All of March this year falls in Lent. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Lent in the Christian Church is the period preceding Easter, which is devoted to fasting, abstinence, prayer and penitence in commemoration of Christ's fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, and so includes forty weekdays.
The word Lent comes from the Middle English Lenten meaning spring. It started in the fourth century when candidates were prepared over 40 days for baptism at Easter. The last week of Lent was seen as particularly important and came to be known as Holy Week.
This special week begins with Palm Sunday when many churches remember Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey by having processions and blessing palms. Maundy Thursday follows remembering Jesus and his disciples’ Last Supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet..
The origin of the name Good Friday, when Jesus’ crucifixion and death are recalled, is uncertain. It may be seen as good, or God’s Friday, because it led to Jesus’ resurrection and his victory over death in resurrection at Easter. Another possibility is simply that Good means holy, a holy day.
The word Easter comes from the Old English eastre, meaning a spring festival in Old English, the language of Anglo-Saxon Britain from c. 450 CE until c. 1150. In Greek and Latin the festival is called pascha from the Greek equivalent to Hebrew’s pesach, meaning Passover. Hence many things associated with Easter are called paschal, such as Paschal Candle.
Observing Lent during this pandemic highlights the strange times we are experiencing as a nation and a human community on our planet. In many ways the world appears to be in a mess. Within this context, the enduring messages of Jesus Christ, encapsulated in the events of Holy Week, are of hope for the future and that we can each make a difference as individuals by our choices and our actions.
So if you haven’t yet given up something for Lent, perhaps you might instead consider taking up offering a few moments in prayer each day until Easter. We all have so much to pray for but also so much for which to give thanks.
Best wishes, <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Simon.</span>
There’s snow, roads and footpaths are icy and slippery, Mam Nick is intermittently impassable: winter is well and truly upon us. And yet, at the same time throughout our world, extreme weather events are occurring with increasing frequency. These include fires raging uncontrollably, floods destroying whole communities, heatwaves and earthquakes.
Human beings cannot control the weather, which is undoubtedly getting more extreme. All of this is down to the slow warming of our planet caused by human actions that we definitely can control. Climate change is happening around us and is accepted as a fact by most people. Even the leaders of China agree and have a national plan to work towards becoming carbon neutral.
The idea that we should look after this planet is not new but it is, at last, a significant issue for peoples and their national governments. Conferences are being held, ideas are being discussed, plans are being made, countries are even entering into commitments. All of these words are very good, as is the realization that this world has finite limits. But concrete action is needed as we cannot go on using and exploiting these resources indefinitely.
The writers of the bible knew this several millennia ago. Genesis, which begins the bible, introduces stewardship of the earth as a human responsibility. Another early writing, Leviticus, emphasizes sharing of natural resources for the common good. Throughout both Old and New Testaments all creation is seen as gift from God, to be lived alongside, and within, gratefully and respectfully.
We begin Lent on Ash Wednesday (17<sup>th</sup> February). Traditionally this is a time of preparation, of making ourselves ready, physically and spiritually, for Easter’s new growth and new life. It is a time that we can use for reflection leading to change and action. Perhaps this year, as we look forward to new or re-newed life after this pandemic, we might each use Lent to think about how we could contribute to the well-being of our planet.
Stewardship of all creation is a central part of being a Christian, following the example of Jesus Christ. It is also, I think, a fundamental responsibility for all human beings.
Best wishes, <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Simon.</span>
So here we are beginning 2021 and I suspect our common hope is that this New Year brings us all better fortune than 2020 with an end to the Corona virus pandemic. We’ve never had anything like this before in our lifetimes and let’s hope it never happens again.
Historically, we are unusual in our lack of experience concerning infectious illnesses. Bubonic plague pandemics may have occurred in the Bronze Age and caused the Plague of Justinian in Roman times (541CE). Episodes of such life changing events are also noted in the earliest books of the bible. Exodus alone records plagues of locusts, frogs, insects, boils and hail, not to mention famine.
Following not along after the Great Famine of 1315, the medieval bubonic plague, or "Black Death", killed as many as one-third of Europe's people in three years (1347–1350). There continued to be major plague outbreaks around the world until the early nineteenth century. Locally the plague arrived in Eyam from London in late August 1665. About the same time, the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded being kept awake by ‘striplings’ ignoring the curfew: some things don’t change!
More recently, the Spanish flu after World War 1 killed more people than the war itself: living through a pandemic puts us in good company with our forebears. This time, though, we have the advantage of scientists rapidly producing vaccines. We live in hope that these will allow us to emerge from our lockdowns much sooner than our ancestors could.
As we make our resolutions at the start of this New Year, perhaps the first should be to hold in our prayers everyone whose life has been changed by the pandemic in any way. Particularly those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, so much emotionally, financially or physically.
At Christmas, we celebrate and give thanks for the new life and hope brought by the birth of the Prince of Peace. Another resolution might be that every one of us enters the New Year hopefully and positively. Despite all that we are living through, there is so much for which to remain thankful.
Best wishes, Simon.
As we leave November, it is important to remind ourselves that this was the month of remembering. The month began with All Saints’ Day followed immediately by All Souls’ Day. Then a week later we had Remembrance Sunday [see Church Notices below] followed by Armistice Day.
This time of remembering is important in our year. All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days ask us to hold in mind all those who have died. Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day call us to remember and hold before God all those involved in war. This includes those who have served their countries in war time, but also all those affected by wars, persecution or terror over the years. Those injured or killed in their homes, refugees who no longer have a home, those left without family or livelihood, those who live with mental and physical illness due to fighting, and all those who care for them.
This long list is a sad indictment of all humanity and our inability to live peacefully with our neighbours, near and far. Which is why we must never forget. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it wrote George Santayana. Given the number of wars in this century alone, it seems the human race has yet to take this simple point to heart.
Now we enter December, usually a month in which we celebrate. The pandemic is going to give this year’s celebrations a different feel, and at the time of writing it is unclear how this will be for each of us. Nevertheless, the underlying reason for our December celebrations remains our remembering of the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is also important to remember that Jesus was born away from his parents’ home in Nazareth: his family had to travel to Bethlehem for a census on the orders of the despised Roman occupying power. Then, to avoid persecution, they fled to Egypt and lived as refugees, probably for several years. War affected the new family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as soon as he was born.
So as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Prince of Peace, let us all continue to remember. And as part of remembering, let us all live our lives peacefully and pray for peace throughout our world.
Best wishes, Simon.
As we continue through autumn, the trees are giving us a spectacular show of seasonal colours, thanks to our dry spring, damp summer and warm September. It is a natural event to enjoy at this interesting moment in the history of our nation and our planet.
In October, we gave thanks for harvest and creation. November brings the time of remembering when we recollect all those who contributed in so many different ways in war time to give us today’s peaceful society.
