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The Parish Magazine
of Saint Faith's Church, Great Crosby

Saint Faith’s Prayer for Mission

Faithful God, in baptism you have adopted us as your children,
made us members of the body of Christ and chosen us as inheritors of your kingdom:
bless our plans for mission and outreach; guide us to seek and do your will;
empower us by your Spirit to share our faith in witness and to serve,
and send us out as disciples of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


December 2006

From the Ministry Team         

Those of you who knew Emily Conalty will, I’m sure, have many memories of her extraordinary personality. A devoted member of St. Faith’s, she combined deep spirituality with passionate biblical scholarship and penetrating theological insight. When Joyce Green and I began our Reader training we had Emily as our first tutor. It was a great disappointment to both of us when after a few weeks we had to change tutor because  Emily was in poor health. Emily’s was a profound but often troubled soul. Strangely enough her character was brought vividly to life recently by Revd. Rod Garner, the diocesan theological adviser, in a lecture about Emily’s friend and mentor, the great Michael Ramsey. Rod described Ramsey as ‘eccentric and strange, other-worldly, yet life-affirming’. Both Emily and Michael Ramsay had in abundance what Archbishop Cosmo Lang called ‘the sacrament of personality’. For me at least, both of them were people who ‘made God real’. If Emily were still alive she would not wish me to dwell on her influence any further, but she would, I know, be happy for me to say a little more about Michael Ramsey (much of it learnt from Rod Garner!).

Ramsey’s life was rooted in prayer, scripture and the sacraments. There is a story that, when asked how long it took him to say his prayers, he replied ‘A minute: the other 59 are preparation’.  Open to mystery and mysticism, at the same time he had an enquiring mind, ‘a faith seeking understanding’. He was greatly concerned with the relationship between faith, public life, and the social gospel: he was ‘a leader who felt intensely the joys and sorrows of the world’. To my mind, this characteristic had much to do with his theology of the Incarnation, his view that the Christian had to take very seriously the ‘kenosis’ – the ‘self-emptying’ of God. In his own words “The mind of Christ is defined as that of one who sees his divine status as an opportunity not for grasping but for pouring himself out and taking on the role of a servant. No phrase is more telling than ‘the mind that you have in Christ Jesus’, for to act divinely is not to grasp, but to pour self out. That is the secret of the Incarnation, and it is no less the secret of fellowship. Such indeed is the Christian way”. For Michael Ramsey, faith was life-changing rather than life-enhancing.

Most of us want, and at the same time do not want, to have lives which are self-giving. Ramsey found the answer in prayer: attentiveness, quietness and withdrawal lead him, not to self-interest and introspection, but to a life of service in the world. Prayer inspired and animated what he said and did; and his experiences of  life – the lows as well as the highs – inspired and animated his prayer. There is so much we can learn from him, and I can do no better  than to recommend  you  to  read  one  or  two  of  his  books,  which are classics of their kind. In his writings he expresses perfectly the incarnational nature of spirituality and of the Christian life. We will let him have the last word: what follows is an excerpt from his book about prayer ‘Be Still and Know’:

‘We need to see Christian prayer, not as an isolated religious exercise, but as an aspect of a many-sided converse between human beings and their Creator. In Christian belief, God makes Himself known to men and women in many ways: through the beauty of nature, by stirrings of conscience, through inspired men and women and their writings, through events in history, and supremely through Jesus Christ. To these intimations of God the human response is no less varied: by gratitude, trust and love, by awe and wonder, by grief and contrition, by acts of practical service and the pursuit of the Christian way of life. In this response there is a movement of the heart, mind and will towards God, partly but not wholly expressed in words. A relationship of word and silence, passivity and action: such is the context of prayer in Christianity’.

