November 2019

Autumn time with its colours and abundance of fruits has its own way of reminding us to be thankful for both the harvest of the land and sea, but also for all those who have risked so much for our freedoms.

On 4 August 1918 King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, met to pray with members of the Houses of Parliament as part of a National Day of Prayer. One hundred days later, the war ended on 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. 

Sadly, war has been a feature of human history since records began. World War 1 was supposed to be …..‘the war to end all wars….’. I found the statistic that since 3600 BC the world has only known 292 years of peace. There have been 14,351 wars since then and as the book I found this in was published about 14 years ago… that figure is still increasing.

What shines through the darkness of statistics like this are the stories of courage and the example of those who are willing to bring the light of Christ into seemingly hopeless situations. It is in hearing these stories that we can remember them with thankful hearts, but also to strengthen our resolve to work and to pray for peace for future generations.

Since 1918, this quotation … ‘Love one another as Jesus first loved us. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’…  from John 15: verses 12 & 13 began to appear on war memorials, commemorating those who had died. Many had indeed given their lives in battle in the hope that others might be saved.

A century on, these verses can be reclaimed so that we too might be able to live out Jesus’ words… but in peace, rather than in war. That instead of dying in battle for others, we might live our lives in service that emulates Christ’s life. Our call is to live a life of love, loving one another as Christ first loved us and to pray for lasting peace.

Our annual church Remembrance service will be on Sunday 10th November. I hope we will be joined by our local uniformed children’s groups and that they will take part in the service. 

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ 

What will that look like for you and for me? 

With every blessing 

Revd Christine 

October 2019

I had to change my route for my day off dog walk during the summer. I was horrified when my young dog, with great excitement and joy, contemplated running through a field of beautifully growing wheat. He thought it would be great fun. I didn’t. He was immediately put on his lead and we changed our route until the wheat was harvested.

Whilst we may have had a ‘right’ to walk along the path that runs along the side of the field there is also a responsibility to ensure that the crop is allowed to grow.

We all have rights; the right to be heard, to be valued, to be allowed to live on an even pitch. Rights are vitally important and help to protect the vulnerable. However, ‘rights’ are part of a two-sided coin and come along with ‘responsibilities’ which is often the overlooked side of the coin.

Indira Gandhi reflected that `people tend to forget their duties but remember their rights.’

Each one of us will have a different set of responsibilities or duties; family, work, friends, choices and behaviour, but does God ever come into that list?

Being part of God’s family brings the ‘right to be called children of God’ [John 1: 12] and all the joys of forgiveness, mercy, grace and life eternal. However, there are also responsibilities that go hand in hand with that right. Responsibility to live as God’s family means obeying God’s call on our lives to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and to love others as yourself.’ A clear sign of our commitment to God and the church lies in understanding our responsibility to prioritise and to give of our time, money and abilities.

Giving is at the centre of God’s character. God gives us life and his giving is renewed daily. The Bible teaching is clear, that giving is the responsibility of all members of God’s family -giving carried out in proportion to the gifts that have been given. At St Richard’s we are currently reviewing our Mission Action Plan (MAP) and looking at ways in which we can increase our giving to enable us to meet our responsibilities as a parish to support the work of the Diocese, to continue to maintain the fabric of the church and to fund the mission and ministry which will enable St Richard’s church to grow and flourish.

To help achieve this we are open to ideas from across the parish and we are being mindful of what the Bible has to say;

those who sow generously reap generously, those who sow sparingly, will reap sparingly….for God loves a cheerful giver.’ 2 Corinthians 9: 6-7

With every blessing,

Revd Christine

September 2019

September is seen by many people as a month of new beginnings. As the new school and college year starts tens of thousands of people will be going to school or college for the first time, many more will be starting in new classes or year groups, and for the teaching and lecturing staff they will face a new year of targets and all the challenges which they bring. Each new school year brings new opportunities for many people as well as new obstacles to overcome, and so it is a time of looking forward with anticipation and hope as well as some trepidation.

It is not only for people connected with the education sector that this sense of newness and looking forward is relevant. In our lives we all have times when there is a very clear sense of things changing and moving on.

At the centre of the Christian faith is the message that God is not only the unchanging God that we sometimes refer to in some of our older hymns but is also a God who is forever demonstrating new ways of entering into relationship. God is a God of change as well as a God of constancy. The Bible testifies to a gradual awakening of an understanding amongst God’s people of how God works. Time and again the people of the Bible are surprised at where God can be found and how God can be seen to work, and in my ministry that is something to which I would testify.

