Each day during the Coronavirus "lockdown" Rev Will and others have been sharing a Daily Letter on this page. All the letters are here to read with the latest at the top. More recently this has become a Weekly Letter. You can scroll down the page for earlier entries.
Here are a few useful links to other resources on this website:
The Holy Trinity Morning Prayer booklet is available for you to use and can be downloaded here.
Morning Prayer Zoom link click here and enter ID: 721 916 3429 & password: revjames.
The set Bible Readings for each day are listed here.
You can listen to a recording of our Sunday communion service here.
You can read (and print, if you wish) the Sunday Communion service booklet here.
You can participate in Stations of The Cross here.
You can make your own Palm Sunday cross here.
Good Friday Meditations at the Cross here
31st July, 2020 - this week we hear from Sally Taylor
Dear church family
I think it is God’s sense of humour that I preached on God being a God of surprises less than a month ago as God has certainly surprised us and gone way beyond what we could have ever imagined or hoped in terms of His plans for us! In my sermon I said:
“What do we think of when we hear the word surprise? When I looked it up in the dictionary it says it means:
an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, etc.
Bombshell and revelation are also listed as associated words that go with surprise.
So, if God is a God of surprises then these words of bombshell, astonishment, and revelation are part of His nature, part of His way, part of His essential DNA”.
I also said:
“It says in Isaiah 55 v8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
And I asked the question of us all “I wonder today how much we believe in the God of surprises? In the God of the unexpected? I wonder how much room there is in our faith for God to really surprise and astonish us?”
As I reflect on the events that followed me preaching this, I am humbly aware of at times my wavering in trusting and believing God to be a God of surprises.
As you all know firstly my curacy fell apart, then James didn’t get the vicar job in Poole. These were huge blows when I had felt deeply that we were to be in Poole and following the Lord into what was going on down there. I questioned my own ability to discern the Spirit of God’s leading and whether God really knew my heart and what I wanted to do. I was like Peter – willing to get out of the boat and walk to Jesus but in seeing the waves and feeling the wind I was starting to sink and at times to question God’s goodness.
Two weeks ago, we had a week away in Lyme Regis. In that week I had ending conversations with people I had hoped to be working with in Poole. I let the dream of doing pioneer ministry and being a curate and getting ordained drift away, I chose to let it die. This was so painful. I knew I had no choice but to trust God in the wilderness of all of this but I wasn’t happy about it and struggled to really trust God with it all. As I moped around the shops in Lyme Regis after I had prayed to God and let all of my dreams go, James had a phone call from the lead chaplain at Poole hospital offering him work! I couldn’t believe it and was in total shock as I had just let all my dreams finally die and yet God was raising it all up again! Resurrection! I was due to speak to the Bishop of Salisbury the following morning so I told him what had happened to James and how amazing this was especially as we had laid everything to rest so I just asked if there could be a new curacy for me and a house to live in now that James had a job. Miraculously by the next day that had all been offered by the Bishops and so we are off to Poole after all!!
It still seems unreal. God is a God of the bombshell, astonishment, and revelation. These characteristics are part of His nature, part of His way, part of His essential DNA. He is an awesome God of surprises. But as I said in my sermon, we do play a part in how we walk with the God of astonishment – when it came to it, I wobbled on the water, I doubted, I ranted at God and was sad. But I was obedient. I did let it all go and underneath all the frustration I trusted that God had our future safely in His hands even if I couldn’t see it or know His wisdom.
You see, I think our lives as Christians are like this – we need to realise our dependence on our wonderful, astonishing God of surprises. We can’t control our future – He has it in His hands. We can’t always understand His ways as we are not God but yet His plans are perfect, they call us closer to Him, for us to realise more fully that we are called to be His children, to be safe in His arms. We forget our powerlessness and our dependence on God and that really our journey as Christians is all about us crying out to God as our only hope just like princess Leia in Star Wars does to Obe one Kenobi, – help us God – you are our only hope. And in this hope of the God of surprises He is faithful and true.
I want to end by saying a huge thank you for all your love and support and prayers for us in the past few months and over the past 3 years. You are all God’s treasure and delight and we are so grateful for you all.
Much love Sally
25th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
It was absolutely wonderful to be back at Holy Trinity worshipping together last Sunday and I am very much looking forward to tomorrow's service. I have to confess to having been a bit anxious about being back in church. I had got so used to worshipping in the safety of my study in front of the computer that the prospect of gathering us all together again in a Covid-safe fashion was a little nerve wracking. However, it felt to me as if the service went well, and above all it was just great to see people face to face, chat to them and to feel once again that we are very much family together - sisters and brothers in Christ.
I had the good fortune of attending a Zoom meeting at the beginning of the week at which a representative from the Marie Curie charity gave a fascinating and very compelling talk. Sadly I was late to the meeting and missed the beginning of it, but what I heard was inspiring as was the general discussion that followed. I took particular interest because Karen worked as a Marie Curie nurse for a few years until she had to stop to care for relatives at home. It is a truly good organisation that brings care, help, encouragement and much relief to patients in the last weeks of their lives, and to their families. The speaker at that meeting, Riona Houghton, wrote to me after the meeting and I would love you to see her letter. CLICK HERE to read it.
I am keenly aware that there are quite a number of folk within our church family, and amongst our own families and friends, who are struggling with ill health, and many who are awaiting or undergoing tough treatment. There are some, too, who are recovering from recent medical treatment. Please keep praying for them. Some you will know and pray for by name. There are others who you don't know about, but pray for them anyway; God knows who they are! I say this because two recent incidents in particular have brought home to me the power of prayer. In one instance the future looked very uncertain and rather messy for some folk who were being earnestly prayed for. By God's miraculous working, suddenly a whole series of conversations and events resulted in things falling into place for them. In another instance, a dear and much prayed for friend of many years who has suffered with terminal ill health for a long time and has undergone gruesome treatment simply to "buy a little time", was scanned the other day and her specialist couldn't believe what he was seeing. Suddenly, and quite remarkably, she is free of disease! A sceptic might argue that these turns of events would have happened anyway and that prayer had nothing to do with it. Well, we shall never know what would've happened if those folk hadn't been prayed for. What I do know is that they were prayed for and good things did happen. So keep praying; our prayers are never wasted. The cries of our hearts are always heard by God. He cares so much about every one of us; He knows every thought we have, every ache we have in our hearts, and all of our desires. In Psalm 56:8 the writer addresses God: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book."
Finally, I recently received some up to date rules and guidance from the Church of England about going to church on Sundays. They have impressed upon us the absolute requirement that we "socially distance" properly and conscientiously. This means that we are required to remain two metres apart unless we are wearing face coverings, in which case we must remain at least one metre apart. Obviously you can be close to folk you live with or are close to on at least a daily basis. Please do observe the strict requirement to keep your distance not just because it is a rule, but more importantly because it is the safe and considerate thing to do for others and for ourselves. This might mean you have to sit somewhere different in church from where you usually sit, but I promise you, it'll be alright!
I opened a book this morning which happened to have a bookmark in it that was made at Hamp Junior School last year during one of our after-school clubs. It has this prayer on it:
Creator of the world,
Help us to love one another,
Help us to care for each other
As sister or brother,
That friendship may grow
From nation to nation.
Bring peace to our world
O Lord of creation.
See you soon.
19th July, 2020 - today we hear from Bishop Ruth & Rev Will
Two or three days ago the Bishop of Taunton (Bishop Ruth) published a letter for use in church magazines, so I thought I would reproduce it here. This is what she wrote:
I’m tired! I don’t know about you? And yet I am getting up later and going to bed earlier than I was accustomed to before the pandemic struck. I’m travelling less, indeed I still have an almost full tank of petrol and have had to call out the AA three times because the battery has died! I’m at home principally, but my working day has got fuller and more demanding as time has gone on.
So, I’m planning a holiday! A retreat and some study leave. Having been ordained 24 years I have yet to have a period of sabbatical and I’m looking forward to it! It is not going to take the form I would have planned. There will not be the opportunity of a trip overseas or a residential conference to attend, but there will be plenty of time for family, rest, reading and reflection.
What about you? I know some of you might be feeling that our children have had one big holiday at home since lockdown but I can assure you that they, their parents and their teachers have all been working hard to ensure that learning can continue even though the normal patterns have been disturbed. Whether we have been working from home, furloughed or feeling alone in isolation, each of us will I expect have experienced something of the sense of weariness that heightened anxiety, change of routine and uncertain expectation brings.
So I want to encourage you to take some time off. There’s a fabulous little children’s story called "Jesus’ Day Off", which you might like read as an example of the need for even the Creator to re-create. The example of Sabbath rest which our Creator God offers us in the opening chapters of the Bible, speak to us of the need for taking time to put down the tools of work and take space to reflect and rest.
We have spent the past few months in lockdown in order to keep ourselves physically healthy. Let’s make sure that in these next few months we attend as much to our spiritual and emotional health, by discovering sabbath rest!
With every blessing
I entirely identify with how Bishop Ruth feels. I, too, am tired! Differently from her though, I've been going to bed perhaps a little earlier and getting up quite a lot earlier. During lockdown there has been much office work to do very first thing in the morning as well as one or two Zoom meetings to attend early most mornings. I, too, have travelled less, probably much to the delight of our church treasurer! Like the Bishop, my working days - mostly at home, but increasingly out and about - have been busy, full, and often much longer than usual. A huge benefit from all of this is that I have learnt new ways of doing things, new ways of exercising ministry and new ways of making use of technology. I am, though, looking forward to worshipping in church and beginning to see more people face to face (with at least a metre between us!).
Emerging from lockdown has given me an opportunity to do some personal reflection on my role as Vicar as we start afresh. It would be easy just to pick up where I left off and carry on exactly as I did before. However, I am increasingly mindful of my ordained and licensed role as “cure of souls” in our parishes – an aspect of ministry which is so easily neglected due to all the other events, meetings, initiatives, projects and admin that many vicars find themselves doing. I have been around long enough now, and most know me well enough, for me to be able to say that my calling and gifting (if I have any gifting at all) is most particularly to pastoral ministry (visiting, community presence, care of individuals, etc) and sacramental ministry (communion, baptisms, weddings, ministry to sick & dying, etc). These are the areas of activity and ministry to which I shall be particularly attending from here on. I will encourage any of you who want to have a go at projects, initiatives, missional outreach, etc and happily release you to carry on with any oversight and guidance from me as might be necessary.
The first question before others that is asked of candidates at ordination is: “Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?” And, of course, all us vicars said, “I will”. The truth of the matter is that I, along with many colleagues, don’t, or at least don’t much. So now I have determined to spend more time attending to this aspect of my ministry and priesthood as a priority.
As Bishop Ruth intimated, self-care must be a priority for all of us, and that is certainly so for clergy so that they can continue to offer Christian care, ministry and service to others as effectively and as energetically as possible. Now that we have our "second home" (caravan in Devon!), Karen (who is working demanding 12 hour day and night shifts at the hospital) and I will be taking opportunities when they arise to nip off down there for a day or two or three at a time. But I will take my phone and my laptop with me for absolute necessities!
I join with Bishop Ruth in strongly encouraging you not to rush back full steam ahead into everything. We're all a bit "shell-shocked", and lockdown has shown us that on the whole we can manage (mostly really quite well), taking life at a different pace - less head-on and less complicated, but perhaps more intentionally and thoughtfully. "New normal" has become rather an over-used cliche, but it bears careful consideration. We'll be affected by some restrictions to a greater or lesser extent for quite a time to come, so outwardly it will indeed be a "new normal". Maybe now is the God-given time to reflect and pray to see if He is leading you towards an inward, personal, "new normal".
This will be the last Daily Letter. From this week onward there will be a Weekly Letter which, as well as any musings from the writers, will contain church news and notices.
Can't wait to catch up with you at church and, perhaps, during a home visit.
God bless you, and much love and many prayers,
18th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
I write to you having just returned from a family holiday in Lyme Regis on the South coast. We had a very good and special time there, enjoying the relative ‘normality’ and beautiful weather. Shops were open; the beaches were popular but not crowded; people were strolling around and forgetting for a little while the strains of the COVID-19 lockdown period. It felt hard to believe that the severe ‘lockdown’ is really over and we can do many things safely again. I felt the relief of being able to do some simple things – like go for a swim in the sea, or buy a pasty(!) – that have been impossible for some months. I don’t think any of us ever imagined that we would find ourselves part of a national ‘lockdown’ for months on end. Insofar as it is safe for you, and if finances allow, I would encourage anyone to take advantage of the improvements in the national situation and use the freedom to move around England and have some time away.
In our New Testament passage today (Luke 20:27-40) Jesus refutes his critics who say there is no resurrection. To the Sadducees, his opponents, the resurrection of God’s children from death - in the age to come - is pure nonsense. They try to ‘riddle’ Jesus with a question about a woman married multiple times and whose wife she would be at the resurrection. Jesus responds that marriage is ‘of this age’ and that after the resurrection no-one will marry any more. He goes on to remind them of the famous patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – ‘’to him [God] all of them are alive”. Jesus reminds them that if Moses believed this, they should too.
Discussions about the afterlife tend to get bogged down in technicalities. My children pose me questions of this sort from time to time – for example, will there be money? Will there be hospitals? Will there be vicars? I always do my best to give a sensible answer based on what the scriptures tell us, but I remind them – and you – that the Bible avoids going into detail about the ‘next life’. Metaphor is used heavily, especially in the book of Revelation. However, there are some things that we can clearly say.
The afterlife, the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ will be both familiar and also very different from the life that we know. God, through Jesus Christ, has redeemed His creation which in Genesis He said was ‘very good’. People will exist and have bodies – as Jesus himself appeared to the disciples after his own death and resurrection, invited them to touch him, and even ate with them. There will be no sin or injustice any more. At present, people have free rein to follow God’s ways or ignore them – no such ignorance or selfish sinfulness will exist in the age to come. And there will be no more suffering or disease; but the very best of human culture and achievements will be redeemed and brought in to God’s presence. There will be plenty to do – while Genesis gives us a vision of God’s garden, Revelation paints a vivid picture of a Garden City!
How do you feel when you reflect on Jesus's words about resurrection? Do you feel encouraged, hopeful? Do you feel incredulous, like the Sadducees, or indifferent? Do you feel hopeful - or doubtful when you think about 'the age to come'? Follow up these feelings and reflect on what the resurrection means for you.
Some of our cherished freedoms and norms have been restored and England is a much safer place to be than a couple of months ago. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Jesus paints a picture of a much fuller restoration of all things true and good, when the children of God become the children of the resurrection. I like to think about these things; I encourage you to think about them too!
Love and prayers,
17th July, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Yesterday we undertook a journey that we haven’t done since last autumn! We went over to Gosport in Hampshire to see our son and daughter-in-law, Simon and Caroline. Some of you will have met them when they’ve joined us for a Sunday service at Holy Trinity.
It seems a very long time since we last saw them, indeed it is! They joined us for a couple of days over New Year and Simon came over for one night without Caroline who was in hospital, to celebrate Linda’s birthday ... on 23rd March. Luckily he was making his way home on that evening when Boris appeared on our TV screens to announce the lockdown. He was completely unaware of it until he returned home!
That initial three weeks has certainly mushroomed in the interim to what I believe is now 15 weeks, without actually counting up on the calendar, and to us it seems like a lifetime!
We had a really wonderful, if very long day. Leaving home before 8 o’clock in the morning, traffic was very light even on the A303 towards Basingstoke. I followed my usual route to the A34 to travel down to Winchester, to pick up the M27 at Southampton. We had a bit of a surprise – just how busy the traffic was done in Hampshire.
We spent most of our time with Simon and Caroline in their gazebo in the back garden. They’ve run a power cable out there so they have lights and one of those stone sculptures which includes recirculating trickling water. A set of cane furniture completed the scene and I must say all credit to them, living on a very tight budget, most of the items were picked up from friends and acquaintances at almost no cost. It was a really relaxing “oasis”.
Early in the lockdown, in April, it had been Simon’s birthday so we had some presents for him to open which gave us all a lot of pleasure. Simon loves playing musical instruments – we bought him a cornet when he was about 12 and he has added to his collection ever since. This year his big wish was bagpipes! As you may realise the “bag” is covered with Tartan cloth which we wanted to make appropriate… there is no Archer tartan. However, I found a link in the past which I followed again, my Mum’s maiden family name was Smart and going back hundreds of years was a link between the Smart’s and the Makenzie’s so we found a set of bagpipes which included the Makenzie tartan. (Fortunately) by the time we left, Simon hadn’t actually managed to put the whole outfit together to start playing them! I do however feel sorry for the neighbours when he does manage it – maybe he will have to take them down to the sea front away from too many people.
For the journey home, I chose the route generally favoured by the “Sat Nav” applications, through Salisbury. I have tended to avoid it knowing how busy Salisbury town can be in rush hour. Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too bad at all. Looking at the map it does cut off quite a large corner so should be a lot shorter. In reality the time was almost exactly the same!
The Morning Prayer reading today from the Old Testament is from the first book of Samuel Chapter 3. It tells how Samuel as a boy was living in the house of Eli, the priest. Samuel is in his room when he hears someone call his name. Rushing to see Eli, the only other occupant he announces “I am here”, but Eli hasn’t called him. This is repeated three times and Eli realises that it’s God calling Samuel to tell him his plans for Eli and his family. Sadly because of Eli’s sons’ words and actions, it’s not good news.
It’s one of the first bible stories I remember being read to me possibly by my grandma from the wonderful old family bible she kept, which I’ve inherited. It’s quite a large King James text volume and includes some very early full page colour pictures each protected by a sheet of greaseproof like paper to stop them sticking.
Today, I’d like to end with a prayer. I found a number of copies of its text in the bottom of the bag where I keep my robes. All sort of odd scraps of paper and other things get dropped in there, up until very recently I even had a laminated version of the music for the Prayer Book, Evening Prayer sung responses. I can’t have used them for at least ten years!
The prayer I found was this: -
Whose purpose is to make things new in Jesus,
Help us by Your Holy Spirit,
To use the gifts You gave us,
To share Your love,
Today and every day.
I hope to see at least some of you on Sunday at Holy Trinity for our first post lockdown service, and may God bless all of us.
16th July, 2020 - today we hear good news from Rev Will
Returning To Holy Trinity Church Under Current Covid-19 Restrictions
Holy Trinity Church will be re-starting Sunday services this Sunday, 19th July 2020
At long last we are allowed to return to church for weekly worship. It will be wonderful to be together under one roof again for prayer, praise and blessing. We thank the Lord for that.
However, Covid-19 has created much suffering and sadness and over the course of the last four months more than 45,000 people have died in this country alone, and tens of thousands have been affected with considerable numbers requiring extended critical hospital care. Covid has not gone away. People in this country continue to be affected and there are still many daily deaths. Along with every other organisation we must do our part willingly and conscientiously to abide by Government rules and guidelines in order to keep ourselves and everyone around us well and safe. Therefore coming to church won’t be as it was back in March, and you are asked to take time to read this document at least once because we want to make coming to church as safe as possible for everyone.
The following information about coming to church may seem to be full of restrictions and rules which we don’t like! However, we have to adhere to legislation, Government guidelines and Church of England guidance, and of course to our moral and social duty to do what we can to ensure the safety and well being of the most vulnerable and anxious.
We intend to have Sunday services each week from 19th July at 10am, but not on Thursdays at the moment. This will be reviewed in the near future.
Government guidelines state that services should be as short as is reasonably possible.
A “social bubble” is people living together in the same household, or those people from outside your household whom you meet with in very close physical proximity on a frequent basis.
On a Sunday morning...
Prior to the service
1. You are encouraged to use your bathroom facilities at home before coming to church in order to keep use of the church WC to an absolute minimum.
2. Doors will be opened at 9.30am. If you arrive before then and are standing outside, please remember you need to remain 2m apart from people who are not members of your household or social bubble.
3. Enter church remaining 2m apart (unless in the same household)
4. Sanitise your hands using the dispenser near the main entrance door.
5. Face coverings will be available to you if you want one.
6. Collection money / envelopes is to be dropped into the plate at the back of church.
7. Please wait to be directed to your seats. If you are able, please print out the service booklet from the website and bring it with you to each service. A limited number of service booklets will be available in church. If you need one, it will be brought to you. Each person is asked to keep their booklet and take it home with them to bring next time. It is suggested that you write your name on your service booklet.
8. Please remain in your seat other than for receiving communion and using the WC.
9. People's names will be recorded as attending. This enables us to inform other people and the authorities if someone did get Covid-19.
During the service
1. The service will be a little shorter than we are used to. There will be no hymn signing and no sung responses. Music may be played before, during and after the service.
2. The Peace will only be said. No moving around the church and no hand shaking or hugging can take place except between people of the same household or social bubble.
3. There will be no collection taken during the service.
4. The priest leading the service will receive the bread and the wine. Everyone else will receive the bread only. Please hold out both hands in a cupped fashion so that the priest can drop the wafer safely into your hands. It is perfectly alright if people prefer to come up for a blessing or to remain in their seats.
5. The priest distributing the bread will sanitise his hands before and after distribution. People receiving the bread will come up only when directed to do so by the duty Churchwarden, and communion will be received standing. There will be no kneeling at the altar rail.
At the end of the service
1. Your service booklet should be taken home.
2. Remain in your seat until directed to leave by the duty Churchwarden or sidesman. Please leave the church immediately upon being asked to do so.
3. Unfortunately, no refreshments and socialising can take place inside church. You may talk to people in the churchyard but please move away from the front door and ensure 2m physical distancing.
Please also note the following
1. The priest on duty will preside and distribute communion unaccompanied and unassisted.
2. Votive Candles are not to be lit by members of the congregation unless they use their own matches or lighter; otherwise please ask the priest or churchwarden on duty if you would like him/her to light a candle for you. Please do not blow out any candles.
3. There will be no real flower arrangements in church.
4. No one except the priest, preacher and churchwarden on duty may go into the vestry or choir vestry.
5. Only use the WC if absolutely necessary. Please wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after use. Do not touch the door handle until after you have washed and dried your hands.
For the foreseeable future
1. The online Morning Prayer will continue on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
2. Church services will continue to be recorded and put on the website and Facebook.
3. The Daily Letter will become The Weekly Letter and, for the moment, will be the means by which church notices and news will be given because the paper edition of The Bulletin will not be returning for some time.
I appreciate this is detailed; it will only work and keep the risks to a minimum if we all follow the procedure. I also fully appreciate that church has a very important social element, but to keep everyone safe, and to keep within the current laws and guidance, this cannot happen within the church building at the moment.
Thank you for reading this and for your cooperation and understanding. Please do get in touch if you have any questions.
I am really looking forward to seeing you at church.
God bless you all.
With the agreement of and on behalf of Holy Trinity Parochial Church Council
15th July, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
No you haven’t been through a time warp or slept through a couple of days, today is indeed Wednesday! I normally write the letter on a Friday – Will and James’ day off, to give them just a small amount of time away from front line church business, but as James is away this week I offered to pick up an additional day.
When I glanced at the date yesterday I was taken back to school days yet again, but this time to French lessons which was one of my very worst subjects! 14th July or “le 14 Juillet” is Bastille Day across the channel and is a National holiday usually involving the largest military parade in Europe in front of the French President and government representatives plus foreign guests, fireworks and street parties.
The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution, as well as the “Fête de la Fédération” which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Sadly of course, this year the events have been cancelled due to the virus, the only time it has been cancelled in peace time since the first commemoration in 1880. (It was also cancelled between 1940 and 44 due to the German occupation).
I don’t know, off hand, what the rules are in France about face coverings. I believe in Spain they are mandatory so I guess holiday makers will be coming home to the UK with brown and white faces similar to the brown and white contrasting bits on their bodies!
Over the years Linda and I have had many wonderful holidays abroad. In days gone by, when we had a trailer caravan we visited much of Western Europe, dragging our home behind us. We loved the freedom but suddenly it seemed to lose its novelty. One summer, my Dad hadn’t been well and we ended up dragging the van to the same site in Dorset every two or three weeks. We took the decision to sell our trailer van and we bought an old static van on the same site. It actually gave us the best of both worlds. We had an easy base to which we could escape and with the cash we saved in improved fuel consumption were able to save for holidays by air.
In September 2000 we joined a guided 10 day tour of the Holy Land. Led by a C of E vicar from Alton Towers we stayed in a Palestinian hotel in Jerusalem for the first three nights. In addition to our tour leader we had a local Arab guide as we visited many of the sights on the Arab quarter. I believe it was an unexpected change to the itinerary that nights four and five we moved to another hotel in a luxurious Jewish area before moving to our final hotel near the Sea of Galilee.
During our time in Israel we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and, unknown to us beforehand our leader had arranged for us to renew our wedding vows in the chapel at Cana. It was the place where Jesus performed His first miracle – He turned the water into wine. The stone jars which held the wine are housed in glass cabinets for all to view and they are enormous, nothing like today’s glass bottles.
Today’s Morning Prayer Psalm and readings have taken a somewhat brighter tone than those of recent weeks. Starting with Psalm 111 “Praise the Lord!, I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them…” It continues with the story of Samuel in the Old Testament and concludes with Jesus being challenged by the Chief Priests and Scribes, asking what authority he has to teach about the Good News. Jesus turns the question back on them and when they fail to answer he says then “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Recently the government announced that Places of Worship could begin to reopen with public protection measures in place. Guidance on this has begun to filter down to local level. Let us hope and pray that we can soon meet together to worship God in our church building and that worshipping together across the country doesn’t spark the second wave of virus that has been feared from the very early days of the pandemic.
May God bless us all.
14th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
One moment it feels like more freedom and the next it feels like less. Yesterday I mentioned that we can now go swimming and go to the pub; from 24th July, however, we are now legally obliged to wear face coverings in all shops and supermarkets. It's a strange time of apparent contradictions in which as one aspect of lockdown is relaxed another is tightened; as one restriction is dropped another is imposed. I do not envy for one second those in government, and their expert advisers, who have to navigate the way through all of this on our behalf. There are so many issues and interests to consider - many of them conflicting. It is an almost impossible balancing act. The dreaded virus has not gone away, and there are gloomy predictions on the news today about how it might bounce back, even worse, in the forthcoming winter months. The unenviable task of government is to balance the primary demands of preservation of life and health with the important demands of personal / national financial welfare. The apparent contradictions are all about that: We can go to more places and do more things for the benefit of personal and national economics, but as we exercise these increasing freedoms we must keep our distance and wear face coverings to ensure we stay well and save lives. It's a tough call, a really complicated conundrum to manage. For all the mistakes, errors in judgement and changes of mind and policy, those in power have worked tirelessly to try and get it right. Others may have done things differently, but there's no perfect solution. No political person, or body of people, has the magic bullet to make Covid go away and things return to the way they were before. I don't always agree with the powers-that-be (often I don't!), but I respect them (sometimes I have to try hard to do so!) for working extraordinarily hard in trying to achieve what is probably an impossible balancing act.
That's Covid and the way the government is handling it. What about our own lives and the way we handle them? All of us will have our own complicated and irksome issues to manage in our lives both on an individual basis and also in relation to our wider families and friends. We all have difficult and sometimes conflicting interests and opinions to manage. For all of us, no doubt, we will sometimes feel as if we have an impossible balancing act to try and achieve. I see this often, especially amongst families who have been recently bereaved.
My little prayer book reminded me this morning that the very best anyone can do is to try and discern God's will in any situation, and to determine, however tough it may be, to go His way - the way that leads to God's mercy, justice and love. Two sentences from today's page in my little prayer book:
What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
God be merciful unto us and bless us; and give us grace to know His will and strength to do it; for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
My love and prayers.
13th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Now we can go swimming in public pools if that's what you're into. Now we can go for a pint if that's what you're into! I know at least one person who recently savoured a real pint from the barrel for the first time in a long time and really enjoyed it! (It wasn't me!). More importantly, now we can begin again to get together with family members and close friends (although there are still some rules in place for safe socialising). I spoke to someone yesterday who rejoiced at being able to pick up and hug tight their 16 month old grandchild. They remarked that a quarter of that child's life has been in lockdown.
The things that we've been longing and hoping for these past months are gradually beginning to happen, and of course for many of us being able to go to church will be the icing on the cake. Not long now. Full details will be circulated over the coming days.
We all, I'm sure, have been living these past months in hope. Hope is a central theme of Biblical writing. Hope is a central theme of the teachings of Jesus, and was a key theme in the teachings of the apostle St Paul, who said, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13.7). Isn't that exactly what we have all been doing so far this year - bearing, believing, hoping, enduring?
This morning some of us read the Old Testament story of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) who had never been able to bear children and was getting on in years. She was very distressed but never gave up hope. She went to the Temple and prayed earnestly, tears of anguish rolling down her face. She prayed and prayed and was noticed by the priest who encouraged and blessed her. Renewed hope was set in her heart and, lo and behold, she soon conceived and bore the child, Samuel. A wonderful story of the blessing that comes from never giving up on hope and never giving up on prayer.
I know that most, if not all of you, have never given up on hope and prayer over recent times. It's been tough and there may well have been tears of frustration and anguish. But the dawn is breaking. Very gradually our prayers are being answered and our hopes are becoming realities. Sometimes we have to make a determined conscious effort to hope and to pray because we don't always feel hopeful and we don't always feel like praying. I bet Hannah felt like that, but she kept going anyway.
H O P E : Hold On, Pray Everyday.
With love and prayers as ever.
11th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I've just read this morning's Bible reading from Luke's Gospel, chapter 19 verses 11-27. Jesus tells an odd story about a rich man going away and leaving his three servants with money to invest whilst he was away. Upon returning he found the first servant had invested well and made tenfold. The second servant had invested quite well and made fivefold. The third, knowing his master was a hard man, had played it safe and hid the money away keeping it secure but making no profit. The master rewarded the first two servants well, but was angry with the third and took that servant's stake and gave it to the first servant saying, "To those who use well what is given to them more will be given, but from those who do nothing with what is given to them even what they have will be taken away." I've always puzzled over this because it doesn't, at first reading, seem to chime with good, safe common sense, and it seems rather at odds with the loving, gracious and generous heart of Jesus. So I looked up an explanation in one of my books and the story fell into place. It's all about perseverance and practice!
Last night Karen was on a night shift, so I took the opportunity of a quiet house to dig out some old musical instruments that I haven't played for years. First there was my faithful old recorder which I haven't touched for two or three years. I was very rusty and made a lot of squeaks. I'd even forgotten some of the fingering and had to look up some notes on a fingering chart. Bit disappointing really, because I used to play regularly and was reasonably proficient in times gone by. Next I rummaged around and found my old violin which I haven't really touched since I was at school! Back then I had lessons and practised a lot; I was even in the school orchestra! Now, 40 years later, it's all gone. I could remember how to hold it. I could even remember how to tune it and how (in theory) to make the individual notes. But when I put bow to strings all the local cats fled in fright! I persevered with both recorder and violin for about an hour and by the end things were improving very slightly. I was sufficiently encouraged to resolve to keep practising.
That's the point of Jesus' story. God has given me the gift (albeit a very, very small and unremarkable gift) of being able to play music on a few instruments. I play the piano regularly and so have been able to maintain a very moderate degree of proficiency. But the Violin and recorder have been safely hidden away for years so that now, what small ability I ever had with those instruments has been taken away. It's all to do with perseverance and practice.
This has very great relevance for our faith, for our journey through life following the way of Jesus. At some point God has given us the gift of faith and the desire to learn from and journey with Jesus. But faith and the Christian way can never be static. If we rest on our laurels thinking to ourselves, "Well, I believe and I try to do good so there's no need for me to read my Bible, say my prayers, volunteer for some church job, get involved with any of the groups that meet at church, take a special interest in people and organisations involved in Christian mission, etc," we might find (as I did in my twenties) that what faith we have dwindles. The small flame of faith is starved of oxygen and dims, maybe even goes out. If, on the other hand, taking our faith and our walk with Jesus seriously, we actively feed our faith with persistence and practice - getting to know the Bible, praying often, seeking out opportunities to learn and grow in our faith, being willing to be active Christians sharing God's love in practical ways, then we will find that our faith is nourished. Our faith will remain fresh and it will grow. What faith we had will continually increase so that we and those whose lives we touch will be richly blessed by God.