This year, living through each season has a very different feel because of the Covid-19 pandemic with all its consequences. For our farming community, the cycle of new life, growth and harvest, for both animal and plant crops, has naturally carried on though with some variations. For many people in our nation, the pandemic has not been kind. Job losses and other upheavals have meant no harvest of earnings to allow life to proceed normally.
In some ways, this pandemic has enforced a fallow year on many of us. As a village community, we have also missed so many annual fixtures: country day, fete, barrel race, bonfire night, barn dance and more.
When land has a fallow year, it has time to refresh and renew without growing a crop. It is a time off from the usual demanding routine. Such times have been around for millennia, arguably from the beginning of creation as documented in Genesis when God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day. A more detailed program for fallow time is given elsewhere in the bible (Leviticus 23.33-43).
Whatever its origin, any time of change like this is also an opportunity to re-think and do things differently. Whether or not recent seasons have offered you some fallow time, they have undoubtedly forced unpredicted alterations in lifestyles and routines on all of us. As individuals, we have the chance to use these to vary how we are and how we live. As humans, our planet has shown us a new vision of life with less pollution and more wildlife. I pray that we can use this time and these opportunities wisely.
Best wishes, Simon.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
This well known quote is by Irish author Samuel Beckett in his penultimate work, Worstward Ho! It is a source of great encouragement that failing at something, or not doing as well as we wanted, is a normal part of everyday life. While it hurts each time, and certainly doesn’t seem to get any less with increased age, failing and having to try again will always be part of who we are, as it is also part of the natural world.
The bible adds to this. There is the well-known story of Jesus’ response when Peter checks how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him: ‘as many as seven times?’ he asks. Jesus replies that forgiveness should be extended not seven times but ‘seventy-seven times’. This figure of seventy-seven is biblical code for innumerable times.
In the same way that Samuel Beckett instructs us to forgive ourselves and ‘fail again, fail better’ when necessary, so the message is always to forgive others when things are not right. This, of course, can be exceedingly hard to do at an individual level when we feel we have been wronged in some way.
It is perhaps even harder, and more necessary, at the moment in these strange pandemic times. The latest ‘rule of six’ adds yet another layer of complexity to an already very muddled situation of guidelines and requirements which we are all expected to follow. While it is easy to have an opinion about the merits of those currently in government in our country, leading a nation through a pandemic is a hard thing to do.
Perhaps we should take the advice of Theophan the Recluse, a bishop who stepped back from leadership in the Orthodox church to pray and write. He noted that the need to be forgiving is life long and will always be required: friction in everyday life is not going to go away. To cope, he urged patience with ourselves and others, good humour, friendliness, affability, and behaving towards others as if they had done nothing wrong.
Theophan also recommended praying for all involved. This seems good advice just now.
Best wishes, Simon.
In the familiar story of feeding the 5000, Jesus went to find a quiet spot, get some peace and say his prayers. The crowd heard where he had gone and followed him. By evening, after a busy day teaching and healing, everyone was hungry but there were only five loaves and two fish to go round. Jesus blessed this small picnic and his disciples distributed the food. 5000 men, in addition to an unknown number of women and children, were fed and there were twelve baskets of left overs.
Why is this familiar tale worth re-telling in Ringing Roger? Firstly, it all comes about because Jesus has been very busy and needs a break to re-charge his batteries and to pray. We are not told whether or not he managed to do this.
Many people are feeling in need of a break like that just now as this strange pandemic wears on. The thought of stepping back a bit, catching up on sleep, and re-energising is appealing. It is also essential. No-one can run on empty for long: part of looking after ourselves is to pause periodically. So please, if you fall into this group, make the space and take a time out.
Secondly, one of the key phrases in this story is: ‘when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd and he had compassion for them.’ We can be absolutely certain that the ‘great crowd’ contained people from every walk of life: good and not so good, rough and smooth, and so on. And Jesus ‘had compassion’ for every single one, including you and me had we been there.
Compassion means to empathise with someone who is suffering and to feel compelled to reduce the suffering. In other words, it is more than just feeling for someone. Compassion is about practical action to help and to move things on. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, wrote St Paul. There have been numerous examples of compassion locally and throughout our country during lockdown. It would be great to make this a routine part of everyday life.
Best wishes, Simon.
The big news is that we are now allowed to use our church building for worship once more so Sunday services have re-commenced [see News and Notices for more details]. It has been very strange to be prevented from meeting together for prayer, scripture and music as all are core components of worship in the lives of those who try to follow in the way of Jesus Christ. This welcome development is yet another small demonstration that everyday life is getting going again in our own country and throughout the world.
Someone who was staying in Edale remarked the other day that they were ‘looking forward to getting back to real life’ when they returned home. In my experience life in Edale always feels very real, so the observation set me thinking about liminal spaces. These are defined as in-between spaces, waiting areas, transitional times on the verge of something.
Scripture contains many examples of liminal spaces. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel can be said to have been journeying in a liminal state for many years. It took them numerous decades, many trials and many generations before their journey drew to a close. Frequently, they learnt things which they later forgot.
For most of us, the phase we are in now is such a liminal time of transition, of moving back to ‘real life’ after our lock-down experiences. These experiences have been different for each person, as they have for all affected in any way by this pandemic. All of us will have learnt things from this strange time and doubtless there is more that we will have to learn before this viral pandemic fully settles.
The challenge is for each of us to use this liminal transition time to grow. This might involve doing less of some things and more of others. It might be keeping doing some of the new things that the pandemic has forced on us or maybe leaving behind well-established routines. Whatever your experiences over the last few months, this transition back to ‘real life’ offers opportunities for change that might never come again in some of our life-times: grab them!
It broke my heart to close our church as I know that it is used by many people regularly, in addition to the various services for worship. The BIG NEWS is that we re-opened on 14th June. We’re not able to have services in the building yet but this feels like a really important first step as the restrictions required by our government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are gradually lifted.
Talking with members of our community, it is clear that our church building means a great deal to a large number of us. Some use it for prayer or for worship, others as somewhere to drop into for a moment of peace and quiet, others come to pay respects to those who have died. Whatever the reason, there is something special about Edale Parish Church, as there is about so many places of worship.
Defining exactly what it is that is special is more difficult. That prayer has been offered in this Victorian building and its nearby predecessors for centuries is part of this. It is a sacred space, a thin spot, in which the gap between heaven and earth is narrower than elsewhere: England and nowhere, never and always, where prayer is valid, as the poet T.S. Eliot memorably put it.
Thin spots, often hills, mountains or deserts, are described in the bible where people go to pray and be alone with God. There are numerous examples of Jesus going on his own to pray in places like these.
We are privileged to live amongst the Peak District hills. They form a defining aspect of this small part of creation that many of us know so well. Walking their familiar footpaths is, for me, both relaxing and prayerful. It allows body, mind and spirit to re-charge and refresh in the presence of God the Creator. Like our church, these local hills are a thin spot, where the gap between heaven and earth is narrowed.