God bless.
Fred Nye

Christmas Services and Events
Sunday 24th             CHRISTMASS EVE
11am                        Normal Sunday Sung Eucharist for Advent IV


6.00pm                   CHRISTINGLE SERVICE in S. Faith’s

11.00pm                 Vigil of Carols and Readings in S. Faith’s
11.30pm                 MIDNIGHT MASS at S. Faith’s

11am                      PARISH EUCHARIST
6pm                       Evensong at the Crib

Tuesday 27th       S. STEPHEN’S DAY
10.30am                Eucharist in S. Faith’s, followed by sherry and mince pies in the Vicarage

If there are people who are housebound and unable to attend church over Christmas, Fr. Neil is more than happy to bring Holy Communion to them on Christmas Day after the morning services. Please let him know on 928 3342 if that is the case.

Stewardship Campaign

Fr Neil

Very soon every member of S. Faith’s will receive a letter from me asking them, once again, to consider their giving to the Church. The letter will set out the facts and figures as they relate to the running of this parish. I am slightly perturbed to hear that even in 2006, some are still giving the 50p per week that they did ten years ago! We cannot live in a time-warp! If we are looking to secure a bright future, which I dearly hope and pray we can, we have to give realistically.

For the moment, please consider the following facts:

2 BOTTLES OF WINE EACH WEEK  - costs £7.98 per week or £31.92 per month

1 DAILY + 1 SUNDAY PAPER - costs £6 per week or £24 per month

10 CIGARETTES A DAY - costs £16 per week or £64 per month

2 GALLONS OF PETROL  - costs £9.69 per week or £38.76 per month

Just how much is  YOUR  Church worth to you?

For the Diary

Sunday 3rd December - ADVENT SUNDAY
6.00 pm - Churches Together Advent Carol Service in S. Faith’s

At the 11am Parade & Family Eucharist on Sunday 3rd December there will be the usual offering of toys. Please bring along a new toy (unwrapped). These are given to Sefton CHOICES to distribute to needy families at Christmas. All toys given will be taken to St. Nicholas’s, Blundellsands on Monday 11th December to be distributed.


12noon Sung Eucharist in S. Faith’s for both congregations, followed by a glass of champagne to welcome and celebrate the new year together


The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’
And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards. And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ.’
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

John Betjeman

Holy Jesus,
to deliver us from the power of darkness
you humbled yourself to be born among us
and laid in a manger.
Let the light of your love
always shine in our hearts,
and bring us at last
to the joyful vision of your beauty,
for you are now alive and reign
with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.  Amen.

Feminist Fulmination

Men are like place mats… they only show when there’s food on the table
Men are like mascara… they usually run at the first sign of emotion
Men are like bike helmets… handy in emergencies, but otherwise they just look silly
Men are like lava lamps… fun to look at, but not all that bright
Men are like high heels… they’re easy to walk on once you get the hang of it!

(from the magazine of St John the Baptist, Great Meols)

Cyber Psalm

The Lord is my programmer, I shall not crash.
He installed His software on the hard disk of my heart;
All of his commands are user-friendly.
His directory guides me to the right choices for his name’s sake.
Even though I scroll through the problems of life,
I will fear no bugs, for He is my back-up.
His password protects me.
He prepares a menu before me in the presence of my enemies.
His help is only a keystroke away.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life;
And my files will be merged with His and saved forever.

from the magazine of Crowhurst Christian Healing Centre

preached by Fr. Neil on Dedication Festival Sunday at the United Benefice Joint Eucharist.

It is a very logical argument, I am sorry to say, that before we can decide the best way forward for the mission of the Church and how we can fully utilise the whole church plant, it is worth seeing how much money this piece of land would generate. We could build a much smaller, easier to manage worship space, whilst having money in the bank to enable the church to do all the many things we wish we could. That is why the “For Sale” sign is on the front of the church. (and for that Sunday a “for Sale” sign was indeed attached to the iron gates of the Church!)

It is a very logical argument. It’s not mine. The truth is the sign is there because I wanted to see what your reaction would be! I hope it was shock, anger and disbelief. We couldn’t image this church not being here. 141 years ago, when the parish of St. John’s Waterloo was built, I am sure people said the same. It is being used for the very last time for worship at 4pm today.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of how the current church faces opportunity and anxiety in equal measure. The opportunities are there as an unchanging God works through us in fresh ways as we seek to reach out and minister to those around us. The anxieties centre on the fear of losing the church we know and love, of meeting its financial demands and of changing patterns of ministry and worship.

