Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Janus moment - looking forward, looking back.

Tea-time on New Year's Day (not that I need to eat tea - I probably never need to eat again after all that has been consumed during the 8 days of Christmas which have already passed).
Time to see if I can actually revive this blog, and make it once again something more than just a holding place for sermons (though I suspect that the days of regular reflective blogging have been and gone).
Time to look back on the delights of Christmas and forward to the hopes of 2012.

Christmas first...
One of the things that I've found most confusing since I became a notionally grown-up vicar here, almost 4 years ago, is the huge variation in numbers attending worship. We can dip to under 40 or suddenly find ourselves soaring into the 80s with no apparent trigger for either extreme. We normally have a larger congregation for "Together at Ten", our informal Eucharist (which we used to call "All Age" til it was pointed out that calling one particular service "All Age" implies that all ages are not really welcome at other times)...but beyond that, there's very little rationale that I've been able to grasp. 
Last Christmas, with snow and ice abounding, we were expecting tiny congregations - and were pleasantly surprised by the numbers, though startled that almost none of our "regulars" made it through the doors. Reflecting afterwards, I decided that if you come to church pretty much every week then there's much less incentive to turn out in bad conditions......whereas if you only ever do church on Christmas Eve, it may take rather more to keep you at home. Who knows?
This year came the great excitement of a queue - a genuine QUEUE of real people trying to get in for the Carol Service at church in the valley, and the joy of looking from the sanctuary at a church lit by their candles - and church on the hill was also crammed to the rafters.
In contrast, both Crib service and Midnight up the hill were very quiet: perhaps holding their carol service on 22nd, those "C & E" attenders had had their fix already, and decided that twice in 48 hours would be too much of a good thing, though down in the valley the numbers held up well on both Christmas Eve AND Christmas morning, and I was delighted that a large majority of those at Midnight Mass actually received Communion too.
Oh, such things are balm to a vicar's soul!
When I realised that our "exit chocolate" consumption had risen from 1 tin in 2008 to almost 3 in 2011, my joy was complete.

And then, I came home to snuggle by my own fire, with beloved family, pets, and a huge and wonderful pile of books. Of such treasures are Christmasses made.

But after a week of blissful suspended animation/hibernation today saw me back in vicaring mode, and wondering if anyone at all would brave worship on New Year's Day.
Another lovely surprise - many regulars, two families returning to have candles lit on the anniversary of their baptism, and a couple of complete newcomers who "just felt like starting the new year by coming to church".
After great deliberation and dithering, for various reasons that seemed good to me (and still do) we celebrated Epiphany. Bitter experience tells me that there is NO chance of families turning out for a midweek evening service, even if I could be certain of a goodly number of the older congregation (which I can't)...and it's far too lovely a feast to miss, - so it was out with the gold, frankincense and myrrh...the latter a wonderful surprise gift from someone who turned up at the vicarage one evening just before Christmas, offering me gifts that she had brought back from the Holy Land to enhance the worship of local churches. 
We talked about the way in which the best gifts reflected both the giver (these were expensive presents from wealthy men: travelling from Persia was not to be done on a limited budget) and the recipient...Wondered what on earth would prompt anyone to give such very strange presents to a newborn baby, and agreed that they would not have been appreciated by our very own resident baby, B, and thought about the clues that they offered to Jesus' true identity as priest, king and sacrifice.
Then we moved on to think about the gifts that we could bring to that reflected ourselves and our that He had given us, which we could use to serve others....
And thus we found ourselves making New Year resolutions on behalf of our church.
Ways in which we could become signs of God's love for and presence in our community
Gifts to reflect the Giver and the recipient.
And the list is terrifying - because it so clearly comes from the heart of God.

So.......2012 is to be the year of Youth Work.
How, I don't know....but at last the absence that has been troubling me seems to be making itself felt among a much wider circle.
Time, then, to listen even harder to God as we see how to take this forward.
Prayers and inspiration welcome - indeed, anxiously sought.

Resolutions collected and presented at the Offertory, we took ourselves outside to chalk the doors. 
What? you ask...
Listen and I'll explain (this is lifted from my text for this morning's worship...please don't mind)

The Wise men were, as you'll know  very surprised when they saw where the star had brought them….it didn’t look like the right sort of place for a baby King to be born and and there was nothing special about the man who led them inside and introduced them to his wife Mary and her little son.
But, when they saw Jesus, they knew that he was the one they had been looking for all along. 
They found God in that baby boy…and so they realised that they could find God in many unexpected places and many unexpected people. They learned to look for him not just by following a star, but by looking for the light of his love shining in other people….and they carried that light themselves.

And that’s where we come into the story.
The light of that star showed the wise men where Jesus would be found…and today Jesus is found among his people. That means us…both as individuals and as a church family.
Jesus is found in this place...and so we mark the door of our church and the doors of our homes as a reminder.
In an echo of the sign the Israelites marked on their lintels at the time of Passover, to ensure that the angle of death did not visit their homes, this sign on the door shows wise travellers that they will find Jesus inside.
20 C + M + B 12
We use the initials traditionally given to the wise men C(aspar), M(elchior), B(althazar), together with the date of this new year...
The letters can also represent a blessing on our homes
"Christus  Mansionem Benedicat"
and act as a reminder that that, transformed by our own encounters with God, we are to be signs of his presence in this community.
So, we pray
O God, you once used a star to show to all the world that Jesus is your Son. 
May the light of that star that once guided wise men to honour his birth, now guide us to recognize him also, to know you by faith, and to see you in each epiphany of our daily  life.
As the Wise Men once sought your brilliant light, O Lord, so may we seek to live and work in your splendour.

O God of Light, bless this house and this family. 
May this be a place of peace and health. 
May each member of this family cultivate the gifts and graces you have given us, dedicating our talents and works for the good of all.
Make this house a shelter in the storm and a haven of rest for all in need of your warmth and care. 
And when we go out from this place, may we never lose sight of that Epiphany star.
As we go about our work, our study, our play, keep us in its light and in your love.
May we be Christ's light in the world. Amen

Then I send everyone home with some chalk to mark their own door.....and the amazing thing, for me at least, is that this simple action transforms the vicarage front door into a constant reminder of God's presence - in the same way the the holy water stoup at the church door reconnects me with my baptism as I come and go there.
If I can remember Christ's presence whenever I leave or return to my home, 2012 should surely be a good year.


marcella said...

we had fake gold and myrrh although the frankincense was real and did the going out and changing the world bit in the morning and epiphany with cake in the afternoon but it was all good, very good. Happy 2012 to you and to all in your parishes.

Crimson Rambler said...

Good to hear about your Christmas celebrations. We were happy with our numbers at St. Curious also -- and with the good energy flowing about.
I LOVE the chalk-ministry ploy, and plan to unleash it on the congregation and our (four, count'em!) children next Sunday. We did Naming this week, and are doing Epiphany next Sunday, arguing to ourselves that it IS, after all, "in the Octave..."
all blessings and thank you!

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Vicar at my parents' church did Christmas 2 and will do Epiphany next week, which I am pleased about as I'm preaching next Sunday, too, and that frees me to do Epiphany, too.

Perpetua said...

A marvellous reflection, Kathryn. I love the excerpt from your Epiphany liturgy with the door chalked door reminder. What a brilliant idea!

All good wishes for the year ahead and the calling to youth work.