Vicar's Letter

VERSE OF 2017:


“Christ in you, the hope of glory!”


Colossians 1:27b (New International Version)


Dear Friends,


Did you know that this month contains a huge anniversary?  By an odd coincidence, 31st October, which in the US and UK has become a kind of festival of darkness, and when churches respond with ‘Light Parties’, is known in Germany as ‘Reformation Day’, the anniversary of an event which led to the massive reshaping of the Church which we call the Reformation.  And the 31st October in question was in 1517, making this the 500th anniversary.  Also, without wanting to get too polemical, it really was a case of newly-rediscovered light shining in the darkness.  The years that followed contained much folly, cruelty and strife, but 31st October changed the Church for the better, not only all the ‘Churches of the Reformation’ (Protestant, Anglican, Independent) but also the Roman Catholic Church itself, as is now widely acknowledged.


On that day 500 years ago, a monk, and doctor of theology, called Martin Luther nailed 95 debating points to a church door in Wittenberg, east Germany. The actual nailing wasn’t special – the door was a public notice board – but those “95 Theses” contained the seeds of revolution.  Luther was demanding a debate about a practice known as ‘indulgences’, where people would pay money to purchase some of the ‘merit’ earned by the good deeds of the saints, so as to reduce the time their loved ones spent in purgatory, before arriving in heaven. If that seems bizarre, just consider: 500 years ago, Christian Europe considered it perfectly normal. The Reformation matters!  Luther was realising that indulgences (and some other Church practices and teachings) were effectively a denial of the love and grace of Christ and the need for conversion of the heart.


Luther had suffered years of terrible personal spiritual turmoil, when he tried so hard to be acceptable to God through all the ‘good works’ of late medieval religion, and cried out ‘Where can I find a gracious God?’.  In his torment, he had rediscovered the truth that St Paul taught: ‘For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’.’ (Romans 1:17). What matters about Luther is how deeply and totally he grasped this Biblical truth: that it changes everything between sinners and God; that righteousness (being accepted by God and fully forgiven) is a free gift, and so it cannot be earned, achieved or deserved, only received by faith in the wonderful Christ who carried every one of our sins on the Cross. ‘Whereupon,’ he wrote later, ‘I felt myself to have been reborn and to have gone through open gates into Paradise.’


No wonder then that at the Diet (Council) of Worms, Luther refused to back down: ‘My conscience is captive to the word of God, and to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor wise. Here I stand; I can do no other!’ though it was likely enough that he would get burned at the stake for his teachings.  This was Luther’s finest hour, standing for the free forgiveness of the gospel, by which God ‘justifies unjustifiable people’ like you and me, all because Jesus was willing to endure nails and darkness on our behalf.  It’s the heart of the Gospel, and it belongs at the heart of every one of us. Happy Reformation Day!


A month ago I included a Holiday Club ‘thank you’ in my letter, but that was an act of faith, as it hadn’t actually happened when I wrote!  This month may I say again, a very big thank you to all those who led groups and activities, including some very committed secondary-age youngsters, to those who organised it and led up-front.  Our lovely Dan Cooke re-wrote a lot of the material to a very high standard, and he and Andy delivered it superbly.  It was a smaller holiday club than we wanted it to be, but everyone seemed happy and engaged.


We’ve just said ‘Goodbye and Thank you’ to Dan, as he moves on to full-time training at Moorlands College.  In his place we welcome back Jon Kitching, who was our Youth & Children’s Minister from 2014-15 and now returns for the coming year as Youth Minister (Andy is still Children’s Minister).  It’s been good to see the enthusiasm with which some of our young people greeted this announcement, and we wish Jon a very happy year working with us again.


The 14th will be a busy Saturday for some, as it is both the date of our popular annual Quiz Night (see page 8) and the date when our three BCM Worship Leaders Liz, Marion and Graham are formally commissioned at the Cathedral in the morning.  Please pray for them as they go on growing into this ministry.


I am sorry to bring the sad news that Margaret Brown, a member of St John’s for many years and known to many of you, died of cancer in the early hours of 11th September.  Please remember her daughters Kyla and Jane in your prayers.


Yours truly,