We should expect to see God working in what we might consider unlikely places and also we should expect God to work through unlikely people. It is, we believe, God’s world that we live in, so it should not surprise us if we are sometimes taken aback at where we find signs of that presence.

As we go into the future, we should never travel in fear that God is not going to journey with us to the same degree as he journeyed with us in the past. Instead we should look forward with a sense of anticipation that we will discover God in the most unlikely of places and that we will continue to be surprised that he travels with us in our newest of experiences. We should be reminded of Jesus’ promise to his disciples as recorded at the end of the gospel according to Matthew: ‘I am with you always, to the end of time.’

Let us live in that hope,

With every blessing

Revd Christine

August 2019

I came across a wonderful book a few weeks ago, when I supposed to be clearing the bookcase; at first I thought it was a children’s book. It’s called ‘The Book of Mistakes’ by Corinna Luyken and it takes small mistakes in pictures like accidental ink splodges and makes them into leaves floating across the page. Misshapen spots and mistakes are incorporated into her artwork in unexpected ways and it shows that even big mistakes can be the source of the brightest ideas.

The film actress Sophia Loren observed that ‘mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.’ None of us are exempt from making mistakes. A Chinese proverb takes it further by saying:  “The glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall”.

G K Chesterton who wrote the Father Brown detective stories couldn’t read until he was 8 and one of his teachers told him ‘ If we could open up your head we should not find any brain but only a lump of white fat.’! He didn’t give up and became a writer, poet, philosopher and art critic.  I wonder if his old teacher ever read any of his books!

How does Jesus deal with failure? Peter completely failed Jesus when he denied knowing him. Yet Jesus lovingly allowed Peter the opportunity to be forgiven and restored. Peter could have just given up and left altogether, crushed by his failure as Judas was. But Peter took the offer to be restored again and learn from his mistake.

There are so many Bible characters who failed in some way. They all learnt that through their failures, God was their strength. He enabled them to do great things for Him. To name but a few, there were Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, Jonah, Matthew, Peter, James and John, Saul who became Paul, Mark and Martha.

The Bible is full of stories of God’s people who made mistakes in life and it’s written there to help us avoid the same ones!

Jesus knows there are times we will fail. Psalm 145: 14 ‘The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.’ The parable of the lost sheep where the one who is lost is searched for and brought back in the loving arms of the good shepherd demonstrates the love Jesus has for those who need rescuing from their mistakes.

The Bible also clearly acknowledges the pain of failure as is so deeply expressed within so many of the Psalms; they give a voice to the crushing pain and feelings of hopelessness. God understands our pain and provides the seed of hope for redemption and transformation. Peter’s learning from his mistake enabled him to become the cornerstone of the church.

God doesn’t judge us as the world does in terms of success or failure. He does, however, look at our faithfulness and our willingness to allow Him to pick us up and move on.

At the end of the day, we are all work in progress!

With every blessing

Revd Christine

July 2019

What is it that makes us think we’re never wrong?!

I saw this mug the other day and it made me think of a wonderful story written by Samuel Moor Shoemaker.

He wrote: We were in church one morning where the rector was saying Morning Prayer and leading us in guided silent prayer. He said ‘ Let us pray for those whom we love‘…..and that was easy. Then he said ‘ Let us pray for those whom we do not love.’

And there rose in my mind two people for whom I had to pray. These two people had voiced that I wasn’t doing my ‘job’ properly. In this they may have been wrong, or of course they may have been right! But my wrong was in my sadness at their comments and a feeling of letting myself be cut off from them and even for not praying for them because of it.

Years ago I read a quote from Mary Lyon that occurs to me again and again:

‘Nine tenths of our suffering is caused by others not thinking so much of us as we think they ought.

If you want to know where pride nestles and festers in most of us, that is right where it is; and it’s not the opposition of others, but our own pride which causes us the deepest hurt.

I never read a word that penetrated more deeply into the sin of pride from which all of us suffer, nor one which opens up more surgically our places of unforgiveness.

How often do we allow our pride to get in the way of the process of forgiveness and healing?

C. S Lewis observed that ‘pride is like a spiritual cancer, it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.’

The book of Proverbs tells us clearly that pride brings disgrace, quarrels, destruction and most famously in chapter 16: 18….pride comes before a fall. It evens goes as far as to say ‘God opposes the proud…..but he gives grace to the humble.’