A faith attended to is a faith that flourishes. A faith neglected is a faith that flounders.
So, I'm going to try and keep going with my faith, and with my fiddle.
Much love to you all.
10th July, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Greetings from sunny Devon! As I explained last week, Linda and I loaded up the car and made our way down to south Devon last Sunday afternoon. I’m very relieved to say the power to the van had remained on and the food in the freezer had all survived even if some had a bit more ice than I expected!
It was wonderful to be back after such a long break and the site staff had been busy maintaining the grounds without being interrupted by holiday makers.
The winter period down here can be surprisingly challenging, two years ago there was more snow than anyone could remember, last year was very, very wet, this winter break the site was hit by a mini tornado! Several vans were badly damaged and one van next door but one to ours was literally picked up, turned upside down and placed onto the decking of its neighbour! All the damage has been repaired and vans replaced which is quite an achievement over the last 3 months with so many businesses closed.
On Monday, we were able to login to the Zoom Morning Prayer service using a laptop and a rather weak mobile phone signal. I was very pleased that we could manage so well and it means that distance is no barrier to our regular worship pattern. By the time you read this we will actually be back at home to catch up on some gardening etc.
The nearest town to our van is Seaton, it’s just across the River Axe valley. With the local council offices located in Sidmouth, just a bit further along the coast, Seaton always seems to be a bit of a poor relation! Although very much loved by is local residents in has always been home to a number of single shops rather than big chain stores (except a large Tesco built some years ago).
We ventured into Seaton on Tuesday and I must say we were shocked at the state of the area. So many shops have closed and are standing empty. The lockdown clearly has hit the town very hard. The small Boots the Chemist has gone, the big pub on the seafront – boarded up, several cafes have not survived. The shops that have survived have put in place all the protection measures – one way routes and plastic screens which must have cost them a fortune and for so few customers. Both Seaton and Sidmouth were far quieter than we have known them in the past – it was like winter in July.
We had a quick visit to Sidmouth while we were in the area, mainly to go to a discount shop for a quick look round. They sell an amazing range of goods including men and women’s clothes, shoes, gardening and camping equipment. Stopped as we went in the door, and asked to use the hand sanitiser we continued into the shop still rubbing our hands together, to be surprised to see someone we knew. I’m afraid initially I recognised the face but couldn’t place who it was… Rev Will! We were actually looking for a cheese grater but their range, while inexpensive, was no better than the one we already had. Later in our visit we found exactly what we wanted in another hardware shop.
Thinking back to the recent past, anyone wearing a facemask would have been considered to be “up to no good”, it had become standard attire for holding up banks and the like so when I saw the tram on the Seaton tramway with its passengers all wearing facemasks I had to chuckle to myself. The line runs for some 3 miles on a 2’ 9” gauge track between Seaton and Colyton. It’s the bed of the old Seaton branch line which was closed in 1966. The trams are all single or double decks with open windows on the lower deck and completely open to the elements upstairs so even at its maximum speed of about 10mph it’s hardly a good choice of getaway vehicle!
It was back in late autumn that I noticed some damage to one of the shop fronts in North Petherton. There is a café almost opposite Tesco which had two rectangular bay windows. This particular day, there was only one and the lamp post outside the second was standing at a strange angle with warning tape wrapped round the bottom. It seemed, according to the local paper, a driver had lost control and had ploughed across the footpath coming to rest in the bay window of the café. Slightly strange as the road is straight at that point! Now the bay has been repaired and all is back to normal with the building although last time I saw it the lamp post was still at an odd angle.
More recently I spotted similar damage on another building in Petherton. It’s in the fork in the main road near the library. Now a private house, I believe it was at one time the George Hotel. Again the bay window was demolished and currently it’s still boarded up. It struck me it was strange – two similar sites of damage fairly close together. Then on our way to Devon, between North Newton and North Curry yet another building had been hit on its corner and from the quick glimpse I had as we drove past, extensive damage had been done. And then in Devon, at least one more similar again!
What has been going on? I hope it’s not drivers drinking at home because the pubs have been shut and not realising how much they have consumed, then driving while unfit. If not, it’s a very strange coincidence.
The set Psalm for today is 88, and is noted as a Prayer for Help in Despondency and is challenging reading for all of its 20 verses. Verses 3 to 5 are an example “…For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the land of death. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand…” The antidote finally comes in the New Testament reading from Luke. (c19, v1-10). Zacchaeus the tax collector wanted to meet Jesus. When he admits to Jesus that he is a sinner and intends to repay more than he has taken, Jesus tells him “Today salvation has come to this house…”
That is of course the basis of our faith, to quote from 1 John Chap. 1 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
May God bless us all.
9th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Late and very brief letter today because we have been away in our caravan for the last few days and only arrived home at about midday today. Unfortunately my dental saga took a turn last night when the dressing on my exposed root came away. I've spent this afternoon in dental surgery having the root removed (sooner than I expected) and at last the wretched tooth is completely gone. So now I have a face full of stitches and a tummy full of antibiotics, but I am relieved that it is over and I'm on the way to recovery!
Our few days away was lovely. We had fun sorting out the caravan and erecting the awning. We played some games, did a little reading and ventured out on one or two trips. I had the great pleasure of bumping into a certain Mr and Mrs Archer in a shop in Sidmouth, and yesterday we spent a lovely morning in Sidmouth with Rev Hannah who sends her love to all.
I'm looking forward now to working hard, with the help of others, on a plan to open our churches for Sunday worship very soon. I can't wait to see you all face to face, and to praise, pray and worship with you. Do look out for updates on this over the next week or so.
I need to leave it there as I must get on with preparing for a funeral service tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, tomorrow's Morning Prayer Zoom arrangements are different from normal, and these details also apply to next week's Morning Prayers as well: Morning Prayer at 9.15am, Join Zoom Meeting at https://us04web.zoom.us/j/3104803526?pwd=TXh3NWFnQkdiWHMxdXRhS3E2UUE3UT09, Meeting ID: 310 480 3526, Password: revwill.
Looking forward to seeing you on Zoom or in person in the near future.
With my love as ever,
6th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
In view of the new government guidance, some of us will by now have received visitors to our homes
for the first time in a long while. It certainly is a novelty to be able to occasionally set foot in
someone else’s house! We are not going overboard but it is great to begin to dip our collective toes
in occasionally welcoming someone else inside or calling on a friend.
In today’s Bible reading (Judges 13:1-24) we read the origin story of Samson, who was famous for his
great strength. Manoah and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger who prophecies to them
about the birth of Samson and insists that even from before birth he will have be set apart for God in
a special way. Manoah is fascinated by this strange visitor, and prays that he would return to give
more instruction about the care of the child. When he does, Manoah continues to try to engage the
stranger with offers of hospitality. Manoah asks the stranger for his name – it is not given. When
they light a fire to make an offering to God, the stranger ‘ascends in the flame’ and is not seen again
– at last Manoah and his wife recognise that the stranger is none other than the avatar of God –
referred to in the Old Testament as ‘the angel of the Lord’.
Passages like this give a basis to the biblical value of hospitality – ‘some have entertained angels and
not known it’ (Hebrews 13:2). The story of Mary and Martha teaches us how we can offer hospitality
and yet fail to engage with the visitor – Martha rushes around while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. So
true hospitality is to receive people into our homes and offer them attention as well as service.
Manoah believes that the mysterious stranger will disclose secrets and wonders, and so tries to
persuade the stranger to linger. Any visitor – humble or great, old friend or mysterious stranger –
can reveal something secret, worthwhile or even wondrous by their presence with us. God also visits
us through the early morning song of the birds, the gentleness of our animals (if we have them), the
vigorousness of a shower, and in many other ways. Attention and curiosity are thus spiritual values.
Don’t repent of curiosity! There is far too much moving through life on some sort of rapid autopilot,
failing to pick up God’s signals. God’s world only discloses wonders to the persistent and the curious,
The wonders of God’s world are not celebrated purely for their own sake; their origin is in our God’s
creativity. They are tokens of God’s love and relentless intent in seeking union with the human race.
We enjoy God’s creation and God’s creatures; we are also His creatures ourselves. How has God
visited you? Are you curious enough about the people and circumstances he sends your way?
I hope and pray for all of us that we can enjoy a little more connectedness as we venture slowly out
of isolation and open the door to visitors once again.
Love and prayers,
4th July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Today is an important milestone in the journey back from lockdown, but we must not pretend that lockdown has been fully lifted, that today things return to "normal". Today much of the leisure and hospitality industry is opening up again, and people are able to be together more than has been possible since March. I wonder whether the town centre will be packed tonight with the usual Saturday night crowd out to live it up in the pubs. Those that do go out drinking will find it a very different experience: social distancing, names being taken, having to be waited on at tables, restricted numbers allowed in, etc, etc. Not quite the "knees-up" that Saturday night revellers are used to!
From today folk are allowed to go on holiday or to go to their second homes. We're off later today to our "second home" - our caravan in South Devon. It'll be lovely to have a change of scene and a rest. When I'm back later next week, I, together with others, will be planning in earnest for our return to Sunday church later this month. Just as those Saturday night revellers will find the pub experience rather different from what they are used to, so too will Sunday worshippers find the church experience rather different from what they are used to. There will be restrictions in place, but at least we will be worshipping together again in our lovely churches.
As James mentioned yesterday, in the United States today it is Independence Day. Usually there would be great parties and parades, large family gatherings and big shared meals. Today, however, will be different. There will, of course, be celebrations, but restricted and not on the scale American folk are used to.
We are all going to have to accept and get used to to what has now become a cliche - the "New Normal". There will be rules and restrictions in place for the foreseeable future - certainly for weeks, probably for months, and possibly for longer. Sadly Covid-19 is not suddenly going to disappear off the face of the earth. It's here to stay, and it will not be until there is regular, widespread and effective vaccination programme that things might go back to something like the way they were before. These are hard things to say, but it is important to be realistic and honest.
The Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes pondered the kinds of challenges and anxieties that many of us are pondering in these days. He hit the mark when he wrote:
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 cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing ... (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5)
It feels a little bit as if humanity is in exile - in exile from the norms of life that we enjoy and value. Several thousand years ago the Jews were held for many years in exile - away from their homes, families separated, everyone having to live under different rules and regulation, everyone missing their normal and much loved way of life. Through the prophet Isaiah, God made some wonderful and encouraging promises to them, and we can read them as his promises and encouragement to us right now. This is what God said to those in exile:
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice. (Isaiah 60.1-5)
The exiled Jews were eventually released from captivity and were able to return to their beloved home a rebuild their lives anew, afresh, stronger and better than before. God kept his promise.
All of us whose lives are restricted now will eventually be released from the confines of Covid regulations and our lives will be freed-up, I pray stronger and better than before so that all our hearts shall thrill and rejoice.
Keep safe. Keep faith.
Lots of love,
3rd July, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
It’s the third of July and if we were in America in “ordinary times”, it would be the eve of Independence Day. Celebrations planned and ready to start first thing tomorrow, victory marches, bar-b-ques, mass gatherings, and a great time to be had by all. However these are not ordinary times and life is far from normal across most of the world. With the level of virus transmission and the death rate in the US we can only pray that people there will be sensible and restrict their activities as we had to on our special VE day 75th commemorations.
In the UK, unless you live in Leicester, government rules on social distancing, meeting friends and relations, certain shop, pub and cinema opening and even staying away from home change from tomorrow, but I wonder just how many of our folk will be making use of that relaxation. No doubt some hairdressers will see a queue of clients, but many of us have got used to cutting, styling and colouring our own or each other’s hair and perhaps won’t be so keen on taking up where they left off. I can’t actually remember the last time I set foot in a barber shop – perhaps you can tell!
This reticence to return to our “old ways” is going to be a major problem for our already battered and shrinking economy. Every day we hear news reports of mass redundancies currently in the holiday and leisure industries, but I’m deeply concerned that as the furlough scheme winds down, many more will follow. The same dilemma must be facing all governments across the world and I’m not sure any of them have an answer as yet.
I think the difference Linda and I will immediately notice is that we can again use our caravan in Devon. The site where we stay closes every year from mid-January to the 1st March. We’ve got used to being at home those six weeks, and with some of the winter weather they have experienced in the past, we are happier to be at home. This year we went back on 1st March and stayed for just a few days. It was a chance to restock the freezer, check the plumbing had survived and generally relax. We met some friends on site – socially distancing of course - on the Friday before we left. They had just arrived and expected to be back two or three weeks later after some carefully arranged medical appointments… it didn’t happen. Boris intervened!
On Sunday afternoon we’ll load up the car and make our way down to the van to see what is left of the food we left in the van fridge and freezer, we assume (indeed hope!) the power has been turned on for the period.
A sobering thought struck me yesterday: this is the longest we’ve not been to Devon for some 16 years! My Mum and Dad moved there in 1990 and we’d go down to see them maybe once a month, depending on other commitments. When our caravan site was closed during the winter, we’d stay with them and in the early years our two sons came as well. It was a bit cramped but with their four bedroom house we managed OK.
Dad died in 2004 and we made a promise to Mum that we would get to see her every other weekend to get the bulk of her shopping, do any little jobs round the house she couldn’t manage and anything else necessary from time to time. If I remember rightly we missed maybe two weekends due to roads blocked by snow between then and 2013 when she also passed away. We liked the area and were well used to the journey so we continued the pattern – one weekend at home, one at the van, until we moved to Somerset.
To some, being a committed Christian, and indeed a Reader in the church, that pattern of only being in church on alternate Sundays may seem slightly odd. Looking back it does even to me, but I justified our decision then, and still do now, by following a hierarchy of responsibility that was explained in my days of Reader training…
God first, family second, church third.
…I wonder what order you would put them in.
It was actually finding our church - Holy Trinity - that changed the pattern. We began to go to Devon on alternate weeks but travel on Sunday afternoon or Monday and return Thursday or Friday, so we can be with you almost every Sunday apart from our main holiday.
In the church calendar today we commemorate Thomas the Apostle. If we had a communion service the Gospel reading would have been from John where he describes the scene when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples except Thomas. A week later, when Jesus reappeared, Thomas saw Him for himself and believed. However, our readings for Morning Prayer for today are different. In the New Testament reading, while still from John’s Gospel, it’s from an earlier time when Jesus hears that Lazarus is very ill and dies. The reference to Thomas comes in the very last verse of the passage, when Thomas suggests to the others that they should all accompany Jesus to Lazarus “…that we may die with him.”
Thomas’ comment, to me, is very much open to interpretation and should perhaps be the subject of a sermon sometime in the future rather than here. Of course from the more familiar scene in the upper room, Thomas has been known as “Doubting Thomas” in a rather derogatory manner. I think that’s a bit unfair, with my engineering, scientific and mathematical background I would want to see evidence as a minimum, and ideally proof, before I could immediately accept someone had died and come back to life - something so far away from accepted normality. Although, as we found in today’s MP gospel reading, Thomas had actually seen it before in Lazarus’ home, so maybe doubting Thomas is appropriate.
May God bless us all.
2nd July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
As usual I spent a while saying Morning Prayer and reading the Bible this morning. I thought to myself, "Oh good. There's something I can talk about in my daily letter." I had just read a brief exchange between the disciple Thomas and Jesus. I was about to start this letter and double checked. "Bother!" I had mistakenly read tomorrow's Bible readings instead of today's! So I am not going to talk about St Thomas because I might steal the thunder of tomorrow's correspondent.
Yesterday our daughter, Anna, moved from home to her new house share in Topsham near Exeter. We were very sorry to see her (and her lovely hound, Phoebe) leave us. It has been a total delight to have them with us these past few months, but we are glad that she has found a delightful cottage near the sea to share with a good and loyal friend. As lockdown eases and we are at last able to be out and about a bit more and seeing people we haven't seen for a long time, it is a little odd to be saying "Goodbye" to someone very special, but thank goodness we now have the freedom to visit. We earnestly pray for her at this new beginning, and no doubt we shall be getting to know Topsham very well as time goes by.
I mentioned weddings the other day. It is a real sign of the gradual return to things as we would like them that I have two wedding visits to make today. It is exiting to think of our lovely church being once again filled with wedding celebrations in the near future.
These very positive and happy events are real glimpses of the faithfulness and goodness of God shining through the darkness of the past few months. Look out for those things in your lives and circumstances that are glimpses of the light and love of God, and be encouraged by them. God is constant, ever present and always working for what is good and lovely. The darkness cannot overcome Him. The Psalm I read this morning (which is in fact the Psalm set for tomorrow!) was Psalm 92:
O LORD, it is good to give thee thanks,
to sing psalms to thy name, O Most High,
to declare thy love in the morning
and thy constancy every night,
to the music of a ten-stringed lute,
to the sounding chords of the harp.
Thy acts, O LORD, fill me with exultation;
I shout in triumph at thy mighty deeds.
How great are thy deeds, O LORD!
How fathomless thy thoughts! (Ps 92:1-5, NEB)
My love as ever,
1st July, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Thank you to those of you who sent Sally birthday wishes yesterday. We went on an excursion to Street in the afternoon to spend some birthday vouchers and other funds in the Clarks Village. It was interesting – a one-way system has been set up, and each of the shops indicates how many people can be accommodated inside with ‘social distancing’. I had to queue to get into ‘Next’! None of the cafes are yet open as we have not yet reached July the 4th, when the hospitality sector resumes. Still, we were able to access the excellent chocolate shop! It was very strange walking around the faintly ghostly Clarks Village on a Tuesday. I think that the post-lockdown world with ‘social distancing’ is going to be something that we gradually work out how to live with.
Today’s reading from the Psalms is Psalm 77. The author questions God’s goodness in a time of trial:
‘You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak…
Will the Lord spurn for ever,
and never again be favourable?
Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?’
Certainly no amount of prayer has yet turned back the Coronavirus COVID-19 from its worldwide spread. Even so I pray for that every day! In good times and bad I have stuck close to God – it is a kind of survival instinct. To become separated from God by doubting His reliability and character seems to me to cut my spiritual life off at the roots. God’s people have patiently endured and relied on the Lord before this event, and will do in future crises and disasters. The writer of the Psalm turns to consider God’s works in former times:
‘You are the God who works wonders…
With your strong arm you redeemed your people…
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.’
The psalmist did not know that God would finally redeem the people of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. We stand on the other side of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection which is a proof that God is working through all things to bring about his purposes and is not ‘asleep at the wheel’, nor has He turned His back on us. You might reflect on your personal history with our God. Have you ever trusted in Him, put Him to the test with an important decision, relied on His faithfulness? He teaches us a lot through the times when we – through choice or necessity – commit all to Him.
Thank you for your kind support, prayers and good wishes that so many of you send us in different ways. We pray for you too!
Love and prayers,
30th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
A bit of a rubbish day yesterday. I've been struggling with a painful cracked large double tooth for some time and my dentist told me a while ago that it needed to come out. I was given an appointment to attend an emergency dental "hub" yesterday in Weston-super-Mare for the tooth to be taken out. I was there over an hour whilst the dentist pulled and bashed and yanked. Eventually the tooth broke off leaving an open root. The dentist packed it and has referred me to hospital where the large root will have to be surgically removed. There's a waiting list so heaven knows when that will be. Meanwhile it's scrambled eggs and paracetamol for me! I confess to feeling a little sorry for myself and will be taking things gently over the next couple of days.
Casting my eye over today's Psalm, I was struck by the final few lines. They certainly give me comfort during this dentally challenging time. There are some of us in our Holy Trinity & St Hugh's family who are struggling with physical troubles in far more worrying and serious ways than I. Together with so many of us, I continue to pray for them and hope that these few words from Psalm 73 may be of some comfort and encouragement. There are many for whom the current Covid crisis has been very mentally testing and draining. I pray for them too, that these words may bring a reminder of God's care and comfort. There are also many for whom the whole business of coming out of lockdown is a little scary and anxiety inducing. I pray that they may hold fast to God who is our refuge and strength.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge. (Psalm 73:26,28)
Bless you all for today whatever it brings for you, and may God hold you and bring you peace.
With my love,
29th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Today is the festival of Peter and Paul, apostles. My (then) little ones Harry and Josie attended a school named ‘SS Peter and Paul’ during our two years in Bristol, and I remember thinking it a little strange, greedy even, to name your institution for two such great saints! Surely one is enough? And don’t get me started on ‘St Michael and All Angels’!
Peter and Paul are sometimes depicted together with keys and a sword. Take a look at the artwork attached (click here). In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus gives Peter ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ In Ephesians 6:10-17, Paul encourages his readers to put on the ‘whole armour of God.’ The final piece in the armour is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ Peter is given the keys, while Paul wields the sword of the Spirit. Keys speak of the legitimate authority over the church given to Peter by Jesus. The church and the kingdom are built in an orderly way, with good administration and transparent use of authority. The sword, on the other hand, is a weapon – a sword is taken out into battle to engage with other kingdoms. The church knows both the aspects of peace and good order (the keys) and also necessary conflict and at times very serious strife (the sword).
Peter and Paul are thus seen as of equal honour in the founding of the Christian church and they have been remembered jointly since the early days of the church. This date was regarded as the anniversary of their martyrdom in Rome in about the year 64 AD.
Their humble deaths at the hands of the Romans belied the extraordinary growth of the church they founded, reaching around the world to become history’s greatest religion with around 2 billion followers in the world today. Our morning prayer reading from the old prophet Isaiah shows an ancient awareness of this destiny:
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.’ (Isaiah 49:6)
These are famous words, often used at Advent and Christmas. But Isaiah’s words were the words of an old prophet to a people in exile; Paul and Peter were maverick outsiders who ended their days in martyrdom. It is quite inexplicable, without the direct power and will of God, that the Christian message should spread in the way that it did and is still spreading today. The Christian church continues to see great growth in such diverse places as China, Iran and India, and the Bible continues to be translated into new languages. Who would have thought it possible that the gospel would indeed be preached ‘to the ends of the earth’?
We do indeed live in privileged times, even with access to churches restricted. The Bible and countless encouraging books, resources and media are all close at hand. We live in a time of religious freedom even if Christians are sometimes put down, laughed at or discouraged. The light, energy and power of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is as strong as ever it was.
The Collect for today:
whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church,
inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Love and prayers,
27th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Karen and I are thrilled that the Government is allowing caravan parks to open from 4th July. We had arranged for our caravan to go to a park in South Devon at the end of March for the season, but Covid-19 struck and lockdown happened days before our caravan was due to go on site. Today, however, our caravan has been towed away from the Vicarage and is on it's way to South Devon and we shall be off down there for a few days the week after next. Hooray! Over the summer and autumn months we shall be dashing down there for the odd day or two here and there to make the very best of it. It will be wonderful at last to have our "bolt hole" to go to only an hour away. It is made all the better by the fact that next week our lovely daughter, Anna, who has been with us throughout lockdown, will be moving into her new houseshare with a good friend in Topsham - only a short drive away from our caravan. We are looking forward to some special family times together by the sea.
On the church front, our new audio visual system has now been installed at Holy Trinity and is up and running. Together with two or three others, I was given a training session on it last night. It is fantastic and really extremely simple to operate. We have a projector permanently mounted in the church together with a retractable screen, and a much improved and very simple sound operating device. We will be able to project words, pictures and even videos, and there won't be any "dead spots" or crackles or squeaks any more from the microphones. To make the very best of the equipment we will need a small team of people who are willing to operate it on Sundays so that we can set up a rota. The more people on the rota the less often anyone will have to do it. If you are able to use a computer, even at a basic level, and if you you are able to use your TV's remote control, then you can do it! Please have a think and a pray as to whether you might be willing to have a 10 minute training session and then go on a rota. If we all think someone else will do it, then no one will do it! Oh, and it's not an age or gender specific role!
Bless all of you for today. Here is an ancient collect (prayer) from the fifth century:
Almighty God, you fill all things with your presence. In your great love, keep us near you this day. Grant that in all our ways and doings we may remember that you see us, and may we always have grace to know and perceive what things you would have us do, and give us strength to do the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With my love as ever,
26th June, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Last week I was writing about my love of trains, in particular steam trains. That preamble was going to merge into a second topic but, if you’ll excuse the pun, I ran out of steam!
The plan was to describe the steam and smoke from a steam engine to make the link into clouds - natural volumes of water vapour that hang in the sky which, depending on the season and our point of view, we love or hate!
I find them quite fascinating, just hanging there, generally defying gravity, moved by the wind which is prevailing at the time. Of course there is a load of science that defines them and what they are likely to mean for us here on earth. They have names, I remember some from school, apparently first proposed by Luke Howard in 1802. Clouds are split into three main types - stratus, cumulus and cirrus. Most of the names of clouds come from Latin and are added together to form a hybrid combination of prefixes and suffixes:
Stratus or strato are flat, layered and smooth
Cumulus or cumulo are heaped up and puffy, a bit like cauliflowers
Cirrus or cirro are high up, wispy streaks
Nimbus or Nimbo means rain bearing clouds
When clouds names are combined and are coming towards us on the wind we can begin to predict the weather e.g. cumulonimbus is one that is likely to produce thunderstorms. (Not an exact science as we all know in the UK!).
Sadly or luckily, depending on your gardening or agricultural skills, looking outside today (Thursday morning) there is not a cloud in the sky and according to the weather forecast this morning, today will be the hottest day of the year to date… followed by a storm tonight. Didn’t someone once say an English summer is three fine days and a thunderstorm!
I’ve shared with you before that Linda and I like looking skywards at the birds in flight. In particular we get quite excited when we spot a buzzard or other bird of prey. When we do see one we try to explain to each other where to look to catch a glimpse and clouds are often a good backdrop. However, to say “Look it’s over there, just below that cumulus” isn’t very helpful. There may be several and they may be very large. We needed an alternative and Linda’s artistic leaning came up with a better option. When she looks at a cloud she can often see an animal or a bird shape formed by the clouds. You would be amazed at the number of rabbits we’ve seen in the sky.
It must be to do with the flows of wind in the atmosphere that tweak out some of the edges to form the ears and begin to split another edge to make the open mouth!
It’s not only rabbits, we’ve seen dinosaurs, lions and bird shapes over the years. Perhaps a little less believable now than when I was at school, a boy whose father was an airline pilot, believed he could see messages in the vapour trails from planes – which his dad had written for him!
Does our Father send us messages? Yes of course he does but generally not written in the sky! We have a pair of doves living in a very large pine tree in the corner of our garden. I don’t know if, like swans, they pair for life but we’ve seen them each year since we’ve lived here. Occasionally a third joins them briefly – presumably an off-spring.
I’m reminded of the story of Noah in Genesis. The flood had covered the “whole” earth and Noah was waiting for a sign that they had been forgiven by God and that the waters were receding. He sent out a dove three times. The first time, it returned “empty handed”, the second with an olive twig and the third it did not return, indicating the land was once again dry so Noah, his family and all the animals could return to dry land.
Doves appear in the New Testament at scenes associated with Jesus’ birth and baptism. The Gospel of Luke says that Mary and Joseph sacrificed two doves at the Temple following His birth and at His baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, after Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit came from heaven and descended on him “like a dove”.
So doves can be interpreted as signs from God (in Genesis) and representing the Holy Spirit (New Testament). Powerful symbols that God is with us now, just as He was in the past and will be for the unlimited future.
May God bless us all.
PS Now Thursday late afternoon and the clouds are arriving… small, like cauliflower florets. Some have a flat grey base so maybe the forecasters were right this time!
Note from Editor: Thank you, Chris. I couldn’t resist sharing one of my favourite cartoons. CLICK HERE to have a look. Ed.
25th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Spring is over and the summer is well and truly upon us. In normal times we would be right in the middle of the wedding season. We had several booked for this year at our churches and it is sad that most of them have had to be postponed. Next year is going to be a busy wedding year! Many couples must be feeling real frustration and disappointment, and of course, there is all the worry over money already spent and whether any can be claimed back from venues and insurers. On a brighter note, we have recently been told that from July weddings can happen again in our churches. I am delighted that there will be at least one happening at Holy Trinity. The early September couple took the brave and risky decision not to postpone but to hang on in the hope that their wedding could happen as planned. They and I are thrilled that it can, albeit on a smaller scale than originally intended.
I love weddings. They are such happy and exciting occasions - full of hope and promise for the future. They have about them a sense of the beginning of a rich, wonderful and exciting adventure. How wonderful that there will be many couples who can now celebrate their marriages this summer. I am particularly excited about weddings as we look forward to our son Joe's marriage to the amazing Helen in late 2021.
Jesus had a real sense of fun. He enjoyed wedding parties, and he put very great value on marriage. Many of us will recall the well known story in the Bible about Jesus going to a wedding. When the wine ran out at the reception he performed his first miracle. He turned the water in large stone jars into delicious wine! It was probably a relation or family friend who was being married, and it was a big do. Weddings in Jesus' day were week long festivals. Often the whole town was invited, and everybody would come. Imagine that today – hundreds of guests turning up at Holy Trinity or St Hugh's with their sleeping bags and toothbrushes! Banquets would be prepared and the week would be spent celebrating the new life of the married couple.
The wedding day is a new beginning for the loving couple. The ceremony is the beginning of a new era. Jesus turned the ordinary water into new and best quality wine. So it is with weddings. A wedding is the beginning of the transformation of the couple’s former life (whether as single people or as partners) into a new, exciting, sometimes challenging, and hopefully a very loving and fulfilling life together.
It must have been an awkward moment for the host at that wedding when the wine ran out. Jesus responded by powerfully healing and transforming the situation. In any marriage or partnership there will always be difficult and challenging times. I always encourage couples who are getting married to remember that God is involved in and concerned for their lives together as a married couple and that he, just like Jesus at that wedding a long long time ago, can bring healing and transformation so that the journey through life together as a couple is indeed exciting, very loving and fulfilling
Whatever your situation, I pray that you may all know in your own lives something of the blessing which comes from knowing that in all your circumstances and relationships Jesus is in your midst with his power to refresh, nourish, heal and transform.
With my love,
24th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
On Tuesday I joined other curates of the Diocese in hearing from Tina Hodgett, who the Diocesan lead for ‘Pioneer ministry’. Pioneer Ministry is the setting up of new gatherings and congregations to worship God, as part of the Church of England but in forms that have been adapted to the changing and increasingly secular world. At Holy Trinity Bridgwater my own dear wife Sally has been leading on some ‘pioneering’ work in founding, with the help of others, the ‘All Things New’ gathering which has been running for about a year now. For those of you who didn’t know, ‘All Things New’ meets once a month in the Church Hall (or did – until lockdown!) and gathers around food, craft, and gentle times of worship, prayer and teaching. ‘All Things New’ looks to offer a ‘spiritual home’ to our many friends who join us through Trinity Toddlers and related groups but (experience shows) are unlikely to join us for regular Sunday eucharistic worship.
Tina Hodgett spoke to us about the need for ‘pioneer advocates’ in the church, who recognise the value of pioneering work and creating alternatives to the inherited model of church – not in competition, but in co-operation so that more people are brought into the worshipping, praying life of the church. We have some wonderful people at Holy Trinity who do just that; speaking up for this work and using their influence to guarantee it as a priority. Pioneering work is often fragile and success is not guaranteed; but we have seen some new and good things happening in Hamp and we hope for more.
Entertaining pioneers in the church is costly. It does mean that our regular Sunday morning worship is no longer the absolute ‘main event’ which claims all the best resources. It also means that we have to have a deeper understanding of the Christian faith for ourselves, rather than simply allowing the familiar patterns to carry us along. Otherwise how can we relate to others outside of our usual formats of worship and prayer? ‘In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ (1 Pet 3:15, NIV)
Today the church remembers the birth of John the Baptist. He is a fascinating figure who takes the word of God out of the temple and goes into the wilderness, soon gathering people around the Jordan river (where they are baptised!) and vigorously preaching about the Kingdom of God. John is a disturbing figure, with his wild mode of dress and his radical lifestyle and views. His authority comes from the fact that he does what he says – he prepares the way of the Lord. If we are honest we are perhaps not ready to welcome a ‘wild man’ like John the Baptist into our circle, but we need to get used to working alongside others in mission to do new and different things and in taking church to wherever the people will gather.
