Friday, 21 July 2017

The Changing Flow of Life

I hope you have had a good summer! As I write this I’ve just returned from retreat with the Franciscan brothers at Alnmouth Friary. For four days I joined in the life of the friary, with long periods of silence, simple food, no heating, and very basic accommodation. I found it quite a challenge – it made me realise how used to my creature comforts I’ve become!
I did some walking whilst in Alnmouth and one walk took me a long way round to a headland just across the river from the village. Up until 1806 the river had flowed around the other side of the headland to the sea, and so the headland and the Church built on it were connected to the village. But one night a storm came, the river flooded and it changed its course, coming between the headland and the village, cutting it off from the village and leaving the Church isolated. As such, it had to be abandoned and a new Church built on the same side of the river as the village so the villagers could get to it. Today, just a cross on that headland, visible across the river, marks where the old Church used to be.
This story spoke to me about changes in our society that the Church needs to respond to. It used to be the case that most people would find themselves in Church every now and then just through the normal course of life – if nothing else through weddings, christenings and funerals, or at special times of year like Harvest, Easter and Christmas. There they would be reminded of the Christian message they had learned in childhood. But nowadays, you can get married anywhere, not just in Church; funerals are often at the crem, and we do fewer christenings. At special times of year we are ‘competing’ against a whole range of other activities taking place. Of course we work hard at putting on special services which will attract new people to come and hear a simple Christian message, and often new people say how surprised they are at how nice the Church is and what a good experience they had! This is a great compliment, but it shows us that people don’t know what Church is like – the natural ‘flow’ of life no longer brings them into Church. It didn’t happen overnight, like the Church in Alnmouth, but slowly those natural contacts in life that brought people to Church services have changed their course.
But all is not lost! We do have lots of natural contact with our community still! Every week lots of people do find themselves on Church premises – through our toddler groups, lunches group, fellowship and interest groups, children’s work and all the many things that happen. Our task is to find how we can bring more of the good news of Jesus to people who do naturally come to those groups. This fits with Strand 2 of our Church vision ‘Serving in a way that makes our faith visible – offering the chance to learn more’. As such, we are looking at ways that we can offer something which gives people the opportunity to find out about the Christian faith so they can decide for themselves if it is something they want to follow. For parents this might be, say, a parenting course based on Christian principles. For other folk it might be a Christian basics course, like ‘Alpha’ or ‘Start’. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but a number of folk will want to come. Do think and pray about if there is anyone who God is prompting you to invite. Why not come with them on the course? People are most likely to come if they come with a friend, and it does us all good to have a refresher some times!

We are very fortunate at St Luke’s to have contacts with so many local people through all our groups and activities. People who may be just waiting for an invitation to find out more about the faith that means so much to us. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Life giving water - wells and cafes

It’s summer time! As I write this we’ve been experiencing a heat wave, making us all throw open the windows, and dive for ice creams and cold drinks! 
In biblical times you couldn’t turn on a tap to get water – most people had to go out to the local well to collect water for the day in stone jars – as still happens in many African countries today. Because of this, each village’s well became a natural meeting point – a place where people would come and be refreshed from the water there, but also socialise and chat with others from their village. It was a place that travellers would naturally come to on their way to different places, and so it was a place where news and ideas could be passed on by them, and news received, to be taken on to other villages.
We often read about characters from the Old Testament going to wells, meeting people there – usually the people God wanted them to meet. Some even found their future wives or husbands there! Jesus too met people at wells, notably the Samaritan woman from John Chapter 4, whose story of finding ‘life-giving’ water through her encounter with Jesus is part of the inspiration for our Church Vision of ‘Offering living water’. 
I’ve recently been reading a book by Mark Batterson called ‘The Circle Maker’. It’s the story of a  Church in the USA, which, through many years of faithful prayer, built a thriving ministry in a busy part of the city. Mark argues that the modern equivalent of the well of Biblical times is the coffee shop! It’s a place where people will naturally gather to be refreshed, and to socialise – to meet with others and hear and pass on news and ideas. So as well as finding space to meet on Sunday, their Church built a coffee bar which became a cornerstone of the Church’s ministry in that city.

