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Services and the Saints

Dear Parishioners,
One of the small things about the Church in Lincolnshire that has always puzzled me during the fourteen years that I have been in the diocese, is the apparent neglect by the Church of the festivals of the saints.
In a sense I have been unfortunate in that the Patronal Festivals of the churches that I have been connected with have been at inconvenient times. The first was dedicated to Saint Lawrence whose festival falls on August 10th, right in the middle of the holiday season. As my Vicar at the time would say, St. Lawrence was more notable for its neglect than for its observance. The next was dedicated to St. Andrew. This had two disadvantages.
First of all, St. Andrew's day, November 30th always seems to be getting tied up with the important day Advent Sunday: we never seemed to be quite sure if we were keeping our Patronal Feast or the beginning of Advent. Twice while I was in the parish the days actually coincided, and I found out very quickly that the country people of Lincolnshire have very little regard for the rules about transference of saints' days. The other disadvantage was that for some obscure local reason, there are fourteen St. Andrew's churches in that one deanery. This made any idea of visiting clergy to preach well-nigh impossible.
In my wanderings, there was one notable exception. That Church was dedicated to All Saints. There each year there was a solid week of celebrations of the Feast with each of the Church organisations being responsible for the programme on one night. Yet this seems to have been the exception that proves the rule, for the great majority of the people in that parish were not from Lincolnshire but had migrated there during the slump from the steel towns of S. Wales and the North-east.
Does it really matter very much anyway? I believe it does. Why? Because the saints, both Black and Red letter are a real and vital link between ourselves and the ideals of the Christian way. If it were not for the saints it would be so easy to assume that the Christian way in its fulness of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, was a theoretical ideal which we upheld out of politeness

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for an unapproachable ideal. We are too ready to assume that the excuse "Well, of course, I am no saint" is an adequate explanation for our failure to live up to the ideal of Christ's teaching. Our real answer to this excuse should be "Why not?". We are called to be saints. We are instructed to be holy, because God is holy. The saints are our lively witnesses that the Spirit in us can, and should, grow up into the fulness of God's intent for each of us. God's call to us to be saints is no impossible objective but a real and realistic aim to which we should all aspire.
It may be that we cannot accept the idea of the value of the intercession of the saints for us, though for the life of me I cannot see any valid objection to this. Nevertheless, if this is the case, there is no reason why we should not rejoice and give thanks for those who have shown us the way of life, and have demonstrated that the way in which we travel as Christians is not completely impassable to the human spirit.
I wonder if the provision which we make for keeping the Festivals of the Saints in our Church is adequate. Half-past seven in the morning is too late for some and too early for others. When we have two priests in the parish next year we shall be able to correct this.
Meanwhile, a glance at next year's diary shows that our Patronal Festival at Saint Mary's falls on a Sunday. We shall have every opportunity to celebrate in full.
One or two people have expressed surprise recently to learn that the daily services of Mattins and Evensong continue regardless of the lack of a congregation. The reason is two-fold. First, of courses the church's services are not held for the benefit of the congregation, but to worship God. Secondly, it is the clergy's job to continue the regular worship of the Church when lay members are unable to be present: it is what we mean by being a representative ministry.
To quote John Donne completely out of context:

"... never send to know for whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."
Not so much to summon you to Church, but to let you know that your worship of God in the Church goes on when you cannot be there.
Yours sincerely,

Darrel Speedy


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