Tomorrow in church we will be celebrating Mothering Sunday. For many people it will be a difficult day. Not everyone has the children they have longed for, and some will be brought up sharply against this painful fact. Some will miss their mothers, others will wonder why they should be bothered, when their mothers were less than adequate. And families getting together can be awkward, fractious beasts!
Church doesn't feature in most families' way of celebrating Mothering Sunday. Instead, we have Mother's Day. Which majors on the biological parent, breakfast in bed, flowers and lunch out with grandma. It feels like a conspiracy between pubs, the card shops and florists! Another push for the consumers. It is so much less than Mothering Sunday.
Mothering Sunday was a rest day in which the overworked could visit their homes and the family they rarely saw, renewing and strengthening relationships. A chance to visit their mother church. It became a celebration of caring and nurturing. We have lost sight of this, and of the values being celebrated. Caring has become a profession rather than the key to good relationships. And nurturing has got lost in a world of targets and achievements. I pray you have a good Mothering Sunday. I shall be in church at 10.00, reminding people that it's not just the fertile woman who can be a mother, but that all of us are called to care for each other, and to nurture hope in this broken world.
I met someone the other day who explained to me how happy she was that she had come back to church. "I'm not afraid any more" she said. Fear can shape our lives if we let it. It is fear that causes panic buying and that stops the anxious sleeping. Fear robs us of peace and makes the insurance companies rich!
But it is also fear that causes distrust between people, and between nations. Fear of the other, the person who is different from us, can start wars. We live in a fearful world. One in which we see terrible things that happen in other places, and fear them happening to us. But not all fear is bad. We teach our children not to be reckless when crossing roads by making them (rightly) fear being hit by a car. Fear can keep us safe and help us to act wisely.
It is when fear spirals and becomes ever-increasing that it is dangerous. When it robs us of peace. When we begin to feel the boundaries fear is pressing upon our lives. And that is when we need the love of a trustworthy gracious God to cast out our fear.
I am English, and I'm never surprised that we don't make good evangelists. I was brought up with the usual set of 'don'ts'. Don't make a fuss, don't show you're pleased with what you have done, don't cry, don't get angry. But then there was another layer of 'don'ts' because my father suffered from severe depression and spent months at a time in what was termed the 'mental hospital' or asylum, miles away from where we lived. So there was 'don't tell anyone ever' about things that changed our lives. I think I was pretty well trained to not speak about what is really important to me!
Ironic, when as a priest that is exactly what I am always trying to do (God has a strange sense of humour!). I spend my time in many different ways of trying to communicate God's love for us, his people. His love for each one of us, whoever we are, whatever has formed us. I meet people who desperately need to hear that message. People who need to deepen their own connection with the spiritual in their lives to find what they are searching for. This life has so much more to it than what we experience through our senses. And Love, love is the key.
Day 20: Half-way:
As I sit and write I am interrupted by the cat that sits beside me. She wants to be stroked, for me to acknowledge her gentle presence. I can't remember who wrote 'dogs have owners, cats belong to themselves'! But it seems very true of the independent cat. (And yes, I know the other version 'cats have staff!)
We like to think that we belong to oursleves, that what we do is a free choice. But we are influenced and formed by many people and events, and by the culture we live in. And the marketing industry has amazing power to change our views and opinions. When did our dislike of 'debt' change to universal acceptance of buying things with 'credit' cards?
Christians believe that God gives each of us the freedom to choose how we live and what we do. But we also believe that God has a 'purpose' and place for each of us. This purpose is where we feel most fulfilled, where we are truly free. It's hard to juggle freedom and purpose. And then to understand how prayer works in this equation....! But we can't just ditch any part to try and make things simple. And it's worth considering who you belong to.
Safeguarding. When it gets discussed in church meetings there is often a sense that it's just jumping through hoops. It isn't. That it suggests that those who work with children can't be trusted. It doesn't. That it shouldn't be such hard work. It should.
At St Michael's we are passionate about making sure that we work to the best possible standards in safeguarding. Each member of our PCC has been DBS checked. Most of them ( all who are likely to work with children or the vulnerable) are trained in safeguarding. Our Safeguarding officer takes her responsibilities very seriously.
But at some churches I've visited people resent being asked to be DBS checked and trained in Safeguarding. I've heard people say "I don't need to be checked, I've worked with children all my life, everyone knows me!". This shows a complete misunderstanding of what is being asked of them and why.
