Sunday 24 November 2013

Christmas Tree Festival Programme

Please come along to the amazing Christmas Tree Festival to be held at this week at St Andrew's Wraysbury on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 November. Emily tells me there are now 68 entries so our church will turn into a Narnian land of mystery and beauty.

As well as viewing the trees and voting for your favourites, there's lots more to do, including delicious cakes and preserves to buy, delightful children's activities (thank you Becky and Jenny) and a programme of exciting special events each day. We believe that our deputy Mayor and Mayoress will also be making a visit.

Friday's programme is organised by the school, and the pupils will be doing all kinds of fun performances through the day. The day will run from 12 noon until 6pm. Programmes will be available on the day.

Saturday's programme is organised by the church and we have some really exciting events lined up. There will be a Christmas special (with some surprises!), puppet shows with Tony and Stan, Christmas in Finland and of course our very own St Andrew's choir singing Christmas carols. To help you choose when to turn up, here's the complete schedule of events for Saturday 30th:

10.00               welcome and opening                         
Reverend Colin

10.30               Bells                                                  
St Andrew's bellringers *                   

11.00               puppets                                             
Tony Hermes and Surendra Chahal

11.30               Christmas in Finland                           
Elisa Gibson

12.00               carols                                                
St Andrew's Choir

12.30               Christmas special                                
Reverend Colin

[Lunch break 12.40 – 1.30]

1.30                 puppets                                              
Tony Hermes and Surendra Chahal

2.00                 auctions, awards and prizes

3.00                 close

* if there is a shortage of bellringers then this item will be replaced be a Christmas Special matinee performance with Reverend Colin

All this, and yet admission is free! What a great way to start your Christmas - see you there.

Love Colin x x

A Society that hates people?

Does our society really want people any more? As I listen to the news of changes to the London Underground, which mean fewer people are wanted because there are more machines, I gloomily ponder how many more of our enterprises and institutions have gone the same way...

  • The steel industry where I used to live in Sheffield still makes loads of steel - but it doesn't want more than a few people to press buttons. The rest have all gone.
  • Your bank has put in cash machines because it doesn't want to pay people to help you organise your money.
  • Your supermarket has put in automated tills so that they don't have to employ people either.
  • Any firm you ring about anything has endless automated messages - so they don't have to have people to talk to you. Annoying, isn't it?
  • Robots are apparently being brought in in Japan to care for old people - so even the elderly will have machines instead of the hated humans to care for them.
  • huge numbers of lower middle class workers, who used to do all the adding up and copying and filing by hand, have been replaced by computers.
  • Driverless trains... online goods... online sex (whatever that is - I'm a vicar after all)... algorithmic stock trading... virtual friendships...

Somehow in my dull brain I still want to cling to the absurd and dated idea that "society" means what happens when people get together. But we seem to be creating a society which doesn't need people. How can that possibly work? I mean even in economic terms, when nobody's got any work because it's all done by machines, how will anyone earn anything? For I have no doubt that even human machine minders will be replaced by machines that can mind other machines better than we can. What will the economy mean when it's just lots of computers firing strings of digits at each other?

And who will this brave new society actually function for? Presumably only an ultra rich super class who design or make or own and hire out the machines and the stuff they run on will actually have money. But in the end if nobody but them earns anything, there'll be nobody to buy the goods and services their machines provide, will there? Then they too must go bust, surely? Surely even they will then be forced to admit that there is some mutuality in the world? When there is no-one left to buy then there can be no sellers either - can there?

As you can tell, I just don't get it. But at least we can still form a society, through choice even if not through economics much longer. We can privately and personally seek out a human interaction which we can no longer find in the factory or office. One of the great things about coming to Horton and Wraysbury is the enormous extent to which people set enthusiastically about this through all the various clubs and societies that we have here.

Christmas is coming up. It's a reminder that people matter. God values humanity so much that He came and shared in it. The divine life was incarnated in human laughter and tears, human work and play, human friendship and struggle. So let's not have a mechanical world, pitiless and pointless. That world is both godless and inhumane. Let's choose people instead.

Colin x x

Saturday 23 November 2013

A familiar face

It was a pleasure to come across a familiar face in my new Diocese this week. As a newcomer - 25 years in ministry but just started in Oxford Diocese - I attended an orientation day on Thursday and one of the first speakers was the Diocesan Registrar, John Rees.

John is now a very distinguished lawyer indeed, with roles in the Church of England generally including legal adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Registrar to the entire Province. He was made The Times' Lawyer of the Week earlier this year. And he's looking great. I can't say he hasn't changed a bit because it's over thirty years now and I know I've aged in that time too. But he's bright, smart and twinkly-eyed. You can see him on the back of the latest Diocesan magazine, Door.