As we move into the next phase of living through this pandemic, let us pray for each other and for everyone throughout our world for whom this is a difficult or sad time.
The world-wide Corona virus pandemic is still with us but there are signs that in the UK things are settling down and hints that life is beginning to get back to normal. The dry spring has certainly helped most of us weather the lock-down, apart from those who need rain for grass-growing fields to feed livestock. Here in Edale, visitors are returning gradually and the Penny Pot is open again, hooray – well done Chris and team. Socially distanced coffee is the ‘new normal’, as the latest cliché has it.
Lock-down has been a strange time for many people, so very different to our usual everyday busyness. The inability to see friends and relatives or go out for a meal or to the cinema; being furloughed or working from home; school on-line with the front room as classroom: all these have changed our lives considerably and their on-going influence may alter things for a long time to come.
Such changes in routines can be very helpful. Simply going on holiday often breaks up well-established patterns so that alternatives are found on return. Likewise, taking time out for a retreat offers space for reflection and can allow us time to re-think, to re-set, to create new rhythms and ways of living. The disruption to our lives caused by this aggressive virus provides a similar opportunity to re-shape the mould and try a new beginning.
Throughout history, people have engaged in processes like this while searching for truths and ideals, the best way of being or of drawing close to God. And throughout history these searches have been marked by times of steady routine and times of change, times of finding a route and times of being way-laid. The bible’s Old Testament largely chronicles the people of Israel searching, their ups and downs, their good moments and their fickleness: frequent changes of heart, rebellion and worshipping false idols.
So perhaps this is the right time, as lock-down reduces and we begin to re-establish old patterns and start new ones, to do some reflecting. Which routines might you leave behind? What might you establish in their place? Might this be the point to start afresh and give that long-held ambition a chance? And be assured that, if we search, God is not far from each of us.
Lock down in response to the world-wide Covid-19 virus pandemic continues. How is it going for you? It seems some of us are carrying on with life and work pretty much as usual, some are actively enjoying the peace and quiet and change of pace, and others are finding it all very hard.
For all members of churches and faith communities things feel very strange. Easter celebrated on-line via Zoom in our own homes (as in Edale) or Friday prayers undertaken individually rather than with others are just two examples of many. The Christian faith, along with other faiths, is about individuals coming together in community for worship, sharing and mutual support. When these cannot take place, life is altered.
Commentators have suggested that Covid-19 is a great leveller, affecting Prime Ministers and paupers equally, hence bringing us all more together as a society. There are many ways in which this is clearly untrue. For example, the virus affects more severely those with pre-existing health conditions of whom people on low incomes form a high proportion. Additionally, those of us who live in Edale are having a very different pandemic experience to people socially isolating in over-crowded high rise flats or down-town bedsits.
We are made for relationship, not for being lonely or isolated. What has been striking about our national response to this pandemic is the level of altruism and caring that has emerged. People are volunteering to help others, looking out for neighbours is being talked about and lived, concern for our elderly and lonely people has translated into action.
The message of Easter is of despair and death being followed by the arising of new life and growth. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if, when this pandemic fades, new ways of being and relating shape our whole nation and society for the future: if ‘I’ can turn to ‘we’; if living in the same community means awareness, caring, relating and connecting across generations and divides; if concern for our planet outweighs commercial and selfish considerations; if new priorities and ways of working and relating permanently change how we live?
Let us pray for all those affected by this pandemic and that its long term effects will be change for the better.
Lent started at the end of February. In this column last month, we considered the difficulty of staying any length of time in a harsh desert environment where life is fragile and tough. We noted that it forces you to think about things such as which priorities are crucial? What really matters in our lives?
Since then, things have been turned upside down [is that too strong a phrase?] by the Covid 19 virus. This incredibly successful little organism has been sweeping across our planet with great speed. The consequences have been called a modern day plague.
Readers of the bible’s Old Testament [OT] will recall that plagues have been around for many millennia. The OT records the journey of God’s people, the Israelites, as they suffer numerous calamities – plague amongst them – while searching for a land they can call home. Here in the UK, we at least have a country we can call home. Nevertheless, our national journey over the last few years, and particularly the last few weeks, has felt spectacularly like a roller-coaster ride.
So as we together ride the roller coaster of living through the many and varied consequences of this modern plague, perhaps we are again being called to re-visit our priorities and to ask ourselves what really matters. That can be hard to discern amongst the fog of everyday concerns and either busy-ness or isolation.
For Christians, central priorities are always love of, and care for, neighbours [locally, nationally, globally] and family and self, all enfolded in God’s love for each one of us. As we come to Easter – the greatest Christian festival and demonstration of God’s love – I pray that we can all act lovingly and caringly to support every person in our community.
Around the world and locally, people are worried about the future of our planet. How will it be for us in the coming years? How will it be for our children, grand-children and great-grandchildren? How will it be for those whose lives and homes will be directly affected by changes such as a rise in sea levels? The scientists tell us we are already experiencing more extreme weather events than in the past – how will these change our lives in the future?
A few days ago, we began Lent – traditionally this is a time of preparation and fasting as we remember Jesus’s forty days spent in desert wilderness [or wild-ness] being tempted. Living in the desert brings a person into close contact with God’s creation – silence, day-time heat and night-time cold, clear skies, wind, sandstorms, lack of easy shelter and sustenance and entertainment.
Staying any length of time in such an environment, where life is fragile and difficult, forces you to think about things. What priorities are crucial? Which things really matter? How is your life just now? Might it need to change?
Jesus gave us some help on this in Matthew’ Gospel. ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?’ He goes on to tell us not to worry about food and clothing: ‘your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.’
While he is clear that worrying is unhelpful, he does not say that we should not act: ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.’ For example, work for right relationships between people, and between people and our planet. Live responsibly in caring for all creation and our environment, it is a gift.
Perhaps this Lent is a good moment to take some time out and reflect on these things in each of our lives. Which of our many worries might be unnecessary and can be put to one side? Is there any action we should be taking that we are putting off?
One of the great things about Edale School being a church school is that all those involved with the school get support in various ways from Derby Diocesan Board of Education. The board’s strapline is: We seek to offer our children and young people life in all its fullness.
An example of the support offered is a news letter every few weeks packed with useful advice to use in improving the quality of the education we provide locally [available on Derby Diocesan website]. In the latest edition, Alison Brown [Acting Director of Education in Derby Diocese] reported on an interesting statistic, arising from research, that there is a 31% increase in an individual's sense of flourishing and joy if that person deliberately practises gratitude for two minutes a day for 21 days. She went on to challenge her readers to themselves practice gratitude for two minutes a day.
We have left behind behind the Christmas pressures to over-spend and over-consume and be conned into thinking that this will make us happy. Now we are slowly moving from the darkest time of year towards Spring, but it can seem a long and hard journey. The journey feels even harder this year as we have been saying our goodbyes to dear friends who gave much to this community.
