Friday, 12 May 2017

Archbishops' Pastoral Letter

Last weekend we read the Pastoral Letter written by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to aid parishioners in preparation for the forthcoming General Election. We've been asked for a link to the letter - which demands careful reading - so here it is: Just click here.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Easter faith - what comes next?

One of the features of the Church’s Year which I try to avoid having after Easter is the Annual Parochial Church Meeting - and with it what used to be called the Easter Vestry. They’re both very necessary - the APCM to look back over our last 12 months and forward as we elect members of the Parochial Church Council and Deanery Synod representatives; the Annual Vestry (as we name it now) for the election of those critically essential people, the Church Wardens. We’re well served by all - thanks to all who have served during the last year and for those who will move us forward in the months to come. It’s not the meeting itself that causes me the problem when it falls after Easter - it’s all the paperwork, which can sap the energy even when it’s done electronically!

But it’s all done! Except there’s always more to be done… St. Paul wisely wrote that some disciples had the “gift of administration.” Such people are to be treasured along with those who exhibit pastoral skills, who can preach, sing, lead worship and evangelise. The problem is nearly everyone (certainly of who are ordained) seems expected to have it these days.

So reading the Acts of the Apostles as we do in the days and weeks after Easter is always a corrective for Christians in general and clergy in particular who feel that they are losing their way in discipleship and mission. It shows the early days of the Church. Without the physical presence of Jesus which they’d previously relied on, how were the first Christians to move forwards? There are instances of courageous preaching, effective evangelism, miraculous healings and astonishing conversions. But also the need for planning; for plotting a course - sometimes in the midst of disagreement; for people who would take on the care of others and folks who would just do their best to keep everybody together. And all of it undergirded by prayer - knowing Jesus’ promise to be with his people to the end of time, strengthened and guided as we are by the Holy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles is a rather neglected book - find it straight after the Gospels. And ask - what is it saying to you?                                

Martin Jackson

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Resurrection here and now…

In a time when much of what we see in the News Media speaks to us of the human capacity for violence, injustice, complacency and despair, it’s welcome when a “good news” item turns up. One such report is of the unveiling of the restored “Edicule” in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Knowing that a huge project was underway at the time a number of us went on pilgrimage in February, I was pleased enough that we were able to enter the traditional site of Jesus’ burial - though it was shrouded in scaffolding. But now the restoration is complete. Amongst the discoveries is the bedrock in which Christ’s body was said to have been laid, and the dating of the two marble slabs in the chamber which pilgrims may visit: the upper slab, from Crusader times when the church was rebuilt; the lower slab, dated to the fourth century when the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, made provision to build the original church.

Does it matter? Yes, because the events of Christ’s Passion, of Holy Week and Easter, happen in real time - his betrayal, condemnation, death, burial and Resurrection are a matter of record. And physical evidence of their probable location takes us in a special way to recognise how God touches our world. Christian faith is more than a merely “spiritual” experience.

Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, understood this - which is why she was so painstaking in seeking to identify those places most closely associated with the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Later in the same 4th Century a pilgrim to the Holy Land called Egeria recorded her travels and the places she visited - and much of her writing concerned the worship in which she participated. The worship we offer now in Holy Week and at Easter has grown from the same roots as that which she knew. We may not be in Jerusalem ourselves - but our prayer and worship in a very real way takes us there as we seek to follow Christ in his Passion, as we meet him at his Resurrection. The prayer we offered as pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem is the same as the prayer of the Stations of the Cross in St. Cuthbert’s. What is celebrated in the Upper Room is made real in our Eucharists. The Christ who rose from that tomb in Jerusalem is the one who comes to meet us now.                      

