Steve writes . . . The hope of the world?

The American church leader Bill Hybels has a memorable saying – that ‘the local church is the hope of the world’. The remarkable thing is that it’s true. At least it is when the local church is sharing the good news of Jesus and living it out in practical ways.

It’s always possible for us to lose our focus on Jesus and get bogged down on other issues, especially when we face large bills to just keep the building in good order (‘gutters’ is not my favourite word right now!). Add to that the fact that, over the last fifty years in the eyes of the general population, the church has moved from normative, to outdated, to marginalised, to irrelevant, and now among a small but significant sector – somewhat alien.

So it’s good to report that starting this month, I’ll be taking a small group from All Saints’ to the first two of a series of eight days (over the next year and a half) which are aimed reversing the negative sequence described above and leading us into fresh fruitfulness and growth. Our Area Bishop, Colin Fletcher, suggested we might like to do this course, which is aimed specifically at Market Town Churches. The diocese is so keen that we take part that it is paying some of the cost. We’re hopeful that Faringdon Baptists may also do the course.

A number of Market Town Churches, several from this diocese, will send a group of members to share in a ‘Learning Community’. This will enable us both to learn from others in similar situations as well as receiving input and coaching from leaders of the course, which is run by a group called ‘Lead Academy’. The sessions will look at Purpose and Vision, Culture, Discipleship and Mission. The aim is to help us develop a clear vision and strategy for God’s mission here and to enable barriers to growth to be removed.

Please pray for the first sessions on 22nd and 23rd March that our group may be inspired and enthused to share with the church the insights and possibilities we’ve been discovering. Perhaps the most direct answer to our prayers for the course would be that we see more evidence that our local church is proving to be the hope of this corner of the world in the new and life-changing ways that Jesus wants.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

Prayer Calendar for March

Please continue to pray for the life and work of our parishes

Wed 1st Ash Wednesday, beginning of Lent.
Thurs 2nd Mission of the Month – Faringdon Family Centre.
Fri 3rd Women’s World Day of Prayer.
Sat 4th Lynn Treneary in South Sudan, thanks for her health improvement.
Sun 5th Saints Alive today.
Mon 6th Lent Groups meeting this week.
Tues 7th The work of the Mustard Seed and Seekers Light.
Wed 8th Community activities in Faringdon and Little Coxwell.
Thurs 9th Choir practice this evening.
Fri 10th For all who help run our Churches.
Sat 11th Women’s Breakfast at Stanford-in-the-Vale.
Sun 12th United Service at Blessed Hugh this evening.
Mon 13th Lent Groups meeting this week.
Tues 14th Wardens, Vergers and Welcomers, Intercessors and Readers.
Wed 15th The Music Group practicing this evening.
Thurs 16th Work of Churches Together.
Fri 17th Magazine preparation this weekend.
Sat 18th Faringdon Fair Fare Fayre this morning; Quaker Day of Healing.
Sun 19th Families bringing children to baptism this morning.
Mon 20th Lent Groups meeting this week.
Tues 21st Bell ringers practicing each Monday evening.
Wed 22nd Continue to pray for Charles Draper and family.
Thurs 23rd All Churches in the Deanery.
Fri 24th For all involved in children’s and youth work at the Church.
Sat 25th Steve, Graham, Helen, Barbara, Dick, John, Max & Paul.
Sun 26th Mothering Sunday services this morning; Messy Church this afternoon.
Mon 27th Lent Groups meeting this week.
Tues 28th Bishop Steven Croft as he continues to tour the Diocese.
Wed 29th All who are ill, recently bereaved or in any other kind of need.
Thurs 30th For all refugees fleeing persecution.
Fri 31st Allsorts meeting this morning.

Meetings for Prayer in March

All Saints’ seeks to have an active and regular prayer ministry with a number of informal meetings during the month to which all are very welcome.

