Monthly letter from our minister
Each month our minister Simon, or his assistant Hannah, writes the introductory letter to our Church News magazine. The latest letter is reproduced here.
Previous letters can be viewed by following the links below.
My letter last month focused on prayer, that praying was an expression of compassion for the world and one of the ways in which God influences us to be agents of grace making known his love. As we now approach our national time of remembrance of those who gave so much to serve others, we might ask what we can learn from those who prayed in times of national conflict?
I have been reading about the Revd G S Kennedy, better known as the World War One army chaplain Woodbine Willie, and learnt that as well as handing out cigarettes to the troops on the frontline, he spent a good deal of time speaking and writing books to help the soldiers in the trenches and their families back home better understand Christianity. Through the experience of war he reflected much on the faith he held and how the Church communicated it. As men, women and children struggled to come to terms with the horror of global conflict, he began to sense that the Christian teaching offered before the war was at times of little help to them.
He saw that many felt deep discouragement that the prayers they offered did not seem to be answered. Many had prayed for peace in 1914 but did not receive the answer they hoped for. On the battlefield, Kennedy heard the desperate pleas of men for God to protect them from bullet and shell, prayers that were echoed by the families back home. Some did survive but many others died or were badly injured - where was God in all this? He felt that ministers like himself had implied that prayer “is a kind of magic cheque upon the bank of Heaven, only needing the formal endorsement with Christ’s name to make it good for anything”. Such a view of prayer he knew would lead only to disillusionment.
In his book The Hardest Part published in 1918 he wrote that just as God did not turn aside the lions that attacked Christians in the amphitheatre nor did God turn aside the shells that took the lives of many. “Christ never promised to those who prayed immunity from suffering and death”. Kennedy still taught that we should pray but what was its purpose for him?
Through the experience of war, he came to believe that at the heart of our faith is the suffering Jesus - in Jesus, God chooses to unite with us in our pain; the suffering Jesus is the ever-present Jesus who is alongside us in all experiences. It is in prayer that we meet this Jesus and know the comfort and the strength he gives us by the Holy Spirit. In prayer we meet the God who knows our sorrow or anxiety and who seeks to be the light in our darkness.
Kennedy wrote that our prayer should not be “God, keep me safe” but “God, make me courageous”, that we might do the will of God in the world. Our life or our death were in God’s hands, where we could make a difference was in how we lived that life. Our example is the Christ who prays in Gethsemane “Thy will be done” and steps out trusting the Father God to become hope to a broken world.
We may debate Kennedy’s words, especially in the light of Jesus teaching us that we should ask trusting that we will receive, but we cannot deny that his understanding was forged from real experience of life and faith. There is still a tendency today to see prayer primarily as the way to get what I desire from God, rather than a way in which God inspires and enables us to live sacrificial lives of loving compassion. Perhaps we need to learn afresh that prayer is a discipline that brings us into communion with the God who knows us and our circumstances, and the place where we find the courage to truly be as Christ in the world.
October 2018 Simon
May 2018 Simon
April 2018 Simon
March 2018 Hannah
February 2018 Simon