This week has been historic. It is not often in our lives that we experience a truly historic moment, you can count some, I'm sure, even I can.
We have now chosen to leave Europe, not all of us of course, but this has been the majority decision, and it will have all sorts of implications in both the short and long term, and not all
good or all bad. There were all sorts of reasons, all sorts of factors that came into play and caused people to decide to vote one way or another. It was clear as a nation we didn't have clear
priorities or a unified vision. I expect you have seen some of the statistics, we were divided across the ages with older people voting to leave and younger to remain, we were divided across
the country with rural people voting to leave and urban dwellers to remain. I wonder if we don't really know who we are as a nation these days?
It is not a simple thing to have a strong national identity. As we approached the Second World War we did know much more who we were, or at least there was a much more strongly
articulated vision of who we were that people literally signed up to and went off to fight for. We wouldn't likely have that same picture now, and many would argue that we couldn't have a
single vision of who we are.
But as churches I believe we can, and I also believe that if we pay attention to this and develop a strong identity and way of working together we can be a real influence for good in ou
wider communities, and that above all else we are going to need in the months and years ahead. God calls us not to a personal faith alone but to a communal faith that practices it's virtues
fro the benefit of others around us.
So I am starting to encourage each church in the benefice, each PCC, each congregation and each wider community to think about what the church is in each village. I'm encouraging
each group to start giving me some sentences that tell me what they think church is about. What is it to you? What is it in each particular village? What do we want our visitors and
second-home owners to experience through church? And our wedding couples, our baptism families? Because we need to know what and who we are as a church body of people.
There are some things that the bible suggests we are as Christian people together. We must be characterised by love, an attitude of mind to others and a practical demonstration of
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Galatians 5.
We are people who are free people who work for the freedom and flourishing of others:
'For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one
another.' Galatians 5.
These are strong words, Paul says our whole life should be caught up in serving one another... and yet if we looked at our diaries and saw how much time is allocated to pleasing
ourselves, and how much time to serving the community and helping our neighbours and family and friends would the balance be right? We are people who must be characterised by
our virtues not our vices. The list of vices Paul gives us in Galatians chapter five is interesting. There are fifteen of them and they include pretty strong things like debauchery , and
witchcraft... So hearing those we might be tempted to think we are doing all right, clearly we are not people enmeshed in vice...? But of the fifteen possibilities listed, 8 of them are things
that I would suggest we are all easily plagued by, and all need to get the better of in our day to day living:
'Enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy'
We must instead pray and ask God to grow in us the fruit of the Spirit.
I have waited a long time this year to start picking from the veg garden and allotment, but at last things are starting to be produced, it takes time and the right conditions. May we through
patient and good habits be producing love, joy, peace and patience. May we be able by God's grace to choose these paths, that we may be known as the good people of God in the Saxon
Shore Benefice and in our work and in our neighbourhoods. These are the general things by which we must be known as Christian people.
Then there are specific qualities that as a church we may be able to offer:
I see places with lots of possibilities for hospitality, I see people with a caring heart to the elderly and now infirm, I see some people with a vision for how we can open up our church doors
to those who walk, to music, to children, to the wider neighbourhood in specific services... There are all sorts of local possibilities.
For each of us in the different villages have slightly different things to offer. So think about these things, write them down, send them to me. Then together we can see what our priorities
might be and how we can serve the people we are amongst.
Our epistle reading is the letter to the new Christians in Galatia. Paul wrote it at a time of crisis in that church. They are facing the dilemma of how do we conduct ourselves? Do we keep
all our Jewish ways? or do we break from them and start anew? It's really interesting to have this reading in the week in which as a country we have voted whether to stay as we are, as
part of the European Union, or leave and operate as our own nation alone.