We know we have opportunities – through worship and social events, and through pastoral care for people to see our churches in action. Friday showed the family of Saint Faith’s at its best – pulling out all the stops not just for the Patronal Festival Service but for the Funeral Mass in the middle of the day. The dedication of all those involved proved the high levels of commitment we have here, and that must never be taken for granted.

Only the week before at St. Mary’s in the evening we had a large number of people turn out for the Harvest Songs of Praise, an ideal service to bring someone along to church who has never been before. Let’s hope that is a regular fixture and perhaps, like the Crib Service which we started in 1999 at S. Mary’s with some 30 people, it may grow to something like the 200+ people we now welcome on Christmas Eve in S. Mary’s. Again, these things don’t just happen on their own. They only happen when people play their part and encourage others to do the same. Our over 65’s holiday club was a resounding success and put the church’s care for its senior members right into the heart of our community. These are perhaps some of the opportunities of which the Archbishop speaks.

However, we are only too aware of the anxieties: costly buildings: the lack of many young professional people in our two congregations means that when we appeal to money the appeal is going to people on pensions or low incomes. Rising  amounts  to  be paid to the Diocese and sometimes it seems, little return for the work that goes on. I’m sure people feel despondent at times when, for example, we invite all the holiday club families back for a service and only one comes.

Is that why we do it? To get something back? Well it is human instinct and we must keep hoping that one day, through the connections we make in our communities, they will bring people to come to worship God just as surely as someone, once, brought us!

But it is a huge task. No longer are we dealing with those who have lapsed from the church, but those have never been a part of it. A generation of people bringing children for baptism and they themselves have never experienced prayer and worship in school assemblies as perhaps we did.

The starting point is a very different one – like it or not. The task much harder. Bravery, boldness and openness are required if we are to take the challenge seriously and not duck it.

You must be sick of hearing me. If it is any consolation I am sick of hearing me say it too. I want to stop banging on about money and numbers attending church because there are actually far more important things for me to be saying and for us all to be doing!

The Church of today may not be what many of us would want it to be, but it is the only church we have. It will always be the only church we have.

The 2nd reading today (1 Corinthians 3 : 9 – 11. 16-17) makes an important point. We are God’s building: living, breathing human buildings, not bricks and mortar. We are the living stones. Yes, houses of prayer are important and they are certainly needed in communities as a place to gather on special occasions, baptisms, weddings, funerals, weekly worship, but also as signs pointing to heaven. When we see church buildings demolished it can often seem like a very sad statement is made. And yet, many congregations who have faced closure of church buildings have found that the anxieties they had have in fact been turned into opportunities.

Our prayers and thoughts today are with the people of St. John’s Waterloo as they gather for the last time in the church building which has been a house of prayer for 141 years, and move temporarily to the hall for worship whilst new premises are made ready in the school. What a time of anxiety for the people of St. John’s and especially for those involved in the decision-making process. And yet, each and every day will present opportunities for witness and service. Challenging times for any congregation in that position.

Very often when things have gone wrong in our lives (breakdown, marriage break up, redundancy, court appearances, whatever it may be) it is precisely at those times we find out who our fair-weather friends and who our true friends are. How many friendships are secretly driven by what we can receive rather than what we can give? If, as the Bishop said on Friday night, St. Faith shows us the cost of discipleship, then Mary certainly gives us an example of what it means to stand by someone, right to the bitter end. How fortunate we are in our two patrons for they set before us the pattern of life required of any disciple.

A faith based upon a certain hymn book, a certain Vicar, even a particular building, is not a faith based upon the one who gave his life on the Cross.

