Editorial – April 2018

by David Bent; Team Rector

Celebrating Life

I had an interesting conversation with some clergy colleagues recently, about our communities’ understanding of funerals and the decline in the number of so-called ‘religious funerals’. It was suggested that there is a sense in the communities that people have to choose between a ‘religious funeral’ and a ‘celebration of a person’s life’. I don’t see this distinction.

Funerals should give families and friends space both to deal with their grief over the loss of a loved one and also to celebrate all that was good in their life. Christian funerals (I don’t find the term ‘religious’ very helpful) also give the opportunity to share the grief with God, who understands grief, and to share the celebration of life with God, who gave us life in the first place. But a Christian funeral does more than that because it does it all within the hope and promise of resurrection life, through faith in our Risen Lord.

But that got me thinking about the Easter story! Were Jesus’ family and friends planning a funeral service for him? Funerals were clearly part of the Jewish culture; we get a glimpse of this when Jesus interrupts a funeral procession in the village of Nain and raises the deceased, a widow’s son, back to life (Luke 7:11-15). We know that Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb on the Friday evening because it had to be done before the Sabbath, the following day. But were they planning a funeral service for the Sunday?

If they were planning a funeral service, I wonder who would have given the eulogy, and what they would have said about the life and ministry of this exceptional man? How much would they be mourning his death and how much would they be celebrating his life? What would be their hope for the future, for them now, having to live life without Jesus, and for Jesus himself, in terms of eternity? The Jewish faith believes in the resurrection of all the faithful Jews when the Messiah comes. But now their hoped for Messiah was dead. Whatever their plans, God clearly had different ones!

The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day surely marks the turning point in the history of funerals. From this point on Christian funerals not only
celebrate the life of a loved one and grieve their loss, they also look to the promise of eternal life in a heaven that is spent in the presence of God and of all those we love who have died in faith, and that will be beyond our
wildest dreams. So, let us join in the Easter Celebration:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Editorial – March 2018

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Margaret Baker; Team Vicar

We have just said ‘goodbye’ to the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, and then before you can say, with any certainty that your Christmas decorations are safely stored away, we’re directing our thoughts towards Easter.

As we reach the month of March, this year we will be well into the season of Lent. A time for us to prepare for Easter but what is Lent? – Traditionally It is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar, during which Christians use it as a time for prayer and penance.

By observing Lent, we are remembering the sacrifice of Jesus, who withdrew into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days before his crucifixion. You might like to refresh yourselves of Jesus time in the desert by reading the account in Matthew 4: 1-11

I am hoping that the weather will have cheered up by the time you read this, for as I write it is bitterly cold and there is snow falling. However, the churchyards and our gardens are showing signs of the first snowdrops, the sign that winter won’t last forever, the nights are getting lighter and that Spring is on its way.

On March 11th we celebrate Mothering Sunday, which brings with it the joy and hope of new life, and the love and care of those around us. Then, after that brief Lenten respite, we then turn our hearts and minds towards the cross, as we make our spiritual journey towards Holy Week and Good Friday. I wonder how you will mark this unique time in the churches year or will it be like any other week?

So, as we look towards spring and Easter, I leave you with a Lenten prayer.

As the days lengthen
and the earth spends longer in the light of day,
grant that I may spend longer
in the light of your presence, O Lord,
and may those seeds of your Word,
which have been long-buried within me, grow,
like everything else around us,
into love for you, and love for people;
to become a visible declaration of your Lordship in my life.
Grant, Father, that this Lent there may be
a springtime for my life in Christ,
Where new shoots grow and begin to grow.
Amen.

 

Editorial – Feb 2018

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Philip Barringer, Pioneer Minister

Jesus said:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Now remain in my love…” (John 15:9)

No sooner had they finished with Christmas, than shops were getting ready for Easter! Chocolate eggs began appearing on the shelves before New Year’s Day, and for some brands the transformation from Chocolate reindeer to Easter bunny was just a matter of changing the foil wrapper!

But this month sees that start of Lent, the traditional period in the Church calendar of preparation for Easter. For many this is as a period of abstinence or fasting – giving something up as a spiritual discipline.

