Did it really happen? As we approach Christmas 2014, we are aware of being reminded every so often of the 100th Anniversary of the start of the 1st World War. Did it really happen? Not the war itself of course! I am referring to the Christmas truce on the Western Front. The answer is yes, some of the soldiers involved gave recorded interviews describing what happened. Apparently it started with Carols being sung, then men began to emerge from their trenches to venture out into ‘No Man’s land’. A football was produced and an impromptu game began –about fifty a side –until the football was punctured on some barbed wire. Gifts were exchanged and for a short while hostility gave way to fraternization.
It could not last, it did not last long, it was not repeated in later years, but it did happen. For a short time ‘no man’s land’ became a meeting place, common ground. Those soldiers knew it was Christmas, but more importantly they knew its meaning. We live in a society which certainly knows that Christmas is coming, but we feel that many do not know its meaning. Is that really so? After all many people know, love, and sing Carols which are rich in meaning; one or two random examples should illustrate this, ‘hail the heaven born Prince of Peace’, ‘a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’, ‘Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing’.
So perhaps more know the meaning of Christmas than Church attendance figures would indicate. Yet, perhaps the image of ‘No man’s land’ provides a helpful analogy. Christians may feel embattled, entrenched even, unwilling to lift our heads over the parapet when it comes to witnessing and evangelism. We can have a very negative view of the world and even entertain talk of ‘the lost’. Yet the message of Christmas is that Jesus came into what we mistakenly call ‘No man’s land’. John’s gospel puts it thus ‘He came to what was his own, ….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us……’
The story of the Christmas truce therefore encourages us to step up out of the trenches we construct for ourselves. The trench of ‘owning the truth’, of ‘perfectionism’, of ‘power’ (however petty it is), of ‘insecurity’, of ‘poor-me-ism’, of ‘anybody but me Lord’, of ‘over my dead body ism’, of ‘I haven’t got the time ism,’ or of the simple ‘I can’t’, (often translated as ‘I won’t’). What we think of as, ‘No man’s land’ is, in the light of Christmas, Immanuel’s land, whatever challenges we face in life are no longer faced alone, for God is with us.
Yes it really happened, the truce and the birth of our Saviour and Lord. The soldiers found common ground with their enemies, in the same way we can use what we have in common with friends, family, and neighbours to communicate the essence of the Christmas story, of a God who is ‘down to earth’, ‘on our side’ a God of love who entrusted his son to people like us. When we are out of the trenches of fear then we can help people, who are basically like us, connect with God through that well known response which begins ‘O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray………. ‘
In 1914 the football was punctured on barbed wire, ………..which reminds us, …….but that’s another story……… .
With Christian love Robert Draycott
Every now and then we hear news bulletins announcing ‘Conflict has broken out in …..’.
Some readers may be able to recall Neville Chamberlain’s radio announcement on 3rd September 1939 ‘War has been declared…..’.
Such announcements do not usually come ‘out of the blue’, trouble has been brewing for a few months or a few years. Negotiations have usually taken place, for example Chamberlain’s policy of appeasment, but they have not resolved the divisive issues, nor reconciled strongly held viewpoints.
The problems brought by warfare are obvious to all. We all know that ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’, (Churchill). Yet talks so easily break down and prove futile. Warfare doesn’t make sense at all –yet we still live with ‘wars and rumours of wars’ as Jesus put it. Often that fascinating school subject known as History is reduced to ‘1066 and all that’, in terms of how ‘we’ ‘won’ the battle of this that and the other. People of my generation say we grew up ‘after the war’, and I was in my twenties before I realized how absurd it was to say ‘we’ ‘won’ two world wars.
The problem of ‘we’ is that it is exclusive, about our group who are different from ‘them’, (and probably better than them). It then goes without saying that ‘we’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong.
The problem of ‘winning’ is that then there have to be ‘losers’. Warfare and conflict really mean that everybody loses, that is one of the great truths to emerge from both of the World Wars.
As Christians ‘we’ is meant to be an inclusive word embracing every fellow human being ‘made in the image of God’. Christians should have an understanding that Jesus’s death on the cross gives us a fresh perspective on defeat and ‘losing’.
