Time to take stock of the many positives in our lives
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James Marston says its time to look forward as we emerge from lockdown
For those who have been following my story from journalist to Church of England priest there have been developments. As many of you might recall I was made deacon at the end of June last year and started my ministry as an assistant curate with the Alde Sandlings Benefice on the Suffolk coast – Aldeburgh and the surrounding villages to be precise. And in a few weeks, September 6, it has been announced, I shall be ordained priest at the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.
If I look back over the last 12 months, and it has been a rollercoaster year, not only have I begun to understand something of what it means to be a clergyman but also endured a flood in the rectory and then the corona drama.
However, I can look back and see that it has also been a remarkable year and one I shall look back on with, despite the flood and pestilence, with undiluted pleasure – I have loved every moment and felt a gradual increasing of confidence as I have followed my vocation from hopeful wanna-be to college student to public Christian and clergy beginner.
Just like newspaper journalism there is a sense that working as a clergyman is about fostering and building up of community, communicating ideas and beliefs, sometimes speaking a difficult truth and being alongside a community in times of trouble and joy – and, just like journalism, being a clergyman is like no other job I have ever had, and one which I couldn’t imagine not doing, certainly now I’m doing it.
Though it might sound odd, slightly smug even, if I tell you I feel like I’m becoming the person I was meant to be – I’m one of the lucky ones as plenty of people never get to do that which they really want to do. It is this self-fulfilment that the Christian faith encourages and instils through the paradox of focusing not on the self but on God.
So for me, and thousands of others in our region, one of the best things about the last few weeks is the return to worship in our churches. This doesn’t mean prayer and worship are not possible without a church – indeed they are – but the return to church has enabled once again a building up of community in which people are together again, despite the masks and the no singing and the social distancing, Christians are able to support and see one another once again as they make their journey of faith.
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The Queen was right – we are meeting again.
As a journalist it is part of my role to look at the world through the lens of the media. To sniff out a good story, to think about what readers might want to read, to highlight injustice, to communicate events. But to expose oneself to the 24 hour rolling news, the internet and all the rest of it is hard work – it skews one’s world view towards one of a world with almost no good news at all. It creates a tiring cynicism. Good news, to be frank, doesn’t sell in the media world, not as much as fear and drama anyway.
But as a priest I am here to tell the world of the Good news of the Christian faith, a lens through which the world looks a far more cheerful place than the secular news might suggest, and to encourage people to explore that sense of spirituality so many of us instinctively feel.
In a world which worships other Gods of money and status and all the rest of it, this is a hard sell – to the outsider, it seems to me, the church isn’t always an attractive place. Possibly because the Christian faith demand us to rethink the importance of the material world and to realign our lives away from our own ego.
And let’s not forget, the church institution is subject to plenty of criticism, not always without justification, from those who never go near it and from those who do.
The dissonance between what the church is and what people think it is has become difficult and complex to bridge.
Despite this I think people still have a residual, almost atavistic, understanding of faith itself – indeed the numbers of those searching for God during the lockdown has, according to various studies, increased. And once one starts looking for God, he or she has already found Him.
Today, I thought, as I approach ordination to priesthood and as you have followed my story, we might try to count our blessings and maybe even thank God for the positives in our lives. For this is what faith is all about for me – gratitude to God for all the good things and from that gratitude comes a sense of support in the bad times.
For me the good things of life are community, family and friends – the importance of which has been highlighted over and over again in the last few months, since the world changed.
What do you think? Have you been thinking about God in recent weeks? Write to James at email@example.com