Pillars Of The Community
This was a series of interviews I did with various leading members of my community for our village magazine in 2012. The first, which is reproduced below, was an interview with our parish priest and was published in The Cambourne Crier in April 2012. For links to the other interviews, see my Publication History page.
“I remember arriving in the snow…” says Peter Wood recalling his move to the village in early 2001. “There were only about 300 houses, but there was also a great sense of ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves and build community’.”
It is this attitude, he says, which makes Cambourne a good place to live. “Community does happen wherever there are people, but how good one is depends on people’s attitude. There’s an openness in Cambourne which is great, and means that it’s not a difficult community for people to join.” He attributes this to certain key institutions which he sees as prime movers of the early days: the community development workers, the resident’s association, the doctor’s surgery, the Crier and the church.
This last, which started in 1999 and has been under Peter’s care since he arrived eleven years ago, is an important fixture for any community, he says. But it isn’t just for believers who need a place to spend their Sunday mornings. “We believe that Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. So as Christians, we want to offer people a space to pray, and have a good cup of coffee, somewhere for the young people so they are enabled to have the best chance in life. These things are why we have youth workers, why we have a café - it all comes out of the love of God, but it also comes down to very practical, concrete ways to say, ‘Let us show you that love in action’.”
Talking to Peter, it is clear that these two elements - spiritual faith and practical solutions - are very much linked in his mind. But he is quick to recognise that there are many people for whom the very idea of church might be a bit of a turn-off. “The church building is traditionally a very serious and reverent place and maybe a bit austere for some people, so we want the space that people walk into to be very welcoming. That’s why it’s a joy to have the community café here and also be able to use our buildings as a community resource: in the last few weeks we’ve had a fundraiser here for the Sick Children’s Trust and, before that, a craft fair.”
Looking to the future, he says that there are plans to open a chapel which he hopes will be accessible to all Cambourne residents. “Hopefully we’ll have it open as much as we can - just a place for people to be. To be quiet, to be still, to reflect, to pray, to cry, to think, all of that. It’s something which I’d like to think would be good for the well-being and the health of all the community.”
“The church wants to be good news for Cambourne, whatever that means to different people. It might mean a listening ear; it might mean a word of hope. Life can throw many problems into our way - be they challenges financial, or relationships getting tangled - and we believe as Christians that there is hope in and through all of that.”
And even if you’ve not once set foot in a church (or not been since you stopped going to Sunday School!) there are many ways you can help Cambourne Church to be that good news. “We’ve got plans to extend the building and if people can help with the fundraising for that we’d be appreciative because we’re wholly self-financing as a church. We’re not full of cash but we want to work with the community to enable this to be a meaningful resource, as well as a spiritual centre for Cambourne. There’s also always opportunities to volunteer at the café, or support the Vine School. Or any of the schools come to that.”
This little addendum is characteristic of Peter’s clear enthusiasm for Cambourne in particular and the notion of ‘community’ in general. He is so keen to see it happen, that he forgets about promoting his own special interests or anything which seems less important.
“Community isn’t about whether you’re black, or white or what your name is,” he says, at one point. “It’s us as human beings. How we work out what it means to live together. It’s really important. So...what was the question?”
The True Meaning Of Christmas?
This was a blog post I wrote for eden.co.uk (which does for Christian bookshops what Amazon does for all the other shops) based on one of my Fourteen³ sonnets from a couple of years before. It was part of an advent series, with one post each day of December leading up to Christmas and was published on their website on 23rd December 2017.
I choose belief in what gives Christmas worth,
In blind and broken healed and captives freed,
In saviour God who for my sins would bleed,
In deity incarnate come to Earth,
In angels, shepherds, stars and virgin birth,
In family time to laugh, relax and feed,
In stockings stuffed with things I do not need,
In starting every year with extra girth.
But if you cannot choose belief in God,
Believe instead in decency and peace,
Believe in joy and fellowship and fun.
Choose not to find the festive season odd,
But choose to let the Christmas mood increase.
If this we choose, “God bless us, everyone.”
It can be fashionable, in certain circles of Christianity, to rather pooh-pooh the way that many choose to enjoy Christmas. It is too commercial, they say; too wrapped up in greed, and the getting of unnecessaries.
I wonder if this approach rather throws the sprouts out with the vegetable water.