This year, by a peculiar twist, Ash Wednesday – the start of lent – happens to fall on 14th February, St. Valentine’s Day, which might lead to an early test of resolve if you are planning to give up chocolate, or alcohol, for example, and someone buys chocolates and Prosecco for you as a Valentine’s Day gift!

Valentine’s Day is, of course, a day dedicated to love, when we let the one we love know it, and make a special effort to spend time together and invest in the relationship.

I would like to suggest that this is a perfect way to set thinking on Lent. The whole point of Lent is to give us an opportunity to review our relationship with Jesus and spend time investing in it, and the way we do that is through prayer.

At our recent Parish Weekend we explored various ways in which we can engage in prayer, the talks from the weekend were recorded and are available to be downloaded if you weren’t able to be there. Also, over the course of Lent we will be following a sermon series ‘Teach us to Pray’, looking at The Lord’s Prayer.

So this Valentine’s day, start the Season of Lent by setting aside time to let Jesus know how much you love him, and if you are intending to give something up for Lent, make it something that creates time for you to spend more time praying, and put into practice the things we have been learning.

Editorial – Jan 2018

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby David Bent; Team Rector

A Vision for the Future

I have a vision to release some of the God-given gifts of people within our congregations in order to grow our mission and ministry to children, young people and families as a means share the Good News of Jesus, bless our communities to secure the long-term future of the Christian Church. Could you join me in this vision?

Toddler Church is a new venture at St Mary’s, meeting once a month. I would love to see it operating once a week, both at St Mary’s and at one of our other churches. We do regular assemblies at two of the eight primary schools across the team; I would like to see this rolled out at all eight schools. We have little or no input into Brinsworth or Aston Secondary School; I would like to see a youth worker regularly going into each school offering support for Christian Unions, RE lessons and pastoral care, and also running outreach events for the young people from the schools. We have big gaps in our follow-up with families from weddings, baptisms, Messy Church and Toddler Church. I would like to see a family’s worker nurturing these contacts and seeing them growing in the Christian faith and in church membership.

Sheffield Diocese has the ‘Centenary Project’ scheme which offers grants to employ ‘Centenary Project Workers’ in churches who work together to develop this sort of vision. I believe that we could support one or more ‘Centenary Project Workers’ across the team, extending the work we already do in areas such as Messy Church, Toddler Church and Schools work, and in setting up new work linking in with the comprehensive schools.

The Centenary Project grants are tapered so that the diocese supports the project 100% in the first year and tapers it down over the following years until the churches are able to support the project themselves, possibly by year four, when they will hopefully have seen significant church growth.

If we were to fund 30 hours of work a week we would need to find £10,000 a year over four years. This may sound a lot, but it breaks down to £200 a week, or £160 a week if it is gift aided. That’s little more than £1 a week for each adult across the team. Which I think is a bargain!

My vision would be to train up and release people who are already part of The Rivers Team and who have time, or who could take time out from their work, to serve the church with their God-given gifts. Will you give your
support, your prayers and your money to support this vision?

Editorial – Dec 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Helen Bent, Associate Vicar

I wonder what we think of first when someone mentions ‘Christmas’—trees, fairy lights, tinsel? Reindeer, elves, Santa? Cards, wrapping paper, presents? Turkey, cranberry sauce, mince pies? Do any of these first thoughts take us anywhere near the heart of its true meaning? If we are so taken up with the commercial or sentimental celebration of Christmas we are likely to miss both its wonder and its earthiness as well as its pain.

There is wonder and amazement, as hosts of angels fill the night sky with singing. An astonished group of shepherds rush off to Bethlehem full of excitement and curiosity to see if there really is a new baby in a manger somewhere. A new star heralds the arrival, and some mysterious strangers travel miles at great financial cost to bring expensive gifts to the newborn child, bowing down to him as they would to royalty.

At the same time, Jesus is born to a young, unmarried mother, who could by law have been stoned in the circumstances. Mary goes through the agony of childbirth in the filth of a stable far away from home. Here we are confronted with the frightening vulnerability and dependence of a new born baby, helpless and completely reliant on the care of others.

And like so many today, the family are soon fleeing for their lives from a power hungry despot, who is determined to annihilate any potential rivals for his crown. On the 28 December, commemoration of Holy Innocents takes us where we would rather not go — into the place of ultimate horror where the innocent suffer, children are cruelly maimed or killed and the perpetrators go unpunished. Around the world today, we see countless instances of families fleeing from war and persecution, left vulnerable to disease and wholly dependent on the kindness and generosity of others.

