Letter to parishioners, 1 October 2021

Friday, 1 October 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday, the first Sunday in October, is offered to us as an opportunity to celebrate the dedication of our churches. We are blessed with six parish churches in our Benefice. Those parish churches connect us with centuries of prayer and worship. Each church has its own history, its own character, its own special place in the hearts of those who live around them. It is, therefore, appropriate that we should celebrate their dedication during these times of uncertainty and change.

The parish system pre-dates the Norman Conquest. As the system has evolved down the centuries they have witnessed much change. They have also become more embedded in the way our nation lives out its daily life. Every person in the country lives in a Church of England parish. The parish and its church continue to be the spiritual heart of every community.

In my own lifetime I have seen many challenges to the way in which the Church of England works. Different crises have arisen and demanded change. Some of those changes have been more radical than others but the mission of the Church has remained the same. No matter what liturgy may be used or how the balance between lay and ordained ministry may work the Church continues to honour Christ’s call to share his light and love with all. The parish system has been a perfect example of that ministry in action.

In recent times other crises have confronted the Church. Are there enough people attending services? Are there sufficient funds to support the ministry of the Church? Does ‘Church’ have to be centred on a Sunday service? These questions, and many more, put us in the same place as the Jews who gather around Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel reading (John 10:22-29). Near the beginning of this reading we hear Jesus being asked this question: How long will you keep us in suspense? As Jesus worked his wondrous signs, healed the sick and shared his radical new way of entering into a strong relationship with God, the people were divided. Some thought he was possessed by demons and doing the work of the devil, while others recognized the divine power at work in his words and actions. The sense of doubt and suspicion, and the need for an end to the suspense, the revealing of the truth, was as powerful then as it is now.

For those who encountered the living and breathing Jesus there was the very human suspicion that he was just another false messiah … not so with us. We know the full extent of the divine power and authority of Jesus. So, why do we feel that we need to ask the same question as those Jews who gathered around Jesus: How long will you keep us in suspense?

The truth is that we can bring about the healing that is needed. We can honour the call for all Christians to live in unity and peace. We can stop wallowing in anxiety, self-pity and self-interest and bring our parish churches to life in an exciting an vibrant way. The real question is: Do we want to? We all like the cosiness of the familiar and we are frightened to take the new path, the path which will see the legacy we have inherited shaken up, dusted down and made fit for the next generation. Let us pray for the strength to take that leap of faith and show just how much Jesus, and our parish churches, mean to us.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen