August 2022 – Making the Connection

I was asked recently to come and lead a class at our local primary school. I had to try to explain to a group of eight-year-olds what the role of being a vicar involved.

In order to do this, I took my robe case which not only contained my robes but also an assortment of artefacts that I use in the course of my duties. Of particular significance were my beaten-up old copy of the Bible and my miniature home communion set.

Children’s questions about God are often more daring and profound than the ones we ask as adults. The leading question was who made God? My answer was that he is uncreated, has always existed, and always will exist. Many of the other questions showed that the children had given considerable thought to the bigger questions of life as well as the involvement of God in this world and their lives. Children have a knack for putting you on the spot and a couple of the children asked me if I enjoyed my job? I replied ‘most of it!’

The whole exercise did make me reflect quite deeply on the role of a Church of England Priest in 21st Century Britain. The job is basically the same as it’s always been which is to help people to find God for themselves. It’s a sort of divine introduction agency for anyone seeking to raise their sights above and beyond this life.

The pastoral task is centred on helping people in making their connection with God in whatever circumstances they find themselves and of course, this involves teaching and helping people to pray in a way that is real and meaningful. Thus it was and will always be.

My time at the school finished with a short time of prayer which was surprisingly meaningful and remarkably silent!

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble
Rector of St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo & Area Dean of Shoreham

July 2022 – Contemplative Prayer

One of my predecessors, the Rev’d Coulson, founded the school of contemplative prayer which he ran from a prayer cell in the basement of the old Rectory in Stansted. When I first came here some of the older parishioners had clearly been positively impacted by his practice of being silent in prayer and meditation before God. He was very strict about silence in the church, before, during and after worship as people were not permitted to talk or chat at all in the church building. I remember one of his parishoners telling me that she saw herself as one of ‘the quiet of the land’ and she understood that her vocation was to pray in silence. This contemplative legacy was a very good thing which I didn’t really appreciate at the time but as I have continued in the spiritual life I have come to value this important tradition within the church. Like most of us who have been pursuing spiritual growth, I too have tried many ways and methods as I have sought to make prayer central to my life.
Getting to this point has been quite a journey as I have lived through more than a few seasons when I have found it difficult to pray at all. As with my contemplative predecessors, I have come to a place in prayer where I don’t say very much but focus more on what the Lord might be saying to me. I suppose you could call it listening prayer as much as contemplative prayer, but the process is much the same. Contemplative Prayer for me is not about emptying the mind, rather it is about engaging in the process of seeking to still my mind before God. It’s never quite the same from day to day as sometimes it seems easy but on other days, I find it almost impossible.
Some days I awake conscious of the Lord’s presence but on a normal day its more of a cold start and that involves work, in self-examination, confession, spiritual reading, and waiting on Him in stillness and silence. I usually conclude my prayers with a few set prayers that I have committed to memory because they remind me to seek and to do the will of God in all the affairs of the day. I don’t believe in formulas when it comes to prayer as for me it is a relational practice because God is my friend as well as my boss. My day is always lacking and often falls well below par if I am prevented from spending the beginning of the day with God.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector
St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

June 2022 – Continuity and Change

Queen Elizabeth II has given our nation a wonderful sense of continuity through a period of enormous, and at times, accelerated change.

We are very thankful to her for her dedication and life-long commitment to her vocation as our sovereign in matters temporal.

I think we are all aware of the self-sacrifice and selflessness that is involved in the role of the constitutional monarch and we continue to pray for Queen Elizabeth as she fulfils this weighty ministry on our behalf.

Of course, this continuity will be broken and change will come. Over many decades the Church has prayed faithfully for the Queen and we need to pray that her successors will be prepared and enabled by God to fulfil this weighty calling.

As we celebrate we are all more conscious than ever, that in many different ways this is a fragile world, and it continues to need both our prayers and our work under the direction and care of the mighty hand of God.

As we come together for this time of celebration let us remember what it says in the old book:

‘Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

May the Lord be with you.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector
St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

May 2022 -Travelling to the New

Travelling to the New

I keep singing an old school hymn, the chorus of which goes like this: ‘It’s from the old I travel to the new, keep me travelling along with you.’

In more than a few areas of life, we have been moved into ‘the new’, as there have been some significant changes as a result of Covid. The way to get to see the doctor has changed, as has the idea of being able to go to a bank and talk to someone.

Old institutions are having to change and even the good old Church of England is having to adjust to the new post-pandemic landscape.

As a church, we are finding ourselves in a time of travelling from the old to the new, and it involves getting used to change.

The old institutionalised ways of working in the church are having to give way to more fluid and flexible forms of ministry which for a heritage church like our own is quite a challenge.

It is in this changing environment that the second half of the old school hymn becomes most pertinent. The words ‘keep me travelling along with you’ refer to our need to stay close to the Lord so that we can navigate a straight course into the new and largely unchartered waters of the future.

