Patience Is A Virtue – Even In ‘Lockdown’

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Every Thursday evening my family and I, like many others, have stood outside our house clapping our hands, applauding the sterling work of the NHS whose doctors and nurses have been battling on the ‘front line’, looking after and caring for sick coronavirus patients. But over the weeks our appreciation has grown as we have become more aware (and thoughtful) of all those who are playing such a massive part at this difficult time, not just the doctors and nurses but all employees of the NHS; alongside care workers in care homes (the new and perhaps previously forgotten front line?); ‘key workers’ in so many various and different fields (supermarkets, schools, and utilities) and not forgetting the increasingly significant part played by funeral directors, whose own personal ‘risk’ is not inconsequential.

The panic buying of the first few weeks has been largely forgotten by the many acts of kindness that we have seen by members of the public as they look after and support one another, especially the vulnerable, at this difficult time. We have seen real acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice undertaken by those whose professionalism and dedication to public duty and care has put themselves at risk in the service of others. We remember especially all those doctors, nurses and care workers who have died, largely and inexplicably from the BAME community. All this has been coupled with massive acts of generosity as people have rallied to support one another and the NHS behind such inspirational figure heads as Captain Tom Moore.

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But of all the virtues we have witnessed there is one that seems to be in increasingly short supply (particularly in the media) and that is – patience! Despite being told from the outset that this crisis would be more like a marathon than a sprint, we were barely ‘locked down’ for a fortnight before the media started to ask as to when the lockdown might be lifted. This question gained momentum from business and opposition parties as the cost to business and the economy started to bite. In one sense these are natural questions to ask and no one underestimates the very real pain and uncertainty that people are feeling and experiencing. The costs and pain to peoples’ lives and livelihoods at this time is immense, and yet I would suggest that it is nothing compared to the pain of losing a loved one. For many life will go on, even if it is different, but once you have lost someone you can never get that life back! That’s why it is crucial that we all pay attention to the rate of infection (the ‘R’ number) and follow the government guidelines. Until we have ‘flattened the curve’ and this number becomes ‘1’ or ‘less than 1’ it would be irresponsible to lift the restrictions. The cost to the economy and people’s lives would be much, much worse if we allowed this rate to increase again – which it could easily and very rapidly do. At the time of writing 26,771 people have died of the coronavirus in the UK alone, a rise of 674 from the previous day. These are unprecedented numbers which is why we must hold on to our nerve and our courage! We must bravely hold on to our resolve and our dedication. We must continue to have faith, courage and patience! As tempting as it may be to return to work, to enjoy the sunshine and pick up our normal lives once again, we can’t until it is safe to do so. Neither can we allow the sacrifice of others to be wasted, nor destroy our hope for a better future.

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The Christian will be aware that Jesus also undertook a very long, arduous and painful journey towards the cross. The shadow of his looming death must have been a constant and fearful presence, and yet he bravely continued on, knowing that it would be the only way by which others might be saved. So, at this time of national crisis, let’s continue to embrace the path which is set out before us, doing so with the same love, resolve, determination and kind generosity of spirit – and let us be patient!  


4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            1 Corinthians 13.4,6-7


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Finding Common Ground After The Election!

It’s 12th December and I’m writing this letter on the day of the General Election! Although it may have been interesting to write after the Election and once the result is known, I thought that perhaps it might be fairer and more helpful to write a comment before we do so! Because it seems to me that one of the things that the election has drawn out and made clear is just how divided we are as a nation! It’s not just simply a case as to whether one voted Labour or Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Brexit or Green – the divisions in our society are much broader and deeper than that; whether one voted for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’; whether you be rich or poor; privileged or disadvantaged; old or young; male or female; employed or unemployed; from the north or the south; socially conservative or liberal; married or not – and all these things challenge and shape our perspective. Not only this but despite the fact that our parliamentary system isn’t supposed to be presidential, the focus was very much on personalities rather than policy – with some of the language used being vile and abusive. So where can we find unity and how can we develop trust?