Who are you? Paul says. And at the very beginning of the letter he reminds them that they are the people for whom Jesus gave his life - in order to rescue us from evil. We have been
granted a wonderful spiritual freedom. No longer are we held in the grip of our limited human nature, no longer are we people under the curse, under the power of evil. We have been
made right with God Paul says in this letter to the people of Galatia. We have been rescued, we have been made children of God, we have been given the Holy Spirit that we might have
the resources to live as children of God and not be pulled back into the way we used to live.
We are free citizens of heaven living on earth. That's who we are.
Free citizens with a Freedom from an enslavement to doing wrong.
...and because of that we don't just have freedom from something. It could be argued that the referendum vote was to establish a freedom from European rules and legislation for instance,
that seemed to be a significant factor, because whereas some businesses have thrived under our connections with Europe, others haven't. But we must understand that as Chrsitian people
we are not called simply to have freedom from something, we are given - Freedom for something.
Freedom to live receiving from the Spirit of God:
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Freedom to be mentored and led by this Spirit, who also enables us to grow fruit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But through love become slaves to one another.
'Slaves' - this is a strong word, to serve each other in love, not when it's convenient or easy or cheap for us to do so... This will be very very important in the weeks and months
ahead, that in our own small communities we are offering a positive influence, Let me read you Bishop Graham's letter to the churches in the light of the referendum:
The result of Thursday’s Referendum seemed to take even some who supported the Leave campaign by surprise. The announcement of the resignation of the Prime Minister, a year after
victory at the General Election, adds to the level of uncertainty. The will of the people expressed in the Referendum must be honoured but no one has yet negotiated an exit from the
European Union under the Lisbon Treaty so much is unpredictable.
In this diocese every voting district, except Norwich, voted Leave. Some areas like South Norfolk were very evenly split. Great Yarmouth saw a majority in excess of 70% for Leave.
Norwich voted 56% to 44% in favour of Remain. It’s a reminder close to home of the division of opinion. Therein lies a consequential danger of the outcome of this referendum. Ostensibly it has been about separation from the European Union. But it has revealed major divisions in the United Kingdom – between Scotland and Northern Ireland on one side and England and Wales on the other; between London and the rest of England since the capital voted heavily to Remain. But there are other divisions too – between north and south in England; between rural and urban; between young and old. The lower the average of the electorate the more likely a high Remain vote seemed to be, reflected here in the vote in this city where the average age of the population is much lower than in the rest of Norfolk.
Such divisions are dangerous, especially after a campaign which was often shrill, bruising and alienating. Our church communities, including this Diocesan Synod, contain people who voted
on both sides in this referendum. There is no single Christian position on the European Union and membership of it. But there is a common Christian conviction that unity is better than
division, hope better than despair and that we are always in partnership with Jesus Christ when proclaiming the good news. He offers salvation and redemption for all people in all places at
So in the wake of this referendum we have much to do. First we should pray for our country and for the people of Europe. Then we should pray for our Prime Minister and for all
Government ministers, indeed all politicians. The tragic death of Jo Cox is a reminder that the generous service given to their communities by so many Members of Parliament can be
dangerous. Our political leaders need our prayer and support, never more so than now.
Further, in our local communities and in our churches we should be the agents of unity, always hospitable and not hostile and committed to the pursuit of the common good. As St Paul tells
the Galatians 'And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.' (Galatians 6.9). Rarely have we had more gospel work to do.
God bless our country, and God bless you all.
Who are we?
We are people who can make a difference in our communities, we can bring a stability, a joy, we can always work for peace and harmony and not division and selfishness, we can bring
above all love, he infinite and gracious love of God, into our own lives, into our families lives and into our community. By as simple things as by what we say, by how we conduct ourselves,
by what we give to others. May we be children of light and life and love. Children of God.
And please each of you think about this question of who are we specifically here at Thornham (here at old Hunstanton), and how do we fit into this village, this area? and let me know what
you think we as a group of church people are in this place?
Who are we as a church?
And what are we here for?
For freedom - Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Rector of the Saxon Shore Benefice
Ordained Pioneer Minister