Churchill reminded us that human beings might make a living by what they earn, but they make a life by what they give. The things that matter most like love, relationship, connection, trust, wisdom: these things increase as they are shared. The more we give, the more we have.
Jesus is our ultimate example for this loving and giving. But we have to make a start ourselves. So a belated New Year [and New Decade!] challenge to all our readers: practise gratitude and thankfulness for at least 2 minutes a day, alongside generosity of spirit – it is highly likely to help you, which will, in turn, help those around you.
A highlight of my time as a chaplain in Italy was contributing to an ecumenical service in Assisi. There are two basilicas and a cathedral in Assisi but we were in the biggest. The service lasted over two hours and involved representatives from most of the different faiths in and around Assisi. These included the local Catholic bishop, the imam and the rabbi, a Copt, a Waldensian and a Baha’i.
You can’t go anywhere in Assisi without spotting that it is the City of Peace. This is proclaimed everywhere, from shopping bags to street signs. We were asked to contribute to the annual Spirit of Assisi celebrations of which our service was the highlight. This three day event of praying for peace throughout the world was started by the Pope in 1986.
For the service, each representative was asked to write a prayer and give a talk explaining the prayer before reading it out. The theme for this year was Putting soul into the economy. I was able to take a little bit of Edale to Assisi by basing my prayer on my last contribution to Ringing Roger in November 2019. Then, I wrote about peace as reconciliation between people and countries, as working towards justice for all people especially those who are poor, and as respect for and stewardship of all creation on our planet. These themes became the following prayer:
Most high, almighty, good Lord, we thank you for the gift of your wonder-full creation. We ask your help as we seek to create sustainable communities of peace which truly demonstrate your extravagant and gracious economy of overwhelming love and value for all you have made.
We pray that your peace may so enter our hearts, and the hearts of all people throughout your world, that we may be inspired to create economies founded on love and equality, prayer and action; economies in which we tread lightly on our planet; economies of giving, sharing, and simplicity; economies that work for the world’s poorest people; economies of active stewardship and public leadership; economies in which the decisions we make today so inhabit Christian values that we have something to offer to the children of tomorrow.
We offer these prayers in the name of the Prince of Peace, your Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This prayer feels like a good place from which to begin 2020.
Happy New Year.
On the annual International Day of Peace, the United Nations calls on all nations and people to put down their weapons and commit to living in harmony with one another. Many observe a minute of silence at noon local time, resulting in a ‘peace wave’ moving round the globe across time zones.
This year the theme was “Climate Action for Peace” with a clear message: the global climate emergency is a threat to security and stability. Some areas are becoming uninhabitable, forcing millions to seek safety elsewhere. Ensuing disputes over dwindling resources risk fuelling climate-related conflict.
Seen from Assisi, this is a spiritual issue. Saint Francis of Assisi used the greeting Pax et bonum [peace and good] whenever he met someone. Similarly, in preaching he would pray May the Lord give you peace. For Francis, peace had several meanings.
Firstly, peace referred to reconciliation of disputes between people. Francis travelled to meet the Egyptian Sultan to try to end the contemporary crusade. Towards the end of his life, he brokered an agreement between the Mayor of Assisi and the town’s Bishop who had had a long running disagreement.
Another meaning of peace was around working towards social justice. Francis aligned himself with the poor people of his time and nursed lepers who were the diseased outcasts of the thirteenth century. He was not afraid to speak up to the powerful and rich establishment of his age.
Lastly, he saw all creation as a gift of God. Human beings were simply one part of this great gift and so were required to treat all other beings peacefully and with great respect – as brothers and sisters. Hence the many stories such as Francis preaching to birds and flowers, and picking worms off paths to avoid them being squashed. It is this peacefulness and respect for all creation, and the consequent necessity for stewardship of the environment, which led to Francis becoming the patron saint of ecology in 1979.
As ever, the question is what can you or I do to promote peace in our lives and our communities? Francis always started with prayer but he was also a great man of action. Creating peace is for us all and is about both praying and acting, however small our contribution may seem.
Manchester is one of the great cities of our nation. It is also the city which Sally and I regard as ‘our own’, having between us notched up over half a century of working in this capital of the north. So the recent 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre felt highly pertinent to us.
The Industrial Revolution made Manchester the world’s first true manufacturing city. Two hundred years ago, the Napoleonic Wars had almost bankrupted the country and poverty was increasing in the north west. The working people of the fast growing industrial towns and cities had numerous grievances but no representatives in parliament – their voice was not heard in the House of Commons.
In fact, the authorities and governing classes were very frightened of an uprising by ordinary people. There were powerful vested interests at stake and the example set by unrest in France was a great concern.
By late morning on August 16th 1819, some 60,000 people – children as well as adults – had marched to St Peter’s Field in central Manchester for a political meeting. They had come together to hear a speech by Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt.
The local magistrates – including two local rectors – appeared to panic in the face of this possible public disruption. They ordered the Riot Act to be read and then sent the local militia into what was, by all contemporary accounts, an entirely peaceful crowd. At least 15 people died and some 600 were injured as drunken, sword-wielding troops rode across the confined space of the field.
Although there were no immediate political consequences of this tragedy, the long term outcomes were numerous. For example, in 1832, Manchester received its first two MPs through the Reform Act which increased the representation of the people in government. Similarly, Manchester became central to the development of the trades unions and co-operative movements. The Pankhurst family, of women’s suffrage movement fame, were Mancunians. And so on.
However we feel about the current political ups and downs in our country and the people involved, it is crucial that we do not forget where we have come from. Our democracy, our values and our sense of community as a nation have been hard won. We must treasure them and pray that we never lose them.
For many of the historical details above, I am indebted to David Walker, Bishop of Manchester.
For meteorologists, summer comes to an end on August 31 and autumn begins on September 1. In contrast, astronomers say summer ends on September 22 in the northern hemisphere and autumn begins on Monday, September 23.
Either way, it has been a summer of extremes here in the Peak District. Last year the grass crop was down by 50% and this year it’s up by 50%, so my agricultural advisers tell me. Last year we had a surplus of sunshine - this year, certainly in August, those clear blue skies have been much less evident. Instead the west wind has been having a field day and bringing us a surplus of rain.
This was particularly noticed by the residents of nearby Whaley Bridge when they were evacuated from their homes for fear that the Toddbrook dam, above the town, was going to give way. Despite being up to date with all necessary regular inspections, the dam was found wanting in the extreme weather. Impressively, our local emergency services were not - fully prepared, they rapidly put their disaster plan preparations to good use.
The bible has a lot to say about being prepared, perhaps epitomized by the story of the wise virgins. Of the ten young women, five had taken enough oil for their lamps to last all through the night. The other five were not so well prepared - off they went to get more oil and so missed the big arrival they had been waiting for.
Two questions arise for each of us. Firstly, how prepared are we for the coming seasons of our lives? And if the answer is ‘not very’, how might we put a plan in place and what might it look like?