It’s interesting to note that the BBC wrote an article entitled Crossing Divides – What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation, in an attempt to find and construct a new sense of unity, being:

1. Being faithful to our partners
2. The principle of equal pay
3. Viewing a woman’s role as no longer in the home
4. Seeing gay relationships as “not wrong at all”
5. Supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion
6. Trusting science and scientists
7. Believing in the NHS
8. Believing the Royal Family is important
9. Thinking climate change is at least partly caused by humans
10. Loving David Attenborough, health charities, Heinz, Lego, Google Maps and Malteasers

Whilst the majority of Britain’s may agree with some of these attitudes, it only takes a moment to appreciate that not everyone will agree with all of them, particularly those of a more traditional, socially conservative or religious persuasion. Perhaps in truth this list reflects more of a ‘wish list’ held by those who run the BBC.

For as John Stevens an online commentator observes ‘unity cannot be established or maintained on the basis of values and attitudes that do not in fact capture the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the people’ and I would like to add that it cannot be imposed upon us either.

The Christian will immediately recognise that what we need is a higher narrative, something that looks beyond our immediate, narrow and somewhat self-absorbed (and perhaps selfish) perspective and gives us a new standard and guide to live by, something that transforms our hearts and minds for the better. No one is saying that the Church is perfect or that it can’t ever make mistakes or disagree, but it does have a larger vision than that presented by party politics and a common framework by which it can promote reconciliation and encourage unity and trust within itself and the wider community. A kinder, gentler politics always has to begin with us as we try to serve one another in the loving manner that Christ served us, and I’d like to encourage you all to give it a try.

May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful new year.


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3.5-6


 

Follow That Star!

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We used to talk about the ‘stars of stage and screen’ but in today’s celebrity culture the definition of who is ‘a star’ and what makes ‘a star’ has broadened to cover almost every type of entertainment and eventuality – because the traditional categories of Pop Star, Rock Star and Film Star have been joined by Social Media and Reality TV stars (and more besides), all trying to capture our attention and their fleeting five minutes of fame and fortune – especially around Christmas. In fact, it could be argued that we have so many celebrity ‘stars’ that the term has somewhat lost its impact. But Christmas provides us with an opportunity to step outside of the noisy razzmatazz of the entertainment industry and focus once again upon the true meaning of Christmas and upon someone whose significance and stardom never fades – and that is of course Jesus of Nazareth whose birth we celebrate and who Christians believe is the incarnate ‘Son of God’; ‘the eternal word made flesh’; ‘the Saviour of the World’.

At first glance, the casual observer wouldn’t have thought that his birth was anything remarkable, a simple child born into poverty with two loving but very humble parents, but for those with the eyes to see, his birth was not only remarkable, but completely astonishing and highly significant as demonstrated by the train of visitors who came to see him; first shepherds and then ‘kings’ or more accurately Magi, ‘wise men from the East’ who had been drawn to his birth place by the appearance of a STAR!

Now perhaps we are so familiar with the nativity story that we tend to think we know it, and so it is only too easy to overlook the significance of these special visitors. Ever since the time of King David, Israel’s Kings thought of themselves to be like ‘shepherds’ as he was and so the appearance of the Shepherds at the manger was highly symbolic of his royal pedigree. Likewise the appearance of a star was deemed to be the fulfilment of ancient prophecy heralding God’s anointed; ‘a star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel’ (Numbers 24.17). Strangely, even in Roman Culture a star signified divine status as demonstrated by the fact that when a ‘wandering star’ appeared after the death of Julius Caesar it was believed to signify his deification – a star symbol thus being engraved upon imperial coins. So what with the anointing of Jewish thought and the divine ruler from Roman thought, there is a double significance here!

