One Parish, Three Churches

Report:Parish Walk, October 2017

We gathered at noon at East Hyde on what was billed to be an unseasonably sunny Autumn day. It didn’t seem at first to hold up to the promise. However as the day progressed so did the efforts of the sun. We benefitted from the local knowledge of Jack Hopgood being our route planner and walk leader. Jack excelled himself when, by shortly after 1pm he led us with Magi like wisdom to The Bright Star (the pub in Peters Green). A further highlight which Jack kept quiet about until ensuring they were there, was the field full of alpacas. In all the best of such ventures, adversity must be…

Age of Marmite: The challenge of unity in this age
Imagine a time, maybe thirty, forty….a hundred years from now, when children will be sat in history lessons.  The teacher patiently takes them through a timeline of how the the world developed.  
Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age…….20th Century……Marmite Age.

Yes, I am decreeing the time we are currently living in, as the Marmite Age.

Marmite is usually used as an example of things people either really dislike, or utterly adore.  

People are rarely ambivalent about it.  

Why the age of Marmite?  Well I don’t meant that Marmite is our new way of developing and building things, as in previous historical eras.  No….the Age of Marmite is to do with the Age of Opinion.

Last year we saw people on both sides of the Atlantic make big decisions.  We have elections regularly – we live in a democracy, so no surprise there.  But this year the decisions made – the voting outcomes – seem to have provoked results which you really do, either love or loathe.  It is very hard to maintain a neutral position.

Whether we are talking about Brexit or the election of President Trump… tends to be a Marmite response.  Love it or loathe it.

Now we live in a democracy,  so no matter which opinion you hold…we are now living with the outcome…and we have to live together.

On Wednesday we began to observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It is an initiative run by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.  I think we might be in a time when this has never been more important.  

The introduction on their website says this:

There are fifty million Christians in Germany who, traditionally, have mostly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Protestant State Churches. Recent developments, particularly the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, have begun to change this balance and other Christian traditions are finding expression. Whilst that which unites the churches is stronger than that which divides, there are still areas of difference in which the churches remain self-absorbed or construct new walls.

(The text from 2 Corinthians) We know from scripture (announces) that God has, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself. The love of Christ compels us to be ambassadors of this reconciliation, which is enacted by dismantling the walls. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany experienced how a seemingly insurmountable wall could be brought down. The fall of this wall is a symbol of hope that, with the love of God, nothing is impossible.

Important words for us today.  You may have seen in the news on Friday, groups of people unfurling banners around the world which read #bridgesnotwalls as a response to the inauguration of President Trump.  Impressive, quiet resistance, and a powerful message for us as Christians.

In the reading from 1 Corinthians we hear Paul’s concern that the Christians in Corinth are disagreeing and divisions are being created between them.  We know that a woman of some standing in the community – Chloe – has alerted Paul to the problems, and he has written to them imploring them to banish their differences.  It seems they have begun to take sides and claim allegiance to different groups or leaders within the church.  

Paul reminds them that it was Christ who was crucified for them, Christ in whose name they are baptised.  Not the leader of whichever group or opinion they have decided to align themselves with.  Paul says that Jesus’ focus was not on baptism but spreading the good news and preaching.  Something reflected in our gospel today.

We are still good at creating “sides” but Paul is saying that these differences of opinion really do not matter – what matters – what we as the body of Christ are called to do – is to tell people the Good News of grace, hope and love.

It doesn’t matter if we hold different opinions about same-sex marriage, or women bishops.  Whether you think all services should have a choir, worship group, or should contain no music at all.  Where you stand on transubstantiation, the virgin birth or even messy church.  We are called to be one body in the unity of Christ and our job is not to take sides but to stand as one and show God’s love to all.  Yep.  All.  And that includes each other.

For many years I worked for BBC Radio.  I was privileged to work with some great people, and among them the late England football manager Graham Taylor.  I hope you have all been fortunate enough to work with people who when they turn up, you just know it’s going to be ok.  You can trust them with the job.  Graham was like that.  I usually dealt with Graham down the line, as we say, rather than face to face.  But on the odd occasion I met him, he was straight forward, down to earth, and warm.  There are two quotes associated with him which have struck me this week.

One was a comment he made to fans who were abusing the player John Barnes.  He said, “You’re talking about another human being, so just watch your language, alright?”

Such a simple statement, but so true.  And something the world needs reminding of.

