#340: up train from Exeter St Davids

Random photo I happen to like from York Minster- please don’t look for it in St Paul’s!

Bertie is currently at the Conservative Party Conference, trying to ask the big question on his mind- the impact on the international cheese market of rampant inflation, which, he feels, is something which is being badly under-reported. He handed me the keys to the top secret Bertie’s Email Computer and then ran for the Railway Station. I have received no emails or even texts from him which probably means he is up to his whiskers in Birmingham True Blue, which is possibly not a real cheese but would be an excellent name for a Silton this week. And if you’re a cheese maker, you can have that name for free.

Tons of Thankyous

It was a really excellent weekend in the life of the parish- and thank you to everyone who was involved in any way. The Choir did a superb job of singing Evensong in the glorious setting of Tewkesbury Abbey- see separate notice on the website- and it was brilliant to have so many people along from the parish to offer support and to be part of it. Sitting in a pub garden while the sun went down over the Avon millstream was both lovely and a welcome reminder of trips past.

And thank you too to all those involved in Harvest at St Paul’s and St Nick’s this week- who auctioned, and baked, and bought and got sucked into increasingly costly bidding wars for small cakes even with their own sibling. The two Churches combined raised £590 for our three charities. Thank you too to everyone who came to the Harvest lunch, and to the Social Committee who did us all proud again with excellent soup etc. Thank you.

Coming Soon

5, 6, 7, 8 in person tonight, Wednesday, (for people in those School Years) in the upstairs room at 6.30pm- and then a separate session will be online on Zoom on Monday night at 4.30pm. Do speak to Richard or Esther if you would like more info.

Services at 8am, 9.30 and 11 this Sunday- and Woosehill celebrate their Harvest Festival at 10am, which will be jolly. Also, we are reintroducing more variety of Mass Settings at St Paul’s- so we will be returning to the Thorne Setting which used to be so familiar to many of us from a time before Covid. Copies of the music will be available on the door, and you can listen to it beforehand on this YouTube link to remember how it goes-

Music for the Eucharist: Mass of St Thomas (David Thorne) – YouTube

And huge thanks once more to Chris Merchant for the Setting which has been the soundtrack to the last three years, and which will very much continue to be part of the life of the parish moving forward.

This Sunday night (9th)- Concert for Ukraine at 7pm at Wokingham Methodist Church- wind band, music and choir.

We used to have a regular Church Cleaning team who did an amazing job of keeping everything smart in St Paul’s, which has not really come back post-Covid. A lot of people have a spare hour once a fortnight or once a month to come in and do some cleaning to make it more welcoming when people come in to pray and to worship. The ideal is to agree a day and time when lots of people could come in together and be sociable while clearing the cobwebs away- but the other option would be for people to take responsibility for one area of the Church and then to clean it whenever they can. Either way, it is something anyone at all can help with, of any age. If you would like to chat it through or to help, please speak to Richard, Louise Cole or Teri.

Next Choral Evensong with refreshments is on the 16th of October at 6.15pm, with our guest preacher, the excellent Jonathan Dean, who leads on training for the Methodist Church of Great Britain. He will be preaching on the beautiful and moving Psalm 96.

And here is the poster for the Quiet Weekend which so many people are getting excited about: do speak to Mary for more info:

Not Coming Soon

We are having to cancel tomorrow night’s Study on the Creeds because of staff illness- sorry about that- please don’t turn up- but normal service will be resumed next week!

Pause to think 1

This short article was written by the head of Anglican Cursillo, the Rev’d Stephen Bowring, and is submitted by Mary for you to consider and pray through…

Three people, ‘Nobody,’ ‘Somebody,’ and ‘Everybody‘ got together to discuss a serious problem. They all agreed that something needed to be done, but who was going to do it? Everybody thought Somebody should do it, but in the end Nobody did it.

