Church of England Diocese of York Howden with Barmby on the Marsh

Rector’s Vision for the Howden Team

12 Oct 2021, 6:30 a.m.

A Grace-filled therapeutic community in which all may find acceptance, value, growth and healing:

A Vision for the Howden Team.

Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ [Matthew 11.28-30 NRSV]

Across the Church of England, local churches are being encouraged to think about their essential values. We are encouraged to think beyond keeping the building standing (although that is an important task in itself) and think about why there ought to be a church there in the first place.

We finished a £1.2 million restoration project at Howden Minster in 2011 so the building had to be our focus for many years leading up to the completion. Now we are refocussing.

Jesus was a carpenter (or joiner) by trade but he didn’t construct a single church building. Think about that in a town where so many people work with wood. Jesus was concerned with the people he called, ‘the lost sheep of the House of Israel’. He sought out and accepted the rejected of society and then helped them grow and find healing.

I have heard too many local people say that if they came to church the roof would fall in on them. Not so long ago a woman came into the minster in tears. It was just before a funeral was due to start but her distress was nothing to do with the funeral. Hazel (the verger) invited her to sit quietly in the Lady Chapel until the service was over.

“Oh no,” she said, “I can’t go into the lady’s chapel because I’m no lady.”

Getting ready for the funeral, I decided that the bereaved family I was expecting had to be my priority and so I did not take the time talk to her that she needed. I let her down, reinforcing her sense of rejection by the church. I am glad that she felt able to come into the church to find some solace for her grief but I am saddened that she felt that she was only there on sufferance and would sooner or later be judged, moved on and rejected by the church.

Like her, too many people feel they will be judged and rejected by the church rather than finding there the acceptance, growth and healing that all of us need, each in our own unique way. Sadly, some of them have been given good reason to think that, often by the sort of Christians who consider themselves so much superior to everyone else, often claiming to do so on biblical grounds. Let me be blunt: such judgmentalism is not biblical.

Over the summer of 2017, Sunday by Sunday, churches read through the whole of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul teaches Christians that ALL OF US fall short of God’s standard of perfection; you, me. The archbishop, St Theresa of Calcutta…and everyone else you might care to imagine. It is through God’s free gift of Grace in Jesus Christ alone that we are reconciled to him. It’s no good arguing that some of us fall short by more or less than others or in different ways; Paul’s point is that ALL fall short and are in need of God’s Grace, however great and glorious we might like to think we are.

The proof of God’s love is the Cross. The next step is realising that God loves and accepts each one of us as we are.

“Just as I am, without one plea,” as the much-loved hymn has it.

God loves and accepts each one of us, but having accepted us, he doesn’t leave us there. Healing and growth should follow for every Christian and continues throughout out Christian lives. Lifelong learning is a Christian principle. Once we receive God’s unconditional acceptance, we can start to change into the people God wants us to be. Each one of us has unique gifts and a unique potential, a unique calling. It is only when we accept and value each other’s uniqueness that the church achieves its full potential. Without each other, we are incomplete.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ,” as Paul says in his Letter to the Galatians, chapter 6, verse 2.

I want the Howden Team Churches to be places where anyone can be valued and find acceptance, growth and healing. I’m not talking about the charlatan “faith-healers” who have such a bad reputation, often deservedly; still less about so called, “gay cures”, rightly condemned at a recent General Synod in York.

At its best, the Church can be a kind of Therapeutic Community. Therapeutic Communities are places where the members build one another up and assist in mutual flourishing. Jesus, the wounded healer, is in the midst of such Christian communities as our model and our guide. St Paul repeats this message again and again.

The healing that takes place in a church based Therapeutic Community is primarily about spiritual and emotional healing. Reconciliation (healing of community or relationships) is another important part of Christian mission. Physical healing is there too.

Can our local churches become Therapeutic Communities?

Can our churches become places where local people can find value, acceptance, growth and healing?

Can we bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ?

How will we have to change the life of our churches in order to do this?