Christmas is just for Kids?!
“Christmas is just for kids!” said I, as I began my first sermon whilst training for ministry. I went on to explain, to the congregation I was on placement with, why this was not true, and exactly why Christmas is just as much for grown-ups, as for our children.
I don’t have a copy of that sermon any more, but I imagine explaining that the message of Christmas, the message of Incarnation, is of profound importance for all of humanity, and for all of time. We learn that God took on our humanity, that we might take on his divinity. It is this pivotal moment in salvation history that sets us free, free to receive eternal life, life in all its fullness. Here, then, is not a festival just for children but a festival that points forward, in a very serious way, to Easter and to Pentecost.
As I shook hands at the door at the end of that service, one of the lovely ladies who had made me feel very welcome in her church, said, “You’re so right, vicar, Christmas is just for kids.” At which I was flabbergasted – had she not listened to anything I had said in my 10-minute sermon?
On reflection, however, many years later and now a father of two, I understand. The lady who hadn’t listened to a word I had said in my sermon nonetheless had a point. Christmas is special for children, in a way that it simply isn’t special for grown-ups. Sharing Christmas with children makes Christmas special once again, in a way we struggle to achieve without them.
Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” What Jesus is trying to tell us is that we need to learn from how children see the world if we are to understand our faith and engage with our God. Or to put it another way, Christmas is for those who have not forgotten what it means to be a child of God.
So, as you prepare for the festive celebrations once again this year, give yourself permission to engage with Christmas as a child does: with eager anticipation, in awe and wonder, and with excitement and joy. And in all these things, may you experience His birth afresh, receiving all the blessings of our God, who shared in our humanity, that we might share in his divinity.
Yours in Christ,
Revd Canon Howard Gilbert.
As you read this letter preparations for Harvest Festival services will be taking place in churches across the country. Celebrations of Harvest in churches had their origins in Victorian times. Whilst Holy Trinity Amberley and Minchinhampton will be decorated with fruit and flowers our offerings of produce will be non-perishable. We will no longer be left with the conundrum of what to do with oversized courgettes and limp runner beans. Instead Stroud Foodbank and MARAH, the charity for homeless people in Stroud will benefit.
This year, though, I write in an unseasonably autumnal early September. Our summer has seen a very wet June, July and August interspersed by a few sweltering days of hot sunshine. Hurricane Dorian stalled over the Bahamas. The glaciers in Greenland are grey with pollution and melting at an unprecedented rate. Blue Planet has highlighted the extent of pollution in our oceans caused by plastic waste. Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old schoolgirl, are trying to raise awareness of the need to reduce our impact on the environment.
They are right to be concerned. Changing how we impact upon our environment seems a slow process. There was research on wind turbines in the 1970’s. Only now is wind power a significant source of electricity. It is ten years since I heard a talk saying that Christians should be vegetarians because raising animals for meat has a considerable impact on the environment.
If we, as individuals, do nothing, what will harvest be like as the children of Amberley, Minchinhampton and Beaudesert schools grow into adulthood? What will harvest be like for their children?
First we need to reflect on the story of the little boy and the starfish.
One day, after a storm, a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish washed up on the beach in the storm? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said...” I made a difference for that one.”
For future harvests to be as bountiful as they are today we all can make a difference if we wish, by making many little changes to how we live.
There is also a need to consider a more radical approach. In the Old Testament times there was a Sabbath (seventh) year over and above the weekly Sabbath. In this year the land was left fallow; nothing was sown or harvested (Leviticus 25). This was a dramatic approach to allowing the land to be fruitful for the next six years. As well as making small adjustments to how we live, are there one or two things that we can do radically differently that would have a significant impact on our world.
I hope that many of you will join us in celebrating Harvest and use this Festival to reflect on how we can ensure that future generations can enjoy bountiful Harvest Festivals
Reverend John Spiers
Celebrating Ordinary Time
As we pass from Eastertide into a long Summer of green altar frontals and vestments, and a series of ‘Ordinary Time’ readings working our way through the life of Jesus, many will see this as a wasted opportunity not to celebrate anything special over the Summer, and for many it will seem like these ‘green Sundays’ stretch on and on, until we eventually hit the ‘red Sundays’ of King- dom Season in November.
Easter on Facebook and by the Empty Tomb!
The Facebook post of a vicar friend of mine a couple of Easters ago read: ‘Tonight's heresy out of the blue from Lent group participant, “we don't believe that Jesus really died, do we?”
Me, trying not to fall off my chair, “Er, yes, I think we do.”’ Sometimes we find the incredible truth of the Easter story too much to believe. But then, if it weren’t too good to be true, it wouldn’t be worth believing in!
