Our three churches: St. Mary’s, Standon, All Saints, Little Munden and St. Catherine’s, Sacombe are all part of the St. Alban’s Diocese within the Church of England. We are united in name and the desire to welcome every person, young and older, into our wonderful community minded church families. Our hope is to help everyone discover who Jesus is, and then to grow in understanding and faith. We have beautiful church buildings, a fantastic Benefice Choir, various styles of worship, partnerships with two excellent Church of England Schools, and a clear Bible based ministry.
Reading the letters printed in local newspapers is both revealing and interesting. Just this week I read one such letter regarding the Easter Story and whether it is possible to believe it is true? He/she writes ‘I understood that religious belief only required faith to support it.’ ‘Surely it is reasonable to say we believe what we want to believe regardless of the need for the truth.’ (Walden Local 20 April 2017) Of course it is possible that some people ‘believe’ without being sure something is true, but this claim is not isolated to Christians only. Most of us believe what the experts say on a daily basis: like our doctor or electrician, even when we have no idea whether they are right. But having ‘faith’ in them does not mean there is no truth.
John Chapter 20 describes the moment when Jesus, who the Bible tells us was raised up from death, appeared to His disciples. Thomas was a trusted friend but he wasn’t there when Jesus came to them. When they told him, Thomas said he could not believe unless he saw for himself, unless he put his hands where the wounds would have been. Did his ‘doubts’ change the ‘truth’ of what the others saw? Of course not. It happened. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 6 tells us the risen Jesus appeared to over 500 people before he ascended into heaven. Ever since, countless lives have been changed by meeting Jesus. Some need little proof, they just trust in Him, others have studied the scriptures asking the deep questions of life and concluded exactly the same. Truth is arrived at and understood in different ways whilst remaining unchanged!
Over the next five weeks our churches are trying to answer the ‘true or not’ question in different ways. We have a new ten week Alpha Course starting that questions whether we can logically believe the central claims of the Christian faith. Why not come? Ask those questions that stand in the way of faith. (Ring Alan 01920 318864 to book a place). Or why not come to hear ‘Tough Talk’ on 21st May, 3pm at Roger de Clare School. “Tough Talk’ was started many years ago by Arthur White. Arthur was a World Power Lifting Champion; a seriously dangerous guy and drug cheat who walked away from his family, before something incredible happened. He met Jesus and was changed. Why not come and hear some amazing stories of how God can change lives? Lastly, our Pentecost Prayer Sunday is on 4th June. The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the churches to pray. Many are committing to pray for five people to overcome their struggles or put their trust in Jesus. Then on 4th June at our services and throughout the day we will be offering different ways of praying with a focus on the General Election on 8th June also. Prayer changes people. Whether you believe this or not doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Why not come and get involved or question…..
Alan Comfort, Rector
One of the many lovely things about living in our villages is the sense of community that exists. I regularly hear people, young and old, talk about ‘their’ church. St. Mary’s is indeed ‘your’ church whether you come every week or only occasionally and perhaps the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, will offer even greater encouragement to you; he once said this: 'The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ This is an inspirational quote every church could position perfectly at the bottom of emails sent or letters written, but Temple’s intention was full of unexpected challenge to the church if we dare take a closer look.
Our former Archbishop was questioning our common desire to create groups that suit and reflect us. Let me explain what I think he means with two simple examples: the first from my own personal experience and the second from the Bible itself. The first: after years of encouraging my Mum to go to church, she eventually went to her local village church. I was thrilled until she told me the story. She arrived a few minutes before the service was due to start, sitting near the back. A few moments later someone tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move because she was sitting in their seat. My Mum moved very quickly, dreadfully embarrassed as you can imagine. Guess what? Just as the service was about to begin someone else tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move yet again. She did, to her car and back home!
The second story is from the Bible. In Luke, chapter 19, Jesus was on his way to Jericho when he noticed a man up a tree. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector who unexpectedly wanted to meet Jesus. He caused misery in people’s lives and was probably disliked by many or even hated by some. Yet Jesus believed Zacchaeus was a man who needed a chance to change. Such stories are inspiring and offer hope to everyone who feels lost or beyond saving. However, the story doesn’t tell us how the followers of Jesus felt. Suddenly, they had to welcome and make space for a man they didn’t trust or like. Can you hear those words of our former Archbishop: Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not its members. It exists for everyone, the good and the bad, those like us and those not like us, that all may find the hope of Jesus. If you feel like Zacchaeus, then come to your church and find hope, and in so doing, challenge us to be the church that William Temple described all those years ago!
