Taking The Plunge

Baptism of Christ – 11th January 2015

There’s a definite hint of “new beginnings” in today’s readings [ Genesis 1: 1-5, Mark 1: 4 – 11 ] – first the Genesis account of creation, the beginnings of time and the first day and then St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that, although we’re still firmly in the season of Epiphany, today we are being jolted forward in the life of Christ. Last Sunday we were still thinking of Jesus as an infant. Today we jump ahead to Jesus the man – aged around 30 – and the beginning of his public ministry.

Jesus’ baptism is clearly a significant event – documented by all four gospel writers. And in all four accounts there are 2 constant features – the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus surfaces from the waters of the Jordan, the voice of the Father is heard – “You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased.”

In those few words two things are revealed – Jesus’ own identity and also the depth of the Father’s love for him.

And it’s for that reason that this episode is celebrated so early in the new church year – during Epiphany – the season of revelation.

Traditionally there are 3 elements to Epiphany – the visit of the magi, the Baptism of Christ and then the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle, turning water into wine.

And so the Church presents a kind of “edited highlights” of the gradual process of revealing Christ’s nature and mission – which in reality must have unfolded over some time for those around Jesus, and arguably for Jesus himself.

You’ve heard me before suggesting that if Jesus was truly human – if he really came to live “like us” – then he must have passed through the same process of gradual realisation – from the helpless dependence of a baby, through childhood innocence, through adolescence, to adulthood – so that his own understanding of who he was would have changed with his growing maturity.

His Baptism then, may indeed have been be a moment of startling revelation for Jesus the man – as the Holy Spirit reveals both the identity of the Son, and the enormity of the task that lies ahead of him.

Just as well then that the Father’s words include the reassurance of love – that the Son is well pleasing in his sight:

If the task ahead is daunting, Jesus will not face it alone.

Perhaps this episode in the life of Jesus is meant to offer us the same two-fold revelation – both the challenge of our true identity and the assurance of God’s love.

If ever we feel confident that we know what our church is about, where we fit into society, what we Christians are meant to do – IF we think we’ve got those things neatly sewn up, then there is a danger that we’ve stopped listening for the voice of the Father and started relying on ourselves.

Ours is not a comfortable – nor always a comforting faith – it is one which involves always seeking God’s call and rising to the challenge.

The Spirit who reconciles us to the Father in Baptism goes on revealing new insights, calling us to new tasks and new ways of living out our faith. The comfort – the strength – comes from knowing that in reconciling our own lives to God’s will for us WE may be pleasing in God’s sight, and he will equip us for what lies ahead.

I said earlier that today [“The Baptism of Christ”] is about new beginnings – and there is a particular resonance for us today in the life of our own churchwarden.

On Thursday, Julian will be leaving us to begin a 9 month contact in Mogadishu – working with the European Union Mission in Somalia – helping with training and facilitating the Somali Army, advising the Director General of their M.O.D. and mentoring key personnel in the country’s broader infrastructure.

He will be working in a country locked in its own battle with Islamic extremism – in the shape of al-Shabaab – and the events in France over the past few days serve only to highlight the importance of that work. And there is also the added challenge of reconciling different tribal tendencies in order to establish an effective government there.

Although I don’t wish to push the analogy with Christ too far! – Julian has been asked to take this job because of who he is – because of his unique skills and experience – and has responded to that call. It’s for us then to support him in this task and so to share in this ongoing revelation of God’s love and challenge.

Being an honourable chap – Julian offered his resignation as Warden – but without too much effort was persuaded that this that would not be necessary. After all, if clergy can spend time out in South Sudan – as an expression of our Christian solidarity – then surely a churchwarden undertaking high profile work in Somalia is an equally legitimate and powerful expression of both his and our faith in action. And if Julian will report back periodically on life in another Mogadishu then can be a valuable experience for us all.

Yes it may prove inconvenient at times – and yes there are certainly challenges aplenty for Julian himself – but for all of us there is also a unique opportunity for spiritual growth as we seek to respond in faith to those challenges.