Thursday 2nd 9.00am Morning Prayer (Lower Asset Room)
Friday 3rd 7.40-8.30am Parish Prayers (20 Market Place)
Tuesday 7th 7.15-8.15pm Mission for Faringdon (Barber Rooms)
Thursday 9th 9.00am Morning Prayer (Lower Asset Room)
Friday 10th 7.40-8.30am Parish Prayers (20 Market Place)
Wednesday 15th 10.30-11.30am Prayer for CMS (8 Coach Lane)
Thursday 16th 9.00am Morning Prayer (Lower Asset Room)
Friday 17th 7.40-8.30am Parish Prayers (20 Market Place)
Friday 17th 8.00pm Prayer for the World (Call 240 509 for venue)
Thursday 23rd 9.00am Morning Prayer (Lower Asset Room)
Friday 24th 7.40-8.30am Parish Prayers (20 Market Place)
Thursday 30th 9.00am Morning Prayer (Lower Asset Room)
Friday 31st 7.40-8.30am Parish Prayers (20 Market Place)

For further details contact:

Mission for Faringdon (1st Tuesday evening):  241 975

CMS Prayer Group (3rd Wednesday morning):  243 388

Parish Prayers (Friday am) and
Prayer for the World (Friday pm):  240 509

Missions’ News

News from the Church Mission Society

This month’s copy had to be sent to the printers before the Tiddlywinks event took place. But you can see the results on the Barber Rooms notice board and our thanks to all who took part.

We give thanks to God that Lynn Treneary has recovered from her illness, mentioned last month, and has returned to Maridi in South Sudan. Though the College where she works and teaches English is still safe, there is no certainty of their continuing safety as fighting keeps breaking out in different places. She is always aware of this and feels that it is safest to correspond with us only through the Mission Society, so we have to wait to receive news. Lynn is going to try to send monthly news for our prayers.

As we reported last month, one of the requests for our prayers is the lack of available food in the country, with the result that many, especially the young children, are starving. Lynn has asked for help for two groups of people that she is trying to help. One is the widows and orphans from a tanker accident. Not far from them, two years ago, a tanker had an accident, the fuel spilled out and the local people rushed to collect what fuel they could collect. The lorry suddenly exploded and many men were killed. Their families are still facing starvation as food is expensive or unavailable.

Another group Lynn is hoping to help have been displaced in the last couple of weeks. There was recently an armed robbery in a village not all that far from Maridi. Three people were killed, including a soldier of one of the armies. The army retaliated, killing three people and they then burned the whole village to the ground and destroyed the borehole which had provided them with drinking water. 705 people have made their way to a church near Lynn, where they are sheltering under the trees without anything.

The churches in South Sudan are working hard to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to the two tribes, but it is hard when you see such hatred that people can do these things to each other. They need us all to pray always for God to work in the hearts and minds of these troubled people.

Lynn is working with the churches as well as teaching, and she is also working with, and bringing encouragement to the large numbers in the Mothers Union.

We still keep in touch with our previous Mission Partners, Liza and David Cooke. They have a home in Chichester and Liza has gone back to Kenya this month to help again with the distribution of the wheelchairs, this time at their own expense. This year the chairs are being given mostly to children, whose lives will be transformed as they are able to take part in village life for the first time.

We can all pray at home, but a small group of us meets monthly to pray specifically for requests sent from CMS. Jesus said, when two or three are gathered together, it is something special. We would love more to join us, if not every month, but when they can. If you feel that you could make this part of your work of mission in the world, do please phone Joan Plumptre,  243 388. We meet to pray on the 3rd Wednesday in each month from 10.30 to 11.30am, coffee at 10.00am!

Joan Plumptre

Retirement of Joy Blake

After 40 years’ of dedicated and much valued service at All Saints’ Joy Blake is retiring as our Organist and Choirmaster in April, when we will have the chance to thank her for all she has so willingly offered to God and His people here.

Prayer Ministry

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5: 14 -16)

Writing about healing, James 5 says that when someone is ill we should call for the church elders – here we would say “ministers” or “pastoral team”  – asking them to pray over, and to anoint the sick person with oil, believing that healing will follow. James also says “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed”.

At All Saints’ during the distribution of Communion at the 10.30am service we may if we wish, go to the Vestry* where two of the prayer ministry team will pray with us about anything that is on our hearts. Already we have listened to the Word of God, confessed our sins together and received forgiveness.

Though we can pray quietly in our pew or seat, the Vestry visit is an opportunity for others to pray with us and, if we wish, be anointed with oil, sharing whatever need we may have**. We may not want to share specific details but can still come in for prayer.

It might perhaps be a huge burden or anxiety that we are carrying. For some it may be concern about a friend or relative, worry about our own personal health or some difficult situation or relationship in our life.

Our Lord is concerned about every part of our lives: the interaction between body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit and our relationships with those around us.

Whatever the concern is, Jesus has promised us in Matthew 18:19-20 that: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”.

* The Vestry is on the left just after entering the Pye Chapel. If the curtain is open please come straight in – if closed please do wait, there are seats just outside.

