“Grandma, Granddad, I love you.” Aedan gave us both a big hug, rapidly followed by Maayana. Up to Summer 2014, we saw Aedan and Maayana almost every Sunday and knew their every mood, observed their development and were a clear part of their support framework. Then Tim and Natalie moved to Preston, closer to Tim’s work and Natalie’s studies. We still saw the grandchildren, but a couple of months could pass before we saw them again. Each time they arrived, they had changed and we had to re-learn our relationship and discover what had been happening in their lives.
This time, they were staying with us for part of half-term; they arrived on Sunday with their parents but stayed until Tuesday night. We spent time doing homework together (Maayana was more enthusiastic), went shopping and did many other routine things together. Maayana made some jam with Granddad and Grandma – a first in itself – while Aedan spent some time with the Lego. We watched TV together and the children snuggled down for a bedtime story. On the Monday, we went to Brockholes with Ben and Rachel (and James), enjoyed extensive exploration of the various adventure playgrounds there and a meal at the Restaurant, returning quite tired with slightly muddy, happy and tired children.
Old understandings were rekindled, a deeper bond forged, new insights into each other gained. In short, we had fun but also learnt to appreciate each other more. The time together was a time of mutual growth. In the years to come, it is times like this that will form the foundations for a relationship where our grandchildren will feel that they can turn to us in need, perhaps raising things of concern to them that they do not yet feel able to share with their parents. It helps us as well to feel we are needed and have a role to play as a part of the family.
The church family has a similar function – being a part of the church, engaging in the meetings and worship is much more than just attending. There more we share each other’s company, the more we are learning from each other, the more we are able to support each other. Most of the learning, support and growth is not during the formal teaching, but during the informal times over tea or common tasks together. Much of the best fellowship is experienced in task orientated groups – the Holy Dusters, the Maintenance Team, the Bellringers, Music Group and Choir, to name a few – it is the being together that leads to the bridges of support and growth.
Sometimes our busy lives can get in the way of being at, being part of, our church. We don’t notice it at first, but in some ways it seems to get harder and harder to get back into the pattern we once enjoyed the longer we stay apart. Nor do we notice how our spiritual temperature is cooling. In a story called ‘the unspoken sermon’, the Vicar calls on Joshua who has been absent from church for some time. He is sitting in front of his fire and bids the Vicar to sit down. There is silence, and the Vicar eventually simply lifts a bright glowing coal with the tongs from the heart of the fire and sets it on the hearth. Both men watched in silence as the coal lost its bright glow, and then began to darken until almost no glow was visible. The Vicar lifted the coal back into the heart of the fire and almost instantly it was glowing as brightly as before. Joshua clasped the Vicar’s hand, nodded, and said ‘I’ll be back in Church on Sunday!”
It’s not a new problem – the writer of ‘Hebrews’ tells his readers, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (The Bible, Hebrews 10.24-25) and he tells us to ‘stir up one another’, a mutual rekindling of our spiritual fire. Sometimes, it might not be that I need to attend church so much as the church needs me, but in every case, it is that time spent together that is so beneficial to our growth in love and mutual support. How can we learn to love one another if we’re not there?!
As we begin a new calendar year, if you have been away from your church fellowship, make every effort to return so you can begin again to glow with spiritual fervour and share your unique contribution with your church family, resuming a productive life under the one whom Hebrews goes on to declare as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (The Bible, Hebrews 13.8). What better banner under which to enter the New Year? Praying that you may find strength in Christ Jesus and fellowship in His church this New Year.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,
You can find the full text of the January Herald Magazine here