If you are interested in the future of the church and would like to know how we are getting on in this time of change from the old to the new, then you are welcome to attend our Annual Parochial Church Council meeting that is being held on Thursday, May 19th at 8 pm in the Cloisters room of St Mary’s Stansted.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

For more information see our website stmarysstansted.com. For further details please contact the Rev Dr Chris Noble on 01732 822494 or email: rev.stmarysstansted@gmail.com

April 2022 – God is Living and Active

God is alive! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a powerful reminder that God is not dead. He is very much alive and so much more involved in our lives and our world than we think.

God allows in his wisdom what he could prevent by his power. He allowed his own son to suffer and die on the cross for a reason. We don’t always understand why things happen especially when they involve suffering and death. Often the understanding only comes later, as it did with the cross.

On Good Friday this world tried to kill God. We crucified him until he was dead and then we buried him, but on the third day, he rose again from the dead. We failed to get rid of God despite our best efforts. He would not leave us as orphans, which is a good thing.

Jesus is alive and through our faith in him, we too can be raised from the dead, spiritually in the present and physically in the future.

He is living and active which means that he is doing all sorts of things around us in miraculous ways that are far beyond our understanding or perception.

The Easter message is that God has not abandoned us and we are not alone in the universe.

Every day I have to wake up and open my eyes to see what he is doing. I need eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders of God that are taking place all around me. Instead of missing or dismissing the movements of God that are taking place, I am paying attention and praying to see what he is doing.

God has a will and he is actively involved in all of life here on earth. He is not an aloof or distant heavenly parent but fully engaged in the life of his creation and his creatures, including us. My prayer is that you may find him for yourself.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector
St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

March 2022 – Accidental Meditation

Many years ago I accidentally stumbled upon the practice of Christian meditation. This happened when I worked in the City and used to pop into a church called St Peter’s in Cornhill. It was a Christopher Wren church with very low lighting, and antique dark wood furniture. The wood gave off a wonderful smell and although the church was next to a busy road it was surprisingly quiet. I used to go in most days and just sit there for a few moments in the quiet before I went out into the Lloyds Insurance market where I worked as a reinsurance broker.

These times of quiet contemplation started to expand as I discovered that once my mind was settled, I could enter a more peaceful state in which I was able just to be and to rest. I believe that God was working in me during these times as I learned to be still and quiet before my creator.

St Peter’s became my haven and place of peace as I grappled with the busyness and tension of my life in business at the time. Surprisingly I used to find that I was in a much better frame of mind when I went out than I had been when I had arrived, and I think that my ability to sell in the market was boosted by those times with God.

When St Peter’s was closed, I used to walk across London Bridge and just sit or kneel in the side chapel of Southwark Cathedral. Again, the busyness of my mind evaporated and I was able to find deep peace and rest in that place. This particular pilgrimage also had the advantage of McDonald’s on the way back to the office.

I knew nothing about contemplative prayer or meditation except what I learned by experience from just being there and doing it. I think those times of meditation and prayer were highly formative in my call to be a priest even though I didn’t realise it at the time. Although I have not been able to be consistent with this practice over the years I am finding that in recent times I have been increasingly drawn towards daily meditation and prayer.

As we journey through Lent it is perhaps a good time to consider our busy lives and our practice of silence, prayer and meditation within our daily patterns of life.

Rev Chris Noble – Rector
St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

February 2022 – Our Pub and Our Church

We are very blessed to still have a lively pub and an equally lively church in this village of Stansted. At a time when many rural communities are struggling to retain their churches and pubs, we are glad that we can still enjoy these privileges. I love the pub and I love the church. They have both played a significant part in my life as a Priest here over the past quarter of a century. When I was first ‘installed’ as the incumbent there was nowhere for the Bishop and the clergy to put their robes on, so we all gathered in what was then the lounge bar of the Black Horse. A swift half served by Brian and Mary was followed by a short ceremony and then back to the pub for a chaser. What a great way to begin a life’s work in the countryside.

Over the years the Black Horse has been such an important place for me as I have met and got to know lots of different people from this community and beyond. Iain Duncan and the Roberts family heralded the arrival of the Irish years along with Irish Sundays, a Thai restaurant and even a small gift shop. More recently Terri and Rick have worked their socks off to make the “Black Hole” the friendly and lively hostelry that it is today.

The Church has also seen many different seasons over this time as it has adapted to the shifting sands of faith in the last quarter of a century. Many people from both inside and outside these villages have seen to it that this gem of a building continues as a living place of Christian worship and community life. It’s an easy walk from the pub to the church and many a groom has walked that path to tie the knot at the chancel steps of St Mary’s.

