IN PRAISE OF CHURCH BELLS

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This month, I am very much looking forward to our “Summer Concert & Abseiling from the Church Tower” weekend (Fri 3rd & Saturday 4th July) as we try to raise some money towards the restoration of our church bells. I know perfectly well that in the grand scheme of things there are many other things that are much more important and significant to people’s immediate welfare than church bells and I wouldn’t for one moment want to pretend otherwise – but equally, we in Britain have a great and grand tradition of ‘English’ church bell ringing (which is completely different to that done across Europe), not just for church services but at times of national significance and joyful celebration. Recently bells have been rung to celebrate various Royal occasions, the Olympics, and commemorate various anniversaries pertaining to both the first and second world wars. Not only are they our bells rung for Sunday services but they are also rung to celebrate weddings and other joyful events of people from our community. The bells therefore add another colour and facet to our daily life bringing us all together – and it would be such a shame if they were to fall silent just because we couldn’t afford to maintain them. So if you are one of those ‘brave souls’ who is prepared to jump off the tower and raise some funds for us on Saturday – thank you very much indeed! Or can I encourage you to sponsor those who are? I would also like to invite you to come to our ‘Summer Concert’ on Friday evening (7.30pm). It would be lovely to see you and your attendance really would be very much appreciated.

I’m sure that most of you will appreciate that for me as a clergyman, and as Rector of All Saints Necton, the bells are immensely symbolic, for they remind us that despite our busy and increasingly secular lives, there is still a place for God, both at the heart of our community and at significant times in our lives. God is there. He is always there, as represented by his church – not just in the bricks and mortar of our buildings, but in the hearts and minds of those who put their faith and trust in him. The bells are a call to worship, but they are also rung in celebration of his presence amongst us, even at the most difficult times in our lives. We may not always feel his presence, but fortunately faith is not based upon feeling, but upon our simple knowledge and understanding of him. The bells go on to remind us that God’s love for us both as individuals and as a community is not fickle, ‘here one moment and gone the next’, but like them, is constant, steadfast and enduring – and that has to be not only a comfort to many, but a cause for celebration.

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp

‘and surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ Matthew 28.20

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(If you would like to know more about All Saints Necton just click the link in the ‘Link List), 

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FLOODS, CHAOS AND A BEWILDERED HIPPOPOTAMUS

People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Tinatin Kiguradze)

It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad! The sight of a heavily sedated hippopotamus being herded along the streets of Tbilisi by a group of civilians in the wake of a major flood that has devastated the Georgian capital and smashed its city’s zoo, is extraordinary. Sadly thirteen people are known to have tragically lost their lives in the flooding, and the city’s police have subsequently come under intense scrutiny for appearing to cavalierly shoot the escaped animals rather than see them be recaptured. A wolf that was shot by police even though it had been safely sedated appears to undermine the official police reports that their only desire was to protect civilians. Between the flooding and police shootings, the zoo has lost over half its animals, with its owners begging that animals are only shot if there is direct evidence that they are a danger to people (like the white tiger which sadly killed a man). ‘Begi’, the Hippopotamus, having been safely returned to an elephant cage high above the flood waters appears to be one of the lucky ones.

This devastating loss of human and animal life, combined with all the mud, water and chaos, is reminiscent of the biblical story of Noah. Now, many will immediately dismiss this ‘fanciful story’ as myth and legend, treating it as either a lovely bedtime story for little children or as the inspiration for the latest fantasy movie. Most will not be aware that there are many other ‘flood story’ accounts (such as the Gilgamesh Epic) springing out of the Middle East which give credence to the possibility that an actual flood occurrence might be part of that region’s collective memory. Regardless of its cultural background, not many will consider the story as it actually is – as theology, considering what it might have to say to us about our human condition or the nature of God! The sombre beginning to the Noah story sets the scene; “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6.11). The situation is far removed from the state of perfection found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 & 2). The mere fact that God was prepared to ‘wipe the slate clean’ with such a catastrophic flood and start again shows just how devastating it was to him that the earth should be so painfully wicked. It’s an extreme situation requiring an extreme response. God’s own holiness demanded that he acted, but his love and mercy required that he should also save the penitent. So, in steps Noah, a righteous man given the task of building an Ark. But it’s not just his faith which is on display – it’s his obedience! Noah’s faith, trust and obedient actions lead him to produce the means by which a faithful remnant can be saved. The world is given a second chance through him. The hero of the Gilgamesh Epic closes the door upon his own boat, but in the story of Noah we are specifically told that it was God who ‘shut him in’, looking after, caring for and protecting Noah and his family. The seeds of salvation which ultimately come to fruition in the story of Jesus and his death upon the cross, are first sown for us here in the story of Noah.

Upon reflection, I’m not remotely saying that the situation in Georgia is a result of the people’s sin, but sometimes when we look at the state of the world and see how violent it can be at times – it’s not only ‘Begi’ the hippo who’s left utterly bewildered. But in the fight against wickedness, violence and corruption, we like God need to be prepared to see it for the dreadful evil that it truly is, trusting that with God’s help the loving and faithful actions of a few can make all the difference.

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp

‘But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Genesis 8.1