And it is with true disciples that the Church of God will continue to grow and face new opportunities. Armchair disciples are a different matter. Because of course those congregations in places where church buildings are closing are facing the things that really matter: the needs of the people we serve never go away. There will always be those around us who are suicidal, lonely, bereaved, unable to make ends meet, slaves to debt, addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs or promiscuity. The needs of God’s people are not dependant upon the bricks and mortar of a church building. People’s real needs are either served by us or they are not.
As we consider the word DEDICATION today we must ask ourselves some questions:

Do we want to be part of the growth or the demise of the Church?

How deep rooted is my faith? Would you still be here, even if this building, or S Mary’s building wasn’t; is our faith based on a building, or on a relationship with the living God?

Am I prepared to embrace anxieties head on, and help them to become opportunities?

I don’t need them to tell me, but any time my priest-friends visit from other parts of the country they tell me how lucky I am to be in this United Benefice. I know that and I hope you all feel the same way. We have such talents, gifts and skills which are offered in the service of the Lord. We have no shortage of dedicated people who work for the good of the community and those around us in need.

These are not times for complacency however. Today is a time of rededication to the service of the Lord. We need to be bold, we need to be faithful. We need to be more prayerful and more trusting of the Lord. We don’t want a “for Sale” sign put on either of our two church buildings!

As we come to receive Holy Communion the spirit of Jesus is given to us to dwell in our hearts. Not simply to give us a feel-good, holy-glow, but so that we have the strength needed to be a disciple in the world. Perhaps we need our Bishops to assume the role of Lord Kitchener who said “Your Country Needs You!” You will see on your way out I have altered the famous poster so it reads:  Your Church Needs YOU!

As we give thanks today for all that has brought us to the present moment, people, events, everything: the tough question has to be faced: How much are WE prepared to dedicate to the Lord today?


22nd – 29th October, 2006


One World Week is an annual opportunity to join a world-wide movement of people taking action for justice locally and globally.

This year as usual Churches Together in Waterloo decided to mark this special week by an ecumenical service held at the church of St Mary the Virgin. Moreover we chose as our focus the project that encapsulates all the aims of Own World Week, our own Waterloo Partnership that bridges  the gap between the communities bearing that name locally and in Sierra Leone. We believe that this project offers a unique opportunity to …
Globally…learn about the widening gap between rich and poor and, in the spirit of 'ubuntu' (active togetherness), take informed action for justice.

Locally… celebrate the diversity of cultures, ethnicity, gender and creed in our communities and recognise that we are part of one world in combating inequality and discrimination.

Individually...   choose a lifestyle that reflects care for the Earth and its resources.

Many thanks to all who supported the service in One World Week and to those who took part and gave so generously to the funds of the Waterloo Partnership (£108 was raised in the retiring collection). During the service we saw a presentation on the needs of our partners in Sierra Leone and we joined the joint choirs of St Mary’s Church and St Mary's guides in singing the South African hymn  'Siyahamba'  We were pleased to welcome staff and pupils from St Michael’s CE School who manned the Fairtrade stall and led a meditation on the gap between rich and poor worlds. One of their teachers will visit Waterloo, Sierra Leone in the New Year with other teachers from Crosby as part of a Commonwealth exchange.


In 1978, One World Week (OWW) was founded out of a desire that, for one week in every year, people of all kinds should draw the attention of their communities to the fact that the world consists of one human race which shares one planet. Over the years it has been bringing people together to learn about global issues, and to take action locally on things which have an impact on the whole world. One World Week now involves people of many nationalities and has events all the year round, but there is still one week in October (the week containing United Nations Day, 24 October) when the excitement is greater than at any other time.
Thousands of local groups and schools use OWW as a focus for a range of activities, events and celebrations to raise awareness and take action on issues of global justice.  The week is supported by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Methodist Relief, and Traidcraft amongst others.
The movement is inspired by the belief that when we understand each other's perspectives, our lives can be transformed and enriched.  One World Week exists to provide the space for people from diverse backgrounds to come together to learn about global justice, to spread that learning and to use it to challenge inequality, discrimination and degradation, locally and globally.


