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The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of Jesus’ best-known stories. It beautifully presents the good news of the gospel: the story of God’s generous and underserved love towards us. It’s the story of us being lost yet also found by Him.
The younger son is lost when he demands his inheritance early, deliberately making himself independent and treating his father as dead! This reflects our own lostness as human beings, when we are cut off from the presence and grace of a loving heavenly Father.
After squandering his wealth, he finally comes to his senses: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (18,19). However, even before he arrives home, his father sees him, runs to greet him, and welcomes his son back home. The celebrations for the son reflect the ‘rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents’ (7) for our own homecoming.
This story graphically demonstrates the amazing grace of God for each one of us. The older son’s misunderstanding of the father’s actions is a warning not to harden our hearts to the work of God’s grace in ourselves and others. ‘There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.’ (Philip Yancey).
The story is told of a father and son who had become estranged, and the father searched for him to no avail. In desperation, he put an advert in a local newspaper: ‘Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.’ On the Saturday 800 Pacos showed up!!  

St James the Apostle, apostle to Spain.

 James and his brother John were sons of Zebedee and fishermen from Galilee - the ‘sons of thunder’, as the gospel writers describe their impetuous characters and fiery tempers.
James stands out on three accounts: he was one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ. Jesus took him, along with Peter and John, to ‘watch’ with Him in the garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he went on to be the first apostle to die for the Christian faith, when in AD 44 King Herod Agrippa put him to the sword in Jerusalem at Passover time.
In the centuries following his death, James became associated with the evangelising of Spain, and as a powerful defender of Christianity against the Moors. The heyday of the cult of Santiago de Compostela was from the 12th to the 15th century, and the pilgrimage to Compostela became one of the most important of medieval Christendom. This in time transformed the iconography of James, and his emblems became the pilgrim’s hat and the scallop-shell of Compostela. Over 400 English churches have been dedicated to James. 

Pilgrimage routes to explore in the North.

 ‘Santiago of the North’ has been launched, encouraging people to walk ancient pilgrimage routes to Durham dating back more than 1,000 years.
Around 30 churches in the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle are part of four revived pilgrimage routes starting from villages and towns in the region, re-creating the routes taken by pilgrims to Durham Cathedral.
'The Way of Learning, The Way of Life, The Way of Light and The Way of Love,' allows pilgrims to walk from 27 to 45 miles while exploring places of historical and religious significance.
Modern-day pilgrims can visit churches and historical monuments, museums and galleries on the route, including shrines and places associated with Saints Cuthbert, Bede, Hilda, Helen, Wilfrid, Oswald, Aidan and Godric. Further pilgrimage routes The Angels Way (30 miles) and the Way of the Sea (62 miles) link Lindisfarne and Durham, the two most important pilgrimage centres in the region.
Northern Saints Trail Coordinator David Pott says: “There is a 21st-Century revival in pilgrimage – only 2,500 people walked the Camino to Santiago in 1985, but there were 347,538 pilgrims recorded in 2019."
"Pilgrimages are attracting people who are not necessarily of strong Christian faith but who want to explore more.”  

The Water of Life.

‘O taste and see that the LORD is good’ Psalm 34:8

She came to the well around midday,
To avoid all the gossip she came alone,
She met a Man there who told her all things
Five husbands she had and one not her own.

He asked for a drink, and they started to talk,
A Samaritan woman there with a Jew
Breaking all barriers to meet her need
He told her how she could be made new.

The water of life that He would give
Would mean that she never would thirst again
This transforming draught He offers to all
Once tasted you never will be the same.

At Cana He turned the water to wine
A miracle no-one but He could do
Just as the water was wondrously changed
If you drink from this Fount it can happen to you.

By Megan Carter

St Macrina the Younger, a sister in a million.

 Do you have a sister? Is she ‘good news’ in your life? Macrina the Younger (c. 327 -79) should be the patron saint of all ‘sisters’ whose generosity helps their siblings to succeed.
Macrina the Younger was the eldest of 10 children. Their father was Basil the Elder, a leader in the church in 4th century Cappadocia. When Macrina’s fiancé died when she was 12, she decided not to marry, but instead to stay home and help educate her nine brothers and sisters. Because of her self-sacrifice, they all learned to read the Bible and to have a deep faith in God.
Macrina’s life was not in vain: because of her faithful teaching, two of her brothers, Gregory and Basil, were able to enter the priesthood. They went on to become famous: Gregory of Nyssa became a much-loved bishop and Basil the Great became a great theologian. Along with another priest, Gregory of Nazianzus, they became known as The Cappadocian Fathers, and played a major role in protecting the 4th century church from heresy. Yet they would never have even learned to read without their sister Macrina.
When in 379 Macrina fell ill, her brother Gregory rushed to her side. He found her lying on two planks on the floor of a small hut. Her poverty was absolute and her preparations for death complete. She prayed: ‘Thou hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning of true life...May my soul be received into the hands...’ she died at the time of Vespers and was buried amid widespread grief and lamentation.  

Midsummer

Scorching summer sun
His solstice arch a-blazing
The earth dries and thirsts.

We pant, and, sweating
Beneath the sun we’re lazing
It’s too hot to work 

Candles in the darkCandles in the Dark – Faith, Hope and Love in a Time of Pandemic By Rowan Williams, SPCK £9.99,
Rowan Williams offers comfort, hope and encouragement for the troubled times of coronavirus. He considers how “the foundations have been already laid for whatever new opportunities God has for us on the far side of this crisis.”
The book brings together the 26 weekly Christian meditations originally posted online from March to September 2020, during lockdown in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, for the congregation of his local parish church.  

Prayer is the rope up in the belfry; we pull it, and it rings the bell up in heaven. C Evans. 

The ‘someone’ may find life.

Is just not worth living
For the problems they have
At home, work, or play -
But the friendship you take
Through the kind act of giving
Your time, a few talents,
May brighten their day.

No job is too small
Or too menial to offer
For God to pick up
As the means of His grace,
And through your endeavour
To serve without favour
He’ll come down to earth
And you’ll look on His face.

By Sam Doubtfire  

St Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick.

Sometimes those who suffer are best at helping others in a similar situation. Discharged from the Venetian army with an incurable leg wound, St Camillus (1550 – 1614) founded a religious order called the Ministers of the Sick (the Camellians). Both in their Holy Ghost Hospital in Rome, and by travelling to plague-stricken parts of the world, the Camellians dedicated their lives to caring for the sick. Camillus is the patron of the sick and of nurses.  

"I can take my telescope and look millions of miles into space; but I can go away to my room and in prayer get nearer to God and heaven than I can when assisted by all the telescopes of earth." - Isaac Newton 

Iran set to intensify Christian persecution.

The persecution of Christians is set to intensify in Iran, following the election of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as the Islamic Republic’s new president.
That is the warning from Release International, which is also urging Iran’s new president to allow full religious freedom and release all prisoners of faith.
“This victory for the hardliners will mean hardship for the Church,” warns Release International CEO Paul Robinson. “They are likely to intensify their crackdown against Christians who are often regarded as enemies of the state. Already many Christian leaders have been forced to leave the country. That exodus is likely to continue.”
Voters boycotted the election in record numbers. Only 48.8 per cent turned out to choose their country’s next president. This was widely seen as a snub for a system that prevented most candidates calling for reform from standing.
As former head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi was responsible for the continuing imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker accused of spying. Analysts say Raisi is the favoured successor to Iran's ageing supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
82-year-old Khamenei's stated objective is to ‘purify the revolution’. His broader aim is said to be the establishment of an Islamic civilisation, which would inspire and rally the Muslim world.
“Time and again we see persecution increase wherever Islamist radicals strengthen their grip on power,” says Release CEO Paul Robinson. “In Iran, Pakistan, and in Nigerian states that have adopted Sharia (Islamic law), persecution has been the inevitable consequence of uncompromising Islamist theocratic rule.”
Under Islam, politics and religion are inseparable. And as Iran has become progressively more hard-line in its approach, the Church has been swept up in the crackdown against political opponents.  

St Benedict, author of the famous Rule.

St Benedict (c.480 – c.550) was an abbot and author of the famous Rule that bears his name. Because of his Rule, Benedict is also the Patriarch of Western Monasticism, and Patron Saint of Europe.
Surprisingly little is known about his life. Born at Nursia, Benedict studied at Rome, which he then left before completing his studies to become a hermit at Subiaco. After a time, disciples joined him, whom he organised into twelve deaneries of ten. After an attempt on his life, Benedict moved on to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he wrote the final version of his Rule.
Benedict’s Rule is justly famous and respected: not only did it incorporate much traditional monastic teaching from revered monks like Basil, but Benedict went on to modify this in a way characterised by prudence and moderation within a framework of authority, obedience, stability and community life.
Benedict’s great achievement was to produce a monastic way of life that was complete, orderly, and workable. The monks’ primary occupation was liturgical prayer, which was complemented by sacred reading and manual work of various kinds.
Benedict’s own personality shines through this Rule: wise, discreet, flexible, learned in the law of God, but also a spiritual father to his community. Benedict’s Rule came to be recognised as the fundamental monastic code of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. Because of his Rule, monasteries became centres of learning, agriculture, hospitality, and medicine. Thus, Benedict came to influence the lives of millions of people.  

Social Justice.

Young people today are often very concerned about social and political justice. The ‘Gen Z’ generation (those born in the 21st century) are especially worried about climate justice, as they would term it. They are conscious that over the next 50 to 80 years of their lives, the problems arising from not taking action now will rebound on them in years to come, and may by then be unsolvable.
A recent survey in the summer of 2020, by Youthscape for Tearfund, of 630 young British Christians online and a further 23 participating in focus groups highlighted key issues they were concerned with – and the top 3 were all over 90%:

96% about discrimination, such as racism, sexism, homophobia
94% about poverty, in the UK or abroad
92% about climate change.

They see justice as an important part of their faith, and 84% regard action on climate change as part of basic justice. Two-thirds, 66%, said they had not heard a sermon on climate change, and half, 51%, said no church leader had spoken to them about it. Only 9% felt their church was doing enough on this topic.
On a personal basis, young people felt we should recycle more things (97%), use less plastic (89%), pray about change (85%), eat less meat (73%) and sign petitions or go on a march (46%) for instance. Two-fifths, 40%, said most of their friends would agree with them. They recognise that influencing their family is important (56%) as well as changing the way they travel. In general, they didn’t see the church encouraging them in this direction, but rather dragging its feet. It was the injustice element that concerned them most (86%).
Many felt their faith supported them in their concerns, because they felt people should care for God’s creation. Three-fifths, 58%, considered their church was not doing enough.  

Prayer Walk 21 and OIKOS.

Hope for Every Home, part of HOPE Together, has recently launched OIKOS, a new prayer walking app, as part of Prayer Walk 21. You can find the app free in your app store under OIKOS Outreach.
Hope says that: “During Covid and lockdown God has taken His church out of the building, reconnected people with their local communities and mobilised us through our daily walk. Now the invitation is to turn the daily walk into a prayer walk. Over the next year the Prayer Walk 21 challenge is to pray for the people in every street, every road, and every lane in the UK.”
The OIKOS app is simple to use. To pin a prayer, use your finger to move the map to where you want to pray and tap the screen. You can also pin a ‘share’ when you have shared faith through a caring action, an invitation, or a conversation for example.
Praying for the people in every street, every road, every lane in the UK is huge but it starts with each of us stepping outside our front doors and praying as part of our day to day lives. There are resources available on the Hope for Every Home website to support you.Learn more button
So, as part of Prayer Walk 21, download the OIKOS app. Pray as you walk your local streets and get your friends involved too!  

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – a celebration of faith & service.

A four-day Bank Holiday from 2nd to 5th June 2022 will mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This is being called “an amazing opportunity” to bring our communities together for the celebrations, which end on Pentecost Sunday.
HOPE Together, the Church of England, the Methodist Church, Biblica and other key partners are currently planning for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with a specially commissioned souvenir book to give away; a new anthem for communities and churches to sing; a ’70 Acts of Service’ community challenge to adapt to use together with churches and other organisations, and lots of resources for children and schools.
Rachel Jordan-Wolf, HOPE’s executive director said, “Churches are in an ideal place to bring communities together for national celebrations. We have the tables, chairs, crockery and PA systems – and we love making cakes!
“It is so appropriate that the nation and Commonwealth should be celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on the same weekend as Pentecost, the day when the church celebrates the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.”
The anointing of God’s Holy Spirit was central to the Coronation and, in preparation for the day, The Queen prayed: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, and daily increase in all of us, and in me, thy humble servant, thy manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill us, O Lord, with the Spirit of thy holy fear, now and forever. Amen.’
Learn more

Physicist and Priest: John Polkinghorne (1930-2021).

At the age of 48 the Cambridge Professor John Polkinghorne decided he’d done his bit for physics and that it was time for a different sort of adventure. Resigning his academic position, he trained for ordination in the Church of England. In an interview 40 years later he said, “It’s one thing to go to church on Sundays but to give up a professorship and train for something else – that was a bit more than a gesture…I think a lot of people realised I was a religious person but they didn’t expect me to take it quite that seriously…People were saying to me, ‘Oh John what are you up to?’ They mostly weren’t thinking so much about my becoming a clergyman but just the fact that I was a Christian.” (From Test of Faith, Paternoster, 2009)
John saw his work in science as a Christian vocation, and felt a responsibility to use his talents in that area. Once ordained he found himself thoroughly engaged in the conversation about science and religion. One of his main messages was that “I’m not a vegetarian butcher. There is a cousinly relationship between thinking about theology and thinking about science.”
When asked for a Bible passage to appear at the end of his 2009 interview John chose Colossians 1:15–20: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.’ John’s explanation for his choice speaks volumes to anyone interested in the science-faith dialogue. “I value this passage because it speaks of the cosmic significance of Christ, the One in whom all things hold together and who redeems all things (notice, not just all people) by the blood of his cross. Here meet my deepest religious beliefs and my strongest scientific concerns.”  

Thomas More, Reformation martyr.

These days, lawyers and politicians are held in the lowest esteem by the public, along with tabloid journalists and estate agents. St Thomas More was both a lawyer and politician, who is today much admired for holding steadfastly to his faith-based principles. He lived in dangerous times, when anyone, even queens, who displeased King Henry VIII could find themselves in a condemned cell in The Tower of London.
Sir Thomas More held the office of Lord High Chancellor and at one time was the king’s most trusted adviser. But when King Henry took personal control of the Church in England in order to divorce his first wife, Thomas More courageously opposed him.
Thomas More was a social philosopher and the author of ‘Utopia’. This book described an imaginary republic governed by an educated elite who employed reason rather than self-interest for the general good of everyone. He was himself one of the pre-eminent scholars of his age.
As a Christian theologian he supported orthodox doctrine, vigorously opposed heresy and argued strongly against the new Protestant ideas taking hold in Europe. Although holding the highest political and legal office he was far from being a pragmatic politician and opportunist lawyer. In every matter he was a man who held firmly to what he believed was right in God’s eyes.
When Thomas More fell from favour with the king, as a result of his unflinching views, he was falsely accused of taking bribes. When this charge failed, his enemies accused him of supporting a celebrated seer of the times who was strongly critical of the king. This too failed. He was then required to swear to the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging Henry’s position as head of the Church of England. This he could not do in conscience.
He was put on trial and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered for his treason, a punishment later changed to beheading. He died in 1535 and on the scaffold his final words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” He has been officially declared a martyr saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  

The scammers will come after you.

Do you have a new phone and new number? Be prepared: it is likely that scammers will still be texting you within just two weeks.
A Which? survey has found that of new numbers that have not been shared with anyone, still half of them receive at least one scam text message within the first two weeks.
Scammers do it by using computers to generate numbers. They then send messages out in bulk, using ‘Sim farms’ – devices that operate several cards at a time.
The most frequently received scam message for all of us in recent months has been a text message claiming to be from Royal Mail, usually requesting small amounts of money for a parcel to be delivered. 70 per cent of us have received that fake delivery text over the past five months.  

Want a coffee?

Drinking three cups of coffee a day is good for you. A recent study has found that it can cut your chance of dying from chronic liver disease by up to half.
On average, coffee drinkers seem to have a 21 per cent reduced risk of developing chronic liver disease, and a 49 per cent reduced risk of death from the condition. Researchers found that the optimum intake for health is three or four cups a day.
The results apply to all kinds of coffee, whether instant, ground, or decaf versions, although the instant is slightly less effective. This may be due to the lower levels in instant coffee of the liver-protecting chemicals kahweol and cafestol.
The study at the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh studied almost half a million Britons for a decade, to assess the link between coffee intake and health. The findings were published in the journal BMC Public Health.  

Success or Failure?

Some words of wisdom found in a newspaper recently, taken from an interview with Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds United manager.
“The moments in my life when I have improved are closely related to failure. The moments in my life when I have regressed are closely related to success. Being successful deforms us as human beings. It relaxes us. It plays tricks on us. It makes us worse individuals. It feeds our egos. Failure forms us, makes us more solid, brings us closer to our convictions. It makes us more coherent.”
Of course, no one wants to fail all the time, but this reminds us that we can learn from our failures and must not be carried away by success. That seems like a good Christian principle.  

St John Francis Regis, patron saint for relief workers.

Do you ever admire relief workers? They are hardy folk who regularly appear on our TV screens, actively seeking out the disease-ridden, starving, destitute people of the world, instead of avoiding them, as most of us try and do.
John Francis Regis (1597 – 1640) could be a patron saint of relief workers. It all began back in the early 1600s when he was ordained a Jesuit priest in Toulouse, a town raging with plague. Instead of fleeing for his life, John Regis decided to stay and minister to the plague victims.
Somehow, he survived, and was then sent by his bishop to do mission work in Pamiers and Montpellier. For years John taught and preached Christ’s love, and also put it into action: he collected food for the hungry, clothing for the poor, visited prisoners, and even set up some homes for desperate ex-prostitutes.
In mid-September of 1640 John had a premonition of his approaching death. He took a three-day retreat in order to calmly prepare himself for it, and then he went back to work. Over Christmas, while helping the poor, he caught a chill. By 31st December he was dying of pneumonia, but at peace: he had been granted a vision of heaven and could not wait to get there. His was a life well lived – he was ‘a good and faithful servant’.  

Ivy on your house is not really so bad after all.

So says the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
In an effort to restore the plant’s reputation, the RHS has been showcasing the species at its flagship garden in Wisley, Surrey. It hopes to set a new trend, and to get people to stop seeing ivy as ‘the enemy.’
At Wisley you can now see 390 varieties of ivy, with a vast array of leaf shapes, sizes and colours. The RHS wants people to see that ivy can be an attractive and even eco-friendly addition to your home.
RHS experts say that ivy is a ‘super plant’ that not only has insulating benefits, but also offers habitats for a variety of wildlife, as well as being a food source for birds and pollinators during months of the year when there is very little else for them to eat.
www.rhs.org.uk/press/releases/New-research-shows-ivy-is-the-most-effective-plant  

How climate change could affect your cup of tea.

Now here’s something that will send you straight to your kitchen to put the kettle on: the Great British cup of tea may not taste quite so good in the future.
It seems that extreme weather and rising temperatures could lead to inferior leaves in the future, according to Christian Aid.
Kenya, the world’s foremost exporter of black tea, is now affected by erratic rainfall, floods, droughts, and rising temperatures. India, Sri Lanka and China, also major tea producers, face climate change problems as well.
Climate change has been predicted by some as likely to cut production in Kenya’s best tea-making areas by as much as a quarter by 2050. Even areas of only average growing conditions could see production fall by 39 per cent.
As one tea farmer in Kenya’s Western Highlands, explained: “We cannot predict seasons anymore. Temperatures are rising, rainfall is erratic, often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts. If this continues, it will make growing tea much harder.” 

When someone you love is dying.

We find hope and peace in knowing that as Christians we hold fast to the promise that God will bring forth good out of this season, and that God is with our patients all the more, especially if we cannot be.
As a society and as a church, we are often poorly equipped to deal with death, with the fear, the questions and the concerns that come with it – whether people have a faith or not. As the church, we have a real opportunity here to speak into this space, and to point to the hope that we have in Jesus. We can prepare ourselves as well for conversations around death and the fear of that, but most importantly (to talk about) the hope that we have in our Lord and Saviour.  

The value of making our church ‘common ground’.

As we seek to reconnect with our community this summer, how many local people would find it easy to even venture into our church?
Dr Anne Richards, National Adviser, Mission and Publish Affairs, Church of England, recently had this to say:
“I think that churches, especially rural churches, can be sites of common ground for their communities, both physically and spiritually. A lot of people who contact me think that churches are private spaces and that they might not really be ‘allowed’ to walk in the churchyard or to visit the church on a casual basis. They are often surprised by the openness and welcome of churches.… Mission flourishes where our ‘commons’ are developed and offered. Have we developed holy habits of neighbourliness and care?  

The ‘must have’ magazine for anyone who loves Christian books.

If you care about the publication, promotion and selling of Christian books, you will thoroughly enjoy Together magazine. It is full of the latest news from Christian publishing houses, authors and booksellers, and full of encouragement to anyone wanting to promote Christian literature in their community.
The first issue of Together was published way back in February 2013, as a slender 24-page bi-monthly print-only trade magazine to resource Christian retailers and suppliers in the UK. Eight years on, the magazine has grown to become a full-colour, quality designed, 56-page, A4 magazine available as both print and digital, with a contemporary layout and style that would not look out of place on any High Street magazine rack.
The magazine has a wide range of regular articles including Kids Corner, which reviews newly published Christian children’s titles to the Fiction Files which looks at the latest publications in Christian fiction. Together has also recently included articles on ‘Digital Marketing’, ‘Coping with Redundancy’ and ‘The Growth of Audiobook Reading’. In a recent issue there is an interview with former Chelsea footballer and now a church leader in Canada, Gavin Peacock, on his new book, A Greater Glory From Pitch to Pulpit.
Together Magazine is owned and published by Stephen Briars. If you would like more info, or to view a copy, please email Steve at steve@christianresourcestogether.co.uk. You could be added to the regular circulation of the digital version of Together at no charge.  

Why your dog may be in danger.

 Dog thefts across the UK soared last year. The problem is now so serious that the government is to set up a pet theft taskforce to fight the organised crime gangs involved.
The taskforce will include officials from the Environment Department (Defra), the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the police. There will also be input from animal welfare experts.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: “Having callous thieves steal a much-loved pet is heart-breaking for families, and is a cruel crime.” Stealing a pet is already a criminal offence, with the offender facing up to seven years in prison.
The police strongly advise pet owners never to leave their pet unattended in public, to vary their walking routines, and to take basic security steps at home, such as checking locks on doors and garden gates.  

Please take my money.

Have you ever tried to use cash in a shop, and been refused? That happened to more than a third of us last year.
But now, in response to widespread protest, supermarkets and high street shops have promised that they will continue to accept cash. Aldi, Asda, Co-op, John Lewis, Lloyds Pharmacy and Waitrose have all joined a pledge organised by the consumer group Which? to protect customers’ choice.
Which? is now asking the government to set out when it will introduce laws protecting access to cash, which the Treasury promised in March 2020. A treasury spokesman said: “We remain committed to further legislation to protect cash.”  

What happens when you look at your smartphone.

