Towards the end of the year our thoughts turn to Advent and Christmas.
Everything seems to be going much faster when what we really need to do is to slow down to give time to quietly reflect on the huge importance of Christmas.
Like everyone, I too am caught up in this rush to do many things in what seems to be less and less time. I think Antony Newley, an English actor, singer and songwriter¸ got it right when he sang about stopping the world so he could get off in his 1961 play Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. We could do better at finding time to step to one side for a while to give ourselves the opportunity to think more deeply about the wonderful significance of Christmas.
I have been able to do a little of this, firstly by remembering the work done by Mal Breeze, a United Reformed Church Related Community Worker (CRCW) based at the North and East Blackburn Group, and the three church communities he works with building community relationships and starting new ones that puts them at the centre of life so important and central to Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today, the United Reformed Church’s (URC) focus on lifelong missional discipleship.
Close on the heels of celebrating CRCW work came Remembrance Day. This year I had the privilege of taking part in marking remembrance near to where I live. In addition to the normal service I was able to participate in the launch /commissioning of a unique sculpture that illustrates the futility of war and the huge human sacrifices made by so many on behalf of others both during the conflict and then afterwards. Civilian life can be hard for those who made such significant sacrifices in the first place.
The sculpture was conceived, designed and constructed by a community art and craft group. This group started as an outreach from one of our churches that has grown to be a significant and real benefit to both the church and its surrounding communities.
The group is led by a local artist who had the idea of doing a sculpture with a caption asking ‘will anything ever change’ which of course makes you think deeply about what we are doing to each other as God’s children particularly relevant as we approach Christmas.
During Inter Faith Week in November many places across our country highlighted examples of how people from different faiths and backgrounds get to know each other.
During this special week I met 35 girl students from an Islamic school. They visited a local Mosque and then came to one of our churches. The group engaged enthusiastically asking questions about Christian worship and practice which complement their school learning. Visits of this sort are so valuable to them and to us in helping us understand each other better.
The long-term involvement of our churches in communities was further underlined for me during a visit that Margaret, my wife, and I made to Wilmslow URC which during the last year has been celebrating their 175th Anniversary.
Their active faithful Christian life illustrated a close connection with their community. This connection is developed further by the creation of a wonderful space underneath their church referred to as the ‘under croft’.
This will be a modern well-furnished and equipped place that welcomes young people from around the neighbourhood with the church working in partnership with various professional agencies.
It was a delight to be part of a weekend of celebration enjoying a meal and a brass band concert on the Saturday before contributing to the service on Sunday morning.
Following our visit to Wilmslow I was invited to a celebration of Building Bridges Interfaith group in Nelson, East Lancashire, which marked 20 years of influential interfaith work in the diverse East Lancashire community.
This occasion was particularly significant for us as the URC played a significant part in helping to start and run this work with the Revd Sally Thomas and myself being intimately involved.
In amongst this series of experiences, I have also been able to take part in Messy Church sessions in local schools focusing on the fact that Christmas is coming and Jesus being the Light of the World through stories, games, art and craft, singing, praying and enjoying food together.
These sessions have been keen to show that church, community, the Christian faith and daily life are inextricably wound together.
Looking back, I hope you can see a theme emerging of preparation for Advent leading up to Jesus’ birth bringing love, understanding and togetherness by Him being the Light of the World, our guide and saviour.
I wish you well with hope, love and understanding in all you do during Advent; approaching that wonderful moment when we remember the birth of Jesus and how involved he is in all communities as we do our bit to join in with what he is already doing in our communities.
Wishing everyone a blessed and peaceful Christmas
General Assembly Moderator