Alan Comfort, Rector
With the new year now in full swing, I wonder what has happened to those New Year’s resolutions? The difference between good intentions and absolute determination can be vast. A survey from the US claims that 45% of all Americans made New Year resolutions last year, but only 8% kept them. Good intentions, it seems, don’t hold our attention for long. My sister, on the other hand, is still going strong with her New Year ‘get healthy’ regime. Losing some weight and feeling better about herself will be nice but her reasons are wholly different. Our older sister who died back in September, and our Dad who died the previous year, both suffered from type 2 diabetes due to being overweight. My sister can hear the warning bells ringing as her weight goes up but she is determined to overcome. If you are trying to make a much needed change in your life, I want to encourage you to hang in there.
Christmas, although several weeks ago, was beautiful in Standon and Puckeridge. It started for us with a NEW ‘Walk in Nativity’ at Roger de Clare School with live animals and two hundred adults and children. This was quickly followed by our heavenly ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ at St. Mary’s, led by our exceptional Benefice Choir. The Ralph Sadleir and Roger de Clare School Carol Services were equally beautiful, and our Christingle, Midnight Communion and Christmas Day Celebrations were all memorable moments in their own ways. May I take this opportunity to thank so many willing and committed people who make these activities possible and any others who serve our community unselfishly as so many do.
Back to those good intentions. Coming to church at Christmas can spark a desire to think our faith through. If Jesus really lived, died, and rose up from the grave, and by so doing can change our lives for good, then maybe it’s time to ‘come back’ to church, to read the Bible, to pray more and to give the notion of faith the chance to grow in us. Yet, such a thought often gets swallowed up like the rest of our New Year resolutions once the normal busyness takes over again. Eating, drinking and spending less may be very necessary for us but what about those deeper needs. Like the man who came to me this past year and said He needed to find God because he had tried everything else. The health service could not ultimately help him, other people could not help him, and he could not help himself. He needed God. Experience has shown me over many, many years that when someone needs God’s help he or she will always find it. This is more than a good intention. Talk to a Christian friend; come to church; ring my number. Faith helps.
Alan Comfort, Rector
Can you really believe Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States? Who would have guessed it? Well the writers of The Simpsons, Channel 4’s irreverent show, did. They predicted back in the year 2000 that Trump would be President. When the show’s creator Matt Groening was asked about this, he told The Guardian: “We predicted he would be president back in 2000 – but [Trump] was of course the most absurd joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.” Despite the shock and widespread disbelief, I do hope he surprises us by being a good President because the world certainly needs him to be.
Such shocks remind us how little control we have in this life. The polls assured us that the UK would vote to remain in Europe but look what happened on June 23rd. Leicester City were 5000/1 to win the Premier League at the beginning of last season but fairy tale champions by May. Given the unpredictable times we live in, I’m glad I’m not a so called ‘expert’ who tells people what is about to happen when the ‘impossible’ seems more likely than absurd.
For some people, the ‘impossible’ part of the Christmas Story sits in the way of belief. In the Bible, Luke Chapter 1 tells us an angel appeared to Mary, who was engaged to be married to Joseph, and told her: “you will be with child and give birth to a son”. “How will this be” she asked, having never slept with her future husband. “Nothing is impossible with God” the angel tells her in verse 37. Note the passage does not say, ‘everything will be easy’, but ‘nothing is impossible’.
Could the next few weeks of your life help to mend old and painful wounds, or revive a tired and burnt out life? The Christmas hope is something magical and meaningful and very real. I remember many years ago receiving a call from a friend from my footballing days. Life had been tough for him and his family, which in part had led to his decision to put Jesus at the centre of his life. He had made mistakes but longed for his family to have a fresh start. He wondered whether things could ever be different. As he opened his Christmas present from his wife, he found a book about sharing your faith in Jesus, and written inside: ‘please may I be the first person you tell?’ That day the impossible happened. There is no doubt that life can be difficult for many of us, but grasping the possibilities God can make possible are just a prayer away. Why not welcome Jesus into your life, family and home this Christmas? Have a blessed and happy Christmas with love from all at St. Mary’s.
Alan Comfort, Rector
Driving across the A10 roundabout from Dane End today, my car suddenly cut out. I managed to coast across the roundabout but soon came to an abrupt standstill. Like so many of us these days, I don't have time for things to go wrong. This newsletter piece had to be written; a sermon for tomorrow to be finished, and here I am waiting as countless cars race by. I’ve resorted to typing my newsletter piece into my iPhone with hazard warning lights flashing and misty windows! We buried my sister yesterday. A sad but beautifully uplifting service as we celebrated her life. She was inspirational, my big sister, always fun and full of life, but now she's gone. I miss her.
I’ve been stuck on this roundabout for nearly two hours now. I’m trying to work out what I can learn from a moment like this? Stopping to think is not something I often do…… it seems as if the clocks have all stopped and nothing will ever be the same again. When things once important seem less so, and what really matters is to be found and cherished. Like so many, I cannot imagine life without my wife Jill and our children, but my brother-in-law Paul has just begun a very different life that some of you already understand. Stuck on this roundabout I am resolving to find more time for the most precious things in my life.
