Category Archives: Advent

An Advent Calendar with a difference!

Foodbank Advent

Instead of a traditional Advent Calendar this year, why not join the growing number of people throughout the UK who are giving a tin or packet of food or toiletries, tooth-paste or chocolates to our local Food Bank.  Simply get an empty box, put something in it each day and then bring it to Church ready for the Foodbank to collect later in December.

Together, let’s make a real difference to others in our community!

Longest Night Service

longest night

Christmas is meant to be joyful but in reality life can feel difficult and painful, particularly at this time of year when the nights are long and other people seem to be planning celebrations that are a long way away from how we feel. We know that this can be particularly true for those who have recently lost a loved one.

Our Longest Night service is an opportunity to sing quiet carols, light candles and share our feelings with God. We hope to offer space and time for quietness and reflection, and reassurance that we are not alone even in our darkest and most difficult times. We will look for God’s comfort and hope and the real message of Christmas that comes to shine light into our darkness.

If this time of the year feels a bit empty or hard for you, do join us for a service at Enstone Church on Saturday 21 December at 6.00 pm. The service will last for about 40 minutes.

If you are coming by car, please park in Little Tew Road and walk to the Church through the Churchyard.  Do bring a torch!

Should the weather turn wintery and it is necessary to cancel the service, we will post a notice on the Benefice website here.

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Journey through Advent: Forgiveness

forgiveness_wordle

The discussion at the first of this year’s Advent Suppers focused on the challenge of forgiveness. We regularly pray that we may be forgiven as we forgive others and sometimes it is easy to forgive – but there are times when it is hard, even impossible. So how does the Bible help us understand how we might approach forgiveness? To help our discussion, we read some news stories including two about Eva Kor, a concentration camp survivor who was able to forgive the unforgivable when others would not or could not. We watched Rob Bell’s video ‘Luggage’ in which he argues that forgiveness is as much to do with setting ourselves free as it is lifting the burden of others. A lively discussion followed that ranged over a variety of personal experiences and produced some memorable mental images including filing cabinets, dead balloons and horse jumps!

Unfortunately time didn’t allow us to explore some of the wider questions, such as how forgiveness relates to desire for revenge, whether it means condoning bad behaviour and how it might differ from reconciliation. We plan to organise a discussion group next year to give us an opportunity to discuss some of these questions, maybe in the form of a book club. The Brothers Karamazov, anyone?

If you would like to look at the materials we used you can download them here.  You can also find a link to the Bell video we watched.

If you haven’t signed up but would like to join us for the second and third Advent Suppers, please let Mark know by signing up here

 

Advent Supper 4

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

Twenty-two of us gathered in Chadlington last Wednesday for the last of our series of Advent Suppers, this time on the theme of ‘welcome’ – or perhaps, what it means to offer or receive a ‘well-coming’.  The evening began with a short discussion, during which we considered what the defining characteristics of a welcoming country might be.  Our answers included:

  • acknowledging strangers in such a way as to allow communication, even if there are language differences
  • showing interest by asking questions in a sensitive, non-aggressive, way
  • smiling, and making eye contact
  • showing respect and giving dignity
  • practical help such as hospitality, and providing information and basic necessities
  • being aware of cultural differences eg behaviour normal to us, that might inadvertently cause offence

The TED talk that followed, How to help refugees rebuild their world, was given by Melissa Fleming of the UN Refugee Agency.  It is a strong presentation – and in charting the progress of particular refugees it illustrates well the power of the human interest story to inspire our compassion and empathy (two of our themes from earlier weeks).  It is perhaps human nature to find it easier to respond to individual people or families, whereas the plight of anonymous thousands can leave us feeling helpless.

The talk, recorded in 2014, presented many surprising facts about the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East:

  • 86% of those fleeing their homes find shelter in neighbouring countries (Lebanon, with a population of just 5 million has 1 million refugees),
  • only 14% head for Europe and the West.
  • Being a refugee is not a temporary condition – the average length of time is 17 years.
  • 50% of refugees are children, for whom there is a scarcity of education beyond primary level.  The lack of funding for secondary, let alone tertiary, education means that a whole generation is being wasted.
  • The very people who need resourcing and equipping to rebuild their countries in years to come are being left vulnerable and without hope for the future.

There was plenty of food for thought here to stimulate our discussion during the meal that followed, after which we looked at a number of short bible quotations from both the Old and New Testaments linking the theme of God’s commandments to care for ‘the stranger’ and for each other.  Far-ranging discussion in the groups included consideration of how ‘justice’ can be defined (whose justice is being enforced?); what our responsibilities to refugees might be (do they, for instance, include trying to bring wars to an end?); the effects of changes in society since biblical times with people nowadays more likely to be dislocated from families and places of origin, and the loss of inter-generational living.  As at previous Advent suppers the evening ended with discussion on how to put our responses usefully into practical action.

