I thoroughly enjoyed Bishopstoke Players’ rendition of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ last week. As always, there was great acting, and it’s so good to see so many local people really involved in it.
I discovered that Dibley Parish Church is dedicated to St Barnabas. It’s not uncommon to find this misspelled as ‘Barnabus’ as if it was a Latin name. But it’s actually Hebrew – and a nickname…
In the early church – not long after the resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost – there was a Jewish man called Joseph who came from Cyprus. And in that exciting climate when everything was so new and fresh, and the Christians were working out how to live together in the power of the Holy Spirit, Joseph sold a field he owned and gave the money to the church. It was just one of many very generous acts, but one that got recorded in Acts of the Apostles (chapter 4, verses 36-7). And for that, Joseph earned his nickname – Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement’. (If you ever see a name in the Bible starting with ‘Bar’, it simply means ‘son of’, just as we have surnames like ‘Johnson’ and ‘Stephenson’.)
Through his generosity, Barnabas was a great encouragement and inspiration to the Christian community, and he went on to be one of the key leaders alongside Peter and Paul.
We happened to have this passage about Barnabas in our Harvest services last week, when we were offering encouragement and support to refugees in Lebanon through the ‘Hampers of Hope’ appeal. And this month in our services we’re continuing to think about stewardship and how we can encourage one another by being generous.
A church I used to belong to in London owned at least six flats – terraced houses converted into two flats each. Most of them were rented to people who couldn’t easily afford a market rent, but the church also benefitted from the income. One was saved for the church Director of Music (which was me!). But the church had those properties because people had left them to them. One or two more homes were given in the following years, enabling the church to house a youth worker. It’s probably unusual to have quite so many properties given to a church, but it seems that one person sowed the seed, giving others the idea. Each one encouraged another.
Just a few days’ ago I heard about a Yorkshire priest, Peter Harding, who sold his own house in order to buy another one to use as a refuge for asylum-seekers in Hull. It was officially opened during Refugee Week in June by the Bishop of Hull. I wonder if others will hear the story and be inspired to do the same.
We can all be encouragers. We can encourage people by spending time with them, listening, being positive when things are hard, helping them to see something good in life, giving practical help where possible. We can also encourage by being generous with our possessions or finances.
Geraldine Granger isn’t made very welcome when she arrives to be the vicar in Dibley, but, by the end of her time there, things have changed. She may not be a very orthodox vicar, but by being herself and having time for others, she brings encouragement.
May we, in our own special ways, also be encouragers.
With every blessing