Love and prayers,
23rd June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Thank you, James, for your reflections yesterday upon Father's Day. I, too, had a lovely Father's Day which began in the best possible way - seeing many of you as we worshipped together via Zoom. Our daughter, Anna, had a lovely surprise planned for me in the afternoon. She had booked an afternoon's canoeing on the canal from Maunsel Lock. It couldn't have been better. The weather was fabulous and we had lots of fun. Karen and I shared a large Canadian canoe whilst Anna took to a solo kayak. For the first 20 minutes Karen and I zig-zagged from bank to bank not quite sure who was doing what, but we got into our rhythm and by the end of the session were reasonably good at it, although I say it myself! (Click here to see a photo). The canal was peaceful and beautiful. The water was very clear, the lily pads were enormous and the dragonflies were out in force flitting from one pad to another. A perfect summer's afternoon. I was spoilt even more. Anna had made a rich and delicious baked cheesecake for me. All gone now! To top it all off Karen ordered enormous take-away pizzas for supper. Church, family, messing about on the canal and food ... what could be better?!
Last night I attended a Zoom meeting which was really for churchwardens to pray and chat with our Bishops and archdeacon. There were around 60 churchwardens from the Taunton area present and it was great to see them all together and to hear them be richly and rightly thanked and affirmed by the Bishops. Our churchwardens do an amazing job. Many of us easily forget that they are formally and legally the Bishop's Officers in our parishes and they have important and demanding legal functions to fulfil. In addition, the vast majority of them go way beyond their formal duties carrying out numerous practical and administrative jobs on an entirely voluntary basis. I never cease to be amazed by their total commitment and dedication, not to mention their gifts. We owe churchwardens a huge debt of gratitude. Our churches could not function without them, nor could vicars. So a massive thank you to ours in particular, Valerie, Jennie and Jeff.
There was some interesting discussion at that meeting and it was encouraging to hear that many other parishes have experienced church-in-lockdown in very similar ways to us. The question had to be asked: "When will churches be able to open for public worship?" I have to say that the Bishop's answer was frustratingly non-committal. Not his fault and I certainly don't criticise him. The answer to the question is predominantly in the hands of the Government which, we are told, is being pushed hard by the Archbishop of Canterbury. "Keep pushing, ++Justin, even harder", that's what I say! It appears likely that churches will open to small weddings for a while before usual congregational worship can resume. No dates were given and we shall just have to wait and see. I just hope and pray that the powers-that-be understand that going to church is, for many, far more important and necessary than going to the cinema or the pub!
My little daily reflection book this morning reminded me that when things are tough or frustrating, or bemusing, we "need to be constantly recharged by the power of the Spirit of God, communing with God in quiet times until the life from God, by that very contact, flows into our being and revives our fainting spirit." (Twenty-Four Hours A Day, ©1975, Hazelden Foundation).
May it be so for you today.
God bless you all, and much love,
22nd June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Yesterday was Father’s Day and I drove up to see my parents for the first time since March. I was able to take the three children and so altogether we were a group of six sat in their garden. They are well and have coped very well with the lockdown, but my mother admitted that she has recently been feeling less energy to do things and at the same time bored. A lot of us can relate to that at present. We shared some good food and a little wine, and the children talked with their grandparents and played Swingball and Boules. I was also celebrated and treated kindly on Father’s Day. I got a special ‘Dad’ badge, some tasty treats, a DVD, and an enormous Toblerone! Social distancing can be useful when you don’t want to share…
I have been enjoying a wonderful BBC Four television show from a few years ago – Detectorists. The series is set in northern Essex; the plot revolves around the lives, loves and metal detecting ambitions of Andy and Lance, members of the ‘Danebury Metal Detecting Club’ (DMDC). The very small-time world of the ‘detectorists’ provides these quite vulnerable characters with some shelter from the demands of life. Andy and Lance (rather backhandedly) support each other through relationship and ‘real-life’ issues as they search the fields of Essex for treasure! In series two they are seeking a jewel closely resembling the famous Alfred Jewel (which was found near Bridgwater in the 17th century). If you want to take a look at the show, just check BBC iPlayer.
I was hearing from our good friend who works for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, out in Pakistan. Things are getting pretty difficult out there. As COVID-19 takes hold in Pakistan, British nationals are asking for help as hospitals are full and they cannot get the medical attention they need. Another problem is the rich buying up medication that could be shared or allocated to the neediest. Of course there is little that my friend and the FCO can do about this. When you call up the British Embassy, it tends to be as a last resort…
Here is Somerset we have had, as a generalisation, a fairly ‘good’ pandemic. We have had comparatively few cases of COVID-19 and although the transmission rate has crept up, the number of cases has been low for England. We might be inclined to pat ourselves on the back, but in today’s New Testament Reading (Luke 13:1-9) Jesus would warn us against being too self-satisfied. He speaks of a terrible disaster where a tower fell and killed eighteen people and asks the question – ‘were those people worse than the others who were living in Jerusalem?’ Of course, the answer is no. They are tragic victims of an indiscriminate accident. Were we in a place of poor resources, like Pakistan, any of us could find ourselves picking up the telephone to the British Embassy, desperate for help.
You may have noticed that I ‘presented’ the bread and wine to the camera during Sunday’s online service. I am feeling particularly aware how inadequate it is to ‘take communion on your behalf’. Thank you for bearing with us as a Ministry Team through this lockdown period. Despite what we may do online, there is no substitute for worship together, in person. Thank you for the good-hearted attitude that you have all brought to our efforts at online worship. Perhaps worship and devotion together in person may become possible for some in July. In the meantime, we will keep plugging away and encouraging one another any way we can.
Love and prayers,
20th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Today is tinged with sadness and disappointment for all of us at Holy Trinity because today was to be the day of our annual Summer Fayre which, of course, is not happening. It is such a shame that this major annual social and community event in the life of our church has had to be cancelled this year. It has almost always taken place on a blazing hot day and, as the years have gone by, has attracted more and more people from across the local community. Highlights over my years here have been the excellent BBQ, cakes (note how I start with food!), majorettes, fire engines, excellent stalls and raffles, music and, above all, a lovely time socialising with the wonderful people of Hamp. We had some good things lined up for this year, not least the involvement of our local scouts group, but we shall have to look forward with patience and eager anticipation to next year's event. Let us earnestly hope and pray that all is well for our Christmas Fayre to go ahead in a full-on, unrestricted way.
Today is the Summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere - the longest day of the year. It is extraordinary to think that we are half way through 2020. What a very odd first half of the year it has been. The year started with all those horrific and deadly wild fires across Australia. We were then plagued (literally) with Covid-19 which has wrought such havoc across the world primarily in the terrible widespread illness and deaths that have arisen and, secondarily, in the extraordinary and painful effects it has had upon all of our lives and upon the global economy. And, of course, more recently many cities in the United States, and London, have been beset with demonstrations and a degree of violence sparked off by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Covid-19 is getting worse in some parts of the world - Brazil in particular, and at the same time seems to be receding in others. The Government yesterday reduced the alert level in the UK from 4 to 3. I quote from the Gov UK website, "It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur. We need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure progress continues." So it looks as if the rest of this year, at least, will be affected by Covid-19, and there will be continuing restrictions and curtailments on our normal lifestyles.
All sounds rather gloomy, doesn't it? But good things are around the corner: the restrictions will be relaxed even more and we will get back to church fairly soon; and my, won't we celebrate?! We will soon be able to get together more as families and friends. We will be able to visit each other's homes and chat and, at some point, hug. We will be able to access dentists (phew!), doctors, opticians, hairdressers(!), cinemas, restaurants and cafes. We will be able to visit loved ones at last, especially those in care homes. Some of these things are beginning to happen and others are soon but not quite yet. Today, the longest and lightest day of the year, reminds us that there is always light around the corner, The darkness of illness, restriction and deprivation cannot overcome the light of hope, fresh starts, faith and love - things represented and embodied by Jesus, light of the world. I like the New English Bible rendition of a line at the start of John's Gospel: "The light shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered it."
The light does indeed shine on in the darkness of the present circumstances and will soon blaze brightly again.
With my love as ever,
19th June, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Most of us have a keen interest in a hobby, or indeed several, and they may extend over many years. One of mine is transport, in particular steam trains. I’m certainly not a fanatic who will travel miles just to see a particular locomotive and record its number, but I love the engineering that makes them go (and of course stop). My fascination with trains probably started when I was given a model railway set for my 5th birthday. It was little more than an oval of track which dad mounted on a board which was laid on the lounge floor. A black loco pulled, from memory, 2 red coaches round and round; I could control the speed of the motion and with care even put it into reverse – I was hooked!
Over the years the set expanded and in the end it was set up in the garden shed (Rose Cottage) all round the walls so I, as the operator, could sit or stand in the middle and control the trains on various tracks from a single central desk.
I believe I was into my early teenage years when the novelty of the model railway faded … I wanted the real thing! At thirteen (yes, I confess, before it was legal) I was working in our local garage in the school holidays, mainly in the workshops helping the mechanics servicing cars and vans and very occasionally dispensing petrol on the forecourt. Sold by the gallon, three gallons of 3 star was 19/3 whilst the same amount of 4 star was 19/9. Many drivers would pay with a pound note and, with luck, say “Keep the change”. Those 9d or 3d tips soon mounted up to several shillings. In case some don’t understand, those are all references to “old money”.
Living just west of London in the 60’s gave me access to a range of transport types; London buses and the Underground were closest but Trolley buses weren’t far away (until they were withdrawn from service), and there was a mainline railway, a long walk but just possible before I was old enough to drive. Dad used to use his motor scooter to get there going to work; I would walk to meet him some evenings, early enough to see the express to London rattling through, and ride pillion part of the way home. The remainder, a closed road through council parkland, I would drive with him pillion (Oops another confession!).
My interest in trains rather took a back seat once we were married, and two children took up a lot of our time. Some years later however, living in Oxfordshire, a new station was built on the main line to London. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the first service from the new Haddenham and Thame Parkway, pulled by a steam engine – Sir Nigel Gresley. It had the same streamlined front end as The Mallard which, to this day, holds the UK speed record for a steam engine – 126mph.
Other than pleasure, occasional business trips and several months working in London, my interest in trains again slipped into the background until we came to live in Somerset and we came across the West Somerset Railway. A privately owned ex GWR line to Minehead, with a number of both steam and diesel locos.
Last year we had two or three trips on it and I was able to indulge one of my other interests – photography. This year we were planning several more but, like everything else in the world, Coronavirus hit and before the line could restart for the 2020 season, everything was stopped.
Now that the lockdown is easing I had assumed that plans would be afoot to reopen, but it seems I was wrong. As no trains have run for more than six months all the drivers will need refresher training, and in any case the railway can’t manage the required social distancing either on the trains or at some stations. The timetable is therefore suspended until 2021.
While for me that’s a disappointment, I feel so sorry for the volunteers and the employed staff who have lost their way of life for at least the remainder of this year. We hear a lot in the news about the leisure industry being badly affected by government decisions around the virus, but I must admit I had assumed hotels and holiday accommodation would be worst hit; I hadn’t considered associated businesses like private railways and other attractions.
To end on a more positive note and to repeat a saying from WW1 which I’ve quoted before, “There are few atheists in the trenches”, I had an email this week from the Church of England National Director for Evangelism & Discipleship. He informs us “A recent study by the Evangelical Alliance found that 70% of churches reported an increase in the number of people checking out their church online, 59% had seen an increase in interest in the Christian faith.”
He goes on to say there are valuable insights into people’s behaviour, emotions and experiences as well as attitudes towards faith, church and prayer. They are encouraged to see the innovativeness of churches and what they are doing.
Let us continue to pray for those on the fringes of faith that they may take that first small step into finding out more and, in the fullness of time, come to understand that Christ died to save every one of us.
May God bless us and protect us.
18th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, I ventured in to St Hugh's Church in Durleigh. Fortunately it was in exactly the same lovely state in which we left it at the beginning of the lockdown, save for one or two spiders' webs! It was so good to wander into that peaceful and God-filled building which has been soaked in worship, prayer and special occasions for the past 800 years since King John erected a chapel on the site for his huntsmen to pray in. Although seldom full these days, St Hugh's continues to be the much loved spiritual home of a small, committed and deeply faithful little church family. It is a special place where the divide between the earthly and heavenly realms feels especially "thin". Being there all alone gave me the opportunity to let rip on the organ. Fortunately it is still in full working order and my half hour of playing will have given it a good warm-up, especially my ragged attempt at the Bach Toccata and Fugue. When the time comes - I hope in the next very few weeks - that we can gather there to worship again, it will be wonderful. With our small congregation, a modest gathering of folk - socially distanced, one-to-a-pew on alternate pews - should be reasonably straightforward. I am really looking forward to it.
Together with one or two others, I ventured into Holy Trinity a couple of days ago to meet with sound and electrical engineers and our architect. We have just received formal permission from the church authorities to improve our sound system and to install a permanent digital projector and retractable screen. This is really exciting as it will open up all sorts of opportunities for varied worship, courses, conferences, community events and perhaps even some films! The work will be carried out over most of next week. I had hoped that there might be some opportunities for opening the church to people for private prayer around about now, but as there will be technicians in the church next week, this cannot happen. However, I very much hope that in July there will be opportunities for folk to step foot once again inside Holy Trinity. I'll keep you posted.
Sadly visitors are still unable to go to Oak Trees, our local Care Home on the Hamp Estate, although I am hopeful that this too will change over the next very few weeks. Meanwhile Somerset Christians are being encouraged by Bishop Ruth (Bishop of Taunton) to gather today outside local care homes in order to pray prayers of thanks and blessing upon the staff and residents. Have a look at https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/2020/06/bishop-ruth-to-bless-care-home-and-staff-to-draw-attention-to-those-working-in-social-care-sector/ . I shall be going to Oak Trees on Rhode Lane at 4pm today in order to pray and bless and I warmly invite you to come and join me. I think the weather may be against us, but there is a canopy over the front of the building where a few people could keep dry whilst socially distancing. I hope some staff may come to the door so that we can personally thank them.
Keep going. Nearly there!
With love and prayers,
17th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
On Monday afternoon I took Hetty the dog up to the veterinary hospital at Bradley Stoke to be checked over. They are very happy with her progress! Hetty now only need wear her ‘cone’ when unsupervised, and needs eye drops twice a day. This is a big reduction from last week’s pharmaceutical regime! I will be taking her back to visit the vets (hopefully for the last time in a while!) in early July.
Lately at home we have been playing a board game called ‘Ticket to Ride’. We own the ‘UK’ edition and the object of the game is to build the rail network from scratch, set in the age of steam. Each player gets their set of plastic train carriages that represent the routes that they build on the map. Just as in real life, there was no central authority over railway building to begin with and so everyone builds routes where they please – it is a race! This ‘UK’ edition includes another complexity – you can purchase new technology cards which allow you to build longer and better routes, and even open up shipping lanes. There are all sorts of ways to gain the victory. The first time we played Abigail won outright by opening a shipping route from Southampton dock all the way to New York! (Photo click here)
These two little pieces of news indicate something about our present situation. First is the abundance of caution around Hetty. She is clearly nearly better and we are impatient to remove her ‘cone’ for good and set her free to run around again. But the danger of going backwards and becoming ill again means that we have to be cautious a little while longer. As one letter writer to the Church Times said recently, there is nothing wrong with ‘an abundance of caution’. We still need to take care of ourselves and others and remain alert to the risk of spreading Coronavirus infection around.
Second is the fast changing world of ‘Ticket to Ride’. It is quite disorientating to play. Everyone is rushing in every direction, building their railways and developing their technology. You cannot win by simply concentrating on one thing, as a I found to my cost (in our first game I finished stone dead last)! There are many different things developing at once and the picture is constantly changing. We have to look at the current situation in the UK in the same way. Everything, from healthcare, to education, to public transport, to retail is being constantly rethought to adapt to the changing situation as we learn more about the Coronavirus and how we can live well despite its continuing to circulate. It is pointless to get frustrated and stick our heads in the sand. We need to keep abreast of the most important developments week by week and think about how we can make best use of the freedoms we have, to take care of ourselves and others.
I was heartened to see the video on Facebook of Wells Cathedral opening its doors for private prayer and it was great to see Bishop Peter and Dean Jonathan formally entering the Cathedral as the (socially distanced) choristers sang. With an abundance of caution, and paying careful attention to the fast-changing situation, we too can emerge to some extent from the full ‘lockdown’ and taste a little of the everyday life that we now so miss.
Love and prayers to all,
16th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
What’s in a name? It's something most of us are interested in, particularly as the time draws near for a mother to give birth, and at Baptism services. There is an increasing interest in family history research these days. People are fascinated to know their roots - who and where they come from. It strengthens our sense of identity, of who we are. A few years ago, with the expert and wonderful help of a friend, I was fascinated to discover that my direct paternal ancestors come from not so very far away: North Petherton, East Lyng, Winscombe and Bath. Lurking in the long-time-ago depths of my family history, there was even someone from Bridgwater! I know why I feel so at home in this part of the world.
It is no accident that the church refers to people’s first names as their “Christian” names. It is our first names that are spoken out at the moment of baptism - our first names at that moment become our Christian names. For us who follow Jesus Christ, our first names are referred to as “Christian” names because it is Christ who is at the heart of all we are. It is Christ in whom we are rooted, in whom we find our sense of identity. St Paul reminds us that in fact, through our faith, we are sisters and brothers of Christ, we share his inheritance, we are members of his family.
Talking of names, ever wondered where our particular local place names came from?
"Hamp" is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The place name is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1066 as "Hame", and is derived from the old English pre 7th Century word "ham(m)" referring to a flat low-lying meadow on a stream. When you think of Hamp Brook and The Meads, it all makes sense.
Durleigh means "wood frequented by deer". St Hugh's Church was originally referred to as "The Chapel in the Wood". It is believed that King John (1166-1216) hunted in the woods around Durleigh and that he built the church as a chapel for his huntsmen.
Names are very important to us. They help to give us a profound sense of self identity - try calling yourself by some other random name; it feels very odd. Place names also give us a deep and important sense of belonging and of rootedness. We are usually proud of where we come from - ask any Scot, Welshman or Somerset person; they'll tell you! Despite being brought up in another part of the country, my rootedness is here in Somerset because this is where my ancestors came from. We see the importance of names and place way back in the Old Testament. The names of the 12 tribes of Israel were, and for many still are, at the heart of family identity. Israel, the Promised Land, was the place of freedom and national identity for the Jews and still is - although, of course, much of that land is disputed and fought over.
I encourage you - ponder on your name and give thanks for it. Ask yourself where is important to you and why, and give thanks for that place.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43.1-2)
I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed your [name] on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49.15-16)
With love and prayers,
15th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
This week sees a step-change in our ‘lockdown’ rules, as households with only one adult can form a community ‘bubble’ with one other household. I hope that for those of you who live alone this will be of some benefit, and it may be possible to see family or a friend in person. I daresay that this allowance by the government may have been a source of stress to some. What if there are multiple families that I am connected to, yet I can only ‘bubble’ with one? And what about those with no obvious contacts to ‘bubble’ with? I am thinking of those today who are in this position. If this situation is causing you concern or distress do pick up the phone to someone who is a good listener and will help you sort through it all. Rev Will and I are always pleased to hear from you.
In today’s New Testament reading (Luke 12:1-12) Jesus is speaking about our worth to God. ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight… even the hairs on your head are counted … you are of more value than many sparrows!” Elsewhere Jesus compares his dear ones with objects: a lost coin, a lost sheep. The climax to the series is the lost son. Jesus is aware that sometimes we are better at assigning value to possessions, and even animals, than we are to human beings. So who is forgotten? Are you? Not by God. And not by your church family either – we are still here! But sometimes it is helpful and wise to make the first move and alert others that we are feeling cut off and alone; not to put others to the test by waiting to see which of them asks after you first!
Today the church remembers Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), an English Anglo-Catholic writer known for her numerous works on Christian mysticism. She was the first woman to lecture to the clergy in the Church of England as well as the first woman to officially conduct spiritual retreats for the Church. Evelyn was, as far as I can tell, one for whom religion is about seeing things differently, seeing the divine hidden behind the ordinary. She said “For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.” In the absence of our regular services, we might consider her words: “The Christian is required to use the whole of his existence as sacramental material; offer it and consecrate it at every point, so that it may contribute to the Glory of God.” For myself, I am dipping in to aids to prayer that help me to see things differently: the resources at https://pray-as-you-go.org/ provided by the Jesuits. Click on the Menu and then check the ‘Prayer Tools’ section. They use prayers, words and music to create a gentle aid to prayer and meditation.
As we begin another week in each other’s company,
Love and prayers,
13th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I was in heaven yesterday afternoon! Mid afternoon I was sitting in the kitchen reading The Church Times (no, that wasn't the heaven bit!) when I began to hear a clattering. I glanced up and looked out of the window ... rain! Not just more of the drizzle we've been having lately; not merely a short sharp shower, but ... RAIN! As most of you must surely have noticed, it poured down - veritable cats 'n dogs - for a prolonged period. I just had to dash to the back door and stand outside under the eaves staying just about dry whilst I watched and experienced one of my very favourite natural phenomena - very heavy rain. Our drive, as it is wont to do, quickly flooded so that the car wheels were submerged by over an inch of water. The downpour bounced off the car roof and was blown by the wind into a fine spray giving the appearance of being at sea on a stormy day. It was wonderful! Today, though, we are going on an outing to see our son, Joe, and his partner, Helen, whom we haven't seen since January (save for some on-line chats). They are travelling out of London to Draycote Water Reservoir in Warwickshire and we are going to drive up to meet them, and Helen's parents (down from Yorkshire), for a socially distanced reunion picnic and walk. Another taste of heaven! I really, really hope we don't have rain today like we did yesterday.
Coincidentally enough, yesterday's reading in my little daily meditation book was spot-on. I can do no better that reproduce it fully here:
“He that heareth these sayings and doeth them is like unto a man who built his house upon a rock and the rain descended and the ﬂoods came and the wind blew and beat upon that house and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock.” When your life is built upon obedience to God and upon doing His will as you understand it, you will be steadfast and unmovable even in the midst of storms. The serene, steadfast, unmovable life — the rock home — is laid stone by stone - foundation, walls, and roof — by acts of obedience to the heavenly vision. The daily following of God’s guidance and the daily doing of His will shall build your house upon a rock.
Prayer for the Day: I pray that my life may be founded upon the rock of faith. I pray that I may be obedient to the heavenly vision. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day (c) 1975, Hazelden Foundation)
Living through the Covid lockdown has been a bit like living through a torrential storm, and the tail-end drizzle is still coming down. I hope and pray that we have all kept our minds, hearts and deeds firmly set on the rock of our faith in God and that this is helping us through. Some of us, though, may have felt shaky at times over the past weeks - as if we were on unfirm ground. We may have felt somewhat battered and thrown off kilter. I encourage you, seek the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength; remember that he loves you and will never leave you; remember that he holds you in the palm of his hand; remember that Jesus leaves his peace for us so that are hearts need not be troubled nor afraid. Set your feet firmly on The Rock.
With my love and prayers,
12th June, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
I imagine many people, both now and over history, have had questions pop into their mind about oddities in life. In the past, most will have been tossed away with answers like “I don’t know” or “that’s the way it’s always been”; nowadays, however, an amazing range of answers can be found on the internet. Of course care must be taken with such answers; a degree of judgement has to be applied when there are many with conflicting opinions.
Skimming through the daily letters it struck me we always start them, in the way I have today, “Dear Friends,” which sets the question “Why do we start a letter ‘Dear…’”? Sifting through the internet responses to that question, it seems probable that it derived from Latin, although one thought that I particularly liked which was posted anonymously was:
“I think it comes from the Christian view that everyone is a child of God and we are called to love the other person known or unknown to us. We are all brothers/sisters in Christ. Children of one Father, God. So everyone should be dear to me and putting it at the front of a greeting or letter reminds me/us of this.”
Be it the real origin or just someone’s thoughts, I’m happy to accept it and will continue our tradition of addressing our letters, Dear Friends.
Whilst the internet can be a real bonus in our modern lives it is so frustrating when it goes wrong, as happened on Wednesday morning – about half way through our “Zoom” Morning Prayer! We were almost at the end of a long Old Testament reading from the Book of Joshua, all the inhabitants of Ai had been slaughtered by the Israelites, and the town had been burned and left in ruins when… we lost or internet connection. I had an image in my mind of a photo, perhaps taken in the 1950’s of a line of telephone operators sitting at the exchange in front of desks of plugs and sockets. For a call to be connected the appropriate plug had to be pushed into the appropriate socket and if pulled out, the phone call would be dropped, as our internet connection was!
Today it is all done electronically with little or no human interaction, but the picture summed it up. We did manage to reconnect to Morning Prayer using a mobile phone signal, but sadly not until after the Benedictus, which Linda and I were due to read. I found out afterwards that our service provider had changed our connection to a faster line in the middle of Morning Prayer, so no, it wasn’t me pulling the wire out to avoid the Benedictus! …Honest.
Electronics in the 20th and 21st century have developed from electrics in the 19th and 20th. Integrated circuits and “chips” are a development of transistors in the 1960’s which in turn replaced valves. It’s been said the computing power built into Apollo 11, the first manned craft to land on the moon, was less than that in a mobile phone some 30 years later.
So much of our lives are now “better” and “easier” than they ever were, but at the same time more complicated! In our dining room we have a grandfather (or long case) clock. I know little about its history, although the Archer family believed it was made in 1799. It was given to the family “in payment of a debt” probably during the 1800’s. Both my dad’s grandparents were in the print trade and the family lived in Kent, so with the name on the clock face “Char. Hunt Tunbridge”, makes it sounds plausible.
If it does date back that far, it's pre-Battle of Trafalgar and the pendulum has been swinging most of that time. It needs some manual intervention – it has to be wound every couple of days to keep it going but it keeps amazingly good time. Nowadays I check it against the clock on my phone, but I suppose when it was made the local church clock would have been the timepiece that all others locally followed. Indeed it was the coming of the railways that began the standardisation of time in the UK.
The first railway company to implement a common time for all stations, appropriately named “Railway Time,” was our local Great Western Railway in November 1840 from the time set at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It wasn’t until August 1880 and the Definition of Time Act, that GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) was legally adopted throughout Great Britain.
For individual timekeeping, the pocket watch was for most replaced by the wrist watch which had to be wound daily. Digital watches, no doubt, were a spin-off from the electronics revolution, so no more winding but an annual battery change; and now personal fitness trackers which display time based on an internet link and exercise completed, but needing to be recharged every few days.
In Jesus day time keeping would have been little more than referencing day and night, possibly by day the position of the sun in the sky would give an indication of how much of the day had passed, but there could have been no such reference at night. Imagine how lost many of us would be in a world where time was not of the essence, but where it was on the periphery. For us, ruled by the clock, the whole experience would be quite disorientating. On the other hand it might also be liberating to look, not slavishly to some artificial, unrelenting timepiece, but to the gentler, cyclical rhythms of God’s design. We might actually slow down to the pace of life He intended for us. While we might say, “I’m so busy I met myself coming back!” somewhere in the world even today, there will be those who live by the glow of gentle oil lamps and wait patiently until the day dawns and the morning star rises (2 Peter 1:19). So yes, generally life is better and easier, but equally so much more complicated.
May God bless us and protect us.
11th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
The relentless dry and hot weather seems to be taking a pause as we enjoy(?) more overcast and occasionally wet weather. I have to say, it suits me down to the ground!
Yesterday Karen and I went out in the rather drizzly afternoon for a good walk on the Quantocks wearing our rain coats, hats and wellies. We drove through Over Stowey and up to "Dead Woman's Ditch". I expect some of you know it and have, perhaps, walked one of the many trails on that beautiful part of the Quantock Hills. It was the first time I had been there, Cothlestone Hill being our usual Quantock walk. I had no idea why or how Dead Woman's Ditch got it's name, and I was in some trepidation of arriving and finding a grisly scene in some muddy ditch! Of course I didn't. What we did find was the most beautiful heather and bracken laden, and in parts wooded, heathland in what is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (CLICK here for a photo). We are so enormously blessed to have the best creation can offer almost on our doorsteps. In the parking area there was a noticeboard setting out the history of the place and so I was able to learn about the origins of it's rather gruesome name.
There is indeed a long ditch which is prehistoric, dating back to the iron age.The unfortunate name given to the ditch is often attributed to the murder in 1789 of his wife by John Walford who slit the poor woman's throat and dumped her in the ditch. The story goes that John Walford, a charcoal burner from Over Stowey, had been forced to marry local girl, Jane Shorney, who was pregnant with his child. Just three weeks into their marriage Walford murdered her and hid her body in the infamous ditch. Walford was tried, convicted and hanged very near the spot where poor Jane's body had been found. He was left hanging in a gibbet for a year before his body was taken down and buried.
It really is a bleak and ghastly story, and it does put me in mind of one or two of the more difficult and violent stories to be found in the Old Testament. What struck me, though, is that whilst there was a horrid event up on those hills some 230 years ago, it was not that story which impacted me when I was there; it was not that story which coloured my perception of the place; it was not that story that filled my experience of being there. What impacted me and filled my experience, and what I overwhelmingly brought away with me, was the utter beauty of the hills, the quiet peace, the vibrant colours, the breathtaking views, the wild ponies and the inquisitive sheep, the fresh air - in a phrase, the bliss of creation. I was put in mind of a wonderful verse from the Psalms:
The Pastures in the wild are rich with blessing
and the hills wreathed in happiness,
the meadows are clothed with sheep
and the valleys mantled in corn
so that they shout, they break into song. (Ps 65.12-13)
This is a reminder to us that good always overcomes evil and that the love of God, expressed in creation, through other people and especially in Jesus Christ, wins. Love always wins. The whole of the Bible, when the Old and New Testaments are taken together, is the overarching story of love winning. No one could have put it better than St Paul in his letter to the Romans:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.38-39)
The love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, be with you all today.
10th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Firstly, a word on Hetty the dog. Her small operation yesterday (for ‘cherry eye’ – a prolapsed eye gland) seems to have been successful. There was no need for an overnight stay and she is gently wandering around at home and taking all her medicines. Sally is very good at keeping track of the regime of eye drops and pills. Hetty will have a check-up at the Bradley Stoke clinic next Monday afternoon.
Like everybody else, the veterinary clinic is managing infection risk and social distancing. I arrived by car and called ahead by mobile phone, and waited in the car park for them to come out and take Hetty inside. It was a sunny day and so no hardship. But the reality of the way social distancing is affecting all of our daily interactions is becoming more and more clear - and harder to work with. I read today that the government is having to adjust its targets for getting primary school children back to school. Trying to run a school with any sort of social distancing is an enormous challenge. The effort of doing the everyday things like this is wearing people down.
I have had a few conversations in recent days where people who have coped well with the realities of lockdown and social distancing for many weeks but have now hit a ‘low’. The desire for human contact is really catching up with us now. The endless stress around simple everyday things is tiring people out. Some of us are very bored and yet also bereft of energy. We need to be especially kind to each other at the moment.
By way of contrast, New Zealand has reached ‘level 1’ in their campaign against the Coronavirus. Although border restrictions remain in place, all other restrictions on human contact have been lifted. People are permitted to hug and kiss strangers, pray in large groups at mosques and churches, attend rugby games and throw large wedding parties. What some of us would give for a handshake or a hug! While I am frankly jealous, at the same time it actually encourages me that there are places in the world getting the right side of this situation. It gives me hope, and I enjoy seeing the happiness of others as a picture of where we will all one day get to.