The church has made many mistakes over the years. One of these has been to be too trusting of some people, and not caring enough of others. It has also protected the wrong people at times, the abuser rather than those who were abused. It has not always spoken out against cruelty and abuse. It has been party to life-destroying practices. It will have to account for this. In a Public Enquiry, but also before God.
How good is your memory? What do you remember from when you were really young? What are the memories that have shaped your life? Our memories are really important to us, they are how we hold onto who we are, and how we can learn from our mistakes.
We are more aware today of the struggle that some people have when their memories begin to fail. Many of us have had family member who have had to live with Alzheimers or other forms of dementia. We know how difficult it can be when your memory becomes faulty, and sometimes we may worry that our own memory is going as well (or is that only me?!).
Christianity has its foundations in the memory of who Jesus was, what he taught his followers, and what happened to him at Easter. For 2000 years, Christians have remembered the last supper each Sunday in the communion supper. We have remembered Jesus' baptism as we baptise babies and adults into our shared faith. We remember the events of Easter, and we rejoice that God will never forget us, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that "I have written your name in the palm of my hands"
Many years ago I made a decision which meant I had no contact with my parents for five years. It was a hard time, and a lot of things have happened since then. We were reconciled eventually, and life moved on a very different path. Both parties missed out on so much. And the ripples of that decision spread through the whole of the family.
I was walking in the snow a couple of days ago and suddenly realised that if the same circumstances happened today I would act very differently. But that doesn't mean that the decision I made then was wrong. Just that I was a different person, making a decision from a very different place.
I've been reading the story of Joseph in the Bible. He spent many years away from his family, and things changed in their hearts and minds while he was away. The brothers who had initially been going to kill him, and instead sold him into slavery and told their father that he had been killed, were changed by their experience. Judah was behind the original plot to get rid of his brother. But when they meet again he is the one who is himself prepared to go into slavery to save his family from further hurt.
Life changes. We make decisions without the benefit of knowing what the future will bring. All we can do is our best, and trust the rest to God.
I think today all my UK friends will not be venturing far from home unless they have to! The weather is bitterly cold, and the snow continues. It will be a novelty for many, curling up at home with the TV in the warm. But spare a thought for those for whom this is how every day is. It quickly loses its novelty when you can't go out because your health or mobility won't allow you to. And it is hard to stay warm when you are sitting still and worrying about paying the heating bills. Loneliness soon begins to bite.
We are in an epidemic of loneliness. An epidemic that causes major health problems, and robs people of life. The small town of Frome set out to actively help people to feel more connected with each other. The results have been astounding, with a reduction in emergency admissions to hospital of 21%, compared with a 27% increase for the rest of Somerset over the same time.
How about that? A compassionate community is worth so much more. Maybe this would be a good day to check up on how your elderly neighbours are doing...
We do love believing that we can be in control of life. Adverts feed us this lie and we are all too ready to 'buy in'. If we buy this product we will be with the man/woman of our dreams. If we buy something else we will be surrounded by friends, the weather will be fantastic and we will spend our days laughing and socialising!
We plan our future, and our lives. But we forget the speedbumps in life's journey. We become convinced that we can coast along...
And then something happens that reminds us that we are all like King Canute, trying to tell the waves not to break on the shore and the tide not to come in.
You'll have to excuse this short posting today. I'm off to see if I can get the car out of the garage and onto the main road. I have a funeral to take. And I had planned the service so carefully...
There are over 100,000 books on Amazon with the word 'prayer' in the title! Some of them promise to change your life, others offer financial security. Many of them can tell you the 'best' way to pray, but they are all different, so they can't all be 'best' can they?
For all that's written about prayer, we don't understand how it works. Are we really trying to change God's mind about things when we pray? Or does prayer actually change us, rather than God? What happens when two people pray about something each wanting a different outcome? How can we know our prayer has changed things?
Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them to pray. He didn't give them the latest best seller, or send them on a course. It wasn't complicated, he taught them his prayer, which we now call the Lord's prayer. It was enough.
We live in a world in which it is easy to stay connected. I began posting on facebook when my daughter had a gap year in Hong Kong, and I wanted to see the photos she posted of the places she was visiting. But even in this world of connection, sometimes we have to say goodbye to people, or places, or stages of our lives. Things change, and we have to move on.
There is something important about acknowledging change and recognising its importance, which is necessary before we can move on into the new. We have just said goodbye to Peter and Pat, who have played such an important part in our church life for many years. We will miss their enthusiasm and committment, as well as their amazing capability and helpfulness. But it is right that they move to a new place, and into a new phase of their lives. And we at St Michael's are also moving on into the new. God has plans for us, and we are watchfully waiting to see where He is calling us.