been granted. But how can we go ahead with a building project when we don’t have the money to mend the roof or pay the bills without dipping into our ‘savings’?

The answer to that question lies in the vision we have for the church. Is it a building that merely needs to be kept open for diminishing numbers of the faithful? Or do we see ourselves as having something to offer our community? How does our building express our faith and the desire to be open to those who live locally but don’t often turn up for regular services? The proposed reordering is about making our building more inviting and accessible by improved access and better use of the space for welcome and hospitality. The Chancellor of the Diocese (His Honour Judge David Turner QC) had to look at our proposals and the objections that were made to them. His job is to consider the impact our plans will have on the building (given its listed status) and the possible benefits to the mission and worship of the church. In particular, he has to ensure that we do no harm to the building’s historical and architectural character.

The Chancellor concluded that

“the parish has, in my judgement, demonstrated clear and convincing justification for the changes proposed which is more than sufficient here to outweigh any minor architectural detriment. In most cases the changes will represent improvement.

In short, I have found the arguments for change persuasive here. These changes, I have no doubt, will better serve the ministry and mission of the church in the parish and area.”

So, we have permission to do the work. We now need the money and the will to proceed. We will be seeking grants for the project and fundraising (as we will for repairs). We need people to come together in support of our vision and mission; not just our regular worshippers but also the wider community.

Unlike Notre Dame, we don’t have billionaires queuing up to give us money. But we do have you. And that’s a great start!


Alan Jewell

Journey Into Light

Journey into Light Exhibition is coming to St Cross Church, Appleton Thorn and St Matthew’s Church, Stretton.

Journey Into Light – featured in the exhibition at St Matthew’s, Stretton

An exhibition of prisoners’ artwork will go on display at St Cross Church, Appleton Thorn and St Matthew’s Church, Stretton from 12th – 23rd March 2019. The exhibition is made up of more than 40 individual pieces of art produced by prisoners from HMP Styal and HMP Thorn Cross, Cheshire.

Titled, Journey into Light, the aim of the exhibition is to demonstrate to visitors that behind every prisoner’s conviction and sentence is a personal story of love, hope and loss. The exhibition is a partnership between local churches, the Diocese of Chester and chaplains from HMP Styal and HMP Thorn Cross who have worked with the prisoners to produce the pieces of art. The exhibits differ in style from large acrylic paintings, abstract landscapes, and self-portraits.

Debbie Dalby, Director of Social Responsibility at the Diocese of Chester, says: “We want people to view the exhibition and leave with a greater sense of empathy and awareness of prisoner experience. There is life beyond prison and we want to celebrate renewal and restoration and the hope of a brighter, more optimistic future.”

Both St Cross and St Matthew’s will be open to visitors on:

Tuesday 12 & 19th March 10am -12noon

Wednesday 13th & 20th March 2.30-4.30pm

Thursday 14th & 21st March 2.30-4.30pm

Friday 15th & 22nd March 3.00 – 4.30pm

Saturday 16th & 23rd March 1.00- 4.30pm

All welcome. Admission free.

Pressing On

Some years ago, I had a phone call from a parishioner. He worked for one of the utility companies and wanted to know if I could help him with the date of Easter. He was preparing for a meeting and needed to know when Easter would fall over a number of years as it has a bearing on the demand for electricity. There was no Google in those days, so I took down my copy of the Alternative Service Book (1980) and was able to find the information he was looking for. It’s not often that I am able to provide such a useful service!

The calculation which gives us the date of Easter each year is beyond my simple brain, but it has something to do with full moons and the vernal equinox. (Not the actual full moon or equinox, of course, but ecclesiastical ones… Don’t ask me!) I gather that Easter can fall on any date between 22 March and 25 April. This year, Easter Day is 21 April, which is fairly late.

It’s slightly easier to calculate the date of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting: it has to be held not later than 30 April each year. At St Matthew’s, this year’s meeting will be held in church after the morning service on Sunday 14 April. At St Cross, the meeting follows the service on 28 April. Anyone whose name is on the church’s electoral roll is entitled to attend the meeting and take part in its proceedings. It’s worth saying here that, if you wish to have your name entered on the roll for either church, you must fill in an application form. If you have been on the roll before, that doesn’t count as this is one of the years when a new roll is prepared, and your details will not be carried over. Application forms are available from either church and each church has an Electoral Roll officer: at St Matthew’s, it’s Richard Johnson and at St Cross it’s Sandra Bates. If you want further information, please ask.

You may wonder why you would want to have your name on the church electoral roll. There aren’t many benefits, it has to be said! But it is one way of declaring your faith. You are identifying yourself as a Christian who belongs to a particular Anglican church – St Matthew’s or St Cross in our case.

But the Church of England is not really a ‘membership’ organisation. Anyone who lives in the parish is a parishioner – not just those who go to church. Of course, baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the life of the Christian Church. If you are baptised, you become a member of the Church (the catholic – or worldwide – church, not just the Church of England). In Anglicanism, confirmation is usually seen as an opportunity to confirm your baptismal faith – particularly if you were baptised as an infant – and to have your faith confirmed by the Bishop. But, as a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said:

“The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

Having your name on the church electoral roll, taking part in its annual meeting, perhaps even putting your name forward to serve as a member of the Parochial Church Council or as a Churchwarden, are all ways in which we can serve our parish – including those who are not church members. At a time when church attendance is declining, and many organisations find their membership numbers falling, the importance of us identifying ourselves as Christians is crucial. I’m writing this before Lent, a time when many Christians look again at what it means to identify themselves with Jesus Christ, to walk in his footsteps in preparation for our celebration of the resurrection.