Martin Jackson

This article is from the April 2017 issue of our Parish Magazine - click to find it through this link

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Encounters at the Well - the Samaritan Woman and witnessing in Nablus today

Homily - Lent 3     Year A            19.iii.2017             

(Lectionary: Exodus 17.1-7; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42)

We’ve just heard a Gospel reading that’s too long to print into the weekly pewsheet - and so long that you might wonder where to start unpacking what it’s about. It’s about Jesus, of course, and more importantly again it’s about Jesus and his relationship to other people and to one person in particular. It’s the story of an encounter - his meeting with a Samaritan woman at a place known traditionally as Jacob’s Well. It’s a dialogue which doesn’t follow one particular thread but goes off this way and that. It breaks off as the woman goes away and later returns - with other people including the disciples and the woman’s fellow-townspeople coming on the scene as well. At the end you might feel confused. Where did the conversation get them? What happened to that woman? What is the point of all that discussion about the place of true worship? What might have happened next? - to the woman? to the other Samaritans who come to belief in Jesus? What happens during the two days Jesus spent with them? - but we don’t hear anything of what went on during that time…

We’re not going to get all those questions answered in just a few minutes now. Except to say that this is a human encounter. St. John’s Gospel so often has a theological point to make. But here the point is that critical issues about our faith have to be worked out in everyday circumstances - in the encounter with strangers, in confusion as to what anybody is talking about, in hospitality, in the need to break off to attend to other things that demand our attention. If you wonder what is going on between Jesus and the woman he meets at the Well, then perhaps you could ask what would be going on if you were part of that encounter. What would you think of Jesus, what would he make of you, how would your conversation go - and where would it get you? How would things go on from there? These are questions to reflect upon, not to answer in a hurry.

If there’s one verse from all those long readings we’ve heard today that might serve as a key to help our understanding, I think it’s one in today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly…” It’s part of a bigger argument for St. Paul. What the death of Jesus does is something we’ll explore in the days of Passiontide before Easter. But for now, it’s those words, “at the right time…”

Time and place are all-important. The distinctive thing about the Christian faith is that it grows out of the relationship of God and humanity. God is seen to be at work in human history, God is revealed in human flesh, God meets us in Jesus - often unexpectedly as in the case of today’s Gospel story - but always “at the right time…” - in the right place.

Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman is at a particular time in a very particular place. “Jacob’s Well was there,” we’re told. That would resonate with any Jew - a place marker on the journey of Jacob as he came to understand God’s purpose for him and for his people. But it’s also a place which would emphasise the divisions between Jews and Samaritans, two peoples with an ancestor in common, but divided on how to practise their religion and put their faith into practice.

Jacob’s Well is in Sychar, to use the Biblical name. For Israelis, it’s now known as Shechem; for Arabs, it’s the modern city of Nablus. I remember nearly 40 years ago, having Samaritan residents pointed out to me as I was driven through the streets - in 2015 there were only a total of 777 Samaritans recorded throughout the whole of Israel and the West Bank, a tiny remnant, and since the 1990s they’ve been unable to live in Nablus itself following the violence of the first Palestinian Intifada. But it’s likely that many of their ancestors were assimilated into the predominantly Muslim population of this third biggest city on the West Bank.

And the city of Nablus today is a bustling city. Visiting it again last month as part of our pilgrimage, I’d carried preconceived ideas. I’d remembered the first time I’d gone there - just a quick visit to the place said to be Jacob’s Well, that place where Jesus met with the Samaritan woman. I’d remembered looking up and seeing Israeli soldiers watching from the rooftops. And I think that left me with a feeling that this was a town to get in and out of as swiftly as possible for the sole purpose of visiting that Biblical site.

But now I realise I was wrong. So much of the West Bank is scarred by occupation by Israeli forces, by the incursions of settlers, by restrictions placed on those who live there as to where they can go and when; and they live with uncertainties about whether there’ll be water in the taps or electricity to heat and light their homes - as well as lots of rubbish in the streets. But as we drove through Nablus people were simply getting on with life: in the centre the streets were choked with traffic; there were stalls on the streets and shopping malls too; life and work were carrying on. I’d expected hostility - but instead this was normality and if people in other cities of the Middle East were able to live in such a positive fashion the region would be the better and certainly more peaceful for it.

