What do I bring to my community?

My wife and I are having a debate today. We are looking out the window at around 10cm of snow in the churchyard. She says “it’s beautiful”. I say “it’s a pain”.

I know I’m being a grump. I always am when it comes to snow. Maybe it’s because of that sledging accident as a kid which broke my nose. But my concerns are more pragmatic. As a Vicar, I’m very conscious that there were three funerals to do this week, one of which was a burial. I need to get to the Crematorium for the others and it really won’t do if I’m late or, perish the thought, can’t make it at all.

But I’m also very conscious in this role of those who are housebound or fragile. For them, the snow and the perils it may introduce into their weekly procurement of supplies is no laughing matter. It is why our church pastoral team, along with me, have been making a whole bunch of phone calls today and yesterday – checking in on the elderly members of our church community (and those who are not ‘elderly’ but may have other challenges) and ensuring that they have bread, milk, water food, toilet roll or whatever essentials of life they might need. What we want to avoid is an unnecessary and treacherous walk on ice for someone who can ill-afford to slip and fall.

It’s all got me thinking about volunteering. The strength of a real “community” lies in its ability to think about others and look beyond your own interests to the needs of others. What a place it would be to live when any potential ‘weak link’ in the chain is helped and strengthened and enabled.

It leaves me wondering whether I can challenge all of us this Lent to ponder “what is it that I can do for my local community”?

There’s certainly opportunities in our churches – pastoral care, visiting the sick or elderly, prayer support, children, the buildings, our churchyard wall volunteer project in Offham, the churchyard maintenance crew in West Malling.

But there are plenty of opportunities for those of us who feel we have a loose or even no affiliation with the Christian faith. Even in the pages of this month’s magazine, West Malling is looking to raise money to repair the War Memorial and our friends in Ryarsh are rising up to fight proposals for a new quarry in the village.

Some of us might not feel we have much to offer, but I would want to challenge that wholeheartedly. I look at young mums and then see the wisdom and experience of elderly women and I’m thinking “how can I help this group of people to learn from and be supported by this other group of people”? Just because you are old (or young) shouldn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

And all of this public-spirited assistance is good for your career too. The World Economic Forum recently wrote about the importance of ‘skills-based volunteering’ or SBV.

In a world where nearly half of jobs could be potentially automated, either now or in the future, it’s important to stand out from the crowd and keep gaining skills that may be useful in the labour market.

All this is nothing new. Whether you call these activities ‘pro-bono’, ‘skill-sharing’ or ‘civic entrepreneurship’, the challenge before us is to give of our time and our talents to improve society on a voluntary basis, and with no financial gain.

It’s about more than just signing a petition or making a donation. Sometimes you may well contribute your skills and your time to something already going on. I’ve already mentioned a few things going on locally that you could take part in.

But I would love to think I live in and serve two communities where there is such a groundswell for this kind of thing that people are empowered to team up with other neighbours, share their talents and entrepreneurially find their own new ways to benefit ‘the common good’.

It might be public health, climate change, education, accountability of local government, the church, local services, care of the elderly, mental health, the local ecology and wildlife.

And don’t tell me you don’t have the time. If you have time to sit in front of the telly for more than four hours a week, you have time to take an hour or a couple of hours each week to make a difference!

So instead of giving something up for Lent this year, could you take something on? Make West Malling, Offham or Kings Hill an even better place to live, and gain some useful experience and skills in the process?

Rev David Green

Advent: trust the process

A photo of Nick Saban in action coaching.Nick Saban is recognized as one of the best coaches in university American Football. He has won five national championships. In his career, his teams have won nearly 80% of the games he has coached; a great record.

His defining and highly successful philosophy is what he calls “The Process”. Instead of asking his players to focus on winning the next game, he asks them to focus on what the next action is. The next drill. The next play. To Saban, it’s not the outcome that’s important, it’s the “process”.

In his own words:

“We try to define the standard that we want everybody to work toward, adhere to, and do on a consistent basis… being responsible for your own self-determination, having a positive attitude, having great work ethic, having discipline to be able to execute on a consistent basis, whatever it is you’re trying to do, those are the things that we try to focus on, and we don’t try to focus as much on outcomes as we do on being all you can be.”

Saban has recovered something that I think our nation has sadly lost, and that loss is never more apparent in the UK than in the run-up to Christmas. To our considerable detriment, we have become all about the end goal.

We all have goals. We want to write a novel, go on a diet and lose a stone, become an entrepreneur, retire early, have children. Sometimes the goals are easier to realise – we want to celebrate a lovely Christmas with family and friends, sparkly lights, turkey and trimmings, fizz and maybe a Carol or two.

