Thank you from Wendy & Steve

Wendy and I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who was involved in planning for my induction service and taking part in any way. We so grateful for the warm welcome we’ve received, for all your cards and many expressions of kindness and promises of prayer as we settle in to this new calling. Some fantastic work has been done by a dedicated band of folk who have worked so hard inside and out of the vicarage to prepare it for our coming, thank you for that labour of love which has been such an obvious sign of welcome.

Special thanks also to our churchwardens and the parish reps, not only for the great job they’ve done during the interregnum for also for the way they were so helpful in our initial discernment about coming. And I know how grateful everyone is to our dedicated ministry team and all who’ve worked alongside them in keeping on faithfully serving God through the work and witness of All Saints’ and St Mary’s during the interregnum, thank you for all you have done and continue to do in sharing the good news of Jesus.

Wendy and I look forward very much to getting to know you all and to settling in to this community. We’re delighted to be with you and we believe that God has good things in store for us to enjoy as we work together to connect new people with Jesus.

Our Priesthood

I was talking with someone in the Barber Rooms after Steve’s installation last month and we were trying to find a word that summarised our feelings – the service had been so uplifting and, to my mind, had illustrated very clearly that we ARE a priesthood of all believers (remember the last two articles I wrote in the magazine?).

From outside All Saints’ we were called by the bells, then inside we were greeted joyfully as we entered our church where it was so apparent that we were a very happy multi-talented crowd whose priesthood or ministry had worked so well during the inter-regnum and who were looking forward to continuing that priest-work with Steve and Wendy.

Well, the word that came to me to describe my feelings was ‘Hope’ – I felt that there was a feeling of confidence in the future of our work together under Steve’s leadership.

The Bishop and Steve were very clear that such work can only be effective by our efforts moving outwards from our church buildings to operate among the people of the two parishes. And one of the outstanding differences between the Christian priesthood and others is that in other religions the priesthood’s work is usually limited by the boundaries of the temple, shrine, sanctuary or holy place. It is concerned only with services, sacrifices and worship. No Israeli priest was expected to go amongst his fellow Jews to minister to them, to bring comfort, help or healing. No Buddhist or Hindu priest would dream of doing such a thing.

But we have a new kind of priesthood, one given to us by Jesus Christ. It is his own priesthood, as he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’.

He sent his disciples out to preach and heal, and told his church ‘to feed his sheep’. And in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, he showed the difference between the old priesthood and the new.

From its formation the Christian Church began to do what no other religious body had ever done before, and set up a ministry of teaching, helping, healing and shepherding amongst their neighbours.

I feel sure that the church’s success in winning over the hearts and minds of people was in a large part due to its pastoral ministry. This priesthood of the Christian Church – both clergy and laity – was a new phenomenon, and the success or failure of the church’s mission was, and is, a reflection of the degree to which its pastoral work is emphasised or neglected.

Today we have plenty of opportunities to exercise our individual priesthoods and it is heartening in Faringdon to see this work in action in so many aspects of our church life. Let us thank God for this and for all those amongst us whose personal examples in word and action are affecting for good the lives of those with whom they come in contact. This is truly priestly work and the scope for it is unlimited. By using our lives and abilities in almost any way in the service of Christ will fulfil our priesthood and help us to be worthy of the vocation to which we are all called.

Max Young

We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ . . .

In the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way; i.e. in a concrete or literal manner. But there are some truths which cannot be stated that way at all! Our language has to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. Indeed some of its statements are a mixture of the concreteliteral and the metaphor analogy! The very expression Jesus Son of God is just that.

Moreover, we have to acknowledge that this Creed, like the Bible itself, was compiled and written long before the scientific era of recent centuries and to-day’s world. It does not mean (as some claim) that modern science, biology, psychology, etc., or the latest historical study, disproves the biblical truths, or shakes the Creedal beliefs. Rather it means seeing and understanding all these great truths of Faith with, as it were, wider eyes and minds.

