The material from the new sermon series is going up. Due to website editing problems I haven’t managed to put it as neatly as I would like (like the Vision Explorer pages). Hopefully I will figure it out soon! It might be because I am using a new laptop. The choice of background is because at least with this design the pages are accessible.
Eleanor Mills: Without God, culture is lost
Whether or not you believe in a Christian god, that is a rich cultural inheritance. English literature is permeated with Christian stories
Published: 10 October 2010
- Christianity is woven into British life. The Queen is head of the Church of England, bishops sit in the House of Lords, the smallest organisational unit in our democracy is the parish.
A city is only a city if it has a cathedral. Christian architecture is all around us, yet it increasingly feels like a remnant of another age; the religious fervour of our forefathers seems almost as irrelevant to today as the Norman castles that litter our landscape.
Of course prime real estate sacred or otherwise will always find new uses.
Many churches, deconsecrated or not, host day nurseries, salsa classes, ballet lessons, restaurants and some even have a bar built in. Everywhere they are being reinvented for modern lives.
Without such renaissances they would be mighty white elephants. A study published by the Church of England last week revealed a new nadir for our established religion: it found that only 15% of British adults claim to be regular (once a month) church-goers. For those aged 16-24 that figure is less than 10%. By contrast, 45% of those aged 16-24 said they had never been to church and were unlikely to do so.
That sounds dire, but the figures taken from an actual head count of attendance nationwide on a particular Sunday show things are probably even worse. The Church Census found that half of churches in England had no 11 to 14-year-olds in the congregation on the day of the survey and 59% had no 15 to 19-year-olds.
Established religions retain their power and traditions through what Danièle Hervieu-Léger, the eminent French sociologist, describes as the chain of memory.
Religion, she argues, means not just subscribing to a particular set of beliefs but rather an active participation in the culture of faith its convictions, stories, language and ritual.
These days our youngsters are so ignorant of Christianity that most cant even recite the Lords prayer (although immigrants from black Caribbean and African cultures in some inner cities buck the trend). Generally, though, our national religion is taught as just another belief system in schools in some, hymns such as Jerusalem and Onward Christian Soldiers are heard only on CDs as part of RE lessons.
Generation X those born between 1961 and 1981 is the most secular in our society, brought up almost entirely outside formal places of worship.
Many baby-boomer parents were atheists or had church rammed down their throats as children and thought they would spare their own offspring the tedious sermons, fire and brimstone and old-fashioned customs.
How can you enjoy the wonderful poems of someone such as George Herbert without knowing the psalms on which they are based? In the 1970s and 1980s most schools still sang hymns and featured bible readings at morning assembly. The legacy of that immersion is a familiarity with stirring tunes, but more than that the way the powerful cadences and rhythms of the King James Bible murmur through the mind. Whether or not you believe in a Christian god, that is a rich cultural inheritance. English literature is permeated with Christian stories.
Last week at the Tory party conference in Birmingham, Michael Gove, the education secretary, argued passionately for a return to high standards in schools. British history is a key part of his project; he is employing Simon Schama, the historian, to redraft our island story for 21st-century kids so they know about kings and queens, rebellions and values.
As part of this push, Gove wants the likes of Dryden, Shelley, Keats, Milton and Pope to be put back at the heart of the curriculum. Now this is all very laudable but, given the barren state of our childrens biblical knowledge, it is pretty far-fetched, if not impossible. To study English literature, particularly the kind of luminaries Gove is so keen on, is impossible without some knowledge of the classics. Dryden, Keats, Pope and Shelley are all drenched in Virgil, Ovid and Homer; to get a handle on them it is crucial to have a rudimentary grasp of such texts. They are, of course, also permeated by western civilisations other cornerstone, Christianity.
School used to inculcate enough of the good Samaritan, Jonah, Lucifer, crucifixion, garden of Eden, psalms and so on through daily collective worship to make comprehensible the multitudinous Christian allusions of such texts.
The problem with Goves plan to revive the literary canon in schools is that a generation entirely ignorant of the Christian faith is going to find it incredibly difficult probably impossible to get to grips with large chunks of our most famous literature.
How can you enjoy the wonderful poems of someone such as George Herbert without knowing the psalms on which they are based? How can you understand Milton if you know absolutely nothing of the Bible?
And thats just the literature. When it comes to art, the iconography of our most famous paintings is even more suffused with Christianity. Listening to a few hymns on a CD and appearing in a nativity play are not going to imbue our children with the cultural tools they need to unlock Britains greatest writers and artists.