I will be asking some of you to offer practical support for Ann, our Warden in residence, as and when it is needed – and I will be encouraging ALL of us to support Julian, and his family, through prayer during this mission.

It will be good for US – to know and pray about the reality of life in Somalia – to broaden our own perspective and focus on specific issues and people outside our own community and nation.

In recognising the work that Julian will be doing and supporting him through it, we may discover more about ourselves as a community of faith and that our confidence in the unfailing love and grace of God may be renewed and strengthened.

I began by talking about “new beginnings” – and so, although we’re a little way in, I want to end with a prayer for this new year and all that lies ahead.

God of all time, who makes all things new,

As we enter this new year

and take our first few steps into the future,

where nothing is safe and certain except you,

we ask for the courage of the wise men

who simply went and followed a star.

We ask for their wisdom,

in choosing to pursue the deepest truth,

not knowing where they would be led.

In the year ahead, God of all time,

be our help and our company.

Uphold us as we journey onwards

and may your dream of shalom,

where all will be at peace,

be our guiding star. Amen.             (Francis Brienen)

Be Human – For God’s Sake

Christmas Eve 2014

It’s one of those peculiarities about the passage of time – that although, in my mind, this year seems to have sped by quicker than ever – it also feels an age since I sat happily working through my pile of summer reading.

Of all the books that I read, one thing that has stuck in my mind is Jeremy Paxman’s evocative description of the Christmas Truce of 1914 – in his book “Great Britain’s Great War”.

He describes the situation, 5 months into the First World War – with the armies stranded in their trenches, often only a few dozen yards apart, and an expectation that little would change until the following Spring.

Pope Benedict XV proposed that there should be a “Truce of God” to honour the feast of Christmas – but this faltered, partly because for the Russian Army Christmas would not be celebrated until 6th January. Senior British Officers were said to be relieved by this rejection and one General Sir Horrace Smith-Dorrien issued an order specifically banning “unofficial armistices and the exchange of tobacco or other comforts.” There was some confusion, then, in the British trenches when, on 23rd December, lights appeared on the horizon – until it became clear that German troops had erected Christmas Trees.

What followed seems to have been a series of uncoordinated and unpremeditated truces along the front. English soldiers heard strains of “Stille Nacht” and “O Tannenbaum” and responded with their own English songs – sacred and otherwise!

And so, on Christmas Eve, 100 years ago, soldiers from both sides agreed to rendezvous in no-man’s land and German cigars were exchanged for vegetable stew and Capstan cigarettes. Plum puddings were given for sauerkraut, biscuits for coffee, and yet more cigarettes for schnapps.

An extract from Paxman’s own description of that remarkable encounter:

Men who a day or so earlier would have liked nothing more than to put a bullet in the man beside them now stood showing off photographs of their families, girlfriends or children.

In some sections … there were even shared Christmas dinners. There are several accounts of junior officers also climbing out [of the trenches] to shake hands and exchange gifts with their German opposite numbers.

The weather had changed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day a sharp frost froze the mud and glazed the ground with white. The sky was clear and blue” ‘It was just the sort of day for peace to be declared”, thought one lieutenant in the Warwickshire Regiment, ‘but no, it was a nice, fine day – that was all.’

And, with a prearranged series of shots into the air

and the firing of a signal flare,

the peace ended and the killing resumed.”

So, in retrospect, it seems little had changed. The Christmas Truce was just a brief interlude in a long and bloody war. It would not be repeated in 1915 or the years which followed.

And yet, for some of those involved, their perspective certainly had changed.

The trenches opposite were no longer filled with faceless henchmen – but with fathers, younger brothers, sons – with young men just like themselves. And for a while, in places soldiers on both sides refused to fight those with whom they had chatted, shared food, played football.

As Paxman sums up:

There is nothing normal about living in a hole and trying to kill your neighbours. The Christmas Truce of 1914 had been proof of a more natural human instinct – a triumph of the human spirit over those brass hats who thought of soldiers as expendable automatons.”

A triumph of the human spirit – a rediscovery, perhaps, in that unreal situation of what it truly means to be human.