This is the hope for our coffee lounge in the new ‘Gateway’, that it will become a place where local people can gather, be refreshed and socialise. A place where we may meet the people that God wants us to meet. A place where good news can be passed on.  It’s only a part of the Gateway proposal, which we are hoping will be ready for Trustees to approve in September for the whole Church to see at the Autumn meeting. But our hope is that, like the Church in America, the coffee bar could be a big help to us in connecting with our local community and in ‘Offering Living Water’ to local people, as our vision says. 
From St Luke’s House July 2017
As I write this, we are expecting the imminent arrival, God willing, of our second grandchild. We’ll be praying for a safe delivery, and hoping to ‘hot-foot’ it down to London when we get the good news that the baby has been born.  My grandparents died before I was born – I never had the chance to know them, and so I thank God so much that I am able to know my grandchildren and hopefully be a part of their lives.
Have you ever been waiting in anticipation of some good news? With all that is currently taking place in the world we are in need of good news, whether that’s in our families if we have one, in our country or from further afield.
As we were clearing out the Church office the other week, I came across an old edition of the Bible which said ‘Good News for Modern Man’ on the cover. It was one of the first editions of the ‘Good News’ translation of the Bible when that came out in 1966 giving an easy to read translation for ordinary people to read for themselves – if you’re old enough you might remember them. We believe that the Bible really is good news for humankind (to use a more modern politically correct phrase!) and these small easy to read editions helped people to hear that good news for themselves. It is good news that the Father sent Jesus into our world so that we could know God again. It’s good news that Jesus took on himself the punishment for all our wrongdoings, so that we can be free of their consequences. It’s good news that Jesus overcame death and made it possible for us to have eternal life too. It’s good news too that he sends his Holy Spirit to guide us and help us to live life God’s way. It’s good news that we can call God Father and that he loves and accepts each one of us, not because we deserve it, but because he just does. 

Too often we take the good news of the Bible too much for granted, and we forget how fortunate we are that in all of these most important things Jesus has done all that is needed for us, even if we didn’t deserve it. We tend to let the little things get us down and lose sight of the big picture from God’s perspective. God really is on our side – he really does care for each and every one of us, and nothing can stop that. It really is good news!  

Sunday, 28 May 2017

From St Luke’s House Magazine article October 2016

Bonjour tout-le-monde!

I have just returned from a wonderful wedding in France! It was a privilege to be a part of this special day for our friends, and it was fascinating to see the different customs the French have. For instance, each car, as it arrived at the town hall, had to blow its horn long and loud, and then after the ceremony, drive a roundabout route to the reception in convoy, again blowing its horn!

The wedding reception was less formal than here, with no speeches, but with much singing. We sang a ‘Bon Appetit’ song, plus we serenaded the cheese course as it arrived! Tables of guests took it in turn to sing a French song, and then, as honoured visitors from the UK, Mandy and I were asked to sing a medley of Beatles songs, accompanied by a musician but without any words in front of us! The French obviously believe that all we English know the Beatles songs off by heart! But actually I found, once the music started, the words of the songs did just seem to come and I think we got away with it!

Isn’t this often the way with songs and hymns and carols, that we can remember their words for years and years when we have long forgotten other things? Somehow our brains seem to be ‘wired’ in a way that helps us to remember words set to music. John and Charles Wesley knew this, and made use of it to good effect in their writing of the hymns that we know and love so well. They used them to explain things about God in a way which would take root in our minds and be a foundation stone of our Christian belief for the rest of our lives.

Some hymns have a special meaning for us at different times in our lives, perhaps when they remind us of truths about God which we needed to hold on to, or when their message seems to fit our situation perfectly. On 16th October we will be holding another of our popular ‘Songs of Praise’ services at 11:30, so if you have a hymn or a song which has a special meaning for you, please send me a note about it and why it is important to you, and I’ll try to include it in that service.
Please do come along to the service and get a ticket for the meal afterwards - bring a friend if you can! It will be a great time to enjoy and to be reminded that God is with us through all the circumstances of our lives.

From St Luke’s House Magazine article September 2016

Recently I travelled to Canterbury for our son Jonathan’s graduation. It was a grand affair which took place in the Cathedral. All the students were dressed up in robes and mortar boards, and the University staff were in their finest for the occasion. I think the person reading out the names of all the graduates must have practiced hard at their pronunciation, as some of them seemed decidedly tricky!

An honorary degree was also awarded at the ceremony to an alumnus, Iva Daadler, who gave an interesting talk following the result of the EU referendum. He described the generation which the graduates represent as one which, instead of choosing left or right wing politics, will make the choice of being ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts where the apostles found that Holy Spirit was given by God not only to the Jewish nations, but to the Gentiles too – people from other nations apart from the Jews – people like us. That must have been quite a change of understanding for the Jews to move from thinking of themselves alone as God’s chosen people to accepting that salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit were being offered to people of all nations.

I’m glad that I don’t have to make the decisions about who should or shouldn’t be allowed residence in our country. But I guess we can all choose how we treat people of other nations who we meet. We can choose to be ‘open’ or ‘closed’ to new people. I think Jesus wants us to be open to people of other cultures and backgrounds. To learn from them and to tell them about our views and beliefs too. Differences of culture or ethnicity are not a barrier to Jesus. As Paul say in Galatians 3 In Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. The good news is good news for everyone, regardless of background, and so we needn’t be afraid of trying to show and to tell that good news to people of other nations whom we meet.

Rev Chris Stebbing