Tommy Halsall was a fixture of Aughton. Serving as verger and sexton, school caretaker, choir member and bellringer, he served Christ Church for nearly all of his 87 years. Chris Matthews paid warm tribute on behalf of us all at Tommy’s funeral yesterday.
For Tommy was of a bygone age. And as Chris wryly observed, he spent his entire life within three miles of where he was born – apart from the occasional visit to Liverpool market and reporting to Aldershot for army service (his medical meant an immediate return home).
This is in complete contrast to life today – everyone is going everywhere, it would seem. Only yesterday I posted on the Ministry Centre Facebook page that all takings from Cafe Vista next week are to be given to support baby Henry as he goes to the US for treatment for his brain tumour. No sooner had I pressed ‘post” than the first “like” appeared – from Stuart in Sydney. Sydney, Australia, that is.
And when I send this blog, in about 20 minutes I hope, it will be sent (and hopefully read) in each of the five continents. We live in a world of amazing connectiveness, something which Tommy’s generation would scarcely have dreamed. But with one important exception.
As many of you will know, each year on Remembrance Sunday, I recount the story of one of those men whose name we honour in our service.
Most of the information was given to me by Tommy. Aughton men of his generation found themselves in theatres of war all over the world. Men who gave their lives in the Malaysian sea, in the north Africa desert, continental Europe and even on the Canadian prairies (while training).
They learned the hard way that we live in an interconnected world. An assassination in faraway Sarajevo may devastate families all over the world, as in June 1914, an event we will soon be commemorating.
And yet of all human organisations there is no parallel to the worldwide church, not even Apple or Coca-cola, something we strangely take for granted. Neil Rees, of Cottage Lane Mission, gave a compelling talk at the men’s breakfast last month on how the church is showing incredible growth in most parts of the world.
And it is through Christian disciples deciding to get involved and in obedience to Jesus, to go. Often this means personal cost, even sacrifice – for there is a spiritual battle.
Later this month, on 30 July, we will be welcoming back to Aughton Andrew Leake, visiting us from northern Argentina where he serves the church in supporting the indigenous people, not least in the struggle against powerful landowners. In this he follows his father and his grandfather before him. Amazingly it was Alfred Leake who in 1926 responded to God’s call to go to Argentina from East Runton, a small Norfolk village close to Cromer. You can’t get more parochial than that and yet Alfred was prepared to travel far in the service of Christ. It must have been a hugely courageous decision.
And yet as Christians we are called to be internationalists. For the parish church is simply an expression of the world-wide family of Jesus, the universal church in its local manifestation. And we have a unique responsibility to think – and act, even – beyond our borders, whatever those borders are. Above all, like Alfred Leake be prepared to follow through the implications of Jesus’ commission.
It was probably the French theologian Jacques Ellul who gave us the phrase and it becoming even more relevant: Think globally, act locally. Our calling as disciples of Jesus, Lord of all.