That same discovery, I suggest, is at the heart of the Christmas story – and one which is urgently needed in the far from peaceful world that we inhabit today.

Tonight, we recall the Word made flesh –

the unimaginable reality of God taking on and inhabiting our human nature. It’s a story we know so well – and yet one which is still to be fully worked out.

As we look around us, it’s easy to feel that – as with the Christmas Truce of 1914 – nothing’s really changed: Violence still trumps peace in the daily headlines. In this past year we’ve seen a worrying resurgence of nationalism – at home and abroad. Religious extremism and political corruption are as rampant as ever.

Faced with such a backdrop, it’s easy for us to want to retreat into a kind of Christmas haze – and put all that out of mind for a couple of days – to enjoy a kind of temporary truce with the world around us.

And yet, tonight we are called to do more than that.

We are challenged to comprehend the enormity of God’s willingness to become like us – we are challenged to reassess what it means to be human.

What is revealed to us tonight, and every Christmas, is that to be fully human is to be like God – that we, who are made in the image of God, share a common humanity that is remarkable.

And if our shared human existence now feels very far from being God-like or remarkable – then something is clearly wrong with the way in which we are living it.

So much suffering in our world seems to be caused by an inability, or perhaps an unwillingness, to recognise as fellow beings those who are different – whether by creed, appearance, culture or whatever barriers we chose to erect. The stories of abuse, of torture, of persecution, are surely only possible become some individuals decide that their lives are worth more than certain other peoples’.

Yet the Word made flesh came to embrace all humanity – and unless and until all of humanity is willing to do the same, the message of Christmas is unfulfilled.

None of us, individually, can make that happen – but we can begin, in small ways, to change perceptions – just as for many the experience of the 1914 truce did.

We can at least persist in asking the thorny questions:

As children of God – as brothers and sisters in a common human race – how should we shape international politics in the 21st century?

In our own country, how should we manage the effects of a shrinking public purse?

In our own communities – how will we deal with those who have messed up – and need a hand to start again?

How will we deal with those who are messed up – through self-abuse, or by the effects of other people’s actions?

How will we ensure that all people are able to live and die with proper human dignity?

None of these are easy questions to answer, but perhaps the legacy of the Christmas Truce of 1914 – and the purpose of our annual celebration of the birth of a child in Bethlehem is to make us question, to sharpen our thinking and to learn again how rich and precious this human existence is.

In a few days’ time – although there will be no signal flare – there will be clear indications that it is time to get back to normality – to leave the Christmas glow behind.

Let’s not be too ready to fall back, however, to where we were before:

let us pray that by entering once more into the mystery and wonder of Christmas our perceptions may be heightened and changed, and that we may enter the new year resolved that neither we, nor others, should live lives that are less than fully human.

Christ humbled himself to share our humanity, so that we might come to share his divine life.

May we go forward then, charged with his life and grace, to continue his work of redeeming love.

Rise and Shine

Advent Sunday 2014

On Monday of this week our Aldhelm Group were looking at the work of Isaac Newton – 17th century scientist and framer of the Laws of motion which held sway for the better part of 300 years: he it was who sat under the apple tree and was inspired to give the first explanation of the force of gravity.

What was less familiar to us, in Monday’s Aldhelm group, was Newton’s interest in Christian theology – and his keen interest in the “end times” – the second coming of Christ and the end of the universe as we know it. This, Newton considered might happen as early as the year 2060 – but not before.

The author of the material we were studying challenged us to consider why this topic is so rarely discussed today – either in church – or among Christians elsewhere. Why do we no longer see the men in sandwich boards urging us to repent because “the end is nigh”?

I commented that I think the Church is much more concerned with now with transforming life in the “here and now” or, as our own Mission statement put it, striving to “reveal God’s love in worship and action”. But that’s still only an observation – not an explanation of WHY we don’t talk much about what is clearly there in scripture and in words attributed to Christ himself. Might it be a general embarrassment that the end has not already come – when Christ seems to say it would happen within the first generation of the Church?

Is it a reaction against the kind of Victorian and 20th Century Christianity that treated faith very much as an escape from the harsh realities of the world?

