Growing as a Christian
What is our life, so full of care...?
(if we do not have time to stop and stare?)
Christianity is a religion of grace bestowed by God, freely, to all those who seek it. But in our hectic lives, our 'common round', our struggles to hold it together, pay bills, maintain homes, keep kids and partners happy, or at least healthy and content, cope with rigours and restrictions of illness, disability or age; it is often, even sometimes almost always, hard to stop and listen and see what God may be doing in us already; to pause, draw breath, seek His Spirit and His restorative sustenance; and sense how we may be open to His grace and guidance; how we indeed may be called and enabled to help Him by being His eyes, ears, voices, hands, feet to bring a tiny bit closer his Kingdom of justice and peace and reconciliation to our wonderful, torn world.
Christ Jesus who we follow, told us: “Do not be afraid", and "I am with you till the end of time.” St Paul said, writing in oppressive times under Roman occupation: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans, ch12, v2). And the prologue of John’s Gospel, John ch1, v5, states “The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never overcome it.”
January 2017. We have another new President of the USA promising to make America great again. The only thing on evidence so far that we may predict with any confidence about Donald Trump is that he will be unpredictable.
Meanwhile, in South Street, Farnham, outside Farnham Methodist Church a poster declares “THE LORD PROVIDES, even in this climate”, the many fruits of Christian faith represented, presumably, by the background image of a load of currants!
So what does the good Lord provide? A regular mortgage payment? Food and clothes for the kids? The family holiday to Disneyland in Florida? Or something not easily defined, but within us, potentially joyous, transformative, and catching? Perhaps exploring the answer to this question in our daily lives and activities might be a good place to start growing as Christians.
Wherever we look and whatever we look at, human society and the whole ecology of our planet appears to be in flux. Human activity is affecting everything, from the greatest macro system of our planet, the climate and its weather (if you believe the near-universal consensus of the world's climate scientists rather than people who include Mr Trump, a billionaire by inherited wealth, with a series of bankruptcies behind him from his business ventures); down to our increased ability to manipulate DNA, the building blocks of life.
So many of our old certainties about the nature of life, many as old or older than Christianity, appear to be up in the air. Or Mr Trump may say, up for grabs.
The list of human woes and fears is long. Enough is said by the images of millions of refugees who are motivated enough to leave all behind, to risk hunger, epidemic disease, even death; then seeking the basic human needs of shelter, safety, work and food; but turned back at borders where people with all these things and more fear losing them to such an influx. But we also witness how on a sea of human suffering, many stories of amazing human altruism flicker brightly.
This world is very frightening. Of course, it always had been. Except that now the human race has several choices to destroy itself in fast or slower ways.
But we also know how in response to fundamental change and challenge, we know that the amazing spirit and adability of human beings can come many opportunities.
China, for instance, are choosing to invest billions in renewable energy technologies, where the government have the ambition and foresighted planning to dominate the massive potential future market for these new technologies, as renewable energy production is already commercially competitive and world oil and gas supplies dwindle and their extraction costs increase.
The ultimate freedom as Christians to live our lives fearlessly comes from the Christian belief that even if the world is destroyed, God cannot be; and by extension, since we are “in God”, nor can we be.
Living out the Christian faith today may not be easy for most of us to work out in, but God calls us, as his instruments, to try to. That is the way we will grow.
God in our World
This is the messy and broken world that we as Christians believe that God loves unconditionally and treasures, all of us humankind and all of His Creation. It is the world into which he sent his beloved son Jesus, God made man. It is important that this therefore shows God loves our physical bodies and natures as well as our spiritual dimension.
Jesus lived in a turbulent part of an oppressive, cruel Roman Empire, but one which also brought order and great advancements for civilisation and its subjects. The history of the world is a history of turbulence, of the rise, decay and fall of empires. The 20th Century, with its two World Wars and countless regional conflicts, was the bloodiest century to date.
