One Parish, Three Churches

Birthday Bake-off at St. Nicks

The first church was built on the site of St Nicholas Church in 1217 and as best we can account for worship started in 1218. As part of its 800 years celebrations, St Nicholas Church held a fantastic Bake Off competition on Mothering Sunday. In addition to Birthday Cakes, entries also featured “Sound” and “Light” (our new church appeal this year). The use of Fairtrade ingredients was encouraged where possible. There was a spectacular selection of cakes and the competition was fierce, and delicious! Many thanks to all those who entered, judged and tasted. Congratulations to the winners.

More birthday celebrations are planned for the remainder of the year, and all church groups are asked to consider how they might celebrate the anniversary at one of their meetings/events.

St. Mary’s Quiz raises £900 for Canine Partners

St. Mary’s church and hall were packed yesterday evening with 15 teams of quizzers who had braved the snow to make the quiz a well supported event.  Our intellects were initially tested by having to work out the names of the rounds of questions from a set of anagrams. Once revealed, it became clear we were going back to school to be tested on subjects as varied as history, geography, P.E. and of course, R.E. Only when the anagrams were unpacked could a team play its joker. The evening was most enjoyable, and £902 was raised for Canine Partners (

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 addressed and overcome. It would seem that electric fences blocked our way to the stile that would lead us neatly through Sauncey wood. Between us we looked at the position of the sun and the moss on the trees (not true) and with the aid of map and GPS we found another route that got us back on course to return to East Hyde before 4pm. The walk was 7.5 miles long (12km if you work in new money). Whilst there was a shorter version offered by Jack, we all completed the longer route.

Our merry bunch were Jenny, Ro, Maureen, Sally, Jack and Isabel (with Kelvin behind the camera).

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.
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This Lent, Jesus says, ‘Follow me’: A Lenten Reflection

These two words pick up on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when he says to those would be disciples, ‘come and follow me’.  But they also echo the poignant words of Jesus: If one comes after me, let them deny themselves take up their cross and follow me.  What does it mean for us today to follow Jesus.  I want to reflect on that by considering the path of martyrdom that some disciples have experienced in their journey of following Jesus and what that says about the challenge we face in following Jesus today.
If I said to you that I wanted to die for my faith in Jesus Christ, you would probably think me a bit odd; and certainly a bit fanatical about my religion.  Yet, the history of the Christian church is built in part on the martyrs for the faith, on those men and women in every age who have died because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ.
            On this Ash Wednesday, we begin a journey, a journey with Jesus.  During Lent we make the time to examine our own faith and to survey the depth of our devotion to God.  It is a journey of death, of dying to self and becoming alive to God.  Jesus said, ‘If anyone comes after me, let them deny themselves, take-up their cross and follow me’.
            What does it mean to follow Jesus, to respond to the call, ‘follow me’?  For many it will mean the ultimate giving of one’s life. 
The first martyr for the faith was, of course, Jesus.  We do not know when exactly he began to understand that his life would end in death.  But we know that some months before he went to Jerusalem for his last Passover that he told his disciples that he would suffer and die.  Do you remember that Peter was simply aghast at this thought?  In fact, Peter demanded that this not happen.  What Peter did not understand was that through Jesus’ death, life would come to many.  The single grain of wheat dies and produces many seeds.  Martyrdom for Jesus meant by laying down his life, others would be saved.  For Jesus devotion to God’s purpose meant the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice of his very life.
            The first Christian martyr was Stephen.  He was one of the first deacons appointed by the apostles in Jerusalem.  The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had Stephen arrested for blasphemy because his preaching about Jesus was so effective.  During his trial, Stephen unfolded his understanding of God’s saving work in a lengthy sermon, even accusing the religious leaders of not comprehending the work of God.   As he finished his message he saw heaven open and saw a vision of the risen Christ.  Having heard his words and now this vision, the leaders were indignant.  They dragged Stephen outside the city and stoned him.  Stephen following Jesus’ example, prayed for his enemies, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’.
            Stephen’s death was not in vain.  It did fill the Christians in Jerusalem with fear.  From this fear they fled Jerusalem into all parts of the Mediterranean world.  As a result, as Luke tells us in the Book of Acts, ‘those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went’.  From Stephen’s death came new life for many.  As a result of Stephen’s martyrdom, many heard and believed the saving message about Jesus Christ.  A single seed falls in the ground and produces many seed.  From the offering of a life, comes new life.
            But Stephen’s martyrdom produced a new understanding about following Jesus.  It suddenly became clear that witnessing about Jesus could be a dangerous business.  Jesus said, ‘Whoever serves me, must follow me’.  Stephen’s martyrdom clearly showed that to follow Jesus meant possibly even following Jesus to one’s death.  But such sacrifice, such devotion would be rewarded: Jesus said, ‘the one who loves his life will lose it; while the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life’.
            St Ignatius was one of the early Christians who articulated a desire to be martyred that he might be counted worthy of such devotion.  Such a blatant longing for martyrdom seems somehow wrong to our thinking.  But it reveals a passion for God that cannot but stir us, even shame us in our comfortable complacency.  Hear what St. Ignatius said about devotion, ‘He who dies for us is all that I seek; he who rose again for us is my whole desire’.  We may not share St. Ignatius’ longing for martyrdom, but do we share his longing for God?  This question deserves our consideration as we begin this Lenten season.
            Now, not all martyrs were such willing victims as St. Ignatius.  But the history of the church is filled with men and women who in following Christ found themselves in the jaws of death.  One of the foundations of the church is the spilt blood of men and women who have sacrificed their very life for the glory of Christ.
            Martyrdom brings into stark relief the issue that following Christ goes against the normal instinct.  As humans we fight to preserve our life.  As humans we strive hard to achieve something substantive, something lasting.  But martyrdom brings home the reality that following Christ often means the laying down of that which is precious to us, following Christ demands, following Christ entails sacrifice.  Who is worthy of it?  Who is capable of it?  I know I am not.  I actually do not want to die for my faith.  But I share with so many of you a desire to walk with God, a desire to know God in a deeper and richer way.  Martyrdom reminds us that such devotion requires sacrifice.
            Jesus says, if you want to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it in the end.  But if you offer your life to God, you will find eternal life.  Few if any of us will be actual martyrs for the faith, but from the example of the martyrs we learn that devotion to God is rewarded, from the example of the martyrs we are challenged to offer our life to God.  Jesus says, ‘if anyone come after me, let them deny themselves, take-up their cross and follow me’.  What does that mean for you and who you are and your life now?  May this Lent be a time that you reflect on what it means to you when Jesus says, ‘follow me’.

