Alaska/Cowley Photo Exchange

This morning Fr Scott at St Matthew’s kindly sent us photo greetings from the Bishop of Alaska.

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In the afternoon Sir John Randall kindly took a selfie to send to Alaska.

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In the evening Fr Scott sent a photo of folk at St Matthew’s admiring Sir John’s photo on their St Laurence Cowley wall.

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Cake bakers wanted for WW1 exhibition on 6th Sept

On 6th September from noon to 4pm there will be an exhibition in the Church Hall in Cowley, Middlesex. It will be about Cowley in the First World War. This is the second such exhibition we’ve held this year and there will be lots of new information.

The church is looking for people to volunteer to bake cakes for the day. Money raised will go to support the running of the church. Among other expenses at the moment, St Laurence’s needs to raise around £10,000 for the restoration of the church tower.

It’s necessary for St Laurence’s to fundraise because we receive no money from the Church of England except for the upkeep of our priest (find out more about the funding system here). This is the normal state of affairs for Church of England churches. They survive through the past and present generosity of those who can afford to give time or money.

Everyone understands that the last few years have made life very difficult for many people. The church exists to serve rather than to take. You will always be welcome at St Laurence’s whether you can afford to donate money or not.

Prayers, friendship and time given as a volunteer also count as donations! However, they should always be given without guilt or pressure. So no pressure!

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When our shopping kills others

imageUK reliance on plant products grown abroad

Recently on our Twitter account we’ve been talking about the ingredients in the products we buy on a regular basis.

There’s palm oil, which is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia and used in everything from chocolate to shampoo. There’s tobacco, which is grown in hot countries such as Malawi. There’s stevia, now a popular sweetener and grown in tropical climates.

They’re three very different plants but they have one thing in common. They are grown on a large scale in southern countries and sent north for use in products that often aren’t even necessary for human happiness.

The problems with palm oil and tobacco are particularly alarming. Both contribute to deforestation (trees being cut down). Both have a negative impact on wildlife.

Palm oil has been held responsible for the massive decline in the orangutan population. Both species of orangutan are now endangered thanks to our love of crisps and frothy soap.

Tobacco is literally a scourge on the poor. The people picking it in the fields and sorting it in drying sheds MUST wear protective clothing. Contact with wet leaves can give workers green tobacco sickness.

In some economies the farmers receive so little payment they are forced to rely on child labour. This traps children in the cycle of poverty by impacting on their education.

Tobacco also occupies valuable farmland, leaving no space for food crops and opportunities to diversify. It is an idiocy to suggest that tobacco dependent economies have no future outside tobacco. They could grow food.

Find out more

This 24-minute documentary film is about the life of poor tobacco growers in Malawi. Click here to watch it. It’s quite shocking and raises the question, if we smoke after seeing it are we supporting child poverty?

This guide helps you to choose products made with palm oil from plantations where the environmental balance has been respected.

What more can you do?

We have the power to pressure companies to select ingredients that do not endanger the environment or trap people in poverty. The power is our refusal to give the companies any money until they change their ways. It’s in our ability to tell companies why we are withholding money from them. It’s in our ability to reward companies that do the right thing by giving them our cash.

Whether you’re a smoker, a lover of bubbly shampoo or indulge in some other habit that uses an ingredient harmful to wildlife or human beings, here is what you can do to take action.

  1. Find out why the ingredient (e.g. Palm oil) causes environmental or people problems.
  2. Find out if there is an internationally recognised scheme which certificates farms that grow the product without harming the environment or people. (In the case of palm oil that’s the RSPO scheme.)
  3. Find out which companies make your favourite product using ingredients from the certified farms and which companies don’t. Switch to buying from the nicer company and write to the other company to tell them why.
  4. If the product is an unnecessary luxury that you can do without, such as cigarettes or a particular drink, ask God whether you should buy it at all. Think about not buying it.
  5. If quitting the product leaves you feeling unhappy, ask God to help you find a new positive habit that makes you happy and won’t cause harm. Addictions to drink, nicotine and certain foods can be hard to break for emotional reasons. Ask God to help you every step of the way.

Sermon – Everyone has a gift to give

The congregation at the 9.30am service

The congregation at the 9.30am service

In today’s extract from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, the great saint talks about how everyone in the church has a different function. Some are teachers, some are givers, some are leaders, some are cheerful, some are ministers and so on.

