Vicar's Letter

 

VERSE OF 2018:

 

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city”

Jeremiah 29:7 (New International Version)

 

Dear Friends,

 

First, many thanks indeed to everyone who contributed to the Christmas that we’ve shared in our two churches, whether by joining in with Christmas card deliveries, taking part in the Advent prayer times, reading lessons, serving refreshments on Christmas Eve (a big job!), and of course, inviting people to come along.  And thank you to everyone who joins, in any way, in God’s wider mission to ‘the poor and helpless, the cold, hungry and homeless, the lonely, the unloved… the sick, and those who mourn; the aged and the little children’ – to quote from the Carol Service bidding prayer.

 

I hope you will find this year’s Verse inspiring.  It’s taken from a very quotable letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Jews in exile in Babylon (c.595BC) that also contains the words “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope” and “You will seek and find me when you seek me with all your heart”.

 

In essence, Jeremiah tells the exiles to accept that ‘they are where they are’ and that this will go on for a long time – the whole lifespan of many of them.  And he sends them God’s promise that one day they will return to the Promised Land.  But this promise is not meant to distract them from making the most of their present situation, it is meant to energise them into leading good, purposeful lives within that situation, confident that God has not forgotten or forsaken them and will be with them every step of the way. 

 

It’s all a lot like the Christian life, isn’t it?  We know (unless we’ve forgotten…) that this present world is not our home, that inevitably we will often feel a bit like foreigners if we seek to live as Christ would want in all our various situations, and the thing we hope for most – the return of all creation, including ourselves, to the glory of our true Creator and Saviour – is hidden in His keeping for now.  Yet the hope is guaranteed by his many promises, and his idea is that with that hope keeping our hearts warm, we live in this world as those committed to doing the best for it that we can in Jesus’ name.  Our Parish Vision booklet says ‘Following the example of Jesus, we will bear witness to the God in whom we believe by serving in our working, social and community lives.’ This was based on one of the Diocese’s Strategic Priorities: ‘We are agents of social transformation... We will demonstrate loving faith at work in local communities (and across the globe) bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation.’

 

Jeremiah tells the exiles to seek the ‘Shalom’ of the city they live in: it literally means peace, it’s sometimes translated ‘welfare’, and scholars tell us it’s such a rich word that if we say it means ‘Peace, welfare, prosperity’, we’ve only just begun!  And of course we’re to seek the ‘shalom’ of ANY sort of community we are given to live in.  And there are so many ways of doing that.  I suppose I’ve been put in mind of it by:

 

  • a recent ‘meet your neighbours’ tea that some of us put on at the new housing development – no hidden agenda on our part, just that it’s a wonderful thing to help people be less lonely;
  • being invited to Mike’s commissioning on the 14th of this month as one of the new intake of Street Pastors;
  • being invited to be commissioned on the 10th by Bishop Jonathan as a workplace chaplain (at Ordnance Survey) alongside quite a number of other people, ordained and lay, doing part-time chaplaincies in such diverse areas as the theatre, further education, ‘Anna Chaplaincies’ with the elderly, and ‘Amber Chaplaincies’ (I think I’ve got that one right) with people caught up in the sex industry;
  • the continued pressing need which so many have for the Basics Banks;
  • the small church-based team who take the trouble to engage week by week with people doing community sentences.

 

All these things may lead to opportunities to share the Gospel verbally, but their main emphasis is always on loving people and being there alongside them, ready to help where needed.  An increasing number of commentators have noted a remarkable growth in the numbers of UK Christians offering themselves for the ‘shalom’ of their communities (or the ‘Common Good’) in a host of different ways, in spite of continued overall numerical decline.  It is clearly something important that God is doing with His people right now.  May God show us growth of both kinds in the year ahead!

 

May God bless your 2018.

Yours truly,

Julian