Monday, 27 July 2009

The church and swine flu

I can't help feeling that the church has capitulated to the no-risk health and safety brigade in its recommendation to suspend the sharing of the chalice at communion. Although we followed the advice of the archbishops yesterday I felt I was doing so out of obedience rather than conviction. The thing is that it's all to do with risk rather than evidence. What actually is the risk of sharing the chalice I wonder? Is there any evidence that during the outbreak of Hong Kong flu in 1969 any church members contracted the virus as a result of taking communion? For 22 years, since I was ordained, I have been helping to consume the wine left over after communion and have never been ill as a result.

It would be difficult to ignore the recommendation of the archbishops, but I really wonder if it is not an over-reaction. The problem with eliminating risk is that it becomes the opposite of faith. Not that we want to play with people's health, but where is faith if there is no risk? What about the risk the disciple Peter took when he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water? That was faith. Or the risks that the apostle Paul took continually to take the Good News round Asia Minor and Greece? That was faith. Can you imagine what would happen today? Peter would have to be issued with a life-jacket in case he sank, and Paul would have had to fill in a risk assessment form before taking his associates with him on his journeys.

I suppose there is a difference in taking a risk myself, and putting others in the place of risk, but that brings me back to my first point: what is the evidence for swine flu being transmitted by a common chalice? If there is no evidence, then it seems to me there is also no, or very little, risk. And furthermore, this type of flu is mostly very mild anyway.

At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Clarkson, or The Daily Mail, I feel this is just another example of the over-regulation that threatens the spirit of adventure and invention that is part of the human character.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

How will I face the end of the world?

I've just had a couple of men from the Jehovah's Witnesses call at the door. This is the first time since we've been here - nearly 6 years - that I've been door-knocked by this group. They are still banging on about the end of the world, and how to be saved (or safe) when it happens. They also have a preoccupation with knowing God's personal name - 'Jehovah' - but don't seem to understand that this anglicised name from the Hebrew, 'Yahweh', only appears in the King James' bible. They seem to think that it is the highest privilege to know God by his 'personal' name, but I would rather go with what Jesus said: "When you pray, say 'Our FATHER...'" Because I love God and know that he loves me, and because that love is mixed with respect, I would no more call God by his personal name - even if I knew it - than I would call my human father by his first name.

'Father' is so much more significant, because it is all about a loving relationship, whereas calling someone by their personal name may only denote acquaintance. (I wish I'd thought of that on the doorstep!!). Calling God 'Father' is the highest privilege as it implies we are in his family, children of the King of kings, and brothers and sisters with all his children. Not only that, but we are brothers and sisters of Jesus himself. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is 'not ashamed to call us his family'.

Over the years I've learnt that you can't score points off the JWs - they are too indoctrinated with a particular way of thinking (and so are a few Christians!). I pray that they will come to know God in that personal and familiar way as Father as they encounter him through his Son Jesus.

Friday, 10 July 2009

A day of rest from church politics

I've just spent the last hour catching up with the latest arguments about the Anglican Communion (see and Bishop Nick's blog). It's difficult sometimes to know when to fight or ignore; whether to resist what seems to be in error, or just get on with the work of sharing the Good News. My inclination is to get on the with work and resist being painted into a corner of identification with this group or that group. Some groups in the church are concerned, it seems, exclusively with truth, and others with grace. All I know is that Jesus was described in the prologue to John's Gospel as 'full of grace AND truth'.

Well, for today at least, I'm going to put this all to one side and enjoy some time in the garden with God the Creator, and give thanks for the potatos, peas, beans, cabbages and raspberries that we have already been enjoying, and the many other fruit and veg still to come. I'm looking forward to my first crop of aubergines that are coming on nicely in the greenhouse. Together with the tomatos, courgettes, onion and garlic we should be able to make our own ratatouille. Now that's a treat in store!

Monday, 6 July 2009

"The kingdom of God is near"

The Flower Festival

Last week was far too hot to do any blogging - I just didn't have the energy to think creatively and write wittily. In the church we have welcomed our new curate, Linda, ordained deacon at Southwark Cathedral, we have had a wonderful Flower Festival all weekend, and on Saturday we had a Prayer Tent on the field for the Old Coulsdon Village Fair. The idea was to take prayer out of the church building and show that God is concerned for people wherever or whoever they are. We prayed with people about members of their families who were ill, and with one person about an unpleasant spiritual 'presence' in her house. I've never met anyone who has not wantied to be prayed for. Even if they don't believe, at least they think it can't do any harm.
The Prayer Tent

Nearby was a tent with the local 'spiritual healing' group. This is not a Christian group and their approach to healing is about finding the power within yourself to heal. I had a long conversation with one of their members a year or so ago, and I don't know if anyone has actually been healed by their efforts. I wondered whether we should have a sort of 'Elijah versus the prophets of Baal' competition to see whose prayers were more effective, but thought better of it. For one thing I think the health and safety officers would not have appreciated fire from heaven coming down and consuming people: that wasn't in the risk assessment document!
Cream teas in the church

Two bible readings set for yesterday, from Mark 6 and Luke 10, were accounts of Jesus sending his disciples out with his authority to proclaim the kingdom of God, through personal contact, through prayer for people, through healing and preaching. In a small way I hope we were doing the same with the Prayer Tent.