Sound familiar? It’s a situation that we come across in all walks of life, and that includes the Church in general and Cursillo too. Perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t help thinking that if all the hours and money that have been poured into researching and analysing the decline in church attendance in the last half-century had been poured into acts of actually reaching out with the gospel, there might not have been quite so much decline to worry about.

Archbishop William Temple once described the Church as an organisation that existed primarily for the benefit of those who were not yet members, so why do synods and PCCs spend most of their time discussing with each other things that have no relevance whatsoever to mission? In the last 30 years I must have endured hour after hour of ‘important’ discussion which has produced absolutely diddly-squat in terms of extending the Kingdom of God.

And that is why I am passionate about Cursillo. At the heart of what we are about is the mantra “make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Jesus,” which is exactly what Jesus did in the gospel. He didn’t gather a committee, he spoke individually to a few who would listen (Mt.4.18). He didn’t establish his church on the rock of synodical government, he handed the keys to Peter (Mt.16.18-19). He didn’t compromise his message to court widespread popularity, he allowed many to fall away who couldn’t take the hard teaching (Jn.6.60-66).

What you won’t find in the Bible but has been proved true over the years are the sayings that “faith is caught, not taught” and that “belonging comes before believing.” Our Cursillo method is built on the concept of inviting others to the foretaste of heaven we have discovered. How do we do this? By putting a leaflet out at the back of an empty church? I’ve listened to so many testimonies at the closing services where new pilgrims have said something to the effect of “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for (so-and-so) who persuaded me...” or “I owe it all to (so-and-so)…” The Holy Spirit moves in any way the Holy Spirit wants, but very few Cursillistas are attracted to the movement by what they’ve read about it; it’s all about personal contact.

Which brings me back to our three friends at the start of this rant. Are you one of the everybodies who know that something needs to be done to attract new pilgrims and wants to spend time sorting out just how that’s going to be done and by whom (but not actually doing anything yourself)? Or are you one of the somebodies who feels that Everybody is putting it on you and you have no answer? In the end, maybe it’s better to be a Nobody, and just go out there and get on with the real business of ‘gossiping the gospel’ and showing others what they are missing.

Pause to think 2

And this excellent sermon was given by Nadia Bolz-Weber in a women’s prison she regularly visits, developing the text for last Sunday which (had it not been Harvest at P and N) would have been all about having a little faith and that little faith being faith and enough. It speaks to us all, whatever we are facing, wherever we are:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
 – Luke 17

When I was a little girl, I was given a small “Christian” necklace.  But it wasn’t a little gold cross or a silver Jesus fish symbol-thing. Nope. As a 11 year old girl, I wore a fake gold chain from which hung a small, clear, plastic orb – that contained within it. . . a tiny round seed. 

You might see where this is going . . . it was a mustard seed.  If you have faith the size of this tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, you could uproot a huge tree and throw it in the ocean.

Um, I have never understood why, if given such vast power over physical objects, one would, out of all the options available, choose to uproot bushes and throw them into the ocean. I mean, I would maybe uproot an entire New York pizza parlor and drop it into my backyard, sure, but choosing to use a superpower to drown mulberry bushes feels like a pretty big missed opportunity.

That aside, I have to admit that this “if you have faith of a mustard seed” text has not been one in my life that has made my faith feel stronger . . . this text has been one in my life that has often made my faith feel inadequate. Because I’ve always heard it as a syllogism:  

With only a teensy weensy amount of faith, Nadia could perform miracles. 

Nadia does not perform miracles.

Therefore Nadia has so little faith it’s not even as big as that mustard seed around her neck.

Well, for the record, that necklace was super cheap and always turned my neck green so, you know, I didn’t wear it much.

Anyhow, when I am on the road speaking at events, I always take questions, and I am struck by how different the questions are when they are written down anonymously as opposed to when people have to stand up and say them out loud.

The stand up out loud questions are often like, what do your tattoos mean?

But the written questions are more like, is it ok to feel distant from your faith when you are going through a really hard time in life?

And…What if I am not sure what I believe?