In my prayers at the moment I am finding it helpful to make my requests clearly and frankly known to God. I don’t worry about whether what I am asking for is appropriate or possible; I trust God to know. Where I am feeling closer to the end of my patience with an issue, I tell God that and ask Him to act. I even tell God what I think He should do! Today in our reading (Luke 11:29-36) Jesus teaches his followers how to pray. First he uses the example of the persistent friend who calls at midnight and keeps asking for help until the homeowner gets up and gives him whatever he needs. Then he encourages us to be direct in asking for whatever we wish:
‘Ask and it will be given to you, search and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you.’ He continues: ‘Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if a child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
Jesus would not have recognised our British reticence and the ‘stiff upper lip’. Let us be clear and blatant and make our requests known to God, pouring out our frustrations on Him if need be. That is what we are encouraged to do!
Keep safe and well dear friends and be kind to yourselves and others.
Love and prayers,
9th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Continuing the topic raised by Rev James yesterday and the news coverage splashed across our TV screen at the moment, I thought I would do a little investigation into the place of Bridgwater in the history of slavery. I had rather assumed that because, until 100 or so years ago, Bridgwater was an important port town, and in close proximity to Bristol, Bridgwater would have been complicit in the perpetration of slavery. How wrong I was!
There are many fine country houses in Somerset once owned by rich and influential people whose wealth and power was, in many instances, derived from the slave trade. By 1685 - the year of the Monmouth Rebellion - slavery was in full swing. At the conclusion of the Battle of Sedgemoor (which took place near Westonzoyland) many convicted rebels were taken away into slavery. 612 Somerset men were transported into slavery and sailed in eight ships to the West Indies. Many died during the voyage and some died on the quayside awaiting their auction. Local feeling against slavery began to run high. Eventually, 100 years later, at the instigation of local Quakers and the clergyman, George White, it was Bridgwater which was the first town in England to petition Parliament for the abolition of Slavery. The Petition failed because many wealthy people stood to lose too much if slavery were abolished. However, Bridgwater's stance was the start of a movement which in 1807 brought Britain's involvement in slavery to an end. So we can be rightly very proud indeed of our town's record of standing up for what is right, in standing up for the value of every one of God's people.
My deep concern, however, is that today Bridgwater is a place where modern day slavery happens. It is not obvious and often poses as normal day to day business, but the fact is that modern day slavery is here in Bridgwater in businesses on our doorstep, and in the illicit sex and drugs industries which are rife. Bridgwater Town Council has publicly declared that it is taking a stand against modern day slavery, and an increasingly strong and vociferous group, "Hidden Voices", (click here to read more about the group) is speaking out against modern day slavery, educating people what to look out for and how to report it and, with it's strong Christian presence, praying against modern day slavery. Our local friend, retired priest Ros Sellers, is a key person in Hidden Voices and you might remember her coming to speak about it to us at Holy Trinity some time ago. I am glad that to this day Bridgwater continues to take a firm stand against slavery.
Heavenly Father, who sees the unseen and notices the unnoticed, help each of us to hear the Hidden Voices of those, who pray for release from slavery and exploitation, so that we may give ourselves more fully to the service of your saving love, and be strengthened together as agents of your healing and hope. Amen.
With my love and prayers,
8th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
We Taylors spent two years of our lives in Bristol while I was at theological college before moving down to be with you all in Bridgwater. We were riveted by the news coming out of Bristol that the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrators on Sunday (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-52955868). They attached a rope to the Grade II-listed statue on Colston Avenue before pulling it to the ground as crowds cheered. They then jumped on it and rolled it down the street before pushing it into Bristol Harbour!
Colston was Bristol’s most famous philanthropist; streets, schools and a concert hall were all named after him. Colston gave great sums of money to Bristol, but it was earned from slavery. His statue has been the subject of gathering anger in recent times, with a petition being drawn up against it. Other memorials to Colston have been revised or taken down entirely. But, on Sunday, the boiling-over indignation against racism that has been stirred up by the death of George Floyd found expression in the destruction of this statue just forty miles from here.
Bridgwater is a very ‘white’ town, in contrast with the racial and cultural variety of Bristol. The continuing convulsion across the world about structural racism has not affected people in Bridgwater in quite the same way, as far as I can tell. It would be comforting to think that racism is a thing of the past in the UK, but when we really look we can see that there is a long way to go. What can white people do? It probably starts with admitting that not only is racism still a daily reality, but that we have no concept of what it is like to experience it. We cannot relate to people who have experienced a steady drip-drip of racially motivated aggravation. These things should not be minimized.
I can imagine hearing two objections to this. One is the notorious stories we have all heard of how the charge of ‘racism’ has been used to manipulate people and situations (and this, of course, does happen on occasion). The other is that the problem is overblown, a matter of mere political correctness, and ‘you can’t say anything nowadays’. The spectre of ‘political correctness’ is set up as an excuse for not engaging with the seriousness of racist attitudes which have triggered the strong demonstrations that we are seeing on our news screens every day, for nearly two weeks now.
The world of Jesus was among other things, the scene of the most entrenched racial and ethnic tensions. In today’s reading Jesus preaches about the Good Samaritan, who does right when the priest and the Levite fail to do so (Luke 10.25-37). The Samaritan is thus the true neighbour of the one in need. We know from John 4:9 that ‘Jews did not associate with Samaritans’. The two peoples had a long and bloody history of mutual antipathy, as outlined in this article: ( https://www.franciscanmedia.org/the-rift-between-jews-and-samaritans/ ). By the time of Jesus the relationship between Jew and Samaritan was hopelessly fractured. It is therefore mind-boggling and extraordinary that Jesus spoke with Samaritans, and even made a Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables.
So we can see that Jesus, the founder of our faith, thought it worth his time to engage with long-standing and structural racist and ethnic strife. He showed up what it was from the point of view of the Kingdom of God. Jesus himself was a Jew, not the white British Jesus that we tend to imagine. Speaking from all those years ago, Jesus is asking us to think again about all of this. The present controversy and the strong feelings that have been stirred up give us an opportunity to think again about our attitudes, to become informed.
I will be in Bristol on Monday as Hetty our dog is in need of some planned surgery to correct a problem left over from her life-saving surgery earlier in the year. I will bring back a report of how the big city is looking!
Love and prayers,
6th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Wil
Today, 6th June, is the 76th anniversary of D Day - that day in 1944 when the allied invasion of Europe took place and tens of thousands of British, American and Canadian forces landed on the beaches at Normandy in Nazi occupied France to begin the drive back of German forces resulting, in 1945, in the liberation of Europe.
On this day (and on most others) I think of my lovely father who, on 3rd April, would have celebrated his 100th birthday. At the time of the allied invasion he was a Captain in the army (Northumberland Huzzars anti-tank regiment). He spoke very little indeed of the war years, but just occasionally would say a word or two about D Day. When I was 8 years old we went on a family holiday to France and on the way home stopped at Normandy and looked out to sea from Aramanche where the Mulberry Harbours (temporary floating harbours set up for the invasion) can still be seen very slowly rusting away. Years later, during my sabbatical in 2017, I visited Normandy again and specifically headed for Gold Beach where many of the British forces landed, including my dad. It is now a remote, barren, windswept beach and it is hard to imagine thousands of young men, many as young as 18 or 19, disembarking from landing craft out at sea. They piled out of the craft into shoulder-high water and waded ashore under, relentless enemy fire, onto mined beaches and, soaked through, cold and frightened, made their advance against the enemy, friends falling all around them.
This was the beginning of a nearly year long march through northern France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany. Dad said that the worst time was the Battle of the Ardenne which took place in mid winter in the Ardenne Forest in sub zero temperatures and lasted for weeks. Then onward to Nijmegan in Holland and the disastrous and bloody battle to take the bridge over the river - a battle which was immortalised in the film "A Bridge Too Far". Then it was the final push into Germany and an end to the war in Europe. I believe my dad finished up in Lubeck in northern Germany where he spent some time after the war had ended engaged in the reinstatement of democracy and infrastructure in Germany before finally returning home and being demobbed. I have a couple of old photos - one of Dad in the war years and another of mum (who some of you will know as a regular at our Monday cafe) who served in the WRNS during the war. CLICK HERE to have a look.
That's about as much as I know. Many veterans talk in detail about particular events and experiences; not my dad. He only ever talked about those years in very general terms and it was like pulling hen's teeth to get the above information out of him. I do know, although he never openly acknowledged it, that he was profoundly affected by his wartime experience. He was the kindest, most generous and gentle man I've known, and yet occasionally could be given to fits of melancholy and unreasonable crossness. He was also, sadly, a very very heavy drinker. I will never know what memories and thoughts he carried throughout his life and I can only imagine that some of them were very dark and horrific indeed. Despite all of that he had a good life, a long and happy marriage, a reasonably successful business and reasonable health. As I mentioned, he was a good man and I miss him. He was brought up in the Anglo-catholic tradition and somewhere deep inside I think his faith was important to him, although he was never one to wear it on his sleeve. I remember the day years ago, when in trepidation and fear I told mum and dad that I was putting myself forward for selection to be a priest. His immediate reaction: "I always knew."
Sadly the very few remaining D Day veterans are unable to assemble in Normandy today for the anniversary, but a special occasion is taking place whereby video footage of the newly constructed memorial site in Normandy is being shown to them. We remember them, their colleagues and all of those who have fought, and continue to fight, around the world for the sake of freedom from tyranny, for peace, for liberty and for what is good and right. We remember them, we thank them and we honour them.
God shall make righteousness and praise blossom before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)
5th June, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
When we moved into our house, almost 3 years ago now, we “inherited” a very few bits of obscure furniture, some tools left in the garage and garden shed and quite a few shrubs in the garden. I’ve always been happy to “get something for nothing” and we’d agreed with the previous owner that anything he didn’t want to take with him we would sort through and either find a use for or take to the tip at our convenience. I don’t believe in throwing things away that “might be useful one-day”.
We knew the chap had split from his wife and a lot of their possessions had already been taken before we even viewed the house so we knew he would have little opportunity to do work in the garden and the arrangement made perfect sense. We actually moved in on the Friday before August Bank Holiday and with over 160 boxes of stuff to sort out, it took us quite a few weeks before we even contemplated what was needed in the garden. Of course by then autumn had come and gone, winter was upon us and 2017/18 brought quite a lot of snow (which we didn’t expect in the warm west). As the weather improved in the spring I set about hacking back some of the now very overgrown shrubs, taking them down to little more than bare stumps. I took no notice at the time that I had caught my arm on one of them, just rinsed the gash under the tap and carried on.
A couple of days later although the cut had healed, my arm started itching and almost within hours had turned very red and swollen to over twice its normal size! Various over-the-counter creams and pills didn’t seem to help so I mentioned it to the GP on a routine visit. He prescribed some pills and a few days later all was well. Last year the bush grew very well, lots of attractive dark brown leaves and some wispy flower buds, in fact it spread further than I realised. About a month ago I saw there were a lot of weeds growing under it so carefully set about digging the ground to remove them. No nasty gash this time, but to my horror, history repeated itself. My arm was red, twice its size and itching like mad. Nothing I tried had any effect until I tried the last of the pills from the doctor. Ignoring the age limit on the box I started taking them. My arm started recovering the next day, but I felt rough. Stopping the pills again and all returned to normal. Using a reverse image search I found it was probably a Smoke Bush native to Central America and the sap is used by local fishermen to stun fish in their rivers.
Knowing the restrictions on entry to the recycling centres (which no longer apply) I planned to attack the bush on Tuesday, wearing the only “PPE” I had to hand – leather gloves, a thick fleece coat and a hat… . My only option was to start early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Just after 8.00am I was in the back garden with my hedge trimmer and the words of Paul we heard in Sunday’s Pentecost service came back to me “These men are not drunk, its only 9 o’clock in the morning”. Sadly I doubt whether any of the neighbours had the same thought.
In this morning’s Morning Prayer, I shared with the group that today we commemorate St Boniface. His birth name was Wynfrith and he was born in Crediton in Wessex (now Devon) in 675AD. He took the name Boniface much later in life. He entered the monastic life in Exeter and later moved to Nursling near Southampton. A biblical scholar, he compiled the first Latin Bible in England. In 718, in his 40’s he left England and moved to work among the pagans in Frisia (German/Dutch border). He travelled to Rome on several occasions and was consecrated Bishop in 722. He established a number of monasteries and was made Archbishop about 747. He was martyred in 754 at Dokkum in an attack of pagan bandits.
On first reading about St Boniface it seemed such a sad end for such a great man – to be murdered at his advanced age. Then thinking about those final events in his life, it struck me that his work on Earth was done, his mission and therefore his life was complete. He was responsible for the conversion of many in Europe to Christianity and the organisation of church leadership throughout Europe. His name lives on as the highest point on the Isle of Wight bears his name as it’s believed he may have preached in Bonchurch at Pulpit Rock, before he left for Europe. He actually never returned to England.
I’d like to end today with the collect for St Boniface: -
God our redeemer, who called St Boniface to preach among the German people and to build up the church in holiness: Grant that we may preserve in our hearts that faith which he taught with his words and sealed with his blood, and profess it in lives dedicated to your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
May God bless us and protect us.
4th June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
A couple of years ago Karen and I visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria. It is a lovely, peaceful and deeply spiritual place where Christianity in the North of England found a foothold way back in the dark ages. One of the things you come across on the island is standing stones - rough rocks planted on the ground at what seem to be random places away from the beach. It is clear that they have been placed there intentionally rather than simply being natural geological features. The tradition of standing stones is a strong one in Christianity. They were placed to mark the spot where pilgrims found rest from their weary travels or had particular encounters with God, or to mark the end of a long journey having arrived at the place to which they sensed God was leading them. It's a lovely tradition and the stones provide a reminder, a marker, for future generations: this was a special place in the Christian journey of our forebears and remains to this day a place of remembrance and encounter with God.
We have a good friend who travelled with us to Lindisfarne. She loves to visit holy places and always carries with her a few marbles in her pocket. When she arrives at a place that is especially beautiful, or that touches her deeply, she leaves a marble behind. There are churches and cathedrals up and down the country with marbles hidden under pews, in dusty corners and dropped down cracks in the floor! If you ever find them you will know that our friend once visited and and was deeply moved at that very spot. That is her way of leaving "standing stones" in special places.
In this morning's Old Testament reading we read about Joshua arriving with the Israelites almost at the end of their decades long journey. They were very nearly in the promised land but had one more obstacle to conquer - the wide, deep, rushing River Jordan. Their destination - God's intended place for them - was so near and yet so far. But for the second time God did an amazing thing: once again he parted the waters so that 40,000 Israelites could cross over the river safely without getting their feet wet. As they did so, God commanded their leader, Joshua, to arrange for 12 large stones to be brought from the Jordan to the land on the other side where, once they had all safely crossed over, they were to set up the stones as a marker of their arrival at their God-given destination, as a memorial to this momentous event in the history of God's people. Joshua said to the people, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come saying, 'What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until you had passed over ... that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord that is mighty.'" (Joshua 4:21,22,24)
I am guessing that this might be where the tradition of erecting memorials to great events, victories, soldiers, etc comes from. The world has been going through a really tough journey these past couple of months - the journey of widespread illness, isolation, fear and loss. We are still on the journey but there is a sense that the end is, perhaps, just about in sight. We may feel a bit like the Israelites felt as they stood on one side of the Jordan looking at their much desired destination on the other side. God got them across and they built a memorial. We will get across to the other side of this pandemic. Life on the other side will very probably be and feel different, but we will make it sometime over the weeks or months ahead. I am sure then that there will be memorials and thanksgivings no doubt in the form of church services and other big events, but also in the form of monuments erected in towns and cities, plaques placed on walls, and medals placed around necks. These things will be outward tokens of the monumental struggle, victory, physical and spiritual journey which we will all have been on. I hope that there will be monuments erected so that when children ask in time to come, "What do these stones, these monuments mean?" we can let the children know, saying, "The people of the world came through this terrible pandemic. Many of us prayed and prayed, and the Lord our God got us through it that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord that is mighty."
Much love as always.
3rd June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
There have been huge amounts of protests and unrest in the USA over the unlawful killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a police officer. There has been looting as well as peaceful demonstrations. I read in the news that Anglican clergy linked to St John’s church in Washington DC were among the peaceful protesters violently swept out of the way by police so that Donald Trump could pose in front of the building holding a Bible on Monday evening. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I don’t recognise the USA at the moment. I can’t presently understand all of the issues under the surface that have flared up again in the toxic antagonism along racial lines in that country. One of the exhortations that has come out of these events is ‘educate yourself’. The narrative of racism is not exactly the same in the UK. But certainly we can say that churches in the UK were once among the owners of slaves; the horrible fate of George Floyd emerges from the same kind of historic inequalities.
I tend to view events in the USA a little dispassionately on the grounds that I disagree with those who treat events in the USA as if it were an extension of the UK, or vice versa. But many younger people, who engage with the news through the lens of social media, are personally shocked and touched by this story. Here at home I have already had long conversations with Abigail and Harry who have learned about these events on their smartphones. So - we can’t keep the bad news out just because it is happening ‘over there’.
In today’s Morning Prayer reading (Luke 9:37-50), Jesus speaks darkly to the disciples: ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ At this stage of his ministry, Jesus was secure in the acclamation of the crowds and it would have been hard to think of his downfall ever happening. But he warns his followers in clear terms: he will be betrayed into human hands. These are the hands of the mob – and those charged with keeping public order. Jesus is ultimately set upon by the establishment and brutalized by temple police and soldiers. He was crushed by institutions, which should protect and preserve life.
When we hear of the case of George Floyd we naturally recoil and say ‘how terrible’. But it is the tip of the iceberg of the pattern of injustice and deeply ingrained sin in US society. What about the ugly structural sin in our own nation? We have our own national scandals. May Christ open our eyes to the privileges and prejudices that we carry around. As Christians we start by looking at ourselves, and seeking to hear the teaching of Christ with ‘ears to hear’, to read with ‘fresh eyes’.
Love and prayers,
2nd June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
A couple of days ago was Pentecost Sunday, the day we recall the Holy Spirit coming in power upon not only the disciples, but upon a whole multitude gathered in Jerusalem from different countries, cultures and languages. God's Spirit impacted them all in a powerful and dramatic way so that their lives were changed and very many of them were empowered to go out, with the Spirit of Jesus in their hearts, to tell of God's goodness throughout the world.
On Pentecost evening Karen and I ventured out to Cothlestone Hill on the top of The Quantocks in the hope of catching a nice sunset. Well, "nice sunset" is the understatement of the year! We sat in the grass on top of the hill watching the sun descend over the Bristol Channel and we were treated to a breathtaking show of the utter bliss of God's creation. It was as if he said to himself, "Right, my people are going through a tough time, it's Pentecost, time for a show!" At the risk of appearing to boast, we have travelled to many different countries and continents over our lives but I have never see a sunset like it. It was, quite literally, awesome. Of course photos can never do justice to such things, but I took about 50 and here's one in an attempt to give you just a suggestion of how magnificent it was - CLICK HERE to see it.
Elsewhere I have described the Holy Spirit as the Glory of Power. In the bliss of God's creativity we can glimpse something of the glory of the power of his Spirit which is all around us and which, if we acknowledge it and open our hearts, lives within us too. And the Spirit, the power of God, is the power of good, only good, pure good. I pray that we may sense God's Spirit about us in the world, in the lives and characters of others and within ourselves. Look out for it, think and pray and meditate upon it. It will do you the power of good.
From The Rule of St Francis: Desire nothing else except our Creator and Redeemer, and Saviour, the only true God, who is full of good, all good, the true and supreme good, who alone is good.
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, God bless you all.
With my love,
1st June, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Today the church remembers the visit of Mary, the pregnant mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth her relative, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Actually I already talked about this in a previous letter (scroll down to the 29th of April) as it came up in one of the Morning Prayer readings. It is strange to come up against yet another story of confinement in these present times!
Mary experienced an isolated pregnancy, partly due to the extraordinary nature of the conception and the secrets shared with Mary by the angel, which (as scripture says) ‘she pondered in her heart’. Sometimes we have experiences that we can’t easily share with other people, because words fail, or because they would be unable to receive the difficult truth we are sharing. What a relief to Mary to be able to share confidence with Elizabeth, also in a miraculous pregnancy (owing to Elizabeth’s advanced age). Having one person to share things with bridges a huge gap in our lives.
Today I am thinking of people who feel that gap between their inner experience and what they are able to share with the outside world. The government has allowed some of the most vulnerable people in the population (‘the shielded’) to start to go outside in a socially distanced manner from today – see this article at BBC News (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-52862440). if they live alone, to meet one other person at a two-metre distance. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to ‘shield’ alone for ten weeks, but making contact with that one other person might be a real lifeline. I think that is what the government has in mind.
Some of us lack confidants who can understand or receive the difficult things that we keep to ourselves. It may be that we lack the courage to share our pain or fear and to start the conversation; we must try. A Dutch acquaintance of mine was very impressed by our English proverb: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Or we might try and talk to a friend with some pastoral training, like Rev Will or myself. Or finally, many therapists are offering therapy over Skype and Zoom – a sensitive and insightful conversation right in your own home! Have the courage to start a conversation with somebody, and see how it goes. Our God knows that we need confidants and we can pray for him to provide a good one.
Mary actually went and stayed with Elizabeth. Unfortunately going and staying with a friend is still something that we can’t do under the government rules! We should make plans to make good use of increased freedom to strengthen ourselves when it is eventually time to reopen holiday homes and retreat centres. Or – who is that good friend that you could reconnect with who lives some way away these days, and it would require an overnight stay to see them? We can make plans, even if we have to shelve them for a good while.
Until next time - love and prayers,
30th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
We are now in the time of the 80th anniversary of the WWII Dunkirk evacuation (26th May to 4th June 1940). By the time it ended on June 4, about 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops had been saved.
The horror for the servicemen trapped on the Dunkirk beach scrambling to get into tiny boats whilst under fire must have been unimaginably hellish.
We are not living through anything remotely like that, although for those on ventilators in intensive care, and their families, maybe the horrors are similar. For most of us, though, this time has been one of isolation, frustration, missing church, yearning to see loved ones, and maybe some anxiety and fear.
The last thing that may occur to us in really challenging times is to praise the Lord. Here's an extract from my little book of reflections for this morning:
"Praise the Lord.” What does praising God mean? lt means being grateful for all the wonderful things in the universe and for all the blessings in your life. So praise God by being grateful and humble. Praise of this kind has more power to vanquish evil than has mere resignation. The truly grateful and humble person, who is always praising God, is not tempted to do wrong. You will have a feeling of security because you know that fundamentally all is well. So look up to God and praise Him. (Twenty-Four Hours a Day, (c) Hazelden 1975)
Seeing the Dunkirk situation developing during May 1940, His Majesty King George VI requested that Sunday, 26th May should be observed as a National Day of Prayer. In a stirring broadcast, he called the people of Britain and of the Empire to commit their cause to God. Together with members of the Cabinet, the King attended Westminster Abbey, whilst millions of his subjects in all parts of the Commonwealth and Empire flocked to the churches to join in prayer. Prayer and praise did not magically make the horrors of war disappear, and they did not prevent suffering - there was plenty of that - but the prayers and praise of the nation inspired a confidence that God was with the servicemen at Dunkirk, and the miracle of the evacuation happened - hundreds of thousands literally snatched from the jaws of defeat.
So grateful was the nation for this mighty deliverance that Sunday, 9th June 1940 was appointed as a Day of National Thanksgiving. On the eve of that day, C. B. Mortlock stated in an article in The Daily Telegraph that ‘the prayers of the nation were answered’, and that ‘the God of hosts himself had supported the valiant men of the British Expeditionary Force.’
On that Thanksgiving Day congregations sang the words of Psalm 124, for they were seen to apply to that situation through which the nation had just passed:
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
And so for us during this crisis, and especially as we nervously, anxiously and very slowly emerge from our stranding, let us keep on, in the face of adversities small or large, praising the Lord. You will have a feeling of security because you know that fundamentally all is well. So look up to God and praise Him. A good King is on the throne, we need not be slaves to fear.
29th May, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
I think it was Monday’s letter from Rev James that started me thinking about the saying “What goes around, comes around”. Our younger readers may know it was a song by Justin Timberlake from 2006 (being honest I didn’t till I googled it!). I have certainly heard the phrase before and I assumed it was a nugget from one of the classical authors – Shakespeare perhaps? I was apparently wrong. I found a website of the origins of sayings, and it’s much more modern.
The first record of the phrase I found was in an autobiographical novel “Burn, Killer, Burn!” by Paul Crump. It was first published in 1962 and described how the author was on death row awaiting execution, subsequently commuted to 199 years, for a murder which he denied until his natural death in 2002.
I believe the first time I came across it was when it was quoted by a very elderly technician on a water works, with such a broad Bedfordshire accent I almost needed an interpreter. I queried what the strange old fashioned GPO phone was for in the corner of the office. At that time I hadn’t signed the Official Secrets Act and now well over 40 years on, I think it’s OK that I tell you it was the way the 4 minute warning would have been given in the event of a nuclear attack. When I asked what he would do if it rang, he was in no doubt… “I’d throw the main power switches to “off” and go home to my wife as fast as I could”. It was a sobering thought for me, newly married and living over an hour away! I’m forever grateful that it didn’t happen; that threat came and went in the fullness of time.
On Monday morning we walked to Tesco in the village to get some milk. The long way to get some exercise, only to find they were "closed for restocking" AGAIN! More than a little annoyed we walked home and I had to get the car out to drive to the Co-op. We so rarely drive, other than once a week to the supermarket for the main weekly shop. We queued outside, Linda with a trolley and me 2 metres behind as Sainsbury’s generally won’t let two in from the same household. Of course we meet up inside and did our shopping as normal. The till staff are only concerned when you don’t stand behind the lines.
We are thankful that the weather is holding up well and queuing outside can be quite pleasant. I can well remember the cold winter of 1958/59 walking to school over a mile and a half each way in short trousers ‘cos that was the uniform. The winter of 1962/63 was worse, the snow started on Boxing Day and six weeks later it was still laid on the ground, frozen solid. I believe not as bad as 1947 (although I don’t go that far back), but it’s often compared to it. History repeated itself, or “What goes around, comes around”.
With the current weather, but without the pandemic, the news media would be looking for the next big story to latch on to. I don’t want to pre-empt their next story but I would be willing to bet (just a small amount) on “global warming”. It can’t be too long until they pick this up again with the weather set fair as it is.
The difficulty we all have is that true records have only been kept for a relatively short period of time so statistics can be extrapolated to show almost anything the presenter wishes to show.
An example: “The waters of the Eastern Arctic Ocean didn’t freeze last winter, the summer temperature was 15°C compared with the more usual 3°C and the Arctic ice cap melted to expose land never seen before. Signs of global warming…?” Possibly, but this passage refers to the summer of 1922 and by November, when my Mum was born, normality had returned – it was wet and cold!
So I want to take you back to the saying where I started “What goes around, comes around”. The 1918 flu pandemic came and went, the cold winters and the hot summers of the past came and went. Yes we are living through difficult times, but just like the others, the pandemic came and it will go. I certainly don’t want to minimise the devastation caused to families and friends who have been directly affected, nor do I want to minimise the amazing work being done by our key-workers in the NHS, food supply chains, utilities and so many more. I believe the way the majority of the public have handled themselves is a credit to our society. Now we can look forward to the future and whether by vaccination, new treatments or the natural cycle of infections, it will die out and many of us will look back and say “Well it could have been worse”.
May God bless us and protect us.
28th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Last night Karen and I decided that we needed to travel to our second home, so we took the long journey from our front door all of about 10 yards to our caravan where we had a lovely night "away from home". Then in the morning, having checked that we were fit and capable to do so, we travelled the long 10 yard journey back to the vicarage. I think we got away with it.
In morning prayer recently we've been reading about the Old Testament characters Balak and Balaam who feature heavily in the book of Numbers fairly near the beginning of the Bible. This morning I read chapter 24 and was reminded of the importance of listening even when we don't hear what we want to hear.
Balak called on Balaam hoping and expecting Balaam to denounce Balak's enemies; but Balaam, having sought God's guidance, didn't. Instead he blessed Balak's enemies and Balak was very disappointed. This reminds me that we all have strong opinions about all sorts of things - politics, religion and Christianity in particular, other countries, other people, other people's behaviour, science, morals, the environment, the list goes on. It is quite natural to really want other people to agree with us; we want to hear things that we agree with, that please us, that we feel we can get behind, things that we can readily say "Amen" to. When we hear people voicing very different opinions and perspectives, when we hear them say things we disagree with or even disapprove of, it's easy to close our minds and to jump to judgment - they are wrong, in error, they bore me or irritate me, I will at least disregard them and maybe even disparage them. We want to hear things we expect, things that please us, things that we wholeheartedly agree with; but often we don't. Don't you often want to shout at the telly? I know I do!
Balak didn't like what Balaam was telling him, but Balaam had great wisdom, faith and obedience towards God's prompting. Balaam considered that speaking wisdom and truth as he understood them, was more important than people-pleasing. It's a hard thing to do, but I try to resolve to listen open-mindedly and respectfully to things that are said which I strongly disagree with. I may end up still disagreeing, but the speaker has been given the dignity of human respect which is due all of God's people and, who knows, I might learn something important, and it just might be me who is wrong! I know that when I listen to other people's sermons I love to hear what I agree with. It is then that I will say, "That was a good sermon." But when I hear preaching that I disagree with, or that bores me, I will probably complain to someone privately, "That was dull, that was too long, that was too short," or "He was wrong; that sermon wasn't much good," when really I should have been giving the speaker the respect of my careful listening and attention and seeing whether there was any new understanding I could learn, any interesting idea I could take away to ponder on.
I've talked about sermons, but perhaps there's some wisdom in the Balak and Balaam story for us to consider as we listen day after day to politicians and news commentators. There are lots of very strong and polarised views around about all sorts of things. People won't always say what we want to hear, but we should give them the respect and human dignity of being listened to and considered carefully. I guess it all boils down to Jesus' command that we are to treat others as we would want them to treat us (Luke 6.31).
If ever there was a time when we have witnessed people treating others with unconditional care, respect and dignity - whoever they are and whatever their views and opinions - it is now in the form of our NHS workers, and of countless other key-workers and volunteers. Every single sick or struggling human being is being afforded the utmost attention by so many selfless people who simply demonstrate human love unconditionally and unreservedly. May that spirit continue to flow through lockdown and beyond.
Love to you all.
27th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
We are now in the short season of the church between Ascension Day (when Jesus ascended finally to be with his Heavenly Father) and Pentecost Sunday (recalling the sending of the Holy Spirit). The disciples had been given their mission, but ordered to WAIT for the Holy Spirit to come to give them power and send them out into the world. As individuals and families we are obediently WAITING before it is appropriate to circulate more widely and meet with more people, and indeed in church once again. It is surprising to reflect how much WAITING there is in the life of the Christian faith – since 'lockdown' we have WAITED through most of Lent for Jesus's passion, and now we WAIT for the Holy Spirit to be given at Pentecost.
I read today that ‘WAITING is not passive’. Time may be spent re-evaluating, resting, thinking and preparing. What are your priorities for the season beyond ‘lockdown’? When we read Jesus’ teaching (today Luke 8:16-25) there is a sense of urgency and the need to ‘seize the day’. In particular, there are these warning words:
‘Pay attention to how you listen (we might also say pay attention to what is happening in our lives); for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’ (Luke 8:18)
We have seen this dynamic in many ways during the pandemic. Once the pandemic arrived, it was too late to make changes – all over the world, people have had to work with whatever they had at hand. Whatever was held in reserve was quickly apparent. Not enough ventilators? Too late! No welfare system? Too late! No access to the Internet? Too late! To those that have, more will be given! Not easy words to hear!