Within our churches, Christmas is given a prominence for outweighing its importance. The birth of Christ is discussed, briefly, in only two of the four gospels, yet the feast-day which commemorates it is given pride of place. In many church calendars, it outshines even Easter, an event which in the Christian view of history is supposed to be the pivotal event in all of time and space. And when was the last time your church remembered to stop everything for Trinity Sunday, the celebration of one of the key doctrinal distinctives of our faith? When did you last build a series leading up to Whitsun, the church’s Birthday and a key festival of the Holy Spirit? Why is Christmas, historically a rather minor feast, given such importance?
In many ways, the true reason for the season is the secular celebration. There is little doubt that most churches would not put quite so much effort into their Christmas services if it wasn’t a fact that it’s the only time of the year many people will turn up. It is only because of the commercialisation of Christmas that most will pay any attention to the religious side of it at all. Simply put: Christmas is significant because it has the best advertising (despite the best efforts of the hollow-chocolate-egg-industrial complex).
That’s why I choose to believe in all of Christmas - the good, the bad and the cheesy.
I will, of course, be going to church on the 25th - I will enjoy hearing about how He will be called ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’, finding out what the kids got in their stockings and singing Hark The Herald with as much gusto as I can manage.
But I will also enjoy eating too much, giving and receiving presents, and watching the Doctor Who special. I will enjoy feeling festive, and cozy, and well disposed to others. God bless all of it, I say, and in the immortal words of Tiny Tim: God bless us, everyone.
Cambourne Crier Reflections,
Written On Behalf of Cambourne Church
These short, seasonal pieces were written while our church was in a ministerial vacancy and so there was no one to write the 'Message From The Vicar' column in the village magazine. They were all published in the Cambourne Crier, whose archive can be found here.
For Christians, the season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is the most important time of year.
It begins with forty days of fasting. This is a time to remember the life of Jesus and to be mindful of our own lives; a time to mourn the ways in which last year did not live up to expectations and consider how we might improve next year.
As we reach Holy Week, Palm Sunday arrives with its joyful declaration of Jesus' rule in our lives, but as the week progresses we see how those who first made this declaration betrayed and turned their backs on it. Every Christian knows what it feels like to have enacted this for themselves. Fortunately, it is not the end of the story: on Easter Day, we awake to find Christ risen from the tomb.
The Christian life is full of noble aspirations, our failure to live up to them, and the promise that tomorrow might bring a better day. In Revelation 21:5, Jesus says 'See: I am making all things new'. We pray that this Easter season brings you this promise for the year ahead: that life might be made new and hope reborn.
- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, March 2018
Autumn, which John Keats described as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, is my favourite time of year. After the heat of summer, the turn of the weather to coolness is a relief, and I have a particular fondness for the smell of wood fires, the feel of soft, mizzly rain and the gloomy romance of the twilight in late-afternoon.
Christians spend early autumn celebrating harvest – a word derived from the Old English for ‘autumn’. It is a time for appreciating God’s abundant provision and, in the past, was tied to the agricultural work which gave most people their living. But as the population began to move away from farming, these festivities came to centre not so much on our own abundance but more on those who are less fortunate.
The ancient Hebrews were commanded to ‘not reap to the very edges of your field…[but] leave them for the poor and for the foreigner’ (Leviticus 23:22). In celebrating harvest (not to mention beginning to look ahead to Christmas!), verses like this challenge us to consider how best to use the resources we have. God has provided; the question is what would He have us do with His provision?
- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, September 2018
Where was Jesus born? Easy, right? Bethlehem. The prophet Micah said: "You, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me a ruler over Israel…"
This is quoted in Matthew's gospel and Luke also places Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. But Jesus is called 'Jesus of Nazareth' - almost 100 miles away. This is like someone famously from Harrogate being born in someone's garage in Cambourne!
Although Micah describes Bethlehem as 'small' - and by Jesus' day there was not even room for a nine-months-pregnant woman who'd walked 100 miles - the town was associated with King David, the greatest king in Jewish history. By placing Jesus' birth there, the gospel writers are saying we should link them together: like David, Jesus is the great king who establishes God's kingdom on earth.
People say that no one 'comes from' Cambourne. We're too new for anyone to have deep roots or for a list of celebrities to have lived here. But I can't help comparing us to Bethlehem. We might rewrite that ancient prophesy:
"You, Cambourne, though you are insignificant among the villages of Cambridgeshire, out of you will come for me…"
As we celebrate Christmas in Cambourne this year, consider this: we can write our own illustrious history. Will we be the ones who come from here and do something great? What can we do in 2019 to spread the Christmas message of love and hope from our little town into all the world?
- Originally published in The Cambourne Crier, March 2018