The View from the Vicarage

Encountering the Holy – being scared of the sacred.  Have you noticed the play on words – scared and sacred, simply swap two letters around and you change the meaning completely, scared and sacred.

I often feel that many people in today’s modern secular world, Christians included are afraid or scared of the sacred. Why should this be, possibly because the sacred takes us out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone and even suggests that we lose control and give that control to God, a higher power. One of the other reasons for being scared of the sacred is that entering into the sacred leads us beyond ourselves and our own powers to actually doing something about the sacred – action is required, and here is where it gets unnerving.

We lament the decline in worship attendance within the Church.  We have tried to inspire mission and evangelism by alarming ourselves and others with an unbalanced emphasis on sin and judgment. Churches have too often tried often in panic mode to manage worship and increase attendance with an unbalanced emphasis on obligation and procedure. These attempts are unbalanced because both are missing the same thing: A vision and experience of God’s holy presence and the good news of his kingdom. This leads to being scared of sacred.

Good worship is about all about awe, not strategy. Worship truly happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of the living God. This happened when Moses realized he was standing on holy ground. This isn’t the same as being afraid of God. That will drive us away from Him. It isn’t the same as feeling sentimental about God either. That reduces God to what some spiritual writers call “the heavenly sweetheart.” If we are afraid of God, then how can we ever know him and how can his news be good; if God’s only purpose is to make us happy then how can we call him Lord? These reductions of God’s presence and his good news diminish God and approach him as a force to be manipulated. But when we are in awe of God we are aware of His power and goodness and we are compelled to worship.

Some years ago staying with a priest friend of mine in Minnesota USA and I came across the writings of Annie Dillard, and she has some fascinating things to say about all this.

Annie Dillard in her book, “Teaching a Stone to Talk” 1982, describes awe: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence; or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Awe should not be reduced to a single emotion. Awe includes many human emotions. For instance, we can be in awe of beauty or majesty. We can be in awe of power and strength. We can be in awe of talent and artistry. We can be in awe of mystery and wonder. Likewise, reverence should not be reduced to a single emotion. It does not simply mean sedate. For instance, we show reverence of marriage at a wedding and it is proper to be joyous. We show reverence for life and loved ones at a funeral and we feel grief and sadness but also may recall happy memories. Awe and reverence involve many moods and styles but they have one thing in common – response! Maybe it is the response element that makes us scared of sacred.

Awe and reverence are about more than “shock and awe” demonstrations of force. Do you recall how around this time a few years ago many people were moved by the movie by Mel Gibson “The Passion of the Christ?” Very few people watched that movie in a sedate, calm, reflective atmosphere. People were moved with grief and sorrow. They were, in the words of Scripture, cut to the quick. I remember at the end when the risen Christ leaves the tomb someone shouted “YES!” and applause broke out. This wasn’t exhibitionism. It was awe and reverence! The film also convicted people. Some responded by changing their lives. I recall coming out of the cinema and watching how people were almost bowing to the screen as if an altar in Church. This is what happens in worship: God’s presence and his actions are revealed and we must respond.

Our Response to God involves elements that we can speak of separately, but we must be careful not to break these down and separate them completely. On the one hand we have the substance of worship: these are things like the preaching of God’s word, praise, the Holy Eucharist, Baptism, prayer, the public reading of the word, confession, and thanksgiving. We include all the actions, forms, and traditions that God’s people have always used to participate in worship and encounter God’s presence. On the other hand, there is the experience of the worshipper and the worshipping church. This involves current events, language, issues, problems, feeling, style, style of church music. 

When a local congregation experiences a tragedy, perhaps a sudden death of a beloved member or leader, their worship that Sunday is going to be different than the congregation that on the same Sunday celebrates because people they have been praying for respond to the gospel. Each church participates in the same substance of worship, but their experience is different. That’s biblical; the psalms are a collection of Israel’s worship songs. Not every song comes from the same experience. Sometimes the psalmist is angry, confused, sad, thankful, joyous, or reflective. The experience can also vary because of culture.

When the substance of worship and the experience of the worshipper combine, worth is ascribed to God. That is the core dynamic of our response to God’s presence and his mighty acts. Combined, these elements represent our way of participating together in our worshipful response to God.

When you break out of the ordinary, the well worn ways of worship, when you dare to take off your shoes, you will find that you are indeed standing on Holy Ground – and what a difference it makes. Today think outside your normal Church of England worship box, let the silence, the lack of familiar words and postures speak to you of a deeper encounter with God.

Your friend and parish priest,

Fr Paul Blanch

Dear People of God in the parishes of Kirton, Algarkirk and Fosdyke

It seems somewhat strange sitting here in Northern California looking out of my study window at the mountains bathed in glorious Californian sunshine, and reflecting on the idea that in less than twelve weeks I shall be moving into The Vicarage in Kirton and getting ready for my Installation as your new Vicar and parish priest on September 4th.

