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On the radio last week, one of the presenters was getting a bit excited that they had received a letter. So what! we might be tempted to think, but what was exciting her was the, by her description, very long letter, had been written by hand using a real ink pen and was a thing of beauty, a masterpiece of calligraphy and good enough to be framed. It was, she explained some considerable time since she had last seen a letter like this, crafted with such care and attention.

It made me think and try to remember the last time that I had sent a hand written letter to anybody. Cards (Christmas, birthday etc, etc..) and short covering notes, yes, but a full blown hand written letter, I couldn’t think when that was.

Coincidentally, I have recently been reading through some of the letters in scripture sent by St Paul to the various early Church communities. There is so much in them that not only applied to the early days of the Church, but is equally relevant today and has done so through the past 2000 years. With some it helps to understand the historical context and have a small understanding of the cultures and audiences of the time, but the core ethos does not change.

Much can be made of the teaching on love to the Corinthians, or the realisation of the fruits of the Holy Spirit explained to the Galatians. How to live a life full of love, as described to the Colossians, and the gift of life in Christ shown in the letter to the Romans. All of us no doubt are familiar with many of the passages from these parts of the New Testament, but have you ever stopped to consider what exactly it might mean to me? Does anything of what St Paul says spark something in me? I would recommend reading the letters, if you have a chance.

On occasions I am asked to lead some sessions for some leaders in youth ministry. In one of these sessions I challenged the participants to, in the style of St Paul, write a letter to the ‘Youthonians’ of today. The letter was to include suggestions on how to live a Christian life, what to embrace and avoid in the world of today and encouragement as to why they should follow Jesus. It goes without saying that the results were interesting!

How to live a Christian life very much focused on the ‘wrongs’ in the world of today, the attitudes and thoughts of the society in which we live, and the pitfalls of following trends and fashions. Putting themselves before others, the consumer being king, and the need for material wealth featured heavily, as did an obsession with fame and fortune, often at all cost. In fact the letters painted quite a picture of despair and a broken world.

The ideals of our faith, the ethos of Love God and Love your Neighbour were presented as the antidote and this, endearing a sense of hope and potential happiness. The real sticking point however, seemed to settle on how these two opposing views could be brought together and made to work in harmony. Those young leaders have an impressive amount of insight and purpose – they just need to be listened to!

But what would you put in a letter to the ‘Youthonians’? How would you balance good with bad, desire to have with desire to give or do? How would you give hope without condemnation?

As a footnote, I have remembered when I last wrote a full letter in my own handwriting. It was a requirement for applying for ordination to the Diaconate and I had to write to Archbishop Peter for his acceptance of my calling to Holy Orders.

Deacon Ian Black

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