Many moons ago, whilst cycling the lanes of Cornwall I was overtaken by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. They waved at me. It was probably the closest I came to meeting the man. I was travelling from Mevagissey to Cadgwith with three of my friends, mid teens. It was 1977. We came to a junction and our way was blocked by a big crowd.
We pushed our way through and carried on along the road, with people cheering as we went. We assumed there was a carnival passing or something. We were almost right. A minute or two along the way, a big black limo crawled past us, with the big glass rear window, and in it, Her Majesty and His Royal Highness. The Duke waved at us, and we, sheepish, waved back. Nobody stopped us, the entourage picked up speed at the edge of the village and the crowds evaporated. It was the Silver Jubilee tour.
That evening we met up with our various parents at the Cadgwith campsite and my friend's mum, Valerie was beside herself with a mixture joy and envy!
—You Met the Queen and Prince Philip!? she squealed.
—Um, yes… no big deal … a little odd… but hey...
Valerie was so excited but so sad, as a deeply passionate royalist, to have missed out. (To make matters worse, I was not particularly excited by the moment.)
I guess Thomas would have felt the same. Just as Valerie wanted all the details, Thomas would have asked his friends,
—OK, then, what happened? What did he look like? People don’t just turn up from the dead. We all saw him die on the cross. We all wept in unconsolable sorrow at his execution. We all lament what happened. He can’t be alive. He simply can’t!
Poor old Thomas. (Poor old Valerie!) missing out like that. Why didn’t they go get Thomas and make sure he knew?
Thomas gets a bad press. He needs to see and feel the Lord, needs to experience the wounds, before he can accept the truth. The other disciples didn't get the chance to doubt. They saw Jesus to begin with. They don't get called "doubters", however. Besides, we all need that kind of evidence sometimes don’t we?
Down the ages, we are reminded that Thomas didn't believe. He doubted. Even so, doubt isn’t a denial of belief in the way that light is is the denial of dark. Doubt and belief are more of a gradual merging. We sometimes need more or less belief… and when we do find evidence, then we often find stronger belief. Doubt is not the opposite but the counterpoint to belief. As such is plays a major role in our relationship with Jesus. All through John’s Gospel we are given signs of Jesus’s divinity. His capacity to heal, his signs of power over the world, and finally his resurrection. These are all signs of who he is and no matter what we hear about him the evidence is so good to help us understand.
Jesus remarks, however,
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Jesus is not, I think, dismissing all those of us who also require a sign, he is simply pointing out that belief and doubt are a continuum and that stepping out in faith can achieve all kinds of great things.
He also observes earlier that,
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
Such forgiveness often requires faith, or trust, in the one you are forgiving. When we do so, knowing we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we can know we are able to forgive in faith. Our world is often considered to be rather impoverished of faith and trust. We fear those around us. We worry if we don’t recognise someone. We can even inwardly snarl and think, “You’re not from round these parts are you!?” It is sometimes that kind of suspicion (the “opposite” of trust?) that causes all kinds of social breakdowns. Protestant against Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland, Christians against Muslims in the Crusades (and still?). Political parties against each other. All kinds of tribal mistrust. When we lack faith we grow fear.
If we trust, if we give away our suspicion and open our hearts to belief that the "other" before us is a creature of God, then it is amazing what can happen. Look at Acts 4. A short passage that describes a new way of living together that came from shared desires to do as Jesus taught: to believe without seeing, to trust without evidence. To step out in the dark and know the ground is safe. They share their properties, they sell and give away what they earn. They joined together through faith and through faith they came to love one another.
Faith breeds care and care is founded in love. It can often be a challenge, however. Of course. Last Sunday we celebrated the risen Christ and it all seems so joyful. The week has ended with the sad death of Prince Philip, and there has been an understandable outpouring of lamentation for him. But that outpouring shows a kind of fellowship and is based on trust. The Monarchy is a keystone to our culture and our society, and when something goes wrong, when the Queen’s beloved husband dies, we all feel sorrow: for ourselves, for those we've lost, simply because faith and trust encourage us to understand the feelings of others. In a smaller example, but closer to home, we are a benefice of four parishes, each with traditions and cultures. Each growing together, through faith and through shared experiences, and thereby understanding what holds us all together.
The death of the Duke of Edinburgh reveals just how much we share as a nation: we don’t know everyone, and we don’t know the life stories of everyone, far from it, but we have all been affected by his passing in some way. It is part of our shared story, and as a benefice we have a shared narrative. For many years you have been together, and for some years you have had faith to keep going together and to know that in doing so you are all doing the work of God, of Jesus. I am also part of the benefice now, and that is a wonderful feeling.
But there is still faith: in each of us in stepping out along roads we might not fully understand and putting our trust in each other. We might sell fields, we might share our testimonies. And we will grow together, still.
Just as we all have a national identity at this time, so as Christians we have a cosmic identity, far bigger than the nation, far bigger than the Earth. In believing and trusting in God, we are able to care for each other. In times of grief and sorrow, when we mourn our own loved ones as our Queen does today, we can be sure that God is with us and the Holy Spirit guides us in our journey together. And when we are overtaken by royalty on that road, then we know they are alongside us as well.
At last, after so many months of biting our lips or (at best) humming along to our favourite hymns and songs, we can now... ta da aaaah... sing in church!
From this coming Sunday, 25th July, after the pandemic restrictions have been fully lifted, we are making one significant shift in our protocols: singing is permitted across all Athelney Benefice churches.
Please note: all other protocols remain operative, so, no common cup, please wear masks inside church, please maintain a sensible distance from each other and please be aware that some may be less than comfortable with a release of the restrictions.
As sensitive and mature people, I know we can all understand the need for these continuing behaviours, but in the meantime: SING! SING! SING!
In the garden at Manor End, The Fosse with Liz and Keith Gibbs
Saturday 10th July 10-12am
Proceeds to the Church Bell Fund
NB If it’s wet we’ll cancel!
Also, sorry, there’s no parking at the house!
Bells have rung in North Curry church since at least the reign of Henry VIII. Half of the current bells are already over 200 years old.
They are a traditional part of the village, and not just for churchgoers. The bells are heard by all: most often in the church clock chimes, which sound every quarter, day and night; but they also mark the turning points of village and personal life, from births and weddings to funerals.
But the bells can no longer be rung as before. The frame and fittings that support them, and the bells themselves, are wearing out. It is no longer safe to ring the largest bells together. We need to raise around £150,000 to get the bells ringing again. If you would lie to help with this, please head over to the northcurrybells.com site and find out how.
Please start giving some thought to your favourites. The Sunday worship at Stoke St Gregory on 18th July will be a combined “Songs of Praise” with the Baptist church. It will be outdoors and so we will be able to sing openly and without masks… O Joy! There will be a suggestion form in church in Lyng on 13th June and subsequently in Stoke St Gregory.
We are gathering tomorrow (13th June) for our monthly united benefice Eucharist. This month it is at St Bartholomew's, Lyng. Parking is available in the "Old Pub Carpark": thank you!
It has been a while but Coffee Wednesday is returning to North Curry Church. You may remember it as Coffee Monday, but the vicar's day off is Monday and he doesn't want to miss out!
10am every week starting 9th June in the church. There will be cake.
It is not fully formed, and there are some odd gaps but as of this week (10th June 2021) it is going live. Please be patient as we continue to develop it and add many more features. Thanks!