December 2022 – Mince Pies & Crisps

Mince Pies and Crisps

It is dark outside and winter is upon us, but as our ancestors whose lives depended upon the seasons understood, even in the depths and darkness of winter, that the light of spring will soon begin to work its regenerative power. This ancient Festival of Light with its celebration of the rebirth of the sun was adopted by the Christian Church in the fourth century when Pope Julius declared the 25th of December as the official birthday of Jesus Christ.  The birth of the Son supplanted the birth of the sun and the birth of Christ became the new focal point of this ancient festival.

Even though the festival was embossed with the stamp of Christ is has never become entirely separated from its pre-Christian roots.  The use of foliage or wintergreen, including mistletoe, as well as the yule logs that were burned to provide light and heat for the festival, are just two of the traditions that survive, even if the log has been turned into a chocolate one! The Christian church has continued to add to this celebratory cocktail with its own embellishments and rites.  The cult of the crib thrived in the middle ages and its vestiges are still with us in the form of nativity plays and crib services.

These traditions and their inherent paganism have not gone unchallenged through church history and many of the protestant reformers including John Calvin and the early Presbyterians refused to recognise Christmas as Christian.  During the Commonwealth period, the church tried to suppress Christmas but this met with a significant level of passive and active resistance.  Following the restoration of the monarchy the feasting returned and aided in the following centuries by Charles Dickens, Prince Albert and consumer culture, it has continued to develop into what it is today.

It seems that Christmas is here to stay and I guess that it will continue to evolve and develop to reflect our ever-changing culture with its shifting values and patterns of belief.  Personally, I like mince pies, Christmas lights, Stollen cake, Slade, winter walks with my family, a warm house, new socks and lots of crisps.  What about you?  What do you like about Christmas?

 

Rev. Dr Christopher Noble – Rector

 

November 2022 – Hope Now

Hope Now

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

I have just been at our local primary school to take a barrage of theological questions from a class of eight-year-olds. I was asked to address the question ‘why do Christians believe in God?’ The subsequent dialogue was excellent and it was very good for me to have to give quick and simple responses to the profound questions of life that these young hearts and minds were already grappling with.

I was asked what I got from my faith and the answer that I found coming from my lips was “hope”. When I got home from my grilling, I began to think further about this and realised what an amazing thing it is to have hope that springs from faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is especially true when things go wrong and seem to fall apart before our eyes. We find ourselves asking God questions and wondering why things are as they are. It was interesting to me that these eight-year-old minds were wrestling with questions such as why is there war and how can God allow such suffering in the world. Perhaps, as never before, our children are exposed to a barrage of images and media input that forces them to engage early in life with the social realities of war and human suffering.

So, what difference can faith make in a world of trouble and turmoil? Part of the answer to that question is that faith brings hope even in the most desperate of life’s situations. How is it, that a believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ can rejoice and be at peace on their deathbed? How can a person of deep faith live in faith and hope when all that we consider worthwhile in life has been stripped away?

Only God can do this. Only the Lord of hosts can bring hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless and faith to the faithless.

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

October 2022 – All Change

All Change

There is quite a bit of change taking place in the diocese of Rochester of which our church is a part. The major change is that by the time this edition of the Parish Notes comes out there will be a new bishop of Rochester.

The new Bishop is the Rt Reverend Jonathan Gibbs who was formally the Bishop of Huddersfield in the Diocese of Leeds and is also the Lead Bishop in charge of safeguarding in the Church of England.

The Diocese of Rochester serves a population of 1.3 million people, covering 215 parishes across Medway, north and west Kent, as well as the London boroughs of Bromley and Bexley.

Responding to his appointment Bishop Jonathan said:
“I am delighted to have been announced as the new Bishop of Rochester. My wife Toni and I are so excited about the prospect of moving to this wonderful Diocese. 

For us, Rochester will be a new place to discover and we’re so looking forward to getting to know the people of our churches and our communities, and to working together with them as we encourage God’s kingdom to grow in this wonderfully varied and rich place.

We are very conscious of the diversity of the communities that we serve, from urban and suburban to profoundly rural, and I am looking forward to the opportunity of exploring all these different places and to sharing in the journey with the people here of growing God’s Church, of serving the communities, and of proclaiming the good news of Christ to the people whom we seek to love and to serve in Jesus’s name.”

We will be praying for Bishop Jonathan as he takes up this significant responsibility in this time of significant change in and beyond the Church.

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

 

 

September 2022 – Back to School

With so many shops and businesses selling and promoting products on the basis of the ‘back to school’ banner, I thought I’d put out a spiritual ‘back to school’ notification.

This autumn, I will be focusing on prayer in the teaching program of the church. As part of that, I will be offering prayer workshops and prayer tutorials for anyone who would like to learn more about prayer or to develop their existing practice.

The disciples of Jesus watched him praying and although they were familiar with prayer there was something different about his praying. What was it that was so unique about the prayer of Jesus? For one thing, his prayers got answered and many of them immediately. This intrigued the followers of Jesus and they wanted to know more, which is why he taught them the ‘Our Father’.

Of course, prayer is more than words and one of the oldest and deepest traditions of the church involves stillness and silent prayer. Indeed, this is God’s gift to the church and the promise of peace is attached to it. Prayer and meditation are the Lord’s antidotes to stress, worry, anxiety and fears that plague so many people today.

If you would like to develop your prayer life then do join us in church this autumn as we go back to school in the Christian tradition of prayer and meditation.

‘But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly’. Matthew 6.6

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

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

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