Closer to home, the pandemic has opened up serious questions for some of us about our future direction, our relationships and our priorities. We do have scope to make changes and to really respond to the messages the pandemic has brought us, about what is important in general and for us individually. Take action, prepare for when a more normal order of things is restored! Read up on things, learn, consider, make contact with people that you need to speak with, either to repair relationships or to make plans for the future. And rest if you can! This WAITING time will not come around again!
I look forward to leading worship on Pentecost Sunday via the usual Zoom service. May God’s Kingdom come and His will be done. And may He send His Holy Spirit powerfully.
Love and prayers,
26th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I don't know whether you try to watch the Downing Street briefing each evening on the television. It is difficult to catch because it's never on at the same time, and one never knows exactly when it is going to happen until it happens. I try to catch it if I can.
I watched the Prime Minister last night and he announced that in all likelihood there would be some further relaxation of the lockdown on 1st June when, in addition to some very limited re-opening of schools, open air markets and car showrooms would be permitted to open, strictly subject to social distancing rules (keep 2 metres apart from each other). So, in this lovely sunny weather we can look forward to the Bridgwater Friday market starting up again soon. It will be lovely to be able carefully to wander down Fore Street browsing the stalls - all that lovely bread, cheese and meat!!! However, I won't be rushing out to buy a new car!
He further announced that, if it is then safe to do so, a wider range of retail shops will be allowed to open again in mid June, subject to social distancing rules.
I was waiting for the PM to make some mention of places of worship, but he remained silent on that. So, for the time being our churches remain closed. As soon as there is any movement on that, I will let you know. It is clear, however, that the lockdown is in its final stages and that a very gradual return to something approaching normality - a "new normality" - is underway. I am concerned, though, about TV pictures showing beaches over the past weekend absolutely packed with people enjoying the sunshine as if there was not a care in the world. Social distancing at many seasides seems to have collapsed. I really hope and pray that as folk seem to be becoming ever more relaxed about the rules, there is not a resurgence of Covid infection and death. As Christians we are guided by God in all things and I am put in mind of passages in the Bible from Romans 13 and Deuteronomy 30:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed. ... Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:1,5).
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you. ... Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days. (Deut 30:16,19,20)
Of course, all of this applies as much to the governing authorities themselves as it does us whom they serve.
I hope you are able to enjoy this lovely late spring weather. Unless we have to self-isolate, we are all permitted to get out, enjoy our open air surroundings, visit lovely places, and make the best we can of the bliss of growth in creation. I hope you do. But please keep your distance! Have a lovely day.
Love and prayers,
25th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Thank you for all my birthday wishes yesterday and for a lovely chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ at the online service! Even under 'lockdown' I feel warmly celebrated and kindly treated by so many people, especially my dear family at home. They are always surprising me with their kindness and their great love every time a birthday or Father’s Day comes around. I am very blessed, I know!
Today the church remembers the Venerable Bede – monk, scholar and historian of the 8th century. I have visited his tomb at Durham Cathedral. He wrote the most complete history of the Church of England up to that point, and died peacefully on the eve of Ascension Day in the year 735. History can seem very dry and academic – but history also gives our experiences context. I have been watching some old documentaries on iPlayer and learning about the events following the Second World War. I knew very little about the 1947 exceptionally cold winter that year that caused coal mines to freeze and cease production, creating widespread power cuts and food shortages. Animal herds froze or starved to death. People suffered from the persistent cold, and many businesses shut down temporarily. When warm weather returned, the ice thawed and flooding was severe in most low-lying areas. How awful so soon after the Second World War and with the nation still struggling to its feet!
Many of us younger folk have lived all our lives knowing only peace, stability and comfort. The events of the Coronavirus pandemic are like nothing else in our experience. People have persistently referred to the pandemic as ‘unprecedented’ which adds to that feeling that something truly cataclysmic has happened. Taking a look back at the history, with very moving film footage, of what people suffered in the winter of 1947 restored some perspective for me that very hard times come around – they have done in the past, and will do again. Even that very severe winter was not ‘the end of the world’ and it did indeed pass in the end. In fact, that awful winter is hardly talked about today.
The UK government is looking a little shakier at the moment than in the early stages of the crisis when the country largely rallied behind the government, and prayed for Boris Johnson as he lay in hospital. There are questions about the conduct of aides, the decisions that were taken back in March, and the support for care homes. Again the history of the post-war period is instructive. Antony Eden, the successor to Churchill, lost his premiership over the war in Egypt and the Suez Canal. Macmillan, who followed him, cut a more assured figure but was brought down by the Profumo affair. On the other hand, governments and prime ministers can survive the most awful storms – the Attlee government narrowly kept their majority after the disastrous winter of ’47.
We pray for our country as we move into the strange and uncertain climb down from full ‘lockdown’. Whatever we think of the government and its personalities, their decisions affect the welfare of all. This is the reason that the government is full of ‘ministries’ and ‘ministers’! I leave you with the prayer for the government from the old prayer book:
“We beseech thee to lead all nations in the way of righteousness and peace; and so to direct all kings and rulers, that under them thy people may be godly and quietly governed. And grant unto thy servant Elizabeth our Queen, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion and virtue.”
Love and prayers,
23rd May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
As I sit at my desk writing this, I have facing me on the windowsill a beautifully created framed needlepoint bearing the word "Shalom" which is the Hebrew word for "peace". Having that lovely word facing me as I work at my desk reminds me of two things: firstly that the world desperately needs peace - peace from war, hatred, persecution, poverty, injustice and, of course, sickness; and secondly, that peace in our own lives, minds and hearts is always available to us by the grace of God. Despite all the horrors in the world, and for some folk maybe in their own lives and circumstances too, a deep inner peace is available to us by God's grace. Jesus said to his friends, and so to us, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you ... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14.27); and on countless other occasions Jesus met others with the greeting, "Peace be with you."
I know that some of you are going through times of illness, worry and other trials. I, together with many others, continue to pray for you. God travels the difficult road with you. Indeed, as the Footprints poem says, through your most difficult times He carries you.
As so often happens when we look at The Bible, I continue to find that words and phrases jump off the page and minister to me that sense of God being ever present, and of his peace around me and within me. We may (indeed I think we often do) take words of scripture completely out of their context, but they are all God-inspired words, and if they speak directly to us in a particular way at a particular time, then that is God ministering to us through his word. This morning I looked at Isaiah 61-62 and Psalm 124 and some phrases leapt off the pages which for me, and I hope for you too, give a sense of the peace of God, come what may:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God. ... God shall make righteousness and praise blossom before all the nations. (From Is. 61)
Our Help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (From Ps. 124)
"Peace I leave with you", said Jesus, "my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." I simply want to leave you with that thought today. What Jesus promised to his disciples and what he offers to us is a kind of peace that transcends the troubles of life, a peace that comes from a deep confidence that God is with us. God is with us whatever happens. God is with us through life, through death and into new life beyond. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Shalom - peace - to you, and all things good.
With my love,
22nd May, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
This week I came to the conclusion I have the English (maybe British) disease – complaining about the weather!
I wonder if anyone else happened to look up to the sky on Monday just after midday. If you did you might have seen the same image we saw – like an up-side-down rainbow, a little below the sun. Concerned I’d spent too long in the sun, I took a very quick snap on my phone (CLICK HERE) although on the picture it appears to be a circle, in reality it was only part. It is not common for such an image to appear, in fact it was mentioned on the local ITV weather report that evening. It’s called a Circumzenithal or Bravais arc and scientists tell us that it’s formed by ice crystals in the high atmosphere forming a halo, splitting the sunlight into its component parts, much in the same was that raindrops do to form a rainbow.
However with its normally semi-circular shape it looks like the sun is smiling and I could imagine that in years gone by, people could have believed it was God looking down and smiling on us.
Still on the theme of weather, many of you will remember that dreadfully hot summer of 1976. It was Charles from Durleigh, in our Morning Prayer Zoom group that asked if we could pray for rain for the gardeners and farmers, it reminded me of that year. We were married the previous year and Linda was carrying Phil, our elder son, through the summer of ‘76. I was working for Anglian Water Authority in Milton Keynes, we watched horrified as our reservoir levels dropped to dangerous levels. Sprinkler and subsequently hosepipe bans were introduced, people were urged to use no more than 2” of water in their baths and our Inspectors went on hosepipe patrols with loudspeaker vans repeating the dire warnings of the water shortage.
Things were certainly getting desperate; in our patch, at least one village which had been submerged when a reservoir was built, reappeared and even our biggest rivers were little more than trickles of mud. Our major river – the Great Ouse was so depleted a scheme was built involving dams and pumping stations to reverse its flow! I found out a couple of years later when I joined Thames Water that even the mighty Thames dried up in places. The slogan “Save water, Bath with a friend” was born about this time.
The then Prime Minister, James Callaghan was forced into action and appointed Dennis Howell MP, Minister for Drought! Within days of his appointment, in an interview he stated that the water shortage gave him the excuse to share a bath with his wife, Brenda! (I wonder what the press today would have made of that comment). Just a few days later the rain started and yes of course vast areas of land were flooded. Dennis Howell’s ministry was dissolved and he became Minister for Floods!
I imagine most of us have at least access to outside areas where we can sit and gaze at nature. How does the grass grow so fast with no rain? We love looking skywards, at the many varieties of birds that fly and swoop around us. There is usually quite a large group of, I believe, swifts; swooping and soaring presumably catching insects as they go. There are also birds in our garden – the blackbird is getting so tame we almost trip over him as he runs round the lawn looking for his next feed. Today we found he has a young one, which he was feeding. Then there are sparrows, many, many seem to perch in the conifers behind our garden and fly down en masse to hoover up whatever the blackbird has left behind. A couple of streets away there are some older style houses with chimneys. There are a couple of large black birds – maybe jackdaws, that must have a nest inside the chimney pot as we regularly see one or other perch on the top rim then nosedive (is that beak dive?) into the interior! Obviously their main aim in life to find sufficient food and water to live, but I often wonder if they have the ability to think, or is that just a human function?
The Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer today is, yet again, so appropriate – Numbers 20:1-13…
The Israelites had been led into the wilderness by Moses and Aaron but as v2 describes “Now there was no water for the congregation;” They argue with Moses, asking him why he has brought them into this barren wilderness to die. Moses and Aaron go to the Tent of the Meeting where God tells Moses to strike a rock in front of the people.
Moses did as he was instructed, (v11) “…lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank.” However Moses’ lack of faith was punished by God, who told him, “Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – It does seem harsh, but perhaps we should remember it in our current situation with covid-19.
Of course our faith is tested all the time. At present we are ALL being tested so we must remember God is Lord over all things. Not just a few of us who regularly go to church, not just humankind, but everything. He has given particular wisdom to a few who are trying to find a safe vaccine, others to make a test which is truly reliable, our leaders to make the correct decisions on our way of life, at the appropriate time and the majority of us to follow the advice we are given. Of course it is right for us to question their decisions, especially those which seem wrong – maybe not as “robustly” as certain morning TV presenters; in the end we have to make our own decisions on how much we accept and how much we dare to “adjust” to suit our circumstances.
May God bless us and protect us as we live through these “lockdown transition” days.
21st May, 2020 (Ascension Day)- today we hear from Rev Will
I have just a few minutes ago finished watching Bishop Ruth (Bishop of Taunton) leading an on-line service to celebrate Ascension Day. The service is available for you to watch here . Today is the day we recall that extraordinary story from the Bible when, after Jesus had been with the disciple having risen from the dead, he went out onto a hillside and was lifted up into heaven. For me it ranks as one of three stories about Jesus in the Bible which are, well, mystifying: the virgin birth, the resurrection and the ascension. It's hard to know what to make of these stories that quite simply defy any kind of rational explanation because they are totally beyond and outside our experience. Of course, if we only believed things that could be satisfactorily explained to us, or if we only believed things that we personally had experience of, then we would end up believing very little. Just because something cannot be explained, or just because we have no personal experience of something, doesn't necessarily make the thing untrue. Nevertheless these three aspects of the story of Jesus really are, quite literally, extra-ordinary. You will make of them what you will.
I find that there are some experiences in life that so touch and move me that I am "transported" into what one might call "the heavenlies". For me it is often music. Quite often at night, after the light has gone out, I put on earphones and listen to Classic FM. The other night a piece came on that I had not listened to for many years and had pretty much forgotten. But as the music unfolded I remembered it, and it is one of those pieces of music that transports me into the heavenlies. There I was in the middle of the night drifting off, but not to sleep, rather to paradise. The music was carrying my mind and my soul to a place of indescribable beauty and peace. By the way, the piece in question is the second movement (the slow movement) of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto. Have a listen here. I am similarly transported to the heavenlies whenever I attend Evensong at a Cathedral. Other experiences do it for me too - remoteness, the vastness of the restless sea, the clear night sky. I expect most of us have something that has a similar effect, that transports us into the heavenlies. I wonder what it is for you?
Whatever you may make of the story of Jesus' ascension, the truth remains that it, along with the other extra-ordinary aspects of his story, has ever since transported his millions and millions of followers "into the heavenlies". These stories set our imagination going, they invoke in us a sense of awe, and they all point us to God which, after all, was and is the entire mission and purpose of Jesus: he points us towards God.
One of the Bible accounts of the ascension story (Acts 1) notes that after Jesus had left them the disciples were left "gazing up towards heaven." I bet they were! Astonished, perplexed, mystified, shocked, awe-stricken - you can imagine them, heads upwards and jaws hitting the floor! As Jesus left them in this other-worldly way, they themselves in mind and spirit were surely transported to the heavenlies. And only ten days later (Pentecost / Whitsuntide) they had another indescribable and enigmatic experience - the powerful presence with them of Jesus' Spirit - The Holy Spirit, and again they would be transported to the heavenlies. Their lives changed and were never the same again. This rag-tag bunch of rough country fishermen went out into the wider world and transformed lives and places and cultures with the Jesus story which, of course, always points to God - his grace, his love, his power and his peace.
I pray that the ascension story, along with Pentecost in 10 days' time, may transport you to the heavenlies, that your minds and hearts may be touched afresh, that you too may be astonished and awe-stricken, and that you too may be stirred up to gossip the Jesus story both in word and deed as you continue along life's path.
The Diocese has lots of great resources for this period between Ascension and Pentecost, sometimes called The Kingdom Season. They are well worth a look, Click here.
Blessings and love.
20th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
I told you in a recent letter that I have been ‘signed off’ by Bishop Ruth and so am no longer a ‘training curate’, but simply a curate! However I have not quite finished the diocesan programme and so it goes on – we had a session yesterday via the Zoom tool with curates of the diocese. It was good to see the faces of my fellow curates, some of whom I have gotten to know well over the last three years. For me personally, seeing people in a virtual way – via Zoom, WhatsApp, or Skype – works in part because I have the memory of physically being with those people at some point in the past, and so the virtual presence acts as a substitute. But I think now some of us are longing for the return of a more physical presence with one another!
Today’s reading is Luke 7:1-10, where Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant. The story has some interesting features. The first is that the servant ‘was valued highly’ by his master. This is why he went to such effort to see Jesus. When I hear of good friends who have become ill and in the care of the health services, I like to remind them that they are ‘highly valued’! It is right to avail ourselves of good health care because our lives are ‘highly valued’ – by our loved ones, and by God. By contrast I sometimes hear some awful statements that people make partly in jest – ‘If I get ill with dementia, just shoot me’, or ‘don’t worry about what to do with the ashes of my cremation, just put me in the bin’. I am sorry if this shocks or surprises you. People actually say things like this! Perhaps they are joking, but comments like that show up an underlying doubt about the value the self. No - we are ‘highly valued’!
Jesus declines to visit the servant, but instead takes spiritual authority from afar, and makes the servant well. It is in fact the centurion’s idea, and Jesus praises the centurion in front of all because of his great faith. It is only on the return of the centurion to his house that he discovers the happy news that what he desires has been fulfilled. I was reminded of this part of the passage today when I prayed for a friend in pain over the telephone – we agreed that Jesus is not bound by distance but can work everywhere! The ways of Jesus overcome ‘social distancing’ and all restrictions. I would have preferred to pray in person and even to ‘lay on hands’ as we do at our Healing services at Holy Trinity Church. But if Jesus can do without physical presence and touch to work his miracles, then that is a helpful example at the moment!
Keep going and keep up your courage if things are hard going at the moment and the situation we are all in is bearing more heavily on you than before.
Love and prayers,
19th May, 2020 - today we hear from Linda Gardner
As a member of The Mothers Union I regularly use the Families Worldwide Prayer Diary. These subjects for prayer and themes for the year have been compiled long before corona virus reached our shores. The theme for the year is “Building Hope and Confidence” (God’s word as our foundation). Each time I read from the various publications the reading or prayer is so relevant to how I feel at that time. I’m sure we all need confidence and hope especially at this time.
I am constantly reminded of God’s love and presence with us and encouraged during times of fear and waiting. This week’s theme is “waiting”. I was led to Psalm 130. The Psalm begins “Out of the depths I cry to the Lord, hear my voice”. Verses 5 and 6 say “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits and in His word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning”.
There are many situations in which we wait and those times seem to be more poignant at present. Mothers and fathers wait for the birth of their children, people wait by the bedside of those who are ill and some wish they could be there when the rules say otherwise. We wait for the results of medical tests and treatment and so we cry out to the Lord and then we wait.
Here is a prayer from this week’s diary:
Forgive us Lord when we doubt you in our waiting and question your plans and purposes. You, the Lord of glory draw near and patiently wait for us to turn to you. You share our waiting in your love and make it a place of grace.
Jeff and I feel truly blessed by the love and support we receive from everyone.
With love from Linda
16th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
A curate friend of mine took to Facebook on Sunday with the following message:
“Well, just in case I ever give the impression that we're some perfect Christian nuclear family, full of worshipful enthusiasm and wholesome spiritual moments, you should probably know that, like a recalcitrant old motor, 'church' completely failed to start this morning. You pick your battles and I didn't feel like having one today … So one has gone out for a socially distant meet up, and the rest of us have all retreated to our separate screens to lick our wounds…”
Today I am thinking of those of us who live in households with others. Even though we may try very hard to be our ‘best selves’ for our loved ones, the fact is that from time to time we have to face up to our frailties and failings. Sometimes we fail to live up to our ideals and it is painful to admit it. Check yourself the next time you behave badly and put the blame on the cat, the weather, the news, or whatever else. The words “I’m sorry” are often more appropriate than making excuses or blaming and shaming others for their part.
It is a sign of maturity to be able to own your own fault without excuse, without minimising it, and without tipping over into self-hatred (which is never helpful). Even very healthy and good relationships will include moments of failure, selfishness, and falling well below our best standards. Anglicans recognise this by including a penitential act (confessing our sins in the liturgy) in almost every act of worship. Sometimes this can seem a bit overblown, over serious, or negative. That is usually because we are living so fast and so unreflectively that we think that we are never wrong!
Jesus sets out some of his most challenging teaching in today’s reading, Luke 6:27-38. He explains and teaches what loving our enemies looks like, and makes it clear that loving those who already love us well is not greatly to our credit. Some non-Christians are much better than some Christians at loving their families and near ones. Closing this challenging passage, he states ‘Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ We are all quite capable of being ungrateful and wicked – so we need to receive mercy from God and our loved ones, and to extend them mercy also for their faults and weaknesses.
None of this teaching covers over the serious matter of abuse in relationships. The ‘lockdown’ has been a punishing sentence for those at risk from members of their own household. Remember that you can still report serious concerns about your welfare or that of others to our Safeguarding Officer, Chris Archer. Church remains a place where we look out for each other, and those on the fringes who are in need or danger.
In closing, when our faults, failings and frailties catch up with us we can be greatly helped by the words of Jesus:
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure… will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ (Luke 6:37-8)
At a time where some bonds of love and friendship are being tested by the ‘lockdown’ more than ever, may God’s Holy Spirit teach and lead us and our households.
Love and prayers,
16th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I never cease to be taken aback at how each day holds unexpected surprises. In the morning the day seems to get off to a normal routine start with nothing of any particular note in the diary. And then at some point during the course of the day the unexpected hits - totally out of the blue, and the day (and sometimes one's life) takes a completely different turn. It is more often than not the unexpected phone call which causes the day to take a completely unexpected turn; or it might be a crisis in the home (the washing machine floods!); or it might be a health crisis, or a dramatic and sudden change (for better or worse) in a close relationship. And then at the end of the day you fall into bed and think, "Well, I wasn't expecting that!" Each day is full of the unexpected, full of surprises - usually little ones, but sometimes big ones.
Yesterday we started the day knowing that Karen had a few days off. She wasn't due to work again until next Tuesday. We were literally getting in the car at about 5pm to take a trip to Kilve beach (we can now, you know!) when her mobile phone rang. It was the hospital: "We're short staffed tonight. Please come in and do a night shift." So Karen didn't go to the beach but returned inside to ready herself to leave for a 12 hour night shift which, incidentally, turned out to be a very heavy duty one. Well, we weren't expecting that! Just one example of the tendency, we find, of days never quite turning out as expected. There's so often a surprise lurking in the shadows each day waiting to jump out at us.
Maybe that is why Jesus said that we should not worry about tomorrow because each day has enough worries of its own. "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6.34)
It's hardly surprising that during the current crisis we have been hanging on every word of the TV news and newspapers looking for some certainty about the future: when will this all be over? When will we be able to go to school, work, church, to see our families? When will the danger of catching Covid have gone away? These are anxious times and we worriedly look for certainties about the future, and we may get frustrated or angry when no one seems to be able to give us any certainty. Well, no one can. No one knows how this is going to pan out. No one knows exactly when "normality" will return. No one knows when the danger will have passed. No one knows - not even the Prime Minister!
My little prayer book took me to some verses from Psalm 125 this morning and I was struck by verses one and two: "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever. The Hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about his people, from this time forth for evermore."
I urge and encourage you: Trust in the Lord; stand firm and fast in your trust, faith and hope. Remember that God enfolds you in his caring, protecting and loving arms, and always will. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, so look well to this day.
Finally, I have come across an an American minister who is a little unusual (for a minister) in her appearance and character, but who has some extraordinary and loving wisdom to share. She has spoken of the matters I have mentioned here. I strongly recommend you take a few minutes to listen to her. CLICK HERE to listen.
And finally, finally, ignore yesterday's instructions for joining the Sunday 10am service on Zoom and use these instructions instead: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/71070716533?pwd=NUUwcnV1bmpiWGN0N2hSM1pnQXQwZz09. See you there!
My love and prayers to you all.
15th May, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Last week I shared some doubts about my memory, this week I want to share a snippet of conversation I overheard and another memory of mine from many years ago.
Linda and I were on our daily walk, usually somewhere round the village (yes I know North Petherton is classed as a town, but with so few shops, “village” seems more appropriate). This particular day we ventured into the older part – the north-east or the right-hand side of the A38 coming from Bridgwater. There are some wonderful old buildings over there, a few distinctly in need of some TLC! There were a couple of older gentlemen working in their respective front gardens and the snippet of conversation we heard was along these lines: -
“…I didn’t realise so many people lived in this village.” “I know, I’m the same! I can remember growing up here and I knew everyone but not anymore, there are so many…”
We have certainly found over the last few weeks, we have met a lot of the locals, walking or working in their front gardens. The vast majority will share a Good morning or afternoon and many are happy to stop and chat (suitably socially distancing). It’s a real bonus for us as “newcomers” to find the “locals” so friendly. When we moved here we had no knowledge of the area and we were leaving behind a church and community that we knew well, so it was very much a leap of faith. It’s a move we certainly haven’t regretted and we do try to get back to see some old friends occasionally.
It was the Morning Prayer reading from Luke on Wednesday morning (Luke 5:12-26) that triggered a memory from my infant school when I was about 6. It was the story of the friends carrying the paralysed man to see Jesus, but when they arrived the crowds wouldn’t let them through. They found a way onto the roof, and lowered him on his bed through a hole, landing just in front of Jesus.
In my day, our exercise books were rather tall and narrow (a portrait format) with the top half of the page plain, the lower half lined. It allowed the children to draw a picture and write a story on the same page. This is indeed what I did for this story which was marked with a tick and “well done!” by the teacher. The only time I surpassed this was also in a Scripture lesson when I wrote up the story of Moses in the bulrushes.
The teacher was so impressed, she showed it to the headmaster and he gave me a gold star… it was the only one I ever got before I left aged 16.
My college days were very much happier, I did well because I was studying subjects I liked with people I respected. A corrupted form of the name of my college has stayed with me to this day, in my email address. The first part is “chrisarro” which many assume reflects my surname, actually it doesn’t. When I was a student, my college was Harrow College of Technology and Art, which we shortened to Harrow Tech. When I formed my own business in 2000 I had to give it a name – I shortened Harrow to Arro and added Tech to make “Arro-tech Ltd”. Very early in its existence I set up a gmail account and finding Chris Archer had been used by many before me, so instead of using chris.archer452 or something equally unmemorable, dropped the tech bit from the company name to make chrisarro.
I’m certainly not a scholar of Shakespeare but I believe it is Juliet who uses the phrase, misquoted as “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, in the correct form she says “By any other name would smell as sweet”. Apparently there is a feud between her family and Romeo’s, hence they cannot be together but if Romeo had a different family name the problem would not arise.
I wonder if you know why you were given your Christian name or names. If you have some family history to research you might be surprised. If you are lucky enough to have parent(s) still living, you can ask them if there was a particular reason or if it was just a name they liked. That was actually the reason for my first name – Mum and Dad liked it, my middle name was my Dad’s first name. That is a tradition we have carried on, our son’s middle names are my names. As yet we are not grandparents so naming of their children, sadly hasn’t cropped up.
This week I wanted to share another of my Dad’s pictures from around this time in 1945. I won’t bore you with one every week, but I think this one is rather special. I can only assume he was using a newspaper photo as the basis for his picture as I know he was still in Germany at the time. CLICK HERE.
May God bless us and protect us as we live through these “lockdown transition” days.
14th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
The other day I mentioned that Karen had bought a huge tray of assorted fresh fish from the bargain counter in Morrisons and that I was to be the fish chef!. There was far too much to eat all at once so I turned my attention to the fish that I thought would be good barbecued. A nice hot BBQ, a good brushing of oil and a smothering of fresh herbs from the garden all combined to make a delicious fish meal. Fish is a bit like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. Karen and I love it and thoroughly enjoyed the catch - albeit from Morrisons and not the Sea of Galilee! There's a photo here to make your mouth water.
Last Sunday the Prime Minister announced some measures to very gradually ease the lockdown. It is important, I think, to note that he often repeated that each step of the way is "conditional", that is to say that lockdown lifting will only proceed from one stage to the next if the scientific advisers say that it is safe to do so. If there is a resurgence of infection, then easing measures could be reversed. This is all very slowly slowly, gently gently. Gradually easing lockdown is far more complicated than suddenly imposing full lockdown, and so things might seem a bit of a muddle and a bit confusing at the moment. It's bound to be. But the clear message is still basically "Stay At Home" as much as you possibly can.
As expected, The Church of England was fairly quick to react and to issue it's own plan for the gradual lifting of the Church of England lockdown. Again, any steps the C of E takes will be conditional upon it being safe to to do so, so any given dates are tentative and not certain. The press and television have led many people to believe that everything will be back to normal in church by early July. It will not.
Our Bishops have informed us of the intention to ease Church of England lockdown in three phases:
1. From now churches continue to be fully closed. However, vicars are now permitted to enter their church buildings on their own or accompanied by one member of their own household. In some circumstances PCC's can allow the same facility to one other person. The church must be kept shut whilst that person is in the church.
2. Later, and only when the law allows: The church remains closed except for very limited access for some rites and ceremonies (funerals and weddings, NOT regular worship services ) with distancing measures to be observed.
3. Worship services with limited congregations, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this.
I am afraid we should not expect things to return to "normal" with all of us turning up on Sundays, sharing communion, coffee and biscuits, a busy Monday cafe, etc, etc, for some very considerable time.
So from now we are at phase one only which means our churches remain CLOSED. Last night the Holy Trinity PCC agreed that I, as vicar, may now go into Holy Trinity on my own or with one other person from the Vicarage. The PCC also agreed that Rev James may enter HT but not at the same time as me. He too must be on his own or with one other person from his household. This does not really have any practical effect on the congregation at all. For all of you things remain the same so far as church is concerned, for the time being at any rate. So we will continue with these letters and with Sunday service and morning prayer on-line in the same way we have been over the past few weeks.
You have all been amazing in your patience, resilience and care for one another. Whether we are in our church buildings or not, our loving and gracious God is always with us individually and as a church family. He holds us together and he will never leave us nor forsake us.
Today I leave you with some words of Jesus to his friends - that's us!
'The hour has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!' (John 16:32-33)
13th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
It is difficult when something we feel we can put up with ‘for a while’ becomes ‘the new normal’. This is roughly how I feel about the present state of affairs with the Coronavirus lockdown. Talk of ‘roadmaps’ and loosening of restrictions tended to obscure the fact the virus has not gone away, and we do not as yet have the kind of game-changing vaccine or treatments that would really allow something more like normal life to resume. Personally I have felt disappointed, as I allowed myself to think that things would change more than they have. Perhaps you feel the same.
The Morning Prayer readings from the book of Numbers are very appropriate. Monday’s reading from chapter 9:15-22 explains how God led the pilgrim people of Israel on their long journey through the desert. They had to stay in place when the cloud of God’s glory rested on the tabernacle (their mobile tent-temple), and remain in place until the cloud lifted. ‘Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the LORD and would not set out… whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out.’
What a strange story! Imagine the frustration of the Israelites when the cloud rested on the tabernacle for just a day or two. ‘We just got settled, and now we have to move again!’ Or the frustration when the cloud remained for a month or longer in one place – ‘When are we going to get moving again? This is so frustrating!’ Having restrictions put on us, and then having them changed just as we were getting our heads around them, brings out the angry child in us! If you are angry and feel like kicking over your bins with frustration at the moment, or some other violent action, imagine how ancient Israel must have felt! I am sure that at times they felt very angry too, and that underneath that anger was also fear and doubt… I have picked up an irritability creeping in to our public conversations, a demand from government for certainty, a plan, rescue. Even our government with all their resources cannot give us the assurances that we really want. To put it baldly, the government is not God. The NHS is not God. They cannot be our talismans or our deliverers.
We can still be God’s pilgrims even when we are compelled to shelter in place. You and I are on a journey, a pilgrimage, with Him. Sometimes we have to obey and discipline ourselves to deal with strange situations when we want answers and none are forthcoming. Even so, just as we begin to adjust to ‘the new normal’ we will find ourselves on the move! Once again the Bible speaks to our human experience.
Until next time,
Love and prayers,
12th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Karen went to Morrisons very early this morning during the time set aside for key workers. She found some bargains, and among them a large tray of assorted fresh fish. We love fish, and apparently I am the fish chef at home! There really are quite a lot of fish in the tray and I am wondering what I am going to do with them. By coincidence (God-incidence, perhaps!) this morning's New Testament reading from Luke's Gospel (5:4-7) was about the calling of the first disciples, and part of it went like this:
"Jesus said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink."
Now I am wondering whether those disciples had the same thoughts as I am having: "What on earth are we going to do with all that fish?!" Actually I enjoy cooking fish and I have one or two ideas.
Sometimes we might think things are hopeless, that nothing seems to be going right, that it's not worth trying any more. We might feel like that about practical things, relationships, even our faith. Simon and his friends had fished all night without success and things looked pretty hopeless - no point in trying any more. But Jesus prompted him and Simon trusted: "If you say so, I will let down the nets." Even when it's difficult, we need to keep trusting in God even if it feels like false trust - just going through the motions, just saying the prayers without really feeling or meaning them. Sometimes we just need to keep following Jesus anyway - simply putting one foot in front of the other as an act of will, as an act of trust.
A line from my little prayer book this morning: "Though the earth and all its inhabitants are quaking, I will make its pillars fast [says God]." (Psalm 75).
Keep trusting in God who is our anchor. Keep following Jesus step by step and you will be richly blessed.
