Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent, Waiting, and the Scargill Effect by Clare Weiner aka Mari Howard

Our group set off for Conniston Pie ..
Ironically I have just read a book by a writer friend, who I know claims to be an atheist, yet has spent most of the book explaining the whole business of a village keeping Christmas, including the nativity play. How much this has become part of our culture even when it is not part of our core beliefs!

Tomorrow is Advent Sunday: Advent which traditionally in the lectionary pointed congregations towards doom, gloom, and the ‘four last things’, is now treated by the church more positively as a time of expectant waiting. We wait for the blessing of Christmas which we celebrate as the birth of Christ, bringing light and hope into a dark world. This of course mirrors the very beginning of Genesis, where we read that God began by creating light, and separating light from darkness. So our present winter festival reminds us that just as the light has gone from the days of winter it will come again as the seasons roll around. 
Advent Wreath
Most of us today have grown up in a world without war and conflict in our own country. Now, today’s world  is increasingly threatened not only by war, but also terrorism, ‘fake news’, climate change and much besides. But many of our parents went through much worse, experiencing air raids, rationing, evacuation, or even spending the early years of adulthood themselves bombing parts of Europe. Our grandparents were war babies or war children; they may have experienced two ‘world wars’. Everywhere and in every century there has been thick darkness, evil and despair. The message of Advent pointing towards the events of Christmas has been essentially there in every age since the first century, giving hope, if we choose to trust the message. The alternative of the increasingly commercialised Christmas has turned off many of today’s young people, so that they can justifiably say that they ‘loathe Christmas’: thankfully some instead of loathing spend the time ministering to the many homeless through Crisis. No need to underline the point of this irony.

This time last year we spent the weekend of the first Sunday in Advent at Scargill House on a craft and retreat program. It was the most blessed and relevant Advent ever. For just a weekend, the retreat group was bathed in the visuals of the wonderful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, simply meditating on the gift for which we waited, through talks, story, and worship, and working peacefully on Christmas-related crafts. On the Saturday afternoon a group of us walked to Conniston Pie, under a clear sky in bright sunshine. There was snow on the high fells and there were sheep on the lower slopes cropping the grass.

Many of those who read this will have been to Scargill for the ACW writing weekends. If you go there for one of the other programs, you will find that the same atmosphere, the same acceptance, inclusion, hospitality, and beauty is present all year round. As I read their autumn Newsletter today I was struck by how the Scargill community demonstrates its heart for Jesus in such a down-to-earth, uncomplicated and natural way, without jargon, and without apparent anxiety, how everything appears to run smoothly and how much this must depend upon cooperation, prayer, and mutual respect. It is indeed a place of blessing and an example to us all.

Only once a year, Scargill House is closed to visitors, the community sent out to their various families, the chapel empty of worshippers: and that is at Christmas. Otherwise, I would guess, huge numbers of us would compete to celebrate Jesus's birth there, rather than surrounded by all that has come to be associated with Christmas – frantic shopping, crowded travel, crazy cooking and expensive presents. I feel like praying and attempting to keep Advent and Christmas in a spirit as close to the experience of Scargill as possible. I’m not sure how successful we can be, given all the things we have in the diary, family members staying over, and the inevitable pressures particularly when the family members don’t all share faith in Christ. It is at least a hope and a desire. One of the Pathway Promises made by members of the Scargill Community is ‘fun and laughter’: if our family can experience this at Christmas, that will be enough …

Clare's novels - writing as Mari Howard - can be found (and bought from) her website, on Amazon, or ordered through bookshops.


  1. Really liked this, Clare. Just reading through reminded me of the peace and restoration I experience each time I go to Scargill. I had a sense that your words were causing me to slow down and breathe more deeply! Thank you. xx

  2. You have echoed my feelings, Clare. Last year I was at Scargill after a bad fall and had a downstairs room near the laundry where I saw the Community at work. I was almost glad about the accident as it gave me an insight into real Christianity at work.