After all, these are (as I tried to show in the second article) all expressions of a great Creator’s mind. Bringing this way of doing theology to the study of God’s holy Word, and also to our holy Faith, using all that new disciplines and studies teach us, far from denying or changing this Faith, actually enhances and enriches it; giving it greater depth and meaning. Many great scientists, philosophers and historians, etc. strongly acknowledge and believe this.

We come then to this second crucial Creedal declaration which is about JESUS. We profess our faith in “One Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father”. It states that there is only ONE Lord Jesus! It means that there is only one sure and certain mediator between humankind and God; and between the whole cosmos and God. For we live in what the Bible calls a fallen world; marred, distorted and sadly spoilt by wrong doing, sin and evil. We have to acknowledge this with utter realism, when we think about the Cross and how Jesus died for us. We are affirming that Jesus is the only One who can bring about our most certain reconciliation with our Father God.

In Ephesians 4:5 St. Paul wrote: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all”. Jesus himself said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). In some way, whether in this world or the next, that truth has to be real for every single soul. There is no other way; no other philosophy or religion can do it adequately and completely! Does this mean that the other great world faiths like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, have nothing to teach us; and do not have meaningful understanding of God and genuine access to him? Certainly not! But it does mean that we believe the Christian faith can fully complete their differing paths, bringing a fullness of faith and enrichment. And always in humility, we must gratefully acknowledge the immense goodness and truth in them, and learn from them. We are all brothers and sisters in our humanity, and in God.

But why “the only Son of God”? Here again we are using very limited human language to describe supernatural divine nature. The Bible teaches us both in the Old Testament and supremely in the New, that every human person is made and meant to be a child of God; a son or daughter of our Father Creator. And that we don’t just know it, but live it fully and happily in his great love. So to make this absolutely possible and truly real, God actually came to live here amongst us.

The theologian and Bishop, Augustine of Hippo (in the 5th century) put it like this: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons of men might become the sons of God”. Nowadays we have to put it this way: The Son of God became the Son of Man, so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman, might become the sons and daughters of God. This means affirming what the Bible teaches in Genesis 1:27 that we are all made in the image of God; actually sharing something of his eternal divinity and nature. It also underlines the truth, stated earlier, that there is only One Sure Redeemer, One Sure Saviour.

In his life here amongst us Jesus is our perfect role model and representative; the one who by abundant grace, can help us be truly sons and daughters of our Father God. The writer to the Hebrews (12:2) put it like this: “looking to Jesus the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of our faith”. St Peter expressed it this way when it seems many were doubting or even rejecting Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life?” (John 6:68). Bishop Richard of Chichester, in a beautiful prayer, describes Jesus as Friend and Brother in heaven. How true!

Later we shall look at what it actually means to be both fully and truly human, and fully and truly divine, when in his incarnate life (taking our flesh) Jesus shared our earthly journey. We can only do this by carefully exploring that earthly life and ministry as portrayed so strongly and graciously in the holy Gospels.

Finally, the phrase describing Jesus as “eternally begotten of the Father”, is again using human analogy and language to convey a divine reality. To conceive, bear and beget children, is one of the most joyful and beautiful gifts of our human life. The children given to us are for this life only of course. In Heaven we shall all share the eternal life of another family, closer then to our Father God and Christ his Son.

The relationship between God the Father and God the Son is similar to our human ones, but for them it is a fully eternal union in a bond of holy and perfect Love. Hence our Creed uses the very poignant telling phrase eternally begotten. And it reminds us of the privilege and joy, yet huge responsibility, of bringing children into our world; and bringing them up, and how much we need the parenting God to help and guide us. Moreover as St. Paul and others remind us, it underlines the truth of our adoption, our sonship and daughtership, into the very being of the Godhead, and into the Church and family of Christ. (Note Romans 8:14-16 and Galatians 4:4-6).

Next time we shall look at the outstandingly beautiful and meaningful words that follow, describing Jesus as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”.

Now, while God’s gift of time, moves on;
And we, in this world’s space, cry out our spoken Creed.
So may our Faith flow out in prayer and generous love;
And God our Father evermore be praised,
In his true dear, and only Son, our Lord.
“Jesus, my Lord and my God”

Amen.

George Abell