December 20 – January 21
I never thought that I’d be writing this in such difficult circumstances as for obvious reasons things will be a lot different this year with many people not being able to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.
Each year we hear the Christmas story told in many ways. Through drama, singing, Bible readings, nativities and even eye witness accounts. It is a special time of year and however we hear the story it is clearly a story of hope and as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the light of the world, it will mean different things to each one of us. This year our Christmas services will be taking place on Zoom.
Every year the reason for celebrating Christmas seems to become more obscure. This is due to a large extent to the increasing commercialisation of our Christmas festivities, and the fact that there is a marked degree of sentiment associated with it. The true meaning gets lost behind the tinsel and baubles and the pressure of advertisers for us to buy bigger and better and get in to more and more debt and the pressure on parents can become a tremendous burden.
The birth of Jesus took place over two thousand years ago and was celebrated at that time by Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and the angels who sang ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace and goodwill to men on earth and let’s not forget the Inn Keeper. If therefore we only celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, then I suggest that we are over two thousand years behind the times.
How often have you heard it said, if you haven’t actually said it yourself, ‘that Christmas is a time for the children’. Yet most children don’t have the opportunity to understand what Christmas means, and so it’s our responsibility to teach the children, we need to teach them the true meaning of Christmas. We need to teach them that Christmas is a celebration for everyone to share.
The idea that Christmas is only to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, tends to become more firmly rooted each year. Within the Christian church, many churches have a replica of the manger, together with images of all those who were present at the time Jesus was born but this year we need to imagine those things and put Christ back into Christmas.
In larger churches and cathedrals, there can be seen life size replicas outside which tend to proclaim to the world that Christmas is only a celebration of the ‘Birth of Jesus’. Is it any wonder, therefore, that people have little or no idea of the real meaning why we celebrate Christmas?
Great people are remembered for some outstanding valuable contribution they have made to society such as; Great artists, Musicians, Writers, Scientists, Members of the Medical profession, and some people are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their achievements. Jesus on the other hand never wrote a book or painted a wonderful work of art. He never composed any stirring musical composition or left behind some wonderful scientific discovery and he was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, yet at Christmas time every year practically the whole world comes to a standstill to celebrate His birth, and we need to ask ourselves WHY?
In celebrating Christmas we need to remind ourselves that the ‘Baby of Bethlehem’ became the ‘Man of Calvary’, who rose from the dead and is alive in the world today, a living Lord and Saviour. To understand and appreciate more fully the ‘True Meaning of Christmas’ we should understand why Jesus came into the world, and the answer to that is clearly set out in the well-known verse in John’s Gospel chapter 3 Verse 16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. So, Jesus came to bring into this world the power of the Love of almighty God, and there is nothing sentimental about power. It is a dynamic driving force which motivates Christians in their task of establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth and in the communities in which we live, work, worship and serve.
However you celebrate Christmas this year go back to the first one but don’t just see Jesus as the babe in the manger because He’s alive today and will be sitting at your table with you.
Season’s Greetings, Mal and Lorraine
Way Forward at Westbury Gardens
When writing this newsletter restrictions because of Covid-19 are still in place so it is not yet a time when we can consider reopening our church. However, work to provide vaccines is now beginning to bear fruit and there is hope that we will soon, in the New Year, be in a better place than we are now. Our thoughts therefore naturally turn to returning to church so we can worship together and to thinking about what our ‘Way Forward’ will be. The Elders have begun to do some initial thinking about what might come next such as – How might we – refresh our building – build on what we already do – perhaps start a weekly Lunch Club – become a ‘Place of Welcome’ open to all in the neighbourhood as a friendly meeting place to have a cup of tea/coffee and a chat etc
We will of course want to continue to run Messy Church Sessions in local schools, lead school Assemblies and find new ways of connecting with schools perhaps using Zoom. We will also want to further develop the Art and Craft group and to begin the First Monday’s sessions again as soon as we can. Whilst this will not be possible all at once we do want to be well prepared so any thoughts you may have will be more than welcome.
Westbury Art and Craft during Lockdown
We are pleased to be able to tell you that we have found a way of using Zoom that helps the Art and Craft group continue to connect with each other and to explore art and craft ideas online. Gordon Mellody, the leader of the Art and Craft group is now finding ways to demonstrate Art and Craft skills and techniques on Zoom so those taking part can see and then try them out for themselves. This is proving to be great fun, whilst somewhat challenging too, but very worthwhile. Whilst there is serious work being done it is also a time to great fun and enjoyment being in each other’s company with, of course lots of chatting going on.
October – November 2020
Caring for God’s creation – Being an Eco Church
As Christians we are committed to caring for all of God’s creation doing all we can to nurture and protect it in all we do and say.
Our Church has just completed an A Rocha Eco survey of our building and what we do. This has shown that we as a church, are doing quite well in caring for creation and we have achieved the Bronze Award level. We now want to build on this good position, so we become recognised as an active Eco Friendly Church community that do our best to care for God’s creation in all its wonderful diversity recognising that we too are part of it
A Rocha UK works with individuals and communities encouraging them to think about their use of the environment and helping develop practical ways to care for God’s people and planet, locally and globally.
