I was in London last week and was rather overwhelmed by the number of people. I went to catch a morning tube and the platform was completely full of commuters so the whole station was packed from the edge of the platform to the tube walls. As each tube train came in a number of the crowd got on, we all moved forward and waited till the next train came. I had to wait for about 4 trains before I was able to get on. Then I saw an article about the world’s biggest traffic in USA, when so many people were traveling for their Thanksgiving that the roads were gridlocked.
I was struck by the outrageous fact that Jesus came for everyone of these people, and for me too, too many for us to imagine. Each person with their own hopes, dreams, fears and disappointments. This Christmas season is when we can once again reflect on the amazing story of God coming to dwell amongst us to bring Hope. Coming into a world he had created to be a good place but we human beings have messed up. God did not abandon us to our fate but in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus has given us a way for a fulfilled future. This is God’s gift of hope to a world in desperate need of love, forgiveness and a better way of living.
We have a number of good traditions that make this a time of hope and celebration; such as giving and receiving presents to show that we care. On the 4th December we have our St Nicholas day service when we bring presents for children who do not otherwise receive much, which are distributed by Barnardo’s to give them hope. Another tradition is singing carols, old and new that tell the story and encourage us. There are a number of occasions to join in with that advertised in this magazine. There are events for all different ages and at different times so that at least one should be convenient. Coming together at this time will help us think about not only receiving the gift of Christ afresh for ourselves but also being willing to share the good news and spirit of goodwill. Please take the opportunity to come and join us. Our prayer is that you meet Jesus himself and find real hope for the future.
Rev Bill Henderson
Last month I wrote that we were starting our latest series of groups for people exploring their faith. The groups have started but it is not too late to join.
The idea of the groups is not to tell people what they should believe, but rather to help explore some of the big questions of life. What is life all about? Where am I going? What is the point of it all? It is all too easy to drift through life without taking time to think through these questions for ourselves. Sometimes life’s events bring us up short and prompt us to ask these questions. The Christian story gives a chance to find meaning and purpose, but also to discover the power and comfort of a relationship with a God who loves and cares for us.
A very good friend of ours has recently died. She was a single lady who through a difficult childhood did not have a very good opinion of herself. But she had an amazing faith and concern for other people; a real purpose in her life. Over the years she has been a wonderful prayer warrior for our family and many others. After a conversation about what was happening in our family, she would get a note book and write down the things that needed prayer. She prayed for many families and people every day. When she died we had a thanksgiving service for her life and the church was packed and many people told stories of how she had helped them over the years. She would have been amazed at the number of people who wanted to show their love.
One of the readings at her service was one we had in our first meeting of our ‘Just Looking’ group. It comes from psalm 139 and talks of God’s great love for us: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me….You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex…”
It can be a bit scary to think that God knows everything about us, but comforting to know that he still loves us all the same. Faith gives us the foundation to believe that life is not just a series of random events but that we have a higher purpose. There is a loving God who wants us to know Him too, and a relationship with Him will transform everything. Following Jesus is challenging but the most rewarding thing we can do
Rev Bill Henderson
One of the great gifts and challenges we face in life is the ability to make choices. Free will seems at the same time to be a wonderful gift and an opportunity for disaster. The choices we make define our character and shape our future. We have big choices about career, relationships where we live. But there are also daily important choices about how we live and relate to each other.
One of the biggest choices we face is about what we believe and what principles we will live our life by. As a young man, fresh out of school, I thought that all this religion stuff was nonsense. One had to be stupid or feeble to believe all this impossible stuff about miracles and Jesus rising from the dead. It all happened so long ago, it can’t be relevant to today.
Then I met people who followed Jesus who were not stupid and who were not feeble. I made the decision to look into this Christianity thing. Fortunately at the time a friend of a friend attended a good church in Bristol, where I was working on road bridges—actually it was the A38 north of Bristol where they were testing Concord at the time. The sound of the engines was awesome! At the church they had a discussion group for people wanting to ask questions about faith. I went along, bribed by the promise of a meal of faggots (my friend was an impoverished member of the BBC orchestra). I found the group really helpful and clearly found grounds for faith and a real experience of God’s love. As a result of my own experience I am very keen that anyone who is interested in exploring faith has an opportunity to do that in a safe place.
I am starting our next series of Just Looking Groups (a chance to explore questions of faith) in October this year. For people who decide to make a commitment of faith, there is an opportunity to do that when the Bishop of Wakefield comes to lead a confirmation service in November at St Peters. So if you are interested in exploring faith or confirmation, please get in touch. Come along to our group and make your choice.
Rev Bill Henderson
I have been fascinated to hear about different traditions that families used to keep around Whitsuntide. For many it meant a new set of clothes; an outfit that became the ‘Sunday Best’ for the rest of the year. Some were given a pen while for others a pair of white socks were always given. In many communities there was a Whit walk; a parade through the village, often with people wearing their best clothes and the ladies in White. This would end with an open air service and celebration.
What lies behind these celebrations is the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early disciples at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism, He appeared as a white dove. Whit is derived from white and this is why white clothing has been popular at this time.