But if we live life from goal to goal, we can fall into the trap of only being happy when we reach that desired end. If all you want is a wife, it feels ‘less than’ until you get what you want. Romance, getting to know one another, enjoying the friendship? Love is cheapened and we treat it cheaply.

Sometimes our goals aren’t within our control. I can’t make someone publish my book. If the outcome doesn’t meet my expectation, if I’m all about the goal, I will feel disappointed. I end up either aiming for things I know I can guarantee (so I am never disappointed) or I don’t try at all.

Sometimes we aim arbitrarily. We want to lose a stone, and then get disappointed when we only lose 9 pounds. We are robbed of the joy which should have been ours.

But if we focus instead on the “Process”, we get to enjoy the journey. Furthermore, if and when the goal is reached, there isn’t an enormous anti-climax because it was never entirely about the goal anyway.

So ignore Christmas Lights in November, John Lewis TV adverts and Black Friday deals. Eliminate the clutter! Embrace Advent! Welcome the “Process”! Prepare in that traditional and ancient sense that our forebears understood and we have lost.

Christmas will come. It starts on the 25th of December. But the message of Advent and one that will serve you well with your New Year Resolutions too, is that it is the journey that matters. Don’t fret for end results. Enjoy your Advent and, when it comes, may “the Process” bring you greater blessing this Christmas!

Rev David Green

We grieve by remembering, not forgetting

A photo of the candle tributes at the Memorial Service 2012As the Christian year moves to its conclusion, we mark the festivals of All Saints and All Souls and start to turn our gaze heavenward.

It’s always struck me as entirely appropriate, therefore, that the signing of the armistice on the 11th of November 1918 happens to fall in this season of the year when our spiritual focus is on what lies beyond this world we know.

For soldiers who fell and for the friends who did not, the chance to remember in the context of a focus on heaven means we again are compelled to remember that this world is deeply broken, and that war is simply one symptom of a more fundamental human malaise. But it also means we look forward with hope. The notion of Heaven is to us who believe a chance to say that what we see is not all there is to know, and a brighter day will dawn.

For those who have served, that is a message that applies to our current world too. When you face hell on earth in war, it’s important to know that you’re fighting for something good and true and better than what you are knowing in that present moment. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But this season of the year, for a Christian, is not just about the 11th of November and Remembrance Sunday; important and vital to our nation as those acts of remembering may be.

Because of that heavenly focus in what some people call “Kingdom Season”, it also tends to be the time each year in which Annual Memorial services are held and those who have suffered grief or loss of any kind are given space and time to remember.

Those who live with grief know that it’s not a case of trying to ‘get over’ or ‘forget’ the pain of loss. Time is no healer either. When someone dies, you can’t deal with grief in a healthy way by forgetting. Paradoxically, we get through our grief by remembering.

It’s for exactly those reasons that it is such a privilege to be involved in the annual hosting of two special services at this time of year.

In Loving Memory offers a particular opportunity for parents who have suffered a miscarriage, still-birth or lost a child early in life. The service is relatively short and relatively quiet compared to some. But what it offers is an incredible, valuable, hallowed space for men and women to take the top off their feelings and give them over prayerfully to God.

Meanwhile, the Annual Memorial Service has a wider focus. For families who have recently suffered a bereavement of any kind – whether husband or wife, mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, cousin, friend – we come together as one to read their names and light candles in their memory.

It sounds simple but in such acts of remembering, space is given to grief and mourning, the love we hold for those people is cherished once more, and with hope we turn our focus to a day when we may well see them once again.

Rev David Green

From those given much, much is expected

In West Malling and in Offham this month, we will be marking the traditional celebration of the Harvest.

While most of us may not have the task of literally gathering in the year’s wheat and grain, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, turnips, cabbages and all the rest, I believe it is still a festival with great meaning because it gives us all a chance to reflect and give thanks for the many, many good things in our lives.

It’s easy to look around us, especially in relatively affluent communities like ours, and compare ourselves and feel a sense of poverty. Their car is newer than mine, their house is bigger than mine, their clothes are more fashionable than mine, the meal on their table looks tastier than mine.

But if you want to truly play a game of comparisons, let me remind you of these facts.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… you are blessed, you are better off than three billion people in the world.

If you are able to read this, you are better off than some two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the fear and loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pain of starvation … you are better off than 500 million people in the world.

If you can go to a tap and get clean, safe drinking water, you are better off than 9% of the world’s population. If you have a place to shelter from the wind and the rain, you are better off than 22% of the world’s population who have no such luxury today.

