February as a month does not have a lot going for it. Christmas is long past; summer is ages away, and coughs, colds and seasonal bugs are doing their worst. The sun comes out to tease, but as my African friends say, the winter sun in Britain is nothing more than decoration in the sky. And in the middle of February, what does the church have to offer? Ash Wednesday! The start of forty days (and forty nights as the old hymn gloomily reminds us) of fasting before Easter.
On the other hand, there may just be some glimmer of hope. I was reminded the other day of something that Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy that if we have ‘clothing and food we will be content’ (I Timothy 6:8). We should understand ‘clothing’ to include basic shelter, but I would rather like to include books, cds (and something to play them on), my phone, tablet (not Apple though), family photos, central heating, pictures on the wall, television, tickets for every Wales game (I wish)… and that’s without thinking too hard.
The particular challenge of Lent in these dark days of February is to allow ourselves the question – what really matters to me? Each day that passes has a little more light as we move slowly but surely towards Easter and the promise of resurrection and hope. In the light of the hope that Jesus is and that Jesus promises, perhaps the days of Lent are just the opportunity to evaluate who we are and what we live for. And I suspect that if we are looking forward to Easter and looking up to Jesus, we will at the same time be learning what it means to be content. And by God’s grace others might notice and see some hope.
The Revd Canon Dr Tudor Griffiths, Rector and Area Dean of Cheltenham
I’ve just returned from my first ever General Synod of the Church of England (Suffragan Bishops like myself are not automatically members of Synod, unlike Diocesan Bishops). It was an interesting and varied experienced – some very significant moments (like the address from the Iraqi Archbishop about the desperate plight of Christians in his country, and the decision to reshape training for vicars) and some rather dull and boring bits (including the deep irony of the “simplification task group” producing a 50 page report!)
Right at the end of the Synod came a report titled Growing the Rural Church (http://bit.ly/1AiqGRA). It is a report full of hope and optimism for the future while also sounding an urgent call to action. Essentially its message is that rural churches can grow and thrive (and it gives a number of good examples – and we have plenty more in Gloucestershire) but this only happens when lay people are encouraged and enabled by their clergy to take on significant leadership roles, and when there is an openness to change and new ways of doing things.
This will not surprise anyone who lives and works in a rural area. It is hard work and demands real courage from clergy and lay leaders, as well as real skill in change management. This is why, as a diocese, we are putting significant resources into training lay leaders and helping our clergy make the transition to new models of ministry. There are exciting possibilities for churches of all sizes who are ready to work with God in the new thing God is doing in our rural communities.
The Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow.
Take the Great British Bake Off judges and add two comic hosts; mix with four celebrity bakers and stir well. Serve a giant biscuit, 12 fruit tarts and a show stopping chocolate cake. Sprinkle with lashings of humour and good will for an international cause and guarantee a large and enthusiastic following for the weeks ahead.
More often than not, the news is negative. Stories of war, atrocity, accident or disaster dominate the headlines such that the world feels a dark place indeed. Too often it feels as if we have to search for stories of hope or courage, stories that inspire and lift the spirits. Which is why the headline Red Noses for the Bake Off Team caught my eye.
On 11 February, the stars of Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley along with Dame Edna Everage and the singer Lulu will join the Bake Off team in the tent. As always, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood will judge biscuits, tarts, cakes, bread and pies all of which will be baked in support of a good cause. The Great Comic Relief Bake Off will run for four weeks up until Red Nose Day on March 13. Once again, Bake Off fans of all ages will be inspired to bake in their own kitchen. But we will also be motivated to support fundraising that will transform the lives of millions of people at home in the UK and across Africa. Since the last Red Nose Day, Comic Relief has spent £99 million helping 12 million people who are living tough and challenging lives. Will you join in, have fun and raise some life changing money this year? Ready, steady, bake!
Revd Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector of Gloucester City and Hempsted and Residentiary Canon at Gloucester Cathedral
To find out more about how to support this year’s Red Nose Day, visit www.rednoseday.com.