Faringdon’s Got Talent

Those of you who went to the WATSAN event on 25th November will know that I have been thinking about talent, and you would have been on the receiving end of culinary, sung and spoken examples from Faringdon’s talent pool.

We also saw other aspects of this pool at the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance that was organised (no pun intended) by Joy Blake with Faringdon Brass, the Ferndale Community Choir, Army Cadets, Yvonne Belcher, our town Mayor Councillor Dr Mike Wise and some stunning audio-visual compositions by Gordon Belcher.

But, of course, talk of talent makes me immediately think of Jesus’ parable of the Talents written in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In them Jesus told of the master commending his servants who had made good use of their gifts, saying that , because they’d been faithful, “in a few things” they’d be rewarded by being “put in charge of many things”.

Matthew and Luke’s stories, though basically parallel, do differ in some details but have essentially the same meaning. The phrase ‘faithful in a few things’ reminded me of the one used in Jesus’ parable about the wily steward that was our Gospel in mid September, when Jesus said , Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. (Lk 16:10).

The British Biblical scholar Dr James Moffatt translated this as: “He who is faithful with a trifle is also faithful with a large trust”,

But as I see it, I think he missed the point. Jesus is not saying, “because he is faithful with a little, therefore, in the future, he will be faithful with much”. What Jesus says is that this is a statement of present fact, that to be faithful with a little is to be truly, greatly, wholly faithful; it is to be faithful in much.

If we are faithful in little matters, that is what counts with God – it is the faithfulness that’s important, not the size of the task. Faithfulness is faithfulness, nothing more, nothing less.

“Well, Max”, I can hear someone saying, “this is just semantics, what difference does it make?” To my mind, it makes a very real difference that is relevant to many people today.

The parable of the Talents is used to teach that honest efforts, and hard work, will have their reward. That’s all very right and proper, and I’ve nothing to say against it. But this neat little bit of moral philosophy doesn’t always apply, and I’m sure it wasn’t what Jesus meant.

For example, I don’t think it applies to a large section of the community; what of the wives and mothers amongst us? What reward after years of faithful service? Surely we’re not suggesting they should have two homes to manage instead of one; or five, instead of two children to care for, saying, “You, who have been faithful in a few things shall now be rewarded by being put in charge of many things”, are we? There’s something to be said for a wife and a mother being made Prime Minister, if she’s got the appropriate skills, but what about the millions who will still be faithfully carrying out their daily tasks to the end of their days? Surely their reward is in their faithfulness, and it is of such as these that Jesus said, “Who is faithful in little things is faithful in much”.

It is faithfulness in small things that is so desperately needed today, not in order to get greater opportunities that may come as a reward, but for the love of true and honest work, and for the joy of serving others.

Most people think there’s not much they can do to shape and influence the great world issues of today. But don’t the great issues depend on individuals, and don’t individuals come from homes, schools, Churches, communities, where faithfulness in small things shows character even as it creates it?

Jesus didn’t say, “He who is faithful in matters that are the smallest will be faithful in greater ones” – anyone could have said that – he put the emphasis where it is so often forgotten, that to be faithful with a little is to be truly, greatly, wholly faithful; it is to be faithful in much. I hope this explanation of Jesus’ message will help and encourage those who are filling small places, and doing little things, with great faithfulness, and always will be. So, go to it, faithful talented Faringdonians! Have an expectant Advent, a joyous and happy Christmas and New Year, and an eye-opening Epiphany!

Max Young

Reunions make you think, don’t they

I’m writing this article having just returned from a reunion weekend in Romsey with three couples with whom I served in the Army. I’ve known them for 54 years in the case of the men and about 48 years for the ladies. We are all married with golden wedding anniversaries spread over the next five years and apart from a bit of hearing difficulty, we are all blessed with reasonable health. The thing that struck me was that although our career paths diverged, after the Army, we are all content with how our lives have panned out and respect the variety amongst us. We had much to talk about and our hosts had arranged an interesting itinerary – altogether it was a most enjoyable reunion – it’s my turn to host next year.