It’s not that God wants us to be cowed and never able to feel the joy of achieving something good or well made, but it’s about having a right view of ourselves before God and others.

So how can we make sure we don’t fall into the trap of misplaced pride?

Perhaps it’s by taking Samuel Moor Shoemaker’s advice and praying not just for those whom we love…but also for those whom we find perhaps a little irritating!

Yours in prayer

Revd Christine

June 2019

After the round of activity from Easter through Annual Meetings to Christian Aid week, June seems a month which shows every possibility of quietening down a little. How many times have we said that, and actually when we come to it the workload is as burdensome as ever?

Of course, we are in a culture where productivity is everything and everyone is expected to justify their existence by being busy, or in some cases pretending to be busy. The economic downturn we experienced a few years ago has encouraged that sort of feeling. For a number of years jobs have been uncertain and we have all done our best to demonstrate that we are indispensable. And this approach pervades not only the world of work but other parts of our life, including people’s approach to retirement, and the life of the church as well. But I think we need to ask ourselves the question whether we are using our time to the best advantage both for ourselves and for those for whom we are working. Do we always need to be busy? If we are always busy what happens to our inspiration and the judgement that this particular course of action is right whilst that course of action is not? If we are constantly rushing around where do, we find time to reflect on what we are doing?

Jesus, in his life spent time away from the crowds whenever he could, and there are stories in the New Testament of Jesus going off by himself to recharge his spiritual batteries, so that he could face the next set of challenges. I believe that Jesus’ model of work, which included time for spiritual renewal, is a good model for us too.

I know that some of you go to church to gain some spiritual uplift for the week ahead, and whilst that is enough most of the time, sometimes you are looking for more. Sometimes you need a little more space, a little more time to focus on what you are doing and where you are going in your life. It is to meet such needs that people go on retreat, and there are many places where you can go for a few days to find refreshment.

Taking retreats and having some time with God are important aspects of being a member of the clergy too. During my training those of us in my cohort of curates were sent off on retreat at pivotal moments – for example before we were made deacon and before we were priested.

Time to think about the future and all that might entail is important and necessary. Concentrating on listening to God’s plan for things is essential if we are to join in with His mission.

Whether you choose to have a few days on retreat or only manage a few hours of prayer and reflection I hope that you can find some time out of the busyness of everyday that is physically and spiritually uplifting.

With every blessing

Revd Christine

May 2019

“Thy Kingdom Come…”

One of my earliest memories is of being taught the Lord’s Prayer by my mother. I don’t know how old I was, but not old enough to read it for myself I imagine, so I repeated it back to her, line by line, each evening before bed. Soon I learnt it, but it was some time before I understood what all the words meant literally, and especially as I learnt what we now call the ‘traditional’ version. It was several more years before I understood the importance of this prayer, and more again before the implication of the words ‘Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done….’ began to have a reality for me and I came to understand it personally. Since then I have experienced the power of praying this prayer individually and in groups, large and small. One of the most moving things is to pray it out loud, whilst also listening to the person next to you praying it out loud.

This year the Archbishops’ initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is marked again on the nine days (novena) between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, 30th May to 9th June, and we are invited to pray with Christians around the world, encouraging us to explore through prayer how we might witness courageously to God’s life-changing work.

In May 2016 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invited Christians from across the Church of England to join a wave of prayer during the days between Ascension and Pentecost – a time when the church traditionally focuses on prayer. They encouraged everyone to ask for the Holy Spirit to help them be witnesses to Jesus Christ and to pray for others to discover that living faith. Worship helps to us recognise who God really is, it opens our hearts to what is good, and it catches us up into the life of heaven. It is something we are called to every day of our lives and it is fulfilled, among other ways, when we pray and when we say the Lord’s Prayer.

What started as an idea gained momentum and in 2016 more than 100,000 Christians from different denominations and traditions took part from the UK and across the world. They joined in more than 3,000 events and services. The time of prayer culminated in six national Beacon Events over Pentecost weekend at cathedrals in different parts of the country.

Over the next two years, every diocese in the UK took part, and 85 per cent of Church of England churches and cathedrals were involved as well as the churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion and many other denominations and traditions. Leaders from Churches Together in England, including Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist and Methodist churches, Free churches and Orthodox churches came together to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, and the event is now truly an ecumenical one. This year it will be even bigger.

