As I write, I anticipate attending the funeral of my beloved 100-year-old Aunt. I say beloved, as I shall always associate her with happy childhood memories of fun weekends when my family went to stay with hers near London.
This is a time of year we associate with remembering, with All Saints and Remembrance Sunday featuring large. We may look back with sadness and gratitude on people who have died, and on a different culture whose passing we sometimes mourn.
You might recall those Sunday School Anniversaries that I hear about – tiers of benches as row upon row of children crammed onto a dais to celebrate the church’s children’s activities. Of course, there are reasons why Sunday School had been so popular. There were no Sunday morning sports practices then, no television or online gaming to compete with, playing in the street would have been frowned upon. In short, church was the place where all that happened was happening.
Remembering with thanks is good, mourning is natural, but the productive thing is to ask “if all that is gone, what is there that remains important for today, even though it might look different in today’s culture?”
Perhaps that’s where we might meet again this year’s theme of “What’s the Story?” For our life stories are likely to be underpinned by knowledge of God and of the truth and the values we learned in those church settings. And so we need to keep that knowledge alive for the benefit of those children yet to hear. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” His love and truth remain rock-steady in the changing winds of culture, life-changingly relevant to generations that have lost touch.
Our Junior Church therefore plays an important role, albeit that the numbers are not the same “as in the old days”. Other activities such as Open the Book are powerful in sharing bible stories with the children of today.
As we enter this time of remembering, we must discern through the cultural differences those things it is vital to preserve. And we must be re-energised to nurturing and developing them for today, finding ways of sharing our story.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn” – he felt for those who look back and mourn the passing of better times for God’s people – “for they shall be comforted” – there is hope!
As I write we approach Peace Sunday – a focus which could scarcely be more pertinent for our times.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation who organise the event have a strap-line “Nonviolence in Action” – a thought that reminds us that there’s nothing passive about Peace.
It is very easy to react to the fact that an issue is so controversial and feelings run so high by ignoring it and ensuring nobody speaks about it in church – “never discuss religion or politics” as the adage has it.
The same could be said for the Marriage and Relationships Report: God in Love Unites Us. The proposals in the report relating to cohabitation, civil partnerships, divorce and same-sex marriage, challenge us with how to be members of one family whilst sometimes having contrary convictions about these matters. More on this later!
I recently attended an open meeting of the group Extinction Rebellion. Here again was the paradox that the concern for the planet and for our children and grandchildren is so great that “Rebellion” is appropriate when governments and industry are perceived as too slow to respond. But the principle under which ER operates is one of Non-Violence. Participants are trained to engage with those experiencing road-rage due to the disruption caused by the protests, and mollify them with cake and conversation – an approach given more weight when the person giving the cake is perhaps an elderly lady, stirred from her restful existence by her passion to rescue the planet.
Peace is hard work and is costly. It is also painful for those of us who have a deep-rooted fear of conflict and whose normal practice is to avoid anything controversial – to prefer the false peace which just buries differences until they foment hatred and explode in conflict. Jesus says “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid” (John 14.27)
Perhaps the most important word I’ve written so far is a good Methodist word: Cake (and it’s companion, tea (or coffee if you prefer)). Cake symbolises hospitality, generosity and a readiness to listen in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. It’s no accident that our world leaders meet over a meal.
Can we share tea and cake with those we least agree with in our church and community, and find trust, listening, respect and love? Can we model what it means to be loving members of a family with contrary convictions? Our Methodist Conference with patience and care seemed to manage that this year and reach a consensus. May God help us to have those same healthy conversations in our church and in our community.