Maggie and I are both very excited about our move home after eight years, serving in two very different parishes here in the USA. We are excited to be coming to you with a wide experience of ministry in both pastoral, liturgical and preaching styles. We fell in love with your amazing Church buildings and we know the area quite well over many years of travel to East Anglia.

The call to serve as your priest came to me very strangely and yet powerfully, so here we are answering the call to serve with energy, enthusiasm and passion.

I was born and raised in North Eastern England in the City of Durham, growing up under the shadow of that city’s great Norman Cathedral, the burial place and shrine of both St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. Thankfully my upbringing from birth was in the context of a committed and active Church of England family whose daily life was immersed in the life of our local church and parish.

I trained for the priesthood at Chichester Theological College in West Sussex and also have a Theology degree from Durham University. My experience in ministry has been forged in urban and rural parishes in England, Scotland and the USA. 

We are counting down the days to our move, and as I bring to a close my ministry at All Saints here in Redding, I ask your prayers for our future life together under God’s guidance and inspiration.

Every best wish and blessing to you all,

Fr Paul F Blanch

AMPG seeks new Trustees

The project is now at a crucial and exciting stage and the AMPG is looking to expand and recruit new members from a range of professional backgrounds to supplement and support the current skills base within the group.

This is an opportunity to be involved in a major conservation project that will have a national profile. It will also be a flagship initiative within the East Midlands, delivered in partnership with the University of Lincoln, Lincoln Castle Heritage Skills Centre, the Diocese of Lincoln and Heritage Lincolnshire. Trustees will play a central role in its further development and delivery and will become instrumental to its success.

If you would be interested in sharing your skills, and can devote a few hours per month for meetings, and some additional time to contribute your expertise and knowledge to the management and development of the project, we would love to hear from you. 

Further informaiton about the role can be downloaded here.

For all who serve… our thanks

October really stands out for all those who have served our church and our community! Our Harvest Lunch was a great success – a big thank-you to everyone who made it possible; the “Memory books” we made at Crafty Coffee turned out beautifully – thanks Dee; we have heard that planning permission has been granted for our restoration project, which means the toilets and kitchen are one step closer to becoming a reality: again our thanks to the AMPG team for all their hard work. Outside, the weather was kind to us, so the Community Payback team have been able to continue their great work in “God’s Acre”. I am sure all who see the churchyard at Algarkirk will be amazed at the transformation!

Our thanks to the team at Kirton too for hosting the joint parishes’ communion. You need the reassurance of community togetherness as you approach the long cold nights of winter. It was a lovely service (and all the better for having had the extra hour in the morning to linger over breakfast).

Looking ahead, the energy and commitment continues. We will be getting festive at Crafty Coffee as we start to make Christmas decorations this month. Do come and join us. We have a lovely group – male and female – and thoroughly enjoy our fortnightly get-togethers. 

Our Friday evening Remembrance service will be very special this year too, falling on 11th November as it does. It will also mark the inauguration of the memorial tree. If you have connections with the village and would like to commemorate the life of anyone who served – in whatever capacity (eg combatant, support staff, land girl or factory worker) – please feel free to come and add a poppy, in their name, to the tree. Our thanks too to all those who made the poppies, and made them so special.

Finally, don’t forget that we shall be starting the Advent season with a St Nicholas Service on the 4th. Bring the children or grandchildren along; the Rev. Paul will be helping to ensure there is lots of interest for them, and joy for us all. It will be followed by a festive fair and Christmas market, with seasonal food, mulled wine and special gift ideas to help with your Christmas lists. You will all be very welcome!

Medieval Mirth, Magic and Medicine

As we approach harvest time, it is time to start reaping the benefits of all the work that has already been put in. As everyone who is involved with the church knows, nothing demonstrates that more than the big festival events that we put on through the year to help boost awareness of our churches among the community, and to raise money to help with running costs. Heritage Open Day is one of those times. The nice part is the fun – both in preparing and on the day itself. At our Crafty Coffee Club, we have been busy with “medieval magic” making corn dollies and country favours, traditionally given to bring good fortune to those you love. Our stained glass club have been very productive too. They will be there on the day with samples of their beautiful craftwork and a chance for visitors to have a go themselves.

It wouldn’t be a festival without great food, would it! The refreshment stall will feature delicious home-made cakes and beverages, which, while I am not sure they can be classed as medicine, will certainly make you feel better! There will also be a display of herbs and other medieval “cures” in the church, along with dressing up clothes. A gargoyle trail and other activities for the children and – because you can’t have a party without dancing – the Grantham Danserye will be performing every hour in the church. And there will be organ music too. Something for everyone to enjoy.

We shall also be celebrating the removal of the scaffolding that has been up in the chancel, which means our worship can return to the altar, and the church may be left open again for people to access it for prayer and the book swap. Blessings indeed!