We are invited to join in many events in our churches and in our Diocese. Prayers will be said in structured and less structured ways every day, and the churches aim to have a more visible presence to our communities. Locally this year all churches are invited to join together for 10 days of 24 hours a day prayer which is being hosted by St John’s in Crawley.

As the apostles prayed together following Jesus’ ascension, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost, so we will wait and pray. They prayed in obedience, trusting that the way ahead would be revealed. We pray at this time that the Holy Spirit will show us new ways of living and loving. When God is at work in us God is also at work through us in changing the lives of others, so let us pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come….’ together, and open our hearts and minds to new possibilities.

With every blessing

Revd Christine

Please click on the following link to sign up for the 24 10 prayer event at St John’s:

April 2019

Walking Holy Week

My favourite season in the church’s year is Holy Week and Easter.

Not just the celebrations of Palm Sunday and Easter Day but the

days in between too – for without them the week as a whole just

doesn’t make sense. Walking every day of the week in the steps of Christ means embarking on a roller coaster of emotions from celebration, to unease, to fear, to darkest despair, to celebration beyond our wildest dreams.

I love the way we strip our churches bare on Maundy Thursday and leave them this way until we gather to celebrate Easter itself and the church is full of flowers and light and joy.

I still remember my first Holy Week. I was just 9 years old and was singing in the Church choir. I was utterly amazed by the worship that took place that week – the highlights being the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday (the utter humility of the priest doing the washing and the feeling of discomfort as my foot was washed reminding me that this is what it would have been like for the disciples too) and the bonfire outside the church on Easter Saturday as we prepared to herald the resurrection. I had a deep sense that I was entering into something deeply symbolic, echoing centuries of Christian worship.

It is still uncertain when Christians first began to make an annual memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ but it is thought to date back to the mid 2nd century. At first there was just a night-long vigil, followed by the celebration of the Eucharist at cock-crow. Over time, this developed into services through Holy Week and Easter. Through participation in the whole sequence of services, Christians shared fully in Christ’s own journey, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the empty tomb on Easter morning.

Some significant events of that week that we still mark today include:

  • The procession with palms (which was being observed in Jerusalem in the fourth century) marking Jesus arriving in Jerusalem welcomed enthusiastically by the crowds but overshadowed by the knowledge of what comes later in the week.
  • Maundy Thursday with its different themes enacted out of humble Christian service expressed through Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet (practiced since the 2nd century), the institution of the Eucharist, the perfection of Christ’s loving obedience through the agony of Gethsemane.
  • After keeping vigil (living out Jesus’ words to his disciple: ‘Could you not watch with me one hour?’) Thursday passes into Good Friday with its sombre remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death. The church remains stripped of all decoration.
  • It continues bare and empty through the following day, which is a day without a liturgy: there can be no adequate way of recalling the being dead of the Son of God, other than silence and desolation. But within the silence there grows a sense of peace and completion, and then rising excitement as Easter draws near.
  • Finally, on Easter Day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus joyfully.

As we worship through the week, we are still using some of the most ancient services of the Church and carrying out rituals from early Christianity as we live out the deepest and most fundamental Christian memories. There are plenty of opportunities at St Richard’s throughout the week to walk closely with Jesus so please do join us if you can.

May I wish you all a joyous Easter

Revd Christine Spencer

March 2019

Lent, which begins on 6th March with Ash Wednesday this year, comes after quite a long winter. There have been plenty of dull grey days and this lack of sunshine can be taxing on our spiritual and psychological health, and we may not feel motivated to enter this Holy season. But Lent can be forty days of opportunity for growth and renewal, a time to focus on God.

Winter can often seem disheartening, so that I often pray for an early spring to enjoy one of my favourite late spring flowers, tulips, before Lent begins. It was a family tradition during Lent to practice a “tulip fast” and not display fresh flowers in the house to contrast with the Easter season when we would have a fresh bunch in the living room. When I get to enjoy early blooming tulips before I begin Lent, I feel that summer and a lightness of heart is right around the corner. Even when the winter lasts a little longer or Lent arrives earlier in the year and I don’t get to enjoy the early blooms, I can still feel the winter begin to recede because the “tulip fast” reminds me of what is important in my life. The tulips are beautiful and missed during Lent, and that absence reminds me to appreciate the presence of God’s love, which isn’t affected by the coming and going of the seasons. I am reminded to use Lent as an opportunity to grow in my relationship with God.