Looking at your smartphone, or touching it, makes other people want to do the same to their smartphones.
A recent study at the university of Pisa calls it ‘human mimicry’, when people unintentionally change their physical behaviour to match those of people nearby.
The study found it happened to people in social settings that included work, restaurants, cinemas, gyms, waiting rooms, social parties, social meals, public parks and family environments.
Try it yourself, and see what happens to people near you a few minutes later….  

Hospital Chart Bloomers.

Don’t be alarmed, but these are actual writings from hospital charts....

~ The patient refused autopsy.
~ The patient has no previous history of suicides.
~ Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.
~ Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
~ On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it disappeared.
~ The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
~ Discharge status: Alive but without permission.
~ She is numb from her toes down.
~ The skin was moist and dry.
~ Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
~ Patient was alert and unresponsive.
~ I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.
~ Skin: somewhat pale but present.
~ Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.  

The jazz diet?

According to a new study, the moody piano blues of jazz may influence you towards making better dietary choices. Apparently, a slow jazz melody, played on piano, can nudge people towards choosing a healthy meal, and to lingering over it for longer.
Previous research has shown that background music can influence consumer behaviour, but this study at Aarhus University in Denmark is the first to link jazz with food choice.

Honesty is our best policy.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 4:25)
 The church service has just finished, and you are about to go home to read the latest edition of the parish magazine. You parked a bit carelessly because you were in a hurry and as you drive off you feel a slight bump. You stop and see a small scratch on the car parked next to you. It is the vicar’s pride and joy! What do you do? Do you drive off and hope no-one saw. Then, when you get home you have a look round your car and see a bump on the other side where someone hit you.
As Christians we are told to be honest and admit our mistakes. When it happens to us, we feel outraged that someone could damage our property and not own up to it. When we do it to others, the right thing would be to leave a note and take care when parking next time. Honesty is the best policy. We should do to others as we expect others to do to us. If you hit another car, you can feel it and often hear an ominous noise. Sometimes it is difficult to know if you have caused any damage.
People do not, of course, always act honestly. Admitting mistakes is not common in our world. A small scratch or bump can be costly to repair and who wants to lose their no claim’s bonus? Sometimes it is costly to admit a mistake, but as Christians we should be as open and honest as we expect others to be. We should stand out as different to other people and have a good conscience.

Fathers’ Day, a time to celebrate male role models In the UK, USA and Canada, the third Sunday in June is Father's Day. It’s usually a good time for sons and daughters to take their father to his favourite restaurant, or to watch a favoured sport, or whatever else he enjoys doing.
How will you celebrate it this year? If your own father cannot be with you, how about a Zoom meeting?
How do these special days ever get started, anyway? Well, Father’s Day began because way back in 1909 there was a woman in Spokane, Washington, named Sonora Louise Smart Dodd. That year she heard a church sermon about the merits of setting aside a day to honour one's mother. Mother's Day was just beginning to gather widespread attention in the United States at this time. But Sonora Louise Smart Dodd knew that it was her father who had selflessly raised herself and her five siblings by himself after their mother had died in childbirth. So the sermon on mothers gave Sonora Louise the idea to petition for a day to honour fathers, and in particular, her own father, William Jackson Smart.
Sonora Louise soon set about planning the first Father's Day celebration in Spokane in 1910. With support from the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA, her efforts paid off, and a ‘Father’s Day’ was appointed. Sonora Louise had wanted Father’s Day to be on the first Sunday in June (since that was her father's birthday), but the city council didn't have time to approve it until later in the month. And so on 19th June, 1910, the first Father's Day was celebrated in Spokane.
Gradually, other people in other cities caught on and started celebrating their fathers, too. The rose was selected as the official Father's Day flower. Some people began to wear a white rose to honour a father who was dead, and a red one to honour a father who was living. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father's Day - a permanent, national holiday.

Don’t stop too soon.

The story is told of a college graduation where there were a large number of graduates waiting to receive their degrees. Speed was of the essence, and so as the Chancellor presented their diplomas, he simply smiled each time and whispered: “Congratulations, keep moving.”
It’s actually good advice for all of life, and for your Christian life as well. Discovering the reality of God’s love for yourself is life-changing, but – keep moving!
There is so much more that God has in store for you! Paul in 2 Timothy says “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day....”
So, wherever you have reached in your own faith pilgrimage, congratulations, but keep moving!

HYMN: The story behind ‘Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken’ Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the rock of ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See, the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage:
Grace, which like the Lord the giver,
Never fails from age to age?...

The year was 1800, and Vienna was under bombardment by Napoleon’s troops. The great Austrian composer, Haydn, then old and frail, asked to be carried to his piano. There he made his own defiance of Napoleon, by solemnly play through his composition ‘Emperor’s Hymn’. Haydn had composed it for the Austrian Emperor, Franz ll’s birthday on 12 February 1797. Haydn never touched his piano again, and died a few days later, aged 77.
That is where the tune for this well-loved hymn came from. It quickly became the tune of the Austrian national anthem. It was later even adopted by the Germans, as the tune for August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben’s (1798 – 1874) anthem Deutschlandslied, which began with the famous words: ‘Deutschland uber alles’ (Germany before everything). In the ensuing political upheavals, the tune survived in the German national anthem, but was abandoned by the Austrians in 1946.
In the meantime, the tune had also reached England, as early as 1805. It was then that the words of a hymn by John Newton were first paired up with it. This meant that when the Austrian Emperor Franz visited his grandmother Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle, he most likely would have sung his own national anthem tune to English words written by a converted slave trader turned country vicar!
John Newton’s inspiration for this hymn comes from Psalm 87: ‘Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God’ (vs3) and also a text from Isaiah 33:20-21: ‘Look on Zion… there the Lord in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams…’
John Newton’s hymn celebrates the joy of knowing that the Church is the new Jerusalem (Zion) where God abides. He rejoices that God protects His people and promises to supply their needs. He leads them into the Promised Land, just as long ago He led the Israelites through the wilderness to their Promised Land. Back then, He led them with a fiery and cloudy pillar; now we have His very Spirit within us, to guide us each step of the way home.

Church notices that didn’t quite come out right….

The preacher for Sunday next will be found hanging on the notice board in the porch.

The minister is going on holiday next Saturday. Could all missionary boxes be handed into the vicarage by Friday evening, at the latest.

Ladies, when you have emptied the teapot, please stand upside down in the sink.

There will be a procession in the grounds of the monastery next Sunday afternoon. If it rains in the afternoon, the procession will take place in the morning.

Richard of Chichester, wanting God more clearly, dearly and nearly.

Ever wonder where the prayer … ‘May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day’ comes from? Richard of Chichester, a bishop in the 13th century, wrote it.
He began life as Richard de Wych of Droitwich, the son of a yeoman farmer. But Richard was a studious boy, and after helping his father on the farm for several years, refused an advantageous offer of marriage, and instead made his way to Oxford, and later to Paris and Bologna to study canon law.
In 1235 he returned to Oxford, and was soon appointed Chancellor, where he supported Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his struggles against King Henry III’s misuse of Church funds. After further study to become a priest, Richard was in due course made a bishop himself. He was greatly loved. He was charitable and accessible, both stern and merciful to sinners, extraordinarily generous to those stricken by famine, and a brilliant legislator of his diocese. He decreed that the sacraments were to be administered without payment, Mass celebrated in dignified conditions, the clergy to be chaste, to practise residence, and to wear clerical dress. The laity was obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days, and to know by heart the Hail Mary as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.
Richard was also prominent in preaching the Crusade, which he saw as a call to reopen the Holy Land to pilgrims, not as a political expedition. He died at Dover on 3rd April 1253. In art, Richard of Chichester is represented with a chalice at his feet, in memory of his having once dropped the chalice at Mass! One ancient English church is dedicated to him.
And, of course, he is author of that famous prayer, now set to popular music, which runs in full: “Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

Evelyn Underhill, mystical writer of the 20th century.

For anyone interested in Christian mysticism, Evelyn Underhill may be a good place to begin. She died on 10th June 1941 after a life full of remarkable achievements: author of more than 30 books that explored the intersection between the spiritual and the physical, the first woman ever to lecture to the CofE clergy, the first woman to conduct spiritual retreats for the Church, the first woman to establish ecumenical links between churches, and one of the first women theologians to lecture in English universities. Evelyn was also an award-winning bookbinder.
Born in 1875, the daughter of a barrister from Wolverhampton, and then wife to a childhood friend, also a barrister, Evelyn moved in cultured, educated circles, and travelled widely each summer along the Mediterranean – both her father and husband were keen yachting enthusiasts.
Evelyn’s inner, spiritual journey was more complex: from agnosticism to theism, on to Neoplatonism and then Roman Catholicism she went, until in 1921 she became an Anglican - with a later fascination for the Greek Orthodox church. Her daily life was one of reading, writing, and doing various forms of religious work, from visiting the poor to counselling people in trouble.
Her spiritual search began in childhood, after a number of "abrupt experiences of the peaceful, undifferentiated plane of reality—like the 'still desert' of the mystic—in which there was no multiplicity nor need of explanation". Trying to understand these mystical experiences sparked her passion and lifelong quest.
Evelyn became one of the most widely read writers on mysticism in the first half of the 20th century. Her greatest book, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, was published in 1911, and is romantic, engaged, and theoretical rather than historical or scientific. While writing it she came into contact with Baron Friedrich von Hugel, who became her spiritual mentor for many years. He gradually steered her away from mysticism and towards a more Christocentric view of reality.
During World War I Evelyn worked in naval intelligence, but in later years became a Christian pacifist.

Richard Baxter, English Puritan church leader.

If Richard Baxter were alive today, he would probably be contributing to the Thought for the Day on Radio 4, because he had a gift for the soundbite. Try these memorable quotes:
Preaching a man a sermon with a broken head, and telling him to be right with God is equal to telling a man with a broken leg to get up and run a race.
If God be not enough for you, you will never have enough. Turn to Him more, and know Him better, if you would have a satisfied mind.
When I compare my slow and unprofitable life with the frequent and wonderful mercies received, it shames me, it silences me, and leaves me inexcusable.
I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.
As it was, Richard Baxter lived from 1615 to 1691, and so instead of broadcasting, became a well-known English Puritan church leader, poet, hymnodist, theologian and controversialist.
His 19-year ministry at St Mary and All Saints Kidderminster was very influential – he was an impossible preacher to ignore!
As a matter of fact, the BBC would have loved him because he was so outspoken that after the Restoration, his non-separatist Presbyterian approach made him one of the most influential leaders of the Nonconformists, and he spent some time in prison for various religious ‘offences’. He irritated both the Catholics and the Calvinists over various theological views and practices. Yet he was well respected - Dean Stanley called him ‘the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen.’
After the Restoration in 1660, Baxter, who had helped to bring it about, settled in London, and the power of his preaching and his skill as leader was well respected. He had been made a king’s chaplain, and was offered the bishopric of Hereford, but as a moderate dissenter to the C of E, he refused. He was then barred from preaching, but turned to writing, and in all produced some 168 works. He died peacefully in London in 1691.

Antony of Padua, friend of St Francis of Assisi.

Antony of Padua knew St Francis of Assisi. Both men were true followers of Christ in a time of great religious confusion and social turmoil.
Like Francis, Antony (1193 – 1231) was born into a wealthy family. Antony’s father was a nobleman of Lisbon, Portugal, who sent his son at 16 to study the Bible at Coimbra. It was important study: the early 13th century was a time of many heresies, and also when the Christians of Portugal and Spain felt threatened by the Moors. When in 1220 Antony heard of the martyrdom of several Franciscan friars in Morocco, he sailed to Ceuta, a Spanish city beside Morocco, to take their place. But ill-health soon forced him to return home.
A failed plan is not always a disaster in our lives. It was soon apparent that God had other work for Antony to do. His superiors sent him to take part in the General Chapter of Assisi in 1221, where he met St Francis of Assisi. Francis was so impressed with Antony that he sent him to teach theology to the friars at Bologna and Padua, and later at Montpelier, Toulouse and Arles. Antony earned the name ‘the hammer of heretics’.
Antony was elected as Provincial of northern Italy in 1227, and spent hard weeks on the roads each year, visiting the friaries under his charge. Antony also wrote ‘Sermons for Sunday’, which became greatly loved. When he was sent to Rome to discuss the Rule and the Testament of Francis, his preaching at the papal court was hailed as a ‘jewel case of the Bible’. But Antony’s real heart was as a Christian pastor: he spent the final months of his life at Padua, preaching, hearing confessions and helping poor debtors to pay their debts.
His preaching was so popular that Antony filled the marketplaces with listeners. The cult of Antony has always been strong. He seems to have been an outstanding representative of the Franciscan pre-scholastic period, very close in spirit and outlook to Francis himself. The most usual representations of Antony show him with a book and a lily, and the infant Jesus. Antony’s care for the poor is remembered by the 19th century’s charity: Saint Antony’s Bread, which devoted itself to feeding the poor.

Prioritising.

Martha cooked
But Mary looked
And sat at the Master’s feet,
It’s a story of old
But we are told
It’s where man and God can meet.

So much to do
But think it through
There’s a place for you and me,
To spend time with the Lord
And be found in His word
It’s where we are meant to be.

So find a place
To seek His face
Where the Lord Himself is found
With a God who cares
Hears all our prayers
The place where grace abounds.

By Megan Carter

Barnabas, Paul’s first missionary companion.

Would you have liked to go to Cyprus on holiday this year? If so, spare a thought for the Cypriot who played such a key role in the New Testament.
He was Joseph, a Jewish Cypriot and a Levite, who is first mentioned in Acts 4:36, when the Early Church was sharing a communal lifestyle. Joseph sold a field and gave the money to the apostles. His support so touched them that they gave him the nickname of Barnabas, ‘Son of Encouragement’.
Barnabas has two great claims to fame. Firstly, it was Barnabas who made the journey to go and fetch the converted Paul out of Tarsus, and persuade him to go with him to Antioch, where there were many new believers with no one to help them. For a year the two men ministered there, establishing a church. It was here that the believers were first called Christians.
It was also in Antioch (Acts 13) that the Holy Spirit led the church to ‘set aside’ Barnabas and Paul, and to send them out on the church’s first ever ‘missionary journey’. The Bible tells us that they went to Cyprus, and then travelled throughout the island. It was at Lystra that the locals mistook Barnabas for Zeus and Paul for Hermes, much to their dismay.
Much later, back in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul decided to part company. While Paul travelled on to Syria, Barnabas did what he could do best: return to Cyprus and continue to evangelise it. So, if you go to Cyprus and see churches, remember that Christianity on that beautiful island goes right back to Acts 13, when Barnabas and Paul first arrived.
In England there are 13 ancient church dedications and not a few modern ones. Barnabas the generous, the encourager, the apostle who loved his own people – no wonder he should be remembered with love.

Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have. - Billy Graham

Ephrem the Syriac, prolific hymn writer.

Here is a saint for you, if you have ever been touched by the words of a song.
Ephrem the Syriac was born 306AD in Nisibis, Turkey. Baptised in 324, he joined the cathedral school in Nisibis, where it was soon obvious that he had an outstanding gift for writing both music and lyrics.
Ephrem would have agreed with St Paul about the value of using music to express our faith in God. In an age of widespread illiteracy, he saw that hymns could be powerful carriers of orthodox Christianity, even when sung by uneducated people.
And so Ephrem wrote – and wrote. His poetry was so powerful, and his melodies so evocative, that soon his hymns were spreading far and wide across the Roman Empire. And wherever they went, his hymns took the Christian gospel along with them.
Some of Ephrem’s hymns were written to refute heretical ideas, while others praised the beauty of the life of Christ. To Ephrem, everything around us could become a reminder of the presence of God, and thus an aid to worship.
Ephrem became the most prolific and gifted hymn-writer in all of eastern Christianity. His hundreds of hymns influenced the later development of hymn-writing in both Syriac and Greek Christianity.
Ephrem was also a well-respected Christian theologian and writer, always keen to defend orthodoxy from the widespread heresies of the time. Ephrem stressed that Christ's perfect unity of humanity and divinity represented peace, perfection and salvation.
After Nisibis fell to the Turks in 363, Ephrem fled to Edessa, where he continued to work. But plague struck the city in 373, and while nursing others with the plague Ephrem finally died of it himself on 9th June. But his music lives on - more than 500 of his hymns still survive today.

William of York, a victim of injustice.

Have you ever been the victim of someone else’s malice and ambition? Then William of York (d 1154) is the saint for you. William Fitzherbert was born into a noble family, with royal connections. He was also smart – appointed treasurer of York at a young age, and also as a chaplain to King Stephen. But none of it went to his head - he was loved for his kind, amiable and easy-going personality.
Then in 1140 Thurston, the archbishop of York, died. The canons of York knew whom they wanted, and with royal support William was made Thurston’s successor. Yet all was not well: a disappointed minority hated him and had the support of powerful men. William was accused of simony, and of being unchaste. The row brought in the Pope and several bishops, and William was cleared. Yet still – all was not well. That Pope died, and the new Pope was a Cistercian, who preferred the enemies of William. And so, he was deposed.
Yet William seems to have taken all this malice and power-grabbing in his stride. He simply retired to Winchester to live as a devout monk until 1153. Then that year several of his key enemies died, and he was restored as archbishop to York. At last all looked good for him – and he made a triumphant return to York in 1154. But then – disaster struck again: a few days later William was dead - poison was strongly suspected. He was buried in his cathedral and miracles were reported at his tomb. He was regarded as both the victim of grave injustice and as a saint. In 1421 the famous St William window was made, depicting his life and miracles and death in 62 scenes.

Without God the world would be in a maze without a clue.
Woodrow Wilson

Charity.

Charity or love what’s in a name?
The King James Bible translates them the same.
Corinthians 13 tells the great theme
Of love everlasting, everyone’s dream.

Loved by all brides on their wedding day
The verses they all want the preacher to pray
The wonders of love that overrules all,
That holds on believing whatever befalls.

Love always trusting always prevails
Enduring, protecting, love never fails.
Faith hope and charity, virtues all three
But love is the greatest and ever will be.

By Megan Carter

Environmental attendance.

When we think of analysing church attendance, we usually do it by denomination, churchmanship or people’s age. But there is another way. We should also consider the environment (catchment area) of where people attend a church.
The most recent Rural Digest was issued by the Government Statistical Service in March of this year, comparing the rural and urban populations in England. Those of us living in rural towns, villages and hamlets are one-sixth, 16%, of the total population, while those of us living in urban areas (major and minor conurbations, cities and towns) are 83% of the population. (The remaining 1% are living in what are called “sparse settings,” mostly remote rural areas.)
Churchgoing analyses have different classifications, but broadly speaking, those living in commuter rural areas are 10% of all churchgoers, and those in remoter rural areas (which would include sparse areas) are a further 7%, and the total of these two is 17%, the same as the total in the general population. Urban and suburban churchgoers form the remaining 83%.
Over the past 20 years, Inner City church attendance has dropped just -4%, the smallest decline of all environments. Why? Because this is the area where so many Pentecostal churches are located. However, there are three environments where their proportion of all churchgoers in 2020 is greater than in 2000 – City Centres (growth mainly growing larger churches), Inner City (growth due to the planting of many Pentecostal churches as well as congregational growth) and Suburban areas (also where many church plants have taken place). Both factors are important for growth.

What will you miss about lockdown?

More than half of us admit that we will miss some aspects of the Covid-19 restrictions, especially spending more time at home with our family, and appreciating the quieter roads.
A recent study by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori found that around one third of us feel the past year has been similar or better than normal, while 54 per cent of us say that we will miss some of the changes.
Three in ten of us feel closer to our immediate family than we did before the pandemic, while just one in six of us say that we have grown further apart. One in five of us say that our finances are better because of the pandemic.
Overall, it seems that while the public would rather the pandemic hadn’t happened, that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad for everyone, or that people see it as deeply affecting their future lives.

How a vicar’s TikTok meant for seven teenagers reached 1.7 million.

What began as an amusing way to keep up with the seven teenagers in her congregation is now serious outreach for the Revd Anne Beverley of Christ Church in Wesham, Lancashire.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, the first lockdown brought with it a need to stay in touch with the teenagers in her congregation, so Revd Anne Beverley filmed on the social media platform, TikTok – but she did not expect what happened next.
In three days, her video on her TikTok account @ChristChurchWesham was seen not just by the seven local teenagers, but by 1.7 million people around the world.
“We just sat at home watching the numbers go up every time we refreshed our phones,” said Revd Beverley, “it was ridiculous.”
Today, five or six videos are posted each week, which range from dances and singing, to short sermons while walking the dog.
The church has more than 66,000 followers and receives around a thousand comments and questions about God each week.

‘Remember Me’

St Paul’s launches fundraising campaign for memorial St Paul’s Cathedral has launched a campaign in partnership with the Daily Mail to raise £2.3m to build a physical memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral for those who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will be the first build of its kind at St Paul’s for nearly 150 years and is part of the ‘Remember Me’ project, an online book of remembrance launched last year. More than 7,300 names of those who have died as a result of the pandemic have been entered into the book.
The campaign will install the online memorial book at a permanent site within St Paul’s as well as on the internet. People entering the Cathedral by the new Equal Access Ramp will be able to go through the memorial into a tranquil space and take time to remember the many individuals who have died as a result of the pandemic. The memorial will be a portico in the North Transept on the site of an earlier porch destroyed by a bomb in 1941. Oliver Caroe, the Cathedral’s Surveyor to the Fabric, who has designed the memorial, lost his mother during the pandemic.

Justin Martyr, first ever Christian philosopher

Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165AD), is regarded as the first ever Christian philosopher. He was born at Nablus, Samaria, to parents of Greek origin, and was well educated in rhetoric, poetry and history before he turned to philosophy. He studied at Ephesus and Alexandria and tried the schools of the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists. Then in about 130AD Justin became a Christian, and never looked back. His long search for truth was satisfied by the Bible, and above all by Christ, the Word of God.
This apologist and martyr is known as the most important early ‘apologist’. He went on to offer a reasoned defence for Christianity, explaining that it was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. Justin’s aim was evangelism: he thought that pagans would turn to Christianity if they were made aware of Christian doctrine and practice. Justin’s martyrdom took place in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, along with six other believers. At his trial, whose authentic record survives, he clearly confessed his Christian beliefs, refused to sacrifice to the gods, and accepted suffering and death. As he had previously said to the emperor: “You can kill us, but not hurt us.”

Trinity Sunday, celebrating our God who is Three Persons.

Trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity has kept many a theologian busy down the centuries. One helpful picture is to imagine the sun shining in the sky. The sun itself – way out there in space, and unapproachable in its fiery majesty – is the Father. The light that flows from it, which gives us life and illuminates all our lives, is the Son. The heat that flows from it, and which gives us all the energy to move and grow, is the Holy Spirit. You cannot have the sun without its light and its heat. The light and the heat are from the sun, are of the sun, and yet are also distinct in themselves, with their own roles to play.
The Bible makes clear that God is One God, who is disclosed in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. For example:
Deuteronomy 6:4: ‘Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’
Isaiah 45:22: ‘Turn to me and be saved… for I am God, and there is no other.’
Genesis 1:1-2: ‘In the beginning God created…. and the Spirit of God was hovering…’
Judges 14:6: ‘The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power…’
John 1:1-3: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.’
Luke 24:49 actually manages to squeeze the whole Trinity into one sentence. Jesus tells His disciples: ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power (the Holy Spirit) from on high.’
In other words, the sun eternally gives off light and heat, and whenever we turn to its brilliant light, we find that the warmth and life there as well.

Many people will be surprised when Jesus comes again – but nobody will be mistaken. - Anon

A Lady with the Shot.