For me, Mary Magdalene is the one who brings me the truth, truth that comforts, truth that challenges, truth that sets us free. Much of what we think we know of her is false, but we do know that she was demon possessed, indeed as possessed as one could imagine, with seven demons, the Jewish symbolic number for a complete set. Jesus had exorcised them from her, and she had gone from being an outcast to being his follower.
Enemy of Apathy?
Over the last couple of years, this benefice has, no doubt, been pondering what kind of a benefice we are and what kind of clergy might best work with us. And at the heart of those questions we ask ourselves, what are the core values that are more important to us than all the others.
Similarly, I found myself in a “Rule of Life” workshop, where we were encouraged to consider our core and unchanging values, and then try to marry that up with how much of our time and energy we give to those values.
As I spent time contemplating, what was essentially my personal mission statement, I came up with five core values, one of which was John 10:10: I believe that our faith should be life-giving, that our time together in church, and our time spent taking Jesus out into the world, should be about joy, and re-creation.
In all of the above, I believe that the better we understand ourselves, and the better we understand what God made us for, the more we play our part in God’s breath-taking coming Kingdom; and I believe that the better we understand our parish, and God’s plan for us, the more joyful we will be in our mission and ministry. In other words, the truth shall set us free, free to enjoy eternal life – the abundant gift of life in all of its fulness that begins now. I have no doubt the future for us will be challenging but, if God is involved, it will also be Joyful!
If, on the other hand, we buy into the, oh so fashionable, cynicism of our generation, if we fail to be passionate about the core values that God places in our hearts, and if we fail to strive together for the coming Kingdom of God, then in our apathy, we can look forward to a bleak, monotone future…
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do, ‘
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
G A Studdert-Kennedy
January is the time of year for new beginnings and as tradition has it many of you will have made New Year’s resolutions all too soon to be broken. Now I am older and hopefully wiser I never make these resolutions, especially to start something rash such as a diet, because I know my will power is weak when it concerns what I eat. However, I do instead of giving up something try to make promises to do something extra in my life. This just seems like a more positive way forward to me.
How did the average citizen of Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia view the looming clouds of war in 1938. Twenty years earlier the war to end all wars had been fought and won by the combined efforts of Britain, France, Russia and America. There were over twenty million military and civilian casualties.
At events in our churches this year some of us will commemorate the end of the carnage that was the war to end all wars. On Sunday 11th November some of us will gather around war memorials and remember the dead of the two major conflicts of the last century as well as those killed in Korea, The Falkland’s, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
I am sitting here thinking to myself that I can’t believe we are in November already. Where has the year gone? We’ve had summer with its lush green growth and now we are entering again a season that is beginning to put itself to bed as our plants begin their dormant time in response to a lack of light and the change in temperature, leading into the impending winter months. The thoughts of hot lazy days of summer have disappeared from my memory.
However, the month of November is about remembering and it begins with All Saints when we remember with praise and gratitude all those who have gone before us on the pilgrimage of faith. Nowadays in many churches the season also includes 'All Souls' Day' or 'the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed', when we recall those we have known and loved but see no longer. This we will commemorate at our Memorial Service on Sunday 3rd November at 5.30pm in the Parish church at Minchinhampton. This is a very moving reflective service where the names of our loved ones whom have died are read out and then the opportunity is given to place a lighted candle for each of our loved ones in the shape of a cross. Very poignant in remembering. Please come along to the service where all are welcomed.
Then the following week is Remembrance Sunday when we remember the conflicts of our two World Wars and also the conflicts since then and the dreadful hostilities going on around us now. We remember those who lost their lives, those who suffered in the dreadful conditions of war and those who go on suffering today in the outbreaks of war and violence still present. It is our responsibility to remember them, to grieve and to acknowledge that they laid down their lives so that we might live in peace. God and we, will remember them. Please join the Parish Church and the Baptist Church for an Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial in the town centre on Sunday morning at 10.50am on the 10th November.
So, whatever the month of November holds for you, remember we should never forget the immense debt that we owe to the witnesses down the ages and may you find this month of remembrance a stepping stone into the Presence of God.
With love and best wishes
Who is the Church For?!
One Sunday morning at the 8 o’clock Eucharist, a few years ago now, I stood before a bleary- eyed churchwarden who had stayed up until 5am watching the Olympics! And I was reminded of the words of the Colorado ‘Adventure Rabbi’, Jamie Korngold, who wrote:
“... I realised that there are many rabbis who can serve the 30% of American Jews who are affiliated with congregations, but how many rabbis are reaching the 70% who are not a member of congregations? How many can relate to those who prefer skiing or hiking on Saturdays to attending the synagogue? How many rabbis are able to understand and accept those who say, “Running is my religion?”