Our relationship with God affects every other relationship in our lives. How we treat others can demonstrate our level of focus on, and love for, God. Our relationships with others can give us an understanding of God’s love that we might not experience otherwise.

For some, the Lenten season can become filled with overly scrupulous goals. We don’t need to change everything about our relationship with God in forty days! Focusing on prayer and fasting to such an extent that you forget the purpose of the act can become a roadblock to your spiritual goals.

Finding a balanced way of strengthening your relationship with God is important.

What one prayer would you like to add, renew, or deepen this Lent? What one fasting practice would you like to engage in for the forty days of Lent? What practice of reading the Bible would you like to renew or engage in? Your relationship with God can deepen greatly with a stronger spiritual focus on one change, rather than several changes which contain no spiritual depth.

Lent is a time to work on personal spiritual growth, but it is also a time to ensure that your spiritual growth is bearing fruit. Some people fall into the trap of thinking, “I don’t need to get involved because someone else will do it,” but this kind of thinking takes away our opportunity to grow in relationships with others. Love and charity stabilise our relationship with God and manifest God’s love on earth in ways that bring the hope of Christ to the hopeless. What one way can you reach out to others this Lent? Even the simplest acts of love and charity will strengthen our worldly and heavenly relationships and reflect Christ’s love.

The more deeply you can live your Lenten commitments, the more quickly your winter doldrums will lift to expose a renewal and strengthening of spirit, love, and relationships. With a focus on a deepened relationship with God and a deepened relationship with others, the Easter season ushers in our hearts a beauty that is reflected in the spring around us.

Every year at the end of Lent, I go on a quest for the last tulips of the season. The arrival of these beautiful flowers reminds me that what is truly beautiful is the God who provided them.

Whatever you choose to do this Lent to strengthen your relationship with God, I hope, and pray, that you find it fortifying and renewing.

With every blessing
Revd Christine

February 2019

I no longer watch soap operas but, in my time, particularly as a student, I indulged in my fair share of them. There is a type of character that appears in many of these shows that represents a less than appealing stereotype of what it is to be a Christian. Narrow-minded, judgemental, censorious and often quoting snippets of scripture to have a pop at someone; these individuals seem to be an essential staple in the cast list of most of the soaps. Dot Cotton, Nel Mangle, Harold Bishop and Edna Birch are just a few who spring to mind. I want to include Ena Sharples, but that is before my time and I’m not sure of her Christian credentials, but she fitted the bill in other ways! Such stereotypes do Christians no good and in my experience are far from realistic. Why? Because I’m not sure how much scripture many Christians could actually quote!

I have known Christians from time to time who have the capacity to quote chapter and verse to back up whatever point they are trying to make or maybe just to indicate disapproval, but I must admit to feeling slightly inadequate in the face of this and not a little uneasy. As I have matured in my faith, from very certain, black and white views in my teens, I have learnt that the Bible is to be approached with a certain caution because we can of course misuse it to back up whatever views we may currently hold. One of the problems for the Church of England is that there is often unfamiliarity of this sacred text from even the most regular worshippers. This is a real weakness and one that perhaps we can address with the, albeit gradual, building up of study courses or prayer groups where a much greater depth of knowledge and appreciation can be achieved.

It has to be said, however good a preacher might be, for a Christian to grow up and become the person God wants them to be, they need more than a weekly sermon Sunday by Sunday. We need to learn to read our Bibles regularly, perhaps with the aid of scripture notes.

A good starting point is the gospels. There is a reason we stand up in our services when we have a reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and that is to acknowledge the centrality of these texts to our faith they are the Word made flesh. Here we read about Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t think there is anything stale or old fashioned about His life story, teachings and death and resurrection. If ever there was a page turner, it is these gospels, but so often we only encounter them when sat in church, no doubt longing for a short sermon to follow!

I am often struck by how well Muslim friends know the Koran. Serious Muslims treat their holy book with great respect and devotion and they read it regularly. Lent is approaching, and so perhaps we might all try harder to get to know the Bible, our rule book, our manual for living, although why wait? The need is imperative if we are to take seriously the call to discipleship as summed up beautifully in the prayer of Saint Richard:

Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly,         love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.

My hope and prayer for our church in 2019 is that more of us might be able to make that prayer a reality.

Warm wishes, Revd Christine