October 2019 Daily Bread

I have just met with a friend of mine who was visiting the Anglican Church in the Kondoa Diocese in Central Tanzania. He said that the rains have not come and the crops are dead in the fields. There is no water and the children were digging twelve feet down in the dry riverbed to extract just a bowlful of murky water. How different from our mini-heatwaves where we just walk over to the tap and pour a glass of drinking water or go to fridge for a juice to quench our thirst.

My friend commented that despite the drought there is no shortage of joy in the faces and hearts of the people he met as he travelled the rough roads and tracks in a beaten up Toyota Landcruiser. The pictures and video clips of the church services and gatherings for worship all displayed a wonderful sense of freedom and spontaneous joy. The Church meeting under the shade of the ‘big tree’ means no worries about the peg-tiled roof or the wall heaters. As for the offering there was little need of the collection plate as the offering came in the form of a live chicken. There’s an idea for the harvest offering at St Mary’s this year – livestock only!

In spite of our sophisticated food supply chains and the fresh water that we have at the turn of a tap, such encounters are a reminder that we are dependent on many uncertain factors for our food and drink. Inevitably we take it all for granted and hardly give a thought to the many people and systems that work together to give us our daily bread. How many of us stop to give thanks for our plate of food before diving in with the knife and fork?  As it says in the old harvest hymn, ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.’

At Harvest Festival we pause to give thanks for all that we have been blessed with, in food, drink and provision.  As Christians we do not take these gifts for granted and we express our gratitude by giving to those who have lost all and are roaming the streets of our capital, hungry and thirsty. Our Harvest offering and collection for the Manna Society is just a small token of our gratitude to God for all the good gifts that we receive on a daily basis.

 

Rev Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

September 2019 Waking Words

I woke up one day last month with some words of scripture running through my mind. Those words were from the book of Proverbs where it says:

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’.

I had the sense that this was important for me. I started to ‘chew’ on this proverb and to let it ‘sink in’ as a form of scriptural meditation. So what have I discovered?  My first thought was that this would make an excellent school or university motto. How good it would be to recognise, as I walk into a place of learning, that true and deep wisdom is derived from this particular attitude of humble dependence on the Lord of the Universe. Of course others might recoil at the idea of God, let alone the thought that he could give us anything by way of knowledge.

I must confess that the idea of the ‘fear of the Lord’ has been clouded for me by a cane wielding school master intent on beating ‘the fear of God’ into me. However, what this ‘fear’ actually refers to is reverence, respect and worship. As the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah  ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’, thus indicating that even our best thoughts and ideas will often fail to capture the full picture. Fear of the Lord describes an attitude of humble dependence on God in all matters of ‘faith and conduct’, requiring the ability and wisdom to ‘do the next right thing’.

The final part of my reflection involved thoughts of the end of life itself. I believe that when it comes to the matter of my eternal destiny, my attitude towards the Lord is pivotal. If I don’t respect him, honour him or love him then I suspect that I am positioning myself outside of his loving provision. On the other hand, to the extent that I rightly fear him, my life takes on a different shape, not only in this world but also in the the life of the world to come. This is all part of my strengthening conviction that this life is not ‘it’ and the life I live in the ‘here and now’ is not all there is.

 

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

August 2019 Walking the Dog

Walking the Dog

Over the last few weeks I have been back walking the dog. I have to say that it is not my dog, just one that’s been loaned to me. It is a great joy to be back out there in the park meeting other dogs and their owners at various times of the day. I have really missed being a dog ‘owner’ over the last few years and I have to say it has been wonderful to be back holding the lead.

Wonderful as it is, I have been reminded of the challenge of being in charge of a dog. The particular challenge in this case has been in the form of a young male Lurcher that is still in training.  Having been used to the very particular and specific characteristics of a ‘laid back’  Cocker Spaniel, the Lurcher has given me a run for my money.  I would love to let him off the lead and watch him run, as he is clearly built for speed, but if I did so, I am conscious that he would be gone and I’d have some explaining to do to his owners.  It is very tempting to just let him go as he runs so beautifully in such a fluid motion, almost like a racehorse. I am wondering if he would be a great dog for a fit runner or athlete in training.

The other uncertainty with being in charge of a different dog is the question of how is he going to respond to other people and other dogs?  My approach has been to keep him on a short lead and I have been very cautious at the approach of other dogs or people. It has all worked out quite well except perhaps for a measure of over-excitement, particularly at the approach of other dogs. The young Lucher offers a longing whimper at even the sight of another dog, so my sense is that he is a pretty sociable hound, but as yet not fully conversant with dog etiquette.

The question that I am now pondering as a result of all this recent dog walking is the inevitable one that is faced by all dog owners whose dogs have died. Am I going to get another one of my own? As we know there are lots of reasons for and against, so the jury is still out. And of course there is the thorny question of what would be a good vicar’s dog? I’m thinking Jack Russell….

 

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

July 2019 The Voice of Creation

Living here in the countryside enables me to appreciate God’s creation in a way that I found difficult when living in the London. God’s creation is, of course, not absent in the metropolis, but it tends to get overwhelmed and drowned out by concrete, tarmac and noise. On a recent trip to our wonderful capital I witnessed some wildlife in the form of a very clever rat who was rescuing a half eaten and discarded ‘Happy Meal’ by dragging it to her den behind some building site boards. Although I enjoyed watching this happy rat with her prized McDonald’s feast, it wasn’t a patch on following the flight of two equally opportunist buzzards soaring over Stansted Hill.

Despite being educated in a strident form of dogmatically atheistic evolutionary biology, I find myself now as a believer in a creator God. I now enjoy the pre-critical declarations of the old hymns. Like this one:

‘All things bright and beautiful all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!’

I am constantly amazed and in wonder as I reflect on God’s creative genius in nature.  Stansted churchyard provides not only a resting place for our loved ones but also a haven for a significant amount of wildlife such as owls, bats, swifts and moles – to mention just a few. Sitting on the bench by the church path, even for just a few minutes, brings a great reward in the form of a butterfly, dragon fly, or maybe some birdsong followed by precious silence.

I am very grateful to God and count myself blessed to live in such a wonderful place where, in the words of Psalm 19:

‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.’

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo