“In the beginning...”: as I wrote in my first letter this week, there is a lot of talk of “beginning” at the moment and before I go any further I want to say again how wonderful it was to see so many of you online at the licensing, separated by a screen, but joined in the excitement we all feel of a new beginning. The zoom service was inevitably a bit unusual, but I think we all made it a little bit more unusual in the open, warm and friendly feel. If you were there, you’ll know what I mean. If you weren’t, I’ll catch you up when we do meet.
I do hope and pray that that moment will not be too far off. As we all know, the pandemic is at a critical point at the moment and we must have faith that the end will arrive. When it does, there will be another new beginning in the benefice. This is not to dismiss anything that has gone before: not in any way. But a new beginning, like any creature or vegetation, has to grow from something older, from the soil, or nurtured, given shelter or warmth. We are all beginning new “together” and we each of us, every day, bring something new to the world. Our new beginning grows from what we already have.
No newly licensed priest wants to start their first service in this way, of course: online and with only a few people physically present. It isn’t the usual way to worship the Lord, and yet here we are, gathered in time if not that closely in space. You are all "gathered" around the benefice that I am getting to know, and I am here in St Gregory’s with a few others. In some ways that changes nothing at all, particularly if we are to reflect upon what this Gospel reading tells us today, from John 1:1-14.
In the beginning… we are told over and over. It is a passage that comes out time and again and which I find to be inspiring, mysterious, poetic and challenging each time I encounter it.
I am inspired by John 1 because of the way it fills me with the power of the spirit. To be inspired is to be filled with spirit. John writes of a moment in time and space when God filled Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and we see that Holy Spirit as a light that shines and fills the world with newness, illumination in the darkness and—as with all light, energy—light. The light of Christ that comes into the world inspires us all to be heated up, energised and enthused.
This passage, well known and well read as it is, remains mysterious, literally filled with the mystery of God. The talk of word and light, beginnings and that "all things that were made were made through the word" is so mysterious. I can be rational about the passage and reflect that I know and understand ideas and things because I know how to explain them in words, but "The Word" is more than that. The Word is the word of God, and that is so much more vast and unintelligible than anything any of us can say. I have heard this reading hundreds of times and each time I hear it I reflect that it is a mystery. I can grasp and hold a snowflake for a few moments before it melts in my warm hand.
Speak the passage out loud and the language moves around in our mouths. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God... it encourages you forward from the beginning of speaking The Word.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
Even more so the poetry is in the authorised version:
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
Such beautiful phrasing and such imagery. It helps us live with the mystery, and also invokes a deeper mystery that God is The Word, and God is also in these words. The mystery and the poetry join together and perhaps the snowflake lasts a little longer.
So much for my aesthetic delirium over this passage of scripture. Any good sermon needs a “so what” moment, and this is what I mean by saying the passage challenges me as well as being inspiring, poetic and mysterious.
If the Gospels are “just” words, if they are no more than a simple story, then we are not reading them correctly. The Gospels are always a challenge and the challenge here, the “so what” of this passage we call the prologue is that as verses 12/13 reminds us:
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
That is inspiring. That is poetic. That is mysterious, but the challenge is that we can turn these words into practical Christianity. Mission, as we might name it. We are at the threshold of a new beginning altogether in the Athelney benefice, and in each of our parishes. We are charged here, in effect, by God, to turn around the passage just before that reads,
“He was in the world, and t`he world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Our four parishes are all beacons; we are all beacons in our own parishes for we are the presence of Christ and carry his light. We together are the ones who, whether locked down or not, are able to shine the reflected light of Christ. Lock down is that cover under which we might place our light. Our challenge is to make sure the light shines where it is needed.
We are not here to be all pious and remote, like a holy huddle who disappear each Sunday morning into our justly obviously beautiful buildings, or as today, on zoom worship. We are people who stand on the threshold of a fresh moment to look into the world and illuminate it with love, with kindness, with justice and with our authentic selves.
We are all able to do this when we pause and pray, when we reflect and then act through inspiration, in the mystery, reading the poetry and responding to the challenge.
So, shine like a light in the world, as we journey together in all our new beginnings.
Towards The the glory of God’s love.
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!