Small is beautiful – as Christmas shows us

In a Christmas season where large gatherings are banned, Colin Fletcher, chair of BRF’s board of trustees, recalls how small things in God’s hands become great…

20 December 2020

Small steps towards what really matters

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light both of the Covid pandemic and of the growing problems associated with climate change, the last thing it is, is out of date.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.

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.

Small beginnings, momentous outcomes

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?

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.

‘The story of small beginnings with vast outcomes seems to be part of BRF’s DNA.’

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 kingdom of God starts small

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.’ 

Matthew 13:31–32
Open hand with sapling in soil

The God who made himself small

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.

‘In God’s hands, the seemingly insignificant becomes transformative.’

This year John Lewis has chosen as the strapline for their Christmas advertisement ‘Give a little love’. Their message is that small acts of kindness can 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.

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’.

Colin Fletcher

Bishop Colin is a member of the Anglican clergy and has recently retired as the Bishop of Dorchester. He has been chair of BRF’s trustees since 2001.

Will you pray for our work?

Bishop Colin pays tribute to the impact of BRF’s work over the years – thanks to God’s blessing and your gifts of time, money and prayers. The year ahead promises to be as challenging as ever, but we trust in God to provide wisdom, talent and resources, as he has faithfully done in the past. Would you support our needs in prayer? Our new spring 2021 prayer diary is ready to download.

Woman reading the Bible

Start 2021 with the Bible

It’s easy to let time with God slip, yet our need of his sustaining love and guidance has never been greater. Make 2021 the year you commit, or recommit to spend time with him every day. Be renewed, challenged and comforted by his word, opened up by the inspiring yet down-to-earth writers in our Bible reading notes collections. There are several series to choose from, available as booklets  and apps.