Our time together reminded me of a story of a reunion of past pupils of a school run by a religious order. One of the priests, who’d been abroad for years, returned for the reunion and found himself surrounded by a host of ex-pupils whom he hadn’t met since they left school. To an observer it would have been obvious that he was much loved and respected.

He had a natural graciousness that seemed to trigger an outpouring of the details of their post-school lives. There was an architect who’d built a number of public buildings, including two churches; a university professor who was the author of a number of learned books; the CEO of an international company; a highly successful farmer who used the most modern technology in improving his harvests; a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church; and the Principal of a famous public school.

What a pleasure it was for the old priest listening to all their impressive successes and achievements. It appeared that there wasn’t a failure among those who had returned for the reunion.

He didn’t say much as he listened to them, just nodded and smiled. When they’d done, he congratulated them on their achievements. Then, opening his arms to them he asked them, “And now, tell me what you have made of yourselves?”

There was a long silence. They didn’t really want to talk about themselves. It was clear that they’d been so absorbed in their careers, with their energies focused on efficiency and success, that they hadn’t the time to grow emotionally, and so, in terms of relationships, many of them were impoverished.

There are people who may have done great things in their public lives but failed in their private lives. Most people who are successful at their careers leave their personal lives a long way behind. Indeed, their successes are often achieved at the expense of their personal lives.

Do you remember how in the parable of the Talents the first two men were commended by Jesus because they used their talents, but he berated the third because he had buried his talent?

When Christ talked about talents, he wasn’t meaning say, a musical talent, or a footballing talent. Those talents are important, and full marks to those who have, develop, and use them. But nowadays they are, in my opinion, outrageously over-valued and over-rewarded. Christ’s parable goes a lot deeper. Ultimately the only thing that matters is what we make of ourselves.

But we’re wrong if we think it is about making something of ourselves in a materialistic sense, though this is not ruled out. The ‘wife of noble character’ mentioned in the final chapter of Proverbs could hardly be described as being either successful or famous. Yet she is held up as a model. Why? Because of the person she is – industrious, caring, wise and virtuous. She’s got something more valuable than wealth or beauty. She has a loving heart. She has put her talents at the service of her family, her neighbours, and the poor. And so she is respected by the whole community.

Life is God’s gift to us. What we do with life is our gift to God.

Max Young

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

The priesthood of all believers (2)

I had quite a few interesting conversations with people after last month’s article about the Priesthood of all believers. It seemed that quite a large percentage of people had always assumed a vast divide existed between clergy and laity that was only bridged by ordination. Not only that, there was an assumption that a much lower standard of character and conduct was acceptable for the laypeople who themselves, quite rightly, demanded the very highest standards from the clergy. I’m sorry, but that’s not on, laypeople and clergy are equally ‘priests of the Lord’, and should have the same high standards.

I hope that you agree! Now I will try to answer one of the questions I was asked, which was, “What is it that this ‘royal priesthood’ of clergy and laypeople are ordained to do?” Paul, in Romans 15,  speaks of himself as “Doing the priest-work of the Gospel.” But what is this priest-work?

In the Old Testament the priesthood was a body of people set apart for the service of God’s Sanctuary – to keep the sacred fire on the altar alight; to offer the daily sacrifice; to trim the golden candlestick and to renew the showbread. In a word, their primary duty was the maintenance of God’s worship.

In the Early Christian Church, as we read in the Book of the Acts, the Christian community is seen thinking of itself as “a royal priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Church maintained its priorities in the Breaking of the Bread, the prayers, and the gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. No doubt the Church preached the Word and ministered to the poor, but it saw itself principally as a society for worshipping God through Jesus Christ.