For 2,000 years, Christianity has witnessed and survived, often thrived, through cataclysmic events, and continues to do so, despite the decades-long decline in church attendance in Western Europe. The churches were at the forefront of the mass popular movements in Eastern Europe which brought down the Iron Curtain. Today, in Africa, for instance, the churches are growing rapidly. And in Pope Francis, from Argentina, we have a Christian leader with worldwide influence who speaks out loudly the central Gospel message of justice and compassion for the poor and downtrodden and for a renewed and urgent careful stewardship of all of God's Creation, in the spirit of St Francis of Asissi, after whom the Pope chose to name himself at his election to the Papacy.
Being a Christian in our World
It is vitally important that as Christians we attempt to engage with our complex world. If we don’t, then we are in danger of being irrelevant and out of touch. This theme of engaging with the secular world is a challenging task for the church in every age, not least our own. It is a work which Bishop Andrew Watson is seeking to continue from his predecessor Bishop Christopher and build on, with the formulation in consultation across the parishes of the diocese of his on-going Diocesan Vision with its 12 Goals, Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities.
Help on our journey of growth
One of our chosen Diocesan Goals for 2017 is "Making Disciples" - i.e, building us as individuals and as a body into more mature and effective Christians, more knowledgable about our faith, better equipped to be witnesses of the Good News in our community through the example and activity of our lives.
Happily, after twenty centuries of lived Christian experience in every imaginable historical and cultural context, many tools, methods, disciplines for prayer, study, and guides to action are available to help us on our spiritual journey, and many other people who have been on their journeys a long while to accompany us. We just have to decide to set aside as much or as little regular time as our different life circumstances allow us, in a disciplined manner, so that we may benefit from the all help out there, and grow in our maturity and formation as Christians.
Worship and Holy Communion
Coming together for Sunday worship regularly and, commonly in the Anglican faith, the regular partaking in Holy Communion is the bedrock of our opening ourselves to God's grace in our lives.
Currently, at St Andrew's There are 8am and 10am services at St Andrew's each Sunday. For those who work or cannot attend on Sundays, here at St Andrew's there is a weekly Holy Communion at 11am on Tuesday. The 8am and Tuesday 11am services are shorter, with no singing, and use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Confidential prayer is offered to individuals who seek it straight after the Sunday 10am service. It takes place in the Lady Chapel.
There is a Sunday Evening Prayer at 6.30pm, normally each Sunday. It is a short service, with space for contemplative silence. Occasionally, there is an Evensong, or another form of service, usually involving the church choir.
Check this website's home page or Noticeboad for changes or additions to each week's services.
Farnham is blessed with many churches and congregations. Each church has its own traditions and emphases in its worship services, among C of E churches in Farnham, and between denominations.
Bible study and learning
Beyond our worship services, here in our Parish there have been small bible study groups and people are encouraged each year to join a number of Lent courses, involving guided bible study. We hope to be increasing such group study in 2017. Do look out for them on our Notice Board. Courses and events are also organised by the Diocese and by other churches that are open to everyone - see the Events page on Churches Together in Farnham website. In July, the Guildford Diocese holds a Summer School at different venues in the area. A wide selection of courses, workshops, seminars and group discussions are on offer.
We all have to be personally active and responsible for our own development, not just expect to be 'spoon-fed':
Individual, small group and corporate Prayer
We need to find out about different methods of prayer, especially prayer which is "listening to God". Only by trying to pray and doing it regularly will we find out our own preferred way to pray. Different people respond best to God in prayer in different ways.
For instance, parishioner Mandy Marshall leads a quiet hour of of guided group meditation in St Andrew’s 6.45pm for 7pm 3rd Tuesday each month. Check the Noticeboard.
Everybody can get into a habit of reading or hearing audio recordings. Christian books abound, so it may be best to get advice on well proven classics or a recommended and respected current writer.
For instance, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has written a number of small volumes of a hundred pages or less, accessible in content, which can teach us all the fundamentals which we need to know about being a Christian in today's world. You might want to start with Being Christian, or maybe Meeting God in St Paul. Most of us struggle with the more bombastic passages in St Paul's letters. Williams shows how his more unpalatable writing can be understood when we grasp how truly revolutionary was the outliving of the Christian way in the social norms of the cities in which the new churches existed, and how passionately angry St Paul, warts and all, would become when he sensed that new Christians were not always "getting" it. They can also be used as books for short-term study groups, with questions to consider and discuss after each chapter. See these books on Waterstones website.