This year's Lent Challenge is accompanied by a six-week online Lent course. The material draws on the key themes of the new diocesan vision, Transforming Church, Transforming Lives - prayer and growth; transformation and the mission of God; the people of God, Church and Kingdom.
Each of the six week sessions begins with a time of prayer and a conversation starter to introduce the theme. This is followed by a Bible reading - and a reflection on that passage drawing on the tradition of lectio divina. This is a way of reading Scripture together, listening to it as God’s word to us, and prayerfully reflecting on it. Lectio divina might look something like this:
- Read the passage through once
- Keep a few moments silence
- Read the passage a second time with different voices
- invite everyone to say aloud a word or phrase that strikes them
- Read the passage a third time
- Share together what this word or phrase might mean, and what questions it raises
After reflecting on Scripture, a short reflection is offered to lead into further exploration of our response to the week's theme.
The discussion questions engage with the vision of Transforming Church, Transforming Lives
. The ‘footprints' section is an opportunity to consider practical actions which we can take in the week ahead; actions which enable us to be alert to the activity of God in the world. These suggestions stand alongside those related to projects supported by the Bishop of Guildford's Foundation and the Diocese of Kebbi in Nigeria. Each weekly session ends with prayer.
God the Father, Lord of creation,
have mercy upon us.
God the Son, through whom all things were made,
have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth,
have mercy upon us.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, creating and saving God,
have mercy upon us.
I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
God of our days and years,
we set this time apart for you.
Form us in the likeness of Christ
so that our lives may glorify you. Amen.
- Describe, if you can, a time when you felt privileged to be part of God’s Church.
Reflecting on Scripture
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The church is often in the headlines. It might be the coverage of a royal wedding or the commemoration of World War I which draws viewers into the music and ritual. They hear readings and sermons which express the hopes, memories and emotions of a nation within the context of the Christian faith. It might be an interview with the first woman Bishop, an Archbishop acting as guest editor for the New Statesman or the tributes to Jill Saward who campaigned against sexual violence.
Alongside that, there are the everyday news stories - of work with schools, projects which contribute to community cohesion, contributions to debt counselling and offering space for prayer in the midst of tragedy. Yet, we are also aware that there are also negative stories - and accusations that the church is an outmoded institution which is nostalgic at best or judgemental at worst. We are a human institution - but also people of God, a people of prayer, reconciliation and witness.
St Paul too confronted division (bad press if you like) within the church as well as rejoicing in the saints for their generosity and faithfulness. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise to read his lavish praise of the church in the epistle to the Ephesians. In writing this letter, St Paul wanted the church of his day to look beyond their difficulties: pressure from persecution, fears over people leaving the church, the complexity of its moral dilemmas. He wanted his readers to take a peek under the bonnet of the church, to look at its inner dynamic as the place where God was bringing about harmony through uniting people with Jesus Christ. By doing that, he wanted to his readers to place the present problems of the church in the context of God’s great plan to transform the universe by bringing all things into harmony under Christ.
St. Paul knew how easy it can be to lose sight of this perspective. He knew that all the painful realities of church life make it hard for us to believe that in the church, the body of Christ, God is transforming the world. But St. Paul didn’t despair and give up. He prayed. He prayed, not for his readers to be further blessed, but for their eyes to be open to the richness of the blessings they already have in Christ. Perhaps that is an important imperative for our praying today, not that God would bless us, but that he would increase our awareness of our blessedness.
- What makes you struggle to see that church as the place God is bringing harmony to the universe — ‘the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all’?
- How do you think an increasing awareness of the blessedness of the church would change what happens in Church on Sundays/on your PCC/in your home group etc.
- This week, try to notice the ways in which God is transforming lives through your church.
Let us pray
God our Father,
from the living stones of your chosen people,
you build an eternal temple to your glory.
Pour out your gifts upon your church
that your faithful people may continue to grow,
and the whole earth witness the glory of your grace. Amen.
A short period of silence is kept
Let us hear our Lord's blessing on those who follow him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake,
for their is the kingdom of heaven.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.