From the Vicar
Have you ever wondered…..?
In December, members of St Andrew’s Church were privileged to help at the Prayer Space organised by the pupil worship team at Tadpole Farm CE Primary Academy. It was great to watch children of all ages take part in the different prayer activities. One of them was called ‘Big Questions’ and children were encouraged to think about what they would like to ask God. They had some brilliant questions:
Why are cats not blue? Why is God so important?
What is it like being God? Why is school boring not fun?
Why can’t we have peace in our world? If you were alive now what would you do?
What is it like in heaven, will we ever go there? Why did you create the world?
Sometimes it’s good just to ask Big Questions even when there isn’t an answer available, so much of our lives is precise and understandable that we’ve lost the art of wondering. We can see prayer as wondering with God and asking him to show us what’s important and what isn’t.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I think the Bible’s really important, so if you have any questions about how we should read the Bible or how such a big and old book can be relevant or make sense to us in the 21st century, please consider signing up for the Bible course, that we’ll be running in March and April.
We’re also asking our own questions this month about how we can meet the needs of people who can’t always get to St Andrew’s on a Sunday morning, so please complete the questionnaire (as mentioned above) to give us your views about that.
What happens on Ash Wednesday?
This year Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, is on 26th February and we will be holding our annual “Holy Communion with imposition of ashes” service at 7.30pm. You might be wondering what on earth that means and why we would do that, so here’s an explanation.
Lent, as you are probably aware, is linked to the 40 days that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (you can read the story in Matthew chapter 4 verses 1-11). Lent lasts for more than 40 days because traditionally the Sundays do not count as fast days. Fasting can be a good way of reminding ourselves what is really important in life, both because it reminds us of the true value of what we have given up and because it helps to focus our minds on more important things. However, it is not the only purpose of Lent. Penitence, reminding ourselves of our need of God’s forgiveness and our unworthiness before Him, is another important theme and particularly relevant on Ash Wednesday.
Throughout the Old Testament people sprinkle ash on their heads as a personal response to a sudden (and unhappy) change of circumstances and Jesus refers to ash, as a normal expression of penitence. Ashes are a particularly powerful indication of our mortality when they are imposed with the words
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ
In our service on Ash Wednesday, we confess our sins using a long prayer (which you can find here under the section Self-examination and confession) and then those who want to, quietly come to the front of church to be marked with the sign of the cross made with ash on their forehead. Involving our whole bodies in moving to the front and receiving a visible mark is a powerful witness to ourselves that we are sorry for the way we behave and our response involves more than just words. We then continue with the service of Holy Communion, reminding ourselves that God has dealt with our sinfulness through Jesus’ death on the cross and he willingly forgives us when we turn to him.
Such a physical act of confession is a good start to a period of examining ourselves and fasting during Lent. We may choose to give up a food or another luxury, or to take up a kind deed each day, or some other way of disciplining ourselves to train ourselves to follow Jesus more closely.
You may be interested to know that the ash used in ashing comes from burning the palm crosses brought back to church in the weeks before the service. The origins of this practice are rather obscure, but it does provide a practical solution to what to do to all the palm crosses from last year. It is surprisingly hard to burn a palm cross and producing the ash takes more effort than you would imagine!
Around the Parish
For our Lent (and a bit after) Course this year, we will be following The Bible Course, from the Bible Society. It has already proved very popular with many churches in Swindon and beyond and is described by the Bible Society like this:
An eight-session course helping you explore the world's bestseller.
The Bible is a big and complicated book to read and for many it can be difficult to know where to start. Maybe you’ve been part of a Bible study group and want to build your confidence so you can study the Bible on your own, or maybe you need help connecting together the bits you’ve been reading. The Bible Course is a great resource, whether you are familiar with the Bible or just starting out.
- The Bible Course helps you see how the books of the Bible are part of one big story.
- Using a unique storyline, The Bible Course will show you how key events, books and characters fit together.
- The video teaching, course guide and daily readings will help you grow in confidence as you read the Bible for yourself.
There will be a daytime group and an evening group running each week from week beginning 2nd March to week beginning 30th March and then again from week beginning 20th April to week beginning 4th May. Day of week will depend on what is most convenient for those who want to come.
Please fill in a registration form here. There will also be a charge of £4.99 to cover the cost of the comprehensive course booklet.
Take a look at this video review of the course:
Church legacy: a lasting gift to your church
A video provided by the Bristol Diocese, produced at St Michael & All Angels church, Alphington.