This January has been something of a funny month in ministry. As a benefice, it has been our enormous privilege to serve at twelve funerals. Seven have already taken place, another five will take place in the next couple of weeks. Christmas and New Year is never a good time to lose a loved one, so please do remember those families in prayer.
It has certainly given me reason to make regular use of the latest addition to the fabric of St Mary’s Church. Just before Christmas, St Mary’s took delivery of a ‘Votive Candle Stand’. Given in memory of Geoffrey Charlton, a congregation member at St Mary’s for over 70 years, it nestles against the wall of the south side aisle and waits expectantly to provide a home to our prayers.
I am sure many will have seen such candle stands in cathedrals. The idea is that you pop into church, say a prayer and light a candle which then sits on the stand after you leave.
The symbolism is not only about praying for God’s light to overcome darkness, but as you leave the candle in the church, it continues to burn. In that sense, it continues to offer that person or situation or worry into God’s hands and invite his loving grace in. Finally, when the candle expires and the smoke rises, it is as if that prayer finally rises into God’s hands where the Book of Revelation says they are gathered together like bowls of sweet-smelling incense before the Throne of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
You don’t have to use a candle to pray but many people find it a useful visual symbol of what is going on in our hearts.
The church is always open during daylight hours and you are always welcome to pop in for five minutes or as long as you wish to pray your prayer and light a candle. It may be that you want to remember someone who has died, as I have been doing with these twelve funerals. It may be that you want to pray for someone who is sick, or for a situation going on in your life, a worry or anxiety, a job request. You name it, all our prayers are welcome before our God of love.
As St Paul wrote:
‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4.6, NRSV)
In other news, I mentioned last month that the PCC of St Michael’s, Offham was meeting this month to decide on their priorities in moving forward. Their priorities fell into two broad categories. Firstly, what we can do to help children and families, then secondly, how we can help our church building work better for us. In regard to children and families, we need to think further about such things as how Sunday School operates, when they meet and what resources we can provide. We also need to think and develop further our gently growing Family Service once a month.
In regard to buildings, we’ve experimented with tea and coffee after the Family Service and that is going well but such experiments have highlighted our lack of space in the church for such things and also our lack of loo facilities (toilets emerging as a priority here too). John Marshall passed away recently and, in his days as Churchwarden, he looked at designs for such things but for a number of reasons it wasn’t possible to move forward then. There are things we can improvise in the short-term, not least with the good graces of Church Farm. However, we are going to be exploring our options for other more long-term provision as well.