Our educated forebears were steeped in the Bible, in the rhythms, phrases and beliefs of Anglicanism; everybody went to church, its rituals christenings, confirmations, marriages, funerals, Sunday services were the stuff of life. Its values love thy neighbour, honour thy father and mother, do as you would be done by are the basis not just of our literary and artistic culture, but also of our democracy itself.
Some of my atheist friends realise this. They take their children to church because they want them to understand their heritage. One father takes his daughter to an array of services, high church, low church, Pentecostal, to give her a sense of the Christian tradition. I try to sing my favourite hymns and psalms to my children as lullabies; I read them bible stories alongside fairy tales so those characters and cadences are stored in their heads for later.
The physical fabric of the church can easily be reinvented to serve modern life; to save and give meaning to the intellectual inheritance of our Christian past in a secular, scientific age is much harder. But if we are to hang on not only to our culture, but also to the morality that underpins it, we have got to try.
Interesting reading. I have put a hard copy in the Church for reading as well.
I knelt to pray but not for long,
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work
For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done
My soul could rest at ease…..
All day long I had no time
To spread a word of cheer
No time to speak of Christ to friends,
They’d laugh at me I’d fear.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need
But at last the time, the time to die
I went before the Lord,
I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God held a book;
It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said
“Your name I cannot find
I once was going to write it down…
But never found the time”
Good job God is a better timekeeper but a challenging thought nonetheless…
This Sunday (10th October) we are celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
At the Kirk Session meeting on Wednesday 6th October 2010, we discussed the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Dates – Agreed to continue with new date structure second Sunday in the month. January, Easter Sunday, May, August and October. There will be an evening midweek Communion in December. Monthly end of service communions for the other months are to be re-introduced in 2011, with fixed dates put in the diary by the Worship and Fellowship committee.
How we do it? – Seating After discussion of coming forward during the hymn before communion and sitting up for the whole of the service in the chancel, the majority of elders and committee members voted in favour of sitting in the chancel area for the whole of the service. Serving – After discussing various models of serving communion the Session and committee members voted overwhelming for trying the following serving method. It was agreed to continue this practice for the next year and then discuss whether it was helpful or not as it can take time to get used this method. Everyone is served at the same time and eats and drinks at the same time. Rather than serve the Session first and then the congregation, the bread will be served from the Table directly to the congregation and then to the Elders and Minister at the Table. You are asked to hold it and then you are invited to wait for the Minister to give the signal to eat together. The same will happen with the wine everyone will drink from individual glasses. If you have difficulty holding onto the bread or wine for a short time, then please feel free to take the elements as soon as you receive them. We do not expect it to take long to serve every one.
When do the elements leave the service? Agreed during the hymn following communion and the elders return to the chancel area for the benediction.
Children at Holy Communion This has been remitted to the Children and Youth Committee to explore further with Sunday School teachers, and the minister, and perhaps look at developing a family communion service. The Kirk Session agreed a number of years ago to allow children to participate in Communion but we have never followed up that decision.
I thought I would share with you the prayer we had at our Session meeting this month. It isn’t a particularly arty prayer, but it is a prayer that needs to be prayed by Christians all over – yes it is focussed on the Church of Scotland, but we are not the only Church needing to remember who is our God. You can substitute or add your denomination if you want. Perhaps it will help you pray for the Church as well as yourself. The prayer starts by looking at the individual, encouraging you to remember your own Christian path and the influences you have had and have given, before moving on to the bigger picture.
We thank you for your constant presence in our lives and in our church. We take a moment to remember where we have been in our lives, the influence that other Christians have had on our lives and the influence we have had on the lives of others.
God you promise each of us that you have a plan for us. We choose whether to follow it, and for a moment we take time to reflect on the plan where we have been, where we are now and where we might go in the future. We take time to say sorry for the times we have gone our way, praise you for the way you have lead us back again and again and seek your wisdom for the path yet untraveled.
God of our lives, more than anything we thank you that you although you entrust us with great responsibility, you do not abandon us when the path becomes too hard to travel or we have behaved less than impeccably. We lay before you the burdens of our Church at all levels.
We pray for the General Assembly Councils and Committees fighting the financial deficit and trying to bring reform quickly but with great difficulty as the law books continually trip us up. We pray they would communicate fully, and be a worthy leader to presbyteries and congregations in turmoil.