Secondly, if your house was about to be flooded and you had to leave suddenly, what would you take with you? What would be really important to save? Thinking this through certainly made me reflect on the priorities in my life.
Finally, a further essential response to unexpected or difficult events is prayer. Given the unsettled political season approaching in our country, this seems particularly important just now.
At the end of July, we were at Saint Peter’s Church in Hope celebrating Saint Peter’s day and it set me thinking about my childhood and about Peter.
Our grandparents lived in Brixham in Devon, so as children we visited regularly. A strong memory for me is of visiting Granny’s church. Known as ‘the fisherman’s church’, it was dedicated to Saint Peter the Fisherman. It nestled half-way up the steep hillside surrounding the harbour and had a large model of a trawler with all her sails up suspended above the altar.
With a strong fishing tradition dating back to the 14th century, Brixham is credited with being one of the birthplaces of trawling. In the 19th century it was recorded that this fishing port had 270 sail operated decked trawlers employing 1600 seamen making it “the largest fishery in England”. The current fleet works the English and Bristol Channels, landing over 40 species of fish, and making the port’s fish market – which I loved to visit as a small boy - the largest in the UK by value of fish sold.
The descriptions we have of Peter in the bible tell us that he was a man of many different parts. He was a working fisherman who enthusiastically followed Jesus. He became the leader of Jesus’ disciples and it could be argued that he was Jesus’ best friend. He was present at many important events in Jesus’ life, including risking punishment to be with Jesus just before his death.
But Peter also got things wrong a lot of the time. For example, he denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, he fell asleep when he should have been praying, he tried to walk on water and failed. Peter was a very human, human being.
Despite his flaws, or perhaps because of them, Peter persevered in following the example of Jesus and went on to lead the church that grew up after Jesus died. One of the greatest churches of the world in Rome is named after him.
All of which gives me great encouragement and I hope it might encourage you too. If Saint Peter was not perfect, then we too should not worry much about those times when we are not perfect or at our best. It is normal to have failings because, like Saint Peter, we are human.
Edale School is 200 years old this year. It is a remarkable and very significant achievement. This community owes a deep debt to all those who have worked hard [and still work hard] to begin and continue this tradition of education for young people.
The school motto is the way starts here. So our school building has seen 200 years of young people beginning their journey in life. The school website [http://www.edale.derbyshire.sch.uk/] tells us that this is about valuing children as individuals, enjoying and achieving together, and cherishing this community and its environment.
Edale Country Day aims to be the big, little village show – mega ‘well done’ to everyone who helped make this year’s event such a success. Similarly, Edale School has had the big aim – over two centuries – of educating young people to become whole, well-rounded individuals.
Underpinning all this has been the fact that ours is a church school. The basis for all that the school shares is the core Christian value of love. Learning love, and hence respect, for others, whoever they are and wherever they are on their journey in life – whether starting, re-starting [as we so often have to], or simply getting by a day at a time.
The other Christian institution of learning for young people in Edale, the Peak Centre, also celebrates a significant anniversary this year - its half century.
Community living, discovery and growth form the Peak Centre’s strapline [see https://www.peakcentre.org.uk/]. The website notes that living together as a community is a powerful way to shape relationships, providing the opportunity for young people to develop life skills, and to learn more about themselves.
The Peak Centre is part of the Church of England Diocese of Derby. The centre’s vision is that everyone who stays there benefits from the beautiful location, embraces the challenges offered through outdoor pursuits opportunities, and grows together in their own communities.
<span style="font-size: 1rem; -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;">During this month we celebrated and give thanks for all that has been, for a quarter of a millennium, in these two important institutions in our village and prayed for all that will be for them in the next 250 years. </span>
• The best place to start a walk [Ordnance Survey].
• The best place to live in the Midlands [Sunday Times].
• The UK’s hiking capital, offering a warm welcome to tourists [provided they park considerately] [Daily Telegraph].
Yes, Edale has been hitting the national headlines rather a lot recently. Of particular note was the Sunday Times’ assertion that we are ‘a rural community unmatched for fun, friendliness and enthusiasm’, ‘a creative community with a rare sense of humour.’ And of course, if it’s in the Sunday Times it must be true…..?
Well, let’s hope so. But it is just possible that a group of metropolitan London journalists may a] suffer from hyperbole in the interests of good copy to sell newspapers and b] not be fully aware of all the ins and outs and comings and goings of small Derbyshire villages.
Nevertheless, it set me thinking about the meaning of community. What makes community? How do we maintain or grow community in a place like Edale?
Dictionary definitions include ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’, and ‘the people of a district considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities’.
So how do we now, and how might we in the future, ‘do’ community as we share this valley together? Christians start from Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself. Which of course can be hard at times!
For me, love and respect for others go hand in hand, however trying we may be to one another occasionally. Alongside this, working at community includes: caring for each other if times are hard for any reason; participating in and supporting local organisations and events [several were mentioned by the Sunday Times]; welcoming others; and generally being around/present/responsible within this place we share.
If we can do this with fun, friendliness, enthusiasm, creativity and a sense of humour, our community – and all who live in it - should continue to thrive. We might even forgive the occasional badly parked vehicle.
What moves you deeply? Why? What is it about some events or places or people or sounds or actions that resonates with our inner being? For most of us, such events don’t tend to come along very often, but when they do, I think we tend to remember them.
The first Easter must have been one of those times for all involved. A Roman centurion – one of the tough men of his times and certainly not a Christian – witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross. The Gospels record that he was moved to praise God and exclaim ‘Truly this man was God’s Son’.
Music has been part of human existence for millennia. For many, a tune or a rhythm unlocks in us something that allows us to feel truly in touch with ourselves. What is it about these moments? Why are they special? What is their significance?
A scientist devoted to post-Enlightenment rationalism will be certain that all can be explained by brain waves and physiology. But such physical explanations can never help us understand ‘why’ all this takes place. These are surely spiritual questions asked of each of us in the depths of our hearts, our deepest and most sacred being.
Certainly music touches many in their depths. Young children get it instantly. People with dementia can often still relate through music. It gives pleasure, builds teamwork and improves the health of participants. Why does it have the ability to move us in our inner being? Perhaps that is one of life’s unanswerable questions, or perhaps it calls us to explore the spiritual side of our lives.
Peter Cropper – a great friend of Edale over many years – dedicated his life to music, both through performing and through educating others. In his memory, his family are organizing five professional concerts in Edale Church during May [see notice later in Ringing Roger]. Everyone welcome – the music promises to touch us all deeply.
We are now half way through Lent. Have you given something up or started something new? If so, how are you doing at sticking to it? It can be very hard!
Part of the reason we remember and live out Lent is that the bible records that Jesus went into the desert where he was tempted. It’s an interesting story because it can only have come from Jesus himself as he was alone in the wilderness during this time.