I'll let you know how the fish cooking goes!
God bless and much love,
11th May, 2020 - today we hear from Abigail Taylor
I've finished 'The Climb'!
After 2 weeks and 4 mountains climbed, I've made it!! Thanks to all your incredibly generous donations, together we've raised £1100 for Tearfund!!
From a very young age, my heart broke for people who were suffering. It used to actually scare me to watch videos about war or poverty, as I would be quick to put myself there and feel their pain. But as I've got older, my heart has not changed, but what I do with it has. It's such a tough time for all of us at the moment, and we can feel utterly powerless when we see others suffering. But that is not the case. We all have the power to create change. Tearfund are an amazing charity I have grown up knowing about. They are not a charity who throw money at the issue and walk away. They invest in key people in the communities, they love and support those who need it the most and provide them with what they need, and thanks to all the money you have donated to support my challenge, they will be able to provide even more help and hope to the most vulnerable during the Covid 19 crisis. My prayer is that the money brings hope into the lives of those who feel hopeless. This has been a pretty tough two weeks on my body and my mind, but so incredibly worth it. Thank you for all your wonderful encouragement, generous donations and love.
I am so incredibly blessed with the people I have around me.
God bless you all,
PS If you haven't donated yet and would like to, the link will stay there for the next week or so
PPS Also credit to my awesome brother for the art on the final picture, and for, as always, being my photographer!
9th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
In "normal" times when many of us are out and about doing all the things that "need" to be done in the busy relentless bustle of 21st century life, it is easy to lose sight of what is around us. One of the good side-effects of the lockdown for me has been having the time and space to notice, more than ever, the utter loveliness of the changing season from winter to spring. I am reminded of the extraordinary beauty, complexity and eternally continuing creativity of God which I have referred to elsewhere as "The Bliss of Growth". This has come sharply into focus over the last few days due to the lockdown rule on exercise having recently been slightly modified so that we can now drive short distances to exercise. Our daughter, Anna, loves to go "wild water swimming" - swimming in rivers, lakes and the sea. She swims in all weathers and temperatures ... without a wetsuit! for her it is a wonderful thing to do - so good for mental and physical health, and really being at one with God's extraordinary creation. Usually her little dog, Phoebe, goes to. So in recent days Anna has been able to indulge this passion again and I have really enjoyed going with her - as a spectator, I hasten to add; no wild water swimming for me!
Yesterday we drove over to Parchy Bridge just the far side of Chedzoy where the road crosses King Sedgemoor Drain. I always think that is such an unfortunate name because it conjours up images of a smelly ditch. In fact "The Drain" is a most beautiful man-made river running across The Levels. Whilst Anna and dog swam I took the opportunity to take in breathtaking scenery on a glowing spring day. We do live in a most beautiful part of the world, and to see the Somerset countryside bursting with spring abundance is a treat, a reminder of God's glory, a taste of "The Bliss of Growth". I took loads of photos and I won't bore you with them all, but I will share share one or two which particularly capture the wonder of God constantly at work creating. CLICK HERE to have a look.
My thoughts on all of this were reinforced this morning as one of the passages for today in the little prayer book I am currently using comes from Isaiah 61, and verse 11 jumped off the page at me:
"For as the earth puts forth her blossom, and as the seeds in the garden spring up, so shall God make righteousness and praise blossom before all the nations."
I pray that today is a good one for you.
With my love,
8th May, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Today is VE day and this year is its 75th commemoration. Many events were planned around the country, most of which have had to be cancelled or at least modified in the light of the lockdown.
The people who remember the first, the day when Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation with those immortal words “…at one minute past midnight tonight hostilities with Germany will cease…” are dwindling and I am certainly not amongst them. However , I realise I’m not as young as I used to be and I’m aware my memory does fail me sometimes, but I can’t remember VE day being celebrated in the past! Going way back to my school days in the early sixties, I can remember the Union Jack being flown at school. When I asked why, I was told it was for “Empire Day” ! It seems the British Empire actually ended when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
VE day was certainly marked, generally quite low key - and there was an exhibition in the Library in Seaton (South Devon, where Mum and Dad lived) probably for the 50th anniversary. I know that mainly because Dad had some paintings included. In a note attached to the cover, he explains they were produced a year after the events, painted using thinned oil paints found in wrecked houses etc . by a young man eagerly awaiting demob which took over twelve months.
They are in a loose-leaf book which I’ve inherited covering his time in Western Europe in 1944/45. Each one is dated and there are fifty-six covering the 12 months from July ‘44 to ‘45 . However, there is nothing dated 8th May! The one that is about the nearest – dated 4th May has the caption “Celebrations for the Northern Europe surrender” CLICK HERE. I can only guess that in 1945, the official word that conflicts had ended didn’t reach Germany as instantly as it would today.
Dad almost never spoke about his time in the war. I knew he was “called up” and served in the 51st Highland Division. Mum used to say “he helped the doctors”. My research has shown he was actually in an ambulance brigade, in a “Field Dressing Station” and I can only image the horrific sights he must have witnessed and can begin to understand his reticence to talk about it. The man I knew was a very private man, really happy only when working on his own or with his close family. Maybe a result of his war?
It leads me on the wonder how today’s media would have coped with the death toll during WW2. Admittedly it was spread over six years, but well over ten times the number of British troops perished, compared with British people who have died and tested positive for coronavirus to date. That says nothing of the German losses and it was not easier to accept in those days because the “enemy” was human and visible. I feel I must add the phrase, popularised by Mark Twain “Lies, damn lies and statistics” - with some clever number crunching figures can prove whatever the presenter may desire.
Every death, then, now and in between is a tragedy for the loved ones left behind , of course we accept that. We grieve for those we have lost and will not see again in this life, but I absolutely believe they, and we will live on in heaven.
I wonder how many will remember Bob Dylan, a singer, songwriter from the sixties. One of his songs got stuck in my mind this week. First released on an album in 1963 and later as a single - "The Times They Are A- Changin'". There a lots of phrases included in the words of the verses that are very relevant to us today, feel free to do an online search for the full , lyrics but from the last verse…
“ … The line it is drawn , the curse it is cast, the slow one now , will later be fast, as the present now, will later be past, the order is, rapidly fadin', and the first one now, will later be last, for the times they are a-changin'.”
So today, let us not celebrate the victory in Europe, but commemorate those who fell in the battles of World War 2, since and the current pandemic. Now in God’s nearer presence, may they rest in peace, and rise in glory.
May God bless us all and protect us until we can all meet and greet each other again.
Stay safe and stay home!
7th May, 2020 - today we hear from our Bishops
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
On Monday, the Bishops’ Council met to gain an understanding of how the diocese is responding to the current crisis. We heard stories from parishes across our three Archdeaconries, the responses of our schools and chaplaincies and looked through the lenses of rural life and that of our Magnificat parishes. We were hugely impressed and encouraged by the creative, inspirational and truly remarkable work of all of you and your communities. Thank you!!
As we talked, we were aware too of the strain upon resources both locally and across the whole diocese. Within central diocesan resourcing we have furloughed some 31 staff members and we know that some parishes have needed to do so too. The loss of weekly offerings, visitor and rental income has caused some very real financial hardship and we would urge you to seek the help of the diocesan support team if so. Some of you have benefited too from the information given on our website or through staff members, in looking after your buildings; learning about Zoom and other online platforms; how to give online; and the work of Ministry for Mission and Education Teams are providing encouraging accompaniment as necessary. A wide range of training is now being planned for delivery online.
Many of us were looking forward to celebrating VE Day on Friday and Somerset Day over this weekend too. Our churches and schools were to have been a focal point of such events. We are unable to do that now however, we are encouraging you to celebrate ‘at home’ instead. You can find details of the national programme for VE Day, including a service liturgy, on our diocesan website https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/ve-day.
Some of us, including our Cathedral, will be joining in with the national ‘Big Picnic for Hope’. We may do this virtually, or by getting to know our neighbours better through holding picnics on our doorsteps within calling distance of each other. It means we can build the relationships forged through Thursday gatherings when we appreciate our key workers, NHS staff, teachers, posties, grocers and so many more who have kept our country on its feet. It reminds us of the spirit of those who gave their lives so generously for the freedoms of their families and friends during the conflicts of the past. As we hold the silence and hear the Queen’s message, we shall be giving our own thanks for their sacrifice, recognising the need for our own small sacrifices at this time in staying at home.
During this Easter season we are remembering the hope to be found in the Risen Christ. We can only imagine the bewilderment of the disciples when they found they were so soon to find Him gone into glory at the Ascension. As they waited for the promised Comforter, they reverted to the lockdown their fear had first imposed after Jesus’ death. It was on that Pentecost Sunday that the gift of the Holy Spirit brought a freedom they could never have imagined.
During the Novena from Ascension to Pentecost we have in recent years joined in with the international and interdenominational movement of Thy Kingdom Come, a commitment to pray daily for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It has been an opportunity for us to pray for specific people to know the freedom of the salvation that the Risen Christ brings. This year we have an added imperative to pray for our nation at this time of lockdown.
Bishops Peter and Ruth have been celebrating a diocesan Eucharist on Wednesday mornings at 10.30am each week through our diocesan website Facebook page. For Ascension we shall be moving this Wednesday Eucharist to the following day, 21 May, Ascension Day itself. Bishop Ruth will be celebrating at 10.30am and Bishop Peter will be speaking at the Cathedral Eucharist on the same day, at 5.15pm. Do join us if you are able.
Following the success of the Zoom ‘Renewal of Vows’ gatherings held with the clergy, we will be inviting a wider group, including Readers, to join us for some further Zoom gatherings during the Novena as we pray for the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Pentecost Sunday is on 31 May. It continues to look unlikely that we will be able to gather in any numbers by then and any reopening of our church buildings will need to be phased and restrictions undertaken. The House of Bishops is meeting virtually each week with Bishop Peter and Ruth both present. The House met this afternoon (6th May) and a phased return to our churches is under consideration and plans are being put in place. You can be assured that as lockdown is lifted and we receive detailed guidance about what is possible for us, in terms of reopening our churches, we shall keep you fully informed.
May we remind you that although our church buildings remain closed just now, the Church is very much open for business. We are the Church and the way we live during this crisis could witness to God’s love as effectively as those early disciples did in their words of testimony that first Pentecost day.
Thank you for continuing in the hope Christ has set before us and as we pray for the Holy Spirit to come may we discover more of what God is asking the Church to become for the future.
With our love, prayers and blessing for you and those you pray and care for,
The Rt Reverend Peter Hancock & The Rt Reverend Ruth Worsley
6th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
She made it! By the time you read this Abigail will have completed the epic ‘Four Peaks’ challenge, climbing the equivalent of the UK’s ‘Four Peaks’ using only our stairs at home. Having originally set out to raise £200 for Tearfund’s campaign to help the world’s poorest be protected against the Coronavirus, the running total has almost reached £1000! It was wonderful to see the word spread, and many friends and family pitching in with donations and encouragements. Thank you to readers of this letter, without whom Abigail would have raised a lot less. There were kind and encouraging words and donations from our readers in Hamp and Durleigh. Thank you so much!
The online giving page (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/abistheclimb2020) will be up for a while yet, so if you would like to check on the final total, or donate yourself, then use the link. I have taken a few calls from people wanting to make donations by cash or cheque too (01278 428871). Rest assured that all the money has gone straight to the charity!
‘The Climb’ is a nationwide initiative set up by ‘We are Tearfund’, the youth wing of Tearfund. Young people have collectively raised over £70,000 at a time when fundraising by charities is made very difficult by the ‘lockdown’. We at Holy Trinity and St Hugh's, along with Abigail, have played our part!
I did not know until now that there was an aspect of Tearfund especially for students and young adults under the ‘We are Tearfund’ banner. This makes sense, however. Unless organisations like Tearfund can engage the next generation of fundraisers and leaders, their supporter base will gradually age and eventually recede. This same issue is a very serious matter for us as many Church of England churches have largely lost touch with young people, and even the entire group of the under 40s. Part of the response is to create events and channels that are targeted for those groups, such as the ‘Movement’ event held in Bridgwater a few months ago. It is not devaluing other groups to target one age group – simply an acknowledgement that one size does not fit all, and that the mission is urgent.
Our Old Testament reading for today (Exodus 33) mentions Moses and his prayers to the Lord in the ‘Tent of Meeting’ (a sort of mobile chapel, since Israel was wandering in the desert!) Moses was entrusted by the people to speak with God on their behalf. Verse 11 is easy to ignore in passing: ‘Then he [Moses] would return to the camp; but his young assistant Joshua son of Nun would not leave the tent.’ Joshua was clearly fascinated by the Lord and was very bold to linger at the ‘Tent of Meeting’. Those who have read ahead will know that Joshua would eventually succeed Moses as Israel’s leader; the foundations for this succession were laid in the early days, when Joshua was a young man.
So today we remember in our prayers the next generation and ask God to raise up future leaders in our church and our society who will have that fascination with the Lord, and a concern for the welfare of all people.
Love and prayers,
5th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
A hundred years ago it would have made no difference to anyone at all if most aircraft were grounded. Over the last century however, air travel has increasingly become not only a normal part of life, but even sometimes a critical part of life. Our politicians and businessmen and women fly around the world as part of their daily lives in order to conduct business and world affairs. Air transport is the way in which a vast amount of our food reaches our supermarkets. The fruit and veg, the endless tins, all the things we have become used to having all the time whether or not they are in season in England have come to us from overseas by air.
But at the moment the pandemic means that most aircraft in the UK and across the world are grounded. The airports are virtually empty and still some people are stranded away from their homes. Change has been enforced on us which is affecting all of us, not only frequent overseas travellers. We're not stranded away from home but we are stranded in our homes. Town centres are eerily quiet. It's like Christmas Day every day on the motorways. Social contact is very restricted, and will be for a long time to come.
Sometimes change is enforced upon us and forces us to re-think the things we do, the way we think, the views we have. It may be that the changes this current crisis brings about will cause us to re-think things or to do things differently into the future. The whole technological revolution of the past century – particularly the digital revolution of the past two decades - has caused us to have change forced upon us: a world more or less run by computers and almost totally dependent upon them is the major recent change in the world which impacts us all. The world seems to move so fast; things seem to change all the time and so quickly. It can be hard to understand and to keep up. It can all be rather unsettling and bewildering.
Local community life is not immune to change. I talk to folk who have lived in Bridgwater for many years, some all their lives, and often they say, “The town has changed, it’s not the same.”
It’s like that for the church as well. The church has undergone big changes in the last few weeks. It’s not the same as it was. It's no longer what we grew so comfortable with. It's not the way we like it. We want it to go back to just the way it was before. We may be becoming excited and expectant now that we are beginning to hear some vague talk of the lockdown being relaxed. I have to say that any return to "normality" for the church (and for the country as a whole) will be very, very slow and gradual, and church may never be exactly the same as it was before.
If the truth be told, nothing has ever remained unchanged. There never was a golden time of permanence and unchanging stability. The world, this community and the church has always been subject to constant change. That is the way of things – new generations, new inventions, various kinds of crises, different ideas, changed understanding, changing tastes and preferences – that has always been the way of the world right back to the year dot and always will be.
If you’re anything like me, even your faith will fluctuate and change as time goes by. But God is always there. People sometimes talk about their faith in God as their “rock”. In a world that sometimes seems to be in a whirlwind of change God is always there. Sometimes he may seem near and at other times he may seem far away. We may move closer to him or further away, but he is always there. His love is constant. We may not always see it or understand it. We may even choose to reject it. But God is always there and his love for us is constant. Through the words of scripture God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
In an ever changing world may we cling on to our rock and know the peace of God in our hearts.
Every blessing and much love,
4th May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Thank you so much from Abigail and me to all of you supporting Abigail's continuing efforts to scale the four peaks of the UK, using only our stairs at home! Checking the JustGiving page (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/abistheclimb2020 - take a look!) at the time of writing Abi has raised over £775 for Tearfund. Thank you also to those of you who got in touch with me to organise a donation without using the Internet. Give me a call (01278 428871) if that is something you’d like to do. If Abi keeps going at her current rate, the challenge finishes on Wednesday! Tearfund are a wonderful Christian development charity, and will use this money to assist hygiene, food supply, and other needs for countries far poorer than the UK hit by the Coronavirus.
I had some good news last week. Following a telephone interview with Bishop Ruth, I have now completed my training as a member of the Church of England clergy! While this will make no difference to what I do at Holy Trinity and St Hugh’s, it does mean that I am no longer ‘in training’. I am very pleased about this and it feels like a big achievement, not possible without Rev Will’s kind and patient supervision for nearly three years, and not possible without all of you who have been hospitable and shared your own lives with me and my family. Thank you so much! Some of you have been asking what comes next for Sally and me. The truth is that all of our plans are on hold owing to Coronavirus, and the only thing we know for sure is that we will be moving to Bournemouth later in the year (sometime from July to September), where Sally will serve as Pioneer Curate. Everything has been delayed, including ordination for Sally, and job interviews for me. We are in good heart and glad to be safe and cared for and part of a community here while we wait for life after the most severe part of the ‘lockdown’. Please pray for us!
Today’s reading from Luke’s gospel (2:41-end) is a passage I have always found fascinating – a rare account of the 12-year-old Jesus! After the annual festival of Passover, Jesus remains behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents. When they find him, he is at the temple sat amongst the religious teachers, who are amazed at his understanding. When eventually challenged by his exasperated parents as to why he has caused the family such anxiety by going AWOL, Jesus replies ‘Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?’ They do not understand him, because they do not fully understand who Jesus is, despite being his parents. All of us who are parents are in danger of completely missing what is under our noses, and thinking we can mould our children to be as we are and do the same things. Any of us may have experienced the gap that opens up when our parents fail to understand us and miss our unique identity and calling. And finally, we may think we know where Jesus is in our world and our situation – when Jesus is really somewhere else entirely! Jesus is not our property, nor can we make him in our image. Jesus’ true home is ‘in his Father’s house’, and he is not limited to the places that we own and control. We may be ‘locked down’, but Jesus is not under our authority and goes where he thinks it is right to go!
I will be back on Wednesday with a final report on Abi’s fundraising and another letter for you.
Love and prayers,
2nd May, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I wonder if any of you are using this quiet time which has been imposed upon us as an opportunity to pursue some hobbies that we haven't paid attention to for ages, or even to try some new ones?
I love reading and have been determined to take the opportunity to do more than usual these past few weeks. I'm afraid, though, I haven't done nearly as much as I would like to. Still, I am reading a little more than usual and thoroughly enjoying it. I have recently finished a book called "The Outrun" by Amy Liptrot. It is a very beautiful autobiographical book written by a young woman about her upbringing in the Orkney Islands, followed by a few years of hard living in London, and then her return to Orkney. As much as being her personal story it also paints a very wonderful picture of the utter beauty and of Orkney and the way of life there. If you love landscapes, wild life, rugged places and the sea, this is a book I can highly recommend.
One of my occasional (and extremely un-expert) pastimes is art, and I have taken a little time out here and there to produce some new creations. I have been trying to reproduce one or two icons. Icons are highly coloured paintings of biblical figures and scenes which were developed around 1500 years ago by orthodox Christians especially in Greece, Egypt and Russia. They are usually small and mounted on wooden blocks so that they can be easily carried around. In an age when most people didn't read, small pictures of Bible people and scenes were a good way of having something with you which would help you to reflect and pray. I'm afraid I don't try and dream up my own pictures. I simple copy existing ones! Here's my latest offering - CLICK HERE. My next project is to have a go at a picture of our garden which is ablaze with so many different colours of lovely blossom at the moment.
Karen, of course, is often busy at the hospital, but when she has time to spare she can often be found knitting away. She has taught herself some rather pretty and elaborate new stitches.
I do hope you too are managing to try your hand at things you really enjoy. Of course this time of lockdown is a crisis and a tragedy. So many people are suffering and mourning. So many livelihoods are badly affected. I think it will turn out to be true to say that things will never be quite the same again, or at least not for a very long time. However, on a more positive note, this situation has given us the gift of empty time. It is rare to have empty time in normal circumstances and some folk find empty time difficult to handle. I encourage you to seize the gift and to use it for those good pleasures that in normal times are more often than not neglected and forgotten.
Happy reading, knitting, cooking, painting, crocheting, jig-saw puzzling, gardening, writing, etc, etc!
Much love to you all.
1st May, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Another week in lockdown and wow hasn’t the weather changed! It seemed strange at first, but I expect like us, most of you quickly got used to spending more time at home especially in the garden or immediately round your houses. The sun came out each morning, a few minutes earlier than the day before, the temperature outside rose, the shorts and tee-shirts came out of the drawers, I was even wearing sandals for a couple of days. Summer had arrived early… but it disappeared as quickly as it arrived, with rain most days so far this week. It started us thinking about holidays and what we might do this year.
Being absolutely honest I do sometimes struggle to find a theme for my contribution to the daily letter. Sermon writing is generally easier – I’ve had plenty of practice and the readings for the day are a good prompt. Today I was stumped, until I mentioned it to Linda who reminded me about this weekend in the past!
This weekend, normally the early spring bank holiday, introduced to mark Mayday by the Callaghan government in 1978, was the weekend that a group of our parents' generation used to lead a family caravan rally, somewhere to the east of Bristol, near where the main organisers lived. Recently married and with a young baby, our finances wouldn’t stretch that far but we managed to buy a tent and join them for our first time. The event was repeated over a number of years, we managed to buy a touring caravan and our first year with it, the weather turned so cold we even had snow! The highlight of the weekend was always the get-together on Saturday evening at the local hall where we held a themed evening in fancy dress. I remember one year I dressed (or more correctly undressed) as the Incredible Hulk complete with green make-up. With a spectacular growl at the judges I won first prize!
Over the years we towed our various ‘vans throughout England, Scotland and Wales and once to Southern Ireland. We also travelled across most of northern Europe at different times but quite suddenly we decided we wanted to dispense with towing and we bought a static van down on the south Dorset coast. Subsequently we changed to another on the south Devon coast, between Seaton and Lyme Regis where we still have a van today. While my Mum was still alive and living on her own, we were living outside Southampton and would make the 100 mile trip each way every other weekend. It meant that Church, for us, was fortnightly, but we had to accept our family commitments came first.
When she passed away in 2013, there didn’t seem to be any reason not to continue in the same way. It was actually moving here to Somerset and joining Holy Trinity that changed our pattern of travel so we now go down to our van either Sunday afternoon or Monday to return on Friday or Saturday … at least we would if we were not in lockdown! All we can do for the moment is wait, and hope the odd bits of food we left in the freezer are still frozen.
Our main holiday this year is still to be decided. We usually go away in September; hopefully some kind of normality will have returned by then even if it’s different from what we were used to. North Devon and North Cornwall are still our favourite areas but we will have to decide the details nearer the time.
I never cease to be amazed, how appropriate the set readings seem to be day to day. Sometimes I do accept we have to “bend” them just a bit to fit our circumstances, but today’s reading from James chapter 1 is a fine example:-
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
As Christians we know we and our faith will be tested throughout our lives. In being tested and surviving, our faith grows stronger and deeper. There is an old saying that I used to quote to the Air Cadets when I was their chaplain, I believe it came from the First World War – “There are very few atheists in the trenches…”
Of course we have a head start on those who were non-believers; we do believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ who died for us, to save us from our sins, and rose again to sit at God’s right hand and continue to intercede for us.
May God bless us all and protect us as we live through the current time until we can all meet and greet each other again. Stay safe and stay home!
30th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will & Rev Morey Andrews (Deanery Mission Enabler)
One of the lovely things about being part of a church family is that we meet together often to worship, pray, receive guidance and grace from God, and to enjoy fellowship. These gatherings, not only at services but also at social events like the Monday Cafe, craft mornings, toddler group, etc, help us in sustaining our faith and our sense of spiritual well-being. It's so good to get together with others knowing that we share a common spiritual bond, that we are all members of the same family - brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God. But this sense of spiritual well-being is difficult to sustain when we are apart and isolated from each other. That is why these letters are, I think, so important: because they help us to keep feeling somehow tied together.
Most mornings I read from a small book of short reflections, and this is what I read this morning:
"Each one of us is a child of God. and as such, we are full of the promise of spiritual growth. A young person is like the springtime of the year. The full time of the fruit is not yet. but there is promise of the blossom. There is a spark of the Divine in every one of us. Each has some of God’s Spirit that can be developed by spiritual exercise. Know that your life is full of glad promise. Such blessings can be yours, such joys. such wonders, as long as you develop in the sunshine of God’s love."
Each one of us is a child of God, and so that makes all of us sisters and brothers to each other whether we are together or apart. There is a divine spark in every one of us; God's spirit dwells in all of us. Knowing this, and the feeling of spiritual well-being, grace and peace that comes from it, requires spiritual exercise and development. That is, in no small measure, very much a part of what church is all about. But for now we can't meet up in the usual ways, so there is a need to nurture our spiritual well-being by doing our spiritual exercise in different ways. Some suggestions:
Reading these daily letters (whatever you may think of them!); starting and ending each day with prayer; spending some time with your Bible; listening to the Sunday services we put on the website (or joining them via Zoom) together with the many other services that are available on the computer and TV; keeping in touch with each other by phone; keeping in the front of your mind throughout the day something that helps you stay God-focussed - perhaps a phrase such as "thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory", or any other that you find helpful. All these little spiritual exercises are such a help, especially when we are alone and isolated.
Our Deanery Mission Enabler, Rev Morey Andrews, whom many of you will have met, sent round an email to us clergy the other day which I thought might be encouraging for all of us, and he has allowed me to share it with you. So I will finish now and leave you to read Morey's message (below).
With love as ever.
From Rev Morey: Dear all,
I do hope and pray that you and all your communities are well.
I was reading in Isaiah this morning Isaiah 40:11, a picture of our God of compassion – not only showing how he cares for us but an illustration of how we can care for others, as most of us are doing.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young."
I continue to pray for you all, and as we continue through these weeks please feel free to get in contact with me: -
With prayer pointers;
Where you might need help or advice;
Just because you want a chat;
I also attach a couple of different things that you may find encouraging or useful.
The Global Wave of Prayer: click here
An article about coping with anxiety by J John at the Philo Trust: click here
In the Love and service of Christ
Rev’d Morey A C Andrews
Deanery Mission Enabler
29th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Thank you so much from Abigail and myself for all the support that you have given to Abgail’s continuing efforts to scale the four peaks of the UK, using only our stairs at home! Checking the JustGiving page, at the time of writing Abi has raised over £650 for Tearfund (that’s £200 up since I last wrote to you) who are supporting families and communities living in poverty during the Coronavirus crisis, providing food, hand washing stations and help to those who will be hit the hardest by this pandemic.
Abi still has over a week to go, so keep an eye on her progress by clicking the link below. Use it to donate if you would like to (and haven’t already)! -
In today’s Bible Reading pregnant Mary greets her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant. Mary is carrying Jesus and Elizabeth is carrying the child who will be known as John the Baptist. When they meet, the baby John leaps in the womb, and Elizabeth is suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, leading her to prophesy to Mary about the significance of their pregnancies. Mary in turn utters the famous Song of Mary, the Magnificat, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord…’
New life keeps on breaking in. Madeleine Davies has written in The Church Times about the birth of her baby son during lockdown. Hospitals are quiet, focused on managing the pandemic. But new births and the work of maternity units must go on! New life has an inevitability and irresistibility about it which defies pandemics, recessions, and any other bad news. For pregnant women, when the time has come – it has come! John The Baptist and the Lord Jesus were born into a perilous world, but God’s plans continued, and would come to fruition some thirty years later in the public life and ministry of those two baby boys.
So new life always breaks through, and the resurrection life offered to us all through Christ is waiting too. At the right time God will defy all death and loss and restore the world he loves. There will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. New life keeps flowing in!
I continue to think of you all and pray for you in this long time of separation.
Love and prayers,
PS Why not read the story of new birth in the pandemic by clicking here.
Tuesday 28th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
I've been pondering the whole business of Holy Communion during this time of lockdown. It's been such a privilege and a pleasure to be able to share Holy Communion services with you initially via an audio recording on the website, and latterly by means of Zoom so that more of us have been able actually to see each other during the service and share in it as it happens. There is something rather special about that. It is a little odd, no doubt more for you than for me, not actually to be able to be together at the point of receiving the bread and wine and for you to have to "make do" with watching Karen and me receive it. The important thing is, though, that it happens, because it takes place not just for Karen and me with you as listeners or spectators, but rather it takes place for and on behalf of us ALL. This highly symbolic re-enactment of The Last Supper is a deeply spiritual reminder of God's love and grace made very real for each one of us by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and God blesses each and every person who is involved, whether the bread and wine is physically taken or not. But won't it be lovely when we can all gather around the altar again!
Yesterday I read a lovely letter in The Tablet (the Roman Catholic weekly magazine) in which the writer discussed the catholic practice of the priest placing the communion wafer directly onto the tongue of the recipient. The writer (a Catholic Priest) was rather rebelliously suggesting that the protestant tradition of the wafer being placed into our hands is better. I found his reasoning deeply touching. This is what he wrote:
"The practice at the Paschal (Passover) Meal of the Jews was to share bread and lamb by taking them into one's own hands. The words of our Lord were,'Take this and eat it,' and never was it meant to be 'Be fed of this and eat it.'"
Day by day God offers us his rich blessings, his grace, his guidance and his love. He doesn't thrust them upon us. He does not feed them to us; he offers them to us, and (if we are so inclined) we gratefully take them and find rich blessing and nourishment for the soul. The writer to The Tablet went on to say:
"All available evidence suggest that almost throughout the first millennium this (placing the wafer in the hand) was the common practice. St Cyril of Jerusalem advised: 'When you approach, place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.'"
When we gather for communion we are, as a community, symbolically and spiritually receiving into ourselves the King of kings. When you listen to a recording of a communion service, when you watch one on the TV and when you join our service via Zoom, you are present at the feast. You, whether physically there or not, are being offered all that God has to give, and whether you hold out your hands in acceptance or simply say "Yes" in your heart, you will receive afresh the King of the world.
God bless you all, and may we all say again and afresh this morning "Yes" to God.
With my love,
Monday 27th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Every morning for about an hour and a half I can hear a steady thump-thump-thump-thump. Abigail was moved by the plight of poorer countries threatened with COVID-19 who can only dream of having a National Health Service to help them. So to raise money she is climbing four mountains for charity – but, in the spirit of lockdown, doing it pro-rata on the stairs at home! She is about a quarter of the way through her challenge. All the money she raises will go to the excellent Christian charity Tearfund who are supporting families and communities living in poverty during the Coronavirus crisis, providing food, hand washing stations and help to those who will be hit the hardest by this pandemic.
Have you thought about supporting Abigail by donating to this cause? Take a look at this link -
As I write Abigail has raised over £450 from kind donations. It would be wonderful to see her make a lot more before the two-week challenge comes to an end!
In our Bible Reading today we turn to the very beginning of Luke’s gospel. We find Mary’s relative Elizabeth pregnant with the baby who will one day be John the Baptist. She remained in seclusion of five months. Sounds like a familiar concept! We are all in a sort of confinement at present. Some people living today have experienced this kind of withdrawal before – Sir Tom Jones recently shared that as a boy he was isolated at home for two years because of TB. Perhaps these examples will help to keep our spirits up.
I was watching the online service from the famous Holy Trinity Brompton Church where they discussed the nature of prayer. Many of us either have more time for prayer, or more desire to pray, or both! Prayer begins by taking our usual thoughts and speech, and addressing it Godward. The bar is really set very low. We pray already, and don’t know that we are. More structured prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer and Sunday intercessions have their place; but prayer begins simply by addressing God with our innermost thoughts – without any editing at all. Spoken prayers or thought prayers, short ‘arrow’ prayers and verbose prayers - God can handle it! How much do you pray already, and didn’t realise you were?