The season of Creationtide, also known as the Season of Creation, has its origins in the Eastern Orthodox Church which in 1989 declared September 1st as a day of prayer for creation. Over the following decades, as awareness of the present ecological challenges facing our world grew, this single day of prayer developed into a liturgical season running from 1st September to the 4th October, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi (the patriot Saint of Ecology). This season of Creationtide has been embraced ecumenically and Christians around the world are encouraged to pray for, and care for, God’s creation. This is also when we celebrate Climate Sunday and Harvest services in our churches.
If there is one positive aspect that came out of this time of Covid 19, it is that we tread more gently on God’s creation. The reduced travel by air and land, the reduced pollution from factories etc enabled Mother Earth to flourish without the devastating impact we as human beings have on the Earth. Many of us forget that the 5th mark of Mission is: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. We are made in Gods image to do as God does, to create and not destroy, to respect and honour that which was made good, to repair and to restore and to be guardians of a better future.
There are many modern day prophets in our midst from whom have we heard the warnings of the climate crisis? It could be communities in the global south, on the frontline of the climate crisis and feeling its effects acutely. Or, has it been activists, who have been campaigning on this issue for years? Voices such as Greta Thunberg’s and David Attenborough? Or, is creation itself the prophetic voice we need to hear? Should we be listening to the pain of wildfires, flooding, tsunamis and earthquakes?
Saint Francis the Patron saint of Ecology said: “Preach the Gospel at all times; and when absolutely necessary, use words.” Francis was all about orthopraxy, or living the Gospel, rather than orthodoxy, or merely verbal beliefs.
As the Church, a global body with brothers and sisters around the world, are feeling acutely the impact of the climate crisis. Do we listen to these cries? What is our role as local churches sharing this message and addressing it? Please contact your mentor or one of the Green Apostle team members to learn some more.
Rev Daleen ten Cate
Missional Discipleship Mentor for Lancashire & Part of the Green Apostle Team
The following is a letter from the North Western Synod’s Green Apostles Team
Dear Churches in the NW Synod
Are you passionate about the environment? Would you like to make some sort of difference to the way we treat our planet-home? Are you up for exploring how we can tread more lightly on the earth? Do you see that as something connected to following Jesus and making a Jesus shaped difference to the world? Did you know that the 5th Mark of Mission is: ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’?
We can support you to become an Eco Church.
At the recent Synod Meeting, the North Western Synod adopted the ‘Environmental Charter’ set out below, which encourages each congregation to embrace it in all they do and agrees to bring a similar resolution to the next General Assembly for adoption by the whole United Reformed Church.
- We believe that creation reveals the glory of God. That we are called to be stewards of God’s creation working with all people of good will to make sure that His earth remains a beautiful place full of wonder, worship, love, justice and peace by respecting the environment and all creatures.
- We challenge ourselves to live simply and in solidarity with the poor not taking unfair amounts of the world’s resources or creating waste and pollution.
- We commit ourselves to safeguarding life and living sustainably by taking our environmental impact fully into account.
To find out more about the ECO Church Award, visit ecochurch.arocha.org.uk. and contact the Green Apostle Team or your Missional Discipleship Mentor. We can walk alongside you to do an Eco Church Audit for you to look through an Eco lens to the following aspects of being church.
Worship and Teaching
Management and Church Buildings
Management of Church Land
Community and Global Engagement
The Green Apostles Team
Rev’dKate Gray firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev’dDaleen ten Cate: Daleen.TenCate@nwsynod.org.uk
Rev’d Dr.Rosalind Selby: Rosalind.Selby@lkh.co.ik
URC Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In September last year a group of 20 from the URC visited Israel/Palestine on a pilgrimage to understand the situation there which as we know is very difficult particularly for the Palestinians. Those on the visit met and talked with those living there to get a better understanding of the difficulties that Palestinians living their face day to day. Many of those who the group met were very pleased to meet those on the Pilgrimage and were very keen that they tell others when back home what they had found out and what they had seen. On return those that went on the Pilgrimage have been telling about their experiences in many places throughout the URC. As part of doing this a live online presentation and discussion session has been held which gave many people the opportunity to hear about the experience at first-hand with the opportunity to ask questions. This included a live contribution from Bethlehem by the Revd Munther Isaac, a Lutheran Priest who has a church there. He was able to explain in detail the day to day life and difficulties that Palestinians face as well as making clear the devastating effect that Covid 19 is having on people’s lives because much of their economy relies on people visiting on Pilgrimage which at present is not possible. Because of this a virtual Pilgrimage, using Zoom, was arranged that took Pilgrims directly into Bethlehem to see Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity, meet the Revd Munther Isaac, see his Lutheran Church and speak to people in Bethlehem. Over a 100 people went on this unique experience. As we begin to think about Christmas our thoughts turn to Bethlehem and the miraculous birth of our Lord Jesus there. The experience of the visit a year ago and the virtual Pilgrimage just held will, it is hoped, remind us all to hold all those living there in such difficult circumstances in our prayers.
Click on this link to see the Film “Walking the Tightrope” which the URC was instrumental in having made. https://www.fodip.org.uk/walkingthetightrope