The other quote is about Graham Taylor, which emerged in the tributes to him after he died.  We regularly hear of players or managers “bringing the game into disrepute”.  One commentator suggested Taylor should be…..charged with bringing the game into repute.”

Bringing the game into repute.  Can we be charged with bringing our faith into repute?  We need to be.

There are Christian internet bloggers claiming Donald Trump is a sign from God based on a translation from 1 Thessalonians 4.16, which reads :

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.”

My hunch is that most of us would at least raise an eyebrow at that.  How do we find unity with people who, while proclaiming they believe in the same God, hold such different opinions to our own?  (I’m not here to say which I think is right by the way)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby came to Greenbelt (where I now work) last August, and was interviewed by the lovely Rev Kate Bottley. She asked him how he copes with the tougher moments and he went on to explain how important WE the church are in people’s darker moments…

The Archbishop said that BEING the church is so important.  Archbishop Justin continued “people say : You’re always stressing unity over truth, as if you can divide the two : – which you can’t…..the church being Christ to one another is what makes us a distinctive body in the world – it’s the only thing that matters.  If we’re not that, nothing else counts at all.”

He says we show God by learning to disagree well, and love each other.  He acknowledges that we fail – we are human – but we have to keep trying because that is what Jesus tells us to do….and today it is also what Paul is telling us to do.  Division – according to Welby – is sin.

Incidentally….What frustrates Welby?  He says – himself – and that he has to not send an awful lot of emails.  His wisdom: “The best friend of Christian Unity is the draftbox.”

So perhaps you’re listening to this, thinking it is all terribly obvious.  Love one another.  But at times like this, when division is so rife, and so clear we need reminding of what our job, as the body of Christ is.  This morning we have heard from Paul that our focus should be on Christ and proclaiming his saving grace.  In the gospel, Jesus called his disciples – ordinary folk like us – to become fishers of men.  Not to become academics, not to get into arguments about ethics and doctrine, however important that may be, but to become preachers of the message and lovers of the people.  Because that is how we BE church, and that is how right now we can show hope, Christian Unity and God among us.

So now, in this Age of Marmite, my prayer is that we follow the words of Paul & the commands of Jesus, showing love and unity, so that we might bring hope…and be charged with bringing the Christian Faith in Repute.    Amen

PS: I don’t believe this means that we cannot challenge issues, and just accept the status quo, but we must live well alongside each other, and despite differences of opinions what counts is BEING the body of Christ.  Showing love. Preaching the good news.  Standing up for the marginalised and seeking justice and peace for all.

Rachel Wakefield


Choose wisely, choose love
St Nicholas Church – Sunday June 19th 2016 – 9.30am

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know I’m supposed to start a sermon off with a joke.  But I just don’t have one.  Just the fact that Dennis in his wisdom asked me to preach my first sermon at a 9.30 service, on the Sunday before the European Referendum is frankly, hilarious enough.   

And then, just when I thought the focus of this morning was going to be the EU referendum, the shootings in Orlando happened last weekend.  

And then, just as I thought I had a plan for this morning……the MP Jo Cox was shot and killed.  

So I hope you’ll forgive me for the lack of jokes.  I’m just not finding things very funny right now.

My original focus was going to be Europe.  So let’s start there.  I’m not going to tell you how to vote and will try my hardest to remain impartial.  If you are seeking theological argument and opinion on how to vote you can find it elsewhere, but as a helpful guide, the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey says Leave…..the present Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says Remain.  As does our own Bishop here in St Albans.  And while I don’t intend on telling you how I think you should vote, what I can talk about this morning is what I believe our reading from Galatians might be saying to us.  But I will come to that later.  

So while we are probably all becoming quite weary of the In/Out debate….while economics, law and sovereignty are being bandied about as reasons to vote one way or the other, and while the issue of immigration was merrily being thrown around for our benefit, a man went into a nightclub in Orlando last weekend and shot people because of who they are.  Not because of what they believe or any opinions they hold, not because of any life decision they had made, but because of who they fall in love with, and the person they were created as.

Many have spoken out in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender community.  Myself included.  Many also raised concerns about the gun laws in America.  Over there.  In America.  

But then on Thursday one of our own MP’s was shot.  We don’t really know all the facts, but it seems that the man who killed Jo Cox disagreed with her opinions.  Opinions which supported each person, regardless of who they are or where they are from.  

