Reflecting back on the past couple of months of church life I made a rather shocking discovery today. As someone who has tried to keep reasonably fit all of my life and who has been blessed with good health for almost half a century, I discovered that during the past couple of months I have only exercised about 3 times. I usually try to exercise 2-3 times per week but in the past 2 months I have only done so 3 times. I could offer various excuses for this like most of the family have been unwell for part of the last 2 months, it has been a busy season in the church’s calendar, there have been some unexpected things that have cropped up demanding my time and attention but even as I write these things they are ever thus!
Now I didn’t set out at the beginning of November intending to stop exercise but as the weeks have gone on it becomes easier and easier not to bother. It’s not that I don’t know about the importance of looking after my body, I have even organised talks about mental and physical health for the season of Advent in church but somehow it has managed to slip down my list of priorities.
It’s a time in the church’s year when we try to deliver invitations around the parish encouraging people to come along to some of the Advent and Christmas celebrations that will take place in the coming weeks. Many people who don’t come at other times of the year like to try to come at Christmas time. In recent years I have been having conversations with people who have let church slip or go from a place of importance in their lives. It’s not something they intended to do, it’s not that they don’t think it’s important but somehow they have got out of the way of it and it feels hard to come back. Maybe they’re conscious of being away for a while and fearful of what other people might think. Maybe they left to try another church and it didn’t work out and now they don’t go anywhere. Maybe they had a disagreement with me or one of the clergy and feel it’s hard to come back.
There are many of course who would dearly love to be worshipping with us but health and personal circumstances are preventing them from doing so. I recently met someone at our Wednesday service whose new job means they often work on Sundays and I admire those who are doing what they can to avail of midweek services on Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings because Sundays are difficult. Sometimes people are unable to come because they are caring for and supporting family members in bad health who cannot be left on their own.
These are very different circumstances from some of the others I have mentioned. As I think of how easily I have slipped away from exercising I think of those who have stood in church in recent years after preparations at home to say they would like to encourage their children in the life of faith and for their children to be welcomed into the family of the church through Holy baptism.
My question to myself and to all of us who maybe find our spiritual life is drifting, is how can we encourage one another to come back without inducing guilt or shame? The new year is a great time for making a fresh start. It would be lovely to see the church as a collective family coming home to the heart of God as a worshipping community, as a place where we might encourage and support one another on the journey of faith. We realise that our presence matters to other people. Even if you don’t know someone’s name and all they do is say good morning to you, it’s important to look out for each other. Maybe people aren’t coming because something difficult has happened but if you’re aware of that please make touch with that person. Is there anything you can do that could be of help? At the very least and yet most importantly you could pray for them and for all they are dealing with in their lives.
This morning I attended a beautiful school concert in Lucy’s school. I’m always moved to see the children who have special needs maybe walking in a frame in public for the first time or speaking a line of narration or singing as part of the choir. Every single child in the school appears on the stage at some point in the performance. Every member of staff is involved from teachers and classroom assistants to matron and the school nurse. To me it’s always so much the richer an event because absolutely everyone is involved and everyone works together to help these amazing children flourish and shine and tell the story of Jesus’s birth and explain why its important in the most unique and inspiring way.
I’d love for our church to be such a community where we work together to grow closer to God and share his love so I’m not getting at you in this letter if you are one of those who have maybe drifted away in recent months and years. I’d love you just to know that you are missed and we’d love to see you come back and flourish and grow as you become the person God wants you to be and seek out his purposes for your life.
May I say thank you to all who made our Christmas celebrations so meaningful and wish you a blessed 2020.
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)
Telephone 02890 793822