Rector’s letter — October 2017

Dear all

As I write this, I’m just off to take my last wedding of the season, and autumn is upon us.  I do enjoy taking weddings — they are always a privilege.

There is something about the simplicity and clarity of the wedding vows — an ideal held up for us to live to — that strikes me afresh.  I try, at every wedding, to make clear that as we fall short of our vows, we need to live as people who keep short accounts, that we regularly and explicitly forgive one another for not taking the very best care of each other.

Marriage lived well acts as a sign of how we, married or otherwise, should lead the whole of our lives.  We live as people and community, for the better of all.  Living, loving, forgiving, enabling — we bear with one another, and move on with the future and its challenge set before us.

Yours, as ever,
Stephen

Rector’s letter — August 2017

Dear all

The other day I found myself wandering around my old theological college.  It’d been quite a while since I had last visited, perhaps some 15 years or so, and I hadn’t arranged to visit.  Some things had changed — the local off-licence where we bought our wine had had its windows bricked up and was now student accommodation, but the heart of the college was reassuringly familiar.  The notice boards could have been from my day, except I noticed that it was one of my contemporaries who was advertised as the learned speaker on St Augustine in a talk at the university.  They were still keeping the tradition  of letting half the garden at the centre of the college flourish as ‘maintained wilderness’ — all looked very familiar.

I made my way to the chapel — the heart of the college — where we would meet before breakfast, evening meal and bedtime for formal-yet-infomal prayers.  I was disturbed because I could not find the bell that used to summon us to prayers each day.  A woman in her late twenties was sitting quietly in the back, taking some time out during the day.  I asked where the bell had gone — I had mis-remembered — it was 10 yards away from the chapel door, outside the entrance to the library.  Not wanting to disturb her further, I did not stay, but not before gazing into the distance, looking for the icon in the chancel.  Although I could not make it out at that distance, I knew well the words written on it:
“The one who calls you is faithful”.

I’d like to leave you with that thought — that as we grow older, and both remember and mis-remeber who we are and what we have been doing, that God himself knows and remembers who we are, and is faithful to us as we seek to find and follow him.  Do take some time this summer to reflect, to be thankful for the good and for the grace to live through the bad.  Place yourself into the hands of the Lord, return, offer yourself, seek and find — the one who calls you is faithful.

Yours, as ever
Stephen

Rector’s letter — June 2017

Dear All

I write mid-May, just as the grass is making its mind up to grow, even though we have had only a little rain thus far.
There is always a balance between the different types of resources that are needed for things to flourish — for grass this could be too little rain or too much sun — and we are no exception to this rule.
We need love and encouragement, freedom and discipline, the company of friends and a right sort of solitude, an openness to the needs of others and also the ability to get on with things where we are.
This is true of us in adult life, but especially true of us in our childhood and teenage years — and I write aware that many young people in our villages are sitting important public exams this summer.
Some of us may remember the Byrds’ song “Turn, turn, turn” from the mid-60s, which borrowed much of its lyrics from the Bible.  Here’s the original in a modern translation:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
This reading reflects the balance of much of life, and the theme of the book from the Bible from which it comes is about how and where we find our meaning in it all, if indeed we do.
Starting from quite a negative position, the writer ends up being gently open to God whilst struggling with the mystery of it all.
Let us all press on, and find a right and holy balance in all that we do — especially our young folk taking exams:  remember that you are worth so much more that any exam system can ever grade you!
All the best
Stephen

Rector’s letter — April 2017

Dear All

I’ve just come back from leading a confirmation retreat for some 30 teenagers (mostly GCSE and A-level students) who are preparing for their confirmation the week after Easter.
As most of you most probably know, confirmation is a step along the Christian journey joined-at-the-hip to our baptism or christening.
We declare publicly that this journey is for us and the bishop prays for us, anointing us with the same oil of blessing used at our baptism.
The bishop prays for us that God will confirm in us what has already begun with the his Holy Spirit.
We often use the term “christening” — literally “being made like Christ” to refer to baptism, and that’s what is going on in confirmation too.

During the retreat, we looked at three parts of the Christian journey that we carry with us — that we are beloved by God, on how God forgives us as we turn to him, and on how God sustains us, both through ordinary and holy things — along with plenty of space for each person to engage with what that means for them.

Perhaps that too should be something we can all do to, as Lent draws to a close and Easter bursts upon us — reflect on the fact that we are beloved, forgiven as we turn, and sustained though ordinary and holy things ourselves, and so discover more of God’s presence with us.

Yours, as ever,
Stephen

Rector’s letter – February 2017

By the time this magazine drops through your letterbox in early February, the Christmas season will be somewhat behind us.  I’d like to encourage you, however, still to live in the spirit of Christmas, of gifts given, and of the potential of who we might be when loved and redeemed, as our year continues.  We face a period of uncertainty as the Trump presidency becomes a reality and as we work our way forward towards leaving the European Union.  Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing — it can be fruitful, as it asks us to work out for ourselves those things that we hold of central importance in our lives, and that, in turn, can help us to find better priorities by which to live our lives.  Please, though, go through this process in the spirit of generosity that is inspired by Christmas, of the message that we are all deeply valued by God just as we are.  Lent, of course, approaches, and has its own theme of stripping down and discovering what is essential, what is right for us, but this is not a thing in its own right:  it’s all about being prepared to celebrate what Easter will bring for us — new hope, a fresh start, the power to live a re-aligned life with passion for the betterment of all.  Let us work to find a better way forward for our lives, both individually and as community, and commit ourselves to the greater good.