Not just a week of action but a life long commitment.
There are 1.6 billion people in the world who have a daily wage of less than seventy pence per day. There are 3.1 billion people (just over half the world's population )  who have a daily wage of less than £1.40 per day. Millions of children have no access to decent food, education, clean water and medicine.

In the face of this scandal can we ever say at St Faith’s that we ‘support the third world pretty thoroughly’ -  to quote an answer  in a recent questionnaire? Could we ever do enough?

Kathy Zimak

When in Rome…
Fr Neil

Like all things which are planned in advance, the pilgrimage to Rome seemed a long way off but as the alarm went at 3am on Monday 22nd October I realized it had arrived! 23 pilgrims headed off to the heat of Italy in Autumn for what was a truly memorable week.
The week included a visit to the Anglican Centre with tea and talk by the Director, Bishop John Flack, who was with us this year for Corpus Christi. There were three masses we had as a group at which I delivered homilies; we visited Basilicas, attended the Papal Audience at St. Peter’s as well as days out to Assisi and Orvieto. Very soon we will be publishing a full diary of the week but by way of introduction we print some excerpts below. And you can see a selection of pictures by Joan and Bill Tudhope on

Irene Taylor  - Tuesday
“…Then we organized ourselves for the evening. A group of us going by a series of taxis (white knuckle rides!), but we arrived in one piece at Piazza Navona guided by Father Neil to a very nice restaurant there, here we were outside (in October – at night!) surrounded by street sellers, artists painting and selling their pictures, street musicians and jugglers with flaming torches, a fantastic atmosphere and an excellent meal was then followed by the crowning point of the day – a ten minute walk via little cobbled streets alive with people, stalls, open shops, passing the Pantheon to the famous Trevi fountain illuminated and surrounded by people. We all threw our coins over our left shoulders into the fountain in time-honoured fashion to ensure our return to the Eternal City. This superb climax to a truly wonderful day was thanks to Father Neil – a real spur of the moment decision – only he knew the way, and there was yet more to come….”

Audrey Dawson – Friday

“.Our first view of Orvieto was of a town set amid a beautiful  landscape on top of a volcanic outcrop whose precipitous walls made it look like a fortress on top of a flat plateau, in blazing sunshine and a clear blue sky.  As Fr. Neil told me we had to walk up I was very worried – until I saw the  ‘Funicolare’ railway , a bus at the top took us into the heart of Orvieto.  The square was awesome, the beautiful Cathedral sparkled in the sun showing all the mosaic decoration to its full glory, it is built in two alternate shades of natural stone, one in cream the other dark greyish red.  The town is famous for its wine, olive oil and its unique designs of pottery, as we walked through the  narrow, winding, cobbled streets we saw plenty of evidence of their craft, highly decorated plates and vases and other items in vibrant colours, unfortunately they wouldn’t fit into our cases. Fr. Neil took us to the edge of the town to visit a lovely old peaceful church named  San Giovenale, the view from the outside overlooking the surrounding countryside was magnificent.  Our next visit was to the Cathedral, on the way we took time to take a fleeting look around the church of Sant’ Andrea, a 12th century Gothic church. As we entered the Cathedral  the sun was shining,  which showed up  the  beautiful  windows  to
their best, the top third is stained glass and the bottom two thirds are of amber. In 1263/4 Peter of Prague a Bohemian priest  made a pilgrimage to St. Peters in Rome in order to strengthen his faith.  On his return journey he visited the crypt of Santa Cristina in Bolsena, and whilst celebrating mass he saw blood dripping from the host, so much so that the corporal was soaked with it.  Pope Urban 1V was so impressed by the miracle he ordered the corporal to be taken to the Cathedral in Orvieto and later established the Feast of  Corpus Christi.  The shrine built to house the corporal is the work of the goldsmith Unolino di Vieri.  The surface is decorated with scenes in transparent enamel ( the colour of a wild iris) and silver gilt.  The sacred corporal is displayed in a gold frame and the creases of the cloth and the blood stains can clearly be seen.
Having arrived back at the hotel later than anticipated, it was a rush to get to the lovely peaceful chapel for 6 p.m. to celebrate the last Eucharist of the week, it was so serene I was sorry when the service ended.  Then in true St. Faith’s fashion we all congregated under the canopy of vines to drink champagne, after which we met at the ristorante next door for our final meal of the week.  The food was excellent and the wine flowed, everyone was in a festive spirit and I was sad  to leave the party, but at 11 p.m. I realised I still had packing to do, so I said goodnight (and it had been a good night)…”