If you have an Internet connection, you’re better off than 60% of the world’s population.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you are richer than 75% of the people in this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and some spare change in a dish somewhere in your house… you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

So before you go green with envy over the latest Maserati or Mitsubishi, or jealously covet your neighbour’s Versace, Chanel or Prada, just be reminded that you have many, many blessings and it is a good thing to be grateful for all that we have received.

But here’s the kicker, Jesus also taught that to those who have received much, much will be expected. In other words, there’s a second thought which is as important as the first. If you can be genuinely thankful for all that you have received, you ought not to be satisfied with just that knowledge. Instead, Jesus taught that we should respond by sharing what we have with others.

In God’s Kingdom, the promise is that everyone will have plenty. When we are generous, we pull God’s Kingdom into the world we know. As Jesus prayed “let your Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven”.

Rev David Green

Going back to school

To be entirely honest and truthful, I was something of a tearaway in my teenage years. My mum was a teacher and the influence strong, but I seemed to swing between dutiful and studious son and rebellious, gobby and wayward oik.

However, one thing at school where I always seemed to excel was languages. I enjoyed learning French and carried on my German through A Level (got a B) and did a year at University too. It proved very useful in borrowing theological books. I had the shelf of German theologians like Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar pretty much all to myself!

In September the children go ‘back to school’, but this year I think I need to make more of a commitment to my own life-long learning. God gave each of us a brain and I think he would expect us to use it and cherish its incredible potential to continue learning, even when we’re old and grey.

When I was training for the ministry, I always thought to myself that such an amazing place as Cambridge University was wasted on teenagers. Most of them had no idea how good they had it. What a gift and privilege it is to learn and to grow. Not every human being in this world has been blessed as we have.

We had a holiday in France this Summer and while I can sort of get by, it’s not long before I’m starting to plaintively whimper parlez-vouz Anglais? Each year, I come back promising myself that I really must get studying… learn and revise the vocabulary, put myself in the way of some French conversations, maybe take a class. It’s such an incredible gift to communicate with people in their own language and idiom and I love the thought of actually being fluent.

I’m not sure that I will be able to use it much for communication and conversation, but I’ve enrolled on one of the Biblical Languages classes that St Augustine’s College will be running in West Malling this Autumn. I did quite a bit of biblical Hebrew at University as my part of my undergraduate degree but my New Testament Greek has always been a bit sketchy so I’m going to start at the beginning and see how far I can get. My goal is to read John’s Gospel and be able to understand it, in Greek. There’s a big target!

I’ve also been asked to teach a course this year – helping the new Lay Ministry candidates in the Diocesan centre at West Malling Abbey to consider ‘God’s Word and the World’ – an ethics course of sorts. So I will be a teacher this year, as well as a student.
The ancient wisdom of the Book of Proverbs advises that:

“the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”

Perhaps this September, it’s time for all of us to think about how we might go ‘back to school’?

Rev David Green

The wisdom of the Beatitudes for today

An image from a recent movie depicting Jesus giving the Sermon on the MountWestminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower, Finsbury Park. An election in which the winners feel like they lost, and the losers feel like they won. Oh, and a weakened Government must not enter the most important international negotiation we’ve had since the Second World War.

“Keep calm and carry on” doesn’t quite seem enough to me at the moment. “A nice cup of tea” helps, but only goes so far.

In the Lectionary this Summer, our focus will be in Matthew’s Gospel and in chapter 5, perhaps the most famous of them all, I find Jesus’ blessings giving wisdom for the current age.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. This is a time to acknowledge dependence from the place of prayer, rather than make pompous pronouncements. There are issues here that are way beyond trite or simplistic solutions.

‘Blessed are those who mourn’: we need to mourn with those who mourn for no other reason than because we stand with those who suffer.

‘Blessed are the meek’: a crisis can bring out both the best or the worst. Meekness has no agenda: it listens, seeks wisdom and neither shouts nor screams.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’: There are so many crying for justice at the moment, but legitimate demand for justice must not be diverted into revolt and disorder. Anger and revenge will help no-one.

‘Blessed are the merciful’: as J John has put it “to be merciful is the authentic and caring desire to put others first and seek their welfare.” I’m encouraged by every story of human kindness amidst the tragedies, but there needs to be more and it needs to persist when the cameras have gone.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart’: our motives when there is call for change can be complex. We must be sure that in what we say and do, we are truly seeking the welfare of others and not serving ourselves.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’: perhaps the most distressing element of these times is the sense of disunity; of factions, of communities talking in increasingly bitter terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Our world needs brave, humble, meek peacemakers.