With various thoughts and questions still swimming around in my head I came here to Morning Prayer on Wednesday only to hear the Reading from chapter 16 of Revelation – describing God purging the earth – and then the reflection which began – “The Wrath of God has rather fallen out of fashion as a topic of preaching in mainstream Western Christianity”.

Taking those two things together – I was left wondering whether we might just have lost some of the edge, some of the urgency that previous generations of Christians shared – and which still characterises the faith of persecuted Christians in Iraq or Syria or Sudan, for example.

Are most western Christians just too comfortable and complacent to worry about such things?

Today’s three readings all have something to add to this: [Isaiah 64: 1-9 – 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9 – Mark 13: 24-37]

The first from Isaiah mourns the absence of God – an absence seen as judgement on a wayward human race, and pleads that God will not remember our iniquity but will remember that he has made us and can re-make us.

The letter to the Corinthians assures it hearers that they have been given the “spiritual gifts while they wait for the revealing of Christ, and that He will strengthen them to the end”.

So God’s power will be revealed on the last day, but is already at work as we wait.

Then , in Mark’s gospel, there is no room for slacking – the end is described in dramatic terms and we are told twice to “keep awake” and, once, to “beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

What I think all that adds up to is an even stronger sense of “duality” in our lives that I’ve spoken of recently – the need to live, fully engaged in the realities of this world, now: the realities of our own community and society and the realities of global tensions and inequality AND to live in the light and expectation of God’s promised kingdom.

Without that future sense of the perfection that God promises will be – it’s hard to find the strength to challenge what is wrong in the present world.

Without the realisation that God is already working through us – has already given us the necessary spiritual gifts – it’s easy to look at the problems of the world and assume he is absent.

So, at the beginning of Advent we’re quite literally given a wake-up call. To look for the signs of God’s activity here and now, so that we can better understand what can too easily seem just distant promises for the future.

As we journey together through Advent, can we really try to keep alert? – alert to the realities of each other’s lives, of the needs around us and to the opportunities that arise to share OUR vision of God’ presence.

There are 3 particular ways that I think we can work at doing that.

Firstly – the oft discussed issue of how we communicate with each other. I’m often dismayed when someone tells me they didn’t know about something they’ve missed –especially when I know I’ve produced a full page spread in the Parish news, included it on several weekly sheets and spoken about it from the front here!

Please do take at least to read the weekly sheet – including those things that may not seem to affect you directly. You may have no intention of ever attending a School Governors meeting, a Mothers’ union meeting or of volunteering to help sustain the Credit union – but you ought to be aware that other church members are doing those things and need your prayers to sustain them.

And if we are really going to communicate effectively – not only do I need to know that you know what’s going on, I also need you to be telling your neighbours who don’t get a weekly sheet.

So, please, be alert to what is going on and to others who might need to know.

Secondly, the question of needs – and the pastoral care that we offer. There is so much more that we could do – for the lonely housebound, for those who spend time in hospital, for those who’ve messed up and need a wise ear and a little guidance.

Are there people within this congregation, or people that you know, who have the time and the skills to train as an LPA – who might then spend time visiting people at home or in hospital? Or who might use those skills as volunteers in our schools or community groups?

Be alert to the gifts God has given you – and those around you – and see if we can’t do more than we currently manage.

And, thirdly, for ALL of us – that overriding need to be alert to every opportunity to engage other people in the reality of God’s presence among us. And that doesn’t need to be particularly high brow, or formal.

It can simply be inviting people to come and join in – as happened so successfully yesterday at our Christmas Fayre.

It can be actively celebrating our faith with other people – as we have opportunity to do at tomorrow’s Tree lighting ceremony. Or it can be just talking about our faith – offering something valuable from our own experience – being alert to when the right moment presents itself in the natural flow of conversation.

If we can all work on those things this Advent – then we might become more aware of each other, and how we can support one another, more aware of the needs of our neighbours, and how we might address them, and more aware of the God’s promptings – and how we might share those experiences.

