Pastoral Perspectives

Journeying Through Winter

Winter for some can be a depressing time because the days are short, the air is freezing, the trees are bare, and if the rain does come, cold and wet can be such a dreadful combination. Westminster College where I am staying is housed in an old building. I was told that it was the first building in Cambridge that had electricity. Given the wear and tear as the building ages over the many decades, the heating system is not functioning very well. The indoors is usually a place of refuge from the menace of the cold but my room didn’t provide such solace – my heater wasn’t working even after the maintenance person looked at it twice! When Ai Tin and the family came to visit me, they had to stay in my room for an afternoon because I had to attend class, and even with the portable heater, they still found the cold quite unbearable. My body was able to take it better because I arrived in September and so I was eased rather than thrust into winter.

Ironically, I do love winter. There is a certain beauty even in the bareness. I have gone around taking pictures of bushes with twigs and trees with empty branches. After it rains, I can see droplets of water hanging precariously on those twigs and it is a pretty sight. Of course there are some evergreens which have leaves on them throughout the year. I have even seen two trees that are not evergreens yet there is a canopy of pink flowers over them. It looks as if spring is round the corner! In recent years, snow is a regular feature in Cambridge. So far, snow fell on three days, the last being the heaviest. The whole place is literally transformed into another kind of beauty – the field is a sea of white, the branches and twigs are coated with a layer white, so are the roofs of buildings – colleges and churches. I am blown away by the whiteness of the snow and I am reminded of Isaiah 1.18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as whiteas snow.” And that is possible because of the finished work of Christ on the cross!

I marvel at the snow flakes. They look like small white feathers taking their time to obey the law of gravity. When they fall on my clothes, I can just brush them aside like dusting some powder away without leaving a trace of condensation. By God’s mercy, my heater decided to make itself useful again. I had the privilege to stand beside the heater, enjoying the warmth radiating from it, and at the same time looking out of my window to behold the sight of falling snow. It was simply awesome! I don’t have a magnifying glass with me but I am told that every snow flake has a distinct pattern. That’s our Creator God – He does not churn things out in bulk but fashion them in such unique and varied ways! If He does that for the snow, how much more when it comes to us, created in His own image, the apex of all that He has made! The Psalmist said, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;my soul knows it very well.”(Ps 139.14)I am told that spring is going to be very pretty with the blossoming of colourful flowers everywhere. I am looking forward to it but meanwhile, I still want to absorb as much as possible the beauty of winter.

After a whole term of visiting churches and seeing how each of them is involved in advancing the kingdom of God, I have decided to settle down in Cambridge Presbyterian Church (CPC), the only Presbyterian Church in Cambridge. I have a few reasons why I am making that church my spiritual home for the rest of my time here. First, it is a Presbyterian Church. Second, a friend of mine who was in the same cell group as me when we were attending university, a pastor himself who is doing his PhD, is also attending that church. Third, the preaching is expository. Last but definitely not least, it is a welcoming church. Of all the churches I visited, this is the church where people are very forth coming in stretching out their hands to welcome strangers. On the first Sunday I visited them, the couple who sat next to me spoke with me after the service. The wife said I had a good voice (haha); they said they were fairly new to the church themselves and shared with me why they had come to that church; they even said they would like to invite me over to their home for lunch! On the same Sunday, others came forward uninhibitedly to shake my hand and introduced me to even more people. That Sunday wasn’t a one-off show of enthusiasm for I experience the same hospitality when I visited them some time later. My friend from university is a Methodist so I asked him why he has chosen to worship in a Presbyterian church. He said that he too visited many churches when he first came to Cambridge and he told himself that he would settle down in a church where the pastor would come up to him and greet him. The pastor of CPC did just that and the rest is history! True Wayians, you should know what I am trying to get at. Although we have moved on to evangelism as our focus, we should continue to work on being a welcoming church. My grapevine tells me that the welcoming teams have been doing a fabulous job (keep it up!) but welcoming really has to be a church wide effort.

Lent is soon approaching. The first Sunday of Lent should be on 17th Feb. It is a time when we prepare ourselves for the remembrance and celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. The season of Lent is marked by a deepening realism of the cost of discipleship – deny self; carry cross; follow Him. Christians use this period of time for self-examination, repentance, re-commitment and service. It involves facing our temptations, knowing ourselves, having new attitudes, surrendering our desires, living prayerfully – all to become more Christ-like. As part of my preparation, I am going on a fast. I know Elder Chung Horn shared in one of the previous years that he fasted from caffeine during Lent. I am going to give up desserts. I love desserts and my college serves very good desserts every meal. I once told the chef that I can skip the main course and just eat desserts, especially the chocolate brownies – they are mouth-watering. This spiritual discipline of abstaining from something we like – be it doing or eating – can be considered a form of fasting. Whenever we crave for that particular thing, especially when it has turned into an addiction, we can focus our attention on Christ and His cross, craving instead for His presence and turning to Him in prayer and thanksgiving. Would you consider giving up something this Lent as we journey towards the heart of our Christian faith?

Pastor Kien Seng

February 10, 2013