It may only be a change on a piece of paper, but somehow as we turn the year, 2017 to 2018, there is always a feeling of hope that the New Year will be better than the past year. Even if we’ve had a good year personally and things couldn’t get any better, on the political and international front it has been hard and risky. ‘What’s going to happen next?’ lurks in our minds. If we stop hoping for better things, then we have lost the plot of being human.
Humans have always hoped for a better world, some for themselves and some for others. Seeking only betterment for ourselves does not improve the world, indeed, it may drag the world down. Seeking improvement for others will lead to a better world and, as a side-effect, make things better for ourselves too. A New Year gives us the opportunity to start afresh and resolve to go forward creating a better world as we go. That may mean changing an outlook, an attitude, a habit or some other aspect of our lives.
This year we are joining with the United Reformed Church across the country in what the denomination is calling ‘Walking The Way’; it is about helping people to become better Christians and therefore church life more geared up to helping people explore their faith and life. You can find out a bit more about ‘Walking The Way’, should you be so inclined, by visiting the appropriate pages of the denomination’s web site and there are some associated booklets entitled ‘Holy Habits’ to assist.
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During November a group met weekly to join in Bible study and to take part in banner making. We succeeded in making one more banner to hang in church on a theme of ‘New Every Morning’. Why banner making?
Well, apart from the enjoyment of seeing a banner at the front of church, there is much additional meaning in a banner. Banners are a means by which God can speak through our creativity. When creating a banner, time is spent prayerfully deciding on the words, shapes and colours so that they fit together to convey a message. The message is God’s message for all those who look at the banner, giving them the opportunity to reflect on His word through the colours and shapes of the surrounding images. The banner is also a result of the sharing of ideas within the group. It provides a way of sharing with others too the fullness of life which God brings to our church. By displaying it in church the images strengthen people in their faith by setting them thinking, widening their understanding and leading them on to new ideas. Words are wonderful in proclaiming the Good News, but words and images are even better.
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From Jill Nugent
I spent a week in August on Bardsey Island in Wales as chaplain. It's my 3rd visit as chaplain and a unique experience - open to anyone who wants to volunteer! The island is known as a holy island, at the end of the pilgrimage route along the west coast. It is a really special place, very small with the ruins of an abbey, a working farm, a bird observatory and a few houses. You have to be ready to live simply if you stay - there is no electricity, only cold water from the island well, calor gas ovens and outdoor bucket toilets. In return you get to enjoy the incredible beauty and wildlife of the island. As chaplain, I took 10 services in all, which is not actually that demanding as, except for Sunday, most were morning and evening prayers. I also set up a prayer activity, which I find is popular with the day visitors and, in addition, I kept the chapel tidy. My other task was to sit in the outdoor cafe each morning, just to talk! I have discovered you have to allow for the Holy Spirit to work on Bardsey and then go with the flow. My well prepared morning worship, for example, was attended by far fewer than an impromptu evening candlelit service, in which people obviously felt something special in the silence following the blessing, as no-one moved for 10 minutes! Bardsey is often referred to as a 'thin place'. The best thing for me is meeting people from all sorts of different backgrounds, some committed Christians, some just enquiring, yet all aware of the significance of the history of Christianity on the island.
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Our church is registered in the Eco Church scheme. This is what it is all about:
Eco Church is an award scheme set up by the environmental organisation ARocha UK and helps churches to show, and promote, care for the environment. It involves an online survey, to which churches can return again and again as they act further to increase their care for the environment. There are five key areas – worship and teaching, management of church buildings, management of church land, community and global engagement, lifestyle. (The survey takes into account if a church has no land). There are three levels of awards - bronze, silver and gold. If a church feels they have reached a certain level they can apply for an award, although for a gold award they need an assessor to check – only three churches in the UK have so far achieved gold! At present we at Cheshunt are working towards achieving a bronze award, maybe in 2018.
Everyone can help, for example, by improving lifestyle, suggesting ideas for buildings and teaching, looking for ways to connect to the community. It is all part of being good stewards of God’s earth.
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The 3 churches day retreat was enjoyed by all. We took part in a music quiz, learnt a little about the history of church music and sang a selection of modern hymns to traditional tunes. Lunch was a highlight, as usual. Afterwards there was the opportunity to have a go at writing a hymn and setting it to music. The day closed with sharing and prayer.
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At our harvest festival we used potatoes to help us think more about being a Christian. We talked about how potatoes grow and compared it to being a Christian. Potatoes grow underground, we only see the leaves at the top and don't know until we dig them up, how good the harvest is. Similarly people cannot see how well we are growing in faith, they only see our outward appearance. God, however, knows us inside out. We printed with potatoes to 'make our mark' as members of God's family. Then we gift wrapped our potatoes to reflect a kind and generous nature that comes with being a Christian. And finally we asked each other for prayer requests and noted those alongside our prints.
Many gifts were donated for the local foodbank and fresh produce was sold in aid of famine relief.
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I recently attended a partner church conference with Open Doors. We were privileged to hear from Pastor Edward who lives in Damascus and is well known to Open Doors. He described how people in Syria are feeling very frustrated after six years of troubles and seemingly no end in sight. They thought that if they prayed then God would do something but it seems to them that he has not done anything. However, they are seeking encouragement from the book of Habakkuk, who learnt to wait on God, silently, and to trust God for a favourable outcome.
Pastor Edward went on to talk about living in hope. He referred to Romans 8, where Paul says all things work together for good. God has a special love and care for his people, he knows us intimately. He has a purpose for us all. Pastor Edward tells his church to picture it like the wings of an eagle, on one wing is God’s sovereignty and on the other is God’s love. We need both! We were also introduced to a new resource for churches called Dangerous Faith. It is useful for either individual or group study and is based on the Book of Acts. It consists of eight sessions, with a video, Bible study and discussion questions.
If you would like to read about Open Doors, the latest magazine is always on the table in the vestibule in church alongside a monthly prayer diary.
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