A Few months ago, I watched the film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.’ It was based on the life of a popular American children’s tv show host, Mr Rogers. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian Minister, hosted, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.’ It was a simple yet ground-breaking formula which sought to encourage and support young children as they developed social and emotional skills and awareness, encouraging them to reflect and practice tolerance, sharing, caring for themselves and others.
Mr Rogers became something of a saint for many generations growing up in the States and he was indeed a remarkable man….kind, caring and empathetic. Following his death, his wife revealed that Fred worked hard at shaping his life in such a way that he was able to consistently reach out to others, offering love and care to all he encountered. He developed what some might call ‘holy habits’ which underpinned his ministry. These habits involved caring for the body as well as the soul; and included practices such as adopting an early to bed, early to rise approach, reading the Bible every day and spending time in prayer, exercising regularly, limiting distractions, making time for the things that gave him joy and fulfilment
I guess many of us during the lockdown might have become more aware of some of our habits…we might even have embedded some new good habits…or perhaps, like me, you might have inadvertently picked up some habits that are not so helpful….like watching one too many series on Netflix….indulging too frequently in my favourite box of Lilly O’Brien Chocolates!
Whilst we are used to thinking of habit forming and breaking as an individual pursuit, we can also form community habits…communal practices that shape and give expression to our beliefs and values? Our churches are places of formation. They are the places where we learn how to follow Jesus, to be his disciples. They are the places where we offer one another support on that journey.
I wonder what habits we have embedded in our churches that form and shape us as followers of Jesus? Barbara Glasson…founder of the bread church in Liverpool, once described the habits that her church was seeking to nurture in their common life together: “…We seek to encourage each other on our spiritual journey ‘through friendship, laughter, being real with one another, engaging in honest conversation, honouring questions, encouragement and mutual learning.’
Cultivating holy habits is not new. Early on in the account of the growth of the early church in Acts we find this description of the practices of the early church…the habits that they were seeking to embed…holy habits that formed them and encouraged them as they sought to be faithful followers of Jesus’s way of living.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
It has been suggested that Luke (the author of Acts) includes this cameo description so that other churches could learn from their experiences of being church and repeat or embed these habits in their own context.
How do you form a habit? Experts say that it can take up to two months and it’s helped by repeated practice and a supportive environment…how could we as a church form these holy habits?
A few years ago, a Methodist Minister, Andrew Roberts wrote a book on that particular passage from Acts entitled ‘Holy Habits.’ He identities 10 Holy Habits that Luke includes in the description:
Biblical teaching, Fellowship, Breaking Bread, Prayer, sharing resources, Serving, Eating together, Gladness and generosity, worship, making more disciples.
Following the success of his book, Andrew set about developing materials that could support Churches to reflect and learn more about these habits, embedding them into their communal life. The material forms a two-year journey into deepening and strengthening discipleship.
Here in the Crosslacon Parish, we have decided to embark on a journey exploring these Holy Habits, using the resources that Andrew and his team have brought together. We will reflect on the habits in our sermons and in our times of worship. We’ll be offering time for small groups to get together so that we can share and explore the different practices and how we can encourage these habits in our common life.
Sharing Resources: Holy Habits Fellowship Group
During October and November we are meeting on Monday evenings from 7-8-pm on Zoom to reflect on one of the Holy Habits; ‘Sharing Resources.’ We will meet on the following dates:
5th October, 12th October, 19th October, 26th October, 2nd November, 9th November.
During our time together we will spend time reading and reflecting on a particular Bible passage related to this practice, sharing and learning from each other, ending with a time of prayer. Everyone is welcome. Please don’t worry if you can’t make all the dates as each week will be stand alone.
This is a particularly challenging habit and yet over these last few months we have seen people right across our community practising radical sharing of their time, gifts and resources for the common good. How can we continue to encourage and deepen that practice in our communities and in our churches? Together over the next couple of months…through sharing, reflecting, practicing and praying, we hope to learn with and from each other how we can share what we have to bless others.
Some thoughts from Andrew Roberts to get us thinking about what sharing resources might involve…
‘Sharing resources is not about offering to others what you can spare. Nor is it about taking from others what you fancy…. Sharing gifts or roles may mean accepting that a task is not completed to your own exacting standards. Sharing ideas or thoughts may make you vulnerable. Ture sharing is about working together in an honest and thoughtful manner without any hidden agendas. Sharing can be costly and demanding but it is a way to life-giving and transformational experience.’(Andrew Roberts).
A prayer as we embark on this journey of cultivating holy habits:
Gracious and ever loving God,
We offer our lives to you.
Help us always to be open to your Spirit
in our thoughts and feelings and actions.
Support us as we seek to learn more about those habits of the Christian life which,
as we practice them, will form us in the character of Jesus by establishing us in the way of faith hope and love.