At our annual meetings – either side of Easter, this year – we long to see signs that our churches are alive, made of people who identify with Jesus, in his death and resurrection, knowing the power of his love. As we read in the letter to the Philippians:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Philippians 3:10-12

At your baptism, you were baptised into Christ Jesus, his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). In confirmation, you made a public commitment to the faith into which you were baptised. By joining the electoral roll, you identify yourself as an active, worshipping member of a particular congregation. And in all of this, we “press on” because Christ Jesus has made us his own.

I wish you well as you press on in your journey through Lent towards Easter!

Alan Jewell

The Christingle

I’m writing this on 2 January 2019, so, if I haven’t had chance to say so in person, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy new year.

Christmas in both churches was busy, as always, with nativities, carols and crib services. One of the highlights of the season, as usual, was the St Matthew’s School Christingle Service, held on the evening of Monday 17 December. The church was packed, and families were treated to the sight of children holding lighted candles, singing, “Like A Candle Flame”. It’s always very effective and memorable.

A number of people have asked when we were going to hold the St Matthew’s church Christingle service, as it is usually on one of the Sunday mornings in Advent (as it was at St Cross on the first Sunday in December). The answer is at 4:30 PM on Sunday 3 February. I thought I would use this article to explain some of the thinking behind this change.

The Christingle goes back to a children’s service held by the Moravian congregation of Marienborn, in Germany, on 20 December 1747. (The Moravian church is one of the oldest protestant denominations, with its roots in 15th Century Bohemia.) The minister, John de Watteville, read verses which the children of the church had written to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

He then explained to the children the happiness that had come to people through Jesus, “who has kindled in each little heart a flame which keeps burning to their joy and our happiness”.

To make the point even clearer, each child then received a little lighted wax candle, tied round with a red ribbon. The minister ended the service with this prayer, “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these children’s hearts, that theirs like Thine become”.

The account of that occasion concludes, “hereupon the children went full of joy with their lighted candles to their rooms and so went glad and happy to bed”.

No one is quite sure what the word ‘Christingle’ means but it may come from the German word for ‘Christ child’ (Christkind). The symbolism has developed from those simple candles wrapped with ribbon, so that today our Christingles usually consist of an orange (representing the world), with dried fruits or sweets (representing the fruits of the earth), wrapped in a red ribbon (the blood of Christ, shed out of love for the world), holding a candle symbolising Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12). (I understand that someone posted on Mumsnet.com an account of their bewilderment when their child came home from a church school with a satsuma, some cocktail sticks, sweets and raisins, and a candle. One commentator wondered what jelly babies stuck in oranges had to do with Jesus!)

In 1968, a Christingle service was held in the UK by John Pensom, as a fundraiser for the Children’s Society. The idea caught on, massively, and today many churches hold Christingle services, often in support of the Children’s Society. 2018, therefore, saw the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Christingle service to the UK by the Children’s Society.

The Children’s Society says that Christingle services can be held at any time from Advent to Candlemas, with Christmas Eve being particularly popular. The idea of Jesus as the Light of the World need not be restricted to Christmas, but, in the northern hemisphere at least, it works well in the dark winter months, reminding us of the love of God coming as light into our dark world. In the parish where I was Curate, we always held our Christingle service in January, close to the Feast of Epiphany (6 January), when the idea of the Light which had come into the world with the birth of Jesus, starting to reach out to the world with the wise men who followed a star to find him. My Rector took the view that, with was so much going on in December, holding the Christingle service in the new year took some of the pressure out of the Advent-Christmas build up, and gave something to look forward to in January.

The season of Epiphany takes us through to the start of February, when we mark the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as Candlemas. This takes place 40 days after Christmas day and brings us the story of how Jesus, as a baby, is taken into the Temple in accordance with his family’s religious tradition (Luke 2:22-39). While there, an old man named Simeon, whom the bible describes as “just and devout”, takes the child in his arms. Simeon had been promised that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. He recognises this child as the Lord’s Messiah and utters the words we know as the Nunc dimittis

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

This acknowledgment of Jesus as “a light to lighten the Gentiles” led to the tradition of candles being blessed in churches for the coming year. This year, we are marking Candlemas, not on 2 February, as this will be a Saturday, but on the nearest Sunday, which is the 3rd.

If you have followed my article to this point you will see that Candlemas could be the perfect time to hold a Christingle service in support of the Children’s Society – focussing on the story of Jesus, the child who is the Light of the World, and using our Christingle candles to remind us to take that Light out into the world. We also felt that it might work better as an evening service, rather than at 10:30 AM, so we have decided to use the 4:30 PM slot on Sunday 3 February.

I am hoping that it will be an enjoyable and memorable occasion and that the Children’s Society, a charity with Christian roots which works with vulnerable children and young people in Britain, will benefit from our support.

Please come and join us!

Alan Jewell