War Memorial Gary Trouton

Keith MacLeod's Newsletter

April 2004

A monthly update from Keith MacLeod

The Parishes of St Andrew, Northwold; All Saints, Wretton with Stoke Ferry;

And Christ Church, Whittington.

For more details contact me, Keith MacLeod at West Barn, Ryston Road, West Dereham

(01366 500960) (07766 766 137) (email: keith.macleod@virgin.net)

Diary for April 2004

28th March (5th Sunday of Lent)

9.30am Benefice Holy Communion

at Christchurch

4th April (Palm Sunday)

9.30am Service of the Word at All Saints

11.00am Holy Communion at St Andrews

8th April (Maundy Thursday

7.30pm Holy Communion and Stripping of the

Altar at St Andrews

9th April (Good Friday

11.00am March of Witness in Stoke Ferry

(starting from Stoke Ferry Car Park)

11th April (Easter Sunday)

11.00am Holy Communion at St Andrews

6.30pm Holy Communion by Extension

at All Saints

18th April (2nd Sunday of Easter)

8.00am Holy Communion at St Andrews

9.30am Holy Communion by Extension

at Christchurch

25th April (3rd Sunday of Easter)

9.30am Benefice Holy Communion

at All Saints

2nd May (4th Sunday of Easter)

9.30am Service of the Word at Christchurch

11.00am Holy Communion at St Andrews

Sunday School - All Welcome

There is a Sunday School during the main Sunday services at St Andrews Church, Northwold (except for Sundays with All Age Worship). This is open to any school age child living in the villages of Northwold, Wretton, Stoke Ferry, Whittington and Brookville. If you are not able to stay with your child(ren) please drop them off by 10.50am and collect them by 12.15pm.

Rotas for Church cleaning and flowers

April Christ Church: Mrs Clark & Mrs G Duncan All Saints: Mrs H Durrance & Mrs P Willis

As it happens, I am a member of the King's Lynn Festival Chorus - we give three concerts a year - at Easter, at the King's Lynn Festival and at Christmas. We are currently rehearsing for a Russian Gala performance on 28th March 2004. (This is before this letter will be published - so you can believe that this is not an effort at cheap publicity!) The music is absolutely mindblowing - mainly choruses from Russian operas - and we have a Ukrainian professional opera bass soloist to head us up. The music is so exciting to sing and to listen to. In recent years we have been very successful and our performances are always sold out well in advance of the night. BUT, for this performance, ticket sales are slow. Why?

Well, personally I am no fan of opera and would take some persuading to go to one. Also, Russian music seems to be a bit heavy for a whole concert! So those people who would come to listen to a good choir sing 'standard' choral work may be like me and easily put off from this particular programme. Our problem is how to let everyone know that it is truly magnificent music - with NO boring bits in it at all - marvellous tunes, incredible harmonies and passages of tremendous power - all from famous composers, such as Tchaikovsky, Borodin and so one. I don't know how we crack this one - all I can suggest is that each of us chorus members has to sell it to our friends and acquaintances as best we can.

I am telling this story because it seems to me to mirror, in microcosm, the problem our traditional churches have. I think this area is mainly Christian in its background, if not in its practices and that we do not have many adherents of other religions hereabouts. I hope such as there are, who happen to read this, will not be too irritated if I address myself to this 'traditional' majority. The question is why are there so few people in our Churches? The obvious and best answer would be that it is because they have little to offer that is relevant and meaningful. So, I ask myself if that is actually the case or just a conception - I know that we do have something to offer that is worth taking, but I also know that the King's Lynn Festival Chorus has something to offer this month that is not being taken up as enthusiastically as we would like. Do we share the same problem - that our immediate presentation to the public is almost automatically offputting?

If we offer an exciting Carol Concert (either as the Festival Chorus, or as a Church) we get take up. If we offer an evening of Handel's Messiah (either as the Festival Chorus or as a Church get together), we will get takeup. If we get Billy Graham to come and preach, hundreds will come to our Church to hear him. If I am going to preach, only single figures come to hear me. There are many charismatic Churches, which attract hundreds and thousands to their Worship and Praise - my youngest daughter attends a Church in Sheffield, where hundreds turn up to each of their four or five services every Sunday. They are led by a pastor who used to be a Blue Peter presenter. They also have very exciting bands.