And finally ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.’ The last and longest of the Beatitudes is the sting in the tail. To do these things, Jesus says, is no easy path to popularity and acclaim. Putting yourself on this path will cause enemies to rise up; those who trying to solve our problems in a very different way.

To be a peacemaker is to be assured of being mistrusted, hated and attacked by both sides. Jesus, lived out what he taught. He knew what he was talking about.

Rev David Green

Hat-tip to J John, whose words inspired and gave shape to this article. Read more of his work at canonjjohn.com

Make sure love wins

Arian Grande singing live in ManchesterWe have suffered many terror attacks over many years, but the horrific and callous attack on the MEN Arena in Manchester on the evening of the 22nd of May has felt different to me, and I’ve been trying to work out why it has felt different.

I think the reason is to do with the intended targets. My children are now 12, 10 and 9 and they have grown up with Ariana Grande. She was a Nickelodeon children’s TV actor before she became a pop star and so, for my kids’ generation, she is a familiar and trusted face. As their Dad, I know of Ariana in a way that I couldn’t tell you about 101 other singers and pop groups currently in the charts.

It’s no wonder that major arenas in the UK have sold out and been filled by pre-teens, teens and their parents. Indeed, earlier this year, there was a time when it looked like my daughter might be getting a ticket to go to the o2 this week and watch Ariana on her big world tour.

Because I know a bit about Ariana and the kids that enjoy her acting and music, it’s been obvious to me that an Extemist, a Terrorist, choosing to attend that particular venue on that particular evening is a deliberate attempt to attack children.

I can’t think of a more cowardly act. It is a heinous crime against humanity, and against one’s own soul even, to think such little ones are legitimate targets.

It is also a crime that has got my children’s attention in a way that they might otherwise have noticed considerably less; particularly my daughter who could, if the fates had worked slightly differently, been one of those girls singing along in the crowd.

When I was my children’s age, the IRA were blowing up the Grand Brighton Hotel, Harrods, Airey Neave and members of the Household Cavalry. I remember being scared but also not really understanding. London felt a long way away somehow. Further than it feels in our modern world.

But what also strikes me now is that when the IRA carried out such atrocities, everyone knew that Irish Catholic people were not all monsters. No-one was suggesting Irish Priests should be arrested or lynched. We were able to differentiate between the radical extremism of a very small minority and the vast majority of law abiding people those extremists ‘claimed’ to represent.

Extremists like the one who blew himself up in Manchester have swallowed a bastardised version of Islam. They should not be allowed to claim to represent the vast majority of law abiding Muslim people who make their home in this country.

If we allow extremists to sow hatred and mistrust of Muslims in our nation, we give them a sickening victory.

Love your neighbour. Even those who look and sound different to you. Welcome the stranger. For in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it. Above all, forgive… and do your part to make sure love wins.

Rev David Green

A person for whom I want to vote

The recent Government decision to call a snap election has certainly excited the media.  Listening to the radio on the morning of Mrs May’s announcement, the various pundits and commentators sounded positively cockahoop at the prospect of six weeks of political debate, discussion and argument.

I think a good few of us are a little more like Brenda from Bristol. You may have seen the clip of her reaction on social media. When a BBC reporter told her that an election had been announced, she exclaimed “You’re joking! Not another one! I can’t stand this. Too much politics going on at the moment.”


I’m sometimes asked whether there is a ‘Christian’ way to vote and what should one prioritise as we carefully consider our options.

It’s sometimes been joked that the church tends to be ‘right wing congregations led by left wing ministers’. Meanwhile, the Church of England used to be called the ‘Tory Party at Prayer’ although recently I attended a conference where the speaker asked for a show of hands and in a room of hundreds less than five admitted to being Conservative Party members. He went on to ask who was a member of the National Trust and most of the room raised their hands! So perhaps we’re now the “National Trust at Prayer”!

The truth is that there are Christians who wear blue rosettes, red rosettes, yellow, green and purple. The concerns of Christian people and how they read Scripture will find resonance in policies across the political spectrum. There’s no one single way to vote.

Speaking personally, in different elections and in different places I’ve lived, I have voted red, blue and yellow at different times and for different reasons.

I do worry that this election might become Brexit 2.0. Not least because there are a number of other things we ought to be talking about as well – the economy, social care and the elderly, the NHS. As a School Governor, I’m concerned about school funding cuts. I hope those topics get properly aired and talked about.

But what I tend to find myself doing more is looking at the personality and character of the candidates in my constituency.