Suddenly, shootings are not just “over there”.  They are here.  The stretch of water between us makes no difference.  They have guns.  We have guns.  People on both sides of the Atlantic are being shot simply for who they are. Let’s be honest, we know these things don’t just happen in Britain and the United States.  It’s just that those are the incidents we hear about.  People are being killed and victimised for who they are and loving people for who they are.  Different countries.  Different continents.  Same planet.  Same space.   It isn’t them and us.  It is us.  

Who are we to decide who owns which bits of land anyway?  It’s all one world.  Is that too simplistic?  Too idealistic?  To just suggest that we are one world, regardless of our differences?  No, I don’t think it is.  I don’t think that it can be.

Many of you will know that I spent some time in Palestine after Easter this year with the Amos Trust.  I visited many of the holy sites, ran a half marathon in Bethlehem – as you do – that may be the closest you do get to a joke this morning….but I also visited refugee camps and spoke to Palestinian Christians and Muslims about how they were developing what they describe as Beautiful Resistance.  A way to peacefully protest at the occupation of their land.  This is not the time or the place to discuss the Israeli Occupation, but one of the phrases which stuck with me was during a meeting with Zoughbi Zoughbi of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Reconciliation Centre.  He simply said….  

“God is not racist”.  

There are many complex arguments about the Occupied Territories – Palestine – but this one sentence really stuck, and cuts through all the politics.  God is not racist.  

Wi’am is situated by one of the main checkpoints in Bethlehem, under the shadow of the wall, accompanied by a couple of Banksy murals outside.  When I say in the shadow – that’s exactly what I mean.  They wanted a place children could go and play, a place with a garden.  And they put it by the checkpoint as a point of peaceful resistance…..just like the motivation of the communion services – like ours today’s – in the fields of the Cremison Valley.  Peaceful resistance.  The centre gets tear-gassed.  The garden furniture is burnt out.  The children’s play stuff damaged.  The garden is decorated with empty tear gas canisters which have been thrown over from the other side of the wall.  

Zoughbi says this, “dwelling in victimhood is suicidal, enhancing the guilt will paralyse others, blaming is toxic…so a collective responsibility is the most important thing…..and the challenge is how to transform the garbage of anger, the garbage of hate, and to flower in the tree of compassion.”   “We are committed to the non-violent struggle, against the occupation through the popular struggle, because we would like to deprive the Israeli government from an enemy”  

I have so much more I could tell you about how the people I met strive peacefully towards the goal of peace for all.  But now is not the time.  Just remember their statement – God is not racist.

Which brings me so neatly to this morning’s reading from Galatians.  In a week where the world seems – in my opinion and that of many others I know – to be a dark and scary place….Paul reminds us in our lectionary reading today that God sees no division.  However we see others, however we vote, whatever our differences are… God they are invisible.  There is no East nor West, no Jew nor Greek, no man no woman….and in the light of the shootings in Orlando – no gay nor straight.  We are all the same.

This building we worship in is old.  It has a great history, lovely stained glass, and a beautiful font.  And yet it divides us.  It separates us out into those with small children in the back corner.  Children who attend Sunday Club at the front.  The choir in their stalls, the clergy and assistants at the front, with everyone else occupying their usual seat everywhere else.  We are divided.  Some can see, other are stuck behind a pillar.  We are in our place.  If I had the courage this morning I would ask you all to stand up and swap seats.  For the choir to sit down the side, the toddlers to move to the front, the children can come and sit here and the rest of you find a different view.  Mix.  Be as one.  Don’t separate.

When writing this, the words of a song by U2 were stuck in my head.  The song is called Walk On and was written for Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest in Burma.  
And love is not the easy thing

The only baggage you can bring

Is all that you can’t leave behind

Bono, U2’s singer, said it was based on a passage from Corinthians about a house which suffers a fire.  Like us on judgement day, what will be left after all the material things are removed?  If we take away law, money and sovereignty?  What is left?  The only thing you cannot leave behind.  Love.

So however we chose to vote this week, think on today’s reading.  We have a choice to make on Thursday, but we also have daily choices to make.  We can choose anger and hate and aggression.  Or we can choose and grab hold of love.  We can choose love as a peaceful resistance to the problems in our lives.

The only thing which is left at the end of the day is love….love for each other and God’s love.  

Jo Cox MP said “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”

St Paul in his letter to the Galatians said,

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

We are all the same.  To quote Bono again.  We are one.  Choose wisely, choose love.