On either side the dangers lie
We may sicken, we may die;
We cannot drive, we cannot fly,
We must wear masks, but some ask, “why?”
“It’s just a massive plot!”
Though some may protest loud and shrilly
We have to tell them, “don’t be silly,”
There’s just one route from fear so chilly:
The covid vaccine shot!

Through long and anxious toilsome days
They sought for virus-killing ways,
It’s hard to find the words of praise –
Their skill and knowledge just amaze!
They loosed a Gordian Knot!
For months the news had gone so badly
How nice to turn from thinking sadly
And go and meet so very gladly
A lady with the shot!

And now must all folk gladly share
The vaccine which, with equal care
Protects all people, everywhere
If it’s use is wise and fair.
We must share what we’ve got.
And then at last this virus stealthy
Will threaten no-one – poor or wealthy
No more masks to keep us healthy
This clever vaccine shot!

By Nigel Beeton

Augustine of Canterbury, apostle to the English.

Augustine, a 6th century Italian prior, holds a unique place in British history. He became the ‘apostle to the English,’ although it was with great reluctance.
In 596 Augustine was chosen by Pope Gregory to head a mission of monks whom he wanted to send to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine was not a bold man, and by the time he and his band of priests reached Gaul, they wished to turn back. But Gregory would not hear of it, and he bolstered their confidence by sending some more priests out to them, and by consecrating Augustine bishop. Finally, the little party, now 40 in number, landed at Ebbsfleet, Kent in 597.
It would be fascinating to have a detailed description of that first meeting between Bishop Augustine and Ethelbert, powerful King of Kent. Whatever Augustine said, it must have been effective, for Ethelbert granted the 40 priests permission to stay in a house in Canterbury. He even allowed them to preach to his people, while he himself considered their message of Christianity. His wife, Bertha, was a Christian princess from Paris, but she does not seem to have played any role in the conversion of Kent.
By 601 Ethelbert and many of his people had been baptised Christians. The mission to the English was well underway. More clergy, some books, a few relics and several altar vessels arrived from Rome. At Gregory’s wise urging, Augustine decided to consolidate the mission in one small area, rather than try and reach all of Kent. So, Augustine stayed in Canterbury, where he built the cathedral and founded a school. He left only temporarily to establish a see in London.
Also, at Gregory’s wise urging, Augustine did not destroy the pagan temples of the people of Kent, but only the idols in them. In this way, familiar rites were taken over and used for the celebration of the Christian feasts. Meanwhile, before his death in 604, Augustine helped Ethelbert to draft the earliest Anglo-Saxon written laws to survive – and so influenced British law for centuries to come.

How to keep ground coffee fresh.

The battle rages: just where IS the best place to store your ground coffee? Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda, Marks & Spencer and Ocado are among the supermarkets that advise you keep fresh ground coffee in a fridge or freezer after opening.
But Tesco, Waitrose and Harrods advise that you store ground coffee and beans in a cool, dry place such a kitchen cupboard.
Many coffee experts warn that storing your coffee in the fridge is wrong because coffee easily absorbs aroma, moisture and flavours, and can be tainted by fish, meat and cheese.
Martin Isark, founder of the Can I Eat It website, laments: “So much coffee is spoilt by poor storage, which makes the coffee producers want to weep...”
Paul Rooke of the British Coffee Association adds: “Coffee, like many food and drink products when exposed to air, will deteriorate. Cool and dry are the key words; the ideal storage is in an inert, airtight container stored in a cool place.”

The hymns of the Wesleys by Canon David Winter.

 John’s great gift to the Christian cause was the little matter of founding the world-wide movement known as Methodism. His brother Charles had an equally profound impact through his hymns. He actually wrote over 6,000, most of which aren’t sung nowadays, but among the ones we do still sing are all-time favourites – ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’. ‘Jesu lover of my soul’, ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ – and scores more.
40 years ago almost everybody knew quite a lot of hymns, but sadly that’s no longer true. Traditional hymns aren’t usually sung at school assemblies, not even in church schools, and while the audience for ‘Songs of Praise’ on BBC TV is substantial, most of those watching are over 50. With only about ten per cent of the population even irregular church-goers there is inevitably a lack of familiarity with hymns of any kind. Christmas carols are an exception, as is ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Amazing Grace’, because they are frequently heard outside church.
Singing hymns is a wonderful experience at its best – just ask a Welsh rugby crowd singing ‘Bread of heaven’! It seems a pity to lose it.
It’s not a bad idea to take ten minutes and think about what is your favourite hymn, and why – ancient or modern doesn’t matter. Then try singing it in the bath or under the shower – a very purifying experience!

John & Charles Wesley, evangelists & hymn-writers.

John and Charles Wesley were the founders of Methodism. Two of 19 children born to Samuel and Susannah Wesley of Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire in 1703 and 1707, their father was the local rector, while their mother was a spiritual inspiration to her many children. Both John and Charles went to Christ Church, Oxford (1720 and 1726). John was ordained, and Charles and some friends formed a ‘Holy Club’ while still at college. It consisted of men who dedicated themselves to Bible study, prayer, fasting and good works. Such regular disciplines soon earned Charles the nickname ‘Methodist’. The name stuck. Both Charles and John felt called to the mission field, and so in 1735 they sailed to Georgia. Their time among Indians in America was not a success – they struggled for any real spiritual authority in their ministries. Feeling failures, they returned to England in some depression. John summed it up: “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”
Then the Wesleys made friends with some Moravians. They stressed that salvation cannot be earned, but must be received by grace through faith in Christ. Charles was the first to experience this ‘true’ conversion, when on Pentecost Sunday, 21st May 1738, he wrote that the Spirit of God ‘chased away the darkness of my unbelief.’
Only three days later, on 24th May, 1738, it was John’s turn. As he wrote in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
John and Charles Wesley then devoted the rest of their lives to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In doing so, they turned England upside-down. When the established Church threw John out, he took to the fields, preaching to coal miners and commoners. His itinerant evangelism took him 250,000 miles on horseback and to preach over 40,000 sermons. His small ‘societies’ attracted some 120,000 followers by the time of his death.
Charles became the most prolific and skilled hymn-writer in English history, writing hymns that are sung widely today, such as ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.’ In all, he wrote more than 6,000 hymns.
The legacy of the two brothers lives on. As well as Methodism, their teaching has widely impacted the holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, and the charismatic movement.

Day of Pentecost, Whit Sunday.

Pentecost took place on the well-established Jewish festival of Firstfruits, which was observed at the beginning of the wheat harvest. It was seven weeks after Easter, or 50 days including Easter.
A feast day to celebrate the country’s wheat harvest does not sound exactly world-changing, but that year, it became one of the most important days in world history. For Pentecost was the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit - the day the Church was born.
Jesus had told His disciples that something big was going to happen, and that they were to wait for it in Jerusalem, instead of returning to Galilee. Jesus had plans for His disciples, but He knew they could not do the work themselves. They would need His help.
And so, they waited in Jerusalem, praying together with His other followers, for many days. And then on that fateful morning there was suddenly the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of flame flickered on their heads, and they began to praise God in many tongues, to the astonishment of those who heard them. The curse of Babel (Genesis 11: 1- 9) was dramatically reversed that morning.
That morning the Holy Spirit came to indwell the disciples and followers of Jesus. The Church was born. The Christians were suddenly full of life and power, utterly different from their former fearful selves. The change in them was permanent.
Peter gave the first ever sermon of the Christian Church that morning, proclaiming Jesus was the Messiah. His boldness in the face of possible death was in marked contrast to the man who had denied Jesus 50 days before. And 3,000 people responded, were converted, and were baptised. How’s that for fast church growth!
Of course, Pentecost was not the first time the Holy Spirit had acted in this world. All through the Old Testament there are accounts of how God’s Spirit guided people and strengthened them. But now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, He could INDWELL them. From now on, every Christian could have the confidence that Jesus was with them constantly, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

Finding Expression – and God’s Response – in Lament.

The question of suffering comes up regularly in discussions about science and faith. I once visited a school to speak to some of the older teenagers. One of the pupils had sadly passed away from cancer a few weeks before and his classmates asked, “How God could let this happen?” Of course, these young people’s questions about where God was in this situation were important. But the chaplain also gently reminded the class that their friend’s family were Christians, and that they were finding that their experience of loss had brought them even closer to God than before.
One way that grief can bring us near to God is when we share it with Him, telling Him exactly how we feel. The biblical writers had no scruples about expressing themselves to God, giving vent to emotions we often hold back in a church context. As my colleague Roger Abbott has written in his book on ‘Unanswered’ Prayer, “Let us not confuse reverence with spiritual prudishness. Perhaps honesty, the way it feels, is precisely what God is waiting to hear from us.”
About one third of the Psalms express some form of grief. The book of Job is a series of responses to one man’s suffering as he loses his children, property and health in quick succession. Lamentations is also one long outpouring of sadness at what happened to Israel under the Babylonians. Some of the prophets, especially Jeremiah, also express their pain at these sorts of events – which reflect something of God’s own feelings at the suffering of His people.
Most of these biblical authors would have had access to Scriptures that encouraged them to turn to God whatever the circumstances. Emboldened by their knowledge of His character and promises, these divinely inspired writers even express their anger to God about the things He lets happen, or complain that He seems to act unfairly or ignore them in their plight. Not only do these people let out all their feelings without fear of reprisal, but they also clearly expect a helpful answer. Some record a resolution to their troubles – often simply because God speaks to and comforts them, enabling them to keep going.
The biblical writers demonstrated that God can handle pretty much anything – anger, blame, bitterness – if we are actively looking to Him for help. As Pete Greig of the 24-7 prayer movement has written, “pain that is not expressed can never be transformed”.

Helena, Protector of the Holy Places.

Helena should be the patron saint of all mothers who help their sons achieve great things.
Helena was born at Drepanum in Bithynia about 250. Although only a stable-maid or innkeeper’s daughter, she caught the eye and affections of a Roman general, Constantius Chlorus, while he was stationed in Asia Minor on a military campaign. She bore him a son, Constantine, in about 272.
But Constantius was ambitious, and when he became co-emperor (Caesar) in the West in 292, he abandoned Helena in order to marry the stepdaughter of his patron. Helena and her son were sent to live in the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia, where Constantine grew up as a member of the inner circle. Helena never remarried, and lived close to her son, who was devoted to her.
Then, in 306, Constantius died, and Constantine became Augustus of the Roman Empire. He brought his beloved mother to live at the imperial court.
When Constantine became the first Christian emperor of Rome, Helena also became a Christian. She was devout, dressing modestly, and giving generously to churches, the poor, and to prisoners. But soon Constantine had other plans for her: they agreed that she would help him locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition in Palestine. To aid her, Constantine gave her the title Augusta Imperatrix, and unlimited access to the imperial treasury.
And so, from 326-28, even though she was very old, Helena explored the Holy Land on behalf of her son, the Emperor. She went to Bethlehem and founded the Church of the Nativity. She went to the Mount of Olives and founded the Church of Eleona. She went to Calvary and tore down a temple built to Venus over the tomb of Jesus. Constantine then ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Helena also seems to have founded the chapel at St Catherine’s Monastery.
Helena died in 330 in the Holy Land, with Constantine at her side. He brought her body back to Constantinople and buried her in the imperial vault in the Church of the Apostles. We owe to this special mother and son the preservation and honouring of the most famous sites of Christianity.

Alcuin of York, Abbot of Tours, a teacher of genius.

Here is a saint for all primary school teachers who have a passion to help children learn to read and write.
Alcuin was born near York in about 735. His family were of noble stock, and they sent him to York Cathedral School, which had the best teachers in the land. They soon realised that Alcuin had a genius for learning, and within a few years he had become master of the school himself. Under his guidance, the fame of the school grew, with more pupils and an ever-increasing library.
In 781 Alcuin visited Rome, where he met Charlemagne, then King of the Franks, who persuaded him to move to Aachen and become master of the palace school – in effect his minister of education.
Alcuin did a magnificent job – he went on to establish a primary school in every town and village, and because the teachers were the clergy, he saw to it that their own literacy and education were improved. But Alcuin did much more – he set up scriptoria for the copying and preservation of ancient manuscripts, for which we owe him the survival of many classical authors. He is also credited with inventing cursive script – or as we know it, ‘joined-up writing’ – as an aid to speedier copying.
Alcuin also revised the Latin liturgy, wrote nine biblical commentaries, revised the Vulgate Bible, and supported the orthodox doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.
By 796, Alcuin was over 60 and ready to retire. Charlemagne appointed him Abbot of St Martin’s at Tours, and here, in his declining years, he built up a model monastic school as he had done at York and Aachen. He died in May 804, but his influence lives on today, and affects hundreds of millions of us – all of us, in fact, who use joined-up writing!

Famine may be on the way.

That is the stark warning of the Disasters Emergency Committee coalition of UK aid agencies, who says that the economic devastation caused by the pandemic is leading to increasing hunger in poorer countries.
Thousands are likely to die this year as the knock-on effect of Covid-19 worldwide has left millions less able to afford food. South Sudan and Yemen are already on the brink of famine, and Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of the Congo are also in deep trouble.
Just at a time when Covid-19 and wars have crippled the economic and health systems of many countries, humanitarian funding has dropped as donor countries also struggle.
Saleh Saeed, the committee’s chief executive, explained: “People living in places made perilous by conflict, violence and climate disasters are coping as best they can, but the odds are stacked against them. The knock-on effects of the pandemic have crippled economies, making the world’s poorest people even poorer.”

My Garden?

 I thought I owned a garden
A lovely place to be
A bird said, “Beg your pardon,
“This land belongs to me!”

A squirrel dropped a nut on me
Which wasn’t what I’d planned
“Get lost!”, said he, “for can’t you see
“You trespass on my land?”

A pheasant flapped and squawked so loud
I scarce could hear me think!
“Get off my ground, for two’s a crowd!”
He kicked up such a stink!

The wild-life around me
So loudly do protest!
They growl and screech till I can see
That I am just a guest!

By Nigel Beeton

Reflected Faith: Sit and be Still.

How do you ‘sit’ in church? I’m a wriggler and change my position on the seat often. I cross one leg over the other, then swap them over, stretch them out, then cross them at the ankles. I do the same with my arms. I lean one way and then the other.
In other words, ‘I’m a fidget.’ But having been absent from a church building for so long, I wanted to think this month about simply sitting and being still before the Lord.
I’m well aware we’ve done little else this last 18 months – but if you manage to get into a church building, for whatever reason I’d like to encourage us all to just sit still and breathe in the place. To relish being ‘back’!
To sit ‘heavily’ in that spot. To feel the solidity of the surface you are sitting on. Lean into it. Feel how it supports you. Feel each part of your body where it is touching the chair or pew.
Look around you at all the distinctive seating set aside for the different participants of the church: the choir, the worship leader, a deacon or curate, the priest and so on.
In an Anglican church there will be a chair especially dedicated for the use of the Bishop.
However plain or fancy each piece of furniture is within your building, they all have the same purpose. To hold the person and keep them safe.
This month:
As you sit in the church building – or at home if you are not able to do so – think of all those people in the Bible stories who sat with Jesus. The number of times He taught in the Temple or in a synagogue, or to crowds gathered on a hill. Recall the Last Supper and His friends gathered sitting with Him to eat and share the Passover meal, and then recall the meal with the men from the Emmaus Road. So many meal times with the bold and the weak, the saints and the sinners. With you and me.

Caroline Chisholm, helping the emigrants to Australia.

 If you want an example of someone who can show you their faith through their works, Caroline Chisholm is a saint for you. This doughty little 19th century English woman had such a compassionate heart that she helped tens of thousands of people, from India to Australia.
Caroline was born in Northamptonshire in May 1808. Her father William was a pig dealer, and already had 15 children, by four wives. When Caroline was about five, her father brought a poor maimed soldier into the family home and urged his children to look after the wretched man well, as he had fought for their freedom. This disinterested compassion for a poor struggling ‘outsider’ would become the lodestar of Caroline’s life.
In 1830, when Caroline was 22, she married Captain Archibald Chisholm, of the East India Company Army. Out in Madras, Caroline grew alarmed for the young girls growing up in the barracks. She founded the Female School of Industry for the Daughters of European Soldiers, to provide a practical education.
After having two sons and working on the Indian subcontinent for a number of years, Captain Chisholm was granted a two-year furlough in 1838 on grounds of ill health. The family moved to the sunshine of Australia, near Sydney. Here Caroline was appalled at the conditions that faced emigrants, especially female, arriving in the colony. Many ended up working the streets, just to survive.
Caroline stayed for seven years in Australia, placing more than 11,000 people in homes and jobs, and in all, her Female Immigrant Home helped more than 40,000 people. Highly respected by the government, she gave evidence before Legislative Council Committees, but accepted money from no one. When Archibald left the army in 1845 he and Caroline toured Australia at their own expense, collecting more than 600 statements from emigrants that detailed the truth about the problems of emigration.
Back in England, the statements caught the attention and respect of Charles Dickens, the House of Lords Select Committees, Lord Shaftesbury, Sir Sydney Herbert, Wyndham Harding FRS and even Pope Pius IX. Caroline and Archibald went on to help more than 3,000 people safely emigrate to Australia, before moving back there themselves, where they both died in 1877. In his novel Bleak House, Charles Dickens is said to have partly based the character of Mrs Jellyby on Caroline Chisholm.

St Matthias, the replacement apostle.

If you’re saying to yourself, ‘Who?’ you’ll be in good company. May 15th is the feast day of St Matthias the Apostle, and in describing him thus we have said just about all there is to know about him. He gets just one mention in the Bible, in the first chapter of Acts, immediately prior to the day of Pentecost, where it tells us that he was elected to take the place in the ranks of the twelve apostles recently vacated by the betrayer Judas Iscariot.
Eusebius, in the fourth century, says in his history of the apostolic era that Matthias was one of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1), and that seems reasonable. When it was necessary to fill the vacancy among the apostles it would be natural to turn to someone who had followed Jesus from earlier years, as well as being a witness of the resurrection. Two names were suggested and prayed over. Then the apostles cast lots, following the Old Testament practice of the high priest’s Urim and Thummim, one assumes. When they did, ‘the lot fell on Matthias’.
Casting lots to fill vacancies on committees or councils, or even to appoint bishops, might seem to us to be rather risky. The Victorian preacher Campbell Morgan even suggested, that the 11 acted in haste and pre-empted God’s choice of Saul (later known as Paul), who at that time was busy persecuting the Church, arresting Christians and having them thrown into prison. He hadn’t yet travelled the Damascus Road.
Be that as it may, Matthias was elected, and for us he can stand for all those excellent, consistent, reliable and faithful servants of Christ who never make a headline, not even in this blog. Yet still he was chosen because he could be a ‘witness’, and so are we.
Doubtless he fulfilled that responsibility admirably, without, as we say, ‘setting the Thames on fire’. Let’s salute him on his day - the ‘Unknown Apostle’.

Ascension Day, 40 Days with the Risen Christ

 40 days after Easter comes Ascension Day. These are the 40 days during which the Risen Christ appeared again and again to His disciples, following His death and resurrection. (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20.)
The Gospels give us little of Christ’s teachings and deeds during those 40 days. Jesus was seen by numerous of His disciples: on the road to Emmaus, by the Sea of Galilee, in houses, etc. He strengthened and encouraged His disciples, and at last opened their eyes to all that the Scriptures had promised about the Messiah. Jesus also told them that as the Father had sent Him, He was now going to send them - to all corners of the earth, as His witnesses.
Surely the most tender, moving ‘farewell’ in history took place on Ascension Day. Luke records the story with great poignancy: ‘When Jesus had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, He lifted up His hands - and blessed them.’
As Christmas began the story of Jesus’ life on earth, so Ascension Day completes it, with His return to His Father in heaven. Jesus’ last act on earth was to bless His disciples. He and they had a bond as close as could be: they had just lived through three tumultuous years of public ministry and miracles – persecution and death – and resurrection! Just as we part from our nearest and dearest by still looking at them with love and memories in our eyes, so exactly did Jesus: ‘While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up into heaven.’ (Luke 24:50-1) He was not forsaking them, but merely going on ahead to a kingdom which would also be theirs one day: ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God...’ (John 20:17)
The disciples were surely the most favoured folk in history. Imagine being one of the last few people on earth to be face to face with Jesus, and to have Him look on you with love. No wonder then that Luke goes on: ‘they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’ (Luke 24:52,53)
No wonder they praised God! They knew they would see Jesus again one day! ‘I am going to prepare a place for you... I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ (John 14:2,3) In the meantime, Jesus had work for them to do: to take the Gospel to every nation on earth.

It is possible to be so active in the service of Christ as to forget to love Him. - P T Forsyth

The Parable of the Great Banquet.

One thing that we’ve probably missed over the past year is parties. Well, this month should enable us to party again all be it with a small number! Lots of Jesus’ parables focus on parties, as they are a picture of the joy, hope and life of the kingdom of God. The parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14: 15-24) challenges us not to miss out on this.
In Jesus’ day, when people accepted an invitation to a banquet, they were only told the actual time on the day: ‘Come, for everything is now ready’ (17). Jesus’ invites each one of us to share in the life of His kingdom.
However, the guests made excuses for not coming. At the time, this would have been extremely insulting to the host. They said: ‘I have just bought a field; I must try out my new team of oxen; I have just got married’ (18-20). These are all good things in themselves, however they reveal their priorities were elsewhere.
We too can be pre-occupied with our own routines of work, family, retirement, holidays, friends, home, social media, that we forget God’s priorities for our lives. Jesus calls for total commitment from His disciples. What priority in my life is holding me back from accepting His invitation?
How did the host respond? He ordered His servants to ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ (21). He invited the unexpected and unacceptable people to His banquet. Jesus makes the point that God’s kingdom is open to all! Thinking about our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, even if they’re not like us or show little interest in God: Are we willing to offer them God’s invitation to share His love and life?

Comgall, the saint for those in education.

 Here is a great saint for all teachers, head teachers and principals of educational institutions, and indeed anyone whose vocation is to train and equip others. For Comgall (c 516 – c 601) was founder and first abbot of Bangor, which became the largest monastery in Ireland. And large means LARGE – for including several daughter houses, the total population is reckoned to have been 3,000.
If you have ever run an educational institution of 3,000 pupils (!), you will know it takes a special kind of person to cope with that, and Comgall seems to have been perfect for the job. A biographer at the time called him ‘the outstanding father of the monks in Ireland, known for his insistence on study and strict discipline.’
Comgall’s rule had what it took to succeed. It was ‘strict, holy and constant’, both ‘graced with the hope of salvation and made perfect in love’, according to the 7th century writer Antiphoner of Bangor. Above all, followers were to love Christ, and reject the love of money.
Comgall also had a gift for friendship, for on the death of a close friend, he wrote in grief: ‘My soul-friend has died and I am headless; you too are headless, for a man without a soul-friend is a body without a head.’
Like heads and principals today, Comgall knew a lot of important people. He had trained Columbanus and knew Columba, whom he visited on Iona. They even preached the Gospel together in Inverness, to the pagan chieftain Brude.

Rogation Sunday (Sunday before Ascension).