** These conversations will remain confidential unless permission is given to share with a specific person or if it relates to a vulnerable adult/child protection issue in which case appropriate help would be sought.

Bridget Adams

Reading Revelation: 1st & 2nd Readings

In January 2017, both St Mary’s and All Saints’ were challenged to read the Book of Revelation four times before Easter. Graham Scott-Brown preached ‘the whole book’ to both churches and I have taken up the challenge and will, thanks to our editor’s kindness, provide outlines of how each reading goes – what stands out, what I missed before, what is reinforced, and how it leads to discovery.

We were advised to do two things in our readings: (1) read slowly and aloud, and (2) avoid getting bogged down in all the numbers that are strewn through the text and can easily distract. Hard though it will be, I will use no commentators on the book throughout my readings. I do all this not to parade my thin theology, or to enable others to avoid the challenge of four readings of the final book in the canon, but as an individual’s exploration to be shared and as a general encouragement in Bible reading – and to keep me true to the commitment undertaken.

First Reading, 31st  January 2017

As I have not read the book in its entirety before, much was a complete surprise. Prior to this, I was sort-of familiar with the first three chapters – the vision of Jesus and the letters to the seven churches – and the opening to chapter 21, beginning with “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. As I found out: that is not much to be going on with.

My current research focus is Eusebius, the influential author of the first history of the church, from its beginnings to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. He is quite vague on Revelation – ‘add the Book to the canon’, he says, ‘if appropriate’. My first go-through was against that background and immediately found such vagueness incomprehensible. The Book of Revelation seems much more of a “Marmite” question, rather than this shillyshallying. As Graham’s sermon indicated it might be, the reading produces an amazing impression of colour and movement, strangeness and terror, ending in the well-known images of the New Jerusalem.

The reading released my own imagination while at the same time showing how limited it is. Curiously, I was constantly reminded of the battle scenes in the books and films, Tolkien’s Ring trilogy and the Harry Potter series. Visually, both sets of films depend on the imagery that is created in Revelation: vast forces of good and evil in terrible, defining combat. For Frodo and Harry, the ‘good’ outcome is a desperate, last-throw moment against the evil that almost prevails: evil clearly loses but is left in such a condition as to be able to return at some future point and challenge for ultimate triumph. Perhaps that is inevitable in writing or filming a series.

Revelation was different for me in two ways. First, in the book, the outcome of God’s forces triumphing is utterly certain. Satan does not have the options of Sauron and Voldemort after defeat: he, his beasts and minions are hurled into everlasting torture. At that point, the rewards of heaven are showered on the martyrs and the Christians who have been true to Jesus. That inevitability is clearly and only because of Jesus and the victory he won for us all on the cross.

Secondly, neither J R R Tolkien nor J K Rowling suggest any confusion between the two ‘sides’: evil is transparently so and always does evil; good has its troubles and doubts but remains clearly on the side of the angels. But in Revelation, events happen at Heaven’s command that are themselves terrifying: here, angels are told, “Go, and empty the seven bowls of God’s anger over the earth” (16:2) is just one example.

I found this ‘Old Testament’ and troubling – and to be explored more deeply before the next reading in a couple of weeks. Maybe – just maybe – such events and images also disturbed my friend, Eusebius, 1700 years ago, so as to make him pause before recommending the Book as part of the canon. Let’s just hope he came to like Marmite.

Second Reading, 14th  February 2017

The Good News Bible was my text for reading aloud this time. Now I am all in favour of the Bible being as accessible to as many people as possible – what’s the point of Protestantism if not that? – but the use of more ordinary language does generally flatten the ‘extraordinary’ that is at the heart of Revelation.

For two reasons, I felt very close to my late father in this read-through. First, he was very strict in retiring after breakfast for his time of meditation. As one of five rowdy, naughty kids, this was the one time when not a one of us ever did anything to disturb him. His particular brand of Christianity was acutely conscious of the parallel world of the divine; archangels and heavenly beings were a subject of study for him. He continued that interest to the end of his days, dying at 92 in 2009.

Secondly, my two Rudolf Steiner Schools were both named after St Michael. At the bottom of the main stairs of one of them there was what we all assumed, being British, was a modern bas relief of St George slaying the dragon. In fact, every day at Dad’s choice of school, I passed the scene, largely unaware, of St Michael defeating Satan.

Even the Good News Bible cannot diminish all sense of the immensity of heaven as pictured, coloured, populated and moved with divine beings doing the will of Jesus, the Lamb and of God. Perhaps only an extraordinary imagination like William Blake’s – one of his painting of St Michael is pictured – can risk making permanent the images that swirl through the mind on reading Revelation.

