I’m leaving shortly for my annual treat of a few days in Gladstone’s Library in north Wales, a clergy haven where you basically live, read, eat and sleep in a residential theological library. Every year it gives me lots of ideas so watch out!
We are now well into the busy half of the Church’s year from Advent to Pentecost. As I write, I am relishing the happy memory of Candlemas when Ambre was baptized and Evie, Cecile and Martha were admitted to Holy Communion (and I was surprised and delighted that my anniversary of starting at St Mary’s was remembered too). Candlemas is a turning point, when we finally close the joyful Christmas/Epiphany season and take a deep breath before launching into Lent.
This year Ash Wednesday falls in half term, 18th February. I know that many of you are likely to be away, but wherever you are, please try to observe the start of Lent in some way. At St Mary’s we will have the usual services with ashing at 7.30 am, 12 noon and 8 pm.
Many people, of course, choose to practise self-denial during Lent, whether it is from alcohol, chocolate or some other treat. I’ve done this many times with varying success! The problem is that it focuses all our attention on our own efforts and our own appetites and pleasures.
Why not try something different this year? Instead of giving up something, why not look every day for the opportunity to ADD something that will make a difference to another person? I suggest we cultivate the habit of “loving attention”. It means first of all that we have to look up and notice other people. Visit a neighbour, run an errand for someone who is housebound, speak to a shop assistant, make up an old quarrel, phone a relative who isn’t on Facebook … there are many possibilities. For some people these things come very naturally and are already part of their daily lives. For others it will take some effort and imagination and a re-ordering of priorities.
Showing “loving attention” to others is also a challenge of course on a bigger scale than just our daily lives (though daily life is a good place to start). Our evening Lent groups this year will be using material from the Church Urban Fund called “Hope Actually” on the subject of tackling poverty and what the churches can do about this.
You will all know that St Mary’s has given a lot of attention to this subject from September onwards with our money season. There have been great results already – lots of raised awareness, a wealth of ideas from the congregation, many people joining local credit unions, discussions in progress with London Citizens, plans to investigate ways of signpointing debt advice and providing financial education to young people.
But the work is just beginning. This is an issue that Christians cannot ignore. The Archbishop of Canterbury is giving a lead but real change comes from the bottom up. Let’s start with individual acts of loving attention and with real engagement with the issues in our Lent groups and see what new ideas and commitments emerge.