Both the pub and the church are so much more than the buildings that house them. Pubs and churches are about the people who gather there to drink and to eat together. They are about fellowship, friendship and life as we walk together on this road of happy destiny. Let’s keep drinking together.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

For more information see our website stmarysstansted.com. Recorded Sunday sermons available on acts6-4.com. For further details please contact the Rev Dr Chris Noble on 01732 822494 or email: rev.stmarysstansted@gmail.com

January 2022 – A Fresh Start

A Fresh Start

This new year we are starting to meet again on Sunday’s in Vigo Village Hall. It is nearly two years ago that we had to cease meeting in Vigo due to Covid-19 restrictions and the resultant difficulties that they caused. As we begin to meet again in Vigo, it will be different. Things have changed over the last few years. However, despite the setbacks, the good news is that it’s a new day and a fresh start, which is exciting. As with a lot of things in our lives, the pandemic has forced us to change the way that we go about things and to review our practice. In church, this means that we are changing the ways we do ministry. We can no longer do it the way we have always done it, or go back to how it was in the past. This is a new day and it is full of opportunities as well as challenges. Who would have thought that we would be a Zooming Facebook Church?

The pandemic has made us appreciate things that we just took for granted. The freedom to sing or even to meet is something that we never questioned or doubted. Having these freedoms removed has meant that we have realised just how much we value them and how important they are to us.

What we have found is that we really miss our meetings for Sunday worship in Vigo Village Hall as they add to the flavour and colour of our life together as a worshipping community. I have been so encouraged by the really positive reception of this news of our return to regular Sunday worship in Vigo Village Hall and we are looking forward to some really good meetings together.

Even in lockdown, we were, by the Grace of God, able to extend our borders through online meetings using Zoom and Facebook. Our Facebook services on Sunday morning continue to be well supported both in the community and beyond, and we are hoping that the connections that have been made will continue to help people to find their way into a physical meeting for worship, especially once this latest ‘variant’ has peaked.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

For more information see our website stmarysstansted.com. Recorded Sunday sermons available on acts6-4.com. For further details please contact the Rev Dr Chris Noble on 01732 822494 or email: rev.stmarysstansted@gmail.com

November 2021 – Prayer in Action

Arrow prayers sent up in emergencies have a place and maybe they have saved some of us from some pretty dire straits. I was listening to the testimony of a Spitfire pilot who was shot down whilst in a dog fight. He said that when he was hit he prayed a prayer accepting that he was going to die, but moments later he saw a bright white light, and when he came round he realised that against all odds he was alive, albeit with the loss of an arm.
What struck me about this was that he wasn’t just praying to God, he was praying with God. His prayer came from a place of acceptance of God’s will for his life, whatever that was to be. In his case, God gave him the gift of life even though from a human standpoint he had no chance of living.
What we are trying to do when we pray, is to pray in the will of God, so that our prayers line up with what God wants to do. What we are trying to avoid is telling God what to do. We don’t believe that our prayers are a sheet of instructions or a to-do list for God.
Sometimes we don’t have words for what is in our heart to pray. At such times we are looking for God to place in our heart the things that are on his heart and for him to make them clearer to us. These prayers can be little more than an earnest desire or a weight in our spirit.
The important thing is that we are available by placing ourselves at God’s disposal to serve his purposes. Most of the time we don’t get to see the results or the effect of our prayers, however, there are times when there is an obvious or even instant result.
Recently I had a few hours to kill in a town centre and I prayed a prayer something along the lines of ‘Lord, have you got anything for me to do here?’ Very soon after praying that prayer, I met someone who knew me and they really needed to talk about something that was troubling them. I was thrilled that God has put me in the right place at the right time to meet that need simply because I was available.
Prayer in the will of God changes things, not necessarily in the way we want them, but even if we can’t see it at the time, Gods responses are always for our good, in the long run.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

October 2021 Our New Congregation

I want to say thanks to everyone who has joined our new Facebook congregation on Sunday mornings. We now have over a hundred people coming on board and it is really good fun to get together in this way for some spiritual refreshment.
There are obviously some big benefits to the Facebook church. You don’t have to leave home or even get dressed to come. You can drink coffee during the service or even eat your breakfast. You don’t even have to show up on time as the service is available all week and beyond.
It has also been really good to be able to welcome some of our dispursed congregation from various parts of the country. We even have some former residents join us from the United States. What a remarkable thing this is and if you have not yet found us do feel free to check us out.
It has also been great to get back to regular services in the church building and whilst we are continuing to take a cautious approach to the meetings we are finding some new and enjoyable ways of gathering together. There is more silence, more time for reflection and there has been more space to share the spiritual teaching of the church in a comprehensible and interesting way.
Our faith is of course much more than our time together on Sundays. The other six days of the week are the real challenge when we have to live out our faith in ordinary life. This is where the rubber hits the road as we are called on to exercise our faith in the workplace and at home.
Living the Christian life is not easy, in fact, it is impossible without God. Left to our own devices we struggle but with God all things are possible. Even if we do believe the question is how do we get God? How can we connect with the Lord of the universe? Can we really know God for ourselves?
There are answers if we want them and this is one of the main reasons that this church is here and has been here for the last 700 years. Contrary to popular opinion. The true and living God, that is the God of love, is not dead.

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector
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There will continue to be a monetary collection for The Manna Society but Manna are unable to make their normal collection of harvest produce and clothes from us this year