St John's Church, Harpenden - letter from the Ministry team

We publish a Parish Magazine 4 times a year and in each Magazine there is a letter from the vicar or a member of the Ministry team.

Letter from the Vicarage

Our Harvest Sunday falls on Sunday, 4 October, and we are once again invited to support the Bishop's Harvest Appeal for 2015. The project will help the Anglican Church in Uganda to break new ground as it supports the work of the Diocese of Rukungiri to transform attitudes towards and provision for disabled children in Uganda, where having a disability is a serious disadvantage. Children like Moses, who features in the Bishop's Appeal, are often viewed as 'without use' as they may not be able to assist their family with work in the fields or look after younger siblings at home. The Diocese is building a new education facility specifically designed for disabled children, including accommodation in addition to classrooms as the children live many miles away from a school with no public transport.

We will donate all our collections on that Sunday to the Bishop's Harvest Appeal. We will also offer gifts of non-perishable food during the 9.30 am Parish Communion. There is something profoundly important in connecting the Eucharist with the act of giving food to those who for a range of reasons find themselves hungry. Our gifts will be distributed through the Food Bank, so once again I ask you to be generous.

Sunday, 4 October is also the day on which the Church commemorates the life of Francis of Assisi. The present Pope, who has chosen to call himself after this remarkable man, has issued a lengthy letter - 'Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home' - which is both a challenge and an invitation to believers and non-believers alike. The ecological crisis our world is facing poses the question of what place humanity has in the grand scheme of things. In our culture, we are often encouraged to assume that we have absolute rights and freedom to believe, say and do what we want. But at the same time, we are constantly reminded that we are mere animals, bundles of chemicals, genes and neurons who happen to suffer from the delusion that we are free and that our lives have meaning. We see a parallel confusion in much ecological thinking too. On the one hand, nature is good and beautiful and we humans are monsters for having polluted the environment, destroyed natural habitats and brought about the extinction of other species. On the other hand, are we not part of nature ourselves? And a rather special part at that, in that we can think, analyse and undertake research and perhaps one day solve the problems we have caused in the first place.

It is into this confusion that Pope Francis goes, helping us to approach the ecological crisis and life itself more positively. He takes a middle path between the twin extremes of anthropocentrism and misanthropic nihilism. The Letter certainly upholds human dignity, refusing to deny our human uniqueness or special value. But the Letter also reminds us that 'we are not god', and suggests that the mandate given to Adam to have dominion over creation is not a matter of arbitrary power but of stewardship and care. This is non-negotiable and not subject to caveats invoked by proponents of sovereign market forces or by cultures that have learned habits of contempt for creation. The letter is calling for more respect to be given to all living creatures. This typically Franciscan theme may stimulate new discussions about meat-eating and the acceptability of scientific experimentation on live animals.

But the Letter goes further by setting characteristically ecological concerns within a larger and more integrated picture, pointing up connections that are not often highlighted. It proposes respect for life in all its manifestations, a message that will be challenging for nature- and animal-lovers who also believe that human abortion and euthanasia are permissible. It also links respect for the environment to issues as wideranging as the value of human community, the need to beautify our cities, to reform the banking system, and to improve public transport systems. This integrated vision ought to be compelling in a world of fragmentation.

The Letter raises another issue. Advanced globalised capitalism does bad things to us. It tries to turn us into machines. It warps our desires and conditions our consciousness. It generates a 'throw-away' culture. It is making us work harder, relating less to each other and hardly ever thinking profoundly about our situation. Of course, Pope Francis is not the first to point to any of these phenomena. But the way in which he calls on us all to break out of this most vicious of spirals is attractive. He locates the root source of the ecological crisis not in the western philosophical or theological tradition, still less as a purely technical problems, but in a disorder of the human heart. And so he points to that practice which, more than any other, purifies and cleanses the heart and opens us up to mystery, truth and creativity: prayer. Pope Francis would have us all learn to rest, to contemplate, to drink deeply from the wellsprings of the Spirit, who is present as an inextinguishable joy at the heart of creation. It is an invitation to gaze on God's creation with the eyes of loving contemplation.

The Letter reminds us that it is God alone who has the power to get us out of the environmental catastrophe we are gradually entering. We are not without hope if the living Creator God is on our side.

With kind regards to you all,

Nicholas

Nicholas Anderson



Visit the Diocese's web site: Living God's Love.



Read about Lauryn's visit to the Holy Land



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