Thursday, 25 November 2010

Heartbreak in New Zealand

After the joyful rescue of the miners in Chile it must have been all the more heartbreaking for the people of New Zealand to learn that no miners had survived the explosion in the Pike River Colliery. How can we make sense of the fact that while many people were attributing the successful Chilean rescue to the presence and power of God with those men, that same God seems to have ignored the miners in New Zealand?

It's a hard question and one that has been asked as long as there have been philosophers: why do good things and bad things happen apparently at random to both good and bad people?

In the bible Job's 'comforters' tried to explain the bad things that happened to him as a result of his unconfessed sin. But that answer didn't work. In the end Job had to simply accept that we don't know the reason why bad things sometimes happen to good people. At the same time he learned to trust that God might know more than he did.

A tragedy like the one in New Zealand is another example of what the apostle Paul talked about when he described 'creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time'. There is a sense in which these unexplained things cause us and the whole of creation to groan, in the expectation that a better day is coming - and it can't be soon enough.

Theologians use the expression 'now and not yet' to describe the coming of God's kingdom. In one sense it is here already with the coming of Jesus, but in another sense it is not here in its fulness. Now we live in an inbetween time in which we see glimpses of that kingdom: sometimes people are healed in response to prayer, or rescued, or converted. But at other times they are not. We simply have to learn to live with that tension.

In the meantime we can pray for the relatives and friends of those miners, that in some way they will know the consoling presence of God.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Groundbreaking Ceremony at Oasis Academy, Coulsdon

I've just got back from witnessing one of the best good news stories in Coulsdon: the groundbreaking ceremony for the new buildings at Oasis Academy, Coulsdon. I was asked to say a prayer at the burial of a time capsule. (It 's the second time I've been asked to do this is as many months.) It was only to be a temporary burial, as later the capsule will be placed under the floor of the new reception block. I joked by saying that most burials I officiate at stay down permanently.

Since the Academy opened just over 2 years ago the learning community there has been transformed. The first time I visited, just after the opening, I was struck by the atmosphere of quiet but energetic activity. The skill of the senior management, the care of the staff, the responsibility given to older students - this all makes for a community that is buzzing and positive. Local residents have noticed the change in behaviour at the nearby bus stops. Several of the students joined in our church 750th anniversary celebrations by helping at our Medieval Banquet, and by writing and collecting good news stories.

What particularly pleases me is to see a school that is not separate from the local community, but is wanting to be part of it. An increasing number of children from the local schools are applying for places, and I hope it will soon become the first choice for many Coulsdon parents.

The Academy has a strong Christian character, but an open admissions policy. That chimes very well with the mission that a parish church such as St John's has. It means that any children, whatever their background, can apply and then will be part of a transforming experience.

The new buildings are going to look fantastic. You can follow a virtual tour here:

I was talking to one of the design engineers after the ceremony and he was really excited about the design of the new buildings in the use of space and light, energy and natural air-conditioning. The students who use these new premises will be very luck indeed. But actually they are even more fortunate to have such a motivated teaching staff.

If you are thinking about a secondary school place for your children, do consider Oasis Academy: Coulsdon.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

'Candle in the Wind'

No - I'm not an Elton John fan, but I just thought of the song as I was reflecting on the Service of Thanksgiving we held last Sunday for bereaved people to remember those they have known and loved. As part of the service we invited them to light a candle in memory of those they had lost.

I have a sort of inbuilt evangelical prejudice against candles - perhaps more than a prejudice against the practice of votive candles that are thought to continue your prayers after you have left. But I suppose the thing about lighting a candle is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean, and that is why it is so popular for today's (confused) spirituality.

Lighting a candle in memory of someone might represent the light that they brought into the world for a time, or perhaps our own sense of thanksgiving for them. Perhaps the flame represents the bond of love, or maybe the fragility of the flame speaks of our own human frailty that may be snuffed out at any moment.

The act of lighting the candle seems important, as it allows grieving people to DO something and not just be consumed passively by the paralysing sadness that so often follows death.

So, I may not be an 'up the candle' churchman, but I was touched by the numbers of people who flocked forward to light a candle for their loved ones on Sunday. After they had gone we blew the candles out - health and risks and all that - and I had a sense of all those remembered lives that mattered to people and, more importantly, mattered to God.