Magazine Issue No. 35
February Newsletter – from our Minister
February is a month that marks the transition from winter to spring and as we see the days are getting longer and the bulbs beginning to appear in our gardens, so we too might start getting ready for the change in season by doing some spring cleaning. If like me you are a bit of a hoarder then this provides the perfect opportunity to clear out some of the clutter that has been building up and make a fresh start.
It always takes me ages to sit down and do some clearing out, but when I do I really enjoy it. First of all there is the delight of finding some lovely surprises in the clutter – a family photo amidst the papers, the scarf that reminds you of a particular party at the bottom of a drawer and secondly there is the satisfaction of creating space – being able to open the cupboard without things falling out and being able to shut a drawer without forcing it. Spring cleaning reveals hidden gems and helps us to appreciate the space that we have.
This month also sees the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday 22nd February. Lent is a time which is often linked with fasting and giving things up, but to me it seems like an ideal opportunity for a spiritual spring clean. As we reflect on the time that Jesus spent in the desert, giving up on all distractions so that he could listen carefully to God, so we can make use of the 40 days of Lent to clear away some of the clutter that keeps us from listening to God.
This might mean switching off the radio and television in order to take some quiet time each day, it might be about giving up a luxury to remind you of the blessings we take for granted or it might be about taking time for a quiet walk or some scripture reading each day as an opportunity to centre yourself on God. Our lives tend to be so busy these days that we rush around gaining clutter without even noticing until we have no quiet time left, but Lent gives us the chance to regain that sense of peace. As we do so we may find some surprises along the way too; taking space to reflect on our lives helps us to remember what is truly important and in taking time to listen for God we may find Him speaking in new and exciting ways.
As you clear away the clutter this Lent may God give you wonderful reminders of his faithfulness and the space to experience His love.
Self-denial > World Mission > Lent
In 1886 the founder of the Salvation Army was inspired by an idea of one of his officers had who promised to do without his pudding each day and the money he saved would be donated to the Army’s work abroad. (The very fact that the word pudding was mentioned probably indicated that he was used to having a somewhat stodgy diet and his health was probably better off by giving it up.) The idea was adopted and the Army introduced a week called self-denial week where it’s soldiers were encouraged to give something up, and what they saved they donated to the funds. Here is a verse of a hymn which was sung on these occasions:-
This our week of Self-Denial we as faithful soldiers keep;
By our consecrated giving wider fields our comrades reap.
Souls in darkness yet are calling, come and help us still they cry;
With our gifts our hearts outpouring, we will help them lest they die.
It started in a small way but quickly expanded to a financial drive when members of the public were invited to donate to the Army’s social work. House to house collections were made, flag days organised, and all manner of money raising activities were encouraged.
The period of self-denial though, was always in the winter when people going from house to house could get lost in the dark or slide on the ice. Other hazards could befall the unsuspecting as the following lines from an ‘odd ode’ clearly demonstrated, written by a wag in the style of the past radio comic Cyril Fletcher:-
This is the tale of ol’ Bill Lyle
Who went round collectin’ for self-denial
And when he went around the ‘ouses,
A dog came out and bit ‘is trouses.
Realising the difficulties of winter collecting, the Army changed it’s financial appeal week from winter to early autumn, and it also changed the name from Self-denial to the Red Shield Appeal. Up to a very few years ago, self-denial envelopes were being given out in the Methodist Church early in the year. Who coined the name or the idea of self-denial first? Was it the Methodist or the Army? It may have been the Methodist as the founder of the Salvation Army was once a Methodist preacher. The fact remains though, that even in the Methodist Church the term self-denial has fallen by the wayside, for we now have World Mission envelopes instead of Self-denial envelopes which are given out early in the New Year. This year in particular it couldn’t have been earlier as these were given out on the first of January.
The term self-denial seems to have been consigned to the pages of history, though it is to be hoped that the concept of benefiting others as a result of personal sacrifice is not dead.
There is a similarity between self-denial giving and lent in that both require us to ‘give up’ something. However, neither Self-denial, World Mission collections, or even the observance of lent are based directly on biblical commands, though it could be argued that all are observing the spirit of biblical teaching.
The fact that lent was not directly biblical, led some people during the time of the reformation to state that they would not be observing this tradition. Zwingli preached in 1522 that only the Bible is binding on Christians, hence the cantonal civil government in Zurich ruled that the New Testament imposed no fasts. Needless to say the Bishop was furious that the cantonal authorities practically rejected his jurisdiction and forthwith sent a delegation to Zurich to reprimand them. In the end, a compromise was reached and the authorities stated that ‘fasts could be observed for the sake of good order.’ Even so, the Zurich burgomaster laid down the rule that the pure word of God was to be preached, and thus the road to revolution with the Roman Catholic Church was fully open.
Lent is a part of our church calender and was finally established in 325 at the council of Nicaea. Prior to this there is no record of the observance of lent. It is a time of prayer and fasting in commemoration of our Lord’s forty days and nights fasting in the wilderness, although I have to wonder why we should all be urged to fast for 46 days and not just for 40 days. The readings in the quarterly plan for the seven weeks before Easter come under the heading of lent. In the Anglican Church a more sombre mood is set in the church by not decorating the church with flowers.
Unlike the Roman Catholic church, most protestant churches give their members an option on how much or little they as individuals are going to commemorate lent. In the Roman Catholic church they very often are asked to declare what they are going to give up for lent.
As we make up our minds how lent, by our voluntary action, can alter our life and spiritual perspective, our prayer is that God will help us carry out Paul’s directive to ‘pray continuously’, but I plead with you not to put on sack cloth and ashes and go about with long faces. Be cheerful and give happily!
Finally husbands, be careful how you mention to your wives that you will be giving up ‘washing up’ for lent. They may not like it; and remember you have to clear such a resolution with your maker!
Thoughts on Survival in a Faster World
Some words found on a gravestone in Kent, which say much about the dilemma we all face today:-
“He overtook the hurrying car, and the speeding van;
he tried again with a load of hay, and slowly passed away.”
I am sure my father had many faults, but he didn’t rush about all the time. He was born in 1893, one year before they opened Tower Bridge, “if its worth doing, then its worth doing well”, he would say. He tried hard to instil this into his three children, and you had best ask my wife if he succeeded in my case, she has known me now for 45 years.
My father came from a reasonably well off family in Surrey, where his grandfather had been the head of the Thames Conservancy during Queen Victoria’s rein, but the family lost their wealth when he was a teenager, and he suddenly became a marine apprentice in an Isle of Wight shipyard. This change must have been a huge culture shock for him, and the first job they gave this naïve young man was to sit across a propeller shaft at the back of a destroyer on the slipway, and for him to cut a large shaped slot, or keyway, into that shaft so the propeller would rotate when the shaft was turned by the engine. He hadn’t even known that you could cut metal with a saw when he started this, nor that you could chip out the hard bits with a ‘cold chisel’ to form the groove. Then he had to file that slot to the proper size. It’s a good job he took his time with this job, or that propeller would be somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by now.
When I was a teenager I took a metalwork course amongst other things, and I distinctly remember one time when I was very proud of a piece that I had made on modern machine tools that was ultra accurate. To my utter dismay, my father then made another one ‘off the cuff’ by filing it out of a solid piece of metal. The infuriating part from my point of view was that his was flatter, and even more accurate than mine was, so some of his old skills were still there 60 odd years later.
These older ‘skilful chaps’ have all but died out now, as has the practice of passing skills down the generations by example and nurturing. This was the basis of the apprenticeship culture in much of the UK in years gone by, but today there seems less pride in doing that sort of thing anymore. Maybe the general speeding up in the world has gone hand in hand with a reduction in personal pride in doing a job well. Whatever job that might be, from engineering, to the office environment, to computing, and even aerospace, pride is important, even more so with aerospace.
Personally I have had several distinctly different phases during my working life, from the initial education phase, to working within a large group of iron founders, to making steam turbines for the electrical generation industry, to running my own business in the aluminium sector. In all of these I have tried not to ask people to do something that I wasn’t prepared to spend a little time to learn and try for myself, at least once. This not only acquired for me some extra skills, and a deeper insight into the make up of the respective companies, but I found it generated respect and comradeship with the people as well. I can to this day distinctly remember many, many years ago standing on a platform up in the air pouring 20 tonnes of white-hot molten metal into a moulding box to cast a large engine for an American railway locomotive. That was a long time ago now, and once was enough for me I have to say.
So what message has this for today’s world – keep talking to the people who know what they are doing. It’s often said that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, and I am sure this is correct. You still need help when you do anything, because the people who often know the best way of doing it, are those closest to the activity. Much of the Japanese culture of making good quality goods came from a modern way of incorporating this philosophy into their everyday way of life, their so called Quality Circle approach.
So keep on talking to each other, keep on talking to your own family, keep on talking to the church, that’s the way to survive in today’s ultra fast world, and at your peril ignore those who are closest to the sharp end.
Best wishes to all for 2012.
From the Editor
That’s all folks!! Very many thanks to this month’s contributors and to all who have given me items over the last 3 years.
Alan and Christine Beesley will be taking over The Link after this edition and it will come out on a quarterly basis. Please let them have articles for the next edition.
Produced and printed by Lexden Methodist Church.