The season of Advent is sometimes likened to the experience of Israelites that Moses led through the Red Sea into the wilderness – they know God has delivered them from captivity but now they’re not sure where to find him – they know that their freedom is won, but they have still not seen the promised land.

Like them, we know we already have much to be thankful for – but that if we press on there is a far greater prize to be won.

And so I’m going to end with an Advent prayer – that uses that same symbolism.

We thank you God for the wilderness – for our place.

As we wait for the land of promise,

Teach us new ways of living,

Lead us to where we hear your word most clearly,

Renew us and clear out the wastelands of our lives,

Prepare us for life in the awareness of Christ’s coming

When the desert will sing

And the wilderness will blossom as the rose.

Amen.

Remembering Forwards

Remembrance 2014

The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown was once lampooned for commenting that “The problem with Remembrance is that, so often, it is all about the past.” His critics enjoyed the moment – as a number of commentators picked up on the general theme, admitting that it is generally easier to “remember” things when they’ve already happened!

I think, however, there may have been more wisdom in his words that he was given credit for. Yes, of course, Remembrance IS about the past – and this year in particular our minds are drawn particularly to the events of a century ago – but I’m also concerned that Remembrance is not meant to be ALL about the past.

After all, none of us DO actually remember 1914: None of us can recall what it felt like to be approaching the ultimatum of 4th August that year, none of us can really understand what the politicians, the military leaders, or the general public of Imperial Britain thought they were letting themselves in for as war began.

What we can “remember” is the fact that they existed, the fact that they DID sacrifice so much, and their sheer determination to push on to the bitter end even when the confident assertion that it would all be over by Christmas” was replaced by the grim reality of Trench warfare.

And in all this, as with other conflicts, our “remembering” allows us to recognise the human qualities of those involved – the sense of purpose as well as pride the human judgements that were made for good or ill and we recognise perhaps that there ARE similarities between those “strangers” of 100 years ago and the men and women, girls and boys who surround us today.

We “remember” in order to learn lessons for the future – not just to revel, mawkishly, in past woes.

That, I think, is what Gordon Brown was driving at.

I want to share with you two other quotations that I’ve encountered recently: the first comes from the war memorial in St. Catherine’s Church, at Netherhampton. On it are recorded the names of 26 men from that tiny village who marched to war – four of whom never returned.

At the top of the memorial is inscribed the following verse:

 

These men of ours, unselfish, unafraid,

went to the worldwide fight.

Forget not how they fought and how we prayed,

for England and for right.

 

That’s quite revealing I think – it shows an understanding from the early 20th Century that the Great War WAS truly a World War – something bigger than anything seen before; that it was a fight that engaged the WHOLE nation – those at the front and those at home; that it was a fight for principle and for the homeland: Britain had not known an invasion for over 1000 years – but now sensed new terrors. This island fortress suddenly seemed more vulnerable, with the advent of submarines and aircraft.

What really caught my eye, though, was the description of those who went to war as “unselfish” and “unafraid”. I’m happy with the first word – even those who, in the early days, thought that war might be quite fun, did ultimately have to face a rather harsher reality and did so for the sake of others. But what about the other description? Can we really think that those men were unafraid?

When stories of the front began to drift back home, along with the first waves of casualties –could anyone then have set off without at least some degree of trepidation?

To do so would surely have been foolhardy – inhuman even.

And so, to balance those sentiments, another perspective which I stumbled across on a poster at Wilton and Barford School.

“Courage”, it reads, “is not the absence of fear,  but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear;”

Those young men, heading for the trenches that would often feel more like a prison than a refuge, MUST have felt fear if they understood anything – the honour they are due is in overcoming that fear because they felt that to fail would lead to something far worse.

And so I think we need to be careful in the way that do keep Remembrance – that we don’t reduce those we “remember” to something less than the men they were. To imagine them as perfect, fearless or unquestioning is to underestimate their real suffering and the huge emotional cost of their commitment.

To allow ourselves to do that is to distance ourselves, artificially, from those who died.

It also allows us to distance ourselves from any notion that WE might be called to make sacrifices, or to face fears of our own.