Joan Tudhope - Saturday
“…At 7.00 am a tired bunch of pilgrims wandered down to the lovely chapel in Domus Nova Bethlem, for morning prayer and for a final blessing before departing for the airport.  Fr. Neil not only blessed the pilgrims but also religious items that had been purchased in Rome. We then all congregated for the last time in the foyer of the hotel and awaited our coach to take us to the airport.  Fr. Neil, who was to preach at All Saints Church in Rome the next day, remained at the hotel to eat 23 breakfasts, as we had left too early to enjoy our usual fare.
On arrival at Ciampino Airport we joined the queue for check in.  Those of us near the front of the queue were able to witness something usually seen on the television programme ‘Airport’, in that half a dozen people due to take the flight to Charlrois in Belgium had missed their check-in time and were not allowed to get on the flight.  To say there were some angry scenes is an understatement, but it provided some entertainment for us while we were waiting.
Fr. Derek who had checked in before us for his flight to Stansted was last seen with shades and mobile phone waiting to board his plane.  (We have since heard that he arrived home safely). Our flight was on time leaving but landed a little later than anticipated due to strong head winds.  At Liverpool John Lennon Airport the coach to bring us back to St. Faith’s was waiting for us, and we were soon back on familiar territory.  All safe and sound, and no one missing !  A miracle.
PS If you notice Alan Morgan sporting a beard now, that is because he had his shaving cream confiscated at security in Rome!”

Letter to the Editor

I have been meaning to put pen to paper, or more literally, finger tips to keyboard for some time, to show my appreciation at receiving a regular copy of Newslink. My thanks to Joyce Green for supplying me with a copy each month.

The last paragraph of Chris Price’s article, ‘Righteous Rage at the Parish Pump’, October magazine, plus a few spare minutes in work, has prompted me to do it now. Chris says he would welcome more reaction from readers, if only to indicate that someone is reading the pages. Well, Chris, I do indeed read the pages and enjoy keeping up to date with what’s going on at St Faith’s, St Mary’s and further afield. Information provided by the magazine is, of course, in addition to anything that Mum (Peggy Mattison) tells me!

I have particularly enjoyed recent articles from Rick and Rosie Walker about their “Retirement” trip and Hilary Pennington’s “A Letter from Norfolk” and am looking forward to reading accounts of the trip to Rome in future editions. I was a little saddened to read that the Parkfield Playgroup has disbanded as my own daughter, Jennifer, attended the group and was very fond of Mrs Dobson.

So, keep up the good work Chris, I’m sure you know that your work is appreciated but it is nice to be told, isn’t it?

Barbara Howard

Counting Heads

DENOMINATION        1998          2005                 DIFFERENCE    CHANGE
Pentecostals           213,600       287,600              + 73,000             +34%
Smaller Churches           93,100         101,100              + 8,000               + 9%
Orthodox                      25,200          25,600                + 400                  + 2%
Independent Churches  191,600        191,500               - 1,100                - 1 %
New churches              200,500        183,600               - 16,900              - 8%
Baptists                        277,600        254,800              - 22,800               - 8%
Anglican                       980,600        870,600              - 110,000            - 11%
Methodists                   379,700        289,400              - 90,300               - 24%
Roman Catholic           1,230,100      893,100             - 337,000             - 28%
U R C                         121,700         69,900                - 51,800              - 43%

It’s official – most churches are losing people steadily. At St Faith’s, as in every church of every denomination to whose people I have spoken, this will not come as news. The table above confirms this broad downward trend, showing membership losses between 1998 and 2005 as raw totals and as percentages.