The series of Advent Suppers has been both stimulating and an excellent opportunity for fellowship.  Special thanks go to all involved in setting up the evenings, those who prepared the hall, cooked and served the very delicious meals and drinks, and washed up.  A Lent series is already being planned!

Marian Needham


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  4
16 December 2015

TED Talk – How to help refugees rebuild their world

For discussion before the TED Talk:

What are the defining characteristics of a welcoming country? (Have someone at your table jot down the characteristics you have identified).

Some questions to consider during our meal:-

Discuss your reactions to any of the points the speaker made, and consider the implication for our country, our church community and ourselves as individuals.

Here are some that you might like to consider.

  1. What is a refugee/What makes people become refugees?
  2. What choices do they have?
  3. How extensive is the refugee problem today and where is it concentrated?
  4. What responsibilities do we have towards refugees?

If you think we do

What can we do to help solve the problem?

Biblical reflection

God accepts all in Jesus
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Greek ethnos), But you have made it a robbers’ den.”  (The word ethnos is the New Testament word for “gentiles.”) (Mark 11:17)

We Were All Baptized By One Spirit
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Invite the Stranger In
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

Love Your Neighbour as Yourself
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Leave Food for the Poor and the Foreigner
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us.” (Numbers 10:32)

God Loves the Foreigner Residing Among You
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

The Sin of Sodom: They Did Not Help the Poor and Needy
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Do Not Oppress a Foreigner
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.(Deuteronomy 23:7)

Do Not Deprive Foreigners Among You of Justice
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

Questions to consider

  • HOW DOES WELCOME RELATE TO THE FIRST TWO THEMES OF COMPASSION AND EMPATHY THAT WE DISCUSSED IN OUR ADVENT SERIES?

Advent Supper 3

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

A very cheerful and large group gathered for our session this week on What sort of community would Jesus find. We listed to a TED talk by psychologist Sherry Turkle entitled Alone but together – see below for details and questions that we consideredThe Bible passage for exploration that followed the talk was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 in which St Paul examines the body and how each element is related to the whole.

This week people seemed even more relaxed and engaged than last week – with humour playing a very enlivening role at some tables! The talk explored the potential effect that electronic communication and social networking could have on the way people communicated with each other. And how that could affect the way society as a whole worked. Some of us fell more into the category of enlightened electronic Luddites that avid Social networkers, but all acknowledged the potential negative and positive effects that Twitter, Facebook and the like could have. The point raised in the talk about people withdrawing  from company onto their electronic devices where they could create and control their own virtual world, rather than interact with others face to face, had been noticed by everybody. The potential to for this to limit the social competence of  people young and older was also noted.

There was also discussion about whether the fear of intimacy, which had also been raised in the talk, and in the bible passage discussion on how the church worked as a community. Are people fearful of being open to others? Do they expect to engage with others at a deeper level when the join the church community? Does the church encourage and facilitate deeper personal relationships?

There are no slick answers to the challenge of living as a community, especially within the church. Electronic communication had real potential for harm, but equally real potential for building community, if it was used as a powerful and creative tool facilitating and supporting real relationships. There was strong agreement that Jesus would go onto Facebook if he were to come again now, as it would provide a great opportunity for him to reach many.

Next week we will be exploring welcome.   There is still time to sign up – don’t miss out! – you can book your place by clicking here.

Peter Silva


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  3
9 December 2015

TED Talk – Connected, but alone?

Some questions for discussion during our meal:-

  • Discuss your reactions to some or all of these points the speaker makes, and consider the implications of the situations she describes.‘We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere – connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives. They want to go in and out of all the places they are because the thing that matters most to them is control over where they put their attention.’

    ‘Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection.’

    ‘And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our ‘flight’ from real time conversation denies the capacity for self reflection.’

     

  • Were there any other points that particularly caught your attention? Why? 
  • To what extent do you recognise any of the habits, changes and trends the speaker talks about in yourself, and in others you know? What effects has it had on relationships?

Biblical reflection

1 Corinthians 12.12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Questions to consider

  • What is Paul’s vision for Christian community living in this passage?
  • How does it contrast with what’s happening in digital communities and relationships?
  • How could we, in the Chase Benefice, respond to the isolation and false connectedness suggested in the talk?
  • How can we teach younger people to have and value real conversations?
  • Are there ways in which we could use digital communication and connectedness to bring about positive benefits for a community?