I think we sometimes have to remind ourselves in modern times, of the inseparable connection between priesthood and worship. Today there is a tendency is to make much of moral conduct and philanthropy, and to think that worship isn’t so important. We should be ‘decent’ people; kind to our neighbours and supporters of charities. As for worship, well it just doesn’t seem to appeal to some people. So we have become a nation that is largely non-worshipping – there are so many more appealing things to do with our Sundays!

Humanitarianism cannot take the place of worshipping God – the worship of the creature in place of the Creator – God has first claim on us, and as his priests, it is our appointed duty to “stand in his sanctuary.” It is, I think, obvious that, if the earliest Christians hadn’t seen their gathering together as their primary duty, the Church would have rapidly gone to pieces, and nothing more would ever have been heard of it.

Is the duty of Sunday worship just a mere matter of personal inclination?  What would have happened if the earliest Christians had regarded their priesthood in this way, and had felt no particular obligation to join in when the Church met for worship? Does it matter less now than it did then?

And if we accept and believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we must remember that the priesthood has always had a representative character. In Old Testament days, whether ‘the congregation of the people’ was there or not, the sacrifices were offered; the priests of the Lord kept watch in his sanctuary, and took their appointed place carrying out their priestly duties. Whatever the nation, Israel, did, the priesthood stood before God for them, and made offerings in their name, as their representatives. In the same way our Christian Faith reveals Jesus standing before the Mercy Seat and making his offering for us.

What we have to do is to think of ourselves as forming, collectively, the Church, the priestly body, God’s ministers, in a world which is alienated and estranged from God, as our modern world is becoming more and more – a world too ignorant of spiritual values, too neglectful, too careless, too absorbed in the feverish pursuit of amusement and of money, to offer God the worship which is his due.

The priesthood of all believers

Someone asked me about the meaning of this phrase – they had been commenting on how well the parish seemed to be proceeding in the interregnum and wondered if it was linked to those words.

Well, of course, it is! There’s a particular passage in Peter’s first letter in which he says, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

And remember the scene in the Upper Room after the resurrection when Jesus solemnly ordained, not just the Apostles, but the whole body of believers gathered in the room? He breathed on to them, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, and gave them the authority for the remission of sins. The details of that scene could never have been written unless it was a commonly accepted truth throughout the whole Church that the Lord had solemnly ordained the whole body of the faithful to exercise his ministry to the world.

There’s a definition of the Priesthood of All Believers that declares this means that every individual has direct access to God and shares the responsibility of ministering to other members of the community of believers.

The man who asked me about this implied that our interregnum had been made easy because we have access to a number of retired clergy to help with services. The success of our parish’s ministry during the interregnum – and I believe my fellow clergy would agree with me – has had a little to do with our input, but a great deal more to do with the work of our lay brothers and sisters.

We are all, as it were, ordained by the laying on of hands at our Confirmation – very similar in essence to the ordination of the Clergy – Confirmation could be considered as the ordination of the Layperson to their sacred office. It’s worth remembering also that the Church accepts as perfectly valid Holy Baptism administered in a proper form by a Layperson, in the unavoidable absence of the Parish Priest, or in a case of emergency.

And no celebration of the Holy Eucharist is valid without the presence of Laypeople whose “Amen” to the Prayer of Consecration is an essential part of the Celebration. The Celebrant acts on behalf of the whole body of the faithful who are present – in being, as it were, their mouth and hands. In addition, the preaching of God’s Word can be, and is, committed to laypeople, who, as Local Lay Ministers, share this very important work with the ordained Clergy; and when, at public worship, the Absolution is pronounced by the Priest or Minister, it is given in the name of the whole Church.

I hope this explanation helps to show that the Church recognises the Priesthood of all believers. The difference between Clergy and Laity is that although they share one Priesthood, there is a definite distinction between the office of the Priesthood and the office of the Laity; the former are people who have been authorised and empowered to perform special duties and offices in the priestly Body, on behalf of its members, such as teaching, administering the Sacraments, pronouncing the Absolution, and, (If they’re Bishops) confirming and ordaining.

