From the Moderator……
The broadcaster John Peel once responded to someone’s complaint about the pop and hiss of scratched vinyl records with the words ‘What’s the problem? Life has surface noise.’ It is true: the pursuit of blemish-free perfection in this world is an impossible task.
I write this letter on the day that the death of the writer, poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen has been announced. Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ includes the lines ‘Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in every-thing, that’s how the light gets in’ which carries Peel’s reflection one step further: it is in, through and maybe because of life’s imperfections we glimpse true glory and are afforded a true, not naïve, hope.
These observations resonate powerfully with not only the Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus, but also our experience of life. Despite the best efforts of plenty to render the incarnation as a saccharin, anodyne event captured through a soft focus lens in a photo-shopped film set, God’s intervention is at one level no fairy tale moment of perfection, yet will remain eternally sublime at another more substantive level.
When living in Northumberland, I would often on dark winter’s evenings pull up at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere when the sky was cloud-free and gaze at the stars, picking out the Milky Way and many constellations in the crystal clear night sky. It kept everything in glorious perspective, but the darker the better. A bright moon or any electric light diminished the view. Darkness was essential.
I have also discovered through the years that the light of the gospel comes into focus more sharply, and is more welcome, the darker the circumstances through which we pass. The darker the days, and through the long nights of the soul, God’s love-light is all the more dazzling, beautiful, and captivating. It cannot justify the darkness, but it certainly transforms it, and for that we can be profoundly thankful.
‘Tis the season to be jolly’ sounds rather hollow and wide of the mark when we see growing division, the dark cloud of war dominating so much of our news, and all the while planet earth reels from our incapacity to live within her means; the tenets of world faiths are manipulated for evil purposes, and economic injustice and divides become more pronounced.
But, this is the kind of world into which Jesus was born: a world of barbaric cruelty, military occupation, extortion and economic injustice, political corruption and uncompromising religious dogma; a world in which innocent children suffered at the hands of the establishment’s paranoia, and a world in which the Holy Family itself had to flee as refugees and live in exile until it was safe for them to return. It all sounds hauntingly familiar as we watch the news today.
The whole of John’s Gospel from the outset makes much of light and darkness: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it … the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world … and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … ’
These are words which will be read in the coming weeks on December-darkened days bringing hope, inspiration and encouragement to those who need it most. Where people have fallen into hopelessness, overwhelmed by darkness and with no light evident, we are called to be alongside them in practical ways. Humans can see only a section of the spectrum of light: it is still there, from gamma rays through to radio waves, all beyond our vision. Similarly our understand-ing of God’s presence and power is that even where that love light appears to have been lost, we believe that love will ultimately prevail and burn bright again.
The challenge for Christians seeking to celebrate the incarnation in meaningful ways this December is to let that love-light shine into the darkest areas of human activity and experience: to nurture that which allows the light to shine through our cracked and imperfect human existence and so transform the darkness, letting it be a vehicle for God’s glory which turns our darkest Good Fridays into Easter Sundays. How? Sharing the love: through what we do, say, choose, support, believe and pray.
And this is not simply a seasonal thought, but a per-spective, a hunger, that must stay with us throughout the year. We are called to remember those living under long shadows cast by life’s circumstances, and light up their lives. For those living beyond our reach, we can support those agencies and charities working on our behalf to make a real difference in their lives. Such actions, rather than any forced jollity for a season, are the most appropriate response to the good news of Christ’s birth among us.
May God’s love-light burn bright for you in Christ this season and always,
NEWS OF PEOPLE
Congratulations to St Andrew’s Monkseaton minister Matthew Prevett on completing his PhD, and to Heaton & High Heaton minister Grant Wilson on completing his Education for Ministry Phase 2 (EM2).
We have been saddened by the sudden death on November 11th of retired minister Alan Spivey, and offer our sympathy to his widow Jenny and all their family. Alan’s ministries included 15 years as a Chaplain to the Forces, and within our synod he was minister of St Columba’s North Shields 1976-87.
Synod Clerk Mel Campbell wishes to convey her thanks and appreciation for people’s prayers and all the cards and she has received over recent weeks.
Synod Finance Officer Helen Hogg recently attended a three day First Aid at Work Course at St John’s Ambulance, and brings her new skills to the life of synod office.
JESMOND SHORTLISTED FOR AWARD
Jesmond URC was one of only five projects to be shortlisted for the 2016 President’s Award of the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the National Churches Trust, in the category of ‘reordering/alteration and extension projects’. Although beaten on the night of the awards ceremony by the parish church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury at Wymondham in Norfolk, the short-listing can be seen as a great honour for architect Vincent Stienlet and all who worked alongside him on the refurbishment project. In the words of church secretary Alison Shiel, “This matches the pleasure we experience in seeing how people enjoy using our refurbished buildings.”
USING THE WINDERMERE CENTRE
Churches in regular contact with the Windermere Centre have received a letter with the challenging question “What’s the point of the Windermere Centre?” This follows on from a Mission Council resolution in October to make a final decision about the future of the Centre in May 2017. In the meantime the letter asks users and supporters to make use of the Centre in the coming months, to speak out and share their stories using the Centre website, to join in volunteering at the Centre, and to pray. “The purpose of church itself is mission – God’s work in the world – so it is vital that we invite God into our decisions, and that we dare to step into a future led by the Holy Spirit.”
And the letter adds “Our work is to resource the church through hospitality and theological adventure, and we are still here to serve you, until at least May 2017, so please do come and get involved. It’s Your Place!”
MIDDLESBROUGH TRAIDCRAFT SHOP
Jenny Medhurst’s shop is open again – for the 31st successive Christmas, and in the same location as last year, opposite M&S on Linthorpe Road. It’s a splendid place to buy those unexpected Christmas gifts!
Something that started in Northern Synod has now gone nationwide! A Bible reflection and a short prayer are to be emailed on a daily basis to whoever asks for them – and so far organiser Andy Braunston reports that more than 500 people have signed up. The new series goes out in the name of the whole United Reformed Church, beginning Advent Sunday November 27th. To subscribe go to the link on the synod website homepage.
will be held this year at Ampleforth Abbey, February 14-16. In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, the retreat leader Fr Andrew will be talking about Martin Luther. The retreat is open to everyone in Northern Synod and details are on the synod website. To book a place or for more information contact Peter Rand on 01670 820821.
MOZAMBIQUE CHRISTMAS APPEAL
Churches should by now have received our synod appeal leaflet, calling for gifts to help replace the vehicle we supplied to our friends in Mozambique nearly ten years ago. We have a target of nearly £4000 to meet – and we hope that both congregations and individuals will be generous in providing the means to provide a replacement 4×4 to keep churches in touch with one another. And looking ahead, we hope to receive a group of visitors from the Presbyterian Church of Mozambique (IPM) before the end of 2017.
Keep the news coming in! –
Contact Wendy Watson at Synod Office – Tel 0191 2321168