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.
Names and identity
As I write this article at the beginning of May, the nation is waiting with bated breath for the name of the new royal prince to be announced. Born to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on May 6th (Bank Holiday Monday), their baby boy is very firmly the centre of attention, not only for the massed British media gathered in Windsor, but for news agencies from around the world.
The name that he will be given will help form his identity, as it has for all of us, and of course surnames give a stronger link to the past, links from which many insights can be drawn, and hereditary connections made.
Meanwhile, away from the royal baby watching frenzy in Windsor, the Prince of Wales departed for Germany on a charm offensive; a tour of that country designed to extend the hand of friendship. In these “single issue” times, it’s unsurprising that some commentators are spinning the visit as a push for a softer Brexit.
However, the Royal family’s relationship with Germany runs much deeper than the myopia of British politics, embracing a shared history and strong family ties. Prince Charles hopes to emphasise his own family links to Germany, and by extension to Europe, highlighting connections and traditions that date back to Prince Albert, and beyond.
The visit comes 102 years after the House of Windsor was created, replacing the family name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and effectively erasing the German connection in 1917, as the catastrophic effects of the First World War were felt. Identity was important, and for the royal family, a change of name was significant.
Delving even further back into history, the 4th century was a time when the Christian Church was in its infancy, suffering an intense period of persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Quite simply, identifying as a Christian could cost you your life. Stationed with the Roman Army at Verulamiam, was a Roman soldier called Albanus, who took pity on a Christian priest, and invited him into his home to protect him.
Albanus was so struck by the priest’s holiness, shown through devotion to God, and by his blameless life, that Alban became a Christian. Of course, the authorities heard rumours of this and sent soldiers to check.
The story goes that Albanus took the priest’s cloak and, hiding under it, took on the identity of the priest. When the soldiers removed the cloak and identified the priest as Albanus, the governor was a bit peeved to say the least, but still offered him the opportunity to save himself by offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods.
Albanus refused this offer saying, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” As a consequence of his identifying with the Christian faith, Albanus was taken to a hill outside the city and beheaded; the site of St Albans Cathedral today.
Amazingly enough, this kind of religious persecution still exists, and over the past weeks and months, we’ve seen horrific acts of violence against people who identify with a religious faith. The shooting and mayhem at the Muslim mosque at Christchurch in New Zealand, and the bombing of Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, are tragic incidents that demand our attention. Both acts of terror coming out of warped theologies, and extreme ideologies.
One of the heartening outcomes of these atrocities is the reaction of people of faith. Christians have stood outside mosques during prayers, and Muslims have stood outside churches during services. Heart-warming, moving and courageous acts of solidarity, out of respect for each other’s faith, and a recognition of the identity of our common bond, found in the love of God.
My prayer is that, as you live from day to day in this confused and sometimes brutal world, you will know the blessing and peace found in God’s love.
Revd Paul Willis
PS - As I finish this piece, the announcement has been made – we welcome Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor!