Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ash Wednesday - so what's that all about then?

Ash Wednesday may seem to some an unnecessarily gloomy occasion - not what we want from our faith. With its emphasis on repentance - the confession has a much more prominent place in the service than normal - and the symbolism of the ashen cross that the priest puts on the foreheads of the worshippers, it is undoubtedly not "happy-clappy". This isn't how we tend to like our religion today.
However, despite the fact that I'm not by nature a gloomy or guilt ridden person, I do think there is some real value in this traditional beginning to Lent, perhaps especially for our society, which is so averse to anything sombre or solemn. Ash Wednesday is the moment in the Church's year when we deliberately remind ourselves that we will all die. Life is a terminal disease, as someone once said. "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return," are the words which accompany the "imposition of ashes" (the point in the service at which the priest makes a cross of ashes on the foreheads of the worshippers). We are part of the earth - we came from it and we return to it, however we might like to try to avoid this knowledge. Knowing that we will die, while a sobering thought, is also a reminder to us of the preciousness of life, and of the gifts it brings. It reminds us to seize hold of life and live it fully, not wishing time away or wasting it on things that don't really matter.
Our dusty, "earthy" nature is also a reminder that we are part of the earth, physical beings, dependent on it for our lives. Looking after ourselves means looking after the earth too.

It's not just mortality that Ash Wednesday reminds us of though. The emphasis on repentance in this service is also a gift to us. The ashes used for Ash Wednesday are made by burning the previous year's Palm Crosses. On Palm Sunday we held these high and promised, as the were blessed, to follow Chris, but the truth is that all of us, in some way or other, will have failed in this task. We aren't perfect -not because we are bad, but because we are human - but what do we do about this? Acknowledging and feeling guilt are things people tend to avoid like the plague, looking for someone else to blame for things that go wrong, because they can't bear the thought of dealing with such uncomfortable feelings. We load unrealistic expectations of excellence on one another and on ourselves, which we will never fully live up to, however hard we work.
Ash Wednesday gives us an opportunity to acknowledge our fallibility, and to hear God's forgiveness and acceptance of us as we are, giving us the freedom to pick ourselves up and try again.

So, Ash Wednesday may not be the easiest of days, or the easiest of liturgies, but it is a valuable opportunity - one not to be missed. Our service in Church, at 8pm on Feb 6th, will be a sung Communion service (the choir were learning a lovely anthem this week at choir practice), and everyone is welcome. The first part of the service will include the chance to receive that ash cross on your forehead, though no one is obliged to take part in this. If you haven't been before, why not come - as you are, mortal, fallible, like all the rest of us, to pray for yourself, and for our broken world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Children's Church Council

We had our first Children's Church Council meeting last week. A success I think. I asked the children to tell me something they liked about coming to church and something they thought we could do better or differently. I am glad to say that the first list was longer than the second, and that the list of things we could do better was all fairly do-able! The children wanted to do more in church - reading and praying and so on - and, being good Anglicans they knew they'd need a rota for this. So we made up a rota, and I had lots of enthusiastic volunteers to read and pray - if only it was as easy to get the adults to sign up to things!
We talked about the possibility of admitting children to Communion before Confirmation, something which is now permitted in the Church of England if the parish concerned wants to do it and come up with plans to prepare the children which satisfy the Bishop. Our children were enthusiastic, though a little concerned that they might get drunk...
There will be an open meeting to discuss this on Feb 24th after the morning service, and the PCC will take a decision later in the year.