Remembrance never has been a celebration of war, it is about the high value ordinary people have given to peace, and their willingness to ‘give their today for your tomorrow’. We are beneficiaries of those who have served their country in times of conflict, and we are grateful.
One final thought, some who read this will be involved in their own conflict situations, can talks be resumed, can we be willing to re-open negotiations? Would it be possible to consider that conflict situations are inevitable in life and that ‘they’ might not be entirely to blame, that when we seek to ‘win’ at all costs we end up as one of the losers. Who was it who said ‘pray for your enemies’?
With Christian love Robert Draycott
It is great to report that the first Messy church on 12th October went really well. As expected we were not overwhelmed by children but thanks to Rose’s brilliant organisation backed up by a splendid team of over 20 volunteers the children really enjoyed their time and will certainly come again on Dec 7th. Look for ElthamURC on Facebook to see some photos.
Very briefly the session lasted 2 hours, the first part offered 8 activity tables for 1hr 15 mins. Then we moved into the church for a child friendly time of informal worship on the theme of Harvest. The last half-hour was teatime. Thanks to all who helped.
Sunday 5th Family Service with Communion led by the Minister.
Sunday 12th Harvest Parade Service led by the Minister
Messy Church from 2.00 to 4.00 pm
Sunday 19th Family Service
Sunday 26th Family Service
Elders meeting Wednesday 8th at 7.00pm
Church Meeting (postponed from September 20th) to be held at a date to be announced.
I have just broken off from writing for the Messenger to go outside to harvest the apples from the small tree we planted a couple of years ago. Some look perfect, others look slightly blemished, others are clearly damaged, whilst some have fallen to the ground and have begun to rot. All we did was to buy the tree, and plant it. The apples are a blessing that we can’t really say we have worked for, and this year they are there in abundance. A parable in some ways of these two and a half years as your Minister, principally in that we have been blessed together, we have grown slightly in numbers, and we have drawn closer together, as evidenced this morning when nearly all the congregation stayed chatting for 30-40 minutes after the service.
The other significant link between Church life and harvest is that this month we embark on a fresh challenge, Messy Church. This is something everyone can help with, because even if we cannot help physically we can pray for what is a seed-sowing exercise. It is not a magic solution to the challenges that face us, but it is a response to what God has been doing amongst us, young families have turned up and we have been aware of the limitations of what we presently offer. Thanks to the continued success of Parents and Toddlers we also have a natural base of young families to work from. What is Messy Church you ask? Come and see for yourself. Meanwhile spread the word to friends, relatives, and neighbours who might be interested!
As usual we hold our Harvest Festival service in October. As always it is a time to be grateful for the food we enjoy, and for God’s provision for our material needs. It is a time to remember those who are existing rather than living because food is in short supply in their area, in their refugee camp, in their conflict zone.
Yet we might think that there are people in our society who are existing rather than living, even though their material needs are well supplied. As Christians we believe that we are spiritual beings who can know that we are known and loved by God. That Jesus Christ died on the cross for every single human being, and that he lives in us through his Holy Spirit. Harvest reminds us to be sowers, and to be the good soil that can facilitate the growth of the fruits of the Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.
With Christian love Robert Draycott
Congratulations to all those who have recently celebrated good exam results from Ruth who took Maths whilst in year 10, through Conor, Heulwen, and Dionne with their GCSE’s, to Seren with her AS level results. Best wishes to the three (mentioned above) who have just embarked on their Sixth form studies.
That was the theme of this year’s Greenbelt Festival I attended over the August Bank Holiday weekend at Boughton House near Kettering. You will be pleased to know that I spent some of the time promoting Reform Magazine, handing out free copies alongside the editor Stephen Tompkins and Charissa King his editorial assistant. Do let Valerie know if you would like to subscribe yourself.
Greenbelt is a Christian arts festival which has great speakers, great music, and an amazing atmosphere especially when in the ‘Jesus Arms’ for Beer and Hymns. This year’s Communion service was the best I have attended at Greenbelt. Other highlights included hearing speakers such as John Bell, Brian Maclaren, Mpho Tutu amongst others, the Big Sing (led by the Iona community), and the chance to play a game of cricket under the conditions for blind and partially sighted players.
