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  • Vicarage Coffee Morning
    Published: Monday 16 May 2022 01:02 PM
    Author: Chris Ball

    Thank you to everyone who supported the event on Saturday 7th May. There was a marvellous turnout, a fabulous choice of cakes to take with coffee and more still for the cake stall. The Summer Picnic Hamper, the raffle prize, looked splendid and delighted the winner. The sun shone and what’s more, all who attended much enjoyed the opportunity to get together, chat and learn about bees, in a way that hasn’t been possible for a couple of years.

    Mothers’ Union members from St Mary’s and St Peter’s are thrilled to announce that the sum of £530.35 was raised for Mothers’ Union charitable projects supporting families and family life.

  • 9th January - The Baptism of Christ
    Published: Tuesday 11 January 2022 10:32 AM
    Author: The Revd Jane Millinchip

    Acts 8:14-17
    Luke 3:15-17,21-22

    I thought that I would start this morning by conducting a brief survey amongst those of us here in church. If you don’t want to take part, there’s no pressure. I am going to read out four statements, and I would just like you to put up your hand when I read out the one which applies to you. Here goes:

    Statement one – I was baptised as a baby
    Statement two – I was baptised as an adult
    Statement three – I have not been baptised
    Statement four – I don’t know if I have been baptised or not

    Interesting

    The responses are pretty much as I expected: that most of us here are baptised – and most of us here were baptised as a baby.

    Let me ask you another question. This time, I am not expecting a response. Just something for you to think about as I speak, and for you to reflect on in the days to come.

    What does baptism mean to you? What difference does it make to you that you are baptised?

    Our two readings this morning both focus on baptism, but the baptisms to which they refer are actually quite different.

    Our reading from Luke refers to the baptism of God’s people by John the Baptist, before Jesus’ ministry, and of course to the baptism of Jesus himself.

    At the time of Jesus, baptism was not an official part of Judaism, and you cannot find the word baptism anywhere in the Old Testament, but it was practised unofficially by some Jewish people in the century before and after Jesus' birth. It was seen as a simple sign of general repentance, and as such could be repeated. Around the same time, ritual baths for purification became more common among Jews in urban areas, and, if you go to the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem today, you can see houses with ritual baths dating back almost 20 centuries. This is the context for the baptism of God’s people by John the Baptist in this passage.

    Jesus, of course, as God’s son, is sinless, and there is no need for him to repent, or to receive forgiveness, in the way that the people do. In Matthew’s account of the baptism, in fact, John tries to refuse to baptise him saying that it is he, John, who should instead be baptised by Jesus. It is however important for Jesus to be baptised, so that he can become like one of us – Emmanuel – God with us. It is a symbol of his great humility, and he sets an example for his followers. His baptism is also an opportunity for God to show Jesus’ divine authority with the words: You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

    Our reading from Acts on the other hand refers to the baptism of new believers by the apostles in the early church.

    It has been a very difficult time for Christian believers. One of their leaders, Stephen, has been stoned to death by the mob whilst preaching the gospel. This has been followed by severe persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and most of the church members have fled to the countryside of Judea and Samaria. However, finding themselves amongst people who have not heard the gospel, they take the opportunity to talk about Jesus, and many come to faith. The tragedy of the death of Stephen has therefore in fact been the catalyst for the spread of the message in the wider community.

    Slightly earlier in this chapter, we are told that the people have believed, and are baptised, by Philip, both men and women. Then, here in verse 14, we are told that Peter and John go down and pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and then they lay their hands on them. This seems to suggest that the way in which Philip was baptising people was only a first step, and the new believers also needed the laying on of hands by the apostles as a final step in coming to faith.

    These are controversial verses, because no-one is really quite sure what they actually mean. There are lots of different explanations, and, if you want to look into this further, I can point you in the right direction. I usually try specifically to disentangle the tricky verses in a Bible reading, but, this morning, it’s not a discussion which I want to get bogged down in, because I want to concentrate instead on what baptism means to us.

    So what does baptism mean to you?

    When I talk to parents who have asked me to baptise their child, I ask them this very question. They tell me that it is a chance to give thanks for the safe arrival of their baby, and a chance to celebrate with friends and family. They also however have the feeling that it is something which they need to do for their child. This is partly because it is seen as a traditional rite of passage, but it is more than this, I think. A new baby is a miraculous gift, which gives them a sense of wonder and awe, and sets them thinking more deeply about life and creation, and about God.

    And within the Christian church itself there are a range of possible answers to this question. A range which is probably represented here in church this morning, in terms of your own experience, and what you believe.

    Most Christians would agree that baptism is a sacrament. That is to say an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace – a sign of God’s unconditional love at work in and through us. Most Christians would also agree that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of those who are baptised. The Holy Spirit of course plays a part in the accounts of baptism in both our Bible readings too.

