I am delighted to welcome Ray & Wendy, Denise, Symon, Jules & Kathryn into the full membership of the Christian church following their confirmations last month. It is always a joy to Sylvia and me to see growth in the church in such a way and perhaps especially so when the people concerned are of varying ages. I'm not sure that any of them would agree that they were old, but some of them certainly aren't. I think all of the group have told us what a moving spiritual experience their confirmation was. All of us need those occasional 'mountain top' experiences to enable us to plod on through the inevitable periods when our church life is routine and, occasionally, even difficult. I read this recently and it is worth passing on:
"I walked up the passage to my bedroom, went down on my knees, and asked for an explanation. As I did so, the glory of the universe shone before me – I was blinded by the dazzling white light. In my heart I flung my arms before my eyes, because I knew then that man could not look upon God and live. I was both terrified and uplifted – I can't explain it. I was shattered and then knew that I was nothing. All my conceit and personal esteem vanished. When I hear men say: “You can't prove there is a God!” I reply: “You wait until he has taken half a step towards you and you are left in no doubt.”
[a letter to Gerald Priestland, a former BBC religious affairs correspondent]
One of the saints the church recalled this month (on July 22nd) is Mary Magdalene. She is commonly supposed to be the woman of easy virtue (as one might say) who wiped Jesus feet with ointment and washed them with her tears. Because she desired forgiveness for her faults, the Lord Jesus accepted her, ignoring the protests of the 'respectable'. It ought to be a story close to all our hearts because, despite what we may think, we are all of us closer to this lady than we are to religious purity. That's what the church leaders listening to Jesus thought they possessed, but their unkind reaction showed very clearly that they were a long way short of what God desired. And every one of us falls short also. Mary is a good patron saint to have.
We had a lot to do with bishops last month and it was a pleasure to welcome such an inspiring and friendly person as Bishop Cyril to Harley one morning. Incidentally, several people have asked me, 'Why Bishop of Doncaster?' when, after all, we are part of the Diocese of Sheffield. The answer is that all dioceses – with the probable exception of the tiny one on the Isle of Man – have at least one extra bishop to help the diocesan bishop. By custom they are always given the name of a town within the diocese but – confusingly – it doesn't mean they either live there or have any particular responsibility for it. Just another to add to your collection of CofE bits & bobs!
Another thing we did last month was to take a handful of people on a mini-retreat. I think we all benefited from the peace and quiet, by the opportunity to worship together, and from the teaching on prayer given by one of the nuns. Everyone clearly enjoyed the experience, one is signing up for an event next year, and certainly Sylvia and I would love to organise something similar another time. It doesn't have to the same place, there are lots of options. Just let me know if you might be interested and – very important – tell me when you might be free to go.
Looking forward, during the summer we have our usual series of services in the Old Church. These are as follows:
1. Sunday 31st July 8.15 Communion
2. Sunday 7th August 6.30 Evensong
3. Sunday 14th August 8.15 Communion
4. Sunday 21st August 6.30 Evensong
5. Sunday 4th September 6.30 Evensong.
Do try a visit; those who come always enjoy the experience.
Church life is quietening down now for the summer, and maybe that gives us all the opportunity to recall what belonging to the body of Christ is all about – not lots of jobs and responsibility, but the worship of God.