From the vicar
January 2021 New Year's Resolutions
I wonder how you feel about leaving 2020 behind and moving into 2021? Most of us probably feel glad and relieved to leave behind a year that has contained so little of what we would have chosen, and so much of what we would not have chosen. And we look with hope to a new year, and especially to a vaccine or vaccines that will protect our loved ones. And yet my heart sinks every time I hear comments about life ‘returning to normal,’ since it is life as ‘normal’ that caused this pandemic and that, scientists tell us, will make the next one inevitable unless we change.
Traditionally New Year, and particularly New Year resolutions are connected with change. If you are like me, New Year resolutions probably help you reconnect with your deepest longings about how you would like the world to be, or what sort of person you would like to be. But if you are like me, New Year resolutions may also remind you of just how difficult it can be to change ourselves, to change our attitudes and behaviours. And I believe, as the popular quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi says, that we must ‘be the change we wish to see in the world.’
As a small child, I used to make hopelessly ambitious New Year resolutions, that I invariably broke before January was out. Now I still make resolutions but they are an ongoing part of my life as a Christian. Christians talk of ‘discipleship’ as the process of things we do to try to help us become closer to the person God intends us to be, closer to being the very best person we can be. And the word ‘disciple’ means essentially ‘a learner.’ So I try to ensure my life is a continual process of learning more about how I impact the world, and a continual process of doing my part towards moving the world closer to my vision of how I believe God intends the world to be; a world where every living thing flourishes, where every creature lives in harmony with every other, and where no person, and no living creature, suffers fear or pain or exploitation. And yes, I still find it hard to change how I live, but my faith assures me that the effort is worth making, and the end result is worth striving for.
So my prayer for us all this year, is that we will find time to reflect on the change we would like to see in the world, and would find the courage and strength to work towards that better world.
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Christmas 2020 Emmanuel, God with us
This year, I keep hearing, ‘Christmas will be different.’ Undoubtedly those voices are right. Many across our nation will be painfully aware of loved faces that have fallen victim to our global pandemic, or who are unable to be with us because of vulnerability in various ways. Many will be working out who among family and friends they will be able to see, and who they won’t. And of course many will be struggling with poverty, caused by loss of jobs or security. But whenever I hear that ‘Christmas will be different this year,’ I find myself reflecting that every year there are those for whom Christmas is ‘different.’
This year, like every year, I like to find time during Advent to reflect on what, for me, makes Christmas ‘Christmas.’ And I like to reflect on things that have made Christmas special for me in the past. There are many things, but this year I again found myself remembering my time as a Street Pastor. Before moving back to Derbyshire, I was a member of Leicester City Centre Street Pastors for years. And one of my greatest blessings each Christmas was undoubtedly time spent with the homeless of Leicester. Each year they would teach me about the true spirit of Christmas. I remember numerous occasions sitting with homeless people while they spoke of the pain of being cold and hungry, and the far greater pain of being completely ignored by busy shoppers rushing about buying things they did not need. And of course, I remembered at these times that Jesus was born particularly to show God’s love for the poor and neglected.
I have so many special memories of the amazing people we met, and of incredible examples of generosity. I remember one year, a few days before Christmas, on a night when the temperature had fallen to about -12ºC, we gave a sleeping bag to a shivering girl in a shop doorway. Her face lit up with pure joy. ‘You’re so wonderful,’ she said, ‘Now I can give my blanket to X who doesn’t have one.’ My prayer for us all this Christmas is that we can all be touched, and shamed, and inspired, by her spirit of generosity, and can look with fresh eyes into that stable long ago, and see anew what really matters this Christmas.
November 2020 Remembering
In the Church of England’s calendar, November is a month for remembering. The month begins with All Saints’ and All Souls,’ traditionally dates to remember faithful believers who have gone before us, and our own loved ones who have died. Many churches hold All Souls’ services, where we can light candles for our loved ones and remember them together. Because of COVID, we have not been able to hold an All Souls’ service this year, but there are prayers and information on our A Church Near You webpages to guide you, if you wish, as you set aside a special time to remember your loved ones at home.
Then on the second Sunday in November, our churches join our nation in remembering those whose lives have been lost, or changed forever, by the tragedy of war and conflict. Again this year, Remembrance Sunday looks very different from our usual commemorations, but again there is information on our A Church Near You website to guide your remembrance at home, if you wish. For many of us this year, our remembrance both at All Souls and Remembrance Sunday, will include those affected by COVID, either those we know personally, or as we remember COVID’s impact nationally and globally.
Finally at the end of the month, just before the start of Advent, the Church of England celebrates Christ the King. This is the day when Christians celebrate that Christ was a King like no other, a King who came to show us how much God loves us all, and to teach us how to truly love too. A King who chose to die, because he would not take any action to hurt those who sought to kill him. A King who came to teach us that true greatness lies only in serving others, in seeking their well-being above all else.
For me, our celebration of Christ the King puts all our remembering into perspective. It is through Christ, my King, that the pain of human grief is eased as I remember God’s love for us is greater than both life and death, and nothing can separate us from God’s love. And it is through Christ, my King, that I believe Remembrance Sunday to have meaning only as an occasion for repentance for our part in all that causes division and conflict, and as a time to recommit ourselves to be those who always seek reconciliation. And I believe reconciliation to be worth working for, because I believe love to be the only power on earth that can overcome evil.