It’s the start of a new year and in a few days we start our Winter/Spring term. We are expecting around 18 guests by the first weekend, including a family from Ukraine (please pray as they still await visas for their children). It’s been good to have a few weeks break after a very busy Autumn term where at some points we had over 40 students staying in the Manor.
This past term I have been reading through John’s gospel and this Christmas season returned to the prologue. In it, John writes that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John sees the incarnation as a ‘marriage’ of heaven and earth, in which the supernatural and natural are interwoven in the very person of Jesus Christ – the eternal Word become finite human flesh. Charles Wesley put it this way in one of his Christmas hymns:
Let earth and Heaven combine, angels and men agree, To praise in songs divine, the incarnate Deity. Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.
He laid His glory by, He wrapped Him in our clay; Unmarked by human eye, the latent Godhead lay.
God’s plan for his creation has always been the ‘marriage’ of heaven and earth. We are often taught to divide reality into two parts: God is in the supernatural, but the world of nature is run by mechanisms and physical laws. The incarnation reminds us that God is Lord of both and that his plan is to bring his creation together in glory. In the Christ-child, the infinite Creator God is contracted to a span, his mission to bring the peace of the Kingdom of Heaven to an earth in rebellion against him.
Francis and Edith Schaeffer were acutely aware of the reality of the supernatural. Dr Schaeffer said that the supernatural is right here, ‘as close as my hand is.’ It was this understanding that led them to found L’Abri on the life of prayer. Rather than trusting in human cleverness, programmes and techniques, they made L’Abri deliberately vulnerable so that we would have each day to practice dependence on the God who is ‘dwelling amongst us’ – praying, waiting, trusting. Time and again over this past term we have seen the Lord’s work amongst us, not least in the lives of those he brings to the Manor. We have seen him draw people to himself, challenge lies, convict of truth, heal wounds and give hope. It is a privilege to be a part of this work that at one level is so normal (conversations, working together, meals, etc) and yet at the same moment so wonderfully supernatural.
I have been reminded of this total reality of supernatural and natural by two joyous events this autumn. Two new lives have entered our community:Matthias Paul Christian Merz (above left), born to Peter and Dawn on September 29th; and Eliot James Patton (above right), born to Andy and Lindsey on November 2nd. Although a birth is the most natural of events, accompanied by cries of pain, sweat and blood, there is also something undeniably miraculous as a unique life begins. The proud parents are doing well and the new babies have even attended their first worker’s meetings (mostly asleep!)
We have another new beginning to celebrate this autumn as Phillip Johnston and Christa Schneider announced their engagement. The wedding is planned for April 7th in Nashville, Tennessee. It means this coming term will be Phillip’s last at Greatham as a single worker. He will be moving to Nashville to join Christa whilst they establish their marriage and discern whether God is calling them as a couple back to this work or to another. We will miss Phillip hugely. He has organised our regular Friday night lecture series, been the driving force behind the October film festival and the summer day conference, set up our lecture podcast site, given many excellent lectures himself and provided a wonderful space of warm hospitality and delicious meals in the Back Flat. Even though his time at Greatham has been short he has made many friends locally, especially amongst those at Hope Church. Though it is sad to see Phillip go it is with confidence and joy that we commend him and Christa into the Lord’s care in this next chapter of their lives.
Amidst all these new beginnings we are very thankful for Sarah Liechty’s work as our Community Administrator. She started in this role last Easter and has been a huge help in a number of ways - not least being the first port-of-call in the office, managing email bookings, heading meals and the practical organisation of the Film Festival and Day Conference. Marsh Moyle also continues to be a huge help giving lectures and heading lunch discussions, a special gift in this term where we had two periods of workers on maternity leave.
I had several opportunities to speak at other organisations. In September, I led an orientation day for interns working in politics with CARE. We discussed CS Lewis’ The Abolition of Man and Al Wolters’ Creation Regained. In October I was the main speaker at the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) Junior Doctor’s Conference giving four talks titled ‘Finding Your Story in God’s Story’, the aim to help young doctors see their work and lives as part of God’s story of the redeeming of all things. Dawn Merz also had the opportunity to speak on reading to children at a local children’s literature festival.
This coming term I am speaking on faith and reason at the CMF Student’s Conference and in February Edith is travelling to Minnesota to speak at the Rochester L’Abri Conference and then in April teaching on the arts track at Word Alive, a major evangelical conference in north Wales. Phillip goes to Edinburgh in March to speak at a church day conference on habits and love. It’s good to get L’Abri ideas out there.
We value your continued prayers for us during this next period. We have two mothers with new babies who will need to find a new balance of work and family life. Pray too for Phillip and Christa as they approach their wedding day separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Merran and I have a sabbatical in the summer after 14 years at the Manor. Please pray for the team as we make plans for the work during our absence. And most of all pray for us all to experience more deeply the reality of the supernatural this year – to know and trust, through the ups and downs, that God is amongst us.
With love from us all at the Manor Jim Paul, Director of English L’Abri