We are a group of four Anglican parish churches who enjoy working collaboratively in serving the people and communities of Beech Hill, Farley Hill, Grazeley, Riseley, Shinfield, Spencers Wood, Swallowfield and Three Mile Cross. Our four parish churches are delightfully different in history and character, each offering a different take on what it means to be active, forward-looking, community-focussed churches of the 21st century. Each church also has its own style of worship, weekly activities and pattern of services that continue to evolve. You should find all you need to know about us as you engage with our website, but if you’d like to meet and talk something through in person… don’t hesitate to get in touch.
What do you think that saints are like? Are they dead or alive? Are they from the distant past or do we have recent examples? Do they have to have ‘St’ prefixed to their name?
So, what makes a saint? To be technical, the word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious.” The Bible is quite clear that those who form the Christian community, those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who can change our lives, are holy, in other words saints. William Barclay, a theologian and a professor at the University of Glasgow, who wrote many biblical commentaries, once said: “a saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.”
So, what is a saint like? I will look at a few who, down the centuries, the church has selected as examples. Let’s pick a few who the church remembers in September.
The song suggesting “let’s start at the very beginning” is a good idea, and one that we can put into practice, as St Matthew’s day falls in this month. St Matthew: a tax collector (a despised job in Jesus’ day) who became one of Jesus’ small group, later known as apostles, one of the four gospel writers.
There were a plethora of ‘saints’ in the early centuries of the church, where many Christians died for their faith – in this month we could pick out Cyprian, who became Bishop of Carthage in AD 248 – he was determined to unify the church in his area, but 10 years later was martyred for refusing to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods.
Moving on in time to the 7th century, we can pick out a couple of church leaders in this country. In our own diocese, Birinus was Bishop of Dorchester well before the diocese of Oxford was formed – but a local saint; and, also in the south, Theodore of Tarsus who was Archbishop of Canterbury.
This might give the impression that saints always came from the leadership model – nothing could be further from the truth. Take, for example, Giles of Provence, who in the 8th century was a hermit and has become the patron saint of cripples, beggars and blacksmiths – we know little of him other than some unlikely legends! More recently in the late 19th century, we find Revd Charles Lowder, a parish priest who spent his life working amongst the underprivileged in Wapping, then one of the worst slum areas in the East end of London.
Christians are charged with telling people about Jesus, and this can be a dangerous thing, even today. As examples of this − James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins, who were the first martyrs in Papua New Guinea, as they took the good news of Jesus to tribes that had a bad reputation − cannibalism and head-hunting being among their customs!
I am minded of the story of a little boy who attended a church with beautiful stained-glass windows. He was told that the windows included pictures of St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, St John, and St Paul. One day, he was asked by one of his teachers, “what is a saint?” He answered, “A saint is a person whom God’s light shines through.” That is a great way of describing saints.
‘Saints’ come from every century, every class, every occupation: so, are you a saint or a sinner? Well, we are all the latter in God’s eyes; but we can also become one of the former by following Christ in our daily lives.
May God bless you in the coming weeks.