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Rector’s New Year Message

31 December 2023

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And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way.”

 

 

These lines, made famous by King George VI during his Christmas address in 1939, are the first lines of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins called God Knows. It was perfect for the King’s Christmas address at the start of the Second World War when so much seemed uncertain and everything was about to change so dramatically. For Christian’s this is really a statement of faith, reflecting the trust we have in God who will walk with us into the darkness to reveal his light, it is the message of the prophets and the heart of the Gospel. 

 

Our world today feels as if it’s in uproar, the words of Jesus from Matthew feel very significant - You will hear of wars and rumours of wars but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

 

Jesus knows the world we live in, the way creation moves, behaves and develops. He knows too the human heart with its frailty and how easily it can be seduced by greed and power, how often in history hashumanity witnessed these effects. Jesus 

message is clear – do not be afraid. We must be careful not to read that as do not care! Our hearts must be broken by suffering and our voices be used to cry out for justice especially for the persecuted, occupied and oppressed in our worldJesus calls us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, comfort the sick and dying, and visit the prisoner, for in doing so we bring light into the darkness of othersOur mission remains unchanged and equally as urgent. There is much that is challenging in our world.

 

The church too faces challenging times, statistics show that the Church of England is continuing to shrink in numbers and that clergy numbers are continuing to decreaseand we know that making appointments to vacant parishes across the country is not easy. Financially at the parish level things are very tight and some church communities are facing difficult realities as they look to their future sustainability. Sometimes it is hard not be afraid.

 

In truth, however, Christians are called to be a people of change, catalysts in making our world a better place for everyone so that all may know the love of God in the blessings they enjoy. These changes must be lived intentionally by the church in the world.

 

Somewhere along our journey as a church, it seems to me, we have become risk averse and change resistant when actually both risk and change are at the heart of our DNA because both were and are essential to our mission. In truth however, church and tradition appear to have become synonymous, we like to use the same services, sing the same hymns to the right tune and with the ‘proper’ words.  To do the same annual round of events, perhaps 

because they are safe and comfortable, at least for those inside the church. I think there is truth in saying that the church is called to be a source of continuity in an ever-changing world, but the continuity we offer is the gospel of Jesus and the out working of that Gospel among people we are called to serve. 

 

Yet God has always worked in unexpected ways, Jesus brought massive challenge and change to the inherited faith of his day. He moved Gods action from the temple to the streets, to the lakeside and to the mountains. He moved service from the alter of sacrifice to the practical and personal, touching the diseased to heal them, breaking bread to feed them, walking beside them to guide and teach them. In the incarnation everything changed. In Jesus’ developing ministry nothing stayed the same except the God who inspired it all, the eternal who remains unchangedSo, it seems strange that as his church we are not better at taking risks and grabbing the opportunities that follow from them to make real in the world the Kingdom of God.

 

In the wider world we don’t know how the war between Israel and Hamas will come to a conclusion, but we have seen and will continue to see men and women throughout the world refusing to be silent in the face of the devastation of the innocent, we have seen protestand have heard voices crying out for an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people. Such demonstrations are having an impact as world leaders recognise the voice of God resounding in their streets, for this is not a political movement it is a theological outworking. 

 

We do not know what challenges our changing climate will bring to our fragile world, but we recognise more clearly the need to work together to steward precious resources and protect our beautiful planet as individuals, communities, nations and as a global family. 

 

For ourselves we don’t know how the issues facing the Churchwill develop but to face the challenges we must trust in God so that our responses do not come from a place of fear, as fear so often holds us back, seeing us retreat for safety into the familiar. 

 

God has always called his people to the edge where change is born. It seems increasingly clear that holding onto to what has been, when everything points to the need for change is madness. Discerning the change is the difficult part, because it takes courage and determination and facing the consequences when the necessarychanges are unpopular or as they sometimes are, wrong. We don’t do change well as a church. But it feels to many from all the evidence that change is here, indeed has long been calling, and we can either work with it or fight against it. 

 

2024 will bring change for us in our benefice, Betty Mockford, who has been a wise and wonderful colleague will be moving in the first part of the year to her new home in Martlesham and we will miss her wisdom and faithful ministry among us. In March I will become Rector rather than priest-in-Charge which will make no practical difference except to letterheads and noticeboards but will give us a chance to celebrate everything that is good. In April I turn 60! In my head it doesn’t seem possible, but it reminds me that I am getting older, and retirement is not very far away. 2024 will be a year in which we need to look seriously at our finances to ensure we have a firm financial footing to resource us for mission and to play our full part in the life of the wider church. That will mean asking each member of the church to review their giving in the light of our increasing costs and to be grateful for the offering of each. It will mean seeking to share responsibility more widely so that the burden does not fall unfairly on a few. It means counting our blessings and being people of joy and delight, worshipping deeply and serving sacrificially.  At the end of February our neighbouring benefice of the Upper Alde goes into vacancy and as our closest neighbours we must be ready to assist as they work to maintain mission and ministry across their six churches as they seek a new priestmyself and Edith, Mary and Deirdre are committed to assisting where we are able. 

 

So, in lots of ways, we will be standing again on the border of change,and we must seek to do so while maintaining our joy and generosity.

 

Change is always easier when you face it with others, so I recognise how blessed we are to face a new year and the challenges of the future together. So let us not downplay the challenges and changes that 2024 will bring but let us give thanks for those we are walking with in all that God will call us to in a new year for in the words of Minnie Haskins –“That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

 

Amen.