It is a truth that the Layperson has a priesthood, which they share with the clergy, and that, in a very true sense – except in just one particular respect – the one is just as much a priest as the other.

Max Young

Realising our Prayers

I forget who it was that said “Prayer is always hard work”, but I’ve met quite a few people who were worried that they found it difficult to pray. In some ways I don’t think it was ever meant to be easy, as say picking up a phone that’s ringing and being put straight through to God. Like many things in our lives, it’s worth as much as the effort we put into it. Casual prayers, though sometimes rushed in the busy-ness of the morning, or repeated rather robotically in our tiredness as we go to bed, undoubtedly have a value, because they at least recognise that we depend on a Power beyond us. But to be frank, they’re  mere shadows of what prayer is, and of what it could mean to us if only we took the time and trouble to go for it seriously.

But the main difficulty, I think, isn’t in the saying of prayers, but the realising of them. What do I mean by that? Well, what a difference it would make if , as we pray, we could get some real feeling that there was a listening Presence around us that made us know that we weren’t just talking to ourselves.

We shouldn’t  be too tired or lazy to pray, as we so often are. We shouldn’t start with a massive weary sigh as we struggle to collect and concentrate our thoughts. And we shouldn’t end our prayer sessions with the horrible misgiving that the whole thing is just a meaningless, lifeless repetition of old familiar words, that we just say  without really believing that they’ll be heard or achieve any good.

But, sadly we don’t often perhaps get that sense of getting through to the unseen. Earthbound, we don’t seem able to lift our thought above the level of everyday life, to convince ourselves that there are any other realities or that the universe contains any state of life beyond our own. So we knock and knock at a door that never opens. We ask and ask, with no hope that we shall ever receive. We search  and get tired of searching, since it seems that we’ll never be able to find.

Now what’s the reason for that? To be honest, it may be all our own fault. Prayer isn’t often a disappointment if we take it seriously. But if we can only spare a couple of minutes for it, are we being serious? Do we really expect that we can snap our fingers and instantly switch off our thoughts, from the busyness of the lives we are living, and in the twinkling of an eye – possibly a very sleepy eye too – be aware of the glories of the spiritual world about us – aren’t we expecting too much? It takes a fair time to get to have a quiet mind and tune in to try, in an attitude of patient stillness, to listen for that voice that we so desperately want to hear answering us.

Even so, we may never seem to get through, as it were, to the other side. We do get through, but we may not be able to realise it. In that case, obviously, it’s no fault of ours. It only means that we are among those who are asked to have that greater faith – those promised that greater blessedness for believing without seeing.

It depends, I think, partly on the make-up of our personality. We may find that prayer is fairly easy for us and the realisation of the unseen is never very difficult. If we are by nature something of a mystic, if we’re artistic or musical, love poetry or drama, we may have that kind of make-up. But we may be very different – essentially practical, as many of us like to think we are – someone  who wastes no time in sentimentality or dreams, but who gets things done. If so, we will likely be useful in the world as it is, but possibly find it hard to pray. Our prayers are just as good as anybody else’s, but we’ll find it difficult to realise them.

We should remember, however, that we can’t choose the times when the clouds break and the sun comes shining through, but we can be ready for them, and I’m quite sure that prayer time isn’t the only time when we can get through to the unseen, or the unseen can get through to us. We may not have felt God near us then, but haven’t we felt something thrill within us when we, say, were walking down a country lane or by the sea; laughing happily with a friend or playing with a child; reading a book or sitting quietly alone with our thoughts? I have – have you?

If we’ve had that experience we can never say that we have not realised the Presence of God. The pity is that we are so slow to recognise it for what it is, to be thankful for it, and to wait eagerly, hopefully and reverently for the time when our personal clouds break and we shall feel the light and warmth of God’s Presence again. I pray that this happens in God’s good time for you.