From this we form a picture of the ideal church as being a kind of a meal, where everyone brings a different dish to the table. A few days ago I read about a 99-year-old American lady who makes a new dress for little girls in need every day.

However old we are, whoever we are, we all have something to give.

And you just never know what or who will give you something that adds an extra dimension to your life. Recently my life has been enriched by the connection St Laurence’s has been forming with St Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Fairbanks, Alaska.

It’s been a reminder to me that church isn’t just St Laurence’s. It’s a network of sister communities around the world. Talking to each other helps us all to better understand what church is. The walls of this building must not be the walls of this church.

At St Matthew’s in Alaska around 60 percent of the congregation are Native Alaskan. i.e. Descendants of the people who lived in Alaska for tens of thousands of years before the white man came.

I told Fr Scott, the priest at St Matthew’s, that I was preaching today on Romans 12:1-8. I asked him, what can I say to people about that passage that is Alaskan in flavour? This is what he emailed back:

“I have a friend (now deceased but still a friend) who passed this onto me. He was Gwitch’in (Native Alaskan). When he was leaving for [boarding] school, age 12 or 13 … his father pulled him aside … and said (probably, words to this effect).

“Now you are leaving for the White Man’s school. But do not forget, everything you need to know is in your hand. This is what my father told me when I was your age …

This is what your hand teaches you.

Holding up thumb: You have a thumb. It reminds you you must work.

(Index finger) There’s one path, one trail through life. Try to stay on it.

(Middle finger) Words are important and carry power. Be careful with them (Most Native people’s characterization of white people is “they talk too much.”)

(Ring Finger) Relations are important. Be careful with them.

(Little finger) Do not think too much of yourself. Be humble.”

“And,” says Fr Scott “the truth in all of that is probably as true in England as it is in Northern Alaska.”

What that Gwitch’in father was doing was providing his son with a moral code to live by. Everyone needs a set of principles to stick to when everything around seems to be chaotic and stormy.

In his letter St Paul says we are to make ourselves a living sacrifice to God. This means, everything about who we are in our day to day lives should be for God. But St Paul also says don’t think too highly of yourself.

We need to live by a moral code that makes us people for God, but not too proud of it. No thinking that we’re better than people of other faiths. No thinking that we’re better than Atheists. No thinking that our church is better than another church, or anything of the kind.

There’s no doubt this grand old lady, the Church of England, is going through a very storm driven period of change.

Being a convert to Christianity I used to imagine the Church of England was a kind of very stable warm and cosy Franciscan monastery. You know how Pope Francis is. That’s what I genuinely expected the Church of England to be. It wasn’t naivety, as someone not formed by the Church I very reasonably expected it to have the warmth and simplicity of the Gospels.

I was horrified when I finally saw how storm struck the Church of England is. For those who run the church at regional and national level I’m guessing it must be like swooshing around on the inside of a giant washing machine.

It must be perturbing to be someone in power in the Church at the moment. The 20th century changed everything, the last 15 years have changed everything again. The younger generations are living in one culture and the older generations in another. Nothing is as it was.

People’s behaviours and their expectations of what people of faith should be, have changed dramatically. I think younger people expect more of us. They expect us to be activists for justice.

We live in a new age of great scrutiny. These days whenever the Archbishop of Canterbury says something, it gets dissected and pulled apart by hundreds of people on social media. That’s something new. These many voices, like flood water gathering force behind an ancient dam, are putting pressure on the Church of England to change. And I don’t believe this steam powered old machine wants to change, not yet.

In Church and in State social media has given the people the right to reply.

Here too at St Laurence’s, things are changing rapidly. Parish churches can not expect to automatically be local social centres anymore. We are not automatically at the centre of community life, we need to change how we do things to get that back.

British Christianity is sizeable but probably a minority religion in this country. Now we need to get back in touch with the energy, the warm hearted simplicity and the enthusiasm of the people who brought Christ to these island shores.

It is time to get back to that visceral simple connection with God demonstrated by the lives of monks and nuns who lived here when this land was wild and full of trees.

All of us need to seriously ask: “How does my life as a Christian need to weave into my life in the church? What dish can I bring to the meal?”

That is something only you can answer through talking to God. Deep inside you’re the one who knows best what your gifts are, a period of talking to God will help you to understand yourself better. It might be a long period, or a short one.

The best advice I can give you are the words of the great saint.

St Paul said “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may see what is the will of God.”

Claire George

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