The variations between denominations make for interesting reading. Pentecostalist churches, and the many small congregations, show real growth – the former in particular. Others have more or less resisted decline. Among mainstream churches the Baptists aren’t doing too badly, but other Protestant denominations are suffering pretty badly – espeically the Methodists and the United Reformed Church, with the latter seemingly in melt-down. 

The C of E has suffered, as we all know, but is surprising, and not a little encouraging, that the decline is a relatively small 11%. But the fall in mubers of Roman Catholics is almost three times greater. Their numbers as shown here are now only a little higher than ours (and another recent set of figures actually put ‘us’ ahead of ‘them’).  Used as we are to the Merseyside picture, where uincharacteristically large numbers still seem to crowd local Roman Catholic churches, these figures give a nation-wide perspective and provide food for thought.

Christmas Day 
Richard Holloway

In many ways it is a pity that the phrase `no room at the inn' has gone into our language and sunk into our consciousness, because it is almost certainly misunderstood by most of us. In the first place, we probably ought to revise our picture of the inn they came to in Bethlehem. It wasn’t a hotel or boarding house as we think of these things, with multi-level parking for camels round the back. A middle-eastern inn was really a square of covered stalls built round an open courtyard. Travellers arrived and booked in for the night on a first-come-first-served basis, the way they do in caravan and parking sites in this country today. If you got there in time you got a stall, a place to camp. The innkeeper supplied feed for your beasts and a fire for you. You brought your own food. The animals were bedded down in the open courtyard in the centre. Latecomers had, perforce, to join the animals. It was, after all, first-come-first-served. And Mary and Joseph got there late. There were many travelling and Mary and Joseph, because of her condition, made time more slowly than most. All the stalls were taken so they, like many others, had to make do with the open courtyard among the animals. Admittedly it was an awful place in which to give birth to a child, but there was no conspiracy, no hard-faced social oppression. It was first-come-first-served, and they were late. Too many others had got to the inn before them.

So it was not intentionally meant, and the innkeeper was probably a decent sort. Nevertheless, it makes you think, doesn’t it? Most human beings aren’t oppressors, but things have a perplexing way of crowding in on them as they did on that innkeeper, so that tragic things happen and precious opportunities are lost. No one is to blame, of course, and yet... The story of Christmas is the story of God’s coming to us and he always seems to get there too late. As John’s Gospel puts it: ‘He came to his own home, and his own people received him not’. Why? Why does he never get to Bethlehem on time, ahead of the others? Why is it always too late to admit him?

I think the reason why there is no room left for God is that he is not one of the things that press in on us; he is not one thing among many; he is what gives meaning to everything else. God is the ground of the existence of all things, but his existence does not press in upon us with the same directness or unavoidability as the things he has made. In order to think about God, to think about the meaning of everything, as opposed to reacting to the stimulus of something, we have to stand back a bit from life and make a free choice: we have to stop the assembly line, the endless flow of demand and desire, and ask about the meaning of the whole: ‘What does it mean?’ It’s obviously easy to avoid this question, because all the other things get there first, capture us, own us, obsess us. We are held in this great, inexorable system of one-thing-after-another, and to wrench ourselves out of it even for a moment, to ask what it means, requires an enormous act of courage and will; and most of us prefer to be driven thoughtlessly by the thoughtless rush of life. Anyway, most of us are not really sure we want to find God, recognise God, confront God, for we fear what it might mean and the changes we might have to make. God’s presence disturbs us, challenges us, lights up too much we want to keep hidden, even from ourselves. Altogether, then God’s much, much safer out there in the courtyard.

