Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Prayer for Hope

On the Sunday of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Highbury joined friends from St Luke's for a United Service. During the service we shared in a baptism. Robert Pestell, Vicar of St Luke's and St Michael's led the service and Richard from Highbury preached.

This week has seen two remarkable centenaries that go a long way towards explaining why our two churches are getting together today and why we believe we have so much on offer not least to Mark and Louise and Samuel as we all share in this very special baptism service today.

One hundred years ago last week on the 13th January the Town Hall was packed as people came together to listen to a lavishly illustrated talk by one of the great celebrities of the day. It was as still happens to this day in the Town Hall a talk that was linked to the launch of a book. The first installment of the book came out two days later on 16th January 2008.

The book’s title was “Scouting for Boys”. The speaker at the Town Hall was Robert Baden Powell. The title of his lavishly illustrated talk was “The Art and Craft of Scouting”.

It was, as Felicity my wife, commented in an unpublished letter to the Echo this week ‘the spark that set the camp fires of scouting burning in Cheltenham.

Within six weeks the First Cheltenham Scout Troop was meeting at the then Highbury Congregational Church Hall in what is now a youth resource centre in Grosvenor Street. It wasn’t long before the Echo reported that Mr Arthur Joseland of the Highbury Troop became “the first man in Cheltenham to obtain a regular warrant as first-class Scoutmaster.”

One hundred years on The 1st Cheltenham (Highbury) Scout Group will be celebrating its centenary on Saturday 7th June at the Scouting Centre at Cranham.

And St Luke’s will be involved because of course for many years Scouts met at St Luke’s and then joined in with the Highbury Group.

That involvement of our two churches together in support of a young people’s movement brings us to the next of our two centenaries for this week.

One hundred years ago this week Spencer Jones, Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh here in Gloucestershire joined with an American Paul Wattson and came up with the idea of setting aside a week of prayer for Christian Unity from 18th to 25th January.

Here we are one hundred years on. The Anglican parishes of St Luke’s and St Michael’s in Whaddon linking up with Highbury Congregational Church to work together. We share a big commitment to working for children. It’s great to share with Wes through our St Luke’s connection and through Cheltenham Youth for Christ as this year we extend our Holiday Club Activity beyond the summer and into Christmas and next Easter as well. As the Open the Book initiative takes Bible stories into St John’s school so we hope to put another team together with friends from Highbury and St Michael’s to take Bible stories into assemblies in Whaddon Primary School and Lynworth Primary School as well. It’s great that St Luke’s oversees the St John’s school – and we think of them particularly as they have an Ofsted Inspection this week. I am so sorry, Robert, that I had to ask you to stand in for me in assembly next Wednesday and leave you to face the Ofsted Inspectors!

We have been challenged this year by an initiative called Hope 2008 to develop the work we do for the community around us. In fact, each of our three churches actively encourages and supports all sorts of community groups. From today we would like to get a small working group together from the three churches to look at all the groups that use our church premises and all the ways our three churches support the local community, from St Luke’s hall, the Highbury church premises, to the Cornerstone Project in Whaddon. Maybe we can identify needs among some of those groups that we could meet more effectively, and maybe we could publicise their work together for the community. One highlight in the middle of the year will be a Health and Well being event that we would like to work on together at Highbury exploring the way in which people in the community can be better supported.

It would be great to try to identify people who could work on this Hope 2008 project together from today.

We work together. Today we worship together. We also pray together.

It is in the prayer that we share that you can find what it is we have on offer that is so very special to all our churches, to the community around those churches, to families and children like Samuel here.

It is what drives us to work with children and young people. It is what drives us to work for the community.

The prayer we have is summed up in those words from Paul we read a moment or two ago.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,

The hope to which he has called you. That’s what we have on offer. Hope.

Hope can be hard to come by. It’s been a strangely disturbing week as the rains have come again and flooding has been all too apparent. There’s no escaping the issue of global warming any longer. A fortnight ago Mark Evans, one time youth leader and deacon at Highbury now Minister of Belvedere and Erith Congregational churches was telling us in the evening service about Andrew White’s work of ministry in Baghdad. That very day seven of the ancient Christian churches of Iraq were bombed. Somehow the uncertainties of our world with its terror and its fear come home to you. Personal things that happen in family and among friends call in question our hope.

It’s a funny old world that little Samuel is going to grow up in.

We need to look at that world with eyes that see beyond the surface of things. We need to see with the eyes of our heart. It’s very easy for our hearts to be weighed down, especially when we are conscious of all the troubles in our world. We need to see with the eyes of our heart enlightened. We need to look with a wisdom that goes beyond just what we can see with our eyes. It needs to be an inner wisdom that begins to see things as they really are deep down.

In a sense that was what was going on 100 years ago with that book launch in the Town Hall by Baden Powell that led to the Scouting movement.

One hundred years ago it was easy to despair at what was happening, not least to young people as they were growing up in a society that could be very cruel. And where young people themselves could be cruel.

Baden-Powell was concerned at the numbers of young men who had nothing to occupy them. The press of the day was swift to condemn those young people.

There’s nothing new is there!

But Baden-Powell did not condemn them. He did not deplore them for their idleness. Instead, he looked deeper, heart enlightened if you like, and he recognised that with the right opportunities and leadership they could become useful citizens, healthy in body and mind.

It was that ability to look at a world of hopelessness and despair and see it with the eyes of the heart that caught the imagination of that generation here in Cheltenham and all over the world in the hundred years since.

Where does that new kind of wisdom come from, how can we see with the heart enlightened?

The conviction we share in our churches and today share in this baptism service with Samuel, is that it comes from the God who is the creator of this world of ours, who through Jesus Christ not only maps out for us a way of life to follow, but through his death and resurrection opens up for us a way of living that’s rooted in love and in hope, and that nothing can get the better of.

It is as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory gives us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him, that the eyes of our heart are enlightened, we see in a new kind of way, and we may know what is the hope to which we are called.

My prayer for myself, for us all, for little Samuel …

Is simply the prayer of St Paul …

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.

That hope will never let us down.

I invite you therefore to join with me in making a commitment to share that hope through our churches into our community and into the world.

With God’s help:
I affirm that in 2008, I intend to bring:-

Harmony in place of discord
Opportunities out of challenges
Praise instead of criticism
Encouragement to replace despair.

We affirm that in our Church, 2008 will be a year of:-

Holiness and wholeness
One purpose for many people
Prayer that leads to action
Everyone finding a place to belong.

We pray that for our community, 2008 will be a year of:-

Healing for those who are broken
Order where there is chaos
Protection for the vulnerable
Enterprise for all.

We pray for our nation, that 2008 will be a year of:-

Health of body mind and spirit
Open-hearted attitudes
Passion for justice and mercy
Expectations and visions fulfilled.

We pray that The God of all Hope will give us the faith and courage to live lives that will release HOPE this year.

I make this declaration and pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Amen.

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