My dear Friends

Last year our church building had its quinquennial – a posh word for ‘once every five years’ – inspection which all parish churches are required to undertake. The inspecting architect didn’t discover anything drastically serious, and all the things described in his report as urgent are minor, but it’ll probably all come to a fair bit of cash. So please don’t think we won’t be grateful for your continuing financial support – watch out for that double negative so that you don’t mistake my meaning!

We all know the basic problem: left to themselves, things gradually deteriorate, don’t they?

 
With a medieval building such as ours it’s things like cracked or loose tiles, disintegrating mortar, rusting metal, slight leaks which in time damage the surrounding fabric, damp seeping into the walls, and the seemingly unstoppable invasion of moss and ivy.

Gardeners are all too familiar with flowerbeds becoming overrun with weeds. The house proud know how everything from ornaments to TV screens collects dust. Clothes get musty or moth-eaten, the latter a particular problem hereabouts, it seems, and I was warned when I arrived how much moths enjoy Waltham St Lawrence carpets!

Food ‘goes off’, batteries go flat, cars rust (and books too: they call it ‘foxing’), plastic drainpipes become brittle and break, photographs fade, pianos and guitars go out of tune, and so on.

These are all examples of a ‘gradually operating cause’, a phrase beloved of insurance companies, because claims arising from such are generally excluded! And though they may be gradual, such causes are immensely powerful: left to itself a building can become a ruin within a lifetime.

 
Friendships and relationships are subject to the danger too.  We’ve probably all been at reunions where there are people who were once our closest friends but whom we haven’t seen for many years, and whose life path has diverged so far from our own that we find we have nothing to say to each other beyond the ‘do-you-remember-old-so-and-so’ type of con­versation. It applies also – yes, here comes the sermon – to the Christian life, which after all is in essence a friendship with God through Jesus Christ.

We can focus on the eye-catching things, such as being on this or that rota, attending conferences, getting on the PCC, organising the next big event, preaching a yet more admirable sermon (to get the admiration of course), or even just turning up to church and making sure that as many people as possible notice us there – while we fail to talk to the Lord in prayer, listen to his word to us through the Bible, and seek to overcome our temptations and live to please him.

 
For a while, it seems, this neglect doesn’t matter, and like those blocked gullies or missing flints it’s very easy to ignore, but eventually it will undermine us as Christians and the unsupported ‘showy superstructure’ will collapse.

Easter Day is coming up soon. The opening words of the Epistle – one of the set Bible readings – for Easter Day are in their context a warning:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above…”  Colossians 3.1

Your sincere friend and Vicar

Charles Mason