Letter to parishioners, 27 August 2021

Friday, 27 August 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

Readings for Sunday, 29 August 2021 …
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 … James 1:17-27 … Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The readings we will be hearing in this Sunday’s service provide us with a rich diet of verses to inform and inspire our life of Christian discipleship. As we journey through challenging times in relation to the future mission of the Church of England we are reminded of Moses’ command to the Israelites: You must neither add anything to [God’s commands] nor take anything away. Written some 1500 years later, and just twenty years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, James wrote in his letter: Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. James also wrote: Be doers of the word, not merely hearers who deceive themselves. Then, in our reading from Mark’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ own words: You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition, and It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come. Such rich texts upon which we should spend the whole of the next week reflecting!

We are all guilty of wanting things our own way. We like that which we call ‘tradition’. But, tradition is a living and evolving thing, it is not about the blind repetition of words and actions. The very human notion of ‘tradition’, a notion which often dominates the life of the Church, is based primarily on that which makes us feel comfortable, rather than that which draws us closer to God. This is the issue that is being addressed in the readings we will hear this Sunday.

The Church of England is going through a period of crisis. There is nothing new in this. Many speak of times when our churches were packed to the doors every Sunday. Sadly, all the evidence proves that these ‘memories’ are false. In the 1850s, for example, the Church of England conducted a survey of how many people attended churches and cathedrals on Mothering Sunday. The percentage of the national population who engaged in public worship on that day was approximately 1% more than it is today. The ‘good old days’ of ‘standing room only’ are a myth. But, having said that, the mission of the Church goes on, and we are called to play our part in it.

Much that has been said in recent times has left members of the Church of England in a state of despair. There is talk of the end of the parish system, the end of easy access to a ‘local’ priest and the Holy Sacraments, the end of the Church as we know it. Similar threats, and greater ones, have dogged the history of the Church, but the Church lives on. At present we are being challenged to consider what sort of Church we are going to leave for the next generation. As we consider this vital question we need to take heed of this Sunday’s readings. We need to set aside our ‘need’ to create human-centric commandments and traditions and study those of God … that is the real commandments and traditions that should be driving every moment of our earthly lives.

As I urge you to spend some time with this Sunday’s readings every day of the coming week, I would like to leave you with some other words from the Letter of James: If any think that they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. This is a stark warning to us all. A warning that we all, clergy and laity, need to heed as we pray for God’s wisdom to prevail in these challenging times.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen