Lent

 

LentPilgrim is the Church of England's Lent campaign for 2019. Drawing on The Beatitudes, it invites us to explore the unexpected and often challenging vision Jesus sets out in this crucial part of his teachings.

One of the joys of our being Called Together is discovering how communities across the diocese are living out their calling with creativity.

Lent is a good time to celebrate and reflect on those dimensions of our life together which seldom reach the limelight and which fit better with the counter-intuitive world of the Beatitudes than with management mantras about success and outcomes.

The following stories and examples from parish life in Rochester Diocese are offered as a complement to the national Church of England’s #LentPilgrim initiative.

The reflections have been written by the Rev Helen Burn, vicar of St. Justus Church in Rochester.

 

DAYS 1 TO 5

BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Marion's Story

One of the features of our contemporary hyper-connected modes of living is the pressure to maintain a high level of intensity in our living: more experiences, greater intensity in our relationships.

This is not wrong in itself, but there is a subtle temptation to pursue similar ends in our life together as church. More response, more commitment, more visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit, more…

It would be easy to cast around for examples of ‘the poor in spirit’ and identify those living with dementia as exemplifying this quality.

But perhaps the poverty of spirit is ours, and it is those who seem to be stripped of the riches of fast cognitive processing who give us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

Our poverty of spirit can manifest itself as dis-ease in the presence of those whose memories are failing. How would it feel to see those living with dementia as very close to the kingdom?

In Luke’s story of Simon the Pharisee and the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet, it becomes apparent that those who feel they have no needs are in fact those who are poor in terms of love and grace. Being radically dependent on others is a deeply human place to find ourselves, as we will all one day discover for ourselves. It is also a deeply holy place.

Julia Burton-Jones, Dementia Specialist Project Officer working within the Mission and Community Engagement team of the Diocese, has built up a network of Dementia Friends across the parishes.

Here Marion Cheel, one of her volunteers, tells a little of her story and how this particular beatitude has been manifest in her experience

 

 

DAYS 6 TO 10

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED

Lisa's story

It sounds paradoxical to the point of cruelty to commend mourning because of the comfort which ensues.

There are many, however, who would testify that the darkness of bereavement can bring its own strange gifts. The church is well placed to stand with those who mourn.

Dave Tomlinson in his book How to Be a Bad Christian describes his confrontation with his own poverty of spirit when he had to go and visit a terminally ill parishioner in his home.

Clumsily, he realised that there was no fixing to be done, no solution to the problem of impending death. What was required was that he simply be with the dying person, a non-anxious presence, neither trying to solve nor to fix.

More than that, he realised that he was not bringing the gift of his pastoral presence, rather receiving the gift of the dying person as they journeyed into a new dimension of simplicity and trust.

Recent research has found that we don’t experience death as often in our modern world.

Almost half of people polled by Dying Matters, a coalition of organisations including hospices, care homes and charities focused on bereavement, said talking about death scared them and 15% thought talking about death might make it happen.

Lisa used to be a teacher, but found God leading her to a new and unexpected ministry, which has changed not just her church activities but also her day job.

Watch her story below.

 

 

DAYS 11 TO 15

BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, FOR THEY SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH

Stephen's story

This is a not a straightforward beatitude.

Often we read it as meaning that those who are humble, those who don’t insist on having their own way but submit to God’s ways, are blessed and will be rewarded.

I daresay we have all either heard or preached a sermon along those lines. But what if Jesus is hinting at something more radical?

In this verse Jesus is quoting directly from Psalm 37, where the Hebrew text gives quite a different emphasis and could more accurately be translated as ‘the oppressed will take over the land’.

The situation of people referred to in Psalm 37 is not that of a spiritually humble and materially secure group, but rather those who are literally deprived of land and agency.

Reading it like that rather than in the spiritualised form in which it has come down to us via the Greek translation is challenging. The oppressed are promised the land - the Hebrew word for being promised is the same as the word used to talk about the conquest of the land. 

Who might the oppressed be in our communities and society? Who are the landless dispossessed of today and what hope might this Beatitude hold out for them?

One possible answer might be found in the familiar figures obscured by sleeping bags and cardboard in some of our town centres, and in the actions of those who seek their welfare in practical ways.

Stephen Ramshaw is the Lead Evangelist for the Church Army in the Medway Centre of MIssion based in Chatham. He shares details of a new invitation service they are about to begin for the homeless and how this beatitude speaks to his work.

Watch his story below.

 

DAYS 16 TO 20

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, FOR THEY SHALL BE FILLED

Modern slavery

Many of Matthew’s beatitudes make an implicit contrast with an opposite state.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are to be commended beyond those whose appetites are for purely sensual pleasures.

Lent is a good time to become aware of the hidden hungers which drive us- perhaps a hunger for affirmation, a craving to be recognised for our efforts, to keep up with others whose lives look so much more spiritually or materially successful than ours.

It is by owning these hungers, and allowing God to heal and transform our desires, that we can dare to ask for a deeper hunger for God’s righteousness.

Eucharistic Prayer G contains these words:

How wonderful the work of your hands, O Lord!
As a mother tenderly gathers her children
you embraced a people as your own.
When they turned away and rebelled
your love remained steadfast.

From them you raised up Jesus our Saviour, born of Mary,
to be the living bread,
in whom all our hungers are satisfied.

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is at the heart of the work of the Community Engagement Team.  A key strand of this work has involved the Diocese's partnership with the Clewer Initiative and raising awareness around Modern Slavery.

We now have a number of Modern Slavery Awareness champions in the Diocese, who available to talk to churches about how to spot the signs of Modern Slavery and to support those affected.

One of those champions shares her story about what it is that motivates her, and what it means to experience the kind of satisfaction this beatitude describes. (Due to the sensitivities involved in this work we are not revealing her identity)

You can find out more about this work and how to invite someone to come and speak to your church or organisation about the issue of Modern Slavery here

 

 

DAYS 21 TO 25 BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL, FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY

Pete's story

Micah 6.8 reminds us of the close connection in Scripture between justice, mercy and humility:

‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

And what dos the Lord require of you

But to do justice, and to love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?’

This beatitude suggests a cycle of grace, whereby our capacity to act mercifully increases our capacity to receive mercy ourselves.

It connects with the Lord’s Prayer where we pray for our debts are forgiven according to the measure of forgiveness we are able to extend to others. Knowing ourselves to have been rescued and shown mercy can often open us to being used by God as wounded healers, whereby our scars are able to tell a story of grace and redemption that gives hope to others.

The Recovery Course is an initiative running in three centres across the diocese, enabling those who are recovering from addiction to encourage and mentor others on their journey to freedom. Recovery course mentors know what it is to be shown mercy, and to extend that mercy to others.

Watch Pete's story. Find our more about The Recovery Course here.

 

DAYS 26 TO 30 BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD

The heart is critical for Matthew.  Matthew 6.21 reminds us that where our heart is, there will our treasure be also.

All over the diocese, prayer ministry teams seek to nurture that clarity and purity in the lives of  God’s people.

If our ministry is to be rooted and grounded in love, and if our mission is to transform lives, then the flame of Holy Spirit needs to burn clear and pure within us. In challenging times, with the clamour of opinion becoming ever more shrill and angry, it is not easy to remain pure in heart.

It is all too easy to be angry, cynical, fed up and disillusioned. The Spirituality Network trains people to act as Spiritual Directors, enabling the Holy Spirit’s light to shine into the deep recesses of motivation and desire and allow transformation.

Week by week, individuals around the diocese commit time and resource to training in this ancient discipline, in order to come alongside their fellow disciples and encourage  them in a closer walk with God and a deeper life of prayer.

This often hidden ministry is one way to rekindle that passion and purity of vision which is at the heart of mission.

The Rev Joel Love is the Vicar of St Peter with St Margaret in Rochester. He is currently in his second year of the Spiritual Accompaniment course. Watch his story below.

 


DAYS 31 TO 35 BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD

If peace is understood in the Hebrew sense of shalom, holistic well-being and freedom from fear, then peace is sorely needed by those young people who are coping with a mental health issue.

A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner said that, spending on children's mental health services - such as school counsellors and drop-in centres - has fallen in more than a third of areas in England, meaning many children faced a "postcode lottery" of provision.

How can peace be spoken into these situations?

Ian Soars is the CEO of Fegans, a Christian charity based in Kent working across the South East, which supports young people and their families who are facing difficulties; perhaps because of family breakdown or mental health issues.

How does ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God’ speak to him?

Watch his story below.

 

 

 

 

DAYS 36 TO 40 BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

 

The Matthean community knew first-hand about persecution. Being expelled from the synagogue was a deeply painful rift with the parent body of Judaism, one which arguably has never really healed.

Persecution is never sought, but suffering is often very closely linked to glory, as the readings for the Sunday before Lent testify. The disciples behold the transfigured Jesus after being told that he is going to suffer and die, and that they are called to share his journey.

Our link diocese of Harare has borne witness to a particular set of challenges around persecution and standing up to political oppression.

Jack Chimbetete is a TV producer and works in youth ministry in the Diocese of Harare. He also recently took part in an exchange visit with St Paul's Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells as part of our Diocesan Campanion Link programme. How does this beatitude speak to him?

 

 

 




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