The most memorable moment came when Mpho Tutu said ‘forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves’. I would recommend ‘The book of Forgiving’ she and her father Desmond have written. Some readers may be interested in googling ‘The forgiveness challenge’.
Having recently commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the start of WW1, this month sees the 75th Anniversary of the start of WW2. Both provide opportunities to look back, in a remembering that will not be personal for anyone under the age of 75 or so.
Part of that type of remembering is to imagine what we would have done ourselves, how we would have coped. Another part is to admire people who for various reasons are themselves commemorated in some way or other. One figure from 1914-18 is Geoffery Studdert-Kennedy. He was an Anglican clergyman who became one of the most famous of the military Chaplains of that war.
His nickname was ‘Woodbine Willie’ from his practice of handing out cigarettes to the soldiers he sought to minister to. He had the ‘common touch’, he had understanding and compassion, that combination meant that he could communicate in simple but not simplistic terms. In one sense that is reason enough for us to seek to emulate him in our task of commending Jesus to others.
It is as an apologist, however, that Studdert-Kennedy is worth remembering. Through his preaching, and especially through his poems he faced up to the fundamental question the war raised, ‘where was God’? The dominant picture had been (and still is in some quarters) of a remote God, unchanging, untouched by human suffering, an impassible God, to use the technical term. What use could such a God be in the mud, blood and slaughter of the trenches, or to those at home who received the dreaded telegram from the front?
A more radical theology came to be forged, with Studdert-Kennedy as a leading figure, out of which emerged the picture of a suffering God. One of his poems is indeed given that very title. The first verse gives us a flavour of his thought:-
“If he could speak, that victim torn and bleeding,
Caught in His pain and nailed upon the cross,
Has He to give the comfort souls are needing?
Could he destroy the bitterness of loss?”
In seeking to answer the question about God raised by the war Studdert-Kennedy began at the cross, but went way beyond the usual interpretation of a Saviour for the chosen few. The cross was an event in the heart of God. His thought was taken up and developed by others, for now he is worth remembering as one who sought from his personal experience of the horrors of war to help people to maintain their faith, in part through seeing God differently.
Meanwhile, in 2014, when we reflect on the ongoing conflicts in the world especially in the Middle East, we can be encouraged to continue to pray for peace, and for all who are involved in the suffering and horror of modern warfare.
More personally when we face personal loss and suffering then we can find that God is not remote but alongside us in his Son, our Lord.
With Christian love Robert Draycott
I recently went to watch the Tour de France as it swept through London on its way to the sprint finish in the Mall. Crowds lined the route and we waited expectantly, first came the outriders, the press, the officials, the sponsors, the police and gendarmes, then came the riders sweeping through in less than a minute. More support vehicles followed then it was all over. Was the effort including the wait worth it? Yes, I had been there!
The following evening I sat down to watch the first World Cup semi-final. After 30 minutes I, along with millions of other people, had witnessed the most astonishing period of play in any World Cup match.
Four goals in just over six minutes! In a different sense I had been there!
The first key idea that emerged for me was that of teamwork. I have only recently learnt how something like the Tour de France works. I had thought it was a free for all, but now I know that the riders are in teams of ten, nine of whom are there to support their lead rider. They ride as a team and the eventual winner really means it when he thanks his team and says he could not have won without them.
The obvious point to make is that most areas of life involve teamwork. Think for example in terms of family and marriage, of the workplace, of the local community and of Church life. The less obvious point is to consider the mechanics of teamwork, especially the need to communicate, co-operate, consult, to listen to one another and to be willing to change our mind if necessary. Teams cannot work without these basic mechanisms.
The reference to the Tour de France was intended to be a positive example of good teamwork. The second reference to football reminds us of what can happens when a team falls apart, lacking communication, trust, leadership and organisation, a catastrophic defeat.