It’s so easy to see the nativity story as just that, a story, acted out by countless infants in cute nativity plays, but far away from reality. However, the life of Jesus is well documented by secular historians as well as the Bible. Jesus is for real. He came to earth in human form, Emmanuel, God with us, living among us and showing us what God is like.

Jesus still comes among us today – sometimes present in the sound of glorious singing and worship, at other times, creeping in beside us almost unnoticed. Are you ready for the wonder and excitement? Is your curiosity to discover more of the truth stirred? Will you journey with the wise men to honour Jesus, the King of kings? Come and see! Emmanuel is ready and waiting – God with us not only during this Christmas but always.

Editorial – Nov 2017

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Gift Day – Sunday November 26th

Our giving to the mission and ministry of the church is part of our discipleship as Christians, and it is something that I believe we as The Rivers Team need to review.

Last year was the first year for a long time when we were unable to honour our commitment to the diocese towards the cost of ministry and also to the missions and charities that we support. This year has seen a slight improvement in our giving but, as it stands, it is still likely to be below what we need to meet all of our basic commitments, let alone to enable us to carry out the maintenance work that is mounting up in our churches, or to enable us to further our mission and ministry as we would like to, such as through opportunities to develop our work with children, young people and families.

There are two ways to get a donkey to move, one is from behind with a stick, the other is from in front with a carrot. Please note – I am not saying the church is a donkey! Whilst the bible uses both of these methods, I would prefer a donkey that was so well trained that it just did what it was supposed to do without stick or carrot, but with a sense of joy at fulfilling its calling! So what should the well-trained donkey be doing?

In the book of Malachi, God uses a stick when he says to the people, “Will a person rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse, your whole nation, because you are robbing me”. But he then switches to a carrot as he continues, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:8-10). Jesus uses a carrot and a stick when he says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38).

We are having a gift day across The Rivers Team on Sunday 26th November, when we are asking everyone to give prayerfully and generously towards our commitments for 2017. We are also asking that you take this as an opportunity to prayerfully review your giving to The Rivers Team for 2018, and to fill out a pledge form accordingly.

It is my prayer that, as individuals and as a church we will see the truth of what Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

David Bent; Team Rector

Editorial – Oct 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Margaret Baker; Team Vicar

Driving through the countryside earlier in the year, I saw fields of growing crops: wheat and barley, and I knew that in a few months’ time, without much further effort, the harvest would be ready. Yet I knew better than that to assume that all this growth just happens without any effort at all.

Earlier in the year the earth would have been turned over and prepared for sowing. At first, the long strips of land would have looked bare and dark, not much of a promise, we might think. But then, after the first spring rains, the fields would begin to turn green, the land changing colour in the course of a few days. Over the following months, little by little, the crop would continue to grow and the grain would begin to appear. As the grain ripens the farmer would get ready to bring in the harvest, and there would be a lot of work after that, before the grain was turned into bread or cereal for our breakfast tables.

All of this is a reminder to me of God’s word which, often seemingly unobserved, does its work in our lives, for our benefit, and to produce a harvest. In the words from Isaiah 55: 10-13:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown for an everlasting sign, that will endure for ever.’

Growth sometimes involves very hard work, and yet at other times it is almost a leisurely spectacle for us to enjoy. In my reflecting, I wonder how it will be for us in our community of the Rivers Team and the life of the church? Where are the places of prepared soil? Where seeds are waiting to sprout? Where do we enjoy the colours of growth and the promise of blessing?

Maybe we can find growth within ourselves in the light of Jesus and shine with evermore beauty and with the promise of blessing and of a harvest.

Editorial – Sept 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby David Bent; Team Rector

What Will Your Legacy Be?

The recent deaths of a number of celebrities have taken up a lot of air time on our TVs. There have been tributes on the main news programmes, followed by documentaries about their lives and numerous repeats of programmes that they have either made or featured in. They leave a legacy of entertainment which many of us have appreciated over the years.

Other people leave different sorts of legacies. Some, like politicians and other leaders, leave a legacy of influence and change, while other people leave a financial legacy for a charity, a project or another good cause. And not all legacies are legacies for good!