Ultimately, no one party will tick all my boxes so what I want to know is – when I write to my MP about something that concerns me, will they listen? Will they try to help? Do they turn up to things locally? Are they interested and keen to serve the common good? What’s their track record? Can I trust their word? Ultimately, do I consider them to be a person of integrity, of character, truthful and compassionate?

That’s a person for whom I want to vote. As a Christian, it is the character and quality of our leaders that I believe should concern us most.

Rev David Green

Westminster through the eyes of Easter

Barely a week has passed since five people died and 50 more were injured when a man attacked tourists and passers-by on Westminster Bridge, then drove on to the Houses of Parliament where he stabbed and killed a policeman before eventually being shot dead.

This man was from Kent. He was a man with a history of violence and a string of criminal convictions. His nihilistic, despairing ambitions for death and destruction are a dastardly perversion of the Islamic faith he purported to believe.

But in this month when our churches will mark the Holy Week journey to the cross of Jesus Christ and celebrate his fabulous resurrection, I would rather our focus turns away from that man’s actions to others present that day.

Heroic stories have emerged. GB Boxing coach Tony Davis and Tobias Ellwood MP performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on PC Keith Palmer but were unable to save his life. Doctors and nurses rushed from the nearby St Thomas’ hospital to tend the wounded and dying on the bridge.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about one of his Lambeth Palace security guards, himself a Muslim and someone who had been narrowly missed by the speeding vehicle on the bridge, who spent time helping the injured before he insisted on continuing his journey into work. He completed his shift as normal, resolutely refusing to allow terrorists to disrupt his life or his commitments.

Perhaps most importantly, when armed police warned Khalid Masood (formerly Adrian Russell Ajao) and, when he ignored their warnings and they shot him dead, the next thing that happened was that within a few minutes, that same person was being treated on the ground by the very people he had sought to kill.

The Archbishop, speaking in the House of Lords two days after the attack, noted these acts of dignity and sacrificial love and talked of how they reflect a deep-seated narrative that is part of our national story, and has been part of our identity for nearly 2,000 years.

He said:

“At this time of year [when] we look forward to Holy Week and Easter – [these heroes’ actions speak] of a God who stands with the suffering, and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that where we do what is right; where we behave properly; where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown; where that bravery of someone like PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated, [there is a victory] over what is evil, despairing and bad; that there is a victory for what is right and good.”

May you know the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, evil and death this Easter. May the Lord bless you, keep you and make his face to shine upon you. This day and always. Amen.

Rev David Green

The kind of fast God likes

“Here is the way I want you to fast.
‘Set free those who are held by chains without any reason. Untie the ropes that hold people as slaves. Set free those who are crushed. Break every evil chain. Share your food with hungry people. Provide homeless people with a place to stay. Give naked people clothes to wear. Provide for the needs of your own family.'”
Isaiah 58.6-7

Ash Wednesday graphicThese words were read this morning by one of the children in an act of Collective Worship that took place at West Malling School to mark Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

We spoke together about while we may give things up for Lent, or take something new on for Lent, there is something even more important – which is to measure ourselves against the standards God has set, and when we fail, to ask his forgiveness.

I knelt down so that one of the smaller children could draw an ash cross on my forehead and one of the older children read a child-friendly version of the traditional Ash Wednesday words:

“Remember that you are human,
and no-one lasts forever.
Turn away from the things
that you do wrong,
and be a faithful friend to Jesus.”

I found it deeply moving to be ministered to by the children. In turn I was privileged to ash the 60 odd children and teachers who wanted to stay behind, and give up part of their break-time, to take part and say their own prayer.

The reading from Isaiah 58 reminds us that we might give something up for Lent, but as always God is most interested in our hearts and whether we are prepared to work for justice in a broken and divided world.

Becky calls attention, in her magazine article this month, to the film I, Daniel Blake and it saddens me to tell you that there are people who live in our parishes who struggle in the same way that Daniel did. It’s not a story that’s been told with creative licence; it’s happening every day and not just in the North-East, but even here in West Malling, Offham and Kings Hill.

I give thanks to God that our forebears in West Malling had the wisdom to create Relief in Need as a vestry charity for St Mary’s. It gives me and the other Trustees the chance to respond with compassion when we’re alerted to a genuine need. Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, it’s a need that arises because of situations like Daniel’s; a computerised and often face-less social-care system where people sometimes slip through the safety net.

We don’t all run big social systems, nor feel like we can influence them. But we can all show human kindness this Lent, recognise need, and do our bit to help those who find themselves in difficulty.

Rev David Green