St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Vicar's column - March 2017

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake... will save it. (Mark 8:34b-35)

Jesus’ discipleship challenge is seriously at odds with prevailing culture, where the word “self” is rarely yoked with the words “denial”, “discipline”, “control” or “sacrifice”. More typical prefixes include “indulge”, “find”, “be”, “express” and “assert”. Yet Christians have always been called to be counter-cultural. To be fair, Chris Evans has been promoting dry January and sugar free February. But then, I wonder what has become of Lent? In the Christian calendar our period of abstinence begins on the 1st March this year. Evans will likely be back on the booze and biscuits then.

The period of forty days reminds us of the forty days that Jesus spent being tested in the wilderness. The calculation of the forty days has varied considerably over the years. It is now usual in the West to count them continuously to the end of Holy Week, so beginning Lent on the sixth Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday. Churches are kept bare of flowers and decoration. The Gloria in Excelsis is not used. The fourth Sunday of Lent (traditionally “Refreshment Sunday”), now our “Mothering Sunday” is allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent.

As well as a time for self-examination, penitence and self-denial, Lent is an opportunity to spend more time in prayer, bible study and other spiritual reading. There are always a range of specialist books on offer for Lent. Check out the church library, and Quench bookshop if you have not done so already. For something different, that seriously calls into question our excessive lifestyle, I recommend reading John Naish, Enough, or Oliver James, Affluenza. In Western society, we have come to define ourselves in terms of our possessions. We buy our own identities, to detrimental effect for our psychology and planet. We need to get in touch with our core identity, made in the image of God. “To have or to be?” is a good question to ponder during Lent.

Make a good start to Lent by attending one of the Ash Wednesday Eucharists at 10 am or 8 pm, which include “the imposition of ashes”. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence; from the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. Generally speaking, modern Anglicans are better at partying than penitence. Lent is a good opportunity for us to reflect upon our lives: What thoughts and actions are we sorry for? What have we failed to do, or not do, to live truly by Christ’s kingdom values? Choose life. Choose Lent. 

Rev Lisa Cornwell 

Vicar's column - February 2017

The discipline of Mindfulness – noticing and savouring things that we might otherwise overlook – helps us to count our blessings. When we stop and think about it there is much to appreciate. God gives to us and, in gratitude, we respond. There are two ways in which we can give back to God. One way is ourselves; as a “human resource”, our time and our talents. Everyone has gifts they to offer in the service of the church. If you are new to St John’s and ready to become a little more involved, or an old hand who would like to try out a new area of church life, then do have a chat with me about it and pick up a copy of the “Time and Talents” form at the back of the hall. One way in which church members can get really involved and have more of a say in church life is to join the PCC – see inside for details.

The second area, which we are focusing on this month, is financial. The bible is rich in material on God’s generosity to us and our response. God gives to us abundantly in creation and redemption, and in sustaining life day by day. Over 2,300 biblical verses and one third of Jesus’ parables are on the subject of money, wealth and possessions. They suggest generous giving should be:

  • A priority – assessed in relation to our income and not out of our spare change
  • Planned but also allowing for spontaneous generosity
  • Proportionate – a realistic proportion of our income
  • Prayerful – an act of thanksgiving and worship
  • Given in community – for the needs of others and with others for a common purpose
  • Cheerfully and joyfully given
  • Sacrificial – there is a cost to our giving and we are called to be Christ-like

It is a good discipline to allocate a percentage of our monthly income to the church and worthy charities. There are tax efficient ways of doing this – please pick up a copy of the “Giving to your Church” leaflet if you don’t have one. As a church we give 12.5 % of the planned giving received to mission organisations (see the “Missions” notice board and St John’s website) and so your giving also supports that. You might like to factor that in when considering the amount you give. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a “tithe” (10%) was standard but ultimately it is between you and God to work out what is appropriate for your financial and family circumstances. Of course, if you yourself have fallen upon hard times then the church community should be there to help you out!

It is easy to forget how affluent we are in the West comparative to our ancestors and neighbours elsewhere on the planet. Our attitude counts. Biblically based giving may require a paradigm shift in our world-view. The outworking of our faith should encompass every aspect of our lives:

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything he has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.

Thomas Merton Trappist Monk  (1915-1968)

Rev Lisa Cornwell