A local pastor recently reminded me of a much-used Celtic spiritual discipline of daily putting on St Patrick’s Breastplate, calling on God to protect His servants: I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three…
As I pondered the whole of this old prayer I remembered the practice of another friend who began each day by putting on the “Whole Armour of God” as Paul exhorts the early Christians to do in his letter to the Ephesians.
Each morning we decide what to wear, we put on body lotion and sun screen, deodorant and the rest, we pack rain coat or jacket to prepare for whatever the day might bring, but how well are we prepared, spiritually.
I think there is wisdom in Paul when he says – “11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 8:11-17)
Perhaps we should not be worrying so much about what we might give up for Lent but how we could better clothe ourselves for our life in the world.
There has been much talk/speculation recently, amongst our congregations, about dwindling numbers and some have raised the issue of the need for a Sunday School and confirmation classes … or the possibility of evensong … as a means of reaching the “unchurched” or drawing former members back.
A look at the statistics below shows that things aren’t quite that simple.
|Not stated or inadequate
In 2001, 82% of persons aged 65 years and over identified themselves as Christian, compared with 60% of 18-24 year olds. In the 2001 census, people in the 18-24 years age group were the most likely to state that they had no religion (20%).
These are the latest figures on religion that I could find, so based on previous trends it is probable that the number of Christians has declined still further (in the last 10 years) and those of no faith will have increased. It seems that a dwindling majority of people over the age of 65 still profess a Christian faith but the figures for young people are far less encouraging.
These figures are food for thought and prayer especially as we consider our “mission” in the wider community.
Recently I had a couple of distressed telephone calls from some young parents, who were hurt and angered by a conversation which had begun on the ‘Face book” page of a friend.
The friend had decided to remove her 5 year old son from school 1/2 an hour early, one day a week, in order to avoid Religious Instruction. The alternative, as he was the only one not attending, was for her sone to sit at the back of the clas and do seperate work. She was very angry that “in a secular society” children should be forced to undergo religious instruction. There were some 300 commments (many quite long) posted. The debate which ensued was very heated with derogatory comments/judgements being made about teachers of religion and parents who want their children given such instruction.
Reading the arguments put forward was, sadly, enlightening. Don’t be mistaken… it is not easy to be a Christian in this country of “free speech” and democracy… especially for younger generations. What we took for granted (i.e. religon in schools) is under threat, yet still there is a need/desire or searching after faith and meaning. We continue to have baptism enquiries, and, in March alone I will baptise 6 children.
Sometimes we forget that we have a Mission to fulfill in this area. The population of the surrounding area continues to grow, with a large proportion being young families. How sad that we tend to equate “mission” to activities overseas or among the poor or our indigenous communities.
Jesus wasn’t born to save a small group of men and women who gathered around him at a particular time and place. He didn’t come simple to nurture them and help them feel good. He prepared them to share the gospel with others… and we are called to do the same. Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. I beleive he says the same to us here and now.