I want to take a moment to thank everyone who took on extra responsibilities during the vacancy, and all those who supported them with practical help and prayer. The tremendous goodwill of our church family across the benefice has been invaluable during this testing time, and it has not gone unnoticed. As we have worked together as a church, we have grown together. Our relationships have deepened in ways that bear witness to the love of God, and to our Christian faith. As a benefice we have navigated our vacancy well, and that warrants acknowledgment. We are in good shape, and look forward to the next chapter of our story unfolding under the leadership and guidance of the Revd Matthew Tregenza.
At this time of year the gardeners among us start to prepare for the season ahead, and the seeds we plant reflect the fruits we hope to harvest, be they flowers for the house or food for the table.
In Galatians 5.22-23, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
I am glad to say I regularly see evidence of these spiritual fruits in our church family, and in the wider local community. Yet I cannot be alone in feeling disquiet at some of the bitter fruits displayed in the media. There is the trolling of individuals on twitter, and the questionable behaviour of some TV and Radio presenters and journalists. As I write this column there are shocking scenes outside of parliament as protestors overstep the mark from legitimate protest into the aggressive intimidation of MPs going about their legal daily business. In an age of uncertainty I find myself turning to the words of St Paul again and again. In such unsettling times as these we need the gospel to keep us on track. Can we not, alongside our sweet peas and courgettes, plant seeds of kindness and gentleness? I am not suggesting that we should forgo robust political debate on Brexit or any other topic. One of the blessings of our society is that we are free to hold very different opinions from each other, and from our elected leaders. However, underpinning that blessing is a set of values firmly rooted in our Christian heritage; values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for each other. When these values break down there are no winners and all fruits turn sour.
I would like to suggest that as Christians we have a real gift to share with the world around us. It is the Christian life, the narrative that shapes it and the fruits of the Spirit it nurtures in those who follow it. We know its transformative power in our own church family life and we can see it in the lives of great men and women of faith like William Wilberforce, Mary Sumner, Elizabeth Fry, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
May the harvest be plentiful.