But this is not the end of the story because later Jesus would describe himself as ‘the bright Morning Star’ of Revelation 22.16. His Kingdom and his stardom never ends!

So this Christmas, may I encourage you to reflect once again upon the Christmas story and to ‘follow the star’ as you consider just who Jesus is and embrace the eternal nature of God’s love and peace for you and your family this Christmas.

May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

#followthestar


“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony …. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Revelation 22.16


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It’s All A Matter Of Perspective: The Norwich Cathedral Helter Skelter

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For ten days or so in August, it appeared that Brexit was not the only topic to divide national opinion but whether the decision to install a helter skelter within the Nave of Norwich Cathedral was really a good or a bad idea! Certainly, The Dean, The Very Revd Jane Hedges, appeared to be enjoying herself as she came swishing down the slide accompanied by a number of her Cathedral’s choristers captured on the BBC’s national news, but the wisdom of such a move was soon brought into question by The Right Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain to the Queen), who thought that the whole enterprise ‘smacked of desperation’ as the Cathedral tried to tempt visitors through its doors. He was concerned that the apparent frivolity of the helter skelter detracted from the holiness of the place; the awesome nature of God and the seriously sacrificial nature of the Gospel as demonstrated by Jesus and his death upon the cross. The vast and awesome nature of the Cathedral space with its north and south transepts symbolically representing the cross could and should encourage people to look upwards and prayerfully contemplate the presence of God – if only they weren’t distracted!

Ironically, this inspirational aspect of the building was not lost on the Cathedral staff whose campaign was entitled ‘Seeing it differently’, encouraging people to use their imaginations as they saw the Cathedral from a new perspective engageing with its structure and ‘salvation story’ as they admired its ancient roof bosses which depict the whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation – all easier to see from the slide’s 40ft high viewing platform.

In response to Gavin Ashenden’s criticism, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University observed that although some would think that the installation of the helter skelter was ‘trendy’ and a somewhat ‘undignified’ attempt to appeal to people in an increasingly secular society, in reality Cathedral attendances are growing and “so this shouldn’t be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building”.

So what is it? Well in my view – it is a joyful invitation! It’s a joyful invitation not only to encourage people into the building – but to make them feel welcome and what could be more welcoming than effectively saying ‘here you are – ride this! It’s fun!’ So many people, even Christians, tend to think of God as a great big killjoy and nothing could be further from the truth. God himself knows joy and he wants his people to know joy too. Psalm 104.31 speaks of God as rejoicing in all of his creative works – and what is the pinnacle of his creation? We are! Of course we should naturally respect God and honour his name but we should never, ever forget that God rejoices in us – because in and through Christ he loves us. Of course, being welcomed into the Cathedral is one thing, but if through that one visit, experience or conversation someone finds faith in God and wants to know more about the Cathedral, and it’s worship then how much more glorious and joyful is that! A simple welcome into the Cathedral becomes a joyful invitation into the ‘Kingdom of God’. So, perhaps for a mere ten days the helter skelter in the Nave should be viewed not so much a distraction to heartfelt worship and prayer – but as a warm invitation and proper attraction to it.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may he rejoice in all his works. Psalm 104.31


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Bishop Jonathan Meyrick – 18th August 2019

“Loving You To The Moon And Back” – And So Much More!

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Although I can’t honestly say that I actually remember Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing of the 20th July 1969 (I was 7!) I do remember seeing some of the Apollo missions by the time that they finished in 1972 and being aware of the profound effect that they had upon me. When I looked out at the night sky it was incredible to think that men had actually stood on the moon. It was so exciting! What would they do next and where would they go? I still think it’s absolutely incredible and exciting – and I’m in utter awe of the men who undertook such a brave and perilous journey. It took Apollo 11 four days, six hours and 45 minutes to get to the moon (8 days including the return journey) and cost NASA around $25 billion (£20 billion). It may have been ‘one small step’ for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins but it was a huge accomplishment for the 400,000 people who had worked upon the mission. The Earth, the Moon and space would never be seen in quite the same way again. However, during the recent 50th anniversary celebrations, it’s been the reflections of Alan Bean, who was part of the Apollo 12 mission and the 4th man on the moon that struck me most. Gazing back to the beautiful but profound sight of the Earth hanging in the darkness of space (later referred to as ‘the blue marble’ by the crew of Apollo 17) Alan Bean was powerfully struck by the recognition that all the people I have ever loved are over there! A thought he would frequently share with his family upon his return.

