In Stowmarket over 300 Christmas trees are packed into the parish church for this year’s edition of their annual Christmas Tree festival. Jean and I were the last Sunday so that I could preach at the festival service. If was like wandering into Narnia through the wardrobe, especially going up through the chancel to the crib in the sanctuary.
I spoke about the trees, though in their present form a Victorian innovation that came over with Albert from Germany, being part of an age-old tradition of bringing greenery indoors in winter, probably starting with cave-men keeping warm but becoming something symbolic, speaking of nature’s annual rebirth, and for a theist, God’s goodness in creation.
That goodness is scarred by the death as well as the life that nature brings. But that is not the end of the story. We decorate the trees with lights, and they speak not just of God’s goodness in creation but of God’s great goodness in coming to us in love into the darkness of death itself, and bringing life that is for ever.
I can remember when real candles were used to light our trees. Real candles are deathly wax until the light ignites them, and then they give themselves up to become pure light themselves. There’s a sermon in that somewhere: isn’t that just exactly the challenge to us each Christmas! to let the light of Christ live in us, and live so generously ourselves that in losing ourselves we find eternal life.
We were in Bury last Sunday for the Advent Procession at the Cathedral (which was wonderful, with a great performance, if that’s the right word, by the choir). To our delight the annual Christmas Fair was also taking place, which was huge, and we were able to buy most of our Christmas presents there and at the Cathedral shop. And it snowed! Actually, one of the shops had a snow machine firing the stuff out from an upstairs window, but it produced the genuine article, and was great fun for children of all ages. We also enjoyed the scary Morris men (or are they Mollies down here like they are in Norfolk?) this particular dance was decidedly macho!
Just surfacing after a remarkable day yesterday visiting ten clergy in the Colneys Deanery (think Felixstowe) in their homes, and then sharing some simple worship and a tasty supper with them. Each visit is 45 minutes, so that’s one long itinerary, but so worth it. Few people get that sort of chance to ‘helicopter up’ and realise just how the good of old C of E is still there remarkably thickly on the ground, ‘serving the communities of Suffolk’ and offering ‘enthusiastic mnisttry in every place’ as our strap lines put it - and for once they are not just rhetoric but reality.
After that it was good to be able to have a shortish journey back to Bishop’s House in Ipswich where we have now set up our ‘flat’, rather than the long haul back to Ely. Now for another full day of ministry and meetings and a clergy party in the evening too , and the sun is just rising over Ipswich. The view calls for a better photo than I can manage on the iPad bu that will have to come later. For now, Incan just enjoy a bit of literal ‘oversight’ and turn to my morning prayers.
There are a few spaces remaining at a free event in Bury St Edmunds on 10th December, exploring local community led services, European Funding and hearing from the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough and New Anglia LEPs. A packed agenda with lots of speakers from local, regional and national organisations, and opportunity for networking.
Please register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/org/3148882958?s=19508141
Any questions please get in contact with Emily.email@example.com
Just belatedly posted off my contribution to the Secret Christmas Card Auction bring run by the Friends of St Mary’s Halesworth in aid of their regeneration programme. Great idea, and so sorry if you end up with mine… The auction is one Saturday (7th December) at 7 for 7.30 in the church hall.
No, that’s not a comment about our many wonderful retired priests, or about the silver generation in general. but about those ancient churches of Ipswich Town who are no longer needed as parish churches, the population having moving into the suburbs, but who are still serving their communities in a wide variety of ways. It’s been great as I’ve got to know the town to see them in such good condition and still being put to good use.
- St Stephen’s is in use as the Ipswich Tourist Information Centre and has proved a very popular and successful conversion used by several hundred thousand visitors per year.
- St Nicholas was transferred back to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in 2001 for conversion to uses associated with the administration of the Diocese located in the adjacent Churchgates House. These works together with improvements to the churchyard were completed in May 2005.
- St Lawrence’s was converted during 2007/8 into a new cafe and community venue offering an excellent, convenient central location and appropriate reuse for this narrow and tall church situated between the principal shopping streets.
- St Peter’s achieved funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund under the title ‘Music for Health’ which enabled the church to be adapted for local concert, rehearsal and educational uses. This renovation received financial backing of over £100K from the Borough Council.
A lot of this is down to the work of the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust and their supporters. You can find out more about them at http://www.ipswich.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=119.