Canon Roy Arnold
We had a good Easter in Bollington and Kerridge in 1962 at the three Anglican churches (St John’s, St Oswald’s and Holy Trinity) with a total of just short of 400 communicants. 400! They even ran out of service books at St Oswald’s. This year – 2015 – we had a total of 125 communicants.
Two years later than 1962, on this actual day 27 September 1964 in Bristol Cathedral, I was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. Sad to say, these past 50 years and more have seen a dramatic fall in the number of those attending Church everywhere. This hasn’t been all my fault and I can say that the Churches where I have served increased slightly in size, but the fact is many fewer people go to Church nowadays. Not only in the Anglican Church but in the Methodist Church and even the Roman Catholic Church and generally throughout Europe. Apart from the fact that people die or move away, I would say that this has come about by a massive change in the way most people live their lives, and shopping, entertainment and sport, car trips (or even car cleaning) take up a major part of people’s weekend lives and the thought of a Day of Rest and Worship have gone by the board. “For the world is too much with us… getting and spending” as the poet Wordsworth says.
Getting and spending… and yet, and yet… There does remain some hint of thought for others. I am thinking here of the generosity of people (church folk and others) when there are appeals for money in times of national and international disaster and in this we may call to mind Christ’s words from our Gospel this morning. Those words about giving a cup of water to anyone who is thirsty. People’s donations represent (albeit at arms-length) that kindness and care. I have a strong personal remembrance that when I was in hospital once and my blood sugar was down, the Night Sister said “Get Roy a warm milky drink and a biscuit.” You know, I have never forgotten this simple act of kindness, that someone had thought to give ME a drink…. as Jesus instructed people to do. I wouldn’t know whether that kind nurse was a church person or not but (as we heard Jesus say in our Gospel) any act of kindness and gentleness and caring counts, whoever does it, whether they be Christians or Muslims or persons of little or no faith.
That, I believe, is why we must not entirely despair at the thought of dwindling congregations, sad as the thought may be, and in any case – as I once read – trends in society may empty churches but may also fill them. What we must be aware of – whether we are ordained or lay people – is the danger of becoming stumbling blocks – as Jesus put it. We must do our very best to be reasons why people would want to come to Church, and not to trip them up on their way here. And, of course, we must try our very best to get more people to Church; simply this is what Jesus wants us to do – to hear the good news that He brings about the love of God and His call to share that love in our own lives, through simple acts of personal kindness and thought for others like that cup of cold water (or milk and a biscuit). Acts of kindness and gentleness and love to people of all ages; children, yes, and those with the care of children – but we must not concentrate on one group and forget about the others.
Looking back over these past 50 years, (I think,) in an effort to get more people to church, we have spent too much time on re-ordering our worship, and on new translations of the Bible and other General Synod preoccupations. But I believe that one thing from General Synod has been truly worthwhile, and that is the Ordination of Women and the hope thereby of a kinder and more gentle approach to Ministry and a more inclusive Church. But whether we are women or men-folk of the Church (lay-folk or ordained), let us remember this: we shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore we can do or any kindness that we can show to any human being, let us do it now. Let us not defer or neglect it for we shall not pass this way again.
That is for sure. We shall not pass this way again.
Mark chapter 9:38-end
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’