That, of course, is where he stays. God’s coming to us is always, by his own will, ignorable by us. He comes, always, in a lowly way, a way that’s easy to dismiss - in weakness, in poverty, in simplicity, the divine straggler, the man at the end of the line who arrives just as we put up the shutters: He’s easy to dismiss, to pretend not to notice, to turn from, to crowd out of our lives: just ignore him and he goes away - or almost, but only almost, because the divine stranger never quite goes away. He’s always turning up in our lives, standing on the periphery, catching our eyes in spite of ourselves, filling us with a sudden loneliness in the midst of the crowd, stabbing us with a sudden longing to make an end of all pretence and own him Lord. He’s always turning up in our lives: a thought the window of a speeding train; a forgotten confirmation card turns up in an old book; something your mother once said to you is remembered when you’re too old to cry; and there is the strange light at the year’s end, caught too swiftly on the ice-grey river. It’s always too late. ‘Late, late, have I loved thee.’ He’s always late, late getting to Bethlehem, but he keeps on coming, keeps on moving along that road, travelling, travelling towards us to stand mutely at our heart’s door.

What the Paper Says
Chris Price

‘Williams will meet Pope to revive talks on unity’ …… ‘First female Anglican prelate takes office’ …. ‘Bishop condemned over imam warning’ …. ‘Majority views religion as force for good’ …. ‘Christmas stamps ‘ignore Christianity’……. ‘Tailor ‘cured’ of cancer cited as papal miracle’

It is tempting to believe that religion is a spent force in 21st British society, and to think that  the media   (the  BBC and  the  press particularly)   see  Christianity  as  an  amusing irrelevance. As a welcome counterblast to this trumpeting of doom, the six headlines above occupied between them two full pages of successive issue of the Daily Telegralh recently (liberal readers, with or without the capital ‘L’, are invited to match this with similar coverage in the ‘Grauniad’). Equally refreshing is that the articles concerned on balance presented a positive image of the churches and of the faith, as I trust this brief survey will demonstrate.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is soon to meet the Pope ‘in an effort to bolster ties strained by rows over women priests and homosexuality,’ writes Jonathan Petre. The two will pray together and announce a new round of unity talks. The article charts the progress (or lack of it) of moves to unity, and mentions the appointment of Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop and of a woman as presiding bishop of the American Episocpla Church as posing problems – but the tone of  the piece is generally upbeat.  Catherine Elsworth’s piece on that American primate-elect, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was raised as a Roman Catholic, outlines the story of her surprise election, seen as a victory for women clergy and those who seek to include lesbians and gays fully in the church – but it adds, rather more ominously, that seven American Episcopalian dioceses have already declared that they will refuse to accept her authority.

Ben Quinn writes about the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who in a series of outspoken recent articles, has called for rigorous checks on Muslim clerics, attacked the wearing of veils and argued for ‘reclaiming the moral and spiritual tradition which created this country.’ He regrets Prince Charles’s wish to be styled as ‘Defender of Faith’. Unsurprisingly, the Pakistan-born bishop’s remarks have upset the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

The next day’s paper led with statistics, as presented by a new ecumenical ‘think tank’, which found that 53% of Britons see religion as a force for good, as opposed to 38% who see it as evil. Intriguingly, a lot more young people are on our side  rather than ahgainst us in this survey. Predictably, the National Secular Society claims that the great British public in fact sees religious institutions as ‘nasty, small-minded and controlling’. They certainly don’t control the Royal Mail: Jonathan Petre reports on the total secularisation of this year’s Christmas stamps, which contine the trend that saw Birmingham rename Christmas as ‘Winterval’ in 1998, and Luton call its Christmas lights ‘luminos’ after the Harry Potter books! Finally Malcolm Moore reports on the miraculous apparent cure of Nicola Grippo from Salerno, who has made a dramatic recovery from a tumour-ridden cancerous death sentence. His wife saw the late Pope in a dream, and doctors tipped off the Vatican, whose officials hope that this otherwise inexplicable remission will be the final piece of evidence required for Pope John Paul II’s canonisation.  Mr Grippo, regrettably, ‘is more willing to credit his recovery to medicine than God.’ Having lost two daughters, one to leukaemia and the other in a car crash, he he says sadly, ‘I would have wanted the miracle for them.’

Two full pages of religious coverage, then – and enough to make one think that Christianity in one form or another is alive and well in the world, and giving quite a good account of itself, at least in the pages of my newspaper!

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