Max Young

Some of a ‘young’ man’s thoughts in Spring

I don’t know about you, but I feel this Spring started in December last year when I saw primroses in bloom before Christmas! A whole range of shrubs and flowers have appeared much earlier than normal – a very confused magnolia grandiflora in Coach Lane flowered three times last year. Before Spring’s all over, I thought I’d better write about this glorious season, because it makes me think that God’s will is the same for all creation.

What on earth do I mean by that? Well, I think God’s will is the same for, say, the primrose and the daffodil, as it is for us. That is, to somehow bring something beautiful out, to ready us through the dark days of our lives for a good that we can’t predict, and to produce in us, in spite of all the difficulties we have to meet and contend with, or maybe perhaps through those very difficulties, the best that could possibly be. That’s quite a thought isn’t it? Someone once said that Mother Nature was God’s oldest evangelist, and she can preach a cracking good sermon, a sermon that speaks to us of courage, determination, patience and hope.

Go outside your home and spend some time contemplating the lovely things of springtime. Maybe because we pass them every day we miss their beauty and their meaning. Familiarity often breeds indifference. In my walks with Jennifer round our town’s streets, I feel blessed by God, and those hard-working gardeners, who provide us with so many lovely sights – we do try to let the gardeners know we appreciate the gardens they share with us.

We shouldn’t drive our cars blindly along country roads with an eye only on the speedometer or satnav. Let’s drive a bit slower and take in a bit more of our surroundings. Maybe we should try to stop for a minute or two by that copse over there, where in a few weeks we’ll be able to see the sheen of blue and breathe in lungfuls of perfumed bluebell air.

Stop somewhere, anywhere, where something of all this beauty is, and when you’ve stopped, think. Think with a reverence for this surrounding natural beauty and that will quietly bring us closer to our Creator God.

Think! Think about the great magic and variety of nature that we see and experience in springtime. We might suppose that primroses are lovely little things when we find them just dotted about here and there at the bottom of a hedge. But if they were the only flower there, it would be rather boring, wouldn’t it? The daffodil is beautiful too, but in quite a different way. And what about violets, or my favourite, harebells? They have an almost unique delicacy and gracefulness that are all their own. The glory of each flower is in being itself, in becoming perfectly what God designed it to be, and then in blending with all the other flowers into that great harmony of beauty which somehow includes and transcends them all.

And what about us? Does something similar apply to humans too? Well, to put it bluntly, if you’re a primrose, don’t worry because you’re not a daffodil. If you’re a daffodil, don’t wag your head condescendingly over the violet. We, you and I, are meant to be unique, each of us a new individual creation. We do ourselves no good at all if we waste our energy trying to be the spitting image of ‘celebs’ or ‘stars’, or try to reshape our bodies so that we are the wrinkle-free, ‘right’ proportion of flesh to fat with a well-defined ‘six-pack’ or ‘hour-glass’ figure.

I think human life is meant to be a blend – a blend of colours, a blend of varieties, a blend of individualities. The value of each doesn’t diminish, but is enhanced by the value of the others. Each one is different, but each adds to each just that little touch of human excellence that was lacking. All blend together into that great harmony of many separate chords that I’m sure is the symphony that is God’s will for human life.

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,

for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our sacrifice of praise.  FS Pierpoint

The Good Life is for Living

It’s sometimes said that one of the greatest wishes you can have for someone is that they should meet at least one really good man or woman during their lives.

It’s one thing to have heard or read about goodness, and quite another to have seen it. This is one of those cases where seeing really is believing. You know nothing about it until you have actually seen it.

We Christians believe in the Gospel – the story of what God did when he put on our flesh and became a man. Everything before this, from thinkers and prophets, had just been hearsay. The world waited for the Word made flesh – living and working on this actual earth and in the sight of those around Him. That at last was convincing enough and has haunted the minds of every generation since.

Jesus  wrote no books, and only fragments remain of what must have been His very long sermons. His way of life was proved not by arguing, but by living. That’s what He did.