Today’s Old Testament reading (Exodus 19) shows the conversation that took place between the Lord and Moses. The Bible tells us that God spoke with Moses ‘as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exodus 33:11). God wants to be our friend and to speak with us. This is biblical truth – take it in, and live it!
Love and prayers,
Saturday 25th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Not a great deal new to report from the New Vicarage today. Karen's gone back to work on the wards following a few days' annual leave. She showed me a photograph of herself on the ward all dressed in PPE (personal protection equipment). I still can't decide whether she looks like a front-line nurse, a sheet welder or a character from Dr Who!
I read a little from the book of Isaiah this morning and one phrase jumped off the page: "Lift up a banner for the peoples" (Is 62:10). In all sorts of ways we are "lifting banners for the people" - the Thursday evening clapping, the publicity about Captain Tom Moore and the countless good news stories on television. It is interesting that when times are really tough, challenging and sad, there are more good news stories than ever. Where are the good news stories in "normal" times? The media are doing a great job of "lifting up a banner for the peoples", and rightly so. My hope and prayer is that when this is behind us and (the new) normality returns, we continue to look for good news stories and we continue to "lift up a banner for the peoples". I pray that the current atmosphere of respect and gratitude is much more than an emotional reaction to tough times. I pray that it marks a profound and lasting change of mindset in individuals, communities and nations - a mindset that no longer looks for the worst and delights in pulling down, but rather one that looks for the best and delights in blessing others.
A wonderful friend of ours - a retired midwife - has composed some new words to the much loved Sound of Music song which starts "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens..." It is her way of lifting up a banner to the peoples. Here it is.
By (c) Carolyn Turville - sing to the tune of ‘My Favourite Things’!
Vicars and policemen and those in the army
Mothers at home that are all going barmy
Doctors and nurses we clap and applaud
God help the students let loose on the wards.
Van drivers bringing us hand sanitiser
Those bringing food to our self-isolators
Joe Wicks on telly, his muscles all flexing
Children on bikes and teenagers texting.
Sainsburys and Tesco and Aldi and Asda
Bringing us loo rolls, tomatoes and pasta
Refuse collectors and GPs online
The Big Society s working just fine.
Words we have learned through this global pandemic
‘furloughed', ‘Key workers’ and ‘Unprecedented’
‘Corba' and 'lockdown' and ‘transmission rate’
‘antigens’, ‘C PAP’ and ‘mass vacinate'.
Thanks of course given to Captain Tom Moore
Great Britain's hero and part of folklore
He walked round his garden just playing his part
Now he’s raised money and stolen our hearts.
When our roots show,
When our nails grow
When they drive you mad
We remember that all this will come to an end
And then we can see — our friends
Hope you have a good weekend, and that at least some of you join us on Zoom for worship at 10am tomorrow.
Lots of love,
Friday 24th April, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Today is the one month anniversary of the UK going into lockdown. It had been building up for a number of days but it was the evening of the 23rd March (Linda’s birthday) that Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared on all our TV screens to say that from tomorrow (Tuesday 24th) with a few exceptions, we should all stay at home for the next three weeks. I must say it seems far longer ago than a month!
Today was also the planned date for the return of the Friday Café to Holy Trinity. An initiative Linda and I started last summer to ensure the church was open on a Friday once a month for anyone that wished to drop in for a chat or just enjoy the quiet and stillness as opposed to the busy world outside. The September opening coincided with the Macmillan coffee morning and we were able to send the proceeds to this very worthwhile cause.
For me, and indeed for our family, this is a special time of year. Yesterday, 23rd was St Georges day; I always think it’s a shame the English don’t make more of our patron saint’s day. The Welsh, the Irish and the Scots do, but generally the English let it pass unmarked. Linda and I walked our round trip to the village centre and back yesterday and not a single St George’s Cross or Union Jack was visible! (In direct contradiction to what Rev Will said yesterday! Maybe Hamp Estate folk are more patriotic than North Petherton folk! Ed.) Tomorrow is St Mark’s day… not a lot of people will realise, as to most it’s yet another person from the past. For me, however, it’s rather different. The church I attended when I was accepted for and undertook Reader training, was St Marks, Kempshott (Basingstoke). By a strange twist of fate, my first Reader licensing was on St Mark’s day, in Winchester Cathedral. My first sermon, delivered as a licensed Reader was on Sunday 26th April, another significant day in “my” past. It was Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary – without that I wouldn’t have been here! (Life in the 1940’s and 50’s was somewhat different from today ).
It is always easy to look back, with the bonus of hindsight, and think what we could or should have done in any given situation. The media are of course having a “field day” taking apart the government strategy for combating the virus, suggesting if… then… but it’s their job to dissect decisions, with the bonus of hindsight. Someone once said to me “You can never make a wrong decision.” It has stayed with me ever since. The logic is that given the facts known at the time you can only come to the correct decision, there is no sense in making one that is clearly wrong! It’s only looking back that we may say, “It would have been better if…” but the decision had to be made at the time.
I’ve found that thought a comfort many times in my life as I’ve looked back at decisions I’ve made – should I pursue a path to ordination or readership? Should I leave my well paid safe and steady job and set up my own company? Is this the right time to retire from paid employment and potentially move house to a completely new area? In each case I took a positive decision and I truly believe they were right decisions because I believe I followed Gods will.
As I draw to a close I want to include a few verses from today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
These come just before the verses instructing wives to submit to your husbands and to children to obey your parents. I won’t dwell on those here, but maybe will be the subject for a sermon one day!
May God bless all of us and give us courage to know that His will is still being followed, today as it always has.
Thursday 23rd April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Earlier this morning I attended Sedgemoor Crematorium where I conducted a closed and private funeral service for our dear friend, Gwen. Just the undertaker, a member of the crematorium staff and I were present. However, it was a special time in which every effort was made to commit Gwen into the everlasting arms of God in an appropriate, reverent and respectful way ... as she would have expected! As soon as we can all be back in church, a memorial service will take place when we can gather to remember, give thanks, and praise God for the assurance that Gwen has taken her rightful place with all the saints in glory.
Today is St George's Day, patron saint of England and martyr. I expect there will be more than usual English flags flying today. Flag flying has become quite a thing in the past few years. Until a few years ago it seemed to be a particularly American thing to fly the national flag in you front garden. Now it seems that the trend has taken off here. As I drive around the parishes, and further afield, I see quite a lot of English flags, Union flags, Welsh and Scottish flags. There seems to have been a fairly recent move towards wearing our patriotism and national pride "on our sleeves", as it were. I'm sure there are a hundred and one reasons for this and I certainly do not intend to explore them here! Whatever the reasons, it can only be a good thing to be glad that our home country is our home, and to be supportive of it, and proud of it (where it merits pride). The show of supportiveness for our country has blossomed recently in so many more profound and convincing ways than the waving of flags. The surge in mutual help, volunteer support, practical help, shows of appreciation and selfless service that is being seen all over the place is the most heartening and positive side-effect of the crisis in which we find ourselves. It is these kinds of things - real, genuine, Jesus-style love and concern for our neighbour - that, I suggest, make one proud to be a citizen of this land. I am sure, as well, that similar outpourings of practical love are occurring in countless other countries too. Let us hope and pray that this time marks a lasting change, way beyond coronavirus, in the way we regard one another, in the way we treat each other and in the way we positively support all the people of our nation.
Happy St George's Day.
Lots of love,
Wednesday 22nd April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
As I set down this letter to you all, I am sitting in coolness and peace in the ‘office’ at our house. Unusually, some of our household are out – on an essential errand. All is quiet. I am sociable and love my family, but I am also someone who needs their own company, time to pray, to process, to read and to think. At the moment the main way that I obtain this is by getting up a little earlier than some of the younger residents… then gradually the house begins to swing into action! Even as I think about this, I am aware that some of you have the opposite problem – ‘lockdown’ has effectively isolated you in a household of just one person.
Paul, in today’s reading, speaks to our tensions. ‘I am struggling for you… and for all who have not seen me face to face.’ (Col 2:1) ‘I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit.’ (Col 2:5) Paul movingly expresses his solidarity with those he can see and those he cannot see. He is also very clear in his intentions: ‘I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’ It is clear that Paul is not expressing only kind thoughts and a sort of generic solidarity with his readers – he is also placing their whole security, and indeed their whole value as a community, on the basis of ‘the knowledge of Christ’.
The point of these daily letters, and all of the online services and prayers, is to maintain our coherent sense of ourselves as a community based around the person, acts and teaching of Christ. We love one another – good! But it is specifically a love that is in the context of a real life, a good life - as Christ defines it.
You can never get to the bottom of Jesus Christ – his person, his acts, or his teaching. Everything that is written about him in the Scriptures yields more insight and clarity with each time we look into it. Each time there is another layer – but we never run out of insight, or become bored. If we are bored, then we need to access a different way of interpreting or appreciating Christ. 2000 years of the Church has left us with rich resources.
This is not about feeling condemned or that what we are doing is not good enough for God – but it is about recognising that ‘the knowledge of Christ’ comes about through intentional actions – which as Paul tells us, sometimes involves struggle. It is surely that struggle that comes from orientating our lives around what is true and good, even when ‘going with the flow’ is far easier.
So I pray for all of you today, for clarity of thought and feeling, as you seek to find Christ and where he is leading today.
Love and prayers,
Tuesday 21st April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Sorry I'm late this morning (now afternoon!). I had a work-related Zoom meeting this morning and I am rather proud of myself. I have, until now, been rubbish at Zoom meetings - unable to find my way around the program and at times giving up. I had better success as a participator in a couple of Zoom meetings last night, but today's is the first one I set up and hosted myself! It was easier that I expected and I think I might be a convert!
This leads me to think a little bit about the importance of communication. We are so blessed these days to be able to stay in touch by so many different methods - no longer just telephone or letter. For those of you who are reading this, you will be on the internet and able to keep in touch with friends and family in all sorts of ways. One of the lovely things we have been doing is keeping in touch with our son and his partner in London, together with his partner's parents in Harrogate with whom we are good friends. The six of us have been playing really fun board games at a distance of 150 miles west to east and 200 miles south to north almost as if we are all in the same room together. It's amazing! I am, though, keenly aware of those who do not have computers or smartphones. They must feel somewhat left out because there is a risk of the rest of us taking for granted the fact that "everybody" has access to modern digital communication. I am so grateful to those who are keeping in touch with others by phone and by delivering printed copies of these letters. Thank you; I know your communication with "non-digital" folk is really appreciated.
In Morning Prayer we have recently started looking at one of St Paul's letters - the letter to the Colossians. Paul was a prolific letter writer which was, at that time, the only means of long distance communication. I wonder how they were delivered? No Royal Mail back then! So wise, thorough and important were his letters that they now make up a significant part of our scriptures - The Bible. I wonder if, for all the benefits of immediacy, modern communication has resulted in the demise of letter writing which is somehow different from, and maybe superior to, emails, texts, Zooms, etc. The carefully thought out and carefully penned letter often communicates depths of thought and emotion in ways that more instant communication lacks. The letters of scripture, the great love letters of great poets and artists, the intriguing letters of past politicians, the touching letters to sweethearts of first world war trenchmen ... a dashed off email, or quick text with emoji, is not quite the same!
So maybe this time of lockdown presents an opportunity to pick up pen and paper and to write to someone. I'm preaching to myself as much as to anyone else because I am so much more inclined to tap away at my computer or smartphone than to write a letter, but maybe I will. I think that somehow we put more of ourselves into a written letter than we do into instant means of communication.
And maybe this time of lockdown is an opportunity to read some letters. You may have an old box full somewhere that you could re-read, and of course there are lots of amazing letters to read in the New Testament: Paul sharing his thoughts, his wisdom, his passions, his advice and his struggles with people he has spent time with and who mean a lot to him, people he is genuinely fond of and concerned about.
It is wonderful that we are all sharing with each other in whatever ways we can - sharing with people who mean a lot to us, people we are genuinely fond of and concerned about. That is us at Holy Trinity and St Hugh's - even if not together in body, very much held together in mind, prayer and spirit.
Bless you all and lots of love,
Monday 20th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
I have been in a more reflective mood than usual over the last few days. I found a set of photographs from my first spell at university – a degree at the University of Bath back in 1996-2000. By and large I had a lot of fun – there are lots of photos from student musicals (notably ‘Godspell’ and ‘Calamity Jane’), and a tour of Ireland with the Barber Shop Singers. I did study hard and get a degree too!
I reflected on the young person half my age looking out from the photographs. I was a young person ‘dipping his toe’ into various waters, trying to find his way in life. At that stage of life many of us do not know ourselves very well. We are not sure who we are. Finding out who we are and what God is offering to the world through us is the subject of Gerard Hughes’ book ‘God of Surprises’, which I have been reading again in lockdown.
I showed the photographs to the children, one of whom is starting to approach the same age I was in the photographs! While there was some (justifiable) laughing at some of the photos, they looked kindly on who I was some years before any of them were born or thought of. It is important to look kindly on our younger selves, honouring the good in the person that we were in more impressionable and vulnerable times.
Today’s Bible reading from Colossians opens with ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…’. Paul, at the time of writing, was in his prime – the height of his calling from God to be an Apostle. Timothy, alongside him, was a much younger man still finding his way in the brand-new Church founded by the Apostles.
It can be hard to relate to other generations (outside of our own near family) but looking kindly on who we once were is a pathway to compassion and fellow feeling with younger people. I find that it works the other way too – when we look at an older person we know that we ourselves will one day be old.
Living with Social Distancing is challenging and can put any of us in an odd mood. Interesting or challenging feelings arise. Our usual defences crumble somewhat as we persevere with this strange way of living and obeying the government instructions for another three weeks. And as we know the very vulnerable will find themselves under restrictions far longer than the rest of us. Paul’s prayer for the believers was that they ‘grow in the knowledge of God… [and] be prepared to endure everything with patience’. As we ponder who we are in this time - and indeed who we have been in the past, that is my prayer for all of us too.
Love and prayers,
PS I attach a photograph of the men in ‘Calamity Jane’ singing the praises of Miss Adelaide Adams to one another. See if you can spot me somewhere amongst the cast… (Click here to see the photo)
Saturday 18th April, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Larkham
I hope you are all keeping safe and well and enjoying the glorious sunshine. Rev Lis at St. John’s has made a cross in the vicarage garden out of pampas grass, and every morning last week at breakfast time I looked across and reflected on the cross, whilst eating my breakfast. There is something about the stillness of early morning. On Good Friday Lis drooped a red scarf length material around it.
Boots is still open and we allow four customers in at a time observing the two metre social distancing rule. We are gradually being equipped with protection, gloves, screens at the tills, with masks,aprons, gloves and visors for pharmacy staff, but it gets scary when a customer comes in and says to us ‘I have coronavirus symptoms ‘ which happened to us last week.
It was sad to hear about Gwen; she loved Holy Week and Easter, and her birthday would often fall at Easter-time. She was totally devoted to her ministry at Holy Trinity, she always insisted that things were done right, and woe betide a vicar who tried to do something a bit different! she would call my husband, Malcolm, her toy-boy, and I guess Easter would be the perfect season for her to go to eternal life with our Lord.
I guess many of us spent Easter in the garden and it was in a garden with a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid that Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews, and laid it in the tomb.
It was in the garden that Jesus first appeared to Mary after His resurrection, and calls her by name. At first Mary doesn’t recognise Him, thinking he was the gardener, but when she does she runs off and tells the other disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and shares her joy.
Help us, Lord, to recognise You in the midst of our everyday life. We adore You O Christ and we praise You because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world. Amen.
Friday 17th April, 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
These are indeed strange times in which we find ourselves and it would perhaps be easy to look back to previous years and say what we would or should be doing at this time of year. Returning to work after the long Easter weekend, returning to school next week after the Easter holiday, end of year exams and plans for summer holidays… but not this year!
However that would quickly put us in a very negative frame of mind, the last thing we need at this time. It’s so easy to see or hear the news on the media that so many thousands have now died, in this country and across the world, “from the virus,” but is that considerably more than normal? We’re not told because that undermines the sensationalism of the story. Statisticians in the future will analyse the figures and report, but I doubt that it will make headline news, if even reported. Other sensationalist stories will have come and gone by then.
Instead lets be positive, looking at the set readings for Morning Prayer today, the Old Testament reading (Exodus 13:7 – 14:14) ends, just before Moses and the Israelites cross the Red Sea. The end is very akin to a modern TV or radio serial, “Tomorrow in Exodus…!” It’s very worthwhile reading the whole passage, but I’ll copy the last two verses for you here. “Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” What an incredibly powerful image that brings to mind. The Israelites were on the brink of something which they thought would be the end of all their lives, indeed the end of their race, we can only imagine they had many, many doubts, publicly and privately. Of course with hindsight we know the outcome of the story.
As a child in the late fifties and early sixties, I can just remember the depths of the cold war, the Cuban crisis, the A-Bomb tests, atomic fallout apparently contaminating milk and the belief that one side or the other would “hit the button” ending humanity on this planet. Whilst the Americans and Russians are still not the best of friends, they do co-exist in relative peace. Again, with hindsight we know it didn’t happen, we are still here. Living through it was a nightmare, but we did come out the other side.
I’m sure in the near future there will be conspiracy theories proposed, if not already circulating, that Coronavirus was developed by the Chinese in an attempt to take over the world, as that’s where it seemed to start. In the very unlikely event that it was true, they have certainly suffered more and for longer than the rest of the world.
I truly believe we will look back on Coronavirus with similar hindsight in the future and just maybe realise, it has been a privilege to live through such a time so we can indeed say “with Gods help, we made it.”
As I draw to a close I want to acknowledge the achievement of Captain Tom Moore, a 99 year old veteran who set himself a target of walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday (at the end of this month) and in doing so raise £1000 for the NHS. He completed the 100 laps yesterday (Thursday 16th) and when I last checked had raised over £14 million! Sir, I salute you, all the NHS staff, care workers and ancillary staff who are getting us through this terrible crisis.
May God bless all of us and give us courage to know that His will is still being followed, today as it always has.
Thursday 16th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Karen and I continue to pray for you all and hope very much that you are keeping well, safe and sane! Please remember that if ever you feel the need to chat just for the sake of chatting, or to share worries or anxieties, or to ask for prayer, you can telephone or text us. We are always very happy to hear from people!
We continue to fare well at The New Vicarage. Karen has a few days' annual leave from the hospital which, fortunately, the hospital has honoured. She has recently been working some very long (12 hour) shifts at the hospital having to deal with all the things that the current circumstances are throwing at the NHS. Working in protective clothing is hot and tiring, and nursing Covid patients in addition to the "normal" patients presents its challenges and stresses. The nurses and doctors are, of course, putting themselves at some risk, but happily, in Bridgwater at any rate, the vast majority of staff are remaining well and in reasonably good spirits. They are a remarkable, tough and extremely good-natured team.
Karen is now enjoying her leave days, and in this lovely weather has been working hard in the garden making it look really lovely. Once all this is over we are looking forward to having a Vicarage coffee morning, or afternoon tea party.
We are so pleased that our wonderful daughter, Anna, is spending the lockdown with us at the vicarage. She is such a delight to have around. She continues to do her work for a charity (Devon Communities Together) from home spending lots of time in video meetings, writing reports and managing the charity's various community projects. Lately, in her spare time, she has drafted the sewing machine into service and is making some lovely clothes - a hidden talent I didn't know she had.
Our son, Joe, and his partner, Helen, are both working from home in lockdown in their flat in South London. Their flat is small and has no garden. At least they do have a balcony where they can sit out, and a nice park over the road where they can exercise once a day. Also we have enjoyed playing some board games with them via an internet video link. Thankfully they remain well despite living in one of the worst hit hot spots.
If times had been "normal" I would have been taking some post Easter leave at the moment. As it is, this week I am still endeavouring to do a little less at my desk and a little more in the garden. My favourite job so far has been power-washing our patio. It is so satisfying seeing all that grime being washed away leaving gleaming, clean patio slabs; and I do love a power tool!
I know that some of you have people close to you that have been directly affected by this dreadful virus and I am so glad to hear about those who are making a good recovery. We keep praying and putting our faith in the love of God which we see at work around us all the time in the selfless service of others, in the beauty of nature's renewal in this Easter-Spring season, in the grace and promise which pours out from the pages of scripture and, I pray, in the still small voice of calm which whispers within each one of us.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace,
the beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm,
O still, small voice of calm.
God bless you all, and much love,
Wednesday 15th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
I know that some hearts are sinking at the prospect of an extension to the original three weeks allocated for ‘the lockdown’ by the UK government. Perhaps it was never realistic to think that restrictions might be relaxed quickly – the three weeks allocated being only a ‘review point’ before a further extension.
Many things normally available to us are on hold. Friends and family members are having to do without their usual access to all kinds of services that are normally freely available. It is particularly difficult for those who rely on regular care visits to their homes. My grandfather has had an important weekly healthcare visit withdrawn and replaced with a three-month interval! This sets up all kinds of worries as the existing arrangements were there for a reason – how long can people do without what they would usually need? I know that various people reading this letter will have their own particular worries of this kind.
In today’s Old Testament reading, the Israelites are finally leaving their long captivity with the Egyptians (Exodus 12 40-42). They make the night of their journeying out into a regular night of vigil, which is the Passover festival. What are vigils? According to Bradshaw’s Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, a vigil (from the Latin vigilia, ‘watch’ or ‘wakefulness’) is the practice of staying awake for part or all of a night, either commemorating an event like the resurrection, or waiting and watching with those who are grieving a tragic event in the community. The Christian practice of keeping vigil was probably rooted in the belief that Christ would return to our world ‘like a thief in the night’ (1 Thess 5:2). I have never understood very well this practice of religious observance that consists largely of waiting. My active and busy mind wants to be given something to do!
But now we are taking part in a vigil of sorts. We are waiting to be delivered of the fear of coronavirus. We are aware that at some point things will change and the situation will de-escalate. In the long term, this time of fear will certainly pass as all other pandemics have done. Scientists and governments are working on a vaccine, and other ways to increase our safety. But for the moment all that most of us can do is watch and wait. We watch and wait with our loved ones who we worry about. We watch and wait with all who are looking for the event that will herald the beginning of the end of this pandemic. Alongside all the other thoughts and fears that we have, we might want to see this time of waiting as a vigil, a spiritual act of prayer that we can offer to God. In the words of Betsie Ten Boom, “Let us dedicate this involuntary fast to the Lord that it may become a blessing.”
With love and prayers,
Tuesday 14th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
This week Karen and I intended to take a post-Easter break in our caravan which should be permanently sited on the South Devon coast. In fact our caravan is currently sited in front of our house and, of course, we are stuck firmly at home. However, determined to get into the spirit of things, last night we slept in our caravan and pretended to be on holiday! This morning we woke up and made a nice cup of tea in our caravan and then sat in deck chairs drinking it in the morning sunshine, in our drive and dressed in our PJ's and dressing gowns, just as if we were on holiday! I'm not sure what our overlooking neighbours must've been thinking!
It occurs to me that these strange times of lock down and isolation might be an opportunity to do strange things - in a good way, of course. There are lots of little video clips on social media of families singing or dancing together, playing crazy games, just doing rather eccentric things that none of us would normally do in "normal" times. Maybe now is the time to be "fruit loops", as my daughter would put it. Some fun and craziness can help with the monotony of day-after-day isolation. I would encourage you to find something different, perhaps a little bonkers, to do in these days.
I am reminded about the story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2.1-11). Of course the story has deep theological and spiritual meaning, but equally it is about fun. If ever there was a story about someone doing something crazy, if ever there was a story about fun and laughter, surprise and joy, this story is it.
God seems to happy when he sees us having fun. Jesus loved fun and good humour. I think we would have liked Jesus. When we are having fun, being a little crazy, letting go with our eccentricities, Jesus is with us just as much as he is when we are worshipping, serving, being serious and earnest. We are free to have fun, and I encourage you to fill some of these lock down days with a little bit of good, healthy, craziness.
Love and blessing to you all.
Monday 13th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Alleluia! Christ is risen! It is Easter Monday, the first day of Easter week. Jesus, having risen from the tomb, quickly began to appear to his disciples. He united them, dealing with their fear, panic and unbelief. It took multiple appearances and interventions by the risen Christ over the weeks following the resurrection to gather the scattered flock and prepare them to begin the work that he was calling them to.
It was hard for the first disciples of Christ to believe in the resurrection. We think that it is more difficult today, with our more sceptical and materialistic ways of thinking. But the first disciples were not all that different from us. They found it hard to credit that Christ had truly returned and that the resurrection hope was real.
When we try to hold our Christian faith strongly in hard times, we may come up against a stubborn core of scepticism or unbelief. We can say the words of The Creed in church obediently, but do we believe them? What do we think in the end – that the resurrection was a nice concept, or that it is Truth with a capital ‘T’?
The resurrection does not, sadly, guarantee us safety and freedom from all harm. It does something far greater – it shows that anything that is joined to the life of God cannot ultimately be destroyed. Jesus was crucified and entombed, but the Father raised him on the third day. He can never again die. (Romans 6:9) That which God knows and loves is ultimately indestructible!
I enjoyed sharing Easter greetings with many of you in various technological ways without being able to meet in person. Now we are in Eastertide, we continue to journey with the disciples as they were awakened to Truth with a capital ‘T’ and equipped to carry forward Christ’s mission to the whole world. So let’s keep the Easter greetings going for a good while longer!
With love and prayers,
Saturday 11th April, 2020 - today we hear from our Archdeacon, The Ven Simon Hill
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
In this very different Holy Week, I wanted to write and assure you of my prayers and to thank you for the various ways in which you are loving God and loving neighbour at this challenging time.
Globally and locally, the dramatic effects of Coronavirus are apparent and with it the incredible work of the NHS and key workers. We have had to change how we do church. That has been painful in many ways but a source of creativity as well. At this time trying to carve out holy space away from our church buildings, trying to reflect on where God is in all this and trying to find some sense of stability in a time of so much uncertainty and change is not easy.
Many of you are probably feeling quite drained with all the information there is to absorb, all the pastoral care you are giving, as well as providing worship for congregations. I do hope that especially in the time after Easter you will be able to take of yourself. This crisis is going to be with us for some time.
We pray and read the Bible from the context we are in at any one time. I have been struck in this season of physical isolation by the tactility of Holy Week: Judas betrays Christ with a kiss, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, Simon joins Jesus to help carry his cross and Jesus is physically nailed to that cross.
We are challenged to be church in different ways: in how we worship, how we relate to others, how we serve in the world and now in how we mark the death and rising of Jesus Christ. This year there will be no transformation of our buildings from the austerity of Lent to the colour, flowers and banners of Easter. Often the solemn liturgy of Good Friday leads almost without a pause into the arrival of the Easter lilies and the decoration of the church for Easter. There is so often a temptation to take a shortcut and whizz through Good Friday and Holy Saturday to get to Easter. This year, perhaps more than ever, is a time when our reflections, our prayers for the world and those we love, are very much in the context of Good Friday and Holy Saturday – of witnessing, and in many cases experiencing, suffering, pain and emptiness.
Easter always challenges us to look at the world afresh and to see what hope looks like. The context of Easter 2020 may be very different but, as so often, the words we are given year on year continue to speak to us. The Collect for Holy Week acknowledges Christ’s death on the cross and then prays: “grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his resurrection.” In the next days, as we recall Christ’s suffering and rising, may we know God’s love for us and the world and be able to celebrate that together even as we are physically separated.
Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.
With prayers and with thanks,
Archdeacon of Taunton
Good Friday, 10th April 2020 - today we hear from Chris Archer
Today, being Good Friday, we are at the start of the Easter weekend. For many
the trigger to load up the car with buckets, spades, lilos, barbeques and
swimming gear ready for the long, slow drive to the coast with so many
thousands of others. It’s been the tradition for many years, although more
recently it’s also become yet another shopping day with most shops open for
their normal Friday extended hours. Oh how different this year will be!
My dad hated traffic jams and so determinedly stayed at home bank holidays -
I suppose I have followed a similar pattern. In more recent years Linda and I
have found the Good Friday vigil at the various churches we’ve served, very
special. Last year we joined the folk at Durleigh for the “final hour”, in a
previous church near the south coast, we observed a 3 hour vigil.
St Peter’s Titchfield, had its origins going back over a thousand years and many
of the stone walls were several feet thick. A nightmare to heat in the winter
but cool bliss in the heat of the summer, in that 3 hours there was silence
interspersed with short readings every half hour. Two groups came together
for the final hour, one stayed in church for the full duration, the others walked
from the nature reserve on the shore line besides the River Meon stopping
along the way for a picnic. We tried both, and both were very special in their
own way. At the end we had an amazing sense of peace, coming outside into
the mid-afternoon sun.
I wonder if you have something special planned for today. If you are self-
isolating, of course it’s more difficult to make it different but I truly believe we
should try. Even if it’s only to sit in a different chair, perhaps in a different
room, try to mark the final hour from two to three o’clock. The Gospel reading
set for today is John chapters 18 and 19. Perhaps we could read them a bit at a
time over the hour. It describes how scripture was fulfilled by the events that
are the foundation of our Christian faith.
Of course the world is in a state with the virus pandemic but it’s not the first
and no doubt it won’t be the last. While we may feel despair at our current
situation, we must try to imagine how Jesus’ followers must have felt,
witnessing the events of the first Good Friday - how their hope had been nailed
to a tree, to die in agony. How could their dreams be fulfilled now? Why did
God let this happen? We know with hindsight of 2000 years – it was Gods will
and the way it had to be. Let’s try to remember, as we go through today, in the
future we will look back on 2020 as a special year. A year we did something for
Easter we have never done before.
May God bless us and give us courage to know that His will is still being
Thursday 9th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
Today is Maundy Thursday in Holy Week, the day upon which we remember, in particular, the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples. In the Jewish faith (and let's not forget that Jesus was a Jew) this is the day upon which the annual feast of The Passover is celebrated - the day upon which Jews (and Christians) recall the plague of death that swept over Egypt about 1500BC but which quite literally "passed over" all the Jewish households. As a result, the belligerent and stubborn king of Egypt (Pharaoh) relented and let Moses lead the Jewish people (Israelites) out of slavery in Egypt to embark upon their long and hard journey to freedom in the "promised land", later to be known as Israel.
It was this annual celebration that Jesus used as the occasion to celebrate his Last Supper with his disciples knowing that his arrest and death were imminent. It was at this Last Supper that Jesus offered bread and wine to his friends, telling them to carry on doing this when they met together in future as a way of remembering him whose body would be broken and blood shed on the cross. Christians have continued to participate in this very special and highly symbolic act of remembrance when they meet together. Today we know it by several names: Holy Communion, Mass, The Eucharist, The Lord's Supper, The Commemoration Meal, The Breaking of Bread. For many Christians it is the central and most important activity in their worshipping lives. As we participate in Holy Communion we are, in effect, placing ourselves in that very room, with Jesus and his disciples, and being participants in the drama: receiving Jesus' blessing, and receiving food and drink from him (symbolically receiving him into ourselves) to nourish our souls and our spirits. When next you take communion, or listen to a communion service, try to imagine yourself into the scene, try picturing yourself at the table with Jesus and his friends, try savouring the moment when Jesus offers the bread and wine (offers himself) to you. It's very powerful.
It has struck me as I write, that on that first Passover three and a half thousand years ago, the plague of death that swept over Egypt might put us in mind of the plague of illness and death that hangs over the world today. Now, more than ever, is a time to embrace the "Passover". Sadly many people are dying, and all of us are affected in some way or another, even if only by the fact of our isolation and anxiety. For all of us, though, my prayer is that today, and during the days ahead as we recall the Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection, we might be deeply and profoundly touched by the gift of himself which Jesus made to each and every one of us. My prayer is that we might open our minds and hearts to receive that gift afresh so that the plague of fear, helplessness and worry might "pass over" us as Christ within us releases us into spiritual and mental freedom.
Finally I share with you some verses from one of this morning's Bible readings, Psalm 43:
Oh, send out your light and your truth.
Let them lead me.
