I always associate May Bank Holiday Weekend with the World Snooker final from Sheffield. Although I haven’t seen as much of this year’s tournament as I would have liked to, I watched the dramatic concluding frame of the semi-finals between John Higgins and Dave Gilbert. It went down to the wire and after a mammoth battle of tactics and nerve, John Higgins finally prevailed. He was very emotional in his post-match interview as was Dave Gilbert. Both had given absolutely everything in the match and it was clear that they had the utmost regard for each other as individuals. They respected the effort it had taken to play in such a match and they both revealed how close they had both come to quitting the game.
The standards are so high these days that Dave Gilbert almost stopped playing as a professional. To supplement his meagre income from his snooker career, he had worked as a labourer on his father’s farm. He had slept on friends’ sofas as he didn’t have his own home. Suddenly he found himself in the best form of his life, getting through the qualifying tournament and into the televised stages of the world championship. He spoke of having to hang in there, believe and work hard to reach this point. John Higgins, who has enjoyed a very successful career, revealed he had lost his love for the game after a disappointing season. He lacked the motivation to practice that he needed, in order to maintain his level and his wife helped him to devise a new practice routine away from the house. When things weren’t working he had to persevere and try a new approach and again, by hanging in there with tenacity and courage, he found himself on the biggest stage in the game he had dedicated his life to.
Their emotion and honesty in speaking just moments after one of the biggest games they had ever played, were very moving to behold and they resonated deeply as I thought about the life of our church. I thought of volunteers who have dedicated many years of hard work and effort to making organisations flourish and who get disheartened when the results are not as strong as they used to be.
I thought of those who lead uniformed organisations or who teach Sunday School, turning up week by week and very often not having enough children to conduct a meaningful programme or lesson. It’s hard to hang in there and believe this is worthwhile when, despite your best efforts, people are voting with their feet and going elsewhere or getting involved in other things. Church activities no longer seem to feature in their thinking.
While some would shrug their shoulders and say this is simply the way things are, these snooker players never lost sight of their first love for the game. They had to reinvent themselves in terms of their own approach and this in itself was a painful exercise. The tried and tested routines that had served them well over many years had to be re-evaluated. A certain ruthlessness had to be employed as they looked at what was going wrong and they began working on those areas that were weak and building them up to strengthen their overall approach. They also had to trust in the things they were doing that they knew were right. I think of the youth and the children’s work in our church and I see a real struggle as we try to reverse a trend which sees numbers declining and very few new families joining the church.
When parents approach me looking for Baptism, I believe in the grace of that sacrament and when I explain the service and the responsibilities it places upon parents in bringing up their children in the life of the church, I can only take people on their word when they undertake to do that.
When people at the older stages of life are no longer able to travel to participate in activities, that doesn’t make those programmes wrong but it asks questions of how we make those programmes available to as wide a range of people as possible.
Sometimes the summer months offer an important opportunity for prayer and reflection as we look to the year ahead. Like so many of our dedicated leaders and volunteers, I haven’t stopped believing in the importance of what we are doing.
More than ever in an age of confusion and uncertainty, I believe the teachings and message of Jesus and the values he offers to the world, are needed more than at any point in history.
I’d like to reflect thoughtfully on how we might offer that to a hungry world. How can we best do that? Are initiatives like Messy Church, which began at the end of May, an opportunity to engage a new section of our local community and neighbourhood in the things of God?
Underpinning all of it is the importance of prayer. Let’s pray for wisdom and humility as we seek to reinvent ourselves to do all we can to introduce others to the life-changing message and hope of Jesus.
With best wishes
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)
Telephone 02890 793822