Rector’s letter – December 2016

I write this letter at the end of a week of surprises, the biggest of which was the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.  By the time you read this, we may have a better idea of what a Trump presidency will entail — my own hunch is that, a bit like Brexit, Trump’s Brexit+++ will remain somewhat undefined for a while yet.  What is clear is that within the USA, people can hold quite differing views, and what is more, be quite startled that others take the differing view to theirs seriously; this reflects our own country (by which I mean the UK & NI)’s double take and puzzlement at the outcome of the Brexit vote — both London and not-London, even now, find it hard to recognise each other as fellow citizens, a split that continues in parliament and even in the cabinet.

Of course, not all surprises are unhappy ones, but perhaps the best of surprises contain something to disturb us, that shakes our complacency, even if the surprise is very good.  This could be an unexpected promotion at work, or a shared glance across a room that leads to falling in love, but the surprise that I want to point to in particular today is that of the surprise of Jesus.  This is the heart of the message of Christmas that the longer nights draw us inexorably towards — that God touches our world, and in doing so fundamentally changes who we are and our priorities in it.

Be surprised this Christmas season.  Build bridges, not walls, with your families and neighbours.  Seek out those that are different, and listen and learn from them, welcoming them into your lives.  Be blessed in giving and not receiving.  Welcome the Christ-child, and be challenged by the adult Jesus.

Rector’s letter – October 2016

Autumn should now be upon us, though as I write, we’ve just had the hottest September day since 1911.  In the church’s cycle, we are mid-way through our harvest festivals — a period in which we remember our dependence on those who farm on our behalf, as well as all those who form part of the chain that brings our food to the table.  The key theme in harvest is that of thanksgiving, and recognising ultimately our dependence upon God.  It’s also a time to offer with thanksgiving the other things that we make with our labour, giving thanks for the reports we have written, the people we have helped, the lives of our families and friends and what the year has brought, and of course as the remembrance season begins in November, to remember with thanksgiving those who have recently passed away.

For me personally the next few months will be a harvest of a sort too.  I’ve been ordained now for some 17 years, and the time has come for me to take a sabbatical.  What this means is that I’ll be taking a back seat from parish duties until the Christmas carols services, and leave you in the capable hands of the Rev’d Canon Tony Cox (01509 880861).   Thanks Tony!
I’ll be using the time to study how younger people, committed to the live of the church, pray today; reflecting too on how I learned to pray in my early 20s myself — though that seems quite some time ago now!

Wishing you all the best for the autumn, and looking forward to be formally back with you all in mid-December!

Stephen

Rector’s letter – August 2016

The thing that has most upset me about the Brexit vote hasn’t been whether we remain or leave, or indeed the rapid recycling of the Conservative party or the implosion of the Labour party (though that is indeed worrying as all governments need good opposition) — it is rather the prejudice and intimidation that many that live in our towns and cities have faced in the first few days following the the vote.

One of the advantages of being part of the church is that we have clergy in every part of the county, and so very quickly get to hear when things are amiss — the tales we have heard in the media of folk being confronted in the street and told to “go home” because of their skin colour or style of dress are indeed true, and expose a worrying side to our society that many of us had hoped was no longer there, or at least greatly diminished. The irony is that those who are being confronted are typically second or third generation British citizens and not affected by the “Leave” vote in any case!

By the time you read this (early August) much of this will have settled down, but we must make sure, both as individuals and as a society, that our true majority values are made crystal clear. We all have a role to play in this, especially as the reality of Brexit begins to be worked out in the coming months. Let us pray and take action now — share what we think — so that those with unsavoury views do not have a platform upon which to build when Brexit does not turn out the way they hoped.

Yours as ever
Stephen

Rector’s letter — June 2016

Dear All

It’s exam time again — at least as I write this letter.  Good luck to all our young people across our three villages and beyond as they sit them.  The idea of exams throws up all sorts of reactions in people, from fear and dread through to a sense of completion, or satisfaction of a job well done.  For those further on in their life and work, we, of course, have appraisals and audits, the completion of projects and the like which take their place.

I want to write a little about a different type of examination that we can make, an examination that has a very different character to it, and which for many hundreds of years has been a part of the christian tradition.  This is where, at the end of each day, we reflect on what has happened in our day and our part in it.  We reflect and then tell God both where it has gone well and gone wrong, reinforcing that which has gone well, and working out how best to make amends for when it has gone wrong, receiving God’s forgiveness and moving on.
This daily examination helps us to keep short accounts with God, as well as with each other, and encourages us to live a live that is full of forgiveness and hope.  It is not that we are examined by God and found wanting — it is much more that we put aside what gets in the way and press on.

To those of you who are taking exams, remember that they only test one thing about you — they never define you:  you are all far more precious than that.

Yours as ever
Stephen

Rector’s letter – April 2016

Easter’s fallen early this year — I write this letter the week before Holy Week, so all that is yet to come.  Daffodils were everywhere for Mothering Sunday, and as this is alway held three weeks before Easter that came as somewhat of a surprise!  The christian festival of Easter is, of course, meant to be a surprise, and in the months of April and May, we continue to work out what it means for God to work out the impossible in us. The heart of the christian message is about love, grace and forgiveness, and of the possibility of change as God calls us back to himself.  God’s change is both secure and insecure:  secure in that God’s change is positive — it is God’s nature breaking out within us; insecure as rather like a wild wind, we have no idea where it will take us.  Easter ends with Ascension and Pentecost, the early christians’ 10 day wait after Jesus’ last resurrection appearance for birth of the church, as God’s Spirit (wind, breath, fire, life) is poured out upon his people.  Disturbing, wild, and good.

So let us all, whatever our faith, embrace change that is change for good, that brings life and love for others.
Let us pray together:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people,
Kindle in us the fire of your love.

Your’s as ever
Stephen