The exciting thing about this festival is that it reminds us of a great event that happened long ago, but that is just as relevant today. I am encouraged to hear many stories of people experiencing the Holy Spirit here in Stanley in many different ways.
We can receive the Holy Spirit today and he will make an amazing difference to our lives. He puts the spotlight on Jesus, and encourages our relationship with Him. For some their experience of the Holy Spirit has led them to faith. He also helps us be transformed into the likeness of Christ, disturbing us and making us discontent until we ask God’s help to change. He also empowers us for serving one another. The Gifts of the spirit make us helpful and useful for our community. There are many people who have received healing and comfort through prayer, other’s who have experienced God’s love and presence in a tangible way.
We may not get a new set of clothes now, but we can receive a fresh blessing from the Holy Spirit. How do we receive? Its simple, we just ask. Go on give it a try, you will never regret it.
Rev Bill Henderson
It is hard to believe that we are into May, when we recently suffered from heavy frosts and snow showers. It feels rather strange after such a mild winter.
It is not only the weather that seems in chaos in the world around us. There are atrocities in Syria and ones not so well publicised in South Sudan as well as many other countries. People are fleeing for their lives into difficult and deadly situations, creating a crisis for their care. We watch in astonishment at the build up for elections in the USA where extraordinary rhetoric gains people’s support.
In our own nation it is difficult to find out the actual implications of staying in or leaving Europe. Our own government freed of the restraint of coalition partners and maybe an effective opposition is exercising a rather bullying power, imposing a contract on junior doctors and a policy for all schools to become academies. The implications could be doctors leaving their jobs so there is a dangerous shortage. Already junior doctor posts are over subscribed in Scotland (that still has the old contract) and posts in London are under subscribed for the first time ever. School head teachers are considering strike action.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming and leave us feeling helpless. At the time of Jesus, when their nation was occupied by a Roman army and people of power were acting in appalling ways, Jesus came with a message of hope and challenge. This has been a guide for His followers ever since, especially in times of persecution. It is a message to love, to be especially concerned for the poor and marginalised. But also to speak truth to those in power. When faced with issues that seem too big and difficult to manage, we can decide to do what we can where we are. As a former Bishop of Wakefield once said while visiting us, ‘bloom where you are planted’. Small acts of love and kindness can transform situations, together these small acts can transform a nation.
Rev Bill Henderson
Easter is always a special time for the followers of Christ. We have walked with Jesus through the ups and downs of his last week on earth: the excitement of the crowds welcoming Him into Jerusalem; His weeping at seeing what would happen to that city; His anger at the profiteering in the temple; then the quiet sadness of the last supper, when He knew he would be betrayed. Nevertheless He did the slave’s job of washing the disciples feet, and used it as a lesson for us to sacrificially love one another. Then he memorably gave a new message with the bread and wine of Passover, so we would have something tangible to remember Him with; followed by the sham trial and cruel crucifixion; then the world changing glory of His resurrection.
Remembering this story encourages us to think about our lives and how we live. One of the dangerous gifts God has given us is free will. We can choose how we act and how we behave towards each other. Our choices do a lot to define us as people
As I said in my letter last month, after Easter we are looking at how as a church we might live with the priorities that Jesus taught. This will help us make choices that are in line with God’s will for us as we seek to be people shaped like Jesus.
There are different important areas of life to study and think about; how we respond to each other as people; what we believe and teach; how we work together; how we pray and finally how we speak truth to those in power and seek justice. It’s quite a challenge, but this is a special opportunity to seek God together and be more effective and fulfilled in our daily lives. This is true for us as individuals and for us as a church.
The course will be launched on 10th April, when Gordon Dey who wrote the course is coming to help us. Please see the page on our website for the details of the discussion groups that will be meeting during each week. There is lots of choice, so I hope, if you are interested, there will be a time and place to suit you.
Rev Bill Henderson
This year, from Lent through to the end of the summer term, we are looking at how as a church we might live with the priorities that Jesus taught.
In Lent we are looking at the story of John the Baptist, and after Easter looking at how we might become ‘Jesus shaped people’. There is more about that on pages 14 and 15 of this magazine.
John the Baptist, like Jesus, had a miraculous birth. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were beyond child bearing age and had had no children. So when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and told him that his prayers had been heard and Elizabeth was going to have a baby, he did not believe it. However, true to God’s word, Elizabeth did become pregnant and John was born. From the very beginning it was clear that John was going to be special and have an important job in preparing people to receive Jesus. He preached with power, so that people responded. He was not afraid to speak out against injustice or wrong doing, even though in the end it cost him his life.
John’s story teaches us a lot about God and challenges us about how to live. We see God’s faithfulness as John’s birth was part of a long term plan and the fulfilment of promises made in the Old Testament. We see God’s love and compassion; he chose Zechariah and Elizabeth who had longed for children, but had been disappointed. What joy they must have felt, when after giving up hope, they had their own child.