 Rogation means an asking of God - for blessing on the seed and land for the year ahead. It is appropriate in any emergency, war, plague, drought or foul weather.
The practice began with the Romans, who invoked the help of the gods Terminus and Ambarvalia. In those days a crowd moved in procession around the cornfields, singing and dancing, sacrificing animals, and driving away Winter with sticks. They wanted to rid the cornfields of evil.
In about 465 the Western world was suffering from earthquake, storm and epidemic. So Mamertius, Bishop of Vienne, aware of the popular pagan custom, ordered that prayers should be said in the ruined or neglected fields on the days leading up to Ascension. With his decision, ‘beating the bounds’ became a Christian ceremonial.
Rogation-tide arrived in England early in the eighth century and became a fixed and perennial asking for help of the Christian God. On Rogation-tide, a little party would set out to trace the boundaries of the parish. At the head marched the bishop or the priest, with a minor official bearing a Cross, and after them the people of the parish, with schoolboys and their master trailing along. Most of them held slender wands of willow.
At certain points along the route - at well-known landmarks like a bridge or stile or ancient tree, the Cross halted, the party gathered about the priest, and a litany or rogation is said, imploring God to send seasonable wealth, keep the corn and roots and boughs in good health, and bring them to an ample harvest. At some point beer and cheese would be waiting.
In the days when maps were neither common nor accurate, there was much to be said for ‘beating the bounds.’ It was still very common as late as the reign of Queen Victoria. Certainly, parish boundaries rarely came into dispute, for everyone knew them. (Do you know yours today?)

Julian of Norwich, a voice from a distant cell.

Julian of Norwich was born in 1342 and wrote at the end of the 14th century, when our modern English language was slowly emerging from its origins in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.
We know little about Julian’s early life, but when she was 30, she fell ill and was near death when suddenly her pain left her, and she received 16 visitations. Julian wrote these down, in what became known as the ‘short text’. 20 years later she extended this to become her ‘long text’.
She was an anchoress – someone who had committed herself to a life of solitude, giving herself to prayer and fasting. St Julian’s, Norwich was the church where she had her little ‘cell’.
Julian taught that all things depend upon the love of God for their being. Her spirituality was focussed on the cross, and she wanted to share the sufferings of Christ. She believed that humanity is separated from God by sin, but redeemed through Christ, who reunites us with God. Julian also emphasised Christ as mother, but within a clear Trinitarian understanding of the godhead.
Her masterpiece, Revelations of Divine Love, reveals a mystic of such depth and insight that it is still read by many thousands of Christians today. One of the notable features is that her theology determined her experience, rather than the other way round.
She is honoured this month in the Lutheran and Anglican Churches, but although she is held in high regard by many Roman Catholics, her own Church has never felt able to recognise her as a ‘saint’. This is probably because she spoke of God as embracing both male and female qualities. Revelations is an account of the visions she received in her tiny room, which thousands of pilgrims visit every year.
Her most famous saying, quoted by T S Eliot in one of his poems, is ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words have brought comfort and strength to many a soul in distress.

Don’t make decisions on an empty stomach.

Scientists at Harvard have found that when you have higher levels of the body’s hunger hormone, ghrelin, in your system, you are more likely to be impulsive. This means that you will be liable to make poor decisions, tending towards instant gratification rather than long-term achievement.
In one experiment, hungry women with a higher amount of the hunger hormone chose to receive £20 the same day, instead of £80 in two weeks’ time.
So, ghrelin may well “play a broader role in human related behaviour and decision making, such as monetary choices.”

Grace - God’s kindness towards us.

The word ‘grace’ is one of the most important words found in the New Testament. It means God’s loving disposition towards us as sinners. God’s ‘grace’ is almost another word for God’s love. This grace is the foundation of our salvation. So Paul can say that ‘we are justified freely by His grace’ (Romans 3:24); ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more’ (Romans 5:20); ‘by grace you are saved through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8). But the word ‘grace’ is also used in another way in the New Testament. It means the godly character being reproduced in Christians; Christ living in His people by His Spirit and making them like Himself – gracious.
Luke records that as Jesus grew up ‘the grace of God was upon Him’ (2:40), and that the people wondered at the ‘gracious words’ that He spoke (4:22). John says that Jesus was ‘full of grace and truth’ (1:14). The most common benediction bestowed on Christians in the letters of the New Testament is ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (eg Romans 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:23).
From this understanding of grace comes the reminder and the exhortation that all of us as Christians are ‘to grow in grace’ (2 Peter 3:18). Our lives should manifest the grace of God in love and compassion and kindness.
But grace is not something we can achieve on our own. True grace is only found in close communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wake up!

Remember the story of Jacob, and how God met him in a dream when he was sleeping on the desert floor with a rock for his pillow? The story in Genesis 28 says this: ‘When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”’
I wonder what place you find yourself in today, and if you are aware of God’s presence with you there?
It may be a geographical place, the place where you live or work. That may be a beautiful place to be, or it may be a very hard place to be, and you would much prefer to be somewhere else. Either way, God is with you there, for He is everywhere, and there is no place where He is not.
It may be an emotional place, as when we say, ‘I’m not in a good place right now’. How are you feeling today – up or down? Again, whatever mood you are in, God is with you for He knows us through and through. Having become human, He understands all our fluctuating emotions. He can comfort us right where we are.
It may be a phase of life that you are passing through, a stage on life’s journey or a transition as you move from one situation to another. You may be passing through the valley of grief and loneliness, or anxiously waiting for news of a loved one who is ill. No matter where you are, you are not alone, for God is with you whether you can feel His presence or not.
What is needed is for us to become more aware of God’s surrounding presence, to wake up to His closeness as did Jacob.
Lord, wake me up to your abiding presence, even this day.

The story behind the HYMN: ‘Lord, for the years’

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord for the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive your people's praise.

*Lord, for our hopes, the dreams of all our living,
Christ and his kingdom one united aim;
Rulers and peoples bound in high thanksgiving,
Lord of our hopes, our trust is in your Name. …
By Timothy Dudley Smith

This well-loved hymn was written in 1967 by the Revd Timothy Dudley Smith, who later became Bishop of Thetford. He later confessed: “I wrote it on a train when I was very pressed for time. I’m thankful if something I write gets picked up, but I suspect anyone who does something in a rush later regrets that they didn’t find time to apply the sandpaper a bit more!”
Dudley Smith had been asked to write a hymn for the centenary service of the Children’s Special Service Mission, now Scripture Union, in St Paul’s Cathedral. His commission was to write words that could be fitted to Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia, as it was to be accompanied by an orchestra with this tune in their repertoire. And so – ‘Lord for the years’ was written.
Dudley Smith need not have worried about lack of time – his lyrics were a ‘hit’ in the cathedral on the day, and went on to become so well-loved that George Carey chose the hymn to be sung at his consecration as Bishop of Bath and Wells, and then again later, in 1991, or his consecration as Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral.
The hymn continued to be widely sung and loved, until in 2002 Timothy Dudley Smith was asked to write an extra verse for it so that it could even be sung around the time of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Many of the words in the hymn are true for the Queen herself, as she celebrates her 95th birthday next month. She does indeed thank God ‘for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way’…
And so indeed the ‘extra’ verse added for the Queen has also held true:

Lord for our hopes, the dreams of all our living,
Christ and his kingdom one united aim,
Rulers and peoples bound in high thanksgiving,
Lord of our hopes, our trust is in your Name.

Church Commissioners to reduce carbon intensity of its portfolio by 2025.

The Church Commissioners for England have announced their goal to reduce the carbon intensity of their investment portfolio by 25% by 2025.
The 25% reduction target, based on a baseline of 2019, is “a realistic goal in our mission to create real world change to transition to a net zero global economy.”
The Church Commissioners have therefore committed to “increasing engagement activity with the highest emitting companies in our portfolio, as well as with our investment managers across all asset classes.”
They go on: “We are also increasing our policy work in the build-up to COP26 and beyond. This includes Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Deforestation and the Green Recovery.”
The 2025 target includes the Commissioners’ public equities and real estate portfolio.

James the Less, quiet son of Alphaeus.

One thing for sure: the apostles were not self-obsessed. In fact, many a church historian has wished that they had left us just a few more personal details about themselves in the New Testament. James the Less is an excellent example.
This is the name we give to James the son of Alphaeus, but beyond that, who was he? Sometimes he is identified as the James whose mother stood by Christ on the cross. Sometimes he is thought to be the James who was ‘brother of the Lord’. Sometimes he is thought to be the James who saw the risen Christ. He has also, and often, been called the first bishop of Jerusalem. And finally, sometimes James the Less has been thought of as the author of the Epistle of James.
But who really knows? If none of these identifications are correct, we know practically nothing about James the Less. So perhaps on this day we can simply recall ‘all’ of the James’ above, and thank God for the mother who stood by the cross, the brother that supported Jesus, the apostle who saw his risen Lord and gave his life to proclaiming the truth, the first bishop of Jerusalem, and the author of the marvellous Epistle of James. Whether it was one James or several, they were all faithful to Jesus, and proclaimed Him as the Messiah. So perhaps that should make them James the More!
James the Less has been given an unusual iconographic emblem: a fuller’s club. Tradition has it that he was beaten to death with one, after being sentenced by the Sanhedrin in AD62. In England there are only 26 churches which are dedicated to James the Less. (Rosemary & I used to worship at James the Less, Dorney).

Prayer is not an argument with God to persuade Him to move things our way, but an exercise by which we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to move ourselves His way. -Leonard Ravenshill.

True story.

Several years ago, a notice appeared on the vestry noticeboard of a church in Hampshire, after a Holy Week performance of Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’.
The choirmaster wrote “The Crucifixion – well done, everyone!’ Later that day, someone had added, ‘The Resurrection – well done, God!’

You know you're into middle age when you realise that caution is the only thing you care to exercise.

Peter Chanel, missionary and martyr in the South Pacific 1841.

Many of us can show great dedication in pursuit of a career that will bring us a good salary or position. Peter Chanel should be the patron saint of anyone who shows quiet determination in doing what they believe to be God’s call upon their life; regardless of the harsh personal consequences.
Chanel was born at the end of the 18th century in mid-eastern France. He’d heard stories of the foreign missions as a youngster and wanted to be a missionary. His first step was seminary training and ordination in 1827.
But then Chanel hit a blank wall. Though eager to go abroad, his bishop sent him to a run-down local parish instead. Obedient, Chanel went – and revitalised the parish within three years. But he also joined the then still forming Society of Mary (Marists) who had a heart for foreign missionary work. But then – another blank wall – as even the Marists kept him in France, as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley.
It was not until 1836, that Chanel finally was allowed to join a mission to the South West Pacific. He set out with a band of Marist missionaries for Tahiti and Tonga, and finally reaching the neighbouring island of Futuna, in November 1837.
Chanel and the other missionaries were initially well received by the island's king, Niuliki. But when they began preaching to the people, the king grew restive. He feared Christianity would threaten his supreme powers. When the king's son, Meitala, sought baptism, the king decided to take action. His favoured warrior, Musumusu went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him, Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head. Chanel died that day, 28th April 1841.
Chanel had only three and a half years on the mission field, but he did not die in vain: his work had laid the base for a future mission there. Within a very few years the people of Futuna converted, and even the warrior, Musumusu converted. As Musumusu lay dying he asked to be buried outside the church at Poi, so that those who came to revere Peter Chanel in the Church would walk over his grave to get to it. Chanel had achieved his life’s goal: a mission that took Jesus Christ to people in a far-flung corner of the world.

Tertullian, fierce firebrand of the Early Church.

Tertullian was born in Carthage, North Africa, about 155 AD. He had pagan parents and his father may have been a centurion. Carthage was a prestigious Roman colony and Tertullian was given a good education in Greek, Latin, literature, history and philosophy. On arrival in Rome, Tertullian probably worked as a lawyer.
In Rome, he also enjoyed visits to the arena, to see gladiators kill each other and Christians devoured by lions. However, Tertullian grew impressed with the Christians; by their courage, and willingness to die for their belief in one God. He was also moved by their compassion for the poor, the orphans and widows, and how they prayed for their persecutors. In AD 185, he converted, and married a Christian woman.
On Tertullian’s return to Carthage, he became a vociferous, if not always orthodox, defender of Christianity. He wrote in Latin, instead of Greek, and used legal terms to persuade the Roman establishment to cease its relentless persecution of Christians. He argued they had a right to a fair trial, instead of just being condemned to death.
Tertullian advocated that Christianity should stand uncompromisingly against the surrounding culture. He addressed a whole range of issues, from appropriate dress and marriage, to idolatry, repentance and baptism. He also wrote essays on prayer and devotion. Tertullian used the Scriptures to refute heresies, especially Gnosticism, which was a major threat to the Church at the time.
His prolific works are full of memorable phrases, puns and wit. While he could be gentle, sensitive, self-critical and reflective, he could also be aggressive and sarcastic. He devised the term New Testament, and also introduced the words penitence and sacrament. His most famous statement was the defiant: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.’
Late in life, Tertullian sadly decided that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were not wholly equal with the Father. This was Montanism, one of the early Christian heresies. Although he coined the word Trinity, a word that does not appear anywhere in the Bible, sadly he did not mean a triune God, but a group of three. This was heresy, and so the Early Church was not able to recognise him as a saint. According to tradition, he died about AD 225.

Mark, disciple, apostle, writer of the second gospel.

Mark, whose home in Jerusalem became a place of rest for Jesus and His 12 apostles, is considered the traditional author of the second gospel. He is also usually identified as the young man, described in Mark 14:51, who followed Christ after his arrest and then escaped capture by leaving his clothes behind.
Papias, in 130, said that in later years Mark became Peter’s interpreter. If so, then this close friendship would have been how Mark gathered so much information about Jesus’ life. Peter referred to him affectionately as his ‘son’.
Mark was also a companion to Paul on his journeys. When Paul was held captive at Rome, Mark was with him, helping him. Mark’s Gospel, most likely written in Italy, perhaps in Rome, is the earliest account we have of the life of Jesus. Mark died about 74 AD.
Early in the 9th century Mark’s body was brought to Venice, whose patron he became, and there it has remained to this day. The symbol of Mark as an evangelist is the lion, and is much in evidence in Venice.

How to stay safe this Spring.

1. Avoid riding in automobiles. They are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents.
2. Do not stay home. 17% of all accidents occur in the home.
3. Avoid walking on streets or pavements. 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians.
4. Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water. 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation.
5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in Hospitals. So, above all else, avoid hospitals.

BUT:
You will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at church!
A Bible study is safe, too. In fact, the percentage of deaths during Bible study is not even .001%...
So, attend church, and read your Bible - IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Notices found in church newsletters - that didn’t quite come out right!

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our church warden, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

Ladies are requested not to have children in the church kitchen.

For those who have children and don’t know it, we have a crèche in the crypt.

Bring & share church supper: Prayer and medication will follow.

Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help!

The organist invites anyone who enjoys sinning to volunteer for the choir.

At the church meeting last week the rector spoke briefly and delighted the audience.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick both of our church and the community.

Smile at someone who you find hard to love. Say ‘hell’ to someone who doesn’t much care about you.

St. George 0ur Patron Saint who isn’t English.

flag-of-england-and-saint-george

In England we have a patron saint who isn’t English, about whom next to nothing is known for sure, and who, just possibly, may not have existed at all. But that didn’t stop St George being patriotically invoked in many battles, notably at Agincourt and in the Crusades, and of course it is his cross that adorns the flags of English football fans to this day.
It’s most likely that St George was a soldier, a Christian who was martyred for his faith somewhere in Palestine, possibly at Lydda, in the early fourth century. At some point in the early centuries of the Church he became associated with wider military concerns, being regarded as the patron saint of the Byzantine armies. There is no doubt that St George was held as an example of the ‘godly soldier’, one who served Christ as bravely and truly as he served his king and country. .
The story of George and the dragon is of much later date and no one seems to know where it comes from. By the Middle Ages, when George was being honoured in stained glass, the dragon had become an invaluable and invariable visual element, so that for most people the two are inseparable. Pub signs have a lot to answer for here: ‘The George and Dragon’. .
However, it’s probably more profitable to concentrate on his role as a man who witnessed to his faith in the difficult setting of military service, and in the end was martyred for his faithfulness to Christ..
The idea of the ‘Christian soldier’ was, of course, much loved by the Victorian hymn-writers - ’Onward, Christian soldiers!’ The soldier needs discipline. The heart of his commitment is to obedience. The battle cannot be avoided nor the enemy appeased. He marches and fights alongside others, and he is loyal to his comrades. In the end, if the battle is won, he receives the garlands of victory, the final reward of those who overcome evil..
St George’s Day presents a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to distance the message of his life from the militarism and triumphalism that can easily attach itself to anything connected to soldiers and fighting. The opportunity is to celebrate the ideal of the ‘Christian soldier’ - one who submits to discipline, sets out to obey God truly, does not avoid the inevitable battle with all that is unjust, wrong and hateful in our world, and marches alongside others fighting the same noble cause. Discipline, obedience, courage, fellowship and loyalty - they’re not the most popular virtues today, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve our admiration.

A group of lads took a trip to France and decided to attend Mass in a small town, even though none of them understood French. They managed to stand, kneel and sit when the rest of the congregation did, so it wouldn't be obvious they were tourists. At one point, the priest spoke and the man sitting next to them stood up, so they got up, too. The entire congregation broke into hearty laughter.
After the service they approached the priest, who spoke English, and asked him what had been so funny. The priest said he had announced a birth in the parish and had asked the father to stand up.

Anselm, the man who proved there is a God.

Anselm is a good saint to remember next time someone asks you to prove that there is a God. His brilliant and original Proslogion, written 1077-8, sets out the ‘ontological’ proof for God’s existence. Nearly ten centuries later, it is still studied by theological students as one of the great philosophical ‘proofs’ of God’s existence.
Anselm was born at Aosta in 1033, the son of a spendthrift Lombard nobleman, whom Anselm detested. In time he decided to become a Benedictine monk, and so joined Lanfranc’s famous monastery at Bec (c. 1060). He became prior, then abbot. He was loved by his monks, appreciated for his sensitivity and intuitiveness. He remained friends also with Lanfranc, who had gone on to be Archbishop of Canterbury. After Lanfranc’s death, Anselm reluctantly agreed to accept the job.
Archbishops did not have press offices in those days, but Anselm made his views on Church-versus-King known all the same, and they did not please the king. William Rufus exiled him in 1097 and King Henry I exiled him in 1103. Anselm was utterly committed to what he saw as the cause of God and the Church, and therefore had no time for temporal politics. Peace between archbishop and monarch was not achieved until 1106.
Anselm spent the rest of his life in England. His theological stance of ‘Faith seeking understanding’ and ‘the mind at faith’s service’ were the keys to his life and teaching.

The Way

Come, still your hearts, let troubles go
For you believe in Me,
And I am with you, I will show
The way ahead of thee.

My Father’s house has many rooms
You know my words are so!
My Spirit and my Word illumes
The way that you shall go.

I am the Way, the Truth, the Life
Believe and you shall see
The way through tempest and through strife
To My eternity.

By Nigel Beeton

Alphege – the archbishop taken captive by Danes.

Alphege is the saint for anyone who refuses to let others suffer on their behalf. His is a tale of courage and self-sacrifice, with some details that are still poignant, even down 1000 years of history.
Alphege began like many other leading churchmen of his time; born of a noble family, with a good education, he decided to become a monk. Alphege joined the Benedictine Abbey at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, and then became a hermit at Bath, before becoming Abbot of Bath. From there, he was appointed to be Bishop of Winchester, where he was loved for his frugal lifestyle and great generosity towards others.
In 954 King Ethelred the Unready sent Alphege as a peace envoy to the Danes, seeking some relief from the constant Viking raids against England. Alphege secured a time of peace, and in 1006 was made the 29th Archbisjhop of Canterbury.
But the Viking raids increased again, until the south of England was largely overrun. In 1012 they surrounded Canterbury, and with the help of a treacherous archdeacon, Elfmaer, captured and imprisoned Alphege. A vast sum was demanded by his captors, so much that it would have ruined the people of Canterbury. And so Alphege refused to be ransomed.
This infuriated the Danes, who wanted the gold of Canterbury, not the Archbishop. After seven months of ill-treating him, one night they got very drunk and began pelting him with ox-bones from their feast, until in a frenzy they hacked him to death with an axe.
Alphege was mourned as a national hero and venerated as a martyr: he had given his life in order to protect his people from harm.

Chocolate – food of the gods!

The botanical name for the cocoa bean is Theobroma – which means ‘food of the gods.’ Millions of us obviously agree – half a million tons of it are consumed in Britain each year alone.
Chocolate makes us feel better. The chemicals it contains trigger the release of endorphins similar to those we naturally produce when we fall in love.
But nutritionists warn against using chocolate as a pick-me-up, especially in the evening. Chocolate eaten before bedtime can cause blood glucose levels to plummet during the night, which will disrupt your sleep. Chocolate eaten in quantity every day can lead to mood and energy swings, weight gain and poor immunity. If you have mad cravings for it, you could have a problem with blood sugar, or a deficiency in magnesium, copper, zinc or iron.
But occasional consumption of cocoa can provide medical benefits. Chocolate containing 60 per cent or more cocoa solids is rich in essential trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium and potassium, and many vitamins. Cocoa is also the highest natural source of magnesium.
Good as all this may be – most of us enjoy chocolate simply because of its high sugar and caffeine content. Chocolate simply gives you an instant sugar hit, providing a sudden burst in energy, unfortunately followed by a slump and the desire for another sugar-fix.

Beware the use-by date.

Nobody likes to throw food away, but if you ignore the use by dates and go by smell alone, you can risk serious illness.
So warns the Food Standards Agency. In a recent study, the regulator found that half of us do not always check use-by dates.
Many of us still smell the milk to see if it is still okay, and even Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, has admitted to scraping the mould off jam in order to cut waste.
The agency has warned that some Britons who actively ignore use-by dates could risk being hospitalised. Use-by dates are carefully calculated by assessing bacteria on food which could multiply to make them ill.
A spokesman for the agency said: “It’s great that consumers are trying to minimise food waste, but there are lots of ways to do that without gambling with your health, such as planning your meals ahead of time, checking what you have in the fridge that is close to its use-by date, and freezing food right up until the use-by dates.”
Sadly, there are around 2.4million cases of food poisoning each year, and 180 deaths.

SPRING (Acrostic Poem).

Spring has arrived with armfuls of blossom,
Petals of every colour and hue,
Rain and sun caressing the earth
Inspiring spring bulbs to come into view
Now is the time of new beginnings
Giving us pleasure all season through.

By Megan Carter

100 years of the PCC.

It’s a hundred years since parish churches gained the power to run their own affairs, separately from what we now regard as local government.
The religious affairs of a parish, as well as its secular business had been controlled by a single committee, which met in the church and was known as the ‘Vestry’. Then, in 1894, Parish Councils were formed to deal with secular matters; the Vestry continued to oversee church affairs until 1921, when Parochial Church Councils (PCC) were established. People still get confused by the two.
Churchwardens have been around since the 13th Century and legally ‘own’ the movable contents of the church. They are meant to maintain order in the church and churchyard, with the assistance of their staves, if necessary. In the event of serious disorder today, a mobile phone might be a safer instrument, with staves reserved for ceremonial occasions! Churchwardens are now chosen by parishioners, though the Incumbent (ie Vicar or Rector) has a limited right of veto.
Today, anyone on the Electoral Roll of the church (sorry, this is another confusion, for the secular Electoral Roll is entirely separate) can attend the Annual Parochial Church Meeting, which elects the PCC. The Incumbent is an ex officio member, as are other licensed clergy and Churchwardens, members of the Deanery Synod, plus any member of the Diocesan Synod and General Synod who lives in the parish or is on the Roll. The Incumbent chairs the PCC, which elects a Vice-Chair and appoints a Standing Committee to transact business between meetings.
The purpose of a PCC, which must meet at least four times a year, is to consult together with the Incumbent “on matters of general concern and importance to the parish”, and that includes the “whole mission of the Church”. Did you know that changes to the forms of service, or the vesture or the minister, can only happen after consultation?
Inevitably, money and building maintenance take up a lot of room on the Agenda, though we all know they are less important than mission. It’s a real challenge for every PCC member to pray for non-churchgoing parishioners and to find imaginative ways of introducing them to Christ and His Church.
If you’ve got this far and are a member of your PCC or DCC - congratulations - you are a hundred years old this year!