A Christian Manifesto: 

Matthew 5:13 – 20

Do you remember 1968?  If you do, you no doubt remember this tumultuous time with student riots, the hippie culture and free love.  I’ve been reading an article about the history of Europe which reflects on the student riots in Paris.  The Leftist manifesto was very much formed during this time.  Though the Left was not organised enough to take control in France in the 60’s, the Leftist agenda slowly seeped into government policy and practice.  Today, much of what we take for granted as our culture was radically introduced in the 60’s: equality of the working class; social welfare benefits for all; liberal social policies bringing choice and equality for women and minorities.

The Sermon on the Mount gives Christians a manifesto, looking particularly at Matthew 5:13-20.  The Sermon on the Mount is a manifesto for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus gathers the disciples to him on the mountain and sits down and begins to teach them.  Jesus sets out in the Sermon on the Mount a new programme of living and being which is to shape all disciples.  It is in every way an ideal manifesto which no one can achieve, but to which we are all called to strive for.  Its unachievable demand is meant to be a constant call on our life to go further and higher and deeper so that the kingdom will be manifest in our life and actions.  We do not despair because we have not or cannot attain it.  By its very demand we recognise our need for God’s grace.  By the impossibility of achieving it in our own strength, we look to Christ to consummate the Kingdom of God that he inaugurated by his life, death and resurrection.  
         I want us to look briefly at two aspects of this manifesto for the Kingdom of God.  First, the Kingdom calls us to a new way of being a disciple; and secondly, the Kingdom calls us to new righteousness.
The first aspect to the Kingdom manifesto is a new way of being a disciple.  Disciples are essentially followers and learners.  As disciples of Christ we seek to follow him and to learn from him.  But the manifesto of the Kingdom places greater emphasis on our discipleship and its impact.  It puts more emphasis on being active, not passive disciples: You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. As salt and light, we bear constant witness in who we are and in what we do so that others can see the Kingdom of God manifested in us, just as the world saw it in Jesus Christ: In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  
       Most of us, as we live our daily life, compartmentalise our lives.  We are employees; we are family members; we are friends; we are at work; we are at play.  The discipleship we are called to is to be apart of all our life so that whether at work or play; whether in the grocery store or in church, we are to be salt and light, pointing to the kingdom in the way we are and in the way we act.
A second aspect to the manifesto of the KofG is being called to a new righteousness.  Listen again to what Jesus said: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Now this does not phase us too much, because we have come to associate scribes and Pharisees with hypocrisy and the like.  But for a first century Jew in Palestine, Jesus’ words were radical.  Let me offer a paraphrase for our times.  Jesus is saying to you and me today that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pope and the Archbishop; it must exceed that of Mother Theresa and St Alban.  Most of us think, that’s impossible, why try.  But that is the point of the Kingdom manifesto, to urge us on to be more than we think we are capable of being.  In Christ, we not only become all we can be, we become more than we think possible.  It is a case of letting God work in us and through us so that his righteousness is manifest, not our own feeble efforts.
When we read the Sermon on the Mount we are reading a manifesto for the KofG.  It calls us to a new way of being and living in the world.  It calls us to a radical cultural ethos; it calls us to a new way of being a disciple; and it calls us to a new kind of righteousness.  The standard it calls us to is high, even unachievable in human terms.  But that is point, we recognise our need for God’s grace and strength, we recognise that it is Jesus who brings in the kingdom by his life, death and resurrection and by working in and through our lives as children of the Kingdom.  Let your light shine before others, so that they may see the kingdom of God and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Watching and Waiting Sometimes Even Saints Doubt: Matthew 11:2-11 and John the Baptist