In sport the team’s purpose is clear-cut, to win. In Church life it is not quite so obvious, what are we setting out to achieve, do we have a common goal? Are we aiming for example to keep the doors open, are weaiming to grow, if so how? Are we a team, or just a collection of Christians, a talented enough bunch individually, but unwilling or unable to engage in the basic mechanisms of being team players. One basic requirement is to be able to say ‘I was there,’ make Sunday worship a priority if you are able to attend, after all some of those who read this simply cannot get out anymore and really miss Sundays at church .
I conclude with some words from one of the hymns chosen for our recent Songs of Praise service, ‘Brother Sister let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you, pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too. We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road……..’
We are a team, but we can be a better team……….
Yours in Christian love Robert Draycott
‘A good walk spoiled’, ‘a game for hooligans played by gentlemen’, ‘boring’, I am sure you can fit the sport to those descriptions. I begin with these thoughts because as I write England are almost out of this year’s World Cup.
I discovered from a quick show of hands at our last Parade service that the majority of our congregation couldn’t care less about the World Cup. That finding didn’t come as a surprise, but it set me thinking about things that people enjoy, and the reality that what some dismiss as a trivial, pointless, boring waste of time, is to other people absolutely fascinating, engrossing and worth it.
Where might this rather obvious observation lead us? It reminds us of how in life we encounter both difference and communality. This is true within families, we encounter it at school, in the workplace, within Marriage, in Church life and in National life. Some love all types of sport, others hate them all, the majority take an interest in some but not others. We could say the same about music, travel, books, films, and so on. Communality and difference, that which binds us together, and that which divides us – or rather that which has the potential to divide us.
One of the great secrets of life is to be able to agree to disagree. About sport, music, and so on –even about Church, God, and how we experience the things of God. Someone might object that this is to compromise, to water down the truth, to make a virtue of tolerance, to have no convictions. Such objections sound fine, especially because of the conviction with which they are expressed, but they represent the triumph of difference over communality.
That football tournament began the Thursday before Trinity Sunday, which challenges Christians to be aware of the mystery of God’s being, (Being itself, I AM). We know the formula, one God, three-in-one, one-in-three, difference and communality. If that gives us some insight into the mystery of God, then we in our turn are challenged to recognise and welcome difference within Church life as a source of strength when we make it our goal to let communality trump difference.
As the Apostle Paul wrote ‘I…… beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.’
With Christian love, Robert Draycott
We look forward to welcoming three families to Christening services in May and June. This is a privilege for us as a Church and a reminder of how precious the gift of life is. Such an event is a special day for family and friends.
Christian Aid week begins on the 11th May, as usual we will make this the main feature of our Parade service. That week is a reminder of the privileged lifestyle we enjoy in comparison with many fellow human beings. In its own way it is also a family event,
-in this case the wider family of the human race.
What do these things mean to the Church family? We are reminded, given an opportunity, and encouraged. Reminded of the great themes of the Christian faith. Baptism is a beginning, it is about God’s grace offered to the children being brought by their parents. Grace that is God’s free undeserved favour; undeserved, unlimited, and available to sustain Christians throughout their lives.
The opportunity we are being offered is to be welcoming, to be gracious to all who come to such occasional services. Visitors always offer encouragement, to persevere, to look forward to seeing the church family growing again. For example it was great to have six children on an Easter bunny hunt on Easter Sunday. The Christian faith is centred around the Resurrection of Jesus, we meet to worship in his name, and to love and serve our fellow human beings whether near or far.
One of our texts for this month is from the story of the early church from the book of Acts, ‘day by day the Lord added to their number’.
With Christian love Robert Draycott
There is a story told from the 1930’s, when the Communist authorities in Soviet Russia were doing all they could to destroy Christianity. In one place, on what should have been Easter Sunday, townsfolk were told to gather together to listen to hours of anti Christian propaganda. They listened to all the intellectual arguments, aimed at proving that Jesus couldn’t possibly have risen from the dead. They patiently and politely applauded each lecturer, just as they knew they were expected to. Finally the event came to an end, at which point a voice was heard with the Easter greeting, ‘ Christ has risen’. With one voice the crowd roared the response, ‘He is risen indeed’.