Will you find time to think of God? My sister had many questions, but struggled if I’m honest, to find all the answers. However, for the last week of her life she grasped a ‘holding cross’ tightly in her hand. I felt God was always near to her. The one who shines the sun upon us; who inspires our 'hopeless' moments that we might stop and remember what matters most. Soon a friend, who is very busy in his day, will stop what he is doing to help me. I imagine my desperate phone call arrived when he least needed it, but he said yes to helping me. I will never forget those who say yes to helping me when I most need it. I am certain that God always hears our prayers and He sends people to help us every day and sends us to help others on the other days.
I wonder what kind of encouragement you need today. On two Sundays in November, remembering will be central to our church life. At 3pm on Sunday 6th November at St. Mary's we have our annual ‘Service of Memories’. A chance to remember loved ones who have died recently or a long time ago but are still central in our thoughts. Why not come and let us read out their name and light a candle in their memory? Then on Sunday 13th at 10.45am, our Remembrance Service at St. Mary's will take centre stage with our Uniform Groups and wider community sharing in this thankful service. You will be warmly welcomed as always to this service or to our remembrance services at All Saints (9.15am) or St Catherine’s (3pm).
Alan Comfort, Rector
If you love sport, this past summer has been heavenly. Even the expected failure of the England football team could not detract from the remarkable achievement of Chris Coleman and his passionate Wales team; the wonderful success of Andy Murray at Wimbledon; Mo Farah, Jason Kenny, Laura Trott and many others and their Olympic glory; and last but not least the Para-Olympic hero’s from Rio with many new and extraordinary stories being written.
Seeing the joyful face of success is inspiring, but the disappointed faces of those who do not achieve their dreams stay in our minds don’t they? Do you remember Barcelona 1992 and one of the most moving moments in Olympic history? Derek Redmond the British 400m runner and great hope for a medal reached the 150m mark narrowly ahead in his semi-final race; when suddenly, devastatingly, he fell to the ground as if he had been shot, having suffered a cruel hamstring injury. All those years of hard work, focussed on this one moment and now his dream was over. Despite the pain he struggled back to his feet and began to hobble around the track, determined to complete his race. At 200m a man ran from the crowd, it was his father. As soon as he recognised his Father he wept uncontrollably as they struggled towards the finish line to the cheers of a packed Olympic Stadium. Why not google Derek Redmond and you will find it hard to hold back the tears I assure you!
May I make a simple faith connection: this is such a vivid picture of what our heavenly father is like when we too are struggling; when everything seems to be going wrong, and answers seem difficult to find. Just as Redmond’s Father came to help his son, so our heavenly father stoops down to help us through the storms and struggles of our lives. He doesn’t force his way into our lives, but He comes as we invite Him. Yes we can invite Jesus to be by our side even as we read this article? Perhaps you think Jesus might help others but never you? As you ponder the question I’m sure this famous and much loved poem might help change your mind; ‘Footprints in the Sand’ by Mary Stevenson: ‘One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.” ‘
Alan Comfort, Rector
What would a church service need to be like for you to want to come? Quiet and reflective; just as it was when you were growing up; informal and fun; interesting; relevant; formal and structured; choir led; led by a music group; Bible based; great for children; predictable; unpredictable; powerful; Spirit led? A service that contained all the above and left everyone happy would be perfect. Just in case you’re looking for that perfect church remember what the great church minister Charles Spurgeon once said; “The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.”
Nicky Gumbel, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London, and beautiful inspirer of faith reminds us what church is really all about; ”Church is not an organisation you join; it is a family where you belong, a home where you are loved, and a hospital where you find healing." No matter the style of worship, that’s the kind of church I want to be a part of and aspire to lead!
Our churches are not perfect, but I am certain you will find beautiful worship often led by our wonderful Benefice choir, a genuine welcome, the familiarity of the Anglican Service, space to think, relevant Bible teaching, and a real sense of community. We believe what we do is lovely, but we do recognise what we love is of a certain style and not everyone enjoys the same style. With this in mind, our combined churches have committed to developing a ‘younger’ element to our worship in terms of age range and worship experience. We started with Messy Church in Roger de Clare School back in April 2015, and now feel ready for Messy Church to evolve into ‘St. Mary’s at the School.’ This will take place at Roger de Clare School from 4.45-6pm on Sunday’s in the same time slot Messy Church filled, but be aimed at a much broader audience. The worship will be very informal in style; a contemporary music style with up to date christian music; our amazing Messy Church style children’s ministry will be central where our children engage with the Bible theme through many different activities; being joined by and sharing this experience with their parents/family after the adults have had the space, if they wish, to interact with a 15 minute talk aimed at inspiring their faith. Those who come without children will have the opportunity to discuss the talk and encourage one another in the space that follows. Why not come and give it a go? Our first Sunday is 4th September at 4.45pm starting with our usual refreshments and cake. Just come. (Although Sunday afternoon is something new for our churches, it is still part of our one church programme. With this in mind, every fourth Sunday of the month (25th Sept), 'St. Mary’s at the School’ will join the 10.45am service at St. Mary’s Church with NO Sunday afternoon service that day. Messy Church activities will take place as per usual as we bring two parts of our church community together. This is all very exciting as we all move forward together.)