I suppose the truth is that of course the human spirit has an immense desire to explore and discover, to look beyond the horizon and around the corner in search of new things – and incredibly through our brave ingenuity, determination and skilled use of finite resources we often have the capacity to achieve more than is usually thought humanly possible – but at the same time it is love which unites us and binds us together and gives us not only the motivation to succeed, but a sense of place, belonging and home. Used wisely, intellect and love are powerful gifts with which we can pursue not only our goals, dreams and ambitions but also serve our nations and further the common good.

The accomplishments of Apollo 11 and all those missions that followed it combined with the fragility of the Earth have fostered our modern desire to go further and reach for the stars, the Moon, Mars and beyond – and yet however amazing those thoughts might be, the Christian is struck by another amazing theological concept, which is not only did God create the world that we see hanging so beautifully in space, but that he actually stepped into it, and not because it was pristine and perfect but precisely because it wasn’t. For the beautiful world that God had originally created had been spoilt by the often selfish, unkind and greedy actions of its inhabitants which the Bible calls sin. Yet, the mission that God embarks upon is not one of running away, starting again and abandonment, but one of new beginnings, new starts and digging deep as people recognise the grace, peace and restoration that is made possible through Jesus and his death upon the cross. It’s an amazing act of love that reaches out to us across the depths of time and space and calls us – home!


Praise him from the heavens … praise him, you sun and moon and shining stars. Psalm 148.1,3


Posted on the 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s Moon Landing with Apollo 11 

Faith, Hope And The Flames Of Notre-Dame

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It was with a great deal of sadness that millions watched the iconic Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame go up in flames on Monday 15th April 2019 via their televisions, computers and smartphones. It seemed incredible to think that this wonderful cathedral that had taken over 200 years to build was essentially destroyed in a mere 30 minutes. It felt like something out of a movie or a bad dream. Many French citizens were in tears and disbelief as they witnessed this terrible event unfold but huge credit should be paid to the firefighters and others who were trying against the odds to save as many of the priceless art and religious antiquities as they could whilst others were trying to save and preserve the actual building. Yes, France may pride itself on it’s secular education but this tends to hide the fact that over 2/3rds of the population still identify themselves as Christian predominantly Roman Catholic – but equally it has to be said that to the French, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame represents so much more than being simply a place of religious devotion. It represents their nation, their heritage, their architecture, their culture and their wonderful way of life – and so it comes as no surprise that almost immediately President Macron committed himself and the whole of France to rebuilding and restoring the Cathedral.

“So I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild this cathedral all together – and it is undoubtedly part of the French destiny …. we will rebuild Notre-Dame.”

Thankfully, in the cold light of day it appeared that despite great damage, the structure was basically sound and donations large and small were coming in from across France and indeed the world for its repair.

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But what is it that drives the human spirit to want to commit itself to such projects? For even in our own country, we have historically seen the rebuilding of Coventry and York Cathedrals damaged by fire, as well as Windsor Castle. It seems for all sorts of reasons we have an innate, inbuilt desire to rebuild, capture and preserve these majestic and ‘glorious’ buildings because they represent the triumph of victory over adversity and they speak to our heart and soul – and so we naturally wish the French every success in their efforts to overcome the disaster that has befallen them. There is of course a parallel to be found in the Christian faith, for just as President Macron said, ‘we will rebuild this cathedral all together, the Christian will be aware that this is precisely the task given to every believer – to help collectively and together to build a Kingdom, a temple, a church, not with actual bricks and stones (because these are transitory and prone to damage and decay) but with ourselves as human ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2.5), joyfully working together in hope and celebrating the victory that Christ has won over sin by his death upon the cross. For the Christian appreciates that it is what is built in Christ’s name for the common good which is the most successful, eternally praiseworthy and enduring.


