REFLECTIONS


These pieces are written each month by members of our clergy team.

June Parish Magazine Leader:

The 22nd of June 2024 will mark 66 years since St Nicholas Church was opened. In recognition of this occasion, I have included below an edited extract from the history of the church’s beginnings. You may read the full history here.

On the cessation of hostilities in 1945 throughout the country, many building projects which had lain dormant during the war years were re-commenced and many new ones embarked upon. It was realised by the then Rector, Rev’d Aidan Chapman, and the Parochial Church Council, that the completion of the Davis Estate and Crofton Park Estate would considerably increase the number of people in that part of the parish and, furthermore, that the by-pass, with its heavy traffic, would tend to separate the residents (and especially the children) from their parish church.

It was felt essential therefore that the Church should go to these new parishioners and establish itself in their midst. After due consideration it was decided that the provision of a dual-purpose hall would best suit all the requirements; a hall that could be used for secular purposes and yet, quickly, and easily, be transformed for dignified use in Services and Celebrations of Holy Communion. Eventually, in December 1954, the plot of land in Leamington Avenue was obtained and purchased by the Rochester Diocese on behalf of the Church Council. The cost of the new hall now became a matter of major concern. However, about the time that the ground was acquired, the Rector announced that an anonymous donor had made an extremely generous gift of £10,000. This enabled plans to be considerably speeded up but, even so, building costs had risen so much that the original conception of an architect-designed hall had to be abandoned. It was ultimately decided to purchase a prefabricated hall from Messrs Rema Ltd. of Salisbury. The ground was quickly cleared and on Sunday, 8th December 1957, at a simple but inspiring ceremony witnessed by a large assembly, the Foundation Stone was laid by Mrs. Guy Warman. Steadily, in the hands of Messrs. J. Cauldwell Ltd., the building took shape, was completed, and finally decorated.


On Sunday evening, June 22nd 1958, the New Church Hall was opened and dedicated. After a shortened form of Evensong in St Giles Church, the Clergy, Choir and Congregation processed to the Hall. With the many others who had already assembled, they witnessed the Dedication of the Sanctuary by the Lord Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Christopher M. Chevasse.

In the pages of the Bible we find encouragements to remember certain events in our history. Through the book of Haggai we learn about a prophet and a group of people who were challenged to rebuild the temple of the Lord on return to their country, following destruction by foreign armies and a long period of exile. This theme of rebuilding finds echoes, I believe, in the many building projects going on around Great Britain in the 1950s, as the nation began to piece itself together in the aftermath of the Second World War. St Nicholas church, of course, was one such project.

Towards the end of Haggai the people are told to ‘give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid’ (Haggai 2:18). There seems therefore to be a biblical precedent to the idea of remembering our origins, of giving thought to when our ‘restoration’ or ‘renewal’ began. As part of the assurances that are found in Haggai, God promises to ‘fill this house with glory’ and declares that ‘in this place I will grant peace’ (Haggai 2:7,9). We know that we have a building that has faithfully served the community for many years. It has stood the test of time. Our continued prayer for St Nicholas is that it will be a place where people encounter the glory and the presence of God, and that within its walls people would find peace. 

Stephen Broadie


Reflection

In terms of the Church's year, May is a pretty busy month.  At the beginning of the month we celebrated the Ascension of Christ, his departure from the realm of this physical material world to the realm of heaven and the presence of God.  Then, nine days later, the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the believers at the season of Pentecost, or Whitsunday as it used to be called.  Finally at the end of the month the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday, an acknowledgment of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What are we to make of these three important festivals?  In a way they are all linked together.  After his Resurrection Jesus spent 40 days in the company of his disciples and other followers.  Some of these encounters are recorded in the Gospels and some are alluded to by St. Paul in his letters.  During this time Jesus was establishing a firm experience of his new risen life, so that in the future the Church would be built upon an authentic eye witnessed experience of his resurrection.  However, whilst he was in his resurrected state, Jesus remained confined by time and space.  If he was in Galilee then he couldn't be in Jerusalem, Jesus was also limited to a particular place and moment in history, namely first century Palestine.  Eventually Jesus was taken up into heaven not only to move out of the limits of earthly time, but to show humankind its destiny as he told his disciples in John 14:    

‘I am going to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am you may also be.’  

This absence was not to last long, for nine days later, whilst the disciples were gathered together, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were filled with the Spirit and empowered to preach and proclaim the Gospel to all the nations.  The coming of the Spirit ushers in a new era, for now Jesus, no longer limited by the restriction of time and place, is able to be present in the lives of his followers at all times and in all places throughout history. This is what we call the universal consciousness of Christ. This explains the phenomena of the Church over two millennia and the way in which all over the world in every country and culture individuals know the presence of Christ and his love in their lives.  The crowning glory of this month is a celebration of the very nature and being of God as Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There is probably no belief in the Christian faith that has been a cause of more ridicule and confusion then the Holy Trinity. So, let's unpack it and we will see that this belief makes perfect sense and indeed is the only way to understand the true nature of God.    

Despite some rather shameful moments in its long history the Christian faith in its essence is about love.  This stems from Christians understanding that God’s very being is love.  As it says in the First letter of John:    

‘God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.’  

Likewise the above Gospel passage concludes with this statement:  

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all those who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’  

Now God is also the ground of our own being for we know ourselves to be preoccupied with the things of love.  Either we are working to sustain the relationships around us, or we are saddened when love is not working, we are lonely when we do not have love and we grieve the loss of someone we loved.  Life is a search for love.  Internally we are always in a struggle with self-love, preoccupied with our own health, survival and comfort.  All of this is because we are made in the image of God, we are created in love and are given by God the capacity to love and to know God as love in our lives.  Loving someone is the closest we can get to knowing the very nature and life of God.  

Love is always about relationships, our relationship with ourselves, with our families, friends and our neighbours and even as a guiding principle for society itself.  The Health Service, the Welfare State, the education of children and the thousands of charities in existence are all predicated on the basic assumption of 'love thy neighbour'. It is totally wrong to assume that this is just a natural state of things as there have been many societies across history where being cruel to thy neighbour was the order of the day.  Communist societies, Nazi Germany, Ancient Rome, to mention but a few!  

This now brings us onto the issue of the blessèd Trinity.  God is love and therefore God is a relationship, a perfect balanced, gentle, active, creative relationship.  The Father is the creator and loves the Son who he sends to redeem the world and the Holy Spirit is the active presence, language and agency of love in the word.  Now the love of one is lonely and in danger of being egotistical, and the love of two is excluding by definition, but the love of three in balance and perfection is divine.  We humans can never entirely love equally, not in a perfect way, but the Divine Trinity is the all-encompassing balance of mutual love and self-giving, active in the world to bring us to the knowledge and obedience of God's love. Not three Gods but one, for pure love is always whole and one.  The members of the Trinity are distinct, but unified in Divine wholeness. 

We see this described by Jesus in his above encounter with Nicodemus who is searching for truth.  Jesus does not offer him mere doctrines, but an invitation to be born again, in other words to experience a completely new start.  In this passage the loving Trinity is revealed in their distinct roles.  God the Father who sends his Son into the world to save us and forgive us, (God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son); the Son who gives his life in love and sacrifice, (So must the Son of man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life).  The Holy Spirit creates a new life in us, new understanding, new priorities, a new sense of love.  (That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit).  

Here, God the blessed Trinity is revealed to be creative transforming love, reaching out to us in the world, offering us forgiveness and a new start through the sacrificial death of Christ and instilling in us the Holy Spirit, God's loving presence in the very core of our being, a presence that cannot be ended by death.  

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that all those who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’

Matthew Hughes