St Dunstan’s

Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England

St Dunstan's James Tomkins 2

James’ Message

Dear Friends,

The Church of England is regarded as a broad church that seeks to invite everyone to experience the love of God seen most vividly in the life of Jesus. Its stated aim is to minister to every community in its celebration and marking of key events. From crowning monarchs, to baptising or blessing babies, judging children's fancy dress competitions or contests based around amusingly shaped vegetables, vicars and priests in the Church of England are there to bear witness that there is no place, and no one, beyond the reach of God's all-embracing love.

Over the centuries, this has resulted in the Church of England having its fair share of 'oddball' characters. This is celebrated in a recently published book written by The Revd. Fergus Butler-Gallie called a 'Field Guide to the English Clergy' (ISBN 978-1-78607-441-6). The book includes characters such as the Lancelot Blackburne, Archbishop of York and sometime pirate, whose behaviour was never that expected of a cleric and indeed rarely that expected of a pirate; the Reverend Dr Edward Drax Free who, besieged by his Bishop, locked himself in his rectory with a brace of pistols and his favourite maid, and the Reverend Robert Hawker, who excommunicated a cat for catching a mouse on a Sunday. I haven't finished the entire book yet but I can assure you that it is a humorous, quirky and an enjoyable read.

The reason I mention this book is that there are some parallels with another book that I am reading at the moment called 'Black sheep and prodigals' by Dave Tomlinson (ISBN 978-1-473-61102-3). Like those clergy just mentioned, the Church has always produced its 'prodigals': people who have swum against the tide, thought outside the box, or disobeyed 'the rules'. In a world torn apart by black and white religious assertions about God, sometimes it's good to put aside all certainties and look to the life of Jesus who called people to a radical way of life based on self-sacrificing love and not a rigid creed.

There's a lovely story about two highly educated men walking along the seashore, engaged in vigorous debate about the nature of God and the meaning of life. As they strolled along, disagreeing about what they considered to be the essential aspects of the Christian Faith, they came upon a small boy playing on the beach. He had dug a hole in the sand and kept running to the sea to fetch water in his bucket, which he then poured into the hole only for the water to disappear. The two men watched the boy with amusement as he sped to and fro filling and emptying his bucket.

One of them then teasingly asked the boy what was he was doing. Almost too busy to speak, the boy earnestly replied that he was emptying the sea into the hole. The men smiled and walked on, resuming their argument. A couple of minutes later, one of them looked back at the boy and said, "You know, we're trying to do what this little boy is doing. It's just as impossible to understand the mystery of God, as it is for the boy to put the sea into the hole in the sand. Our minds are just tiny thimbles, while the reality of God is as vast as the ocean."

It's only a story but, in the end, there are often no definitive answers to many of life's problems. Faith isn't necessarily about settled certainties or neatly packed solutions but how we live out our lives in reality. Jesus himself said that the whole of religion could be summed up in two requirements: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Surely it's the way we live out our lives that ultimately counts. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God wasn't just an insurance policy for when you died, or a set of rules to sign up to, but a call to change the world by the power of God through our acts of compassion, forgiveness, patience and justice. This is all part of God's inclusive love that seeks to draw everyone, with all of their different characteristics and eccentricities, into the life and joy of his kingdom.

With all good wishes,