But all of us are shifted, put off balance, set wondering, relieved that – at last, after terrible plagues and strange, sudden exterminations of a third of the earth, seas and sky and all of their living creatures – ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ are finally put in place. We are all invited: ‘Come, whoever is thirsty: accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it’ (22:17).

That invitation I missed on reading the first time and, by echoing the words of Jesus at the well (see John 4:13,14), answered my problem with the preceding ‘Old Testament’ retributive text. And there is hope that mankind will learn: the first woe (the Good News Bible, interestingly, has ‘horror’) visited upon us at the end of time leaves us unmoved, continuing worshipping idols and unrepentant (9:20-21).

By the second horror, we are shown to be terrified and praising the greatness of God (11:13). Compared to the vastness of forces at work across the book, this is a small movement but it warmed my heart.

John Milton has God say of mankind, as St Michael battles Satan in Paradise Lost, ‘I suspend their doom’. Of Revelation’s many messages, this time it was (again, in Milton’s words): ‘Remember, and fear to transgress’.

Peter Foot

Do You Feel ‘Up Against It’?

I was feeling pretty low at one point in January due to a variety of things – perhaps I had a slight case of Seasonally Affective Disorder, affected by the fog as it and life seemed to close around me. Anyway, I met a number of people who were also finding life a bit of a struggle for reasons that were far worse than mine, and knowing that seemed to jog me out of a rather introverted spell.

Thinking and praying for these people brought to mind one of those phrases to describe them as being people who were ‘up against it’. Like the foggy weather at the time the phrase lacks clarity. What is the ‘it’ that some people are up against? I don’t think that it’s life, because we have to deal with that every day. It can’t be God, or anything to do with the will of God, because if that was the case what could possibly save us from a final and irretrievable despair?

‘It’ must be a circumstance or a combination of circumstances that are on our minds that seems to haunt us, like an unseen enemy that’s trying to hurt us, physically, mentally or spiritually. We’re probably all aware, to some degree, of what that feels like but it’s not always easy to put into words.

Of course, we’re all individually very different and so we react to the challenge of being ‘up against it’ in very different ways. Some people seem to almost thrive on being ‘up against it’. They think about their situation as a challenge, a test of the stuff they’re made of. They refuse to be beaten, or if they are beaten they’ll jolly well go down fighting. This is the stuff that heroes and heroines are made of, those who throughout history faced pain, peril and hardship and stubbornly refused to give in, and in Harry Lauder’s words kept ‘right on to the end of the road.’

Some of us are not nearly as brave as the ‘bulldog breed’ and when we feel ‘up against it’, we get demoralised almost at once. We become out of sorts with everybody and are bitter and resentful that life isn’t as easy as we want it, so we tend, if we can, to find some way of escaping the challenge. If we know people like this, including ourselves, then we mustn’t be hard on them.

There are people like this who have tried hard and held their own for years. Then there came a breaking point, when, totally worn down, they felt they couldn’t go on. To meet people who are at this point, to see their unhappiness and hopelessness is one of the most tragic things I know.  What they need is not our contempt but our sympathy, not our indifference but our urgent help.

So, how can we help each other in an emergency of this kind? I think that if it’s ourselves we’ve categorized as ‘up against it’, we ought to be really certain that things are as we think they are – I mean, that they’re not something we’re imagining. When life looks dark, the explanation might be that we’ve put on dark glasses. It is quite possible to feel ‘up against it’ when all the time we’re only up against ourselves as I was in January.

But what about our faith? Where and how does that come in? It may well be that life seems too much for us, if we’ve only got our own resources to count on, but we’re devaluing our faith if we forget about our God and his power and his grace. God’s power isn’t a final resource,  that we only call up when everything else has fallen by the wayside. God’s grace represents the normal, everyday need of every one of us. Maybe it’s this that people forget – perhaps because God has been excluded from their daily lives and only when they are ‘in extremis’ do they remember that he is there beside them in the person of Jesus.

Quite possibly it may be the forgetfulness of this fact – with the neglect, for example, of daily prayer – that has brought us to where we are – ‘up against it’. If any of us have kept God out of our lives, can we wonder at our confusion and despair? Prayer is the threshold over which God steps to be in our spiritual home, to stand beside us and share and support all aspects of our lives – to change our attitude from “I’m up against it” to “We’re in this together”. Put out the welcome mat and open the door!

Max Young