We are not all called to live John’s lifestyle; living in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey and avoiding wine and strong drink. But we have the opportunity to be filled with the Holy Spirit as he was. This was part of John’s message; that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Being filled with God’s Spirit is what can give us wisdom, strength and direction. If we want to receive the Holy Spirit all we have to do is turn to Christ and ask. I would love to talk with anyone who wants to know more.
Rev Bill Henderson
This is the first magazine of 2016, so I would like to begin by wishing you a Happy New Year.
This is the season of Epiphany when we think again about Christmas, but through the eyes of the ‘Magi’, mysterious visitors from the East. Epiphany can mean “revealing of Christ to the nations”, and these visitors are a powerful symbol of that. Matthew’s gospel gives us a brief crafted account that tradition has built upon. Matthew does not tell us how many there were or what gender or which was their country of origin or even their status.
Art through the ages has developed the scene to depict three men; sometimes all from Persia, sometimes including an African, sometimes giving a range of ages from young to old. We even have given them names and the status of royalty. The range shown is very inclusive. That Matthew includes the story shows how important he thought it was to record the visit of people from another land with another language and a different faith. This gives a powerful picture of the Christ who draws ALL people to him.
But it is a picture with a dark side too. The outward journey was long and arduous and led them into the dangerous company of Herod.
The Magi have a moment of calm and serenity when following the star again they come upon the Christ child. They bow their knees offering their gifts and return home transformed; using a route to avoid the power hungry Herod.
Their encounter with Herod was to bring disastrous results as out of his fear of another king, Herod massacres the boys in Bethlehem. Matthew tells us how warned by an angel, Joseph leads Mary and Jesus to safety in Egypt.
What a contemporary story this sounds; families fleeing to safety as refugees in fear of their lives because of the unbelievable cruelty of people to each other. In the midst of the horror there are signs of hope. There are groups now working to bring relief and help to those in need.
These visitors from the East remind us that Christ does draw all people to himself, even us. We are challenged to be open and welcoming ourselves.
Rev Bill Henderson
Christmas starts with Christ
I find this slogan or challenge really helpful at this time of year. It was used last year and has been appropriately resurrected. With all the rush and bustle of Christmas, it is sometimes hard to keep the focus on Jesus.
The commercial pressure seems to get stronger every year. So we now have ‘Black Friday’ when there are bargains to be had, and there is pressure to ‘shop while you can’. I was interested to find out why this day got its name. It is of course tied into Thanksgiving in America, being the day after. One theory is that because of the great celebrations on Thanksgiving Thursday, record number of people called in sick, hence employers called it ‘Black Friday’.
Most people appreciate a bargain, but when you see the crowds fighting to get into stores and then arguing who got to the bargain first, it is a black day; when selfishness comes to the fore rather than a generosity that is about finding appropriate gifts for others. Another pressure on us is targeted advertising. Don’t you find it uncomfortable if after you have researched something, adverts for it keep popping up on our computer screens?
We have a number of good traditions that make this a special time; such as giving and receiving presents to show that we care. On the 6th December we have our St Nicholas day service when we bring presents for children who do not otherwise receive much, which are distributed by Barnardo’s. Another tradition is singing carols, old and new that tell the story and encourage us. There are a number of occasions to join in with that advertised in this magazine. There are some for all different ages and at different times so that at least one should be convenient. Coming together at this time will help us think about not only receiving the gift of Christ afresh for ourselves but also being willing to share the good news and spirit of goodwill. Please take the opportunity to come and join us.
Rev Bill Henderson
This is the time of year when we think about harvest; the good gifts that come from the earth and our gratitude to God and those who work the land to provide for us.
Honouring God’s creation means honouring those who look after it. It’s very easy to go to the shops and buy what we want, as cheaply as possible, without any real thought about where our food is coming from. The principles of Fairtrade are important: to help each person in the supply chain get a just reward. Our choices of where we shop and what we buy can make a difference.
As usual we are encouraging people at Harvest to bring gifts to symbolise our gratitude for what we have. St Peter’s school is joining us in this too. This means that the younger children will bring gifts of food. Some of this will be used by the church to provide a harvest lunch for people in the community (on Tuesday 13th October, 12pm). The rest will support the local food bank so they have enough to give to families that need support. Older children will bring gifts of money. This will go to our Water for Life Project which is helping people in Tanzania.
We have a special link with a village called Sakawa, where we have sponsored a water tank to collect rain water. I was fortunate to be able to visit the village in May and see the tank complete (see my June letter). So we know the money has gone to the right place. The village would like another tank so we are continuing to raise funds for that.
Harvest is when we are encouraged to stop and think but also celebrate and enjoy the good things that we have and this is much more than the food we can eat. We would like to invite you to join in these celebrations. On Saturday 10th October we are holding an Arts & Crafts Day with various local skills and talents being displayed and demonstrated. If you have a skill to share please come and join in. If not, come along anyway to see the exhibitions. There will be a Ceilidh with a live band in the evening at St Peter’s School (please call the office for tickets). On Sunday 11th October after the morning Harvest Festival service there will be a soup and roll lunch. Please join us.
Rev Bill Henderson