Dear Friends,

                   Happy New Year! Is a fairly safe thing to wish one another at the beginning of a new calendar year. But the word “new”, when it is not wrapped up in celebration – and the novelty behind it – is one that people either love or hate.

     If the adverts are anything to go by, the people who market goods and services to us seem to think we all believe that “new” has to mean an improvement on the “old” – even if the only difference in a product is a change in colour, its desirability and price go up accordingly!

     Some people are constitutionally predisposed to novelty: I am sure you know someone who must have the latest gadget, whatever it is. And we Christians also have that tendency. We call the scriptures that are unique to our own faith the New Testament – and behind that label, and behind the way we have historically called the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament, is an approval of newness: new supersedes old, as the signature on a new will wipes out the testator’s previous intentions.

     We can find verses in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to support this stance. Second Isaiah urges his hearers, speaking for God: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? And John’s vision of Revelation speaks to us of a new heaven and a new earth, as Christ seated in majesty promises his followers: Behold, I am making all things new. Given the state of the world now, that promise of newness, an end to the death and destruction of this present age, speaks powerfully to our yearning for justice and wholeness.

     Of course, others will instinctively look back into the past for what is of real value in life. And that is also necessary. For if we were to value “new” over “old” so highly that we lost touch with our origins, we would also lose an important aspect of our identity. We see this distressingly played out when people suffering from memory loss can no longer recognise those that they have known for decades. And on a theological level the old is also significant. Isaiah speaks again to his hearers: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. Unless the Jewish people had remembered that story of their origins in God’s promise to Abraham, they would not have been able to hope for God’s faithfulness in their own generation and in generations to come. It is a cliché and not always accurate, that older people look to the past and younger people to the future. But certainly our churches, like all churches, have their conservatives and their liberals: people who hold on firmly to the old values and those who look eagerly to the new. Like the householder in Jesus’ parable, we need to be able to take from the storeroom of our faith treasures both old and new. But we also need to take seriously Jesus’ warning: No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. So as we begin in 2017 the process of finding a new minister, let’s pray for someone who can help us to preserve the best of the old, and look out for new ways in which God may be leading us on.

Sarah Hall