March 2020 – Pigeon Prejudice

Inspired by  the crescendo of the springtime dawn chorus I decided that I wanted to find out more about the woodland wildlife that inhabits and passes through my back garden. Some of the calls of the small birds proved difficult to identify, but my gaze became increasingly drawn towards the large number of wood pigeons who consider my garden to be their primary residence.

As I began to study these grey creatures, I soon realised that I had been harbouring a high level of prejudice against them. I looked down on them as unattractive, clumsy, slow and a bit of a nuisance. That was until I began to find out more about them and to really get to know them. The more I studied them the more my respect and appreciation of them increased. I discovered that the common wood pigeon plays a vital role in the ecology of these North Downs woodlands and, indeed, Culverstone owes its name to them, as ‘culver’ refers to a dove or pigeon. I began to see them not as ugly and cumbersome but as interesting and sensitive beings. As I spent time watching them and finding out more about them, I began to really enjoy and appreciate them. They now make me laugh and I find them so interesting to watch.

This reversal of opinion about the wood pigeon has made me think about my prejudice and ‘unconscious bias’, not just towards animals, but towards people. Pigeon watching and my change of mind about them, has made me reflect on the way that my judgements and prejudices blind me and make me unable to see, appreciate, enjoy and value the presence of any being who doesn’t fit in with the way I see things, or think they ought to be. Jesus made a habit of challenging prejudices, especially religious and cultural ones. He saw people as people, persons rather than cultural stereotypes. He was criticised for crossing cultural boundaries to meet people who were different or considered as outsiders.

People prejudice is a constant challenge, but if we are prepared to take the trouble, we can start to see our pigeons in a totally different and more favourable light.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

 

 

 

February 2020 – Storms

Storms and high winds hit us hard up here on the North Downs. As the wind whips up the escarpment it slams into the side of our house and it makes it difficult to sleep. It’s hard to completely relax as there is restlessness in the air, especially with the foxes barking in the wind, it can make for a disturbing night. During the 1987 storms I would have slept right through them, as I was a heavy sleeper at the time, but my wife woke me up and said ‘you’ve got to see this!’ She was right, it was an amazing storm and I remember a large willow tree being bent over, parallel to the ground.

 

Storms with high winds often remind me of Jesus and the storms on the Sea of Galilee. Some years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land and taking a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. As we were out on the water in quite a small boat a storm hit us and it got pretty scary as the wind whipped up some fairly serious waves. It was just like in the Bible but not quite so bad because unlike then, the fisherman at the helm, although alert, was not beside himself with fear and worry. And, unlike Jesus, I was not asleep in the back of the boat. Jesus was perfectly calm even in the storm.

 

Storms come and go, but these physical storms remind me of the storms of life that come upon us, often when we least expect them. Family troubles, illness, bereavement and uncertainty can hit us hard and make it difficult to steady ourselves and to keep our balance. Jesus was able to totally trust his Heavenly Father in the storm, even to the extent that he could sleep through it. It can seem to us when we pray in the midst of the storms of life that Jesus is asleep. We want to say wake up! Where are you? We ask ourselves where is God in this? Is he asleep? Even though these thoughts and feelings come at such times I don’t think that God is asleep or dispassionate. Just look at Jesus and his compassion in the face of the suffering and death of his friend Lazarus. However, what I have been learning in the storms, is that God allows in his wisdom what he could prevent by his power and that is a hard lesson especially in the more extreme storms of life.

 

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

January 2020 – Called to Healthy Growth

Over the past few years a shift has been taking place in the wider Church and in our own Diocese of Rochester. There is a new sense that the Church is called to healthy growth, and green shoots of new life are springing up in the most unusual and unlikely places. Our own parish in these villages has been experiencing this fresh sense of hope as we participate in this season of renewal. Instead of the management of decline we are now planning for growth. It’s not just about numbers, although it is encouraging to see our mid-week meetings becoming more and more popular. It’s also about deepening faith and there is a noticeable increase in the desire to grow in both our knowledge and experience of God.

Whilst we recognise that it is God who gives the growth we also know that we can do a lot to help in encouraging that God given growth. From the New Year we will be upgrading our Sunday teaching programme with an emphasis on intelligent, interesting, relevant and accessible weekly Bible teaching. Our week-day and evening study groups will also be opening their doors to anyone who wants to grow, so that as many people who want to, will have the opportunity to ‘learn’ Christ.

As a Church we will be looking ahead to see where else we sense the Spirit of God moving us in mission and engagement with our community. We have been so encouraged by Coffee in the Cloisters on Thursday mornings and the newly formed Anna Chaplaincy meeting at Fairseat Chapel on Wednesday mornings. However, growth brings challenges and we are conscious that we are in need of a new and coherent plan for the future. To this end we are thankful to have been offered external help for the purpose of casting vision and seeking to discern God’s plan for the future. The Diocesan Advisor in Church Growth is coming to lead a vision day for us on Saturday March 13th. This will give us an opportunity to look again at our current and future ministry and mission here in Stansted, Fairseat and Vigo.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector

St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo

December 2019 – Give Him the Name Jesus

All of us have names and one of the great responsibilities of parenthood is to give our children names. We want to give them names that we think they will enjoy and that will be used freely by the people around them. Of course not all children like their names and some young people change their names as they get older. Often our names just become shortened or abbreviated in some way into ones that are more user friendly. In the gospel story an event is recorded that takes place before the birth of Jesus in which Jesus’ name is supplied by revelation in a dream from the Lord to his father Joseph. God tells Joseph that you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.

The name Jesus is a Greek form of the name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves” so Jesus name actually has meaning and it’s a meaning that indicates what he has come to do.  It was given to him for a reason.  It was given to him because that was his purpose and his destiny. My name is Christopher which means bearer of the cross of Christ. It’s an amazingly appropriate name for me because that is what I do! In different ways as a vicar I testify to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The name Christopher was given to me by my parents before I was born. My name indicates what I do and Jesus’ name indicates what he does, which is to be the saviour of the world. He came to save us from the penalty of our sin so that we can be forgiven, live lives in fellowship with God and receive the gift of eternal life. We are saved from something and for something. Jesus saved us from hell and for heaven. The saviour is born. He is the one who has come to transfer us from the the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of his marvellous light.  Jesus saves us from death for life and that is the real meaning of Jesus’ name and of Christmas.

 

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