Advent Supper 2

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

There was a very relaxed and sociable atmosphere as 22 people gathered for the second talk in the Advent series – an exploration of Who would be capable of showing empathy.  We listened to a TED talk by the American sociologist, Sam Richards entitled, A Radical Experiment in Empathy – see below. After our meal we read the passage from Luke 16 – The rich man and Lazarus. People were very engaged in the discussion at their tables and the feedback at the end was vigorous and varied about both the talk and the Bible passage.

We all grasped that empathy was the process by which we put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, and saw the world through their eyes. If we were to enter into this process, we would have to ‘suspend judgment’, consciously putting our own views and opinions to one side. Seeing things through the eyes of someone else would enable us to understand in much more depth, why they react and behave in the way they do. It would not necessarily lead us to agree with them, but our new, more profound understanding would make it highly like that our attitude to them would change as would our behaviour. This in turn would lead to greater tolerance and respect for those who appeared to differ from us in many aspects of life.

Next week we will be exploring how changes in the way we communicate challenge how we relate to each other and the opportunities that those challenges bring.   There is still time to sign up – don’t miss out! – you can book your place by clicking here.

Peter Silva


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  2
2 December 2015

TED Talk – A Radical Experiment in Empathy

Some questions for discussion during our meal:-

  • What struck you about the presentation by Sam Richards?
  • What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
  • What does having empathy mean for you?
  • Can you think of a time when someone was empathetic towards you? How did it make you feel? Share this with others if you wish.
  • What stops us from ‘stepping into’ someones shoes?
  • What questions does this TED Talk raise for Parliament today as it discusses the use of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria?

Biblical reflection

Luke 16. 19-31  – The Rich Man and Lazarus

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

Questions to consider

  • What do you think that the message of this parable is?
  • Who is isolated? Lazarus or the rich man? Why?
  • What are the consequences of not having empathy?
  • Whom do we ourselves lack empathy for?. The poor? The rich? People of a certain race or faith or lifestyle? Some family members?  Whom do we want to avoid?
  • Is it possible to have empathy for people who hurt us or mistreat us?What practical things can we do to increase empathy in our lives? In the Church?

Advent Supper 1

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

Advent began early this year in The Chase Benefice with me leading the first of our four Advent Suppers on Wednesday night (25 November).  Twenty-three of us gathered in Chadlington Hall for an excellent meal – it may be a penitential season, but hospitality and fellowship are never out of place! – and around it some stimulating talk on the topic of compassion.

Things got off to a good start with the viewing of an engaging online TED talk by Rabbi Jackie Tabick – ‘The Balancing Act of Compassion’ – this, together with some related suggestions for discussion, got us all talking over our meal.  [You can watch this TED talk and look at the questions we discussed at the end of this post]. Having cleared the dishes, we looked at the story of ‘The Good Samaritan’ and what it has to say about compassion.   On our table (there were four) we thought about what is meant by ‘our neighbours’, the difficulties of acting compassionately now compared to the difficulties in Jesus’ time, and what limits and checks there can be on our responses.  I’d have liked to eavesdrop on the conversations at other tables as well… but at least a short time of feedback at the end meant we had a flavour of what everyone else had been talking about, and out of it came the general agreement that compassion by itself is not enough.  Responding to someone else’s suffering or difficulty has to result in some kind of action on our part.

The next three Wednesday evenings will follow the same pattern of TED talk, meal and discussion, around the topics of empathy, community and welcome.  Next Wednesday Mark will lead with ‘A radical experiment in empathy’.  It will pick up from his sermon following the attacks in Paris.  It promises to be a really challenging and stimulating evening.   There is still time to sign up – don’t miss out! – you can book your place by clicking here.

Marian Needham


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  1
25 November 2015

TED Talk – The Balancing Act of Compassion

 

Some questions for discussion during our meal:-

  • What does having compassion mean for you?
  • Are you able to describe and share a situation when someone showed compassion to you?
  • What boundaries might having compassion lead us to cross?
  • What things stop us from acting on our compassion?

Biblical reflection

Luke 10. 25-37 – The ‘Good Samaritan’

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Questions to consider

  • What was Jesus trying to tell us by having a Samaritan as the hero of the story?
  • What was Jesus saying by having the priest and the Levi as the ones who failed to show compassion?
  • Who are our neighbours today?
  • What things can make it difficult for us to love our neighbours?
  • If Jesus were to be born today, would he find our compassion and love for others any different from 2,000 years ago?
  • Jesus said: ‘Go and do likewise’.  In this story, Jesus challenges our prejudices and encourages us to enlarge our idea of who our neighbour is, and to love in the generous, unconditional way that we have been loved by God regardless of the personal cost or inconvenience. How possible is that today?  How can we be the ‘hands of God’ today?