So, I ask myself two questions - firstly, do we have to have a charismatic presence to get people into the Church in the first place and secondly, what do we have to do to keep them coming. In answering these questions, I do not need to remind myself, but I do sometimes have to remind others, that having bums on seats is not actually our objective - our objective is to introduce (or re-introduce) people to Jesus and have them develop such a relationship with him that they may well want to come to Church. In Victorian times, the Churches were full - but actually I doubt that many of them were actually Christians, even though they may well have believed in God in some vague way. The squire and the Doctor and the local bigwigs needed to be seen to be at Church and sat in their reserved pews at the front, while the farm labourers and servants crowded into the back, knowing that their jobs were at stake if they were not seen there every week in their Sunday best. We do not want full Churches on that sort of basis.

Let's try to answer my questions. We do not need to be charismatic personalities - but our message is charismatic. The problem for me and many like me is that we cloud and confuse that message with our negativism and lack of courage. If all Christians were prepared to stand up and be counted, if we were all prepared to have the courage to live by the standards of honesty and care for others that we proclaim in Church, then that would in itself make us attractive. We would then have the opportunity to explain ourselves to others, whether in a Church or outside. As with our Russian opera music, peoples' concept of Christianity is at best confused or wrong and at worst totally dismissive. But, like the Russian opera music, there is a lot to offer to people to make their lives happier and better.

The Church of England, for which brand of Christianity I find myself speaking, has especial difficulties and opportunities. As the State religion, we are organised in a way such that there is no square inch of England that is not within an ecclesiastical Parish, with a Parish Church and a Vicar/Rector/Priest-in-Charge. Those Parish priests offer Baptism, Weddings and Funerals to all their Parishioners as well as regular Sunday and other Worship and Teaching. They have some sort of right to speak to all, as well as a legal and ecclesiastical obligation to listen to anyone. At least that is the theory! In reality, there are far fewer practising Anglicans about than there used to be and far fewer priests (just as there used to be large congregations of non-Christians, so there were many non-Christian priests - younger sons of poor gentry, seeking a career in the Church, etc). The current perceived shortage of priests may well be actually illusory - based solely on the structure which we have inherited. So many (indeed most) priests now have more than one Parish to look after, more than one Church, more than one Church Council and so on. Many especially rural benefices, such as ours) find themselves without a priest at all for lengthy periods of time.

I have said what our problems are, in the expectation that many readers will be interested in what is happening to their village Churches, even if they are irregular or total non attenders at them. WATCH THIS SPACE. We are planning to introduce a structure with a larger group of Parishes, with a team of ministers - ordained and lay - who will be able to meet the needs of all in the Parishes concerned. When any member of that team leaves for whatever reason, it will NOT lead to an interregnum, because the team will survive. Our challenge is to be prepared to meet together as Church members and so enthuse each other that our Services will not seem as impoverished as they sometimes are nowadays and so that we are all true witnesses to the message of the Gospel of Christ which we want to share - but in an attractive and non-threatening way. The Churches with small congregations (sometimes they have become non-viable!) need to be prepared to travel to other local Churches more often and to host those coming to their Church. Those Churches with 'healthy' congregations are going to have to face up to the needs of their neighbours and welcome them in and provide mission.

All of us need to make it clear that Christianity is not stupid or threatening - that it is essentially a message of love that provides the strength to make more of sometimes very difficult lives. Also, we need to be more generous and to recognise that there are different ways of presenting the same message. The joy and community spirit of Downham Market Christian Fellowship really grabs some people and they find Jesus. The softer, more contemplative, worship of the local Methodist or Anglican Church may be more acceptable to many. Moreover, very traditional and formal worship is available in several local Anglican and Catholic Churches. The underlying message is the same. For those who want their Churches to continue to occupy a central place in village life and to be there for the Rites of Passage services of baptism, marriage and funeral, it is necessary that however boring or irrelevant the life of their Church may seem to be, that they come forward and help to re-invigorate and enliven that life. In the process, we would hope that many would re-discover or renew their faith - or even discover it for the first time. Even if not, the social fabric of the village will be maintained and enhanced.

Keith MacLeod

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