“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” ~ Hebrews 12:1
Well, we’re into November already, and have survived (relatively unscathed) the first few weeks of the vacancy! Thank you to all those of you who came to Chris’ final service and lunch, and contributed to his and Sarah’s leaving gift. As I write, towards the end of October, there is a definite hint of autumn in the air. The leaves are beginning to turn and fall, and there is a squirrel busily burying acorns in my flowerbeds.
November begins with the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints celebrates those saints in whom the whole church “has seen the grace of God powerfully at work”. These are your ‘famous’ saints, like Peter, Paul, Theresa, Anselm, Mary, Hildegard, Cuthbert, Hilda – the ones that have their own celebration in the church’s calendar, who wrote theology or had their lives of faith, prayer, witness and mission recorded for a wider audience. By contrast, All Souls “celebrates the saints in a more local and intimate key. It allows us to remember with thanksgiving before God those whom we have known more directly: those who gave us life, or who nurtured us in faith”. These are the saints that maybe no one else knows about – like Auntie Jean (not my real Auntie), who brought snack packs of malteasers and other treats for all the kids in the church that I grew up in – who made us know that we were loved and valued. Like my Grandma and Grandad, who said often, ‘we can’t do much physically – but we can pray’. And they did. Like my college tutor who nursed me through essay crises and angst about whether God was really calling me to the priesthood with tea and biscuits, hugs and pep talks.
So I wonder, who are the saints who have shaped your life and your faith, have cheered you on the way of this Christian life, the capital ‘S’ Saints, or the little ‘s’ saints, the ones the church recognises and celebrates, and the ones that are known just to you and God? And how can we be those saints to each other? Not in the stereotypical sense of being perfect, performing 17 miracles before breakfast, but in the everyday loving and praying, serving and encouraging, that we would all be able to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us”.
One of the route markers for many people in their race of faith is Confirmation, which is an opportunity to affirm the promises that were made at your baptism, whether by yourself or by your parents and godparents, and commit yourself again to walking in the way of Christ. In the service the Bishop will pray for you, asking that the Holy Spirit would rest upon you, and that you would know that God calls you by name and has made you his own. One of the highlights of this month will be our Deanery Confirmation Service on Monday 29 November at Stowford church. We already have five candidates from the Benefice; but there is still time if you would like to be confirmed. Speak to me, or one of the other members of the ministry team if you’d like to find out more.
This comes with my thanks for all the glimpses of God’s grace at work that I have seen in all of you over the last sixteen months; and my prayers that we would continue to be a sign of that grace in our churches and our wider community.