One lesson from that story is that first and foremost, the Resurrection message isn’t about proof, it is about an inner conviction or experience, of the aliveness of Jesus. As the chorus goes, ‘you ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart’. If we ask where such a conviction comes from the answer usually starts with the Church. When Christian worship ‘works’ there is an experience of Jesus that we might struggle to explain; but fortunately we aren’t required to explain, what is required of us is to invite others to join with us, to put our hearts and souls into worship, so that others can ‘catch’ Christianity.
So do make an especial effort to join with us on Easter Sunday to give that response ‘He is risen indeed’ as a statement of faith that comes firstly from the heart.
Wishing you Easter blessings Robert Draycott
New member. We were delighted to welcome Beatrice Sobeh into membership at the March communion service. Beatrice and her family have been worshipping with us for over a year now. She is a social worker in Southwark.
Thanks to Anne Briley for many years of service with the children during our services. Anne now feels she needs to hand over this role so we take this opportunity to record our gratitude for her faithfulness any dedication. A rota of helpers is being set up to cater for the growing number of children on a Sunday morning. If you would like to volunteer please tell Rose.
Financial news, at the Church AGM in February we learnt that, after several years of expenditure exceeding income, we managed to break even in 2013. Thanks to all who give regularly, to those who gave generously to last year’s gift day (£1460), to one very generous donation in memoriam, and to the lettings team for all their hard work on behalf of the Church.
Thanks to all who contributed so generously to this year’s gift day held in March. The total given so far is approximately £1800.
The four gospels provide accounts of the Resurrection which vary in detail from one another, that is used by some to cast doubt on the very basis of Christianity. Anyone who reads those accounts can easily see discrepancies, to mention some obvious ones Matthew’s account mentions a guard put on the tomb, and an earthquake, none of the other three gospels mention these things. Only Luke’s gospel relates the encounter on the road to Emmaus. How many women went to the tomb, and who were they? There are other things that people can spot for themselves.
The question then becomes what do such differences mean? One view is that they prove that the accounts are not reliable. Another view is that Christians have to spend much time and effort demonstrating that despite the differences the accounts prove the Resurrection. Christians cannot deny the obvious fact that there are four different versions in the New Testament. But they can treat the four accounts as evidence rather than proof.
Once this approach is adopted things begin to fall into place. The first followers of Jesus preached the message, there was no need to write anything down because the eye-witnesses of the Resurrection were available, and the return of Jesus was expected at any time. Eventually as the eye-witnesses were approaching the end of their lives it became necessary to write the gospel down. Mark’s gospel is generally accepted as being the first, around 30-35 years after the Resurrection.
Then both Matthew and Luke felt the need to expand on Mark’s gospel. They both had access to material that Mark had not known about. They are thought to have written around 20-25 years after Mark. They would have written firstly for their own communities when communications were much slower than today. Finally John’s gospel emerged from another community, adopting a different approach and style.
Once we appreciate this background two things emerge. Firstly the differences are perfectly understandable, given that different Christian communities were producing their accounts independently. Indeed it then becomes clear that the core story is basically the same. Secondly the four gospel accounts can be seen to follow on from the experience of those early Christians, which was of the aliveness of Jesus.
We today, can, and do, have the same experience of that aliveness, whether or not we have read the gospels. Young children brought up in the faith have that sense of Jesus as a living reality long before they learn to read. ‘He is risen indeed’ is a response that comes from the heart, not the head. So yes there are differences between the four gospels when it comes to their accounts of the Resurrection. But that can be explained, and we can read them in the light of the privilege we have of our own experience of the aliveness of Jesus.
Friday and Sunday
Easter reminds us of the central conviction that binds Christians together across the denominations, across the world, across the differences of doctrine, worship styles, and ecclesiology. Jesus is alive! Think also of that word ‘across’, with pictures of a bridge spanning a chasm, (like the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol). The cross was followed by the empty tomb. That reminds me of the preacher who stirred up his congregation with the refrain, ‘it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!’ The joy of Easter Sunday is all the more joyful when we have journeyed through Lent towards Jerusalem, when we have used our imaginations to follow Jesus towards betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming’. That conviction can lead us through all that life throws at us, because the Risen Lord is the Crucified God.
Robert Draycott (Rev)