Coronavirus – warning about vaccine.

This happened recently and is an important lesson for our friends and family in the older age group. A friend had his second doze of vaccine at the vaccination centre. Shortly afterwards he began to have blurred vision and struggled to get home.
He rang the vaccination centre and asked if he should go straight to the hospital for help. He was told NOT to go to the hospital, but instead to return at once to the vaccination centre and pick up his glasses….

Carpus, Papylus & Agathonice, martyrs of the Early Church.

In the month of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of Himself for us, the martyrdoms of Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice are well worth remembering. What they said as they died could be said by the many thousands of Christians who are facing persecution all over the world today.
Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice lived in Pergamum (Asia Minor) in the late second century. Carpus was a bishop, Papylus was a deacon, and Agathonice was his sister. Trouble began when the proconsul Optimus ordered them to sacrifice in the name of the emperor.
Carpus refused, saying, ‘I am a Christian and because of my faith and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I cannot become one of you.’ He was hung up and tortured by iron claws.
Papylus was a wealthy citizen, but he had also led many people to faith in Christ. As he suffered the same fate as Carpus, he said, ‘I feel no pain because I have Someone to comfort me; One whom you do not see suffers within me.’ Both men were then burnt alive.
Finally, it was his sister’s turn. She too refused to sacrifice to demons. ‘If I am worthy,’ she said, ‘I desire to follow the footsteps of my teachers.’ On being urged to have pity on her children, she replied, ‘My children have God, who watches over them; but I will not obey your commands.’ As she was consigned to the flames, she cried out three times: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, help me because I am enduring this for you.’ She died soon after.
Terrible deaths, but also, triumphant ones. These three Christians loved Jesus so much that the only thing they could NOT bear was to deny Him. Sadly, the persecution goes on today, in countries where Jesus Christ is still bitterly hated. Pray for the Christians who live in these countries, that they too may have courage and endurance – to the end.

Zeno of Verona, the more things change.

Zeno of Verona (d. 371) should be the patron saint of all ministers who suspect that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
For instance: ethnic diversity...church-planting… teaching…. concern for the poor… women’s ministry in the church… sound like modern-day Christian concerns? Not a bit of it – this was the life work of Zeno, bishop of Verona in the fourth century.
Ethnic diversity? Zeno was an African who had been consecrated a bishop in Italian Verona. Church-planting and teaching? Zeno had a reputation as a hard-working pastor and dedicated preacher who founded churches throughout his domain. Some of his sermons still survive.
Concern for the poor? Zeno was zealous in alms-giving, and encouraged others to do the same. Women’s ministry? He founded nunneries and encouraged virgins living at home to be consecrated long before ever Ambrose did the same in Milan.
As for down-time? Zeno may well have been addicted to fishing in his spare time – he is, after all, usually represented with a fish. Nothing wrong with that: the links between fishermen and Christian leaders go back a long way!

To spend an hour worrying on our knees is not prayer. Indeed, there are times when it is our duty, having committed a problem to God in prayer, to stop praying and to trust and to do the necessary work to arrive at a solution. - Oliver Barclay

The Revd Dr Jo White continues her Reflected Faith series with what it can really mean to ‘wait.’

Reflected Faith: with all your soul, strength and mind I’m thinking about what we are all ‘doing’ in times of ‘waiting’. It’s very easy to just sit quietly and let the time pass by or just fill it in. Not exactly wasting time, but not using it for any useful purpose either.
But as Christians we live in expectation all the time, don’t we? We live in the hope and promise of Christ’s return – even though we don’t know the ‘when’ or the ‘where’.
Of course, there’s waiting and there’s waiting. I won’t say I’m the most patient person I know! If the internet goes down or something mechanical takes a few seconds too long to process, you can often hear me chuntering. But there are other times when the waiting itself is precious. I’m thinking this month of when we receive the bread and wine at the distribution of Holy Communion.
Perhaps you have avoided church since the original lockdown in March, or been going but not receiving communion, or indeed you have been participating with an online service with your own equivalents at home. Whichever it is for you, cast your mind back to when you were last in that position – or indeed look forward to when we are all able to gather together again and we ‘queue’ to approach the altar.
Actually, we don’t ‘queue’. We ‘process’ to the altar. We join the procession – a line of like-minded people with a similar intention to receive Christ. A time of physical movement and spiritual anticipation for holding those elements of Christ Himself: God being placed into our hands. How amazing is that!
This month: What do you think about when you are processing and waiting for Holy Communion? Are you conscious of those around you or immersed in the moment? Do you pray quietly to yourself, join in with the singing or let your mind focus on the moment?

Emails - a blessing or a problem?

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3 v 9-10)
I wonder what St James would say about emails! He had plenty to say about how what we say can cause lots of damage. He wrote that the tongue is a like a spark which starts a forest fire. It is easy to say a thoughtless thing or inadvertently spread gossip or speculation.
Emails are a great way of communicating. You can send a message to someone in the same parish or across the world almost instantly. Lawyers always ask, “have you got evidence in writing?” Telephone calls or face to face conservations are still evidence but it is difficult to prove what was said. Conversations are recorded so you can see the chain of who said what and when. Emails are quick and free.
Emails can, however, easily be harmful. You can accidentally send a personal or private message to the wrong person or even worse copy it to lots of people. It is also difficult to judge the tone of an email, whether it is light-hearted or serious, cross or joyful. When are on the telephone or speaking face to face it is easier to tell whether the speaker is feeling angry or light-hearted.
Sometimes we need a break. Emails are good but many people find you can never get away from them and constantly check for business messages while at home or on leave. Perhaps we should not send emails to the vicar on a Sunday night while she is watching Strictly. Some discussions are better face to face, and always double check who you are sending it to or copying to.

Thank God for what you have, TRUST GOD for what you need. - Anon

Have you ever laughed at a joke you did not understand?

Then you are not alone. It seems that two thirds of us have laughed at jokes we did not ‘get’, simply because we wanted to fit in with our friends at the time.
And more than half of us have actually gone on to repeat jokes with punchlines which we don’t ourselves understand. More than half of us have even researched a joke in order to try and figure out what was supposed to be so funny about it.
In research done by a British neuroscientist, it was found that humour that relies on puns or more obscure concepts is the most likely to confuse audiences. While laughter is universal, humour is very subjective. People all over the world laugh, but what they find to be funny varies widely, depending on culture, context and language.
During the research, it was found that two of the most misunderstood jokes are:

Some Omega-3 vitamins fell on my head when I opened the cupboard. I got super fish oil injuries.
What does a dyslexic, agnostic insomniac do at night? He stays up wondering if there really is a dog.

Be kind to each other

‘And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’ (Matthew 10:42)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been thousands of shining examples up and down the country of people going the extra mile to help the elderly, vulnerable and those at risk. The helpers have been shopping, cooking meals, making regular telephone calls, and checking that needs are being met. We must sincerely hope that these acts of kindness will continue well beyond the coronavirus outbreak.

Simple acts of kindness are so important in cementing the fabric of our society. Some years ago, this thought inspired the following poem:

A Brighter Tomorrow

There is much we can do just to brighten
This world of all take and no give,
There's a great deal that we can contribute
Through the everyday lives that we live.

By supporting one's elderly neighbours
Or through lending a hand in some way
It's by taking a bunch of spring flowers
To someone to brighten their day.

It's by sparing a few precious hours
In the service of those most in need
It's all about setting a standard
And trying to give others a lead

It’s the way that we tend to treat others
And help and aid folks in distress
It’s the care and assistance we offer
That will set us apart from the rest.

The choice that we face is quite simple
The rewards plain for all men to see
‘As you did all of this to my brother
Then’ said Christ, ‘you did it to Me.’

By Colin Hammacott

Jesus’ appearances after His Resurrection.
The following list of witnesses may help you put all those references in order….

Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18
Other women at the tomb Matthew 28:8-10
Peter in Jerusalem Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5
The two travellers on the road Mark 16:12,13
10 disciples behind closed doors Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25
11 disciples WITH Thomas John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:5
7 disciples while fishing John 21:1-14
11 disciples on the mountain Matthew 28:16-20
A crowd of 500 1 Corinthians 15:6
Jesus’ brother – James 1 Corinthians 15:7
Those who saw the Ascension Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8

Easter is the most joyful day of the year for Christians.

Christ has died for our sins. We are forgiven. Christ has risen! We are redeemed! We can look forward to an eternity in His joy! Hallelujah!
The Good News of Jesus Christ is a message so simple that you can explain it to someone in a few minutes. It is so profound that for the rest of their lives they will still be ‘growing’ in their Christian walk with God.
Why does the date move around so much? Because the date of Passover moves around, and according to the biblical account, Easter is tied to the Passover. Passover celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and it lasts for seven days, from the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which equates to late March or early April.
Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first to use the Hebrew lunar calendar to come up with firm dates for the first Good Friday: Friday 7th April 30 AD or Friday 3rd April, 33 AD with Easter Day falling two days later. Modern scholars continue to think these two Fridays to be the most likely.
Most people will tell you that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is broadly true. But the precise calculations are complicated and involve something called an ‘ecclesiastical full moon’, which is not the same as the moon in the sky. The earliest possible date for Easter in the West is 22nd March, which last fell in 1818. The latest is 25th April, which last happened in 1943 -
Why the name, ‘Easter’? In almost every European language, the festival’s name comes from ‘Pesach’, the Hebrew word for Passover. The Germanic word ‘Easter’, however, seems to come from Eostre, a Saxon fertility goddess mentioned by the Venerable Bede. He thought that the Saxons worshipped her in ‘Eostur month,’ but may have confused her with the classical dawn goddesses like Eos and Aurora, whose names mean ‘shining in the east’. So, Easter might have meant simply ‘beginning month’ – a good time for starting up again after a long winter.
Finally, why Easter eggs? On one hand, they are an ancient symbol of birth in most European cultures. On the other hand, hens start laying regularly again each Spring. Since eggs were forbidden during Lent, it’s easy to see how decorating and eating them became a practical way to celebrate Easter.

One Solitary Life

 Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was 30, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the power of His divine manhood.
While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat.
When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. 19 wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centre-piece of the human race …
All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

Good Friday, Jesus and the thieves on the Cross.

Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43) emphasises the mocking of the crowd, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’ (35,37,39). In their view a Messiah does not hang on a cross and suffer. In considering the two men who were crucified with Jesus, we are also confronted with the issue of how Jesus secures salvation for us.
The words of one of those crucified with Jesus reflected the crowd’s taunts: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ He highlights the question of Jesus’ identity: how can He save others, when He cannot save Himself from death? He failed to see that the cross itself was the means of salvation.
So - what kind of Messiah was Jesus? The other criminal’s response in his last moments is a moving expression of faith. When challenging the other man, he spoke of the utter injustice of the crucifixion: ‘this man has done nothing wrong.’ He perceived the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In a wonderful picture of grace, ‘remember me when You come into Your kingdom’, the second thief confessed his guilt and secured Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.
In reply, Jesus promised the man life from the moment of death; ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise.’ Jesus used the picture of a walled garden to help the man understand His promise of protection and security in God’s love and acceptance eternally.
Each one of us has to choose how we react to Jesus on the cross. Do we want Him to ‘remember’ us when He comes into His kingdom, or not? If you were to die tonight, how confident would you be of going to be with Jesus? ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’’ (1 Peter 3:18).

Fake news is not new.

Perhaps one old example is the assertion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Back in the 6th Century, Pope Gregory is said to have confused her with two other women in the Bible. Medieval Bible scholars also attempted to name an unidentified sinful woman who had washed and anointed the feet of Jesus. As Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the next chapter, they regarded her as the same person! After this, many classical artists painted Mary in various states of undress, perpetuating a falsehood.
So what do we really know about Mary? The Gospels tell us that she came from Magdala, a town in Galilee, and Jesus healed her by casting out seven evil spirits. After this she followed Jesus, with other women, on His ministry providing resources. Later, Mary watched Jesus die on the cross, and having cared for His needs while He was alive, wanted to care for Him after His death.
It was when Mary went to anoint the body of Jesus at the tomb that the risen Jesus appeared to her. He told Mary to go to His disciples and tell them about His return to Heaven. She was obedient and became the first emissary of the resurrection. In those days, the witness of a woman was worthless. Despite ridicule, Mary had the courage to speak about Jesus in a place of great disbelief. We have to ask ourselves do we have the same courage as Mary? How prepared are we to stand our ground to share Jesus with others in the face of those who mock and scoff at us?
In this snapshot of Mary’s life we know she had experienced great distress and suffering. After Jesus healed her, Mary expressed her gratitude by being utterly committed and devoted to Him.
Jesus can give everyone a new start; a new purpose and direction in life. Like Mary we can thank Him for blessing us, loving us and forgiving us and moving into practical forms of service. Only Jesus can transform our lives so that we can glorify God in all that we do.

Easter Hope

“So many people right across the country are anxious about employment, anxious about food, isolated from loved ones and feel that the future looks dark.” These are words from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon on Easter Day 2020. Who would have thought that we are experiencing the same uncertainties this Easter!
Yet the Easter story remains one of hope overcoming darkness and despair. The women arrived at the tomb on Easter morning with mixed emotions, as they came to anoint Jesus’ body. ‘But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.’ (Mark 16:4). They were confused, as they tried to make sense of Jesus’ death. Their hopes were dashed with an uncertain future. In the current pandemic, we too are left asking: Where is God in all this?
The young man at the tomb reminds them that God is still in control: “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6).
The women had forgotten Jesus’ promise to the disciples that He would die and rise from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is also the sure foundation of hope for us in the present crisis. He turns our confusion and fear into joy and wonder! We can trust Jesus’ plan for the future of our world and lives, despite the fact that things can’t return to the way they were: “There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful. We must dream it, build it, make it, grasp it, because it is the gift of God and the call of God.” (Justin Welby).

As we celebrate Easter, it raises the question: What difference can the Resurrection make to my life?

My past is forgiven:
Have you ever been half-way through a project and wanted to start again? In life we all have regrets about things we have done, said or thought. The good news is that Jesus died to forgive these things: ‘All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross.’ (Colossians 2:14, The Message). The resurrection is the guarantee that we can know Jesus’ pardon and forgiveness. Do we need to let go a load of guilt and unforgiveness that we are carrying?

My present is under control:
How often do we say ‘My life is out of control.’ We can’t control life, but God can! The ‘incomparably great power at work for those who believe’ is the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). God promises us the power that we need to face any situation, as we trust Him: ‘I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.’ (Philippians 4:13).

My future is secure:
Death is the great certainty, ‘one out of one dies!’. Yet Jesus overcame death by the resurrection, that we might experience the life of heaven, both now and for eternity. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die’. (John 11:25,26). We don’t need to fear death; but if we are to really live, we have to be ready to die! How does the resurrection affect our view of death?

‘The best news the world has ever had came from a cemetery near Jerusalem: the tomb was empty!’

What was the largest ever Easter egg hunt?
The most-ever entrants for an egg hunt competition was 12,773. It was The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt, as part of World Record London, in London, UK in April 2012.

What was the largest-ever decorated Easter egg?
This was built in March 2008, by Freeport in Alcochete, Portugal. It measured 14.79 m (48 ft 6 in) long and 8.40 m (27 ft 6 in) in diameter.

What was the largest ever chocolate Easter egg?
It was made in Tosca (Italy) and weighed 7,200 kg (15,873 lbs 4.48 oz). It had a circumference of 19.6 m (64 ft 3.65 in) at its widest point. It was exhibited in a shopping centre in Cortenuova, Italy, in April 2011.

What was the largest ever Easter egg tree?
This was set by Zoo Rostock GmbH, Rostock, Germany, who decorated a tree with 76,596 painted hens’ eggs in April 2007.

What about the most expensive hot cross bun?
This was baked in 1829 in Stepney, London, UK. It was bought by Bill Foster (UK) for £155 at the Antiques for Everyone show at the NEC in Birmingham, West Midlands, UK, in April 2000. Hot cross buns were originally made to hang in the kitchen to ward off evil spirits.

What was the biggest-ever (real) Easter bunny?
So far, the longest rabbit was Darius, a Flemish giant rabbit owned by Annette Edwards (UK), who was found to be 4 ft 3 in (129 cm) long when measured for an article in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper in April 2010.
As of April 2019.

Holy Week began yesterday with Palm Sunday, when the Church remembers how Jesus arrived at the gates of Jerusalem just a few days before the Passover was due to be held. He was the Messiah come to His own people in their capital city, and yet He came in humility, riding on a young donkey, not in triumph, riding on a war-horse.
As Jesus entered the city, the crowds gave Him a rapturous welcome, throwing palm fronds into His path. They knew His reputation as a healer, and welcomed Him. But sadly, the welcome was short-lived and shallow, for Jerusalem would soon reject her Messiah, and put Him to death. On this day churches worldwide will distribute little crosses made from palm fronds in memory of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday & Holy Week.

The events of Easter took place over a week, traditionally called Passion Week. It began on Palm Sunday. After all His teaching and healing, Jesus had built a following.
On the Sunday before He was to die, Jesus and His followers arrived at Jerusalem. The city was crowded. Jewish people were arriving from to celebrate Passover. This commemorates how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt nearly 1,500 year earlier.
Jesus rode into the city on a young donkey. He was greeted like a conquering hero. Cheering crowds waved palm branches in tribute. He was hailed as the Messiah who had come to re-establish a Jewish kingdom.
The next day they returned to Jerusalem. Jesus went to the temple, the epicentre of the Jewish faith, and confronted the money-changers and merchants who were ripping off the people. He overturned their tables and accused them of being thieves. The religious authorities were alarmed and feared how He was stirring up the crowds.
On the Tuesday, they challenged Jesus, questioning His authority. He answered by challenging and condemning their hypocrisy. Later that day Jesus spoke to His disciples about future times. He warned them about fake religious leaders; the coming destruction of Jerusalem; wars, earthquakes and famines; and how His followers would face persecution.
By midweek the Jewish religious leaders and elders were so angry with Jesus that they began plotting to arrest and kill Him. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, went to the chief priests and agreed to betray Him to them.
Jesus and the 12 disciples gathered on the Thursday evening to celebrate the Passover meal. This is known as the Last Supper. During the evening, Jesus initiated a ritual still marked by Christians – Holy Communion – which commemorates His death. Jesus broke bread and shared it and a cup of wine with His disciples.
Judas then left to meet the other plotters. Jesus continued to teach the others and then went outside into an olive grove to pray. He even prayed for all future believers. He agonised over what was to come but chose the way of obedience. The Bible book, Luke, records Him praying, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done’. Minutes later Judas arrived with soldiers and the chief priests and Jesus was arrested.

Rupert the salty Rupert is the saint for you if you like The Sound of Music – or salt with your food!

Rupert (d c 710) was bishop of Worms and Salzburg, and it was he who founded the great monastery of St Peter in Salzburg in the eighth century, thus firmly establishing Christianity in that city. True, it would be another 11 centuries before a certain young wanna-be-nun wandered about singing of her ‘Favourite Things’ and ‘Something Good’, but you have to start somewhere.
In the meantime, Rupert also helped the people of Salzburg by developing the salt-mines nearby. This was ‘something good’ as well, because it brought in an income. Though if salt became a too ‘favourite thing’, it would also have raised the locals’ blood pressure.
Rupert’s iconographical emblem is a barrel of salt, which makes sense, but is not as romantic as raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens.

The good news about your forgetfulness.

 You know the scenario – you go into the lounge, and then wonder what you wanted. Or you need to make a phone call but can’t find the phone. You go to the cash point and forget your pin number. Or your car keys are lost in the kitchen, but even when you find them and go shopping, you forget stuff on the list.
If at times you find yourself living in an annoying brain-fog, the good news is that it is not because you are ill or getting old. To varying extents, everyone does it.
A recent study at the University of Edinburgh has found that forgetfulness is as common in people in their 20s as it is in people in their 50s. Although some of the people in the study were worried about getting dementia, a neuropsychiatrist at the university reassured them: “People think that if you are starting to forget things – something like misplacing your keys – that is something to worry about. But it is normal.”
Good reasons for forgetting things range from the fact that too much was happening in your life at the time, you were stressed about something, not paying attention to what you were doing, or just too busy thinking about something else entirely.

Lady Day or The Annunciation.

This beautiful event (Luke 1:26-38) took place in Nazareth, when Mary is already betrothed to Joseph. The Archangel Gabriel comes to Mary, greets her as highly favoured, tells her not to be afraid, that she will bear a son Jesus, and that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is already pregnant (with John the Baptist).
The church calendar is never quite as neat as some would like it. To celebrate the Annunciation on 25th March does indeed place the conception of Jesus exactly nine months from His birth on 25th December, but the latter part of March almost inevitably falls during Lent. But the birth and death of Jesus are intrinsically linked - He was born to die, and thus fulfil God’s purposes.
The Annunciation is a significant date in the Christian calendar - it is one of the most frequent depicted in Christian art. Gabriel’s gracious strength and Mary’s humble dignity have inspired many artists. Certainly, Mary’s response to the angel has for centuries been an example of good faith in practice - humility, enquiry of God, and trusting acceptance in His will for her life.

Lessons of Lockdown

This past year may have altered your perspective on life. Some of the following statements may be worth thinking about….

o Life is precarious
o A nurse is worth more than a professional footballer
o Spare time isn’t a waste of time
o A smile is precious
o Being alone isn’t the same as loneliness
o Hard work doesn’t guarantee employment
o I’m spending more on food & drink and less on church & charity
o Silence opens us to creative ideas
o Social media are a mixed blessing
o Shopping needn’t be addictive
o Driving less and walking more is good for humanity
o Isolation teaches us we need each other to generate energy
o Getting back to ‘normal’ isn’t God’s plan for the human race
o When everything else is shut, God is open

Prayer for Families.

Dear Father God,
In this month, when we especially think about mothers, we thank you for the families and friends you have given us. You know how hard it has been to have been separated over these past months, how much we have missed and longed for their hugs, their physical presence and fellowship.
As we hold on to the hope of overcoming the pandemic, help us to be strengthened by the power of the love we receive - and to strengthen others by the love we give.
May we know that, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, we and our loved ones are held safe and connected by your unfailing love for us, revealed in Jesus – who is alive - and from whom nothing, no pandemic, no man-made turmoil, absolutely nothing and no-one can separate us, when we put our trust in Him.
Thank you, Father, that we belong to your family. Thank you for the love and security we have in you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thoughts

‘Tis God’s will I would do,
My own will I would rein;
Would give to God his due,
From my own due refrain;
God’s path I would pursue,
My own path would disdain;

For Christ’s death would I care,
My own death duly weighed;
Christ’s pain my silent prayer,
My God-love warmer made;
‘Tis Christ’s cross I would bear,
My own cross off me laid;

Repentance I would make,
Repentance early choose;
Rein for my tongue would take,
Rein for my thoughts would use;

God’s judgment would I mind,
My own judgment close-scanned;
Christ’s freedom seizing bind,
My own freedom in hand;
Christ’s love close-scanned would find,
My own love understand.

