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.
Christmas is coming: the election will be over; the school holidays will begin and the focus will shift to merry making.
And yet Christmas can be the hardest time of year. It can be a time when overstretched households get deeper into debt; a time when there are disputes within families; a time when loved ones are missed; and for many, a time of loneliness. Yet in our villages, where community is stronger than many other places, we still have the opportunity to go beyond this depressing scenario.
Christmas does indeed need to be about our communities. It is a time to visit neighbours, to go out to restaurants and pubs, to invite people around. It is a time when a little simple hospitality and care can set us up for the year to come. The original Christmas story, if read carefully, is actually not about “no room at the inn” but Mary and Joseph being given shelter at a time when there was no space for anyone.
Christmas still needs to be a time for families. Despite all the stresses that families can bring, if we work at it a bit, and do all we can to build bridges, family life can be renewed as we come together. Presents thoughtfully chosen, sacrificial visits and putting up with some irritations can go a very long way. The first Christmas was not easy for the family either. In all probability Joseph was visiting his family in Bethlehem who suddenly had to put up him and a very pregnant Mary when there was overcrowding for the census. Yet the reward was astonishing: the birth of the Christ-child himself.
And yes, Christmas should be a time of spiritual renewal. There is something magical about dark winter nights, the lights on in the church, the choir singing and songs of something beyond ourselves. That magic is intensely spiritual, a sense of wonder and other. The story of Christmas is of a birth. New birth is a miracle for all parents; this is a miracle in that it goes beyond the norms of nature. This is the story of God come to earth with a purpose, a purpose so important that angels sing, and wise men come running. God has come to live among us, not as a majestic king but as a small baby. It is good for us to spend a little time considering the baby: who he is, what he came to do, and what transpired. If we do, Christmas can be transformed into the most wonderful time of year.
May you have a very happy Christmas!
John Chitham, Rector
An ancient Chinese curse is reported to be, “May you live in interesting times”. Well, there can be no doubt that we live in interesting times! There is division in our country unlike anything since, at least, the miners’ strikes in the 1980s. We see turmoil overseas as well, in Yemen, Congo, Libya and Iraq. The recent Turkish invasion has turned attention back to Syria and the civilian suffering there. (An ironic positive consequence is the long overdue US recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turks a century ago, which was the model for Hitler for the Jewish holocaust. But I digress.) These nations are being ripped apart by disunity, with a loss of respect for government, and a loss of responsibility by government. Such political turmoil is described in the Bible as “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20). It is an image of shadow, darkness and conflict. Our country is not as disunited as those in civil war, but nonetheless we face great political and civil challenges. How should we, in our country and in our villages, respond to the coming days?
The answer, I believe, is as people of goodwill should always respond. In times of disagreement it is necessary to see the best of your opponent, and not the worst. It is a time, in particular, for kindliness and respect. It is a time to moderate speech and action, whilst holding fast to the principles in which we believe. We need to recognise that the loss of social cohesion is worse than any election result or any Brexit outcome. As a Christian, I see the attitude we need in the face of Christ, who “took the nature of a servant…and humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus humbled himself so much that he came down from heaven to be our saviour (the Christmas story). And whether we believe this or not, the example is surely challenging. We need our politicians to serve us, not use us. And we need to serve others in our community, not just be self-seeking. In this way we begin to rebuild trust and that ultimate communal objective, love.
And so, may we, in our village communities, continue to do all we can to build up the values of service and love in our midst.
John Chitham, Rector