Jesus stayed 40 days and the devil tempted him. ‘The devil’, of course, is one way of viewing things that we see as wrong or evil. Perhaps the language feels a bit harsh to our contemporary ears but in earlier times, many people saw evil as a person and labelled it ‘devil’ or ‘demon’.
Whatever language we use, there is no doubt that – despite the fact that the world is created good - evil is real and potent and can affect both individuals and whole societies. It is also personal – we can each choose whether or not to engage in things or behaviours that are morally or ethically wrong. Evil also can be very hard to spot. It can masquerade as good or ‘least worst’ which makes choosing sometimes very hard and temptations often very attractive.
Jesus was asked to choose or discern three times between good and evil. Eventually the devil gave up and left with the promise that he would return. Temptation and the possibility of evil never go away fully – we may turn them down for a while but other possibilities soon arise. It is a constant battle.
Saint David, patron saint of Wales, is reputed to have coined the phrase ‘do the little things in life right’. Perhaps that encouragement can help each of us to persevere with our choices throughout the rest of Lent. Then the rejoicing and relaxation of our Easter celebrations will be well earned.
The message of Easter is that the risen Christ conquered evil on our behalf. It is thoroughly good news but, sadly, it will not take temptation away.
How often do you pray? The answer to that question obviously varies a lot, but most people do pray occasionally, at least. Mainly, we offer short prayers in specific situations. They might be offering thanks, asking for forgiveness, or asking for help urgently for someone or something.
Historians are unsure about how often Jesus prayed. It is most likely, from the bible, that Jesus followed the Jewish pattern of worship three times daily – at day break, in the middle of the day and at dusk. He is also recorded as frequently going away on his own to pray in quiet places such as hillsides, gardens and the desert.
Over the years, patterns of public worship together have varied. In the early church of the first century, people probably met weekly for worship and a meal. By the second century, it is likely that a pattern of private prayer times had evolved [day break; third, sixth and ninth hours; evening and during the night].
By the fourth century, the private prayer times had gone public with morning and evening prayers in the newly constructed churches – in part due to the Emperor Constantine becoming a Christian. He decriminalised Christianity, which became the state church of the Roman Empire in 380.
By the sixth century, Saint Benedict’s monks were attending seven or more services a day including during the night. Away from monasteries, the worship of most churches was probably twice a day with longer services on a Sunday. Currently, some large churches and cathedrals still offer worship three or four times a day.
Here in Edale, we meet on Sundays for worship*. There has been a pattern of morning and evening weekly services for some years. For the next three months, we are trialling meeting every Sunday morning at 10am with no regular evening services. Feedback on this change would be appreciated.
Even if Sunday worship in church is not for you, do consider saying prayers occasionally or regularly – and ask if you need any advice. Many people find personal praying like this extremely helpful.
Rites of passage happen to all of us at different times in our lives. They mark a change of status and a joining of a new group. In some societies, this involves withdrawing from everyday life for a while before returning in the new status.
For most of us, examples of such moving on might be going to secondary school, college or university marked by graduation dances, prize giving ceremonies and changes of uniform or ties or scarves. Other examples include moving into a house or flat for the first time, getting married or starting a family. Later in life, the death of a relative or retirement mark equally significant milestones.
Sometimes these changes in status are obvious, inevitable, enjoyable and well-celebrated. Alternatively, they can be times of regret, of opportunities left behind and potential unfulfilled. On occasion, the moving on is less obvious and it may not be until much later that we realise that a key transition occurred.
Recently, we celebrated the baptism of Jesus, a traditional rite of passage. Baptism was used in the Jewish religion, long before the time of Christ, to mark the entry into Judaism of non-Jews. It involved immersion in water from which a person emerged into a new life, leaving behind all their old faults and wrong-doing.
John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan when Jesus was 30. It marked the end of his work in the family carpentry business in Nazareth and the start of his teaching ministry – a very significant transition and change in life-style. Afterwards, Jesus took time out to pray and reflect.
Many of us will have significant changes and transitions in 2019. Some will affect us deeply, others will be more minor. Either way, taking time beforehand or afterwards to ponder, think, pray and reflect may allow us to fully appreciate the meaning of each event and hence to learn and grow. T.S.Eliot put it like this in the closing words of his poem Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we first started and know the place for the first time.
As Christmastide draws to a close and 2019 begins, we leave behind the season traditionally known for ‘peace and goodwill on earth’. November 2018 was especially important for peace as we remembered the Armistice of 1918 and the end of the so-called ‘war to end all wars’.
The challenge, noted in this column last month, was how to ensure that the love, peace and goodwill symbolized by the events of both 11th November and 25th December are fully present in all that we, and others, do every day from now on?
In true New Year fashion, I have a suggestion to add to your seasonal resolutions. Might we all, in the words we use with each other and the way we talk to each other [and hence think about each other], resolve to be intentionally peaceful?
My musings on this suggestion, which follow recent political events, came from the British Medical Journal. Concern was expressed about the use of the term ‘illegal migrant’ and careful choice of words was urged.
“Some people think those who protest against this phrase [‘illegal migrant’] are siding with migrants in conflict with the law. On the contrary: the idea of an illegal person is incompatible with the rule of law, which is founded on the idea that everyone has the right to due process and is equal in the eyes of the law. Labelling a person illegal insinuates their very existence is unlawful.
For this reason, bodies such as the UN General Assembly … and the International Organisation of Migration, have all deemed the phrase unacceptable, recommending the use of ‘undocumented’ or ‘irregular’ instead.”
The BMJ also noted that “Words have consequences, especially in situations where strong emotions, as well as social and political conflicts, are endemic.”
At the start of 2019, resolving to choose words carefully, so the language we use with each other is intentionally peaceful and truthful, seems like a positive first step in maintaining seasonal goodwill for the long term. Perhaps our politicians might try making this resolution too!
November has been the month of remembering. This month we move into the final season of the calendar year as we look towards Christmas. Advent – literally meaning ‘to come’ - is a time of preparation and excitement for many people.
All those advertisements that we started receiving in about July bear fruit across the High Streets of our towns. Trees go up, lights are lit, decorations are rejuvenated for another year’s worth of service.
For many centuries, Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas – was a period of fasting, in the same way that six weeks of Lenten fasting precedes Easter. This was followed by the twelve days of Christmas leading to Epiphany on the sixth of January when, traditionally, the Wise Men arrived. These would be twelve holy days or holidays, devoted to feasting at the darkest time of the year and giving everyone a midwinter morale boost.
At Christmas, we welcome the Prince of Peace, born humbly in a stable a long way from home in an occupied and oppressed country. In remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we give thanks that the God of love became human and lives among us. Peace and love inextricably intertwined.
Our remembering of new birth and new life in December parallels our remembering in November. This year, 121 people gathered round the Edale War Memorial at 11am on Sunday 11th November. It was a moment both of giving thanks for the ending of the First World War and also of celebrating the peace of the Armistice.