From Poems of the Western Highlanders

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury & Reformation Martyr

If you have ever been caught up in a great event at work, which has gone on to change your own life, then Thomas Cranmer is the saint for you. He was the first ever Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, following King Henry VIII’s decision to pull away from Rome, and set up the Church of England.
Born in Nottingham in1489, Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. He was adviser to both Henry VIII and Edward VI. He helped Henry with the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and along with Thomas Cromwell, supported the principle of Royal Supremacy (where the king is sovereign over the Church in his realm).
Under Edward VI, Thomas Cranmer made major reforms to the C of E. He put the English Bible into parish churches, compiled the first two versions of the Book of Common Prayer, and worked with continental reformers to change doctrine on everything from the Eucharist and veneration of saints.
But kings and queens, like American presidents, change, and the Catholic Queen Mary I was determined to wipe out Protestantism. Thomas Cranmer was imprisoned for two years, found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake on 21st March 1556.

Spring Harvest 2021 goes online Christian festival Spring Harvest has axed its 2021 in-person events, saying it is "no longer viable or responsible" to host the gatherings at their flagship Butlins locations.
Spring Harvest continues to plan for events in 2022. But in the meantime, Spring Harvest Home 2021, the online event which has already been months in the planning, is set to be “bolder and better than ever before”. Spring Harvest will now start online on Easter Sunday evening.
According to Spring Harvest, Butlins will issue refunds to anyone who has already paid a deposit for the 2021 in-person full event.

What can you share with each other right now?

Why not ring round and invite three or four people in your church to share ‘A day in my life under lockdown’? – get them to send you 100 words of how they are spending their time at home, and what they actually like about it?
Or invite them to send in 100 words on ‘The three things I most want to do when coronavirus is over.’
Or start a list of those in your church who have had the vaccine, and then add to it each month. That may encourage the others, that there is indeed a ‘way out’ of all this.
Or, why not ring round and invite people in your church to share ‘What my mother has meant to me this past year.’ – 50 words of praise for all the loving care their mother has provided to the family.

A reflection on The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:1-18)

Our Father in heaven, please help us.
We, your children, learn slowly.

So often we say nothing when your name is mis-used.
Often our lives do not reflect your ways,

Mostly we do what we want on earth,
And this can make heaven unimaginable.

We expect so much more than we actually need each day.

Sometimes we think we don’t need forgiveness,
Sometimes we think we are unforgivable,
And we forget that other people make these same errors of thinking.

When it comes to temptation, we find our own ways,

We are confused about what is and is not evil,
We are confused about deliverance,
We are confused………………

And here is the wonder, the grace and the mystery,
That you know us completely,
Our failings, our secrets,
And love us forever and ever,
Amen.

St Patrick, beloved apostle to Ireland.

St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. If you’ve ever been in New York on St Patrick’s Day, you’d think he was the patron saint of New York as well... the flamboyant parade is full of American/Irish razzmatazz.
It’s all a far cry from the hard life of this 5th century humble Christian who became in time both bishop and apostle of Ireland. Patrick was born the son of a town councillor in the west of England, between the Severn and the Clyde. But as a young man he was captured by Irish pirates, kidnapped to Ireland, and reduced to slavery. He was made to tend his master’s herds.
Desolate and despairing, Patrick turned to prayer. He found God was there for him, even in such desperate circumstances. He spent much time in prayer, and his faith grew and deepened, in contrast to his earlier years, when he “knew not the true God”.
Then, after six gruelling, lonely years he was told in a dream he would soon go to his own country. He either escaped or was freed, made his way to a port 200 miles away and eventually persuaded some sailors to take him with them away from Ireland.
After various adventures in other lands, including near-starvation, Patrick landed on English soil at last, and returned to his family. But he was much changed. He had enjoyed his life of plenty before; now he wanted to devote the rest of his life to Christ. Patrick received some form of training for the priesthood, but not the higher education he really wanted.
But by 435, well-educated or not, Patrick was badly needed. Palladius’ mission to the Irish had failed, and so the Pope sent Patrick back to the land of his slavery. He set up his see at Armagh and worked principally in the north. He urged the Irish to greater spirituality, set up a school, and made several missionary journeys.
Patrick’s writings are the first literature certainly identified from the British Church. They reveal sincere simplicity and a deep pastoral care. He wanted to abolish paganism, idolatry, and was ready for imprisonment or death in the following of Christ.
Patrick remains the most popular of the Irish saints. The principal cathedral of New York is dedicated to him, as, of course, is the Anglican cathedral of Dublin.

Signs found outside churches....

* Free Trip to heaven. Details Inside!
* Searching for a new look? Have your faith lifted here!
* Dusty Bibles lead to Dirty Lives.
* Come work for the Lord. The work is hard, the hours are long and the pay is low. But the retirement benefits are out of this world.

Thank God for dentists.

 Here is something gruesome: last year the sale of DIY dentistry first aid kits nearly doubled. People actually attempted to give themselves lost fillings, caps and crowns.
Most popular were products that offered ‘long-lasting’ temporary repair for caps and fillings, and a first aid kit.
The British Dental Association understands why; because of lockdown, there were 20 million fewer dental treatments available last year than in 2019. That left some people desperate.
But experts warn against the damage that could be done. Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: “DIY home dentistry is a terrible idea and should be avoided at all costs. Home treatments in untrained hands … can lead to permanent damage to your health.”
The good news is that dental surgeries are now back to relative normality. So – book an appointment if you need one!

Mothering Sunday & Mother Church.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent was called ‘Mid-Lent’ or ‘Refreshment Sunday’, when the rigors of Lent were relaxed more than was normal for a feast day. It is called Mothering Sunday as a reference to the Epistle reading for the Day (Galatians 4:21-31). The Lenten Epistles follow from each other with teaching about our life as Christians and how we are to follow Christ.
On Mid-Lent Sunday the Epistle talks of bondage and freedom; the bondage of the Law and the Old Covenant as compared to the freedom in Christ, "the promised one", and the New Covenant. Verse 26 reads "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." We gain our freedom from Christ and, as it was seen before the Reformation, the Church.
Thus, Mothering Sunday is about the freedom that we gain through the promise of Jesus Christ delivered through our Mother the Church. People were encouraged to go to their ‘Mother Church’ (their home church or their home Cathedral) to worship and give thanks. Hence apprentices, and others, went home for the weekend and often brought gifts (or accumulated pay) home to their family.
On the other hand, Mother's Day is a secular festival invented in 1904 and is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in May in most countries in the world. The UK seems to be the exception. In recent years Mothering Sunday has been hijacked to take the place of a special, secular day to give thanks for our mothers.

From the Vicar.

It was just over a year ago that the WHO discussed the coronavirus that was starting to spread around the world. None of us could have foreseen the devastating effect on our world, with over 80 million people infected and nearly 2 million deaths. How has the pandemic challenged our faith over the last year?
Firstly, it has forced us to face up to the reality of our situation. We cannot underestimate the health, social and economic effects of the virus on our lives, churches and communities. We have learned how to do church online, but the future shape of church life is uncertain! As the apostle Paul writes: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus’ (2 Cor 4:8-10). The pandemic has challenged so much of what we take for granted, but also demonstrated that God is alongside to help us in these circumstances.
Secondly, alongside the fear and uncertainty of this year, we have also learned to find new faith and hope in Jesus. The experience of Jesus’ death and His resurrection provides a pattern for us in facing the future: ‘so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’ (2 Cor 4:10-12).
During the season of Lent, it’s good to focus on the promise of sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As we consider our present struggles, are we ready to surrender them afresh to Jesus?
Editor: The Revd Canon Paul Hardingham considers the need to stay connected

When your prayer is not answered.

2 Cor. 12:8; ‘Three times I asked the Lord about this …BUT…’ Paul is talking about one of the most mysterious and one of the most baffling aspects of prayer – when God does not say yes.
On the face of it, Paul’s prayer was very modest. For some time he had been troubled by ‘a thorn in the flesh.’ He doesn’t tell us what the ‘thorn’ was and down the centuries theologians and commentators have made suggestions. Most of them have thought that the affliction was physical because Paul says it was ‘in the flesh.’ Some have suggested that he suffered from epileptic fits which caused him to fall down, while others have suggested that he was laid low by constant fevers or that he had very poor eyesight, the last based on his remarks in Galatians 6:11. But in spite of this great servant of the Lord praying earnestly three times that the thorn would be removed, God did not answer as Paul expected. A number of things in this passage (verses 7-10) are very helpful to all of us in the matter of prayer.
First, although God’s answer was not what Paul asked for, God did answer him. God is never indifferent to the prayers we utter from the depth of our heart. Unlike the idol Baal in the Old Testament story about Elijah, (1 Kings 18) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus is not on a journey, nor is He busy elsewhere, nor is He sleeping. He hears our prayers and our cries when we come to Him in our need and pain and distress.
Second, although Paul did not get the answer he wanted, God made him a wonderful promise. He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (v.9). This was not what Paul asked for, yet what a promise it was! God said in effect. ‘I will not take the thorn away – but my daily grace is all-sufficient.’ In spite of the thorn, Paul will triumph. When God gives us all-sufficient grace, it will take care of everything in our lives.
Thirdly, Paul learnt that God’s wonderful grace meant that in his weakness ‘the power of Christ’ (v.9) would be with him, the power that would make him effective and fruitful in his ministry.
Fourthly, this experience taught Paul that he could be ‘content with weaknesses and insults’ (v.10) because it was for Christ’s sake, and when he is weak in himself, he is strong in Christ (v.10).
So what about unanswered prayer? Unless our prayer was selfish and not for our good in the first place, God does answer our cry. When the answer is not what we expected, then it means that our loving Father has something for us even better and more important than what we asked for.
Dr Herbert McGonigle was formerly Senior Lecturer in Historical Theology and Church History, Nazarene Theological College, Manchester

Mental health ideas for uncertain times.

We may all have rather mixed feelings on reaching March this year. On the one hand, it is lovely to see the onset of Spring, and vaccinations and better weather may make handling the pandemic a little easier. On the other hand, marking a year from the start of the first UK lockdown will be painful for some, especially as many of us are likely to be experiencing restrictions or ongoing hardships for quite some time. We may need to find new ways to keep going, so here are some suggestions that draw on both science and Christian theology.
Getting outside: Time outdoors in a natural environment is very good for you – and you can’t argue with the happy hormones produced by exercise. Attending to the details of nature can also inspire awe, which has been linked to positive mood, and increased life satisfaction. Enjoying creation can also help us connect with God.
Looking outside: If you are truly stuck indoors, try putting bird feeders outside your window so creation comes to you. This is also an act of kindness (see below)!
Lament & praise: The Psalms are a rich resource to help us express both our grief and our thanks to God. Try reading one or two each day.
Journaling: Keep a journal of thoughts, experiences or practices you have engaged with during the day. Constructing a personal narrative or story is now recognised as a very powerful psychological and spiritual tool for building resilience. It is also a vital learning tool that we can go back to when tough times return in the future.
Acts of kindness: Helping or encouraging someone else is obviously a good thing to do in itself, but it also has a very positive effect on the giver - spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Whichever way you look at it, finding new ways to show kindness to others can be a very effective way to help ourselves feel better too.
Gratitude: Gratitude is another natural drug – in a sense – that can help us feel better. Try keeping a grateful diary, adding a few things each day.
Laugh, sing, make music, dance: All of these activities are deeply rooted in our physical and mental makeup. You may have forgotten how great they feel, especially in times of sadness, but we can learn from children who do them very naturally.
I hope these ideas may help bring us closer to God, each other, and His creation.

In praise of the afternoon nap.

A short nap in the afternoon improves your memory and keeps your brain more agile. People who nap tend to speak more fluently, have greater mental agility, and remember things better than those who do not break up their day with sleep.
Even a five-minute nap can offer your brain a chance to down-time and replenish itself, so that it is ‘good to go’ again.
If you want longer than five minutes, try to stop at 40 minutes, before you enter the deepest stage of sleep. If you do carry on, sleep for two hours, which is a full sleep-cycle. The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

Savio, the youngster who found God.

A number of years ago the hit film Slumdog Millionaire touched millions of people with its story of a youngster triumphing against all the odds. Dominic Savio did the same thing. In fact, he is a good patron ‘child saint’ for children today who struggle to get anywhere in life.
Savio (1842 – 57) was born into a poor family in Riva, near Turin. There were 10 children. The father was a blacksmith, the mother a seamstress. Somehow, they managed school fees, and when Dominic was 12, he was sent to the famous school of John Bosco at Turin.
A strict Roman Catholic school wasn’t exactly the set for ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, but Savio loved it. He responded with enthusiasm to the wise and moderate spiritual guidance of Bosco, and began to grow. He was soon widely loved for his cheerfulness and friendliness to all. He was respected by fellow students for his mature, sound advice. Behind it all lay the key: Savio had discovered God for himself, and had responded with all his heart: one story of him tells how he was rapt in prayer for six hours continuously.
Sadly, Dominic Savio contracted tuberculosis. He accepted his disease with dignity and composure. He did not fear death – his deep and radiant faith assured him that something far better lay beyond.
Savio died aged only 15. He had never been a millionaire; his riches lay in his faith in Jesus Christ. The memory of this lovable lad lived on, so deeply had he touched the hearts of the people who knew him. Over 100 years later he was still remembered – and made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Felix of Burgundy, apostle to East Anglia.

East Anglia is blessed with a rich Christian heritage. Just two examples: at more than 650, Norfolk has the greatest concentration of ancient churches in the world, and at 500, Suffolk has the second greatest density of medieval churches. And that is not to mention all the churches in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire…
And it all began with one man, back in 630 A.D, a bishop named Felix. His name in Latin means ‘successful’ and ‘happy’ – an excellent description of someone who brought great good and stability to this beautiful corner of England.
Felix came from Burgundy in France. At some point he was consecrated bishop, and went to Canterbury, to see Honorius, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 630 the Christian King Sigebert returned from exile in Gaul to rule the East Angles, and Honorius sent Felix along with him, to evangelise the people. According to local legend, Felix went by boat, and arrived at Bablingley in Norfolk.
Felix may well have known Sigebert back in Gaul, for the two men worked exceptionally well together. Sigebert settled Felix in Dunwich, which became the centre of his diocesan ‘see’. Then, with the support of Sigebert, Felix set up the first-ever school in East Anglia. He brought teachers up from Canterbury to staff it, and the school became, according to Bede, the place “where boys could be taught letters".
Felix had a fruitful ministry to the Anglo Saxons for 17 years. He preached Christianity, encouraged the school to grow, and did a lot of other good. All in all, Felix brought the love of God, the good news of Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, delivering "all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness," according to Bede. Certainly, the people came to love Felix.
When Felix finally died on 8th March 647 or 648, he left the Christian faith firmly embedded in East Anglia. Six ancient English churches are dedicated to Felix, and Felixstowe bears his patronage.

Written in March.

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun…

There’s joy in the mountains,
There’s life in the fountains,
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing,
The rain is over and gone.

From a poem by William Wordsworth

Casimir, godly king of Poland.

Casimir is a good patron saint for anyone whose father drives them crazy. For Casimir did not let an unhappy background stop him from becoming the person he wanted to be. Yet Casimir’s father, the King of Poland back in 1458, was no picnic as a dad.
For if you think your teens were difficult, consider this: when Casimir was only 13, in 1471, his father decided to send him to war. He put him in charge of a large army, aimed at fighting on the Hungarian border.
At 13, this was hardly easy, but worse was to come. Casimir’s father had not bothered to pay the troops. Very soon young Casimir faced a crisis: his soldiers, quite reasonably, were reluctant to fight Hungarians when they were not even being fed. The troops deserted, and Casimir had a difficult time surviving the journey home.
Then his father, far from welcoming his son’s safe return, put all the blame of the lost army on Casimir. He banished his son to the castle of Dobzki. But instead of being crushed by this, Casimir used the time to think, and he grew up fast. Next time his father summoned him, he was met by a determined young man who had seized control of his own life. Casimir flatly refused to fight again against any Christian country, and he refused to marry a daughter of Emperor Frederick III. Casimir had decided he would prefer a life of celibacy, devotion to God, and austerity, and he stuck to his decision.
When Casimir became king in 1481, he ruled over much of Poland for three years. In stark contrast to his father, he was loved for his justice, prudence and firmness. He died in 1484 of tuberculosis, at the age of only 26, and was buried at Vilna. But his good deeds lived after him, and he was canonised by Leo X in 1521.

How to gain contentment.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4,6-7)
I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment in the past couple of years, and have been struck by the fact that we can choose to be content.
As Paul says in Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation ... whether living in plenty or in want.” He doesn’t explicitly tell us what the secret is – but the word ‘learned’ is significant.
Contentment isn’t something we have to hope we might be given, or something that would blossom in our lives if only we received or achieved all the things we’re longing for. Contentment isn’t the result of everything being the way we want. Nor is it a gift randomly given to some people to enable them to bear difficult circumstances.
Rather, it is something we can learn, something we can actively pursue. We do that by choosing to seek Christ’s glory over our own, to emulate His life of grumble-free humility, and to learn from others how to press on towards the goal of becoming more like Him.
And we do it by choosing to rejoice. Paul doesn’t say ‘Rejoice in the Lord when things work out’, or ‘Hang in there; we’ll be able to rejoice one day’. No, he commands us to rejoice in the Lord always. God is always good. There are always things to praise him for, in our plenty and in our want, in promotion or demotion, on a luxury holiday and in a long, lonely lockdown. (Isn’t it interesting that Paul had to learn how to be content with plenty as well as with want? Even the dream job, ideal home, and perfect partner won’t bring automatic contentment.)
This doesn’t mean denying the reality of our situations. We can and should ‘present [our] requests to God’, we just do it in an attitude of thankfulness not anxiousness. And as we play our part, God will respond by giving us something greater than what we have asked for – He’ll give us His peace, ‘which transcends all understanding, [to] guard [our] hearts and [our] minds’.
True contentment is a gift from God – as indeed is everything good in life – but God in His goodness allows us to choose whether to receive it or not. So, make the choice: rejoice!
Jennie Pollock is a writer with London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. She blogs at: jenniepollock.com.

LENT - Stay trimmed and balanced.

‘Do not let this Book …depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night … be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be … successful.’ (Joshua 1.8)
Any flying instructor will tell you that aeroplanes need to be ‘trimmed’ or ‘balanced in flight’ on a regular basis. After flying through storms and hitting air pockets, they get knocked out of line. That’s true of our path through life. The bad storms of sickness, redundancy, divorce and disappointment, can knock us off our balance, too.V In other words, our attitude needs to be constantly checked and adjusted. Have you checked yours lately? What are you encountering at the moment that is putting pressure on you to veer off course? So long as we live, we will always need to look to God, to stay ‘trimmed and balanced’. Lent is an excellent time to do this.
The best way to stay balanced is to read God’s Word. It gives us a true map of the world around us, and it shows us where we are on that map. Here’s an idea you can try for Lent: every week, for the next few weeks, choose a Bible verse and write it down on a small card. Carry it with you wherever you go and memorise it. In one year, you’ll know 52 new scriptures, and more importantly, your attitudes will be more naturally in line with God’s Word, your faith will be strengthened, and your life will be moving in the right direction.

Chad, the recycled bishop.

Chad should be the patron saint of any modern bishop whose consecration is questioned by another bishop. Chad was consecrated a bishop, then deposed - and then re-consecrated!
It all began about the middle of the 7th century, when Oswiu, King of Northumbria, made Chad the bishop of the Northumbrian see. But due to a scarcity of appropriate bishops, two dubious bishops did the job of consecrating him. This led to Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, deciding to depose him about three years later.
Chad took his dismissal with good heart, and peacefully retired. But then Theodore had second thoughts: Chad was of excellent character: humble, devout, and zealous. So, Theodore re-consecrated him – to be the first bishop of the Mercians. Second time around, Chad was a great success - again.
When Chad died in about 672AD, he was quickly venerated as a saint. People took a great fancy to his bones, believing that they would bring healing. Even today, four large bones, dating from the 7th century, and believed to be Chad’s, are in the R.C. cathedral in Birmingham.
Bishops today may still argue about consecration, but they are unlikely to have their bones disturbed.

St David’s Day, time for daffodils.Daffodil

1st March is St David’s Day, and it’s time for the Welsh to wear daffodils or leeks. Shakespeare called this custom ‘an honourable tradition begun upon an honourable request’ - but nobody knows the reason. Why should anyone have ever ‘requested’ that the Welsh wear leeks or daffodils to honour their patron saint? It’s a mystery!
We do know that David - or Dafydd - of Pembrokeshire was a monk and bishop of the 6th century. In the 12th century he was made patron of Wales, and he has the honour of being the only Welsh saint to be canonised and culted in the Western Church. Tradition has it that he was austere with himself, and generous with others - living on water and vegetables (leeks, perhaps?!) and devoting himself to works of mercy. He was much loved.
In art, St David is usually depicted in Episcopal vestments, standing on a mound with a dove at his shoulder, in memory of his share at an important Synod for the Welsh Church, the Synod of Brevi.

How to handle temptation.

“I can resist everything but temptation” (Oscar Wilde). During Lent we remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), when ‘He was led by the Spirit.. to be tempted by the devil.’ (1). Temptation is a test of obedience, whether we do things our way or God’s way. After 40 days of fasting Jesus was tired, hungry and vulnerable. Like Him, the Devil will attack us at our most vulnerable moments, especially during this pandemic.
The first temptation was to turn stones into bread: Jesus’ ministry was not about meeting His own needs, but being nourished by God’s Word. ‘We do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Deuteronomy 8:3). Like Jesus, we are called to make God our priority and trust Him completely.
The second temptation was to put God to the test: Jumping off the Temple pinnacle would have been a dramatic way for Jesus to gain popularity, but this is not God’s way! ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Deuteronomy 6:16). We too need to learn this lesson!
The third temptation was to worship Satan: Finally, the devil took Jesus to a mountain to offer Him worldly power. In contrast, His calling as Messiah was marked by suffering and honouring God. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ (Deuteronomy 6:13). This is often our experience in living for God.
Jesus stands with us in our temptations. As we claim the promises of Scripture, we will find strength in the power of the Spirit and the victory of the Cross.
‘If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you'll be at rest!’ (Corrie Ten Boom).

George Herbert, vicar and poet.

On this day the Church Calendar celebrates George Herbert. For those who are muttering ‘never heard of him’, just think of the hymn ‘Let all the world/ In every corner sing’, which he wrote, along with several other hymns which are still popular, even if they are well over 300 years old. In the course of his short life he was a graduate of Cambridge University, a favoured politician of King James, a distinguished poet of the so-called ‘metaphysical’ school, and a much-loved parish priest at Bemerton, in Wiltshire.
He was born in Wales but grew up in a wealthy family in England. As a student he felt called to ordination, but when he had graduated, he was drawn instead into the government of the time. As a protégé of King James (yes, the one of the ‘King James Bible’) he could have pursued a career in government, but that youthful call persisted and after a while he turned instead to the ministry of the Church of England. It was an era when many clergy were absentee incumbents, paying someone else to do the parish work while they lived elsewhere, but Herbert set himself to be a true parish priest, noted for his pastoral care and practical support of his parishioners. The whole of his ministry was fulfilled in that one parish, until he died at 39 from what we would now call tuberculosis.
It is of course his hymns for which he is chiefly remembered today, though his Collected Poems are also regarded as jewels of English poetry.