Let them bring me to your holy hill, to your great tent.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my exceeding joy.
I will praise you on the harp, God, my God.
Why are you in despair, my soul?
Why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God!
For I shall still praise him:
My saviour, my helper, and my God. (NEV)
Bless you all on this Passover day. May your hearts and minds be filled with the love, grace and peace of God given to us in our Lord Jesus.
With my love and prayers.
Wednesday 8th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev James
Greetings to you all on Wednesday of Holy Week. In some parts of the church today is called ‘Spy Wednesday’ – Jesus’s disciple Judas Iscariot had changed sides and was now working for Jesus’s enemies, even though he was still acting as part of the fellowship of the disciples. He was acting as a double-agent – working for Jesus while at the same time looking for the opportunity to hand him over to the Temple Police. We can see the story of ‘Spy Wednesday’ if we read Luke 22 verses 1-53 in our Bibles.
Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was to come; he would be taken from them, tried, and be crucified. He speaks strange words:
“He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, a bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’
He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. […]
They said ‘Lord, look here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough’. (Luke 22:35-38)
Why would Jesus tell his followers to purchase swords? It seemed to go against all of his teaching and his entire ethos. Indeed, when the disciples then try to use violence to prevent his arrest, Jesus stops them and even heals the man who was injured.
I think that the clue is in Jesus’s words to Judas in v53: ‘But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’
The carrying of a sword represents a frank understanding of the danger of the times. Up until this moment, Jesus and his followers had lived with risk but enjoyed the Heavenly Father’s protection. But now they were entering into a time of chaos and darkness, where their resources would be tested as never before.
We are disturbed when we hear of the hospitalisation of our Prime Minister and his transfer to Intensive Care. Under normal circumstances we would expect the strong and powerful, our rulers, to be untouched by the present crisis. To see Boris Johnson laid low and unable to take his usual place in the government is shocking and disturbing. The Church of England always prays for the government; we do so now more than ever.
We are all having different experiences of this pandemic. For some, it has been a time of relative calm, quietly getting on with what can be done, waiting the storm out. For others, there is turmoil for various reasons. It is the second group that I am thinking of today as I write. Psalm 27 is written to those in turmoil and darkness.
‘Wait for the Lord;
be strong and he shall comfort your heart;
wait patiently for the Lord.’ (Ps 27:17)
With love and prayers,
Tuesday 7th April, 2020 - today we hear from Rev Will
The one thing we can all do during this time of "lock down" is to pray earnestly, perhaps more than ever. I find that in the busy round of daily life out and about in the parishes and getting on with jobs that need to be done, prayer can all to often be pushed to the back of the queue. That is one reason why I so appreciate having to say Morning Prayer each day. If nothing else, it forces me to turn my attention to prayer. Now we all have more time and space for prayer, and if ever prayer was needed, it is now. Particularly today, and over the coming days, we will be thinking of our Prime Minister seriously ill in hospital. This is not a time for political posturing and prejudice; this is a time to get behind those who are in authority and who are evidently doing their level best to manage this country under appallingly difficult circumstances. The PM has, by all accounts, worked tirelessly over the past three or four weeks - perhaps harder than has been good for him. Wherever we stand on the political spectrum, he deserves our gratitude and he desperately needs our prayers.
But of course it is not only Mr Johnson who has been working so hard and selflessly in the service of others. I watched an interesting and powerful piece on BBC 24 News last night about the internal workings of a hospital Intensive Care Unit at the moment. The medical staff were working incredibly hard in the most demanding circumstances - gowned, goggled and masked up, frantically and expertly attending to gravely ill patients, and putting themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19. One doctor spoke of the long hours - sometimes 80 per week, and how the personal protection equipment could only be worn for short periods because it is so hot and claustrophobic. He spoke of the extraordinary understanding and love he is receiving from his family - a wife and small children stuck at home whilst daddy is out most of the time putting himself at risk for the sake of others. How poignant for Holy Week.
I have spoken to staff at Oak Trees care home and they remain in extraordinarily good spirits, locked in all day and every day with a care home full of very elderly, frail and confused folk, attending to their every need with cheerful good nature. I am in awe of them. The list goes on: supermarket workers (what a tough job at the moment!), drivers, emergency services, armed forces, council workers, call-centre operatives, and so many more - all doing the most remarkable job for the benefit of others and at risk to themselves.
All of these need and deserve our prayers.
As for the rest of us, we too are contributing in a sacrificial way to the welfare of all by observing the instruction to stay at home. Into the third week, and likely to continue for some time to come, it might be beginning to take its toll. Loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and not knowing what the future might look like - it can be difficult; so we need to pray for each other and for ourselves. Sometimes it can seem self-indulgent to pray for ourselves, but we can and we should. In my morning reading from Luke's gospel today we find Jesus in the garden praying for himself: "Father, if you be willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless let not my will, but yours be done." Perhaps His prayer then is an apt one for all of us now.
I was also struck this morning by some words from the Old Testament book of Lamentations, chapter 3, verses 7 and 21: "He has walled me about, that I can't go forth ... therefore have I hope". We are all "walled about", but I encourage you to keep praying - for others and for yourselves, and to have hope.
Love and blessings.
Monday 6th April, 2020
The Diocese of Bath & Wells has made lots of wonderful resources available for us to read, listen to and watch during holy week - daily reflections, prayers, services and more. You are strongly encouraged to go and have a look. You can access these by CLICKING HERE.
Today we hear from Rev James
It is such a privilege to write something that drops in to all your inboxes each day. I hope that for many, if not all of you this has continued to be a quiet period and that you have all that you need, in terms of supplies and also human contact. It certainly feels to me like we are moving into the middle distance of this long period of restrictions imposed by the government.
In ‘lockdown’ we perceive time differently. Some have reported the days passing more and more quickly; for others, they drag. As we enter Holy Week we find that the Scriptures also change in their attitude to time. We concentrate and zero in on the events of the final few days of Christ’s Passion. We observe Christ and his followers (and later, some enemies) at close quarters.
There is a sense of pressure and claustrophobia. The people are all gathered at Jerusalem for the Passover. Pilate and the Romans are keeping a close eye on events – soldiers are out on the streets. The religious hierarchy are gearing up for the greatest festival of the year. We start to see signs of turmoil and distress even in Jesus himself, who confesses ‘my soul is troubled’ (John 12:27).
There is also a sense of necessary fulfilment. No-one, it seems, has any choice about the course of events that have been set in motion. Everybody, from Jesus to Simon Peter to Judas Iscariot, it locked in for the ride. As Jesus says ‘should I say “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ (John 12:27-8)
So in our own pressured, claustrophobic time ‘locked down’ by Coronavirus and our government, we can think of Christ and his followers stepping into Holy Week in fervid Jerusalem. May the Father be glorified as we dedicate our lives, even in these strange times, to Him.
With love and prayers,
PS Rev James is watching: The Two Popes (Netflix). A fascinating history lesson and mesmerising performance by Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. Gets us thinking about the nature of the Christian gospel, and personal holiness.
Sunday 5th April, 2020 - Today we hear from Rev Will
Happy Palm Sunday! It is such a shame we can't all be together worshipping and enjoying our Palm Sunday lunch in church. I really look forward to getting together again, and I anticipate that when we can, we'll have a party!
I strongly encourage you to listen to our Palm Sunday communion service during which we hear Rev. James preaching to us. I have to reassure you that James did not visit us at the Vicarage for the service. His sermon is included in the service by the wonders of modern technology! CLICK HERE to listen. If you would like to make a palm (paper!) cross, then you can follow me having a go. CLICK HERE.
A reminder that you can also join in with Stations of the Cross whenever you like as we journey through Holy Week CLICK HERE.
I'm not going to write at length as we have James to listen to instead. I simply leave you with some words from the prolific prayer writer, Susan Sayers:
Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace, riding on a donkey. At the heart of our rejoicing is the pain he is bound to suffer in redeeming us through unflinching love. Yet we still certainly rejoice, for we know he has won the victory. Jesus is indeed our King.
Love and blessing.
Saturday 4th April, 2020 - Today we hear from Rev Will and The Bible Society.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, the week which began with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and by Friday had become a time of total desperation and apparent defeat. But we know that victory was rescued out of the jaws of defeat in the glory of Easter day. It's quite a week, quite a spiritual journey, and I urge you to travel it with us each day.
Tomorrow there will be a Palm Sunday service for you to listen to with Rev James preaching for us. Also, if you are on Facebook, look out on the Holy Trinity group for a fun,simple and reflective palm cross-making activity. During Holy Week you will be able to join in the final journey of Jesus to the cross by participating in Stations of The Cross. CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, today's letter has been recommended to me by Jeff Gardner and it comes from The Bible Society. Here it is ...
Some of us - perhaps many of us - are likely to fall ill from the Covid-19 virus, some seriously. Many more of us will feel the effects of the measures the government is putting in place to combat it. We're getting used to ideas like 'social distancing', where we avoid physical contact with other people, or even being in the same room with them. For older people especially, it's likely that they might face long periods of isolation. Aside from the practicalities of how people can acquire provisions and eat healthily if they can't leave the house, there are implications for our mental, emotional and spiritual health. We shouldn't underestimate the effects of not being able to spend time with those we love or greet a visitor with a hug. And many of us may face serious financial hardship. It would be wrong to try to offer glib or easy solutions where there are none. But when we face hard times we turn to the Bible, and here are three Scriptures we might want to think about.
Jesus speaks of being fed when hungry and thirsty, and visited when sick and in prison, concluding: 'I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!' This crisis isn't just something to be endured; it's an opportunity for ministry. We can ask God for courage and wisdom, so that we use appropriate words and actions to share the love of Christ with our neighbours.
Jesus was teaching on the seashore, and the crowds pushed around him so much that he couldn't be heard. So he taught them while sitting in a boat, at a distance from the shore. We might be distanced from our church families and unable to meet. We feel the loss of that focal point in our spiritual lives. But Jesus is still speaking to us, and we aren't beyond his reach.
The psalmist wrote when times were just as uncertain as they are now, but with a deep trust that God would not abandon him: 'Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me.'
Most of all, pray - for those who fall ill and those who care for them, those who suffer because of the disruption and isolation they experience, and those who have to cope with huge demands they don't know how to meet. You may want to use these words:
God, thank you for your promise in Scripture that you will never leave or forsake your people. Help us to trust you in these dark times, and to remember that we serve Christ, the light of the world. Help us to be a blessing to others, by being patient, kind and useful. Strengthen those who care for the sick or have great demands placed on them, and equip those who rule over us, so that they act wisely to bring this outbreak to an end. Bless and strengthen our partners around the world, so that they'll act and speak in a way that honours the Lord Jesus Christ. <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Amen.</span>
God's word is a gift to us that we appreciate more when we need it most. One way of responding to the crisis with hope rather than despair is to seek to encounter God through the Scriptures. In China, believers isolated because of the virus found that they spent more time reading the Bible (click on the 'Latest' tab on our website, www.biblesociety.org.uk). How can we find comfort in this dark time? Here are three suggestions:
1. Read the Bible every day. To help with this, why not click on the Explore the Bible tab on our website. Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne "Bible in One Year" reading plan. Every day there are four chapters of Scripture to read, with a reflection and prayer suggested by one of them. Another resource is the "Daily Life" plan of readings, reflections and prayers; download the app on your phone and share on social media.
2. Try something you've never done before, like Bible journalling. It's a way to focus your thoughts and build up a spiritual resource from your own encounters with God in Scripture. Again, find more information through the Explore the Bible tab on our website.
3. It's not too late to take up our Lent Challenge - memorise 40 Bible verses that will inspire and encourage you in these hard times. Click on the Latest tab on our website for more information.
Huge thanks to Jeff for drawing our attention to the above from the Bible Society.
Praying you have a peaceful, happy and healthy weekend.
With my love,
Friday 3rd April, 2020 - Today we hear from Chris Archer
This week it seemed right to spend some time in the house doing some more of those “when I get round to it” jobs. Some of you will have seen the tapestry which Linda created of our church – it was taken from a photograph. No longer needed as a reference we wanted to frame it and hang it. The only space I could find was on the wall in the hallway above a piece of Phil, our older son’s artwork. Some years ago as an exercise in calligraphy he had written out “Desiderata” – the “Go placidly” prose-poem. It was written by Max Ehrmann of Indiana in the early 1920s, much later than was assumed when the text was found in a church in Baltimore USA built in the 17th century. Fixed next to the door to the kitchen I had passed it many times every day in the two and half years we’ve lived here and many, many times in our previous house. I paused for a few moments to re-read it and found comfort in those words. To avoid the possible infringement of copyright I won’t copy the whole text here, but any internet search engine will find it for you to view or download.
I will however pick out a few phrases; “Go placidly… remember what peace there may be in silence.” How true that is at the moment. Little sound of traffic and so few aircraft flying over – just the occasional helicopter – military or air ambulance. “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.” Again how apt as less than a month ago we had no idea how the current situation with the Covid-19 virus would change our lives. “…be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be”. As a committed Christian I have an absolute belief in God and how I imagine Him. My difficulty is trying to put that image into words. I remember it was an exercise we undertook during my Reader training and there were as many different images as there were participants on the course.
There is no right answer to what God is, although saying what God isn’t is somewhat easier! I can’t see God as an old man with a long white beard and a shepherd’s crook, I think He or She is so much more than that. I don’t believe God has gender – traditionally we refer to He and Father but that’s the default of the English language. Maybe something more abstract would be more appropriate, the image of a clear blue sky on a cloudless day perhaps?
I’ll close with the last two short sentences from Desiderata – “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”…and may God bless with each and every one of us.
Thursday 2nd April, 2020 - Today we hear from Rev Will
We are all trying to keep our distance - physically at any rate. It is so counter intuitive, especially for Christians, because whenever people are experiencing difficulties or worries our natural reaction is to go and be with those who are struggling - to be a loving and encouraging presence, to listen, to chat and to hug. At the moment, however, just when we all need each other's reassuring presence more than ever, we cannot go to be with one another. I very much hope and pray that these letters, resources on the website and phone calls go some way towards bridging that gap.
I was struck this morning by a couple of sentences from the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 3, verses 4 & 5 which, I confess, I am taking completely out of context, but they seem to speak of our current times:
Keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark [of the covenant]; do not go near it. Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.
Old Testament folk regarded the ark of the covenant (which was an elaborate box) as being God's dwelling place. We understand that God finds his dwelling place in each one of us, therefore we, God's people, are his dwelling place - his "ark" if you like. Just as Old Testament Israelites were told to keep a distance of two thousand cubits between themselves and the ark, we are being told to keep a good distance between ourselves and the "ark" - other people. The instruction was tough for the early Israelites and the instruction is very tough for us at the moment. But Joshua told the people to "consecrate themselves" - that is, to completely dedicate themselves to God. For us too, this time of keeping our distance is a time to consecrate ourselves - to completely dedicate ourselves to God in prayer, study, reflection, self-searching and, where necessary, repentance. As we do that, Joshua in the little bible passage says, "For tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you." That is the hope, the promise, we can hang on to - that when this time of distancing is over, God will indeed do amazing things among us. I really look forward to that with excitement and optimism. I don't imagine we shall all simply pick up where we left off as though nothing had happened. I don't think things will ever be quite the same again. There will be a fresh start and the future will probably be very different from the past. The promise is that God will do amazing things among us. I am really looking forward to that.
I finish with the opening words of a wonderful old hymn which is one of my favourites:
All my hope on God is founded:
He doth still my trust renew.
Me thro’ change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God bless you all as you dedicate yourselves anew to Him who, after this time of distancing, will do amazing things among us.
With my love and prayers,
Wednesday 1st April, 2020 - Today we hear from Rev James
I think reasonable expectations of ourselves and others are particularly important to us as we go through the second week of ‘lockdown’. I fear a little for those who took to social media very early on with photos and declarations about their plans for their new ‘regime’, including rigorous exercise and comprehensive home schooling for any children! I wonder how they are feeling as the novelty of this season wears off…
The most important thing for our isolated, ‘locked down’ households, is to maintain morale and to be as happy and well as we can. This does not look flashy; it is living the lockdown as a marathon, not a sprint.
There are so many resources that are available to us to help and encourage. Morey, our local Mission Enabler, pointed me to the excellent blog of the evangelist J John. Here is his piece pithily titled ‘Lightening the Load on Lockdown’: CLICK HERE
Today I wanted to share one of the Canticles from Church of England Daily Prayer: A Song of Lamentation CLICK HERE.
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
Which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger.
For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage.
Remember my affliction and my bitterness,
the wormwood and the gall!
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that we should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
For the Lord will not reject for ever;
though he causes grief, he will have compassion,
According to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
The Song of Lamentation is taken from (perhaps not surprisingly) the Old Testament book of Lamentations. In Bible times everyone faced heightened risks and much more instability in the basic matters of life than we do today, even in a time of lockdown. Bible faith allows for the whole range of emotions – including sorrow and tears. These emotions are not bad for us; if we allow them to pass through us and find healthy expression then we will feel more balanced and perhaps ready to engage with hope once again.
We are all doing well in the Taylor household and are grateful that our wider family are also peaceful and secure. I hope that that state of affairs is true for you as well, and continues as we journey through this time.
With love and prayers,
Tuesday 31st March, 2020
Today is the day upon which the Church remembers John Donne, priest and poet. John Donne was born in 1572, and in 1601 was secretly married to Anne More (and imprisoned by her father two months later). Ordained as a priest in 1615, he was made Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, a post he held until his death. Donne is known for his masterful sermons, his profound reflections on sickness and mortality but mainly for his poetry, which helped shape the English language and the world’s spiritual imagination.
John Donne was utterly convinced by the idea that people do not exist in isolation as individuals whose purpose is to preserve and prosper only themselves. For Donne, human beings are created for connection to each other, for relationship. For him, we are all part of one humanity and each of us is uniquely important to the whole. Here is one of his well-known poems which speaks of the importance of human connectedness:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
This idea was not of John Donne's own making and fancy. It is deeply biblical. St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, speaks in similar terms:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (I Corithians 12.12-25)
This is very important for us to remember and reflect upon in these difficult days of enforced isolation. No doubt you, like me, will be feeling more than ever the need to be with other people - to see their faces, chat, laugh, hug, cry, love and learn together. That is when we feel most loved and affirmed, and that is when we know that we are doing our bit to love and affirm others. We are created for connectedness, for relationship.
I urge you to do what you can to maintain that bond, that connectedness, between yourself and others. Praying for others is a powerful way of doing this, and knowing that we are being prayed for is comforting and reassuring. Never before has the invention of the telephone come into its own quite like it has now. Let us think of it as God's gift to us to enable us to maintain connectedness, to nurture our relationships. And for those of us who email, browse the web and look at Facebook, these too have come into their own. This is a time when we do well to embrace digital technology as a means of sustaining and nurturing the body of humanity of which each of us is a unique, important and treasured part.
I end today with some more words of St Paul:
God will strengthen you to the end. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Love and prayers as ever.
Today we hear from Rev James
Monday 30th March, 2020
I have been really glad of the regular communications and prayers coming through the church emails and Facebook group, and also chats over the telephone with you. We are blessed to have so many technologies to help us stay present to one another, even when ‘social-distancing’ or self-isolating. Some of our friends have no IT equipment at home and are missing out; think of them and perhaps make a telephone call!
I wanted to bring to your attention Pope Francis’s stunning sermon to an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March the 27th. The event was livestreamed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Read his text HERE:
In one particularly pungent passage he writes:
‘The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.’
The Coronavirus COVID-19, however bad things get, will leave the vast, vast majority of the world’s population alive and able to move forward once again into something that looks more like 'normal life'. Even so there are many personal ‘storms’ that we each go through in these times as basic questions are asked of our resilience and the way we live our lives. God is not in the virus, but God may well be speaking to us through the strange discomforts we feel with ourselves and the way we have lived our lives up to now.
I hope that all who read this are safe and well and not disturbed by worries about loved ones. I will leave you with the second collect from Evening Prayer in the old Prayer Book:
“O GOD, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.”
I am grateful for feeling close to you all even though the present situation divides us physically. Let’s continue to be good companions to one another at this time.
Love and prayers,
Sunday 29th March, 2020
Today is Passion Sunday. It is now only two weeks until Easter Day.
Karen and I celebrated Holy Communion together at home today and you can listen to the service HERE. I have also uploaded all of next week's Morning Prayer Bible readings. The list is HERE. I would strongly encourage you to keep going with your prayers and Bible study each day. When we can't go to church it is so easy to let our faith slip into the background, and time spent each day in prayer and study is such a help in keeping our faith alive, our hope strong and God's peace in our hearts.
I wonder if you're managing to get some of those home jobs done that have been waiting for ages. I must confess, I'm struggling a bit with that. I have a mountain of paperwork on my desk which I've been meaning to tackle for ages, and this is a God-given opportunity ... but the mountain is still there! Also, our downstairs loo is in desperate need of a coat of paint. It's been on the "jobs to do list" for a very long time ... and it still is! I think what I need is to be a little more disciplined, to try and set myself a routine, to resolve to do one of those big tasks each day. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the daily saying of Morning Prayer is compulsory for us priests. I am glad it is. The routine each morning seems to "anchor" the day, set me off to a good start, get my head and heart in a right frame of mind, and equip me for the tasks ahead. A bit of a routine can sound dull, but in fact the familiarity is reassuring and comforting, and the discipline involved may help a little bit to keep us disciplined in other areas of our lives. Now I've said that, I really must listen to my own words and get those jobs done!
This next fortnight is a special time for preparing our hearts and minds for Easter. It is such a bitter-sweet celebration that takes us on a journey through triumph to absolute despair and then to victorious celebration. It is more poignant this year because I think all of us the world over are going through something a bit like that at the moment. My prayer is that the Easter celebration of new life is something we can hold on to as an encouragement as we go through these dark times.
Keep well. Keep close to God, and may his peace rule in your hearts.
With my love,
Saturday 28th March, 2020
Today we hear from our Reader, Chris Archer.
On Thursday Linda and I ventured out for the first time since Monday this week. We've been working hard in the garden cutting back, pruning and weeding but with two garden bags overflowing and the recycling centres closed for the next few weeks, operations had come to a stop.
We needed some milk so it was an opportunity to walk to the shop in the village and we chose the slightly longer route past the recreation / memorial ground, then along the main A38 Taunton Road. What an eye-opener that was. The number of vehicles that passed us was less than a dozen and I could have easily counted the cars on one hand! Two of the others were ready-mix concrete wagons so it seems some building work is on going.
I was reminded very much of my early childhood, the scene was so like Sunday afternoons in the late 50s or early 60s. Maybe just a sweet shop selling cigarettes and so few cars about. It was so peaceful. Just for fun we crossed the main road, and back again. Not at, but between the zebra and the pelican crossings. No vehicles came screaming to a halt, indeed no vehicles came at all.
Yesterday we had to travel up the M5 just from one junction to the next, and similarly so little traffic. The supermarket had the expected long queue outside, but only because we were spacing ourselves 2 metres apart and once inside most shelves had a reasonable stock of provisions, so the limit of 3 of each item was clearly working well. I had to fill up with petrol for the return journey and was actually staggered to see how petrol prices have dropped with the lack of demand.
I pray that once this crisis is over, our behaviours might change even slightly, with working from home becoming more of the norm, not the exception for the good of our personal health and that of our wonderful world.
My God surround us with His special love.
Friday 27th March, 2020
When troubles come it's usually the case that things can go one of two ways. Either people become more self-concerned, inward looking and aggressive towards others, or the very best in human nature blossoms - care for others, kindness, self-sacrifice, altruism ... in a word, love - love as Jesus showed and taught. This has so clearly been demonstrated in the unstinting and self-sacrificial way in which our public services - NHS workers in particular - carry on working day after day in ever more challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions for the welfare of all of us. It was so great to hear the nation clap them last night. Genuine appreciation and thanks are very much a part of Jesus-style love.
The good naturedness and caring hearts of folk has also been demonstrated in the half a million people who have volunteered to support the NHS by ferrying patients around, collecting and delivering medicines, and making phone calls to the most vulnerable.
I have received phone calls from struggling folk who could do with some help, and I have received calls from others who desperately want to help. It has been a joy and a blessing to be able to match them up.
I am put in mind of two Bible passages that speak of the love that Jesus showed and that God calls us to show too:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
Those of us who are housebound together with our loved ones will, I am sure, be living out the Christian call to love each other despite the "cabin fever" we might be feeling. There are opportunities in our forced confinement that often pass us by in ordinary times - opportunities for playing games, enjoying craft together, cooking for each other, gardening together, reading and praying together. For those who are alone, for you too this is an opportunity to try new things at home, and above all to keep in touch with friends and family by phone. Why not give that distant relative, or long-since seen friend, a ring? And never be afraid to ask for help. Holy Trinity & Durleigh folk are really good at listening and chatting and praying!
Here's a prayer from a little book I have of old (you can tell from the language!) and very lovely prayers:
God, my God, I am all weakness, but Thou art my strength; I am ever anew bowed down by any trial, but thou canst and willest to lift me up. Let me not fail, O God, my strength; let me not be discouraged, O God, my hope. Draw me each day a little nearer unto Thee. Amen.
Assuring you of my continued prayers and love.
Thursday 26th March, 2020, from Rev James
Sally, the children and I hope and pray that you are faring well in these strange times of social distancing and the coronavirus COVID-19. By the time the government announced their instruction to ‘stay at home’ we had already begun to realise how serious this is; we are all being asked to regulate our own behaviour and drastically limit face-to-face contact outside our own households.
The children have fared remarkably well so far. Yesterday they formed an editorial team and created a magazine to send to their friends! For our daily exercise we all take Hetty the spaniel on a long walk while a faster group take off on their bicycles!
Everyone has a different situation at home and different worries about friends and family far and wide. Nurses, doctors and hospital staff find themselves on the front line. Others find that their work is classified as nonessential and they are staying home.
It is disorientating when all your usual instincts are wrong. We express our faith and our love through action and physical presence with one another; now faith and love is demonstrated by withholding our physical presence and resisting the urge to rush out to in some way prove that we are ‘relevant’.
I wonder how your spiritual resources are holding up and what helps you at the moment. I have been inspired by the non-nonsense prayers in the old Prayer Book. Here is the Collect for Aid Against Perils, which regulars at St Hugh’s Evensong will recognise:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
I am sure that you are doing well at keeping in touch with one another and helping out where needed. If you find yourself sinking in the isolation then take courage and pick up the phone to somebody. We are a warm community of friends and disciples, even if we are forcibly separated for this time.
Love and prayers,
Wednesday 25th March, 2020
It is so lovely to awake to these bright refreshing days of early Spring. Yesterday morning I went for a cycle ride along the canal at 8.45am. When I started the temperature was a cool 5c and I was chilly. As my ride progressed it got warmer and warmer, and by the time I got home only half an hour later the temperature had risen to 10c. We're blessed with another equally lovely day, although I haven't been out for my daily ride yet. I will, I promise!
Whilst we are housebound, I very much hope that you are managing to get some of this lovely, sunny fresh air. Some of us are lucky to have gardens and if ever there was a great opportunity to get the garden spring clean done, it is now. However, some of us don't have gardens, but I still encourage you to step out for a little while to go for a short walk - keeping your distance from others. One advantage of this "lockdown" is that when we do venture out for our once-a-day exercise, there is virtually no traffic noise, the air is cleaner and fresher than ever, and the neighbourhood is quieter and more peaceful than usual. Perhaps it is during that quiet stroll that you might be able to draw close to God who is with you all the time no matter what. It is sometimes easy to forget that, or to imagine that He has abandoned us, but on days like today the sheer beauty of His creation around us can help to awaken our hearts and minds to His presence.
Whilst you pray today I would urge you to give a special thought to the many who continue to work extra hard so that the rest of us can be that little bit safer: all NHS staff, the other emergency services, care home workers, teachers looking after the few students who still go to school, those who work in pharmacies and food shops, the public transport workers, the factory workers and the delivery drivers. It is so heartening to read that in the last 24 hours over 250,000 people have come forward offering their voluntary help to the NHS. We thank God for them and pray for their protection.
Today is the Feast of The Annunciation of our Lord - the Church's celebration of the angel's announcement to Mary that she would bear a child. The Church of England's special prayer for today can be see on our website by clicking here. It is an appropriate occasion to be thinking particularly of pregnant mums in our parishes and amongst our families and friends. This is a worrying time for them because, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy, they are among those who are more at risk from coronavirus. Please hold them in your prayers, especially those who are trying to manage at home with other small children to care for at the same time.
I am sure that you are all doing so, but I would urge you very strongly to observe the advice (actually they're "rules" now) about staying at home other than for very occasional shopping trips and once-a-day exercise, and keeping a good distance from others when you do go out. And, of course, wash your hands ... lots!
I am always here - that's never been more true! Please don't hesitate to phone, email, text, etc if you want to be in touch. Very happy to hear from you. I have no doubt Rev James would say the same.
Keep safe and well. Keep looking out for those amazing glimpses of God with you.
Love and prayers,
Tuesday 24th March, 2020
I am sure you will be aware that as of last night the country is in "lockdown". This means that other for exceptional reasons, we are confined to our homes. The effect of this ruling on our churches is that they are now completely closed. Here is the latest statement from the Church of England:
The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England have urged everyone to follow the instructions given by the Prime Minister to stay in their homes in a national effort to limit the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19). But they called on the Church to “continue to pray, to love, to care for the vulnerable”.
It follows the announcement by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson of sweeping restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
It means all Church of England churches will close with immediate effect in line with the Government’s instructions. There will also be no Church weddings or baptisms.
Funerals at the graveside or in crematoriums can still take place, but only in line with the Prime minister’s Statement.
In a joint statement the bishops said: “In the light of the Government’s measures, announced by the Prime Minister this evening, we urge everyone to follow the instructions given.
“We will give a fuller statement of advice as soon as possible. Let us continue to pray, to love, to care for the vulnerable, and build our communities, even while separated.”
Regrettably, therefore, our two churches are now fully closed. However, James and I continue, in our respective homes, with the daily rhythm of prayer and Bible study, and we continually hold all of you in our prayers. James and I will no longer meet on Sundays at Holy Trinity in order to say the communion service. However, I, together with my household, will celebrate communion together in The New Vicarage each Sunday morning and our service will be broadcast via the church website for you to listen to here.
it is my intention to continue to send around a daily email (or at least on most days) to keep you up to date with any developments and to assure you that you are all very much thought of and prayed for. If you have any questions or worries, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I am very happy to answer questions as best I can, listen, and pray with you over the phone. Any practical support I can offer is, of course, very limited now. However, if you have any pressing practical needs, do let me know and I'll see what I can do or where I can direct you.
I am updating the church website on a daily basis so please make use of it. There is a fresh prayer each day together with other worship ideas and resources. For St Hugh's folk, to make life a little simpler, everything you need is on the Holy Trinity website which can be accessed here. Do have a good look at the website and explore it's contents, particularly the pages about worship resources, Sunday download and Covid-19.
My daughter, Anna, has made a recommendation. She is using a daily devotional app available on smartphones and tablets called "Lectio 365". It provides 10 minutes of prayerful, scriptural and reflective devotion which is excellent. If you can, do have a look at it.
In the prayer book I used earlier this morning one of the prayers for today was, I think, particularly apt. It reminds us that in the current gloom, there are always signs of God's grace and love to look out for.
God of mercy,
there are times when we seek signs
and need reassurance of your purpose and your love.
We thank you that in the abundance of your grace
you grant us signs from time to time,
to strengthen our resolve, deepen our faith
and encourage us in the pilgrim way.
I encourage you to keep yours eyes, ears, minds and hearts open and attentive to God's pearls of grace and blessing which, despite everything, are always there. To repeat one of my well worn questions, have you seen the glory? I pray that today in some way, whether large and dramatic or small and gentle, you may encounter God's glory and that you may be encouraged and blessed by it.
I'll be back tomorrow! Meantime have a safe, peaceful and blessed day.
With love and prayers,