A true prophet
It is almost 50 years since Ernst Schumacher wrote his book Small is Beautiful: A study in economics as if people mattered. But looking at its main themes in the light both of the Covid pandemic and of the growing problems associated with climate change, the last thing it is, is out of date.
Its message is as powerful as ever. Many authors may claim to be prophetic, but Schumacher was one who truly fitted that description. Today you only have to open a newspaper, turn on the news or connect to the internet to realise the urgent need for the human race to stop being profligate with fossil fuels and the natural world, and instead to aim for sustainability in all that we do and create.
‘Many authors may claim to be prophetic but Schumacher was one who truly fitted that description.’
The past year has also, through Covid, driven home the message forcibly that, while we are one huge global community, we can all help each other and make significant changes by taking many small steps.
Thinking back over the close association I have had with BRF over the past two decades, it has struck me that Schumacher’s book title is a motto we live out in practice – ‘small is indeed beautiful’. Even when it grows into something much larger than we could have imagined initially.
I think, for instance, of those first Bible reading notes produced by Revd Leslie Mannering and his team at St Matthew’s Brixton for their parishioners in 1922. Who would have believed then that we would be marking the centenary of BRF in 2022?
Remarkable growth from small beginnings
In my own generation, I have seen other stories of remarkable growth from small things with, I believe, still more to come – thanks to the work of God, and the prayers and support of people like yourselves.
Who would have anticipated that Messy Church would in 16 years grow from a single congregation in Hampshire to the several-thousand-strong fellowship of Messy Churches, each with its own identity, that stretch across the world today? Or that Anna Chaplains would have continued to expand in numbers despite all the constrictions caused by Covid?
The story of small beginnings with vastly multiplied outcomes seems to be a part of the DNA of BRF – and that’s without mentioning Living Faith and Parenting for Faith, and all that is going on through them.
‘The story of small beginnings with vastly multiplied outcomes seems to be a part of the DNA of BRF.’
I was reminded several times recently that these patterns are not just part of BRF’s DNA. They belong to God and his kingdom as well, as Jesus took pains to point out on many occasions. The parable of the mustard seed comes immediately to mind. It is a parable that Matthew, Mark and Luke all record, each in a slightly different form. Matthew’s version reads like this:
‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’
Transformed in God’s hands
There is, Jesus is saying, something glorious about the way in which, in God’s hands, the seemingly insignificant becomes transformed and transformative. Bearing that in mind we can, of course, go deeper still, right to the roots of our faith.
We can go to the events of the first Christmas – to the virgin conception and the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. The point has been made by preachers and writers millions of times down the years, but that does not make it any less true. No one had anticipated that God’s great intervention in the history of humankind would begin with a tiny fertilised egg in Mary’s womb. Yet, when he wanted to move decisively in saving humanity he chose to do so in what seemed like – to pretty well everyone, except Mary – a very unspectacular way. We are reminded of that every Christmas.
A Christmas ad last year had the strapline ‘Give a little love’. The message was that small acts of kindness could transform the lives both of individuals and of communities. At Christmas, we celebrate God’s reaching out in the greatest act of his love that the world has ever known. The God who demonstrates his love in this way makes himself tiny and vulnerable because of his love for us all – and the whole course of history was changed as a result.
‘God made himself tiny and vulnerable because of his love for us all – and the whole course of history was changed as a result.’
For the God whom Jesus reveals, in living and dying here on earth, is indeed the God for whom ‘small is beautiful’. And so, because everything flows from that fact, may I wish you a very ‘Happy Christmas’.
Reflecting Bishop Colin’s theme of ‘small is beautiful’, this prayer is from Celebrating Christmas by Amy Boucher Pye with artwork by her father Leo Boucher.
Lord Jesus, expand my mind and my heart to understand even more what it means that in you all things hold together. You hold together not only the tiny atoms, but the whole universe. And you love me deeply and gently. Help me to praise and worship you more and more. Amen