We were challenged to take this Armistice peace into our lives. How can we ensure that the love and peace symbolized by the events of both November the eleventh and December the twenty fifth are fully present in all that we do every day? How can we ensure that they percolate into the lives of everyone in our own nation and even into the lives of the people of every nation?
The only way is for each of us to truly live love and peace ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi, a man of profound peace, put it like this in a Universal Prayer for Peace:
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.
May we all take the peace of Christmas into a transformed New Year.
November is the month of remembering. This year, both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday fall on 11th November. This is particularly poignant as we will be remembering the centenary of the Armistice signing which ended the First World War.
Remembering is part of being human. I suspect we all want to be remembered in some way, especially by those who have known us. There are numerous examples of people praying to be remembered in the bible. They start with Joseph in the bible’s first book, Genesis, as he languishes in jail, unjustly confined there after his brothers have sold him to Egyptians.
Later, in the New Testament, the convicted thief crucified alongside Jesus prays ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In this case, we will never know his name.
There is something special and perhaps intimate about knowing someone or something’s true name. It allows us to understand it or them in a little more depth. The names on our War Memorial have allowed research into the fourteen men recorded from WW1. Edale Society have their stories.
Of course, we cannot fully know them or what they suffered and went through. Nevertheless, it remains important to acknowledge them. Their stories give us significant insights into the sacrifices made by so many in the conflicts of the last century. Remembering helps us both to honour them, to learn for the future, and above all to be thankful for the peace that we now enjoy.
Every time the eucharist is celebrated throughout the world, Christians remember Christ’s death. Through this holy communion, we acknowledge the pain and suffering of his sacrifice but we also remember the joy and hope of resurrection and new growth. It is for this joy with hope of renewal and life afresh that Jesus died and that hope for the future is echoed in the sacrifices made in both World Wars.
As the WW1 Armistice is recollected throughout our country and elsewhere this centenary year, let us pray that we will always remember. Only through such remembering can learning take place from which hope, peace, and new life for the future emerge.
July has been a significant month for many reasons including sunshine, weddings, new babies and birthdays. The 70th birthday of the NHS on July 5th was of particular note for those of us who have never known life without it, for all those who have received care over the years, and for those many people who have dedicated their working lives to making it all happen. I think that probably includes every single person living in the British Isles.
The NHS remains a national experiment that is admired throughout the world, despite its many faults and niggles. What, we might ask, is its greatest achievement? Providing care on the basis of need and free at the point of delivery was the winner of a recent online poll by the British Medical Journal.
‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalized, but a misfortune the cost of which should be shared by the community’ wrote Aneurin Bevan, the Health Minister who led the founding of the NHS.
One doctor recalled how, prior to 1948, The London Hospital in Stepney had signs up saying ‘We are voluntary – please help us,’ and ‘We are in hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt.’ Interestingly, one historian noted that many factions of the public were initially ambivalent or uninterested about the NHS.
Another historian wrote that one of the big changes for general practice was that, with the decline in organised religion, doctors had also to become part social workers and part priests. He wrote ‘my father was a Methodist minister. When he went to a new GP in 1947, the doctor refused to take a fee saying “I don’t charge the cloth because I send to you the patients for whom I can do nothing”.’
Times have moved on and better healthcare provision means there are many fewer people for whom ‘nothing can be done’. Underpinning our NHS are deep communal and spiritual values including:
• A national community coming together for the common good of everyone;
• Lifelong care and compassion offered to the whole person;
• A tax-funded service, inherently preferential to poorer people.
All birthdays should be celebrated but this is a 70th we should really be shouting about from the rooftops.
My legs are still aching from the exertions of the Edale Parish Boundary Walk on June 16th. About 70 people registered for the walk. I’m not sure how many actually completed the full circumnavigation of the valley but all were creating a bit of living history. Life in Edale is never dull!
The custom of beating the bounds goes back to Anglo Saxon times – it was mentioned in the laws of Alfred the Great and Aethalstan. These days were also known as Gang Days from the old Norse gangr meaning walking. Clergy and people would walk the parish boundaries, stopping at the boundary stones for readings and prayers. Place names such as Gospel Oak and Amen Corner originate from this practice.
If the boundary was long, the walk might take several days. Abolished in 1547 but reinstated by Elizabeth 1 in 1559, the object was to define the parish boundaries and to give thanks to God by blessing fields and homes. The actual stones and line were considered almost sacred. There are reports of a whole procession marching in through the front door of a house built on the boundary line and out through the window!
In the days before maps, a folk memory of the physical boundary was very important. It established to whom tithes were due and which parish authorities had responsibility for the poor, needy and destitute. To make sure young members of the parish remembered the boundaries, tradition tells of boys being whipped with birch or willow and having their heads knocked against each boundary stone. Presumably these practices improved memory retention.
<span style="font-size: 1rem; -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%;">I didn’t notice any forgetful or bruised young people on our walk so perhaps we can leave those particular traditions behind. However, walking the physical boundary of our community did give a different perspective on this valley. It also offered the opportunity to thank God for our life together and for the gift of this small part of God’s creation that we are fortunate to share.</span>
Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar and priest. During the early part of the Second World War, Poland was invaded: Kolbe converted the friary that he led into a temporary hospital and hid some 2000 Jews there as well.
In early 1941, the friary was shut down by the German authorities. Kolbe was arrested and eventually transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. There he continued to act as a priest despite much violent harassment.
At the end of July 1941, ten prisoners disappeared from the camp. In response, ten men were chosen to be starved to death to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men cried out "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He died some two weeks later and has since been made a saint.
This self sacrifice sprang to mind when I heard about the French policeman, Arnaud Beltrane. During a siege in Trebes recently, Beltrane similarly offered himself in place of someone else, a female hostage, and was killed as a result. There was a certain sad irony that this happened just before Easter when we remember Jesus giving up his life for others on the cross.
Maximillian Kolbe’s example and his deeply spiritual life continue to inspire many people. The place of Arnaud Beltrane in history remains to be seen but his bravery cannot be faulted.
What, we might ask, inspires such intrepid actions which most of us could not hope to emulate?
Reflecting on this, a helpful clue for me came when I read further about Kolbe and his community harbouring persecuted Jewish people in their friary at great personal risk. A brother asked if, as a follower of Jesus Christ, he could in good conscience give bread to the Jewish refugees. ‘Yes’, Maximillian replied, ‘it is necessary to do this because all people are our brothers and sisters.’
There is no doubt that our world would be transformed and significantly improved if all humankind could truly believe and live out this simple statement. The starting point for such an initiative has to be each of us in our own everyday lives.
The great thing about having had such a ferociously cold spell in February/early March is that when spring finally arrives, perhaps we appreciate it all the more. The signs of new growth and the expectancy in the landscape are all around us, and the curlews have arrived.
We recently had our 20-month old grandson to stay for a fortnight. It made us realize why humans are designed to have their children while they are young! The constant energy from him, and hence required of us, was a long way from our normal daily routine. But it was also great fun.