The Christian presence is tiny - about 650 in a city approaching 200,000 - and Anglicans are very much a minority amongst the Christians. There’s much we can learn from them.

The majority of Christians are Orthodox and we visited their church, built over the place where Jesus is said to have talked with the Samaritan woman. We drew water from the Well - some were brave enough to drink from it. We prayed and sang in the crypt around the Well - and then there was time to look at the church. When I’d visited it five years ago, I couldn’t remember it from my previous first visit. This time I found out why - it hadn’t been there 40 years ago. It was built as a memorial to the parish’s previous priest, Philoumenos, a Cypriot who had served his congregations in Palestine for over 40 years until he was found murdered by the Well - probably killed as he’d said his evening prayers. Jewish extremists had issued threats a week before, demanding that all Christian symbols should be removed from the shrine. No one has ever been charged with the murder. Distrust and hatred could have held sway.

But his successor, Fr. Justinus, dedicated himself to building the new church which stands there now. It’s a fitting resting place for Philoumenos who is buried in the upper church - and it’s both a place of beauty and a living witness to Christian faith in this overwhelmingly Muslim city. Philoumenos was not the first inhabitant of the city to have died for his faith. In the middle of the second century a pagan Palestinian philosopher called Justin came to faith in Jesus Christ. His was to be one of the most important contributions to the Christian understanding of how Jesus could be both God and human - and for the sake of his faith he died. He’s been remembered ever since as Justin Martyr. The word martyr has a double sense: these days normally used for someone who has died through religious mistrust and hatred; but the more basic meaning is simply “witness.” It’s to believe something and act on that belief, regardless of the inconvenience or cost.

So we visited that Orthodox Church which so visibly maintains a witness built on a faith expressed in that city for 2,000 years. But we also visited a rather smaller and humbler place - St. Philip’s Church, which has been an Anglican presence in Nablus since the middle of the 19th century. Its witness may seem less obvious, but the Anglican Church has maintained a school - now a kindergarten - there since 1846, and during the last 170 years it has provided for Jews, Muslims and Samaritans as well as Christians. For over 100 years there has also been a hospital, built by the Anglican Church: St. Luke’s Hospital with its 60 beds. Both school and hospital are open for people of all faiths. The parish priest, Fr. Ibrahim, spoke of the pressures of life in general and for Christians in particular. For such a small community it meant a lot that visitors should come from other countries. For our part, we could only be struck by how much he and his people were doing with so many difficulties and constraints set against them. And perhaps we need to recognise how our failure of perception has been part of the problem. There had been an Anglican presence in Nablus since the 1840s, but the first Arab priest was appointed only in 1901. The first Anglican missionaries preached only to the Jews of the town - but they had the Bible in Arabic from 1865 and it was the Arabs themselves who asked to learn more. And so now it is an entirely Arab congregation - and one which works to foster harmony. The cloth on the church’s altar had pockets sewn into it where people can leave their prayers. It’s not only Christians who make use of it - Muslim visitors also leave their prayers there.

Our visit was a humbling experience. How important is our faith to us? How much difficulty will we put up with to practise it? What do we hope to share with others? Do we trust that our prayers will be heard? - and encourage others in their prayer?

Today’s Gospel reading - set in that city now called Nablus - shows a clash of cultures, a confusion of faiths, deeply held and contradictory convictions. But in the end the encounter of Jesus and the woman at the Well is about two people who practise mutual hospitality, who overcome suspicion, listen to one another - and so come to a better understanding. If only we could do the same!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Saturday 4th March: “Come and See”

11am - 3pm Parish Open Day

Our Parish Event in the Talking Jesus initiative

Find out more of what we’re about:

·         Why do we build churches like this?
·         What are fonts and altars for?
·         What about the stained glass?
·         What does it have to do with what we believe?
·         No big talks - a chance to look around, explore our beautiful church, see what we’re up to and ask questions

Drop in & displays.
Take a good look at our church and hall - refreshments & more!