I think what we want in the Churches today is not more theology. Sometimes, reading theological articles I ask myself whether or not the magic of Christ has slipped between the words and escaped. And the same is true of sermons, as I know only too well. Can you imagine how humiliating it is for me to do my very best and yet feel, at the end of the sermon, that I’ve made the beauty of holiness dull? It’s not always the preacher’s fault. They may have seen the amazing light somewhere, but they can’t bring it home in a net to share.

I imagine that our idea of God is made up from glimpses that we have had of human lives. I don’t mean that those lives were anything like perfect, but we caught a glint of the gold in the mud. That was enough. We can never disbelieve in gold again. Somehow it is there. And somehow it shines.

I have known people who were dead straight. Their eyes were straight, and their lives were straight. I have known others who were merciful – they didn’t add to the burdens of life or spend their time in pointing out my faults, rather they were gentle, forgiving and kind. And there were those who were brave – in an agony they would smile, lighting up the room or ward in which they lay – these unconquered ones did me good, when I wanted so much to do them good. In all of these people I caught a glimpse of that lovely thing that we call goodness.

That’s how, in my life, I’ve learned what goodness is. It’s like one of those composite portraits in which I can still see the individual faces of those who’ve taught me goodness, not by what they said, but by what they were.

Deeds speak louder than words – “What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” That’s an old saying, but the salty touch in it has preserved it all down the years.

The best legacy that we can leave to our fellow-men, including those whom we love the most, lies not in what we have, but in what we are. By what we are, we make it easier for them to believe in God or harder – sometimes so hard that faith has no chance at all.

Well, we can only do our best and that may not be so bad. But a glimpse or two of unselfishness and sacrifice, of patience and fortitude, of justice and mercy and love will be worth more than we can ever tell to those who know us. May a few of them, as the years carry us all on, remember us for that.

Max Young

Autumn

As another birthday approaches, a song from “The Yeomen of the Guard” reminds me that if you think of a life as though it’s like a year with its seasons, then I have definitely reached Autumn.

In my eighth decade I know that I have far more time behind me than I do in front. I see beauty in everything I look at, from the face of a baby to the beauty of the night sky. My perspective has changed. I now take time to look at what is around me, and I am much less disturbed by the things that used to upset me.  I’m less aggressive in many things like my driving or the way I react to the stupidity of some political decisions or in bureaucratic procedures. My family are getting more used (bored?) with me saying, “Will the world stop? No? Then relax.”

And having reached Autumn I don’t feel dispirited, partly because I have always loved this season. The brightly coloured leaves, the crisp cool mornings, the signs and celebrations of harvest, all give my morale a boost.

Nature has a particular loveliness when spring and summer are gone. So it’s not unreasonable to expect that in human nature something of the same beauty will be there when the days are drawing in and life is less active. I’m not thinking about faces, but there’s often a quiet kind of radiance in an old face that is so similar to the bright and eager faces of childhood and youth. I just wish that people nowadays let nature do her work unhindered. But we know not to ‘judge a book by its cover’. Nature may look to us as though she’s dying gracefully, but actually she’s very busy getting ready for the Spring.

So in my Autumn I can look back over my life and, and as it were, reap the harvest of my investment in time and effort in such things as family and friendships, as I see my children now grown, and grandchildren growing, and can celebrate such things as 50th anniversaries of graduations and other achievements.

Autumn too, is a season in which we don’t have the pests of spring and summer, things such as flies, mosquitoes, and rapidly growing weeds. And also it’s free from some of the problems of Spring – adolescence, when spots and acne made one so self-conscious and when peer-pressure quite often determined the people one could be seen with!

Hopefully, for you who are enjoying this Autumn maturity, you’ll tend to eliminate the trite and petty from your lives. Those of us at this stage know that life is too short to let personal vanity or the fickleness of public opinion deflect us from some of our daily joys.