There are two main choices for organised activities in this benefice on a Sunday morning: there is church, and there is sport; and on the whole, never the twain shall meet. But as we develop our new Diocesan Vision and consider ways of reaching out to a new generation in fresh ways, I wonder how we might engage with those whose idea of a good time isn’t trying to sit still for an hour in a beautiful old building? If the rector ran a Morning Prayer Spinning Class, or an Evening Prayer Walk in the Woods, I wonder if different kinds of people might be interested in accessing the love of God.
In this diocese we do have some good examples of churches re-imagining the traditional in fresh and exciting ways, but the rest of us need to realise that if we only build the church around those who are looking for the peace and beauty of the inherited church, then we will never offer the Gospel to the increasing numbers who are looking for something more.
Of course, innovation tends to be uncomfortable, as we know well in the Church of England, but as Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Yours in Christ,
Revd Canon Howard Gilbert, Rector
This letter is being written just after a rather chilly early May Bank Holiday. As Easter was late this year the contrast between a glorious warm Easter weekend and a chilly one two weeks later may have remained in our memories.
However we are now in June and, for most, Easter is a distant memory. After all a whole school term has gone by! But this is not so for Christians. We are still celebrating Easter and will do so until Pentecost which this year falls on Sunday 9th June. Easter is the most important celebration in the Christian calendar. On the Sundays after Easter Day the readings from the Bible in church are about the meetings which Jesus had with his followers and how they responded to seeing Jesus raised from the dead. Twice Jesus appeared to them when they were locked in a house frightened that they too may be hauled off to be tried by the authorities for being a follower of Jesus. These encounters continued until the day when Jesus returned to heaven, which is marked by the church on Ascension Day.
There is a film called ‘The World in Darkness’, about an archaeologist excavating in Jerusalem who claims to have found a body in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. He puts a mummified body on show – the corpse that apparently proves that Jesus had not risen from the dead.
The film then paints a picture of a world plunged into gloom – caring communities are disbanded and cathedrals are demolished. The world has ultimately become a less vibrant place without Christianity and it is as if the colour has drained from the richness of life’s tapestry. And then, finally, (Warning – Plot Spoiler!) the archaeologist on his deathbed confesses that he had lied to get famous, and that the tomb he discovered had been empty.
‘The World in Darkness’ illustrates that we should bring life, and life in all of its abundance to the world around us. Or to put it another way, the church should not (just) be about morals and values, but should bring life and colour and light to our community.
In a similar way we should ask ourselves, do our choices reflect a need to bring life and light to our community, or are our choices cynical and self-serving? I do find a lot of social media discourse is ultimately very demanding and judgemental.
To avoid being sucked into the temptation to be fashionably negative, we need to remember that the more we try to please ourselves the emptier we will feel, but the more we try and bring life to others, the more we will receive life, life in all its abundance.
May I wish you all a very holy and blessed Passiontide and Easter this year.
Yours in Christ,
The Revd Canon Howard Gilbert, Rector.
Children and the Body of Christ
As communion was distributed, an 8-year-old boy paid close attention. He was very interested in what was going on and started to take a wafer. His mother leaned over and told him that he was not old enough to be a part of Communion. Later, when the collection plate came by he ignored it. His mother again leaned over and this time tried to coax a coin out of him. He steadfastly refused, stating, “If I’m not old enough to eat, I’m not old enough to pay!”
Whilst this is amusing, it also carries a very serious message about attitudes that make children feel a part of the church, and attitudes that make them feel like unwanted guests at an adult activity.
Over my 9 years in Cirencester one of the things I am proudest of is how we brought the Good News of Jesus to young people. The church tends to look like those who run it, and so often that means it looks like a club where young people (and their children) don’t belong.
As a part of actively trying to make our church more welcoming to young people, each year I would prepare children to take First Holy Communion. Surprisingly for me, preparing children to become a full member of their church family, proved to be one of the most significant experiences of my ministry.
Many have questioned the wisdom of admitting children under the age of 12 to communion. I must confess that I had my doubts too, but each year, as these children first received the body of Christ, something special happened. The Holy Spirit blew through the whole church, and some of God’s precious children drew closer to Him, and became more intricately entwined in His body, the church.
When one is ordained, there is a tradition that people line up before the new priest to receive a first blessing from them. Each year, as we admitted children into receiving the body of Christ, I felt like asking for their blessing in the same way. They were especially blessed by God, and it was a special day for all of us who shared in God’s blessings through them.
One of the things I think we may learn from children and the Eucharist, is that being a Christian isn’t about logical comprehension or knowing things. It is actually about the simple desire to draw closer to God. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” I am greatly enriched by God’s little ones, who often receive the spirit in such a pure and simple way compared with us complicated grownups!
Fr. Howard Gilbert
I think we all enjoy receiving a gift to unwrap at Christmas. I include myself in this respect. The greatest gift I am given each Christmas is that, at least once at one of the Christmas services, I have the amazing experience of listening to, or even reading, the first few verses of John’s Gospel.
They are as follows:
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’
‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’