The major festivals in the church and in particular Easter are a good time to reflect on what has happened in the church over the last year.
One service that stands out is the Memorial Service last November that took place shortly after Kacey had died from her injuries after being hit by a car on the High Street. The church was packed with family and friends from Bridgewater School and as part of the service candles were lit for Kacey and others who had died over the year.
It was a profoundly moving service and there was hopefully support for the family in people from across the community coming together.
At Easter we reflect on the promise of Jesus: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) It is a striking claim and has a power. Life can and does leave people feeling a bit battered and worn down. This claim seems to suggest that change is possible and the promise of abundant life is something that starts now.
On the first Easter morning as the woman come to the tomb in all the uncertainty and fear about what is happening, the writers of the Gospel want to show that life has changed. The implications of the message “He is risen,” are fundamentally that everything is different and nothing can be the same. The change is seen in the disciples who are at present in hiding, grieving and living in fear, but will now how have to totally rethink what they thought they knew and what their future holds.
It is possible that there will be different ideas about what abundant life means. Abundant life can be linked very closely to material prosperity. Life in its fullness will imply having a home, a car, good schools, social and leisure activities, travel and all shaped by a fulfilling job.
There are Christian variations on this and in parts of America you can come across the prosperity gospel.
It is really saying that God wants to bless you and giving you the blessings of life in all its richness and diversity. It is an interesting idea and there is not anything particularly life enhancing about poverty, but is it what Jesus meant by life in its abundance, namely a flourishing market economy?
The problem with this model is that there are many people just struggling to get by and feeling stressed and tired rather than fulfilled and alive. The focus that schools are putting on mindfulness and mental health is recognition that the world that is being shaped by the economic system is actually hard and demanding.
When Jesus spoke about abundant life, is this, what he meant?
Theologians in the past have generally argued that what makes human beings unique is that we have free will and can make rational decisions. A full life is when we are able to exercise that freedom and make decisions and live with the consequences of them.
At one level we can think that we have this freedom but once again in the news we have seen how organisations like Cambridge Analytica can distort news stories and attempt to manipulate how we make decisions and shape opinions.
The Channel Four news analysis of Cambridge Analytica was profoundly depressing. Propaganda is nothing new, but the programme revealed that they didn’t even believe in whatever cause they were promoting. They would sell to the highest bidder.
Maybe it is a symptom of a bigger problem of so called fake news, which is a way truth can be distorted and free will manipulated.
When Obama was president he made a very good speech about in an era of fake news, ignorance is not a virtue it is just ignorance.
God has given us minds and we are called to use them and part of life in its abundance is an inexhaustible quest for truth.
One of the highlights of the year in the church has been services of celebration and also various concerts that have taken place.
The maintenance of the church is an ongoing challenge and in recent years we have had the organ fund and the roof fund, but the focus on concerts and using opening the church has been very beneficial.
The church is a place that we want to be open to the whole neighbourhood and to be a place where people enjoy visiting. (Okay to enjoy church)
I really enjoy the school services and we are very fortunate to have the link with St Mary’s, but it is great to have visits from Westfield, ERS and more recently Bridgewater.
The progress on the open church in this regard is very encouraging.
As a church we want to be a place where people can find community and belonging.
Part of this is opening the church and parish room for concerts, parties, film clubs, community groups, toddler groups, keep fit and a range of other things as these are places where people come together.
I always hope that the church can be a place where we can enjoy the arts as it is often music and film that can allow the expression of creativity and beauty that can make us most feel alive.
Years ago when a Vicar in Stoke on Trent the Bishop came to visit the parish and it was nerve racking. It was a small congregation in a huge church.
He went round meeting people and afterwards said don’t worry about numbers; the most important thing is that it feels alive. There is life here.
Wherever, Christ is there is life and we pray that we may experience that life in all its fullness.