I write this in the days leading up to our Patronal Festival at the end of September and in eager anticipation of experiencing my very first Houghton Feast! It feels both a great privilege and a responsibility to be doing that as Rector of St Michael and All Angels, Houghton-le-Spring.
The Feast, of course, had its roots in the celebration of the festival of St Michael, Patron Saint of our parish church. In my time here, I already have an idea of the huge importance of the event to the local community- not only for the people of the town itself from but from across the region – I know how it is eagerly anticipated by young and old alike. There is much to be said about events that keep us grounded in our historic Christian values, that help the community come together, that enable us to share in joy and fun together with friends and neighbours. Such events are perhaps particularly important at challenging times such as these for our nation.
I write (not for the first time) saying that this is a pivotal time for our nation: there are great divisions across society and our leaders (from all political parties and across the Brexit/Remain divide) seem unable to lead us to a better place. We are unsure of what our relationship with Europe will be beyond 31st October and, perhaps more fundamentally, we face choices about the type of country that we want to be in future. Drawing on our Christian values, being grounded in our Christian identity is essential for us I’d say (of course I would as a church leader!) All of this may seem the stuff that needs to be sorted at a national level by other people and yet I think there are a number of things we can do as a local church and as individuals that draw on our Christian identity.
First of all we can pray: for our nation’s leaders that they be granted wisdom and right judgement to take up the mantel of being truly public servants; we can pray for our communities for understanding and acceptance and reconciliation; we can pray for a future for our nation in which all may prosper and share. Secondly, the church can show what it means to live rightly in community: St Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 12:27) that each one of us are part of the body of Christ – a diverse body but a body that is one in Christ. At our best, we can show wider society what it means to be a diverse community that sometimes disagrees but that can remain together as community. Thirdly I think we can be prophetic in both words and actions: we can be people of hope (even when things seem quite hopeless) – we can see that a glass is half full when others are keen to point out it’s half empty; when we see injustice, we can be people who speak up and name and challenge injustice. Drawing on our Christian identity a d values, we can make a difference EVEN in challenging times: we can pray, witness to being community, offer a prophetic voice.
Through our annual celebration of ‘The Feast’ there is much that we draw on in Houghton stemming from our Christian heritage that still shapes our identity in the present. My hope and prayers for us, in our parish and in our nation, is that our Christian values and identity stand us in good stead whatever the weeks and months ahead hold for us.
With my prayers and best wishes,