People are interesting.  The biggest sales for newspapers and magazines are always related to people stories.  The magazines that sell best are gossip magazines.  We love our stories about celebrities.  We especially seem to like to find out that they are different.
This third Sunday in Advent we have a real pre-Christmas celebrity.  He does not figure much in the Christmas nativity, but he played a large role in the Gospels and in the life of Jesus particularly at the beginning.  Who is John the Baptist? 
      John the Baptist was first and foremost a forerunner.  He came to fulfil the scriptures in Isaiah and Malachi that one would come first to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He is, well, not the normal sort of forerunner.  He was not even a very normal religious leader for his day.  He dressed in camel hair shirts—not very comfortable from what I hear.  He ate natural foods, locust and honey, before natural foods were popular.  Most likely he was part of the movement known as the Essenes. They stood for purity in the temple and in the priesthood.  They wanted reform and they did not participate much in the ritual and religious life of Jerusalem, often keeping themselves outside the city to avoid contamination from the corrupt religious elite. (Qumran is a good example of an Essene community.)  Hence we hear about the people going out to John to be baptised.  Essenes were into ritual cleansing to symbolise their commitment to being holy and righteous.  So to prepare people for the coming of God’s special agent and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, John baptised people in the Jordan.
John was also a prophet.  He foretold that God was coming to break into the routine of life in Palestine.  He prophesied that the reign of God was breaking into the lives of all around him.  He called people to repent, to change their ways to get ready for what God was doing.  His basic message was this, ‘Someone so great and awesome is coming he makes me insignificant.  If I were you, I’d get on your knees and get your life in order quickly’.  Strong words.  John was so dramatic with his funny clothes and his powerful preaching. 
We need to hear his message again.  He foretells of the one who lies in the manger meek and mild.  He warns us that this little child will rise up to confront us and to call us to God’s rule and reign in our hearts and lives, in our homes and churches, in our communities and nation.
Who is John the Baptist?  Jesus says he is more than a prophet.  Jesus says that he is the greatest among those born of a woman.  Jesus says he is the promised return of Elijah to herald the arrival of the coming Messiah.  Jesus says that John the Baptist is the fulfilment of scripture, the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel and the world.  Jesus honours John the Baptist with powerful words.
And when does Jesus say these kind and grand words about John the Baptist?  He says them not when all the people were clamouring to come out to the desert to hear his powerful sermons, not when the papers and news were all talking about the strange man in the desert warning the nation to get ready.  No Jesus says these affirming and impressive words when John was in prison, when John sends a messenger to Jesus to ask him, ‘are you really the messiah or was everything I said and did wrong?’ 
Who is John the Baptist?  He is one of us.  After growing up hearing of the miraculous and astounding birth of Jesus with angels singing and shepherds and wise men coming to greet him, John wonders, is this the one we’ve been waiting for?  After seeing Jesus heal the leper, the blind, the lame, the deaf, and even raise the dead; after hearing Jesus confound the scribes and Pharisees in parables and debate; and after hearing Jesus speak of the love of God to the poor and oppressed, John asks, should we look for someone else? 
John is one of us because like him, when we see the works of God in our midst in bread and wine, in the kindness of the stranger, in the innocence of the newborn, in the beauty and abundance of the universe, we doubt.  Like John, when we hear the stories of Jesus in the Gospel, of Paul’s teaching of salvation by faith, of the testimony of the one sitting next to us, we wonder if it is all true.
As we prepare for Christmas and the advent of God coming into our lives in surprising and unexpected ways, it is normal to doubt, to question.  But let us hear the words again.  Jesus said, Go and tell John the Baptist what you hear and see.  And so Jesus says to you and me today: remember what you have seen and heard; remember what God has done in our midst all these years in this church; remember the gifts we have received as we knelt at the altar, the gifts we have received from the stranger and from one another.  Today let us remember the one of whom the angels sing, the one the prophets promised would come, the one of whom the gospel writers proclaimed, the one about whom Paul and Peter and John wrote in their letters.  Let us remember the one who loves us even when we feel unloved and struggle to love ourselves…Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.