Come to church, you are all welcome!

I came across this article yesterday via Twitter, it’s from the Telegraph. Got to admit I only know what it says in the article so I won’t be commenting specifically on this Vicar or his church, but just in a more general sense…

This kind of attitude infuriates me. The church is continually accused of being judgemental and here it is being reinforced in the national press. If we as the church don’t want people to think we’re judgemental, then let’s not be judgemental. Every time someone steps foot into a church it’s an opportunity to show them Gods love. It might be the only opportunity we get to share that with each person who comes in. So let’s make the most of it…

Many, many people only attend church at Christmas – but I would say, at least that’s once a year not zero times a year. And on top of that labelling people as hypocrites for attending church once a year is pretty rich when many churches don’t bother to reach out to those same people at all, let alone once a year. If your church is full at Christmas and not during the rest of the year then what does that tell you? 
Many people only attend church for weddings and funerals – is that hypocritical too? What about those who want their funerals/weddings in church – do we turn them away because they only come once a year? As a church we have a message to share with people, a people who often do not want to hear it. And they will be even less likely to want to hear it, or even be open to it if they think that they are not welcome in our churches.

I love the Church of England and I will always defend it but I do also get so frustrated with it and with this kind of attitude. The Church of England that I love is vast and broad, it is loving and open. It is non judgemental and loves all people. It welcomes everyone who steps over the threshold no matter who they are or where they are from, or whether they have been to the church 1000 times or zero.

If you want to come to church this Christmas for your annual visit, you have every right to come and feel welcomed. Please come and sing the carols with gusto, please come and comment on the organ playing (or in our case guitar playing), please come and say hello to people who haven’t seen since last years Christmas service, please come and then run away to the pub afterwards, it’s all fine, we’ll just be delighted to see you and to celebrate with you. Please don’t be put off by a few grumpy individuals, I assure you the church welcomes you, we welcome you and most of all Jesus welcomes you…

Guest Post: ‘The Words which Change Everything’ by Anita Mathias

The words
which take the hard walnut of the present

When it feels
devoid of nourishment, just hard, just hard
Which
take it, and crack it,
And
reveal the sweet meat within it,
Are: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
Though my
day is not panning out as it should,
Though
my work is not panning out as it should,
Though my
nerves are fraying,
And
energy and love has leaked from my heart,
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
For your
goodness endures,
For the
sun rises painting the sky,
For the
sun sets, making it blaze,
For the
mind you given me to praise you,
For the
people who love me,
For the
people I love,
For this
world so full of beauty,
Though all
is not as I want it to be,
Thank you.
Oh, you
take the hard shell of your cantankerous heart,
And with
the nutcracker of thanks split it open into joy,
Thanking
him for the glad moments and the hard moments,
For
there is nothing He cannot redeem.
Thank
you that this world is full of goodness.
Though
much is taken,
And much
may never be as I want it to be,
So much
goodness remains,
And for
that:
Thank you!


Anita
Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds  (Benediction Classics, 2007). She has won a writing fellowship
from The National Endowment for the Arts, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The London Magazine,  Commonweal,  America,
The Christian Century, and The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies.
Anita blogs
at Dreaming Beneath the Spires, www.anitamathias.com
you can
find her on Twitter @anitamathias1 and or on Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

  

Wrecked in worship…

Just back from another Vicar School weekend. Exhausted, inspired, so pleased to be home and completely in love with Jesus…

So here’s the thing about Vicar School, there are people from lots of different parts of the Church of England, so the worship times (or services) are varied, cover different types of worship and are very different to the worship at my church. I have really struggled with this. I know it’s needed and it’s good to get a range of experience, I totally get that. We are all made in different ways and it’s important that we can all worship in a way that we find most brings us closer to God – and so in that I know the styles of worship that I find help me feel closer to God. Now we could get into a whole debate about what is worship and whether it should be about us as individuals or about us as worshippers giving rather than receiving from God, but that’s another conversation. So the point is, I’ve been struggling with worship at college and found it hard to engage.

So today then, I wasn’t really expecting what happened. Which was: tears, snot (not pretty) and a deep realisation of Jesus’ love for me. All with a bunch of people who I have known for a sum total of 3 months. Hashtag awkward…

So just as I turned to my neighbour and said ‘gosh this service is going on forever’ (and yes I know, judge me now, even vicars in training find services dull and hard work sometimes) that we began to sing the song ‘How Deep the Fathers Love for Us’. I love this song but today it broke me. Or rather God broke me, through the song.

The reality of what Christ did for us is something that I think can only really be understood when the Holy Spirit works through us to gain a deeper level of understanding. I mean, lots of people hear the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection without being touched by it. They can hear it as a tragic story or a waste of life, but the truth of it has to really reach into someones heart to be understood. When someone becomes a Christian there’s always a first time when that really hits home but I think there are points along the journey of life when it is refreshed in a very real way, and today was one of those for me. Probably my arrogance at being annoyed by the service was the point at which God reached in and changed that. I was humbled and I needed to be.

As I sang the lines from the song ‘ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers’ and ‘it was my sin that held him there…’ I really felt that it was me, personally calling out in a mocking voice – and it was really, in mocking the length of the service I might as well have been saying ‘Jesus I can’t be bothered worshipping you this morning, it’s boring worshipping you like this.’ I literally had the sense of my sin as if I was banging the nails into Jesus hands myself. 

Cue tears and desperate need to hold it together. Fail… just about held it together to receive communion but then the floodgates opened.

So at the start of this weekend I prayed that I just wanted to meet with Jesus. Study weekends have a lot of teaching and so they are pretty full on and although there are times set aside for worship, as explained above, I don’t always find this helpful, so hence my prayer on Friday eve (and don’t get me wrong the teaching was amazing and something I’m really looking forward to looking into further, blog to follow…!). So… right at the end of the weekend, when to be honest I was really just thinking about going home, that’s when God answered my prayer.

So. What is it about Jesus that has made me turn my life (and my family’s) around to go and train to be a Vicar? Well, exactly what happened to me this morning. The realisation that I and everyone else are the reason why Jesus died so horribly, but that he did that because of love. In that moment this morning, I saw a picture of Jesus on the cross with me banging a nail into his hand, and yet he just looked at me with the eyes of a loving Father, he looked at me in love, and with compassion. Broke my heart.

Jesus knows our pain, because he felt it himself on the cross. He carried all of our pain but he knows how it feels for each of us, as individuals.

I fail daily. I love Jesus but I get it so wrong regularly. But the thing is I try. I love Him and I try. And that is all I, or any of us need to do…