But what of the rest of us, those of us who don’t make the headlines, who are not household names, who don’t have hours of archive recordings about us, who don’t have vast assets to leave or who have not been in positions of influence? What sort of legacy will we leave? How will we be remembered? Or will we just disappear into the sands of time and be
forgotten?

I think we can all leave legacies of different sorts. Those of us who have children will leave a physical legacy through future generations, a legacy which will hopefully be based in unconditional love and trust. As Christians, we can also leave a spiritual legacy; spiritual sons and daughters, people who we have influenced in their Christian faith and encouraged in their Christian lives. We can also leave a legacy of influence, of things we have done as Christians, things that have in some way benefitted other people: time spent with someone who is lonely or help given to someone in need.

I believe each one of us has the capacity to leave such a legacy in this life. It may not be a legacy that the world’s media will be interested in, or that will be shown and re-shown on our TV screens, but it can be a legacy that our heavenly Father is interested in, and that will be replayed time and again on his heavenly screens. Jesus himself said, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing it. (Matthew 10:29). However insignificant our lives might seem, God notices and God values.

It is not the number of people that we have influenced in our lives, or who have noticed us, that will matter ultimately It is a life lived in the faith of Jesus, a life lived as a good and faithful servant, a life lived out for an audience of One, that will matter in the end.

Editorial – July 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Margaret Baker, Team Vicar

What to write in the editorial when it is my turn is always the one thing I want to keep on putting off doing as the deadline draws near!

Why, you might ask? Well, I think it’s because so much is always going on in our world and our country that is significant and for which we often need to take some responsibility. If we as Christians do not speak out or respond, then how will others hear of the most important person in our lives? I wonder what a difference we would see in the world if everyone believed.

The same applies this month. Where to start? Well, last Sunday St Lawrence’s received a surprise gift in the form of a chocolate cake; it was not the first or last one that I am sure we will eat! but this cake was special as it came from some neighbours, in the spirit of Ramadan, on behalf of their Mosque.

As we have eaten that cake and talked about our neighbours, we have been reminded that we are all human beings and loved by God, and what one group does will not necessarily mean every group will do. There is a well-known saying: “Actions speak louder than words”.

I wonder what would happen if we all thought a little more about our actions, especially locally, and how they reflect on our neighbours and those close to us. Perhaps this is just the right time to try and do something different.
 

Editorial – June 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Power of the Cross

by David Bent; Team Rector

On June the 8th every one of us over the age of 18 will have the opportunity to cast our vote in the General Election. With this simple cross on a piece of paper we have the power to influence the future direction of this country. We may not think our individual vote has much significance in the overall scheme of things, but each single cross has the same power as all the other millions of crosses that will be cast on that day. The principle is that we choose the person to represent our views in national government and they, in turn, influence the appointments and the decisions of those whose policies affect us all. As each one of us plays our small part, so we can influence the bigger picture. There is power in the cross.

And with that power comes responsibility, we have a responsibility to place our cross and to influence the outcome of the election, and those who are elected have the responsibility to govern for the good of those who have elected them. But our responsibility goes beyond the election. We are all part of the wider community that is the United Kingdom and we all have a role to play, however significant or insignificant that may seem.

Each of us can make a difference to this world by playing our part in our local community. Some of us are in more obvious positions of influence than others through the different roles that we have, but each one of us is a relative, friend or neighbour to someone else, and each one of us affects the environment by the way we live. The decisions that we make each day make a difference to our communities and to the world around us.

The decision that Jesus made two thousand years ago may seem quite insignificant to the world of the twenty first century, but his one decision to die on a cross for us altered the whole course of human history and made it possible for us to be reconciled to God and to discover the peace, the love and the hope that he brings. There is power in the cross.

Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbour. We demonstrate that love in the small decisions that we make each day that affect our relationship with God and our relationship with our neighbours. In these decisions, the right decision may not always be the most comfortable choice for us. Sometimes we are called to make sacrifices for the good of others. Jesus also taught us to take up our cross and to follow him.

There is power in the cross, both in the way we cast our vote in the general election, and in the way that we live our lives in the love and service of God and of our neighbour; taking up our cross daily to follow him.

 

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