Let me finish by referring back to the Nicky Gumbel quote I started with. Most of us don’t need another organisation to join but a family to belong to. A place that makes a difference, where finding Jesus helps us make sense of the challenges we all face in this life. That’s the church I go to. Come and join us.
Alan Comfort - Rector
In June, my daughter was married at St. Mary’s Standon - the most glorious occasion with hundreds of family and friends celebrating with us. With conviction they both said their vows, ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.’ No small thing for the groom in particular, as his future father-in-law (me) was taking the service, but you could tell they both believed and meant every word they were saying.
I wish things were always as black and white as this. In Matthew 5 v 37 Jesus tells us: ‘All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.’ Being truthful, which means believing and then doing what you say, is something we understand and in most cases can choose to fulfil. At times this can be costly and often not easy. As a young man and before I committed my life to following Jesus, it seemed easier to tell lies at crucial moments. Once, having ignored a curfew whilst playing for the England Youth team in Norway, I persistently lied about what I had been doing as if lying would help me. It didn’t! Becoming a Christian marked a desire in me to change, the turning point of my life.
However, telling the truth is not where this story ends. Most of us believe we are being truthful but telling the truth and being right are not quite the same are they? As a younger man I always thought I was right, now as the years pass I wonder if I am ever right! Let me explain what I mean: my wife Jill often asks me what I think of a dress she is trying on; my reply might include asking her what she thinks, and then to reply accordingly. I have no idea really. Am I telling the truth? I am telling the truth but I have no idea what is right.
The EU question was not quite the same as commenting on a dress but equally challenging. By the time you read this newsletter we will have voted to ‘remain in’ or ‘leave’ the EU. It has been incredible watching clever people like David Cameron and Boris Johnson and many others come up with completely different answers to the same questions. Are you confident you voted the right way? It was Solomon in the Old Testament who could ask God for anything, who asked for wisdom. The wisdom to listen more deeply and get things right. I remain uncertain about my EU vote but I know that following Jesus and being inspired to live and love as He did is right! What do you think?
Alan Comfort, Rector
On 22nd May just passed, George Best would have celebrated his 70th Birthday. His was an extraordinary life of brilliance and destruction; an unforgettable football career at Manchester United strangled by an out of control drinking addiction that eventually took his life in 2005. Many people think, with good reason I might add, ‘a leopard never changes its spots’. Meaning, we can’t change what we are. For example, if we’ve supported Chelsea since we were small, like me, we can’t change. If we’re likely to let people down, we always will. If we’re weak willed, we’ll give up eventually. If we’re addicted to drink or drugs, we always will be. ‘A leopard never changes its spots’.
Do you believe this? The evidence suggests this is often true, but is it always true? Is it impossible for us to change? I am convinced the answer to this question is NO, but we need to believe change must happen for change to occur.
The actor Robert Downey Jr. grew up in a home "surrounded by drugs”. He frequently did drugs with his father, actor and filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. He recalled drinking white wine when he was just eight years old. After stints in rehab and even prison as an adult, Downey Jr. finally turned his life around in 2003 after an intervention and a successful stint in rehab. He has been clean and sober ever since.
We celebrate every victory like Downey Jr., but needing to change is not limited to life threatening addictions. Most of us have character flaws that frequently pull us down. For many of us, finding the strength to overcome can prove impossible, but God promises to help us if we ask. The Pentecost promise is that God sends His Holy Spirit to be our helper, to live in us. In the New Testament we find Saul, part of the religious elite of his time, highly trained, a brilliant man, who hated Christians and sought to have them arrested and even killed; but God met Saul on the Damascus road as recorded in Acts Chapter 9 and his life was changed. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, met Jesus in Luke Chapter 19 and his mean life that caused hardship for so many was changed. A faith in God makes change possible.
What about you and me? I’m not sure what challenges you face, but I do know this: if we want to change, God can help us and give us a reason to be changed at the same time. Isn’t that one of the keys to all this? We need a reason to be different. What’s yours?
Alan Comfort - Rector