Rector’s Letter – June 2017

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” [Deuteronomy 31.6]

Dear folks,

It’s wonderful to be part of a church. I have heard people say that they are Christians but don’t think you need to go to church. But as I often reassert, we don’t go to church, we are church in our unity in Christ, even when not necessarily in the same physical place.

It’s wonderful when people enjoy being church and gathering for worship and fellowship. However, there is a risk that churches can become ‘holy huddles’ that find such comfort in gathering together and following their rites and observances that they close themselves off from the worrying reality of the world outside their place of meeting.

It is understandable that in worrying times folk tend to huddle in fear in places of security, feeling safer in numbers of people who share their views and convictions, hiding away from the world.

As I was saying the daily office in our delightful church building this morning, the horror of the Manchester terrorist attack which happened last night was very much on my heart. I don’t know many people from Manchester but as my hometown of Bolton is only about 10 miles away from it, there will have been people I know at the ill-fated concert. Whether or not that is so, like many others around the world I feel empathy for those who lost their lives, their loved ones hit by that devastated news, the injured (some still critical as I write), and all affected by this terrible incident. And as I prayed I felt a strong bond of unity in the knowledge that many of you were with me in praying for them all, wherever you were.

With anything like this, the injuries and ill affects extend far beyond the people in the blast range of a terrorist bomb at detonation. Certainly people as far up here as in Dunblane, and further, will be emotionally affected. And many people like my own parents who I spoke to just now are fearful and worried.

I thought about the church as a place where distressed and frightened members of our community can come and pray or be silent in God’s presence over this or any incident. We are very blessed to be able to offer that, with our prime location, beautiful building, and commitment to keeping an open door every day.

And then I began to think also how wonderful it is that St Mary’s church is not a church that is a terrified huddle each time something terrible happens. We are not only to be found in our building, but we are spread out, dispersed around the community, the country, and often around the world. We are in supermarkets and garden centres, prisons and charity shops, in foreign lands some working, and some holidaying, in boardrooms and offices in cities, in the country on lochs, glens and hill tops. St Mary’s is present in far flung and diverse places.

We are aware of the dangers but we are living out our faith in the world, driven by the same Spirit that drove those first nervous Christians from their safe place of gathering on the day of Pentecost into all the same kinds of places that you and I live out our lives today.

Terrorists are targeting contexts where people are gathered in large numbers, and this has even made churches targets for attacks as our brothers and sisters in Egypt and India and other places know only too well. But the church of the Risen and Ascended Christ is neither fearful to gather or to disperse. We go, as we are sent, driven out by His Spirit into the world to be a living testimony that violence and death are not the last word. Bearers of Good News and resurrection power.

St Mary’s is not a frightened church disempowered, but an active church. When not together we are found in all kinds of places and contexts all over the world. We have burst out of the tomb of fear into the world, driven by the Spirit. On June 4th with the rest of the worldwide church we will be remembering and celebrating the day of Pentecost. Our main service will be an all-age celebration, as we rejoice that we are not left alone to cower in safe places, but to live the risen life of Jesus out in the full view of the world, so that everyone can see that there is hope that defies all distress and danger.

I hope you can join us as we gather not in fear but in triumph and joy.

Love and blessings,