Thoughts from Margaret

Christmas 2014

It is estimated that this Christmas around 90,000 children and young people in the United Kingdom will be homeless.  You have to agree that that is a shocking statistic for one of the world’s wealthiest countries!  This does not take into account either, all the people who will need to access the growing number of Food Banks over the Christmas period, not because they are scroungers but because they are hungry. While the adverts remind our children continually of all the things that they must have and should expect this Christmas and we are reminded of the gluttony that makes 
the perfect Christmas for everyone, I hope we will take time to stop and reflect on what Christmas is really about.  We also need to be mindful of the growing number of people for whom Christmas is a nightmare, especially those struggling with reduced incomes, debt and homelessness, and children who will have little this Christmas except broken dreams.

In many ways, the Christmas message, for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers, has been reduced to a story of a mother singing a lullaby to a baby sleeping peacefully on golden hay.  It is a sanitised version of the reality that records that at the time of the birth, Mary and Joseph were essentially homeless refugees and the baby was born in a stinking cave amongst the cattle.  It was not a prestigious start for God’s Son and is a salutary reminder to us that when God chose to come and live among us he did not choose to live with the rich and powerful but the meek and lowly.  Even the baby’s first visitors were shepherds who at that time were social outcasts.

As Christians, we should try to find time to prepare for this special festival and reflect on the precious gift God gave the world - his Son, born as a human child.  The season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is designed for that but taking time out for prayer and reflection when we’re so busy with preparations for the festivities isn’t easy.  Maybe taking a break from all our business and endeavouring to be in church on the Sundays of Advent is one option.

This year a new little booklet, also designed to help us prepare for Christmas, has been produced called Love Life, Live Advent: Make Room for the Manger.  For each of the days in Advent there is a simple activity, ideal for families too, to help us pause, reflect and focus on the true meaning of this season and to make room in our busy lives to receive God’s greatest gift.  You can find out more about this at www.liveadvent.net .  

It is also worth taking time to look at the Church Urban Fund website and their article From despair to hope this Christmas.  CUF has produced a free online Advent Calendar to reflect on the issues and show how churches are helping. It includes a daily video, reflection and prayer.

I wish you a Happy and Joyful Christmas but I am also mindful of those for whom this is a difficult time, as I hope you are.

 

The changing role of the Church

margaret_portraitDuring the service at which I was licensed as Priest-in-Charge of this Parish, Bishop Robert, the Bishop of Stockport, said that he hoped as a Church we would not be undertakers or caretakers but risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. It’s a real challenge and one, not just for our parish, but for many Christian communities throughout Britain. In many places congregations are dwindling and although attendance at our two main services each Sunday morning remains steady, our congregations at those services isn’t growing significantly and certainly isn’t attracting the younger families we would like to see attending in larger numbers. So why is this?

There is any number of possible reasons. For some it is the one day when families can relax and do things as a family – have a day out, hit the shops, chill at home. For others, it is the day when children do football, rugby, swimming or some other activity. But, perhaps a significant reason is, that for many people below the age of fifty, going to church on Sundays has never been part of their routine and therefore has no relevance.

Those of us who attend church regularly are used to the language and the rituals – we know what’s going on more-or-less. But, if you’re not a regular church-goer, what happens during a service can seem quite alien. The small, faithful congregation, who attend our 8.00am Communion Services love the traditional language of 1662 used in that service, but, for anyone attending that service with no background knowledge it would just be gobbledy gook!

With our present congregations it would be easy to see ourselves as caretakers, clinging to what we’re used to and maintaining our services and our buildings as best we can. And if congregations begin to dwindle we could become the undertakers, waiting for our church to die, and wondering whether we’ll be able to preserve our buildings that are very expensive to heat and maintain.

But, during our recent Study Course we began to think outside the box and to reflect on what it means to be the Church in Whaley Bridge today. We have now held a number of ‘Messy Church’ events and these are proving popular with young families. The worship is informal and the families enjoy the activities and the food. This year we plan to hold ‘Messy Church’ on Sunday afternoons every other month -- 9th March, 11th May, 13th July, 14th September and 16th November. During the Study Course we also experimented with Café Worship and hope to trial that later this year.

Once every other month people from the Whaley Bridge Churches Together visit Cromford Court, where we may have a singsong or share party pieces, with afternoon tea in the middle. Reflecting about this, we realised that this is what some would call a ‘Fresh Expression of Church’ – not church in the traditional sense, but Christians taking the opportunity just to meet and share with other people. And, thinking in this way, realising that church doesn’t have to happen just on Sundays using particular services in certain designated buildings, frees us to become risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. The skills and expertise that so many in our congregations have are a rich resource for the whole community and it is important that in these difficult times we recognise this and use them for the good of all.

Many people still come to the church for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals and we want to encourage that. Please give me a ring or e-mail me if you would like to explore the possibility of your children being baptised or if you are planning to get married. Some people these days are also giving serious thought to Thanksgiving for Marriage and to taking the opportunity to renew their Marriage Vows. If you might be interested in this, please get in touch with me.

Revd Margaret shares some thoughts on the Cost of Christmas

margaret_portraitAlthough as I write these reflections it is only the beginning of November, I am already unable to escape the constant reminders that we’re into the countdown to Christmas, that great annual commercial bonanza. In the shops, on television, in magazines and through the post, we face a continual bombardment of what we really must buy if we are to make Christmas that special occasion that everyone now expects and are not to be seen as a failure as a partner, a parent or a grandparent. The commercialism of Christmas puts a huge pressure on many of us and this year, perhaps more than ever, that pressure is likely to be even greater as costs go on rising faster than wages or pensions. Budgets that are already stretched are likely to be endangered further and I am sure it is no coincidence that adverts about loans as a way to spread the cost of Christmas are proliferating.

I am sure we need a time of celebration in the darkest days of winter and it was no coincidence that a pagan midwinter festival was Christianised in the fourth century as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But, in our materialistic, consumerist world, these facts are often forgotten and for many people Christmas is just a name for this winter festival.

As we prepare for Christmas I think it is important that, as Christians, we try to take time to reflect on the Christmas story and what it says to us for today. When the wise men followed the star and searched for the special baby, they expected to find him in a palace. But, the child was born in a cave where the cattle were housed. His parents were homeless refugees, surviving in difficult circumstances. We believe that this was God’s Son and that by becoming one of us God shows his great love for us but also his desire to come closer to us. In this choice though, God shows his bias for the poor. He cares about the disadvantaged, the homeless, the lonely, those who live on the margins of society. And if they’re that important to God, surely we should be concerned about them too and should try to find ways to show them our love and support. It may be by putting a few more items in the Night Stop box in church or by making a donation to a charity. It may be by taking time to call on someone who lives alone and who will be alone this Christmas.

For me, Christmas is also a time to remember the important things of life - our many blessings, including our family and friends. It can be a magical time for children and this year, all being well, all my grandchildren will be here for Christmas, which will be great fun. But, I am also aware that not everyone looks forward to Christmas and for some it can be a difficult time and we are mindful of them.

We hope that as we celebrate Christmas many of you will join us for one of our services. The Carol Service on Sunday 22nd sing those favourite carols and to hear again the Christmas story. The Christingle Service on Christmas Eve is always a special family occasion that many look forward to. But so is our family worship on Christmas morning. At that service it’s exciting to see the gifts that others have received so I hope you’ll bring one of yours on December provides an opportunity to Christmas morning to show us all.

I wish you all a very Happy and Joyful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.