Please note service times on Sunday 5th March:

8.00a.m. Eucharist
- said, from the Book of Common Prayer at St. Cuthbert’s
9.30a.m. United Eucharist
- at Christ Church, Consett

Our regular Sunday Service time is 10.30a.m. all other Sundays

You’re always welcome!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

I met the other evening with Pat Craighead and Stephen Herbert, my fellow-leaders of our recent Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The purpose was to talk through how we felt it went, what was good, what could have been better. And we’ve now sent in our report to the pilgrimage company.

And what do I feel? First, I think, that it exceeded all my expectations. Asking pilgrims to pay as much as such a pilgrimage costs, to give up their time, in one case to give up their job(!) - and with half the pilgrims coming as a party from St. Cuthbert’s - I worried about whether it would measure up. But we were so well served. There couldn’t have been a better way to see all we saw, to do what we did and to experience something of what it meant to live in a land with such a history, such a deep significance to people of three major religions and such an on-going story which includes tension, repressed conflict, joys, sorrows and hope.

Second, it’s actually too soon to know how I really feel. So much went into the 11 days we spent in the Galilee, the West Bank and Jerusalem - not to mention the 26 or so services we shared! It will take some reflection to work out the difference the pilgrimage has made to us. We’ll need to be ready for what was sown in our experiences to take root and emerge in weeks, months, even years to come. The purpose of pilgrimage is to be open to what you find - to allow it to change you. That’s an openness to God’s grace. And pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily require going somewhere physically. We can make it in daily life - Lent, as it gets underway in March, is a sort of 40 day pilgrimage, asking where do we want our journey with Jesus to his Passion, the Cross and Resurrection to take us?

Third, it was so good to travel together with other people - and especially with people I knew. Such were our numbers that there was a real sense of being the parish on the move - not only seeing where our faith comes from, but living it, and asking where it might take us. Along the way we encounter problems that need to be overcome (thankfully very few), causes for joy and anxiety, challenges to our perceptions - even to our understanding of who we are. That’s what pilgrimage should be!

Martin Jackson

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Come and See!

That’s the title we’re giving to an Open Day we’ll be holding at the beginning of March - see the full page advert on page 10 in our Parish Magazine! It’s our parish contribution to the Talking Jesus initiative which is bringing bishops from all over the North of England to share in doing just that - Talking Jesus. I think quite a few of us have felt a bit threatened at the prospect; all those bishops and being asked to think about what our faith means to us, and inviting other people to share it! So I wondered if the suggested title for our Open Day, Come and See, was an attempt to tone it down. Then I noticed the title that I’d suggested for use on the orders of service we’re producing for this month’s Holy Land Pilgrimage - it’s “Come and See: A Journey in the Steps of Jesus.”

So I have no cause for complaint! Come and See - it’s a chance to invite local people to see what we’re up to at St. Cuthbert’s in both the church and the hall: lots is going on, there’s lots to be proud about, there’s lots that speaks about our faith. We’re asking people to help make the day happen and work. That’s something more than getting a few reluctant people to sign up to put on teas or keep a cold church open for the odd visitor. It’s an opportunity for us all. Come and See - the invitation is to us all. Please come in great numbers - just being there is the first things we need you to do - and bring people along. It’s not onerous but an opportunity!

We’ve got the bishops and a team of ordinands from Cranmer Hall to do the “talking.” Come and chat with them (no heavy lectures). I’m going to be there and ready to talk about special aspects of the church - what do you see in those wonderful windows? what are those different features about? why have a font or an altar? I hope it will appeal to the curious. We should all be curious! Lots of people milling about, I hope - a new appreciation of why we are here.

Come and See. That’s the invitation Jesus gave to the first disciples - we don’t know quite what he said or what they found. But it made a difference. That’s my hope too - for our pilgrims, and for us all.    MJ