In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2.21


 

Have You Really Got To Grips With – The Resurrection?

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‘A lot cleverer people than us embrace religion so I can be as dismissive of it as I like but we have to acknowledge that’. Paul Whitehouse.

These were the words that comedian Paul Whitehouse shared with his good friend Bob Mortimer in the BBC Television Series Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (Series 1: Episode 2), where having recovered from heart problems, they each mused about the future and chatted to a local Vicar about death, and their own funerals. Because neither were religious, they captured quite nicely the views and perspective of so many in our largely secular society. In some ways, each wistfully wished that there was more to life than this but couldn’t quite embrace the apparent foolishness of a religion they had no real experience or sensible knowledge of. Their musings echoed the apparent disconnect that exists between believing individuals and the rest of society – a disconnect which is made worse by opinion polls that suggest that Christianity in the UK is in a rapid state of decline. Although there is a decline, it has now been recognised that many of these polls don’t make sufficient distinction between active Christians who attend church regularly, and those ‘non-active’ Christians who are people who simply view themselves as Christian because they happen to live in a ‘Christian country’. If there was a clearer distinction between the former and the latter, then statistics about matters of faith and belief wouldn’t be quite so stark as are sometimes portrayed.

Last month my sister-in-law died, and I attended her funeral not as a clergyman but simply as my brother’s brother. Of course, the whole thing was immensely sad and hugely painful, and seeing my brother (who is still a relatively young man) who I love, without his wife, and his daughters without their mother – greatly hurt. But it didn’t hurt as much as I’m sure it would have done, had I had no hope! As Christians, a very real comfort and consolation can be found in the fact that we believe not just in life and death – but in life, death and resurrection. For as Bishop Tom Wright puts it, we have a sense of saying ‘Good night and see you in the morning’, for Heaven isn’t simply ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – a land of make believe, somewhere over the rainbow. It’s the promise of a new real existence as demonstrated in the person of Jesus himself, whose life, death and resurrection were witnessed by so many; people who saw him, touched him and ate with him. These are events which are not simply made up but recorded by many faithful men and women in the Scriptures and other historical documents, many of whom were prepared to die themselves on the basis of what they had seen and heard. So why are we so blind, ignorant and unwilling to believe their testimony in this modern age?

Bishop Tom Wright (a greatly respected Christian theologian and commentator) explains it like this.

‘The great turning point in human history, the moment when everything changed was when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning. We live in a world which fools itself that the great turning point in history came in Europe and America in the 18th Century, when we had what was called ‘The Enlightenment’ and with our new ideas, and our new science and our new democracies etc we were actually going to solve the problems of the world. If you look back at the last couple of hundred years, you say, ‘Well give me a break! If that’s called solving the problems of the world then we are going to have to think a bit better in the future.’ But actually, that’s because ‘The Enlightenment’ has offered a parody of Christianity. The Enlightenment therefore wants to rubbish the resurrection because if the resurrection happened it means that THAT was the great turning point in history and not Europe in the 18th Century and so the agenda for Christians today … is to go back and re-inhabit the truth that God’s new world was born, not when certain European thinkers had some bright ideas 200 years ago, but when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and as we learn to live ‘out’ of that belief, ‘out’ of that event, then that is the way that God’s kingdom is going to come on earth as in heaven.’

If each of us can get a small glimpse of this, and hold it thoughtfully, intelligently and respectfully in our hearts, we can properly celebrate and wish each other a very Happy Easter.


Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Matthew 28.7