How to stop stress getting the better of you.

With the third lockdown, too many of us are facing a torrent of stress over job insecurity, home schooling, isolation, illness, or all of the above!
Stress makes us want to eat badly, exercise less and drink more. It also has a profound effect on our immune system.
While brief or ‘acute’ stress can spur us on to some specific achievement, the opposite is true of ‘chronic’ stress, which does only damage. It suppresses our immune system, making us more susceptible to bugs. That is why a stressful event can leave you feeling run down, or trigger a bad cold, shingles, or asthma.
So how do we give our immune systems some help during this crisis?
Eat well. A balanced diet includes at least all six plant-based food groups: fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legume, nuts and seeds.
Exercise every day: regular moderate exercise helps your immune system.
Get enough sleep. It has been called “the foundation of the immune system.” Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and keep devices, laptops or screens away from you for an hour before bedtime. Instead, stretch and relax, and consider a hot shower or bath.
Finally, don’t be mean to yourself. Practise some self-compassion. Give yourself some private time, forget perfectionism, and accept that ‘sometimes half-good is good enough.’ Be kind to yourself – because even that will help your immune system.

In this Lenten Time renew us.

This may be sung to the tune 'Rhuddlan' (Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendour')

Jesus, in the wilds You tarried
Forty days and forty nights
By the Tempter often harried
You the victor in each fight!
In this Lenten time renew us
Make us perfect in Your sight!

Bread alone cannot sustain us
But each word from God above
Worldly goods can nothing gain u
s If we lack our Father’s love
In this Lenten time renew us
Come upon us like a dove!

God our judge should not be tempted
He alone is fully just
His laws can’t be circumvented
Satan’s world will turn to dust!
In this Lenten time renew us
Teach us where to place our trust!

All Earth’s kingdoms are but trifles
If our Lord we can’t adore
Worldly wealth our worship stifles
And, in truth, it makes us poor
In this Lenten time renew us
Guide us to Your Heav’nly shore!

God Almighty, everlasting
Perfect all that you create
Be with us in feast or fasting
Cleanse our hearts from greed and hate
In this Lenten time renew us
That our joy may ne’er abate!

By Nigel Beeton

Matthias the Apostle, the chosen one.

Have you ever been in the position where someone is desperately needed – and you fit the bill perfectly? It is almost as if all your miscellaneous qualifications that never made much sense before now make PERFECT sense. And you sense that you have been chosen by God for the task….
If so, then Matthias is definitely the patron saint for you! Matthias came into the picture shortly after the suicide of Judas. The early Church was missing an apostle, and so the remaining 11 apostles prayed for guidance on who to choose as a replacement for this key role.
The qualifications for the job were specialised: the person had to have been a follower of Christ from His Baptism to His Ascension, and a witness of the Resurrection. There were two possibilities: Joseph Barsabas and Matthias. How to choose?
Again, Matthias’ experience may mirror yours: the decision was out of his hands, and up to others. In this case, the apostles drew straws – and the ‘lot’ fell to Matthias. He had been chosen to replace Judas! The tragedy of Judas’ betrayal had led to an opportunity for service by Matthias – and he was well prepared for the task. Are you prepared for any task that God might suddenly open before you?
Like the other apostles, Matthias had been in Jerusalem and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and he went on to do a good job. It is said he preached the Good News first in Judea, and then maybe in Cappadocia and by the Caspian Sea. It is thought he was martyred by the axe or halberd, and his relics eventually ended up being taken to Rome by the empress Helen.
Matthias is an encouragement to us to be faithful in small things - because you never know what the future might hold!

Polycarp, faithful servant who would not deny his Lord.

Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155) was one of the most important Christians in Roman Asia in the mid-2nd century, because of his link between the time of the Apostles and the earliest Christian Fathers. This disciple of John the Apostle became bishop of Smyrna and defended orthodox Christian belief against the heresies of Marcion and Valentinus, the most influential of the Gnostics. Irenaeus of Lyons, who as a boy had known Polycarp, praised his gravity, holiness and majesty of countenance.
Near the end of his long life, Polycarp paid a visit to Rome to discuss with the bishop there the possibility of agreeing a uniform date of celebrating Easter. When they found they could not agree, they amicably agreed to differ, and parted in good faith.
Polycarp returned to Smyrna, where a riot broke out at a pagan festival. The crowd suddenly turned on the Christians, whom they called ‘atheists’. Polycarp was on a farm nearby, neither provoking nor fleeing martyrdom. When his captors arrived, he invited them to eat a meal, while he prayed alone for an hour. Then calmly, he agreed to go with them to his interrogation.
All the pagans’ threats and promises did nothing to shake Polycarp. When ordered to execrate Christ, Polycarp gave this dignified reply: “For 86 years I have been his servant and He has never done me wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?… I am a Christian: if you wish to study the Christian doctrine, choose a day and you will hear it.”
The crowd were outraged and cried first for the lions and then for Polycarp to be burnt at the stake. He was bound, but an official killed him with his sword before his body was burnt. Later, grieving Christians collected his bones and buried them. They also wrote an account of his trial and martyrdom, which is the earliest authentic example of its kind.
In England there are no ancient and only a few modern churches dedicated to this deeply courageous saint of the Christian Church.

Fairtrade Fortnight: 22nd February – 7th March.

It has been a terrible year for farmers and workers in the global south. In 2020, on top of the pandemic, they had to deal with the growing impact of climate change: more droughts and crop disease, locusts, floods, fires, and heatwaves. No wonder their harvests were shrinking.
Yet with the help of Fairtrade, many of these producers of food, drinks and cottons can be equipped to meet more everyday needs, and to deal with the challenges facing them.
So this month, why not visit:

Fairtrade website

See how you can send some support.

Jesus Christ: no other man has ever humbled himself so greatly; and no man has ever been more exalted as a result. – Anon

Have you done something which haunts you?

Do you ever worry that your past failings mean that God will not accept you now? Some of us have done many things which we regret, things that have caused us, or others, great pain.
We’ve given our children short shrift, we’ve betrayed our marriage partners, we’ve been dishonest at work, we’ve been ruthlessly greedy and ambitious, no matter what the cost to anyone else. And now the memory of the wrong we’ve done lingers, and makes us ashamed. Our past failings make us very reluctant to turn to God. Why should He forgive the damage we have done?
If you think this way, then you have a big surprise waiting for you: God isn’t like that. You haven’t yet encountered His GRACE. God knows all about you, and most of all He knows you need His help. Jesus said that He came into the world to reach sinners, to help anyone who turns to Him in true repentance to find forgiveness, and a new start.
You can’t do anything to turn yourself into a good person. But you don’t have to. All that God asks of you is that you turn to Jesus in prayer, and say you are sorry, and ask Him to forgive you, and to put His Spirit within you. Then you find His GRACE – which means His loving-kindness, beginning in YOUR life. Just try it. Today let God begin to set you free from the past!

Describe what love is.

J R Miller (1840-1912) was considered by many to be the most gifted devotional writer of his generation. His book ‘In Green Pastures’ was much loved. Here is J R Miller’s paraphrase of the famous ‘love’ passage in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love thinks no evil. It does not suspect unkindness in kindly deeds. It does not imagine an enemy in every friend. It does not fear insincerity in sincere professions of esteem. It does not impugn others’ motives nor discount their acts.
On the other hand, it overlooks foibles and hides the multitude of faults that belong to every human being, even to those who are the holiest and the best. Love believes in the good that is in people and tries to think of them always at their best, not at their worst.
It looks, too, at the possibilities that are in people, what they may become through divine love and grace, and not merely at what they now are. It is wonderful how seeing through love’s eyes changes the whole face of earthly life, transfiguring it. If the heart be filled with suspicion, distrust, and doubt of people, the world grows very ugly. But love sees brightness, beauty and hope everywhere.

It is not enough to love – you need to be loved.

Sometimes we can be inclined to give and give and give to others - without asking anything in return. We may think that this is a sign of generosity - of great strength. But it can also be one of pride - we want to be seen as the one who does not need help. Or it can be a sign of very low self-esteem - we do not think we are worth receiving anything from others.
Whatever the reason, when we keep giving, without also receiving, we put ourselves in danger - we will burn out quickly. It is as important to know when we need to TAKE attention and care, as when we need to give it to others. If you do not pay careful attention to your own needs - whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual - you will not last the distance.
If you want to remain a joyful giver for years to come, you need also to be a joyful taker and accept God’s love, given to you through other people.

Ash Wednesday My memory of the Passover in Jerusalem by David Winter.

 Ash Wednesday introduces the Christian preparation for Easter, which normally coincides with Passover, the major Jewish celebration of the year. It’s near Easter because Jesus was crucified at Passover, having just shared this very meal with His disciples.
Passover celebrates and recalls the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. Led by Moses they crossed the Red Sea and 40 days later entered the ‘Promised Land.’ They shared the Passover meal at their last night in Egypt and have kept it all for nearly the past three thousand years or so that have followed.
Many years ago, when I was in Jerusalem to produce a radio programme, I was invited to join a Jewish family for their Passover meal. It was a great occasion, very like our Christmas, a family event with deep religious significance for those who seek it.
At the meal in Jerusalem, we ate modest lentils and unleavened bread – Matzos as we now call it. We also drank plenty of wine but not from the cup at the end of the table. That is ‘Elijah’s cup’, only to be drunk from when the prophet comes to announce the arrival of the Messiah. At the last supper Jesus instructed His disciples to drink from that cup after supper, which may have shocked them at the time. The Messiah had come!

Shrove Tuesday: Who’s for pancakes? by David Winter.Shrove Tuesday

Why do we have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, as we call it today? And what is Shrove Tuesday? And why do thousands of people feel it rewarding to race along a street somewhere tossing pancakes from their frying pans as they go?
Well, the answer to the first question is that it is the day before Lent begins and for well over a thousand years that has meant it was the last chance to enjoy meat, fat and other tasty dishes until Easter Day. The ‘Lent Fast’ was widely and strictly observed. The food in the larder wouldn’t keep for six weeks so it had to be eaten. With all these rich foods no wonder the French call it ‘Fatty Tuesday’ – Mardi Gras.
So, what have pancake races got to do with all this solemnity? ‘Shrove’ is an old word for ‘forgiven’ and in those days to prepare for the rigours of Lent people would want to confess and seek forgiveness – not quite what you want at a party. The answer is quite simply enjoying yourself while you can! So, on Shrove Tuesday this year let’s have some fun and make it last as long as possible.
The most convincing (and amusing) of the explanations of pancake races is of outwitting the Sexton who rang the curfew bell that marked the start of Lent. He was reluctant to do it while the race was unfinished. So, the revelry caused by dropped pancakes, postponed the inevitable.

Thomas Bray, founder of SPCK.

 Thomas Bray was once called a ‘Great Small Man’, with good reason. This diminutive 18th century English clergyman (1658 – 1730) not only helped to establish the Church of England in Maryland, but he was also founder of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 1698 and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (USPG) in 1701.
Those are long names for societies whose aim was to get Christian books and resources into the hands of those who desperately needed them. For the early 18th century was not an easy time for poor clergymen: books were expensive, and many of them had few, or none to guide them in their ministry. And so, Thomas Bray, who had been educated at Oxford, joined with some other clergy friends to help them.
After a trip to assess the needs of the young Episcopal Church in Maryland (he was sent by the Bishop of London), Bray became rector of St Botolph’s, Aldgate in London in 1708. From here he served his parish, and through SPCK eventually established 80 parish libraries in England and a further 39 in the Colonies. SPCK and USPG worked by asking learned authors to donate copies of their books. They also appealed to merchants to the foreign plantations for financial help in establishing the libraries.
Thomas Bray’s life has affected hundreds of thousands of people over three centuries. Not only was his work in America the first major coordinated effort to establish libraries in the New World, but SPCK is still one of our leading UK Christian publishing houses today.
As if that was not enough, Bray also worked to help poor debtors emigrate to better lives, and homeless children to get care in England. He helped feed prisoners at Newgate prison in London and joined in the political fight against slavery. He also supported outreaches to Africans and Native Americans in their home countries. When he died on 15th February 1730, thousands mourned him. A great small man indeed!

Valentine’s Day.

There are two confusing things about this day of romance and anonymous love-cards strewn with lace, cupids and ribbon: firstly, there seems to have been two different Valentines in the 4th century - one a priest martyred on the Flaminian Way, under the emperor Claudius, the other a bishop of Terni martyred at Rome. And neither seems to have had any clear connection with lovers or courting couples.
So why has Valentine become the patron saint of romantic love? By Chaucer’s time the link was assumed to be because on these saints’ day -14th February - the birds are supposed to pair. Or perhaps the custom of seeking a partner on St Valentine’s Day is a surviving scrap of the old Roman Lupercalia festival, which took place in the middle of February. One of the Roman gods honoured during this Festival was Pan, the god of nature. Another was Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. During the Lupercalia it was a popular custom for young men to draw the name of a young unmarried woman from a name-box. The two would then be partners or ‘sweethearts’ during the time of the celebrations. Even modern Valentine decorations bear an ancient symbol of love - Roman cupids with their bows and love-arrows.
There are no churches in England dedicated to Valentine, but since 1835 his relics have been claimed by the Carmelite church in Dublin.

Do your days rush by at a hectic pace?

Have you ever stopped to think that your mobile phone and emails have not given you more time? Just more things to do in the same amount of time.
We leave our messages in one place while we take our bodies elsewhere. Instead of doing one thing after another, we shoot out a variety of tasks, and then swoop down on them later, needing to deal with them all at once.
In a four-minute clip from a street scene from an old Orson Welles film and a similar clip from a more recent film, you will see an amazing difference. In the early film, the camera records ‘real time’ – people get out of their cars, walk across streets, wait for lights, speak to other people, enter a bank. In the more recent film, a similar sequence was reduced to a half a dozen quick cuts. Transition time was eliminated.
Modern life teaches us that ‘down time’ is wasted. Time is money. So mobile phones, emails, etc, enable us to ‘waste’ less time. The tempo of cultural life picks up, the heartbeat of daily life races, and our own body rhythms respond with adrenaline, cramped muscles and heart attacks.
To take time out for daily prayer, for a quiet walk that is not to the next meeting, for daydreaming or for Bible study becomes a cross-cultural act. Following Christ, waiting on Him, is a countercultural act.
One lovely biblical phrase is ‘in the fullness of time, it came to pass’. This suggests four things: that time crests like a wave; that there is a right moment for things to happen; that it’s not ours to plan that moment, but to recognise it; and that we are not the primary agents of what happens in the world.
So, feel free to accept God’s offer of rest when you are weary; receive each moment of your life as a gift from God’s hand; pray to discern what each new encounter you make requires of you, and freely entrust everything else to God’s care.

JESUS

If I could package faith into one parcel
And collect all hope into a single can –
If I could roll all love into one heart-ball
And commoditise it in a living man
I’d already have a fully detailed label
Prepared before the world itself began -
And it would have one name -
And that name – JESUS -

At the centre of God’s universal plan
To take the world along the course
God’s surge of love provoked
Till wholeness flows through everything
With God’s Spirit of life unyoked.

by Sam Doubtfire

Scholastica, the persuasive sister.

Scholastica (d.c. 543) should be the patron saint of any woman who can bend her brother to do her will - no matter how ‘powerful’ that brother might seem to other people.
For Scholastica’s brother was no less than the great monk Benedict, who founded the famous Benedictine order and lived at Monte Cassino. In no way over-awed, Scholastica simply became the first ever Benedictine nun, with a nunnery five miles down the road – at Plombariola.
Now Scholastica greatly enjoyed her annual meetings with her brother at a house nearby, but the time passed too quickly. One year she begged him to stay longer, to discuss “the joys of heaven”, but he refused. So Scholastica took swift action: she prayed up such a mighty thunderstorm that her brother was forced to spend the rest of the night talking to her. Or maybe – she talked, and he listened? No one knows for sure.
In any case, Scholastica died happy three days later, and was buried in the tomb Benedict had prepared for himself. She became the patron of Benedictine nunneries.

Seen on a birthday card:

Forget about the past,
You can't change it.

Forget about the future,
You can't predict it.

Forget about the present,
I didn't buy you one.

Truth Encounter (Luke 4:1-14, John 17:17, James 4:7)

Led by the Spirit
And tempted by the devil
He wandered in the wilderness,
Hungry
And focussed on God,
And the truth and power of His Word.
Truth and power enough
To resist His enemy and ours.
To go on - armed with the Spirit -
To give His life,
To give us life.

A lesson in tactics then:
Know the truth,
Submit to God,
Resist the devil
And our wildernesses will blossom.
We will bear fruit,
Fruit to be known by
As His.

By Daphne Kitching

The birds and bees.

Here is some good news: all new major roads will have wildflower-friendly verges that could boost our numbers of birds and bees.
Highway England has said that vibrant road verges will be created as standard on new roads over 300 miles in England, using low nutrient soils which will be seeded with wildflowers or left to grow naturally.
A staggering 97 per cent of our meadows have been destroyed since the Thirties, due to modern agriculture. This means that the 238,000 hectares of road verges across the UK could become a vital habitat for pollinators.
The Government has pledged to build 4,000 miles of new road by 2025.

Want to feel better?

Cuddle your pet If you think you feel better after cuddling your dog or cat, there is a good reason: you really do feel better.
After only three minutes of cuddling your pet, your levels of oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone, increase, according to a recent study from Australia’s Monash University. And just five minutes of cuddling will also raise your levels of the two wellbeing and happiness hormones, endorphin and dopamine. So says a recent report in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
In her recent book, Your Pet, Your Pill, vet Margit Gabriele Muller says that caressing a dog or other pet provides exactly the same health benefits as skin-on-skin contact with another human. The hormones that are released “are the same as when you’re breastfeeding or cuddling a partner.”
Furthermore, a study at Liverpool University last year found that dog owners are four times more likely to be fit than other people.

The Martyrs of Japan, courage in persecution.

Persecution of Christians in various countries is making the headlines these days. Believers facing such opposition might well find inspiration from the courage of the Japanese Christians of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
The Jesuit Francis Xavier had first brought Christianity to Japan in 1549, when he persuaded Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Satsuma, to give him permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. All went well at first, and the Japanese responded to the message of Jesus Christ more warmly than anyone could have foretold. By the end of the century, it has been estimated that there were nearly 300,000 baptised converts to Christianity in Japan.
But soon the very success of the Japanese Church led it into trouble: its vibrant growth as an indigenous community believing a faith brought in from the West meant trouble. It was caught up in a maelstrom of tensions between the shogunate, imperial government, Buddhist monks, Shintoists, and colonial ambitions of Spain and Portugal. Gradually, the Japanese rulers came to see Christians as a threat. So Christianity was banned, and those Japanese who refused to abandon their faith were to be killed.
Trouble flared at Nagasaki on 6th February 1597, when six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laity, three of whom were young boys, were executed in a form of crucifixion by being elevated on crosses and then pierced with spears. Within a year, more than 130 churches had been burned. The persecution subsided, then flared up in 1613. Japanese Christians were beheaded, burned alive or imprisoned. They responded with courage and a willingness to sing praises and preach the gospel even as they were led to their deaths.
Such was the brutality of the persecution that by 1630 the Japanese Church had been driven underground and was thought to be lost. So, when missionaries arrived in the 19th century, they were astonished to find a community of Japanese Christians. It had survived for 250 years without clergy, churches, the Bible and only a sketchy idea of the Christian faith beyond one main thing: that Jesus Christ was Lord.

Your daily walk should be a sacred ritual.

 Under lockdown, millions of us who rarely walked around our immediate locality are now well acquainted with every nearby driveway, every crack in the pavement, and every pothole in the road. We have developed views on our neighbours’ gardens, on their oddly coloured garage doors, and on their dogs, children and cars. If we go out at the same time every day, we may even be saying hello to the same people we don’t know every day.
For many of us, that daily walk has become the high point of our day. After all, it is one of the few liberties we have left. Some of us go early, to enjoy the relative peace and quiet. Some of us go midday, to at least see other people, even if we can’t talk to them. Others of us opt for dusk, the dark comfort of a street with lit houses and stars in the sky.
Whatever time you most enjoy, make sure you do make the time to go for your walk. Your mental and physical fitness can only improve!

‘Zoomed Out?’

 ‘You’re still on mute!’ If you’ve used Zoom over the past year, you’ll be familiar with this cry! After a day on Zoom, the last thing we often want to do is using it for a chat with friends or a church service on Sunday! Now this reveals a wider problem that we face. We know that staying connected in the pandemic is hard. When we’re tired and busy, it’s easy to stop connecting with others, which would encourage our faith or wellbeing. This might also include not sending a text, Facebook comment or phoning somebody up.
Remember what Paul says: ‘For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’ (Romans 7:15). It’s often easier to avoid connecting with God and others, when this would be good for our sense of value, purpose and identity. Certain patterns of behaviour can make us feel safer, but in reality they prevent us from living our lives fully as God intends.
Paul adds: ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans 7:24,25). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have the freedom to act differently. Lent is an ideal time to develop new habits, especially when we are tired or anxious. It may involve spending less time on Facebook, turning the TV off to call a friend who we need to catch up with, or getting up a bit earlier to spend time in Bible reading and prayer.
Let’s keep reminding ourselves that ‘God is bigger than Zoom’ and make sure that we don’t get disconnected! Let’s be committed to doing the right thing, rather than simply the easier thing.

'Spycops' – the latest from the Church of England in Parliament

 The Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Children and Families has supported moves in the House of Lords to introduce legal protections for children from being used in undercover operations by police and other authorities.
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, backed cross-party amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill which has been before the Lords for report stage.
Bishop Paul was sponsoring an amendment alongside Baroness Massey, Lord Dubs and Lord Cormack which would prohibit the authorisation of criminal conduct by children without specific prior judicial approval.
He will also support an amendment from Baroness Kidron, Baroness Hamwee, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Young of Cookham which would provide further legal protections for under 18s.
Bishop Paul said: “Children of all ages deserve to be protected. Ideally no one under 18 should ever be used for covert intelligence but if they must be then it must be extremely rare and with thorough legal protections in place.”
"I am here to reiterate the simple moral truth that children must be treated as children. Knowingly placing a child in harm’s way and encouraging them to remain in harmful situations or with harmful behaviours may be in our interest, but it is not in the child’s best interests.
"This is exacerbated by the likelihood that the small number of children recruited as CHIS are from a potentially vulnerable background and are already deeply damaged. We should be seeking their healing, not risking damaging them further.”

Candlemas, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

In bygone centuries, Christians said their last farewells to the Christmas season on Candlemas, 2nd February. This is exactly 40 days after Christmas Day itself.
In New Testament times 40 days old was an important age for a baby boy: it was when they made their first ‘public appearance’. Mary, like all good Jewish mothers, went to the Temple with Jesus, her first male child - to ‘present Him to the Lord’. At the same time, she, as a new mother, was ‘purified’. Thus, we have the Festival of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
So, where does the Candlemas bit come in? Jesus is described in the New Testament as the Light of the World, and early Christians developed the tradition of lighting many candles in celebration of this day. The Church also fell into the custom of blessing the year’s supply of candles for the church on this day - hence the name, Candlemas.
The story of how Candlemas began can be found in Luke 2:22-40. Simeon’s great declaration of faith and recognition of who Jesus was is of course found in the Nunc Dimittis, which is embedded in the Office of Evening Prayer in the West. But in medieval times, the Nunc Dimittis was mostly used just on this day, during the distribution of candles before the Eucharist. Only gradually did it win a place in the daily prayer life of the Church.

