Are any among you cheerful? They should sing songs of praise, writes James to the early Christian communities.
I am feeling cheerful and ready to sing songs of praise this week for several reasons. It is good to be here this Sunday (with so many people in church), looking forward to hearing about our youthwork and to sharing a fellowship lunch. Despite the sadness of the refugee crisis on our borders, I am happy that we have responded as a community so readily to the appeal for the Calais camps, taking three carloads of clothes, food and toiletries to assist them, and that this morning we will donate the whole of our collection to Christian Aid’s refugee crisis appeal. I am also happy, it must be said, because on Wednesday Timothy and I went to Canterbury Cathedral to attend the consecration of the new Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham.
It feels like a new dawn in this episcopal Area. For those of you who have been involved in church in north London for a long time, you will be aware that this appointment has broken with a 30-year tradition of having a bishop who is firmly opposed to the ordination of women. Bishop Rob is a man in his early forties with a wife and three young children. He served his curacy in Willesden and was a team vicar in Old St Pancras, Camden Town for four years. For the past eight years he has been the Rector of Hackney. During the riots of 2011 he was confronted people who were engaged in violent disturbance and calmed them down. He has been proactive in urban ministry and community work. He is also a strong supporter of women’s ordination. He has a passion for outreach to families and children and will be supporting our all-age Bible Challenge across the Edmonton Area – you will be hearing more about this in the next few weeks.
It is wonderful to welcome Bishop Rob to the Area and to have a date already in his diary. He will be coming here to St Mary’s to baptise and confirm on 24th January. This is a reminder that it is still possible to sign up for the confirmation course that will take place on Tuesday evenings, led by Timothy and Clem, starting 4th October.
Along with Bishop Rob, we are about to welcome our new Archdeacon, John Hawkins, replacing Luke Miller who is now moving to be one of the Archdeacons in central London. John is a very old friend and former colleague of mine. We served together for four years in the parish of Poplar. He has been a vicar in West Hendon for the past 16 years. He is strongly committed to the Inclusive Church goals of welcoming people regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability.
So there are good reasons to be cheerful about our church life in the Edmonton Area. And what about our church life here at St Mary’s? I know I am a naturally cheerful person, perhaps irritatingly so, but I do feel we have cause to sing songs of praise about what is happening here. We have begun to put our finances on a slightly sounder footing, though it is very early days yet. It is still crucially important that every member of the congregation begins or continues to commit to regular planned giving through our stewardship scheme. If you don’t know what this is, please ask one of the ministry team or stewards to explain how to get involved.
Quite separately from our regular stewardship giving, the Friends of St Mary’s fundraise for beautifying the church and for our outreach work with young people and the homeless. Everyone is invited to take out or renew membership in the Friends and you will be hearing more about this in the notices. I am very glad about the energy and enthusiasm of the Friends committee and the many good events that are being planned.
If you haven’t yet noticed, a number of improvements have been made to the church building over the past few months. This is also a cause for cheerfulness. There is fresh paint in the Centre and the parish room, and new eco-friendly lighting in church. The PCC members who visited the crypt before our recent meeting might look to go down and take another look, because it has been cleared out and is unrecognisable.
Another new beginning that the PCC has approved is to make the side chapel, the Holy Spirit chapel, a place set aside for prayer after the main service on Sunday mornings. So please feel free to visit it and bring your children to light a candle, but let’s try to keep it as a place of peace and reverence, even in the happy buzz of post-service fellowship. Today it won’t just be coffee after church, but a finger buffet lunch to which everyone is invited, and a drink to celebrate Barry Greengrass’s significant birthday.
The PCC also asked for more resources to help us all, and especially newcomers, to join in worship, and so we have a new leaflet that explains what happens on Sunday morning. Feel free to take one away if you like. Another sheet tells you how our worshipping life continues outside of 10.30 on a Sunday morning. One thing you may not all be aware of us is that morning prayer and evening prayer are said in the side chapel every weekday. Several of these services are regularly led by members of the congregation. Every morning we pray by name for the congregation, going through the electoral roll, our list of members, each month. We can tell you what day you are prayed for every month if you would like to know. You may want to ask us to pray for specific concerns. And if your name is not on our electoral roll we can tell you how to make sure it goes on.
James in his letter reminds us to pray for members of the church who are sick or suffering, and we do this regularly. We also offer the laying on of hands for healing every Thursday at the noon eucharist. Every year we have the ministry of healing with anointing on the Sunday nearest the feast day of St Luke the Physician. This year that day falls on Sunday 18th October. Please make a note of the date and invite your friends to come with you to church that day.
The first two Sundays in October are also special. Next week is the Harvest Festival, when we remember the needs of homeless people by bringing non-perishable food for the Simon Community and toiletries for our own cold-weather shelter. I have been reading this week about the enormous increase in homelessness among young people in London. We need to remember them as well as refugees from Syria and Iraq.
And on the 11th October we’ll have another chance to break out into small groups during the sermon slot, as we did last year for the money season. This time we’ll be discussing worship, so please do read the leaflets before that Sunday and come with your ideas.
Returning to James’ letter, I want to draw your attention to one other instruction he gives, apart from the advice to sing with the cheerful, anoint the sick, and pray with those who suffer. James says we should confess our sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that we may be healed.
If there is a reason to come to church, and bring your friends with you, it is to be part of a mutually forgiving community. This is the place where we can admit to being human. In the world outside we dare not fail. Our society holds people to desperately difficult standards of professionalism, ethical behaviour, and sheer coolness. The stakes are high. Every day we read of people who have lost their job, or been shamed by social media, or ended up in court because they have failed in one of these ways.
But human beings aren’t perfect. None of us gets it right all the time. Even Moses had to put up with bitter complaints from the people he was shepherding through the wilderness. I am sure he would have been deselected as leader of the Hebrew people if that option had been available. And Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus had stern words for those who put stumbling blocks in the way of the little ones who are doing their best to be followers, but who are far from perfect. Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another, he says. I am not going to suggest what the salt might be that we need – I want to leave that with you as a question. But I am sure it is something to do with being part of a community rather than a lone believer, and with being cleansed and refreshed.
We need each other. We give each other cause for rejoicing. We need to hear from one another words of welcome, hope, forgiveness and encouragement. None of us can be forever cheerful on our own. None of us can keep up the pretence of being perfect.
So if you have brought a friend to church with you today, thank you. If you are visiting us for the first time, welcome. And if you are here for any reason at all, be sure that your salt is needed in our community.