In my teens, I saw Christianity in black and white. You were either in or you were out, you were born again or you weren’t, one of the saved or one of the damned. I had lots of easy answers to complex questions.
The older I’ve got, the more I see Christianity as a journey. Some of us are wobbling on rickety bikes along rutted tracks that we hope may lead us in the general direction we want to go, while others seem to speed along swish highways in open-topped sports cars, and yet others can be found hacking their way through dense undergrowth of doubt and questions.
I’ve come to realise that the important thing is not whether you’re in or out, but the direction of travel. I’ve also come to realise that the Church’s job is not to erect boundaries to help people know if they’re in or out, but to help provide them with tools for the journey.
If you came to church over the Christmas period, the chances are that you were given a booklet called Follow the Star. If you read the booklet, you’ll know it unpacked the story of Jesus’ birth and encouraged you to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. That was one tool for the journey – helping people to reach beyond their everyday lives into a reflection on ultimate questions – but there are many others.
Being part of a community that enables worship (such as a choir or worship group) or fosters community cohesion (such as social events) or reaches out in Christ’s love (such as St George’s Crypt or other charities) are all tools that enable us on our journey towards God. Jesus said whoever cared for someone who was naked, in prison or in need was in fact caring for him. During Lent, churches in the villages of Thorner, Barwick and Scholes will be offering another tool for the journey. In both Sunday services and midweek groups we will be looking at a Lent study course written by our bishop, Nick Baines, entitled Daring to see God now. The details of the midweek meetings are on page 2 and I encourage you, wherever you are on your own personal journey of faith, to join one of the groups. They will be places where you can come with questions and concerns, thoughts and doubts. They will be places where all are on a journey and all of us need help to find which way is right for us.
Whether you join a study group or not, I pray that this Lent you allow yourself a little time to think about some of those ultimate questions: where are you going?; what gives you value and what do you give value to?; where is God in all the messiness of life? If you don’t do it during Lent, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination, when else can you do it?