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.
Birth and Re-birth
Looking back to Christmas (please forgive me), I think it’s fair to say that we all, in some way, hark back to long-gone days with some nostalgia. We long for the trusting innocence of childhood; we remember those days when most of us were cocooned within the bosom of our families and protected from the harsh realities of life.
Seeing the expressions on the faces of the children, the dewy-eyed parents, grandparents and extended families at various crib and carol services, I have to confess that I yearned a little bit for the naivety of my childhood.
But I think we need to be reminded that we remember a Nativity and not a Naivety. The nativity happens in the context of reality and not through the naivety of the rose-tinted specs of nostalgia! Jesus is born along with the messiness, the pain, the tears and joy of any other birth.
Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem, thrust through the birth canal of an unmarried young mother, born into the precarious political world of a patristic age, with religious laws that showed little compassion.
In the Christmas story, we find people displaced by political decisions: Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary are part of a human caravan wending their way towards Bethlehem. Will they meet a wall or a welcome? If I had a place in Bethlehem and answered a knock on the door to find strangers on the doorstep asking for accommodation, would I offer hospitality and give them room? I ask myself, in what ways do I offer hospitality to the stranger today, and what will be the consequences if I do? A question for all of us, and also for the church.
Gerard W Hughes, the Scottish Jesuit Priest – author of God of Surprises, likes to tell the imaginary story of Jesus visiting a modern-day family. The family is absolutely thrilled to have Jesus in their home. They decide to throw a party to introduce him to their friends. They love showing off Jesus! The problems start when Jesus decides to stay, and in fact moves in permanently.
Jesus begins to bring all sorts of questionable types home with him. A huge amount of food is being consumed. The neighbours begin to grumble about falling property values, and it’s all becoming too much for the family. Too demanding. Then one of them has a bright idea. When Jesus is having his afternoon siesta, they will brick up his bedroom door. Then they will place a little altar in front of it, with beautiful candlesticks and a silver crucifix; and every time they pass the bedroom door, they’ll genuflect out of respect for Jesus to let God know he isn’t forgotten!
With the birth of a child, any parent will know that the bubble of pre-birth expectation is nothing like the reality! There’s no going back. Life can never be the same again, but moves on to present unforeseen challenges and the need for adjustments along the way.
God reaches towards humanity, shattering the meagerness of our human expectation. Jesus is born. The world will never be the same again. No longer distant. Jesus our Emanuel is with us.
Julian of Norwich, the 14th C mystic, said that at our birth we are not just made by God, but we are made of God. If we accept that we are indeed made of God, perhaps there is a need for us to re-connect with that; that essence of our existence which already resides within the depth of our being. A re-connection, a re-birthing of God into the sometimes messy, painful, and thankfully, sometimes joyful lives we lead.
What would it feel like for us to consider the radical prospect of being born again? Not in the sense that we need to become anything other than ourselves, which is a common misunderstanding of what being born again means. But instead, knowing that being created of God, and loved by God for who we are; God, the deepest essence of our created being needs to come to the fore again; opening us up to the possibility of the re-emergence of the radical, loving and inclusive God that lies deep within us. If we open ourselves up to the life-changing possibilities that will come with the re-birthing of God, our lives can never be the same again.
Revd Paul Willis