The Shop Stop

Department stores were developed in the 1870s. Until that time people went to the shop or the market to buy what they thought they needed to sustain and enjoy life. Of course people would browse, and see, and buy, new things. But ‘shopping’ was generally targeted to wants and needs.

Church and Common Life

The same was true of church. People went to public worship to be taught and sustained in the Christian faith. This common experience and set of reference points provided the basis for community – common standards and values. Of course people would see and pursue relationships and practices beyond these ‘norms’, just as they would be in church and let their imaginations explore the atmosphere, the words, the stained glass and the crucifix. But the liturgies were fixed, and ‘spirituality’ was generally nourished through a fairly set approach to the needs and wants of the soul.

The Department Store

The Department Store was a sign of huge shift: from a targeted, functional approach to sustenance and survival, to something very different. Now, in one place were assembled nearly all the goods a shopper might need or want. The atmosphere shifted from being functional to one of coaxing demand – encouraging the individual to see and want more than they might have envisaged when they entered the store. With ‘eternal’ florescent light and pastorally helpful staff the focus was upon each person feeling comfortable, able to seek ‘personal’ service and satisfaction. There soon developed a money-back guarantee to reinforce this prioritisation of personal control and commitment.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Now the big stores set the scene for the seasons, offer loyalty and credit cards, provide carefully chosen mood music. Each invites identification with a particular version of ‘heaven’ – where dreams are fulfilled and life is made worthwhile. A very particular kind of spirituality!

Church and Choice

Meanwhile – in church – we have an increasing contrast between a similar shift towards offering customer satisfaction – built around the needs and dreams of the ‘customer’, and that deeper spirituality which challenges each of us to become a slave, a servant – giving ourselves up to the agenda of others. Love god and love your neighbour as yourself – Jesus taught. This is the seed of a very different spirituality – about service rather than satisfaction, and about sacrifice rather than success. We are challenged to define our lives not by what we purchase, but through what we give away.

Shopping and Spirituality

Shopping is important for our survival. We are blessed with so much choice. It provokes a certain kind of spirituality – whose logic is individuality and competition. Witness the chaos at sale-times!

Spirituality enlivened by Jesus Christ, is even more important for our survival. It provokes another kind of life – informed by the Holy Spirit, bound together in God’s grace, and paying particular concern to those who lack the obvious trappings of a good life.

As our purses and wallets become stuffed with ever more loyalty cards, should each church provide a loyalty-to-Jesus card? If could be the first thing we see when we go shopping. It might provoke prayer for a different kind of lifestyle!

There is a well-known hymn, written by Susan Warner in 1868, with the refrain – you in your small corner, and I in mine! Each of us lives in a small space – in a locality, with family, friends, at work. In the modern world we are more and more conscious of others in their own very different small corners. We call it ‘diversity’.

From Corner to Circle

There are two things that connect the corners and put us in a single circle. One is the planet, the environment. Something we all share. On which we all depend.

The other is the mercy of our Creator God who gives each person life and breath – the seed of eternity.

The circle works through ‘harvest’. Partly our work together on earth to provide nourishment and sustenance: the harvest of fruits. But harvest also happens through our sharing together in a spirit of co-operation – the harvest of fellowship.

From Derbyshire to Delhi

Each year in our Diocese we celebrate this harvest of fruits and this harvest of fellowship.

In 2014 we expressed this connection and companionship between our small corner in Derbyshire and the life of our brothers and sisters in Delhi, in the Church of North India. I am delighted to report that your wonderful generosity raised £21,500 to enable women in the slums to establish small recycling businesses. Making the most of the harvest of the fruits of the earth. Building the capacity for a spirit of confidence and community to enrich life in these testing corners of God’s creation.

Thank you for helping us to connect the corners – and to create a spiritual circle of grace and goodness in which we can all give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, and for the new life He grows amongst His children. The fruits of our fellowship continue to grow.

Angola and Education

This year, 2015, we are working with another small corner of God’s life and love – girls and women in Angola. They are often penned into a very small corner indeed – lacking opportunities for education or work beyond the narrowly domestic. Gifts denied the opportunity to grow, flourish and contribute to the wellbeing of the wider community.

Further details will be available soon – for parishes and for schools. There will be a special launch event. We are working in partnership with Christian Aid, who have excellent local links.

The Generosity of God

Please try to be generous. Give thanks to God for the blessings of life in your small corner. Let us see if we can make our contribution to the harvest of fruits and fellowship that our Lord longs to raise up in Angola, and in Derbyshire, and in our life within the comforting circle of His grace.

Earlier this year the House of Bishops published a letter to the people of the parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015 entitled: “Who is my Neighbour?” 

In seeking the common good the bishops have commended to us policies which respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour. Our own statement about our vision for the diocese speaks of acting in the service of the common good within the communities of Derbyshire and through our engagement with the wider world. Bishop Alastair in his recent publication The Word on the Street invites us to consider the missionary challenge and opportunity of taking full ownership of our democratic responsibility. When our faith and political participation work together to respond to the needs and concerns of our society we offer a vision of a world made new, a new order transformed by the indwelling spirit of Jesus Christ.

As we approach the General Election and consider all the political manifestos being offered, we might ask ourselves the critical question: What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and how does that impact on the way we vote and the choices we make in support of our neighbour and mutual flourishing?

As well as an individual response there is an on- going need for collective action. Our participation in political dialogue needs to continue post-election. Sunday by Sunday as we exchange The Peace with one another we affirm our identity as the Body of Christ and the priest invites us to “pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life”. It is through working together as the Body of Christ, with a commitment to collective action, that we seek after justice, serve our neighbour and act as advocates for the poor and the marginalised. Being sent out “to live and work to God’s praise and glory”, will include activity and a voice in the public space.

This month we will elect a new government. Once the democratic decision is made it will be important for us to continue to engage in mission as we enact the common good through service to our neighbour. We are an incarnational community about the business of making Christ known in the world through lives that seek to bring blessing, 
reconciliation, justice and peace to all. 

It will also be important to uphold our newly elected leadership in prayer.

Archdeacon Christine

We said goodbye to my last parish eight years ago on Easter Day. Having been very happy there, it felt odd to have the sadness of farewell in the context of Resurrection celebration: “Alleluia. Christ is Risen!” in floods of tears!

This time our farewells are to be made on the eve of Lent, maybe a better liturgical fit. Lent is kept in imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. In that time he reflected on his calling, on what God was asking of him. He broke new ground, away from the comfortable and familiar, and wrestled (in those strange, dream-like stories of temptation) with who he was and how he was to be faithful. Oxfordshire and Ripon College Cuddesdon is hardly the wilderness (!) but the sense of stepping out into the unknown to discover what blessings and challenges God has for the future is strong for me just now.

And, I hope, for all of us. Famously the Hebrews were reminded them that “here we have no abiding city” (Hebrews 13. 14) and the metaphor of journey is powerful for Christian discipleship. Specifically journey through the wilderness: Moses led a rabble of runaway slaves through the Red Sea out into the desert. There, through long ramblings and hard experiences, they were forged into God’s people and prepared for the Promised Land beyond the Jordan. That is the pattern for the Christian life between the waters of the baptism (the Red Sea) and death (the Jordan). Lent is an annual rehearsal in miniature of this pattern.

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