Bishop’s Letter: Good News for the Local?
Christians often speak about ‘Good News’. The word Gospel comes from the old English meaning ‘good tidings’. We speak about reaching out to people with ‘the Good News’.
A challenge we face is that when we talk about spreading the ‘Good News’ we can end up speaking, or being heard, in a whole range of ways. More positively we can mean ‘helping people come to faith’ or ‘enabling people to know God loves them’. Rather less so we can be heard as ‘wanting people to come to church’ to ‘the church needs our money for its funds’. Yet speak to a person on the street about what they think ‘Good News’ actually means and they’re quite unlikely to relate those words to church at all. Getting the lottery numbers right, health in the family or being in work are likely to come much higher up people’s lists.
This presents us with a problem. For if Christian faith doesn’t mean ‘Good News’ in people’s own terms, and for every part of life, it’s hardly likely to recommend itself to them. If ‘Good News’ is only about Sundays – the spiritual, otherworldly bits of our lives – and not about what happens Monday to Saturday then it’s hard to see how that tallies with the offer of ‘life in all its fullness’ about which Jesus spoke.
Thinking about these things led me to be fascinated by this year’s Lenten observance undertaken by people at St Mary Magdalene, Offley, near to Hitchin. All of us know that keeping rural communities going is hard these days. Pubs and post offices shut. Keeping businesses going is challenging. Some villages can feel little more than dormitories. In response to this, people in Offley decided to celebrate ‘Local for Lent’. The initiative was the idea of Offley’s Rector, Terrance Bell. Record cards were given out at church and delivered around the village. Every time those taking part in ‘Local for Lent’ used a local shop or business, they received a stamp on their card. The list of local concerns taking part was impressive – the hairdresser, the butcher, the pubs, the shop, even the Chinese take-away. And of course, you didn’t have to be a church member to take part. At the end of Lent, prizes were given for those who’d used local services most. Local for Lent was a highly practical, down to earth way of showing that the local church was good for the local community in its own terms – all of us want our local businesses to thrive so that the life of our communities can be sustained. Local for Lent also showed that our churches are concerned with every part of life – from perms to prawn crackers.
Speaking about reaching out with the Good News, a wise person once asked “How can we serve the people with whom we have contact in such a way as to make the gospel intriguing, challenging and appealing?” ‘Local for Lent’ was a highly imaginative approach to answering this question. Might you try something like this in your community?
Rt Revd Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford