Midnight Mass, St Augustine’s Church, Rugeley. 24th December 2018. Revd David Evans

This time last year, at this Midnight Mass I mentioned 3 things that were going to be taking place in 2018.

A Counselling Service – now called the Changing Room Counselling service would be starting.

A men’s breakfast group called Adam’s Return would be starting, giving us men the chance to talk about their lives.

A befriending group would be starting to support people’s recovery in mental health. 

Well, in February the Changing Room counselling service did begin and since it started 45 clients have been supported with up to 6 free sessions of counselling with a local professional therapist and counsellor.

Also in February, Adam’s Return began and every month between 7 and a dozen men get together over a cooked breakfast, cooked by our own fair hands. Friendships have been formed and we look forward to these times when we share experiences and help each other along.

The befriending group began, but we have learned that we need a clearer focus in terms of therapeutic activity. It’s a work in progress. Whether it will be art, gardening, singing, mindfulness or whatever. We are learning the truth that ‘the experts’ in recovering from mental health are the very people who struggle with anxiety or depression. The truth is that we all have something to contribute that often times a lack of confidence and feeling safe hinders. 

The profile of the issue of mental health was raised through 2018 by the existence of the Changing Room counselling service, but also at our Family Day, through a sponsored skydive and of course through the Cycle Challenge for Mental Health.

2019 will be a year when we develop these ideas further. We will have one or two additional counsellors joining the Changing Room counselling project.

It remains that case that mental health provision on this side of Cannock Chase is virtually non-existent. It is shameful. I have spoken to people who tell me that they have lost their treatment because they weren’t well enough to get on a bus and get to Cannock. Yes, you can get some kind of assessment for your condition in Rugeley, but no treatment. 

This will continue to be an abiding focus in the year ahead.

So you might wonder, what has this got to do with the church? What has religion got to do with this? 

It’s very simple: The church is about God. God is about love. And love is the glue which creates communities. It is the glue which binds people together. So obviously the church is involved. 

So what of 2019?

You will see St Augustine’s championing and celebrating the strengths and talents of people of Rugeley. You will see St Augustine’s always inviting people in this town to put something back into this community. You will see St Augustine’s inviting people to take part, whether it is at our Family Day, or the Cycle Challenge for Mental Health, or taking part in some kind of activity that makes us feel better about ourselves and life, like singing, craft making, gardening, whatever it takes… or whether it is about celebrating our heritage.

And all the while that is going on, the magic happens… the glue that binds us together gets stronger as friendships form, trust develops, alliances are created.

And what about Christmas? What is the connection?

This nativity. This manger scene. This birth happens in grimy reality. It does not happen in some fairy-tale make-believe fantasy. There is no other reality than this our world, and it is this, our world, that God enters in human form. He enters to transform it. This is no fantastical distraction or escapism. He invites each of us to follow in his way, to be filled with his inspiring spirit.

There are not many things any of us can confidently assert as being an absolute certainty, but there is one thing. It is called love.

The birth at Christmas brings the promise of forgiveness, the absolute certainty of love, and the hope of peace. It is these three things, forgiveness, love and peace that transform people’s reality and therefore our world.

Happy Christmas.