We pray for presbyteries carrying a burden of ministerial reduction with the pain, the work, the stress and the hurt it naturally brings. We pray for presbyteries facing times of great change as presbyteries join up and identities are lost and remade.
We pray for Kirk Sessions, their committees and office bearers in congregations across Scotland as they contribute to the debate on the Church of Scotland. We pray for those facing closure or loss of identity. We pray for those who fear the future because they have lost sight of you and your calling to be your children first, your church second.
We pray for congregations many living in total ignorance of the changes coming, whilst others are paralysed by fear and lack of pastoral support. We pray that all congregations would pull together and remember their common identity as Gods children. We pray for ministers that they would trust in their calling and release their tenure, talents and teaching to the benefit of the church as a whole. We pray for all who work for you Lord, in whatever capacity, that we would trust that you are working all these things through. Help us be free in your love as we share again the responsibilities we have undertaken in this church, this community and with this Kirk Session.
We closed with the Lord’s Prayer.
Can you see the face?
Kieran was playing a game on the computer this morning where he had to collect the pieces to help make a playground. He said to me that he had done it all and wanted to know what happened next. I knew from looking at the screen that he hadnt found all the pieces he thought he had looked everywhere. So I helped him scroll through the screen until he found the pieces he had missed. Then again he thought he had done it, but the last piece blended in too well.
And it made me wonder about how we live our lives especially when it comes to difficult situations. This made me think about the passage where the woman is caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11) The immediate picture is about a woman who slept with someone who was not her husband, and therefore by law she should be stoned to death. However the more you look at the picture you realise there is something more going on. The men drag the woman to stand before Jesus who was teaching people at the Temple. And they seek his opinion. They knew they were putting Jesus in a difficult situation he was subject to the law but they also knew he was nice to people.
Suddenly the picture gets a little darker and the men hope to trick Jesus. Jesus though pauses, bends down and writes in the sand. No-one knows what he wrote in the sand but plenty have guessed. Some believe he simply drew a line in the sand. Jesus is gifted at being able to see the bigger picture. He knew exactly what the men were trying to do.
He comes out with the saying we all know He who is without sin cast the first stone. Slowly but surely the men leave interestingly enough the older men leave first perhaps recognising that they have been outsmarted whilst the younger ones are still debating.
Now we looking at this picture in todays world automatically feel for the woman because although we know that adultery is wrong, we believe that stoning is a step too far. Yet in one sentence Jesus appeared to undermine the law and can we allow that? Notice though that Jesus who is perfect also doesnt judge her guilty. Therefore she is acquitted and Jesus manages to get the men to think about the law whilst not destroying the law.
And what of the poor woman publicly shamed for all this took place at the temple where people were gathered. Rebuked by Jesus, however gently as she is told to sin no more. She would know exactly what he is talking about.
Imagine the story in your mind as a picture sitting in a Temple courtyard, Jesus sitting on a step with men gathered around him listening. There is a space in front of Jesus with a collection of well dressed men and a distressed woman a pace in front of them in front of Jesus but half turned so the people can see her and her tear streaked face. The colours in the picture are murky and swirling and you can feel the agitation in the brush strokes. Around Jesus though the brush strokes are calmer, the colours lighter and he appears at peace.
Each of us has our own agitated picture it might be a specific situation or worry about a loved one. Have you looked for Jesus in your picture? Is he blending in too well? Or perhaps you enjoy the attention you get by focussing on the difficulties like the men dragging the woman in? Or maybe you are the woman caught and you are wondering how to get out of the situation with your life? Or maybe you are watching helplessly from the crowd debating what to do? Jesus defuses the whole situation peacefully and without loss of life.
Take time to pray about your agitated situation perhaps in your mind paint your situation as a picture ask Jesus to help you look at the bigger picture. He can help you smooth out the brushstrokes and in time the picture will soften or perhaps even be erased altogether. Regardless of the situation he always looks to the heart of the matter and can see everything.
God bless you,
Saturday 2nd October 2010
Vision Explorers Agenda
10am The Vision Discussion what; who; where; why?
11:30am What is Church?
12:15pm Worship, Mission and Ministry
1:45pm – Physical Structures (with the help of an architect) Meeting in the Church
3pm Decision making in the Church
3.30pm Vision 2010-2015
Closing Worship 4pm finish
This is the plan for the day but the only fixed point is the Architect visiting at 2pm.