And.. Is doubt ok?

And even statements like: Sometimes I wonder if there really is a God because of all the hurt and suffering in life.

These questions, asked under the cover on anonymity, feel like they maybe come from the same place as when the disciples said Lord, increase our faith. Thinking if they could just have a greater quantity of faith, then things would be less hard for them.

And the way I always heard Jesus’ response about the mustard seed felt to me like Jesus is basically scolding them and also us for not having even the tiniest measurable amount of faith.

But a closer reading of the text offers some help – and forgive me for talking about grammar in a sermon, but in Greek there is a “future conditional clause”: If you were to have the faith of a mustard seed — implying that you don’t have that faith now (which is how I always heard it).

But there is also an “according to present reality conditional clause” in Greek: in which case Jesus response to the disciples changes to: if you have the faith of a mustard seed (and you do) —implying that they ALREADY have enough faith.

So here in Luke Jesus isn’t actually scolding them for not having even the tiniest amount of faith – instead when they ask him to increase their faith he’s basically rejecting the premise of their request.

In essence, he seems to imply that what they need isn’t  more faith,

What they need to realize is that the thing they already have IS faith.

It’s like Jesus is saying how much faith do you have? and I’m like I don’t know Jesus, it’s not very much it’s like barely any and Jesus is saying “perfect!”

That’s a different message entirely isn’t it?

So maybe our prayer for today shouldn’t be Lord, increase our faith, but Lord increase our awareness of what faith already looks like in our lives.

Which brings me back to the questions I get on the road.  So many of them imply that people struggle with the fact that hard things in life are, well. . . hard. That somehow since they don’t have the same great positive feelings about God in the midst of their suffering as they do in the midst of their joy that this somehow means they lack faith. Or if they doubt it means they do not have faith, and if they do not have faith it means God is far off – like God is so needy that if we don’t text him heart emojis every couple hours he stops loving us.

But friends, I just don’t think our thoughts and feelings are quite that powerful.

I mean, Jesus does not promise us that where two or more are gathered he will be there, you know, IF you have all managed to have enough faith this week.  

So I wonder if maybe when we are a little neurotic about whether or not we have enough faith, it’s both giving ourselves too much credit and not giving ourselves enough credit all at once.

Too much credit because our thoughts and feelings, while not unimportant, are just not so powerful that they have any kind of eternal spiritual impact, and not enough credit because honestly we probably have a lot more faith than we realize.

For most of my life I thought that the only exercise that “counted” was going for a run, or working out at the gym. And there were times in my life I would do just that for 30 minutes a day and then be sedentary for 23 ½ hours. But I have started wearing a fitness tracker and am stunned to see how on days I don’t “workout” I still walk 10,000 steps a day just living my life. Just doing things like housework and grocery shopping – things I never thought were part of my fitness.

So when it comes to spiritual fitness – sometimes in our lives we can hit the God Gym and sometimes we just can’t and in those seasons, let’s trust that there are many spiritually unassuming parts of our lives that have an element of faith to them and that those parts really add up.

Here’s an incomplete list:

If you dream about a good future for your children, that’s a form of faith.

If you are moved by the faith of your ancestors, that also counts.

If you have doubts – that is also a form of faith because at least you’re still engaged in the question.

Do you hold those you love in your heart when they are suffering? Faith.

Do you notice the changing blue of the Colorado sky…totally counts.

Do you see the inherit dignity of other human beings – also faith.

Have you asked someone to pray for you because you just can’t pray right now? Faith.

Is there a feeling of gratitude for anything at all in your life  – I mean AT ALL? That’s a kind of faith.

Here’s a good one: do you ever complain or tell God off? In the Bible, that’s called a lament – and you know what? It’s a form of faith.

All of that is to say, all the faith you need is already there no matter your thoughts and feelings.

So if you are straining to touch a faith that feels out of reach and judging yourself for falling short please know this: God always puts all the best stuff on the bottom shelf.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.