    There is less agreement however on the role of the sacrament of baptism in our lives. Does the baptism bring with it forgiveness of sins, or does it simply signify that forgiveness has already taken place? Putting it another way, is baptism as an essential act, a saving act, through which a person becomes a Christian, and is put right with God? And without which a person is not a Christian? Or is it an important, but non-essential act, which is merely symbolic of what is essential, that is the sincere belief and commitment in the heart, the soul and the mind of the person, which puts that person right with God, and makes them a Christian?

    I asked you at the beginning if you were baptised as a baby or as an adult.

    If you were baptised as a baby, it would have been in a church tradition which believes that it is the sacrament of baptism which brings us into a relationship with God. That church therefore practises baptism for children who are unable themselves to make a personal commitment, but whose parents are able to do so on their behalf. Within this tradition, a baby which is very ill would be baptised as a matter of urgency, often in hospital. In the Roman Catholic church and most of the Anglican church for example infant baptism is the norm.

    If you were baptised as adult, it would either have been because you had just become a Christian, or because you were part of a church tradition which believes that baptism is symbolic of a faith commitment in the heart, the soul and the mind of the person. That church therefore only practises baptism for people who are old enough to believe and make a personal commitment, that is adults and older children. A believer’s baptism, as it is known, takes in place in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, and some Anglican churches, and it of course follows the example of what happened in the early church, as our reading from Acts reminds us.

    So, as I asked you earlier, what does baptism mean to you? What difference does it make to you that you are baptised?

    Clearly only you can answer that question.

    And let me say at this point that, if there is anyone here who has not been baptised, and would like to be, please do speak to one of us this morning, and we would very pleased to talk to you about it.

    For now, let me share with you three images which come to mind for me – amongst many possible images - around what baptism means to me, and what difference it makes to me.

    When I was at school, I had a friend called Rebecca, who was a Baptist, and she invited me to attend her baptism. It was something I will never forget. She was baptised by total immersion in a long white dress. Just before she was baptised, she gave her testimony, speaking passionately about the difference which being a Christian made in her life, and, after each person was baptised, and climbed back out of the pool, we all sang the chorus of that wonderful Easter hymn “Low in the grave he lay” (which we will sing in a few minutes)

    Up from the grave He arose
    With a mighty triumph o'er His foes
    He arose a Victor from the dark domain
    And He lives forever with His saints to reign
    He arose! (He arose)
    He arose! (He arose)
    Hallelujah! Christ arose!

    It was so different from anything I had seen in the churches I normally attended. I was blown away by the power of the symbolism, and by the sincerity of the testimonies of those who were baptised. This was believer’s baptism at its best.

    I trained for ordination alongside another Rebecca. Becky had never been baptised, as a baby or as an adult, and, you have to be baptised in order to be ordained. During our four years of training, the group of ordinands had become very close-knit and supportive, and so it was a wonderful moment on Maundy Thursday 2014 at our Easter School when Becky was baptised from amongst us.

    And finally – my own baptism. For me it has always been something which I feel connects me with people. It connects me with people all over the world, and with people going back in time.

    I was baptised as a baby in the Methodist Church. When I came to be ordained, I found that, although my mother had kept all my certificates, including my one for swimming a width, she hadn’t for some reason kept my baptism certificate, and I needed it. I contacted the current minister at the church in south east London where I was baptised, and I received a lovely covering letter back. The minister said that there were still people there who remembered my parents, and who sent me their good wishes.

    I was baptised in this beautiful silk christening robe, which was made by hand by my maternal grandmother. My mother was baptised in it, as was my sister, and our two sons. I myself baptised my two granddaughters, but sadly, with them living abroad, they had grown too big to fit into it by the time we were able to arrange the baptism.

    My baptism connects me then with those who have gone before me, but it is also very precious because it connects me with Christians from other traditions and other parts of the world. Despite all the differences between different traditions in the Christian church, we all recognise each other’s baptisms. We all recognise baptism as the invisible indelible mark that someone is a Christian.

    I leave you with these powerful words from the Common Worship baptism service.

    As the minister makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, he or she says

    Christ claims you for his own
    Receive the sign of his cross

    And then

    Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified

    To which we all add

    Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
    Against sin, the world and the devil
    And remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life

    Go home today with those words ringing in your ears.
    Be encouraged by them.
    Be challenged by them.
    Amen

    The YouTube link is  https://youtu.be/19dTszeAGk8

  • Christmas Eve - Midnight
    Published: Saturday 08 January 2022 02:22 PM
    Author: The Revd Canon Paul Dawson