And of course we mustn’t forget the harvest celebrations, a special time with family and friends when we pause to consider how blessed we are. This year we include in our celebrations the harvest brought about by the work of Charles, Jane and the boys. We hope that our work with them will also, in due course, bring about a harvest of its own in their lives. This Autumn in our lives should be the season for remembering and reflecting, a time to take pleasure in past and present abundance.

Of course, there is a chill in the air in autumn, a reminder that winter is not far away. Similarly, at this season we begin to face the fact of our own mortality. People, like leaves, die and turn to dust.

Yet with winter comes Christmas, and Christmas pre-echoes Easter. Yes, the flower fades and falls to the ground, but its seed will bloom again. And so autumn is a hopeful time.

The fact that death is approaching, when I shall leave this world, doesn’t fill me with dread. The anxiety that I see in my friends who have no faith, doesn’t exist for me. I don’t know what is to come, but I have faith in the belief that our Good Lord has some pleasant surprises for us beyond the threshold of our earthly lives. I find I draw confidence from Paul’s words, written in the Autumn of his life, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing”.(NIV)

The evidence for God’s existence and His active role in our lives can be seen in many ways. The beauty of autumn is just one of them. So, please, let’s not live our lives as those who believe in naturalism, chance, and survival of the fittest. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things [what you need in life] will be added to you.”

Max Young

Holidays – Time to “Still out”

Do you ever feel like Crocodile Dundee in New York, greeting people in the town and getting no response? People with their hand-held devices, headphones and that glazed expression, unseeing, inward-looking, on their faces? They ignore your cheerful “Good morning” and seemingly go through life with two of their senses switched off.

We complain so often, and rightly, that the pace of life nowadays is frantic and frenetic and everything is so noisy, isn’t it? But isn’t increased noise part of the price we pay for progress?

Take grass-cutting, I remember hearing the regular gentle swishing noise of ‘the Swinging Sisters’, as they wielded their bamboo poles cutting the grass in our camp in Malaysia. Cylinder mowers were next with their regular whirr-whirr, but then the modern petrol or electrically powered mowers with their own particular din, together with strimmers, hedge-trimmers, blowers and shredders that took the place of shears and rakes.

But then, don’t we like noise? Can we live without the radio on in the background, our I-pods and Musak and those car stereo systems that, when on full volume, seem to alter the car’s suspension? And don’t we like to appear busy – in constant contact by phone, e-mail and social media with our business colleagues or family members?

If there is a reduction in numbers of people attending Church services, I don’t think it’s because people have come to any reasoned conclusion against the Christian faith. Convinced sceptics, agnostics and atheists are a tiny minority. The real reason is that in the midst of all the hustle and bustle there’s no quiet space left for thinking out spiritual matters. God is just crowded out. We give ourselves no chance at all of knowing God, because we don’t, deliberately, allow time to be still.

Here we are, approaching the peak holiday time when we ought to be thinking of ways to recharge our batteries and relax – remember that phrase from Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God.”? It was originally aimed at Israel’s enemies, telling them to back off from attacking Israel and to realise that the God of Israel was the only true God to be worshipped by everybody. Nowadays we understand the phrase to be more of a command to us to emulate Elijah and go to a remote cave to find God, not in earthquake, wind and fire but in the still, small voice.

So, is your holiday going to be one at the end of which you’ll be looking forward to coming back to Faringdon’s normal life for a rest?

I do hope not! Jesus gave us all an example in making time to get away from the crowds to recharge his soul’s batteries in the presence of God. We too should do the same, whether it’s an hour at a service on a Sunday or a few minutes for prayer here and there in our normal day, set aside to spend solely with God, to give ourselves the chance to ‘hearken’ to that still small voice.

I used the word ‘hearken’ because my dictionary tells me it means, ‘to listen with compliance or sympathy,’ or, even better, ‘to listen as an eavesdropper.’ So please do give yourselves the chance to be really with-it in the holiday period, and thereafter, by ‘stilling-out’ and eavesdropping on God.

Max Young