Yet we know that, today, there are real threats to our own way of life – social divisions and renewed nationalist tendencies – both in the West and in the former Soviet Union, the emerging threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups.

WE are surely right to fear the various threats that they pose. Like our ancestors of 100 years ago – we are challenged to rise above that fear, and be ready to do whatever it takes to overcome those things which threaten our wellbeing and the stability of the nations.

The poetry of Cecil Spring Rice, who died at the end of the Great War – which we sang as our second hymn, “I Vow to thee my country”, – provides another insight into the prevailing mind-set at the outbreak of the Great War and perhaps also suggests to us a model for our Remembrances.

There is within those words an unmistakable patriotism – a sense that “my country” is somehow more important than just “me”. There is a strong sense of duty – of love for our fellow countrymen and women – that demands great things of us all.

Then there is an altogether darker mood in the second verse – which is presumably the reason it is omitted from most hymn books. Here is an acknowledgement of the real cost of war – and of the despair that sometimes grips us in the face of fear and hostility, and yet hope remains.

Finally comes the promise of better things to come and a reminder of the Christian’s dual citizenship of our homeland here and of heaven the reward for our struggles along the way; a reminder of our duty both to our neighbour and to God, without whom our visions and our labours will be in vain.

Remembrance IS about remembering the past – recognising the great sacrifices and human cost of the Great War and other conflicts since.

But let it also be about taking stock of our world today – acknowledging those freedoms that we prize and the things that threaten their survival.

And let it be a time to dream of better things – and for us all to be resolved, in God’s strength, to achieve what human progress we can in the cause of right.

My House Shall Be..

“My House Shall be…”

 DEDICATION FESTIVAL 2014

If my maths is correct – then it is 169 years to the day since the first Sunday services were held in this church: it was dedicated on the feast of St Denys, 9th October 1845, which I think was a Thursday – making the following Sunday the 12th as today. And here we are 169 years later using almost the same order of service. Certainly the spoken parts of the service would have been familiar to our founders – Ekaterina Woronstov and Sidney Herbert – and to all those who suddenly found themselves worshipping not in the old church in the Market Square, but in the more spacious and possibly rather alien surroundings of their new parish church.

And of course the building itself is much as they would have found it in 1845 – yes the pews have changed a bit, the gas flares have been replaced by electric lighting and I’m sure it’s considerably warmer that it was then – but it is essentially the same.

Outside, however, the landscape has changed much more dramatically.

If you take a look at the front of your pew-sheet, you will see a picture of the church – familiar in most respects – but without the War memorial which is now a permanent feature: the events of the 20th Century which would brought that about were still unimaginable when this church was built. The British Empire was still a long way from the full extent of its influence, the Anglican Communion had not yet come into existence.

My House Shall BeThere are line drawings of the early years here – with elegant horse drawn carriages and ladies in large dresses – and rows of tiny, neat trees dotted in the grounds.

Quite a long way from the present busy main road and the small jungle that towers over the Rectory garden!

Yet, for all that, I think it is the social landscape – the changes in outlook and beliefs – that has changed most radically since 1845.

Some of those changes we may regret, while others we will certainly recognise as improvements.

Few of us would want to go back to the days of the town workhouse, for example, whatever the shortcomings of the modern benefits system.

And as we survey the landscape today, I think that we need to be prepared both to challenge the prevailing culture, but also to learn from it, if this building is going to remain a Parish Church in any meaningful sense – if it is to retain its potent symbolism as a kind of guardian angel at the heart of this community.

And that of course means that we will NOT just be doing the same kind of things that our Victorian forebears did – nor even those of the 20th Century.

In six short years, my role as Rector here has changed beyond recognition – and I find myself now doing a job that I was certainly never trained for and which is a very, very long way from what I thought I was letting myself I for when I went forward for selection back in 2000.

 

Does that matter?

Well – it’s a bit unsettling at times, trying to work out what’s coming next, but then, at Ordination, we were reminded not only that the Church of England “professes the [historic] faith that is uniquely revealed in the Bible and set forth in the Catholic Creeds,” but also that “The Church is called to proclaim that faith afresh in each generation.” Taken together, those things imply that we should be constantly on the lookout for signs of the new things that God is doing – and adapting, changing what we are doing – learning new skills – in order to try and catch up.