Brigid of Ireland, compassion and love Brigid, you could say, was the female Patrick of Ireland.

Historical facts about this first abbess of Kildare (d.c. 525) may be scarce, but her ‘Lives’, written from the 7th century, tell many anecdotes and miracles which over the centuries have become deeply rooted in Irish folklore. Brigid came from a village near Kildare, of parents of humble origin, and is said to have been baptised by Patrick and became a nun at an early age. She is credited with founding the monastery of Kildare, a powerful influence for Christianity in Ireland.
The miracles attributed to Brigid show her to have been a woman of great compassion and generosity. There are stories of how she could multiply food, especially butter, for the poor. Other stories tell of her changing her bathwater to beer, in order to satisfy the thirst of unexpected visitors. Even her cows gave milk three times the same day, to enable visiting bishops to have enough to drink.
Brigid’s cult grew rapidly in Ireland, where it became second only to that of Patrick. In England, there were at least 19 ancient church dedications in her honour (the most famous is St Bride’s Fleet Street). There is also St Bride’s Bay, Dyfed, which underlines the strong connection between Irish and Welsh Christianity. St Brigid is patron of poets, blacksmiths, and healers. She is usually depicted with a cow lying at her feet, which recalls her phase as a nun-cowgirl.

St Maedoc of Ferns, smart about beggars

Are you wondering about which charities to support this year? Does it matter to you if your money is used wisely or not? If so, then Maedoc of Ferns is the patron saint for you this month. He certainly knew how to deal with people who would waste his money.
Maedoc (d 626) was born in Connacht and educated in Leinster and St David’s Pembrokeshire before returning to Ireland in the early 7th century. He founded a small monastery on land given by Brandrub, prince of Leinster, at Ferns, in Co. Wexford. He also founded monasteries at Drumlaane and Rossinver. He must have been loved, because after his death his bell, his staff and reliquary were carefully preserved – you can see them today in the National Museum (Dublin) or the Library of Armagh cathedral.
Maedoc had a reputation for self-denial, holiness and charity. But he was not ‘stupidly good’. The story is told of how one day some spurious beggars hid their fine clothes and dressed in rags and came to the monastery pleading for his help to buy new sets of clothes. Maedoc invited them in and did some investigating. When he discovered their fine clothes hidden outside, he gave them away to real beggars nearby, and then sent the imposters off in their dirty rags, with neither new clothes nor alms. Rather cleverly done!


World Leprosy Day - 30th January

It is not just Covid-19 that makes other people want to avoid us. Up to three million people worldwide are living with leprosy, a disease that can separate sufferers from their loved ones for years.
Someone is newly diagnosed with leprosy every two minutes, and millions of people suffer crippling deformities.
Leprosy Mission was founded to help defeat this terrible disease, and to transform the lives of its victims. Nowadays this established Christian charity is a global network active in 34 countries across the world. 15 countries have a high burden of leprosy; Leprosy Mission works in 11 of them.
Leprosy Mission works closely with governments, local communities, partner health organisations, the World Health Organisation, local NGOs, local churches, and Christian partners.
And – you can help! This month you can pray, make a donation, or even consider working with Leprosy Mission. 
World Leprosy mission - Get involved.

Why parking your car is getting more difficult.

Have you noticed that it is getting harder to park your car? And that when you finally do get parked, you can barely get the door open enough to squeeze out?
It is not your fault. Modern cars have grown so big that many drivers now have as little as 21cm of room to spare in a parking space.
A recent study has found that the country’s most popular cars are as much as 55 per cent larger than they were in the Seventies, while the standard parking space has not grown at all. No surprise, then, that millions of drivers scrape their cars each year trying to park in cramped spaces.
The biggest grower is the Mini Hatch, which is now 55 per cent bigger and takes up to 22 per cent more of a parking space that the original did, back in 1959. The Honda Civic of today is 1.8m wide, an increase of 44 per cent. It now takes up nearly three quarters of a standard parking bay.
CarGurus, who carried out the research, has urged the authorities to update the guidelines for parking bays. The current size of a parking bay is 2.4m by 4.8m, and has not changed in 50 years.

St Angela Merici, helping children in need.

With international concern about the welfare of children, Angela is a good saint to remember. Not only did she herself survive a harsh childhood, but she went on to dedicate her own life to helping children in need.
Angela was born near Lake Garda, in Desenzano, where she was orphaned as a young child. The 1480s were hardly an easy time for orphaned girls, but somehow Angela survived to grow into her teens, when she became a Franciscan tertiary. However miserable her own childhood, Angela chose to let it work for good in her life: she decided to devote her own life to the education of poor girls. Girls! This was a time when most of the men were illiterate!
But Angela was an audacious woman, and she had only just begun. She and some close companions set to work in the name of Christ, seeking out the poor families in their community. Angela taught the young girls all that she could, and prayed with them, assuring them that even they were precious in the eyes of their Creator.
All of which left the Roman Catholic Church badly baffled. What should they do with religious sisters who had taken no vows, still wore their lay clothes, and who, instead of walling themselves up in some nunnery to lead an enclosed life, spent their days in a decidedly mobile, highly visible fashion – out and about in community support?
It wasn’t until 1565, some 25 years AFTER Angela’s death, that the Church decided it approved of such work. By then the Ursuline nuns, as they were by then called, were going from strength to strength. They still flourish today, with some 2400 Ursuline Sisters in 27 provinces on six continents. They have been well described as ‘the oldest and most considerable teaching order of women in the RC Church.’
It took nearly 300 years, but in 1807 the Roman Catholic Church decided that Angela, unveiled, unenclosed and unsupervised as she had been, had been a saint after all – and ‘made’ her one.

St Timothy and St Titus, how local church leaders should be!

Timothy and Titus are the saints for you if you’ve been a Christian for some time, and now suspect that God wants you to move into some form of leadership. A daunting prospect!
The books of First and Second Timothy and Titus are what are known as the three pastoral letters, where Paul writes to ministers in charge of important churches, instead of writing to the churches themselves. Paul gives both Timothy and Titus explicit instructions for how to shepherd the sheep in their care. Timothy had been given the responsibility of the church at Ephesus, and Titus the care of the church at Crete. Both Timothy and Titus were young men, and both felt quite daunted at the task ahead of them!
Timothy, half Jewish, had met Paul when he was still a child, living with his mother Eunice at Lystra. Paul had come to their city and preached, and they had both become Christians. Timothy had then accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey – a great training experience. But experience is given to us so that we might in turn become productive – and in due course Paul entrusted the vastly important church of Ephesus into Timothy’s care. This church was so vibrant in its faith that within 50 years so many Ephesians became Christians that the city’s pagan temples were almost forsaken. A huge responsibility!
Titus was a gentile, almost certainly converted through Paul. Paul had used Titus as a trouble-shooter with the Corinthians, and when Titus was successful in that, gave him a real bit of trouble: the church at Crete. Again, Titus served his Lord faithfully, even in this most difficult of situations.
Timothy became the first bishop of Ephesus and was finally martyred when he opposed pagan festivals (probably in honour of Dionysius). He was killed by stones and clubs, easily to hand during the pagan festival of Katagogia. His supposed relics were translated to Constantinople in 356.
Titus went on to become the first Bishop of Crete, and is believed to have died there, though history does not tell us how. His relics are supposed to be buried in Crete, except for his head, which was allegedly taken to Venice in 823.
Both Timothy and Titus were good and faithful servants, and they could look back on lives well spent.

St Paul, the first Christian intellectual.

On this day the Church celebrates probably the most famous conversion of all. At least, what happened to a young man called Saul on the road to Damascus has become a byword for all instant conversions - what is known as a ‘damascene’ moment. Saul was a devout Jew, a Pharisee, a student of Gamaliel and a fierce critic of the followers of Jesus, then a very new sect on the religious scene.
On his way to Damascus to start a purge of Christians in that city, he was blinded by a bright light and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He asked the identity of the voice, and was told: ‘Jesus, whom you are persecuting’. Stunned by the experience, he followed further instructions which led him to a Christian man in Damascus, who prayed with him. As he did, Saul’s sight was restored.
The experience convinced Paul that Jesus - crucified in Jerusalem four or five years earlier - was in fact the Messiah and had risen from the dead. After a period of instruction, Saul was baptised and took the name Paul. At first, some Christians were wary about the reality of his conversion, but over a period of time he was accepted and indeed eventually recognised as an ’apostle’, a ‘special messenger’ of Jesus Christ.
His intellectual stature and leadership gifts quickly marked him out, and within a few years he became a leading figure in the emerging Christian Church, preaching and founding churches all over the Middle East, largely of Gentile converts. He was eventually martyred in Rome, probably in 65AD.
Paul was the first intellectual of the Christian Church, the man who was able to set the events of the life and teaching of Jesus, and especially His death and resurrection, into a coherent theology, with its roots very clearly in the Jewish faith of his own upbringing.
Many people think of Paul as a rather negative, narrow misogynist, but even a quick reading of his letters actually reveals a person of great warmth, who evoked enormous affection and devotion from others. ‘You would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me!’ he writes to the Christians at Galatia. As for the charge hat Paul disliked women, even a quick read of his letters will reveal how large a role women played in his churches. In terms of the first century, St Paul was a dangerous liberal! So, all in all, the amazing Paul of Tarsus deserves a bit of celebrating on 25th January.


Conversion of St Paul.

January is a month of the beginning of great things! As well as the naming of the Son of God, we celebrate the conversion of the greatest ever apostle of the Christian faith today. Many books have been written on Paul, and here is the briefest of introductions.
He was a Jew, born as ‘Saul’ at Tarsus, and brought up by the rabbi Gamaliel as a Pharisee. A devout, fanatical Jew, Saul persecuted the Christians, and watched with satisfaction the first Christian martyrdom, the stoning of Stephen. Then, on his way to Damascus, Saul had a vision of Christ that stopped him in his tracks. He realised that this Jesus whom he was persecuting was in fact the Messiah for whom he had longed.
Saul changed overnight. He was given a new name, Paul, and became an evangelist for the cause of Christ. He became a leader in the early Church, and his special calling was as an apostle to the Gentiles. He wrote epistles to the young churches that he founded - and thus, inadvertently, wrote a great part of the New Testament.
Life as the greatest apostle was hardly full of perks: Paul was stoned, beaten, mobbed, homeless, hated, imprisoned, and finally martyred. Tradition has it that he was beheaded in Rome during the persecution of Nero in 64AD, and buried where the basilica of St Paul ‘outside the walls’ now stands. His mighty faith in Christ has kindled similar belief in many hundreds of millions of people down the centuries.


How do you become a vicar?

Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a vicar? Here is a brief description of the journey:
It begins with a call from God upon your life. Discerning this can take months or even years of reflection and prayer.
The next step is to talk to your vicar, or to a member of the vocations team in your diocese. Your diocese will help you to identify what type of ministry could best suit your gifts and talents.
Your bishop will then send you to a selection residential known as a Bishop’s Advisory Panel. Here they will assess your understanding of the Church, your faith, your sense of vocation, leadership, and collaboration.
The panel will decide whether or not to recommend to your bishop that you go forward for ordination training.
If you are recommended, then the next step is to enter a training course at one of the theological education institutes (TEIs) based around the country. These can be either residential or non-residential.
Training usually takes two to three years. After the course, an ordinands will normally receive either a bachelor’s degree or a diploma of higher education. Your tuition fees are covered by the Church, which also pays a contribution towards your living expenses.
After ordination, newly ordained clergy begin their ministerial life as deacons. The first jobs they do are called curacies (they are known as curates).
Your curacy will be an opportunity to serve alongside an experienced vicar. Here you can put into practice the knowledge gained from your course and learn from them as you prepare for your own ministry.
After a year, most deacons are ordained again, as a priest.
All sorts of people train for ordination. There really is no such thing as ‘typical’ ordained person.
What all candidates do share is a genuine and heartfelt desire to serve God and to serve others.


So, what is a Fresh Expression of church?

The simple answer is: it’s a church. It’s not a traditional church with a pointy spire or square tower. It’s an even more traditional church: a gathering of people coming together in the name of Christ.
And they are not strange rarities. They number in the thousands and, while they started out as a partnership between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, they now involve the United Reformed Church, Baptist Church, Salvation Army, Church of Scotland, the Congregational Federation and the Ground Level network of churches.
Across the world, they have spread to the USA, Canada and Barbados, to Germany and Switzerland, and to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Fresh expressions are the result of traditional churches listening to communities and putting together something that will attract those for whom traditional church just doesn’t make the Gospel available. People for whom liturgy, ceremony, stained glass and choirs just don’t do it or for whom the big doors and ‘knowledgeable’ congregation are a bit scary. Or, perhaps, those who feel they aren’t ‘religious’ enough to enter a church.
Like many traditional churches, fresh expressions will attract different social groups, such as young people, new families or older adults. Unlike most traditional churches, they will offer something more associated with the secular world, too. Hence, alongside all the traditional churches, there are now fresh expressions based on skateboarding, skiing or surfing for energetic people; based on café culture and computer skills for something a bit more sedentary; teaching cookery skills to children. They are based in pubs, schools, restaurants, cafes, community centres and even churches.
They are all different. Like the people who develop them and the people they serve, fresh expressions are each unique. They each respond to the changing culture and needs where they develop. But they are all shaped by the Gospel. They all look for ways to make the Gospel available to the unchurched and aim to make new disciples. They are all maturing at their own rate and moving towards their own opportunities to worship.
Meanwhile, the traditional expressions of church they grew out of continue to live, develop and grow in their own way.
The Fresh Expressions organisation has a working definition for these new churches. A fresh expression, it says, is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.
Statistics suggest there are more than 60,000 people attending fresh expressions of church in England. That’s more than the average weekly attendance in mort dioceses in the Church of England. You can read more about the Fresh Expressions movement at www.freshexpressions.org.uk

So, what is exactly ia a rural or area dean?

If a Church of England diocese is a business and its bishop is the managing director, an archdeacon is the head of a division and a rural dean manages a department: not quite an accurate description but not a bad comparison. When the call centre cannot answer your problem and you ask to speak to a manager, the next voice you hear is probably the equivalent of the rural dean.
. Another way to look at it is to see the rural dean, often known as the area dean, as the senior vicar in a large group of churches and parishes. Such a group, maybe a couple of dozen parishes, is a deanery. The rural or area dean chairs all the clergy of the area when they come together with lay people elected by each parish in a council called the deanery synod.
Synods are the Church’s equivalent of Parliament (General Synod), County Councils (Diocesan Synod) and local councils (Deanery Synod), where both spiritual and administrative matters can be discussed democratically and planning and policy shaped.
Rural dean is, in fact, an ancient office with certain specified responsibilities: the incongruity of a priest in the middle of a city being called a rural dean led to many now being called area deans. In many instances, the duties of rural dean are discharged by a vicar as a temporary addition to his or her responsibilities, in return for a small honorarium. Rather than seeing the rural dean as the line manager for other vicars, therefore, the relationship is nearer to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury with other bishops: not the boss but first among equals.
As an officer of the bishop the rural dean's key roles include looking after parishes that are between vicars, ensuring everything keeps going and helping in the process of finding a new vicar; chairing meetings of all the clergy within the deanery; co-chairing, with an elected layperson, meetings of the deanery synod; and carrying out visitations and inspections on behalf of the archdeacon to ensure the good order of the fabric and the general welfare of parishes.
It’s not all about admin, however. Being the priest of a parish is not always as quiet and calm as you might think. Clergy can be affected by pressure just like anyone else and rural deans are expected to care for the clergy of their deanery as well as for the parishes. They listen to vicar’s problems, as well as those of parishioners, and help in whatever way they can.
And then they make sure that communication between the parishes and the bishop is working. They pass on messages from the bishop and send back responses, as well as making sure that the bishop hears of any problems in the parishes. So, you might see rural and area deans as a cross between council chair, line manager and agony aunt.

So, how does the Church of England General Synod run?

The C of E General Synod has always met in public but now, thanks to the internet, it is more public than ever. Anyone can watch or listen via links on the Synod page of the www.churchofengland.org website.
But what are you seeing or imagining as you listen in?
Whether in London or York, a gallery runs behind the seating area. Look down from the gallery, and you see more than 450 seats fanned out to face a platform and top table. There is no seating plan, although the front two or three rows are reserved for the House of Bishops. That said, the bishops can sit anywhere, maybe with other members from their diocese.
In the middle of the top table sits the person chairing the current debate. A different member from a panel of clergy, laity and bishops takes the chair each time the subject under debate changes. To the right of the chair, in a wig, sits one of the legal officers of the Synod and, to the left, one of the senior staff, such as the Clerk to the Synod. These three ensure Synod members wishing to speak are called in the right order and that debates are run according to standing orders.
Behind the top table and to the left, sit the mover of the motion for debate and their support staff. To the right are other involved Synod staff. In front and below the top table sit staff running the electronic voting system, display boards and such.
Look further to the left and you see the seats for the archbishops and their staff. To the right, sit the senior officers of the Synod: the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity and their equivalents in the House of Clergy, known as Prolocutors, who chair the clergy of Canterbury and York Provinces, respectively.
When any of these six speak, they do so from where they are sitting. Otherwise, there are three lecterns for speakers. One stands next to the top table and is used by the lead speaker to introduce the debate, move the motion and respond to the debate. The other two are about half-way back on the floor of the Synod: one on the right and one on the left. Speakers tend to be called two at a time, so that there is always one ready to speak while the next one moves to a lectern.
Enjoy the debates.

In England in 2005, 39% of churches had no-one attending under 11 years of age, 49% no-one attending between the ages of 11 and 14, and 59% no-one attending between the ages of 15 to 19. “Half the Church of England parishes had no work among young people in 2005,” said an official Anglican publication. These figures are for Sunday attendance, so mid-week numbers are excluded.
The key issue is whether present trends will continue. Many teenagers left the church in the 1980s and many children under 15 in the 1990s. 20 or 30 years later there is a dire absence of those in their 30s and 40s, and no sign of younger replacements.
The need to reach out to young people is obvious and something that the church is increasingly taking on board in such initiatives as the young family orientated “Messy Church,” the employment of Youth and Children’s Workers, etc.

With the US Presidential inauguration in mind…

What do presidents say on the day that they become President of the United States? Here are some brief glimpses backwards….
1961: John F Kennedy:
“We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolising an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal… Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
1981: Ronald Reagan:
“Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic ‘yes.’ To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy…The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions…It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.”
2001: George W Bush:
“While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country. The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth. And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.”


Amy Carmichael, founder of the Dohnavur Fellowship.

Not many teenagers, on becoming a Christian, will devote themselves to winning others for Christ in a foreign land. Amy was such a person. She left Britain to live in a tiny village in Southern India. Here, for the next 56 years, Amy rescued hundreds of orphaned and vulnerable children, and served her Lord in Dohnavur.
Amy Wilson Carmichael had been born in Ireland on 16th December 1867, into a devoutly religious Presbyterian family in Belfast. When she was 16, Amy had become a Christian, and decided to start a mission for mill girls. When she came into contact with the Keswick movement, she sensed a call to serve abroad.
At first, Amy planned to go to China, but ill health prevented her from travelling. Later, for 15 months, she worked in Japan, but the climate was detrimental to her health. In 1895, she went to India to evangelise around Bangalore, and then, in order to escape rising political violence, she moved on to Dohnavur.
Here she met a girl called Preena, who had escaped being a slave in a Hindu temple. From that moment, Amy knew she had found her true calling. She dedicated the rest of her life to rescuing girls and boys who had been given by parents or relatives to serve in the temple as prostitutes.
Amy donned Indian dress and learnt about the Hindu culture and showed the love of Christ through her compassion. Overcoming much hardship and danger, Amy expanded her evangelistic work to establish a centre for homes, schools and a hospital. The Dohnavur Fellowship still continues today.
In 1931, Amy suffered a severe injury that virtually confined her to bed for the next 20 years. Despite this, she wrote 13 of her 35 books and many thousands of letters. Amy based her life on prayer and trusted God for all her needs. She died on 18th January 1951, aged 83.

Stories from the Streets – an insight into the work of Street Pastors By Luke Randall and Sue Shaw, Instant Apostle, £9.99

Stories from the streetsThis book celebrates the excellent work done by the formidable army of ‘Street Pastors’, Christian volunteers who have become a welcome presence in their various towns and cities across the nation.
Founded on the streets of Brixton by the Revd Les Isaac, OBE, in 2003 as a response to critical social issues, there are now 270 Street Pastor groups across the UK and seven internationally. More than 12,000 volunteers have been trained to serve as Street Pastors, not only on the streets but in many other public spheres as well, such as schools and after terrorist attacks.
Whether offering a listening ear to a vulnerable clubber, mentoring a troubled teen, giving food to a homeless person or responding to a national emergency, Street Pastors have been credited with saving police and NHS time and money, reducing crime and improving neighbourhoods. The work is supported by churches of every denomination.


Doing housework can help you live longer.

 If you spend half an hour a day tidying the house, going up and down your stairs, and doing household chores, you are reducing the risk of an early death.
So says recent guidance from the World Health Organisation, as it urges people to maintain regular moderate exercise on a daily basis, of up to at least 150 minutes a week. It also recommends vigorous exercise of at least 75 minutes a week.
The WHO recommendation was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, and is part of the new global guidelines on physical activity.
WHO also warned that those who stay sedentary for 10 or more hours on a regular basis will have a “significantly heightened risk of death.”

Plants in your front garden.

What’s in your front garden? If it is sparse, why not consider adding some plants this year? Apparently, the presence of greenery can lower your stress levels as much as two months of mindfulness sessions. Plants can also help you to feel happier.
A recent trial study by the Royal Horticultural Society found that people who introduced ornamental plants such as juniper, azalea, clematis, lavender, daffodil bulbs and petunias had a significant lowering of the stress hormone, cortisol, and many reported that they felt ‘happier’.

Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers.

Heroes are not always men or women of action. Sometimes the fight for right over wrong can be even more powerful when done through words and argument.
Hilary was such a champion of the Christian faith. Born into a wealthy pagan family in Poitiers in 315, he first became an orator of Neo-Platonism. Here he learned how to think and argue, but soon he lost confidence in paganism. By 350, Hilary converted to Christianity.
Already well known and loved in Poitiers, Hilary was made bishop only three years later. His oratorial skills in defence of Christianity were badly needed: it was a time when the Western Church was under severe attack. The heresy of Arianism, which denied that Jesus was divine, was spreading everywhere. Hilary became the outspoken champion of biblical orthodoxy, defending it at both the Synod of Bitterae in 356 and the Council of Seleucia in 359. Although briefly exiled to Phrygia in Asia Minor by the Emperor for his stand, Hilary continued to defend Jesus’ divinity, and was praised by both Augustine and Jerome as ‘the illustrious teacher of the churches’.
When Hilary returned from exile to Gaul, there was great rejoicing. He continued to write many doctrinal and historical works. He also became the first known writer of hymns in the Western Church, stressing Trinitarian themes and the unique relationship of Christ to the Father.
There are three churches dedicated to Hilary in England. His feast day begins the Hilary Term at the Law Courts and at the universities of Oxford and Dublin.

A Prayer for Light

Fountain of light, source of light,
Hear