December 2011

Dear Friends,

An encouraging discussion was held at Harley Mission (the church's proper name) last month. Of course there were one or two items of business to dispose of, such as what to do about the sycamore trees growing near the building, but most of the time was spent talking about how to reach out to the community and to make our worship more attractive. One or two conclusions were that:

coffee will be served after all services, not just once a month, giving an opportunity to chat and get to know each other better;
whenever there is a 5th Sunday in the month, as there is in January, we shall have informal worship in the church room;
we may try to vary the communion service more, as the book ours is based on has lots of choices;
Corinne, one of our Sunday School teachers, would like to explore starting a village choir for young people.

You may wonder what does go on inside a church. Well, come and find out, and give us your opinion about how we could do things better.

Vicars need various books to do their job. A bible, obviously, and the prayer books which have most of the important services printed in them. Less obvious is a list called a lectionary. This shows what the bible readings are for any particular Sunday or festival (days like Christmas, for example). Until only a few decades ago this wasn't all that necessary for the Holy Communion readings, at least, were unvarying from year to year. Now, however, there is a cycle, repeated not annually but every three years. In my opinion, this provides much needed variety. It also makes sure that we hear a much wider selection of scriptures when we come to church. It means, for example, that each of the three years concentrates on one gospel, either Matthew, Mark or Luke (John's gospel is interspersed with all three, so is not forgotten). This coming year, starting on Advert Sunday, is Mark's turn.

I learnt a few things recently from a day about preaching from this gospel. Mark isn't the gospel that the old hymn “Tell me the stories of Jesus” was written about because the author includes hardly any of the familiar parables; he doesn't even have the Christmas narrative. It has one overarching theme, that Jesus is the Messiah or King. And its pages explore what that bald statement really means. It is the shortest gospel, and there is a great sense of urgency about it, from start to finish. Mark jumps straight in with, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and he ends, after the resurrection, with things hanging in the air, saying only, “the women fled from the tomb [and] were afraid”. The whole manuscript is an exploration of what it meant for this man Jesus to be the Suffering Servant, famously described in the Old Testament in Isaiah chapter 53, and what we get is, seemingly, an inevitable movement towards the cross. Neither, to quote another old hymn, is Jesus seen as “gentle, meek and mild”. Instead, he is a harsh taskmaster to his disciples, demanding they suffer as he will do. Who are the disciples now? Us.

So, as you listen to Mark this year, learn who Jesus is; understand what discipleship means; and let us, you and I, try to put this into practice.