Little Secret Santas

Back in the summattmer when I was asked to write a Christmas week blog for the Diocesan website, I thought (not particularly long or hard) about what topic I would choose, and came up with the inspired title of “Secret Santa”.

Now the time has come to write, and so much has happened in the last couple of weeks that maybe my original idea isn’t really appropriate.  After all, this blog is for current news topics and at the moment there are so many sad and terrible stories about the conflict in Syria and the passing of legends of the 20th Century, that the title just seems a little silly.

The passing of Nelson Mandela recently, the great Peter O’Toole, and of a personal friend and colleague in the last week has really made me think about how these men, in very different ways and circumstances, gave themselves, their time and their enthusiasm to their work and to the people and communities that they cared deeply about.

Nelson Mandela once said “I’m not a saint, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”.  That really stuck with me – To keep on trying; trying to make the world around me a better and happier place.

I’ve not yet been referred to as a saint, but the giving of gifts at Christmas is one of my favourite things.  Trying to give those I care about something they weren’t expecting in order to bring a smile to their faces.  But this doesn’t always have to be a physical gift.  It can be a simple act of kindness which makes someone’s world a better place.  Sometimes they don’t even need to know who instigated the act of kindness.  An anonymous gift; in fact you could call it a Secret Santa!  Maybe my original title wasn’t such a silly idea.  If we can all find a little Secret Santa inside each of ourselves this Christmas and coming New Year, maybe the world will be a better and happier place.

Merry Christmas everyone!

by Matthew Brunt, Diocesan Management Accountant

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Nelson Mandela

robert_springett 2Nelson Mandela will be remembered as one of the great heroes of the 20th century, leading his people in opposing the evil of the apartheid system.

At his trial for treason in 1958 he said “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities… It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Released from prison his strength came not from anger but a determination to reconcile his people, the truth and reconciliation commission process acknowledged past atrocities but enable also a new future, one marked by forgiveness, reconciliation and unity.

Nelson Mandela articulated a vision for his people, embodied it, lived and worked it. It was his life and it will be his legacy.

Last Sunday in our churches we remembered John the Baptist. In the wilderness with the outcast he cried out ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’, he looked for the time when the ‘earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord’ where men and women shall be at peace with each other and the world will be marked by justice. In doing this he pointed his hearers to the prince of peace, to Jesus Christ whose coming we await in Advent.

As we celebrate Nelson Mandela, as we wait for the coming of Christ, I wonder how we in our lives may be signs of peace, justice and reconciliation.

By the Archdeacon of Cheltenham, Venerable Robert Springett

The true meaning of Christmas

Anne Baynham2This post originated from a place of fear.  I am not alone.  I was saddened to discover that this fear is shared by millions.  Somewhere along the way, we as a society lost the meaning of Christmas and replaced it with a fear of inadequacy.  I look at all the presents I’ve bought and it never seems like enough.  I anticipate that my friends, colleagues and family will be buying and distributing stuff.  And I must reciprocate.  So, I measure, tally, compare and guess; I can’t let it appear that I didn’t try hard enough.  I don’t really want to take part, but I’ve been swept up in this toxic cycle of consumerism and feel compelled to play Christmas pressie ‘keepy uppy’.  Christmas has degenerated into a festive binge of waste and over-indulgence with our permission.

The Archbishop of Canterbury got it right when he spoke to Martin Lewis on ITV, discussing how “secular over-the-topness” is crippling people with debt, tearing families apart and damaging Christmas.  The Most Reverend Justin Welby went on to urge shoppers to give ten per cent of their Christmas budget to Food Banks instead of splashing out on expensive presents.  He reminds us that giving at Christmas reflects God’s generosity in giving us his son Jesus Christ to give us a full and abundant life.  In turn, he suggests that we are generous in a way that shows love and affection rather than trying to buy love and affection.  Take a break from running endlessly around the hamster wheel of seasonal pressure and end the cycle of fear.

Revisit and revise the usual Christmas wishlist with alternatives.  Give children knowledge, teach them compassion and allow them the space and support to be themselves, those are the gifts they need and will last longer than gadgets.  Give friends and loved ones your time, attention and gratitude, these are far more valuable to the recipient than thoughtless trinkets.

As Dr Seuss’s Grinch character discovered:

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

by Anne Baynham, Education Administrator