If you accepted at face value what the media says about the Christian Church, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that it is in terminal decline. Yet by the time that you read this, our church building will have been through three occasions in less than three months when it has been officially described as ‘full’. This is the word we use when more than 300 people are in attendance at a service. Not bad for a village of around 1,000 souls!
There are many reasons given by those nationally who don’t support the Christian Church: ‘I have better things to do’; ‘It’s just a privileged club’; It’s based on a fairy tale’; ‘It’s embarrassing, divisive and irrelevant in our world’; ‘I’m too busy’; ‘It’s full of bigoted people’, and so on. But I often think that if you were to list out the values that Jesus taught, the vast majority of people would instantly recognise them as values that we all would like to be universal: Care for each other; respect for all; fellowship and neighbourliness; justice and compassion for all; gratitude for what we have; concern and action for those who are in need or difficulty, the sick and the bereaved; hope for the future… These are, surely, the values not just of our church, but of our village?
Maybe this explains why so many decided to come to Robin and Heather’s last service on 26th November, including many of you who are not regular church-goers. Robin’s firm faith is of the inclusive, generous, tolerant, gentle and forgiving kind…. Jesus’s kind. Opening up the vicar’s garden barbecues to the entire village and not just to church-goers, was only one small example of how he lived out his Christianity during his time with us. From what you’ve told me, many of you believed that about both Robin and Heather, which is why church and community came together so well during their time with us. But now that he’s retired, it’s down to us to carry on that legacy as best we can. I know that my fellow Readers are as keen as I am to see this, as are our two hardworking Churchwardens. Hambledon is that rare place in the modern world, a community where neighbour cares for neighbour. All of this goes on, often unseen and un-lauded and often involving people who do not attend any church. We should count ourselves very lucky that we have this sense of community, and that we don’t just look after each other, but in addition reach out from our own beautiful valley, to those who may be less fortunate than ourselves, through such events as the church ‘Charity Soup Lunches’. These lunches, which are held weekly during Lent, are open to anyone in the village and not just to ‘church people’ and underline all that is best in Hambledon, so please do come.
A wise old Roman Catholic priest was once asked what the most common problem was, that he met in the confessional. He replied: ‘God. The misconception of God. The inability, for whatever reason, to see God as a God of unlimited love, forgiveness, tenderness and compassion.’ If you come to Hambledon church, you will find that we do our best to follow a God who underlines all those values of community and togetherness, to which so many of us aspire. After all, it has been said before by members of this community that God is a Hambledonian!