    “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
    Last week some gas engineers dug up a road. A small boy who lived in the road was fascinated by their machinery and the large hole they created. He asked if they were digging for treasure. When he came home from school there was a parcel on the doorstep – it contained a bag of gold chocolate coins. There was note – “We found the treasure” – signed by the gas men.
    That story was on the internet, so it must be true. But true or not the fact that it was upvoted to the front page meant that it made a connection with a lot of people.
    Another story, much older, but absolutely true.
    A prison chaplain was visiting an inmate for a service of Holy Communion. Such visits were only permitted once every six months and were strictly supervised by a prison guard. When they reached the Peace the prisoner stopped the service and went over to the guard who was supervising.
    He addressed the guard by name – “Brand, are you a Christian?” The guard replied that he was. “Well then, you must take off your cap, and join us around this table. You cannot sit apart. This is Holy Communion, and we must share and receive it together.”
    To the chaplain’s astonishment the guard meekly removed his cap, joined the circle, and received Communion.
    The chaplain’s name was Harry Wiggett. The guard was Christo Brand. The prisoner was Nelson Mandela.
    It was a small act – to address another person by their name, to see in them a fellow human being, to invite them to belong.
    It was a small act – yet it bridged huge differences. The guard held all the power, represented all the authority. The prisoner had nothing, nothing except respect for a fellow human being - and an absolute refusal to allow history to determine the future.
    It was a small act – but with hindsight we can see in it the process by which change was made possible. Change in individuals, change in a nation, change that has echoed around our world. By countless such small acts is our future crafted. Small acts often connect with people’s lives. They give us hope, and this is a time of hope.
    The refusal to give up on others is at the heart of Christmas, simply because God refuses to give up on us. This is another small act – the birth of a child. In individual lives of course each birth is momentous. Yet viewed over the entirety of human history one single birth, long ago, far away, hardly registers. There were many births that night, most of them have no relevance for us today.
    Yet we claim that this birth is relevant, that this child, these parents, are connected to our lives. This child – this small act of human fragility – makes a difference. If human destiny is crafted by countless small acts, then here it is radically reshaped.
    In prison Nelson Mandela faced the reality of choice – how people on opposite sides of conflict determine each other’s response and reactions. He, and others, came to realise that good news has to be good news for everyone, or it is good news for no-one.
    We live in a world which contains much that makes us anxious and fearful. I sometimes think that you hardly dare turn on the news or open the paper for fear of whatever new tragedy might confront us. We can only take so much bad news – the cynicism which pervades British culture is a symptom of a people who are weary of disappointment. It suggests we have given up on hope, worse still, we have given up on ourselves. We need to be reminded that God does not give up on us.
    There are those who suspect that Christmas is nothing more than sentimental escapism, wishful thinking for how our world might be. As Alan Sugar says to Father Christmas, it’s a nice idea, but it’s not a business plan. Or is it?
    There was question asked on the same internet forum last week – “Are you really happy or just really comfortable?” It’s an interesting question. Are you really happy, or just really comfortable? The comments in response were rather sad – most people said they’d settle for whatever comfort they could get. They’d given up on happiness, echoed in a comment I believe is attributed to Pope Francis, our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”
    Christmas is a time of big expectations, many we know to be unrealistic, many will give up on hoping for too much. Yet maybe we need to learn to hope for more.
    Don’t believe all you read on the internet, but all the same, if you listen to what people are saying there is still a message to be heard. We may live in a cynical and disbelieving world, but stories of hope still connect. And usually it is the small acts that connect the most. There’s something important going on in small acts.
    At our crib service earlier this evening everyone was given a coloured glow stick, the type you snap and shake and they glow different colours. Seeing the church in darkness filled with people waving multi-coloured glowsticks I am always reminded of Desmond Tutu’s message that we are a Rainbow People of God.
    He was of course a hugely important part of the fight against apartheid, but more importantly, his integrity, humility and authority made him a key part bringing reconciliation to a deeply divided people. Where most expected civil war to ensue he chaired South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
    When he was asked what was his most life changing moment Desmond Tutu remembered that when he was a small boy, about nine, he was walking with his mother to her work as a domestic servant. They met a white priest, a tall white priest wearing a black cassock and a hat – the priest stopped – and doffed his hat to Desmond’s mother. Tutu said it was mind blowing – that a white man should doff his hat to a black servant was “the biggest defining moment in my life.” The priest was Trevor Huddleston, whose fierce passion for justice Tutu himself emulated.
    Small acts, seemingly so insignificant, can change a life, can change a nation, can change history. We know this to be true, therefore there is hope. There is always hope. God never gives up on us.
    Christmas is at the turn of the year, when we are past the shortest day and the longest night, and we start to push back the darkness. We look to the future, and we wonder.
    It will not be an easy future, we know this to be true, but we can change its course – we can make a difference. Small acts – ordinary people. That’s where things important can happen. If there is one thing you take with you from this night, let it be a determination to believe in small acts, because small acts are possible, and they work miracles.

    The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/eQrtTw5Q-Ew

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