Historic and imposing as our building may be, we must never allow it to be seen by anybody as a museum – never JUST part of the landscape here. It is the powerhouse from which the gospel is being proclaimed in this community – or not.

We’ve hit the front pages twice in the past month – not quite what we’re used to! Once it was because of the Credit Union here and once because of the collapse of the Youth Service which, together with the wardens and 2 fellow clergy, I am currently battling to do something about.

Now, to most people, neither if those things probably seems very churchy – but I think they should!

They both touch on matters of justice and they are both concerned with liberating individuals in need and enabling them to realise their God-given potential.

So no, I certainly never wanted to learn about banking systems and still less the workings of Wiltshire Council – bit I WILL do if that’s what it takes to be able to speak the gospel and live the gospel in Wilton 2014 and onwards.

And yes, if I’m going to survive the experience I will need you to “flex” with me – not just your prayers, but your ongoing help as priorities emerge and change.

Taking on new things, learning new skills, is time consuming and demanding – physically and mentally – and none of us can take them on AND keep doing everything that’s always been done before.

Change means change – not added extras bolted on.

A changing landscape demands changing expectations in the roles that we all fulfil – within the Church and beyond. And it needs all of us to be active in changing the perception of the Church among the many other people who have little or no time for it.

In short, we need to demonstrate that we ARE interested in life beyond these four walls – we need to learn to SHOW that Christ came to bring “life in all its fullness”.

It may be that we are already DOING all that we can or need to do – but perhaps we aren’t yet connecting those good works into the faith which is there to sustain us in our work. And that connection needs to be clear – not just for our own wellbeing, but for the sake of proclaiming the gospel afresh in THIS generation.

And what of this building in all that? What of this “House of prayer” that stands as a reminder of the confident faith of its founders?

I’m sure THEY would have been entirely in sympathy with Christ’s words and actions in today’s gospel – as he cleanses the Temple of the money changers – and that they would have interpreted them in quite a literal sense. After all, the Victorians were not only prolific builders of churches but also of Church halls – they liked to separate the business of praying and worship from the more worldly aspects of life: very different from what would have happened when Wilton’s previous, mediaeval, parish church was new.

And while I would NOT want to go back to that implied separation between the Church and the world – I do value the notion that we need precious buildings like this to provide a “powerhouse of prayer” – to enable us to go into the world around us with confidence and clarity of vision.

That notion was very much a part of the Church’s dramatic revival in the 19th century and I think it’s still relevant to us.

One of the things that impressed me coming here was the fact that we do maintain daily prayer here – that there are lay people willing both to lead and attend worship throughout the week. That matters hugely to me – even when I’m not here – to know that the whisper of prayer is alive and constant.

And I’d encourage those of you who are not at work at 9.30 in the morning to consider joining us – even once in a while – to add YOUR voice to those prayers.

Secondly, what we can ALL do is encourage others to come here…

We spoke at our Annual Meeting this year about making it a priority to “invite” people – to our services and to other events.

With everything else on the horizon, I fear that aspiration may have fallen of the agenda in recent months – but perhaps we can start to think more seriously about it again.

Who are the people that YOU know well – who might just enjoy half an hour here on a Tuesday morning at The Coffee Corner? Who near you needs to know about the All Souls’ service in a few weeks? Do you have any neighbours who have never been to church here, or may have had bad experiences of church in the past, but could now be encouraged with a friendly word?

The best way of bringing the life of the world into our worship, the best way of demonstrating our continued relevance and commitment to the community around us – the best way of listening to and responding to the needs of our neighbours is to invite them here with us – so that we can listen to each other.

I think it is at our founders’ request that words painted high above you include the phrase “My house shall be a house of prayer”.

May that aspiration be both our starting point and our goal – may our prayers here inspire us and strengthen us to take the gospel to all who will hear and enable us to draw them into this house – to blend their prayers with ours and with all those who have worshipped here before us.