I learnt two useful lessons from our small visitor. The first was about living in the present moment. I’ve always had a tendency to be planning ahead and thinking about tomorrow or next week or next month. The problem with that approach to life is that one can miss out on fully experiencing the excitement of today. For someone approaching their second birthday, I’ve been reminded, there is only today. The present is it, and it has to be fully lived.
Secondly I learnt about rhythm. Our grandson has a rhythm to his day. It begins with waking, eating, having lots of energy to work off, then napping for a while. This is followed by a repeat of the cycle before bed time. It took us a few days to tune into his rhythm of life, but it was immensely satisfying as we learnt to live alongside him.
The coming of spring, coinciding with the great festival of Easter, is a reminder of nature’s rhythm. As Storm Emma disappears from our memories, let’s enjoy the present moments of new life emerging all around us in plants and animals alike.
Easter – the most important of the annual Christian festivals – is also about new life. Death on the cross, a time of deep darkness, suffering and winter experienced by Jesus on our behalf, is replaced by the new life and joy of Easter resurrection. This rhythm offers fundamental hope for all of us.
Some of you may have spotted recent changes in the churchyard at Edale Parish Church. As part of our Heritage Lottery Fund project [which included replacing the church roof], the long-planned garden of reflection and remembrance has been created.
Many thanks to Richard Wainwright and his team for their hard work and skill in laying and levelling the paths, footings and benches along with the planters.
The intention of this space is to encourage locals and visitors alike to spend time in the church grounds and in the church itself. Both are sacred spaces with a long history of prayer and worship. Please take a moment, next time you are passing, to try out the benches as places for reflection and for contemplating the beauty of this valley.
On the planters by the War Memorial are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha and omega. They symbolize the never-ending love of God for you and for all creation. They also represent the position of Edale as the start and finish of the Pennine Way, Britain’s first long distance trail.
During January, there have been many visits by children in Years 5 and 6 of local primary schools [including Edale School] to the Peak Centre for a Retreat. In a day away from school routine, they have explored teamwork, relaxation, prayer and their own uniqueness, while having some fun and appreciating the countryside.
The children’s comments at the end of these days have echoed those found in the visitors’ book at Edale Parish Church. They included gratitude for the peacefulness of this special place and for the opportunity to step aside from the bustle of everyday life for a brief period.
We hope the new garden in the church grounds will offer further possibilities for us all to have more moments of reflection and peacefulness within the hectic schedules that we so often make for ourselves.
Saint Anthony lived alone in great poverty in the desert of third century Egypt:
One of the wise men of that time went to find the holy man Anthony and asked him ‘Father, how can you be happy when you are deprived of the consolation that books can give?’ Anthony replied ‘My philosopher friend, my book is the nature of creatures and all creation; and this book is always in front of me when I want to read the words of God’.
Centuries earlier, psalm writers also knew this:
I lift up my eyes to the hills; ♦ from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord, ♦ the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121
Finding God in all creation has been experienced and written about by all succeeding generations. ‘I cannot show you my God but I can show you His works. Look at his works and praise their maker’ wrote Saint Augustine of Hippo. For Meister Eckhart in the fourteenth century, ‘all creation is the utterance of God and all creatures and creation echo God’.
At the end of November, we celebrated the long life of Nancy ‘Milly’ Heardman, who spent the majority of her 103 years in Edale. She knew this valley and its flora intimately. She loved to be alone in the hills even, perhaps especially, on Christmas Day.
Milly would have understood where Saint Anthony and the other writers were coming from. We can find God in all creation and that is where she went to be close to her maker - her long solo walks were infamous.
She was not alone in this. Many of us encounter God through knowing creation. We do not have to travel anywhere for this knowing – the small part of God’s creation that we have been given in this valley is as good a place of encounter as any cathedral or monastery.
We can journey spiritually in many ways, including through music, prose, poetry, reflection, dance, prayer and worship. A good place to begin this New Year might be through walking in the countryside.
With best wishes for your journey through 2018,
To be born in Britain is to be given one of life’s silver spoons, even though it may not feel like that at times.
Imagine being a primary school teacher for 18 years when you have to leave your country suddenly. You eventually arrive in the UK with your newborn baby. Five years later, you remain unable to work, stuck in poverty, but desperate to use your skills to make a future for yourself and your child, who is now attending school. The papers you need to settle in this country are progressing at a snail’s pace through the labyrinthine meanderings of the Home Office.
Actually I find this really hard to imagine, but it is true for one of the women who visited Edale in September when we welcomed a group from Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) for a day out and a picnic.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated story – one of the women told us she had been waiting over twelve years. This is because she comes from two countries and establishing officially which one she belongs to in order to process her asylum application has created even more meanderings amongst our esteemed officialdom.
How to respond? Edale Church has made WAST one of our charities for this year and sent a significant donation from this community. The three visits by members of the group to Edale over the last year have been really appreciated. When your funds are very limited, and you lack confidence and knowledge about getting around in a strange country, a day out is a real boost.
Perhaps our own awareness of the difficulties faced by people unfortunate enough to be stuck in such difficult circumstances is crucial. Then we can each decide how we might respond personally to this pain and hardship.
Even if we do not feel called to a specific action or response, we can all hold refugees and asylum seekers, and those responsible for their future throughout the world, in our prayers.
It's been quite a few weeks in our country, as the Queen noted on her birthday. Atrocities in London and more locally in Manchester, and then the Grenfell Tower tragedy, mixed in with the democratic process of electing representatives to the mother of parliaments.
The pain of those events, and of all the people caught up in them, is raw and fresh and very evident in media reporting. How do you live through something like that? How do you move on?
Coincidentally, there was also the first anniversary of the murder of the young northern MP Jo Cox. Across our country people remembered her with dance, music, food, paper doves, picnics, face painting and so on. This Great Get Together was inspired by a passage in Jo Cox's maiden House of Commons speech in 2015. She spoke of her conviction that 'we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us'.
And yet, and yet..... such distress, such upset. Jo Cox's mum said that her family had pulled together since Jo's death but that 'we'll always be broken because there's a piece missing'.
Anyone who has suffered a loss of whatever sort - perhaps someone dying, or the end of a relationship, or leaving a job - knows something of that feeling of brokenness, of having a piece missing in their lives. At the time it feels almost unbearable.
Franciscan writer Richard Rohr defines suffering as 'whenever we are not in control'. So there's a sense in which we all share the brokenness of the Cox family and the pain of those affaected by the great tragedies of recent weeks. Like them we are all sometimes 'broken', and we all have times when we are not in control.
But in the pain of this reality, the Christian faith has words of hope and love. Through the example of Jesus on the cross, we see something of the God of Love who is always present whatever our 'brokenness' and 'out of control-ness'.
As the fourteenth century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, put it so eloquently, this God of Love always 'comes to us in the lowest part of our need'.