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December's Pastoral Letter

Love your neighbour….

As the Covid crisis rolls relentlessly onwards, what sort of Christmas are you going to have?

We are currently in the second lockdown as I write this, in the hope that if we all behave and stay indoors as much as possible we may be let out in time for Christmas. Despite what Boris says, there is no guarantee of this; it all depends on those dreaded ‘R’ numbers falling sufficiently to enable the all clear to be sounded. And then what – will we all be let out, or will it depend on where we live? Perhaps by the time we are nursing those New Year hangovers we will be facing lockdown number 3?

They say that a crisis can be seen as an opportunity. Therefore this year we all have the opportunity to ask ourselves the question ‘What does Christmas really mean to me?’ Traditionally Christmas is a time for families and New Year is a time to spend with friends. But what if your family is split between the North-west and the nursing home, between one county and another or even one country and another? You could always set an iPad at the table, connect to your favourite social meetings app and raise a toast with absent family and friends. One thing is sure, with the table limited to six settings, turkeys will be smaller this year.

This Christmas, with smaller gatherings, may be a way of avoiding those traditional familial feuds. Perhaps this year the cast of EastEnders will actually get on. Now, that would be a very different Christmas!

Someone once asked Jesus, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ After the first choice, which may be summarised as ‘Love God with everything you have got’, the second was ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. This caused one particular expert in the law to ask Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Jesus went on (In Luke Chapter 10) to develop the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. It turned out that not only was the saviour of the wounded man from a different religion, he was even from a different country!

Someone once described a stranger as a friend we have not yet met. This Christmas, we have an opportunity to extend the love we have for our own family out to someone who is new, unfamiliar, maybe not from the same church or the same country. It’s a path we have to tread carefully; extending love is not the same as imposing hospitality. A gift is only a gift if it’s appropriate to a person’s needs or desires.

This Christmas, may God’s blessings extend to you, your families, your neighbours and your friends, and also to those friends you have not yet met.

Rex Shaw, Reader Minister

 

November's Pastoral Letter

“We know, brothers and sisters, that God loves you....” is part of the opening greeting from Paul to the congregation in Thessalonica.

As I go about the seven villages of the Barrow and Wolds Group, I meet many people. Each has their own story and are living out their lives as Christian disciples in very different contexts, within the family of this group of churches and beyond and it is a great privilege to be entrusted by them with their stories and to accompany them as they reflect on what God is doing in and through their lives.

Common to all these different individuals, each with their unique story, is a single thread: God's prior unconditional love for us and the offering of our lives in thanksgiving. The apostle Paul, along with other New Testament writers, time after time, has this as his starting point. The first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans are about how God has shown us His love through the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit; the remainder of the letter is then about our response as Christian disciples. All this is very much in the tradition of the Old Testament accounts of the people's walk with God. Look at how the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 begin; not with the list of ‘do’s and don'ts’ but most powerfully with, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” We begin with what God has done for us, and ‘therefore'...

“Therefore" is a huge New Testament word (only three letters in Greek, but massive)! It serves as the fulcrum between what God has done for us and our response. It is because of what God has done for us that we are thankful and live our lives in grateful response to His love. When we remember how God has loved us, so we remember our calling to love others. As Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I regularly see a Spiritual Director, someone who accompanies me on my journey of faith and discipleship. He will sometimes suggest taking one page of A4 to write down, very briefly, what I want to give thanks for, where I have seen some glimpse of God’s glory touching my life. I now try to make this a part of my daily reflection and prayer time, asking myself what I want to thank God for that day, where I have glimpsed His glory. When we take time to compose our own personal list, we realise that this is not just a description of moments in our own life story, but is also a celebration of God’s sustained and unconditional loving engagement with us, in the details of our lives. Often unspectacular, often routine, occasionally at significant moments but time and time again, we know that we are loved!

As we move in to darker and colder weather and waiting for the next set of Covid restrictions, can I invite you to find a sheet of A4 and a pen, sit down quietly and unhurriedly and just start your list? You may well, like me, find yourself surprised by what you write down and more encouraged and enabled to live your life under the heading of “therefore"!!

Finally, in Paul’s words, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.”

Every blessing,

Rev’d Clive Watts, Priest in Charge