What's the point? Where am I going? Is this it?

Dear Friends,

As I am writing, the summer is still upon us, but I am already beginning to think about the autumn. It is always a busy time for everyone: school is back and the holidays are over. It is just as busy in church life: we will be celebrating harvest, remembering those who died for their country and beginning to prepare for Christmas. The days of garden parties, barbecues and cream teas are drawing to an end and the nights will be drawing in.

However, this autumn we are preparing for something else as well: a major Alpha course for anyone in our area. Some of you may have heard of the Alpha course, no doubt for others it is an unknown quantity. The purpose is to be an introduction to the Christian faith. We will be holding it over 12 weeks, for children, youth and adults (and therefore families) on Sunday afternoons at 4.30 pm for 12 weeks beginning on 29 September in Standon and Puckeridge Community Centre. An important part of the course is the time to discuss: to agree, disagree, put your point of view, or simply eat the cake! Each Sunday will begin with afternoon tea and I am delighted to say I have already found that our churches are famous for their cakes! This will be free for anyone who would like to come.

Why should anyone wish to know more about the Christian faith? I have discovered in recent years that there has been an increasing desire to be spiritual; not to be bound by rules and dogma but explore what it means to be spiritual. As human beings we all have a spiritual side that needs to be developed, just as we have physical and mental sides. Without it we feel incomplete somehow. It might or might not include a belief in God, but there is a need to understand that not everything is understood by what we see touch, see, smell or taste.

The Christian faith is one great way to do this (I would say the greatest!). Of course, Christianity does have rules (e.g. the 10 Commandments) but rather than rules at its heart is a relationship with God, whom we know as a God of love. When that relationship begins the rules simply become the house rules of any family, rather than a new kind of slavery. Jesus said he came to set us free! It is a way to a new life in the Spirit of God.

So if you are interested in any of this, please feel free to join us. Look for the publicity in our villages. Contact our administrator, Marion, using the info on the contact us page so that you are booked in.

In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the summer.

John Chitham, Rector

Holidays

Dear Friends,

It that time of year when things tend to get relaxed, the days are long, the weather warm and there is time for socialising, garden parties, fairs and festivals. It is the time of the “lazy, hazy days of summer”, as the song puts it. It is a time, shortly, of school holidays and plans for summer holidays.

It was not always so. In our villages this was often the busiest time of year. The harvest was being brought in and all the village helped. Little Munden school has just celebrated its 200th year, a remarkable length of time. It was founded by the vicar at that time in the church and only later moved to the buildings we have today. Yet looking through the history of the first century of the school there is a constant difficulty for education in the summer term: the children were called upon to help with the harvest. Their education had to take second place to the need to provide food. The holiday came when the harvest was completed. Indeed, our present long school summer holiday was set to because of the need to work the land at that time. This link to the land is being rediscovered today, but in different ways. We know that the food produced needs to be done responsibly without damaging the environment, and we are increasingly aware of the need for the land to be “rested” to recover fertility.

As human beings, we too need our times of rest and relaxation. The Bible calls it the “Sabbath” and, in terms of Sunday being a day of rest for the whole country, very sadly it has been lost. However, there is a need for us all to have a sabbath mindset. We cannot just go on working all hours and all days. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”. (We get our word “holiday” from “holy day”.) If we cannot, for various reasons, always avoid work on a Sunday, we should at least aim to keep the spirit of the law, and schedule rest and downtime, to have “holy-days”. This is God’s plan for his whole creation. It is even better if, during these holy-days, we find time to reflect on him and his glory in nature all around us. The long days of summer are perfect for seeing him in the flash of a kingfisher, the bounding of a hare or the waves in a field of grain. I pray that we may all have some holy-days this summer.

John Chitham, Rector

Examination Season

Dear Friends,

At this time of year my heart always goes out to all those who are doing exams. I used to be a teacher (and teachers also suffer during, and after, exams) and saw close up how demanding and stressful examinations could be. The consolation that they would be over in due course and that a lovely, long, hot summer vacation loomed never seemed enough at the time. Nevertheless, we all know that they have to be done and even, some might just about admit, they could be useful for learning and the future. And, if we are talking about the examinations for those studying to become doctors or engineers, most of us would say that those examinations are not merely good but essential.

Examination season is a metaphor for life. Often, we wonder why we are going through trials and tribulations. We cannot see the point. And even when we can see the point, we would rather it wasn’t happening. No-one likes suffering and it is one of our duties as human beings to minimise sufferings. Many sufferings cannot be explained, let alone justified, and we weep in frustration when we see others suffer. And we may shout at God (or those nearest to us) and wonder what is going on.

Yet it is the Christian belief that this time of trial can be a preparation to make us ready for the life to come after death. The model is Jesus, who suffered willingly for others so that there can be new life. Just as the exam student finds it difficult to focus on the holidays in the midst of exams, so we often find it difficult to think about the life to come in the midst of suffering. Nevertheless, we can have hope because Jesus himself rose from the dead and shows that there is new life. The summer holidays will come in the end and by the time you read this the exams may well be over. The summer, with long days, warmth, BBQs, holidays and no more school: I cannot think of a better picture for the life to come in God.

The key to this new life is Jesus himself who offers the gift of new life. When I took up that offer myself, the trials and difficulties did not go away. But they were put in perspective and a new hope was born: the summer holidays are coming!

John Chitham, Rector

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