John was leading the Church Youth Group at the time I first started coming and set out on the road to following Jesus. A callow, confused, embarrassed and embarrassing young man I certainly was at the time, lonely, socially inept and silly, but I was welcomed and wanted anyway. And I was so desperate to find God and get some peace. John and that Youth Group showed me where to look for both, in Jesus, The Way.

Some years later John read me an extract from the journal he kept back then - perhaps he still does. I don't remember the exact words, but it said something like this: "a new person, Colin, came to Youth Group today. Told him about Jesus. Felt as though I was giving too much bread to a starving man."

I am so grateful that John and others took the time to share with me and nurture me. I feel I owe it to them as well as to the Lord to look out for those who may be as lonely or confused or spiritually desperate as I was back then, and to share Living Bread with them as best I can, just as I myself received it.

So Thank You John for what you did for me. I'm sorry the programme was so busy we had no time to talk. But perhaps we'll have time to rectify that as time goes on and I put down roots in the Diocese.

And as for you, reader - share a bit of bread with someone soon.

Colin x x

Sunday 10 November 2013

In Remembrance: 10 November 2013

Thank you Wraysbury for inspiring and moving Remembrance Service today. People told me that there is strong attendance every year, and they weren't wrong! It was particularly poignant to see so many children taking part and placing poppies round the Millenium Stone. We all long and hope that our children will never need to face the same terrors of war that our mothers and fathers endured. 

I'm told the service up at Horton went well today too. Sorry I couldn't be with you on such an important day - vicars have many strange powers but they don't include being in two places at once. I know you were not short changed as you were led by my trusty colleague Beryl, who I know is a blessing to everyone in the parish.

Some people were kind enough to say nice things about the sermon today, so I promised to put it on the blog. And here it is...

I wonder who or what you think about during that two minutes' silence on Remembrance Sunday? I often think of my grandfather, Albert Taylor. Granddad was born into a very poor family. They were farm labourers in Norfolk with lots of kids. To survive, my granddad learned to live off the land. He knew which leaves and wild roots you could eat, and if there was a pheasant or rabbit anywhere in the landscape, he knew it was there. Ray Mears had nothing on him!

When he was only 16 Albert signed up to fight in the First World War. At the Battle of Cambrai, after initial British success, a German counter-offensive broke through. A small detachment was thrown forward to slow down the enemy so the rest of the troops could pull back to safety. This was called a sacrifice party – they put their lives on the line so their comrades could be saved. Only my granddad and one or two others from that party of over a hundred survived. Everyone else was killed.

Albert was taken prisoner and endured conditions of great hardship. Because of the British naval blockade, the Germans did not have enough food for their own people, let alone their prisoners. Granddad was assigned to an agricultural party, going into the fields to work the soil, as so many of the German men were at the front. One day he managed to escape, slipping away into the countryside. There he lived off the land, as he knew so well to do - those survival skills stood him in good stead. Moving by night and hiding up by day, he made his way to neutral Holland. There he was interned as a combatant for the rest of the war.

A sacrifice party… sacrifice is a universal human practice. The Old Testament Hebrews sacrificed, as did the surrounding pagans and classical Greece and Rome. There were the ghastly human sacrifices of the Aztecs and other South American peoples, but lest we think we Europeans are any better there were the mysterious sacrifices of the bog people in Europe. In China ritual sacrifices of burned paper objects are made to ancestors. Animists still offer sacrifices to placate angry gods and demons. Muslims were recently sacrificing sheep or goats at Eid.

Sacrifice is still alive in modern secular life. Athletes sacrifice a normal life to train: they would never have won all those medals in the London 2012 Olympics without huge sacrifices. Volunteers sacrifice their own comforts to help the poor - my own son Ben sacrificed a year of his young life to work with street kids in Bolivia last year. Leaders sacrifice their private lives for their goals… Business men risk their personal wealth and work all hours for their careers...

Closer to home, newlyweds sacrifice their way of life to adapt to their partner's. Parents sacrifice time, effort and money to bring up their kids, and later in life children do the same for their parents. Carers give up future prospects for those they love. Our churches would not continue without the sacrifices of the people who for love of God and His people give of their time, energy and money. Has any worthwhile thing ever been achieved without sacrifice? A world where no-one made sacrifices for others would be a diminished world full of petty people.

Sacrifice is everywhere! Why?

Christians believe it is because that is the way God is. "God is love," says the Bible. Then it tells us that His love is supremely demonstrated in the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross. God is the kind of God who sacrifices Himself for those He loves – and He has made us in His image. No wonder sacrifice appeals to us, inspires us and moves us. It is the great theme of so many of our songs and stories. It fires our imagination and motivates our actions. It is at the heart of life.

In 1917 my granddad Albert laid his life on the line so that his comrades could be saved. And on the night before he died, Jesus shared a last meal together with his disciples. In words that have been used every Remembrance Sunday since it began, he said to them, "Greater love has no-one than this, to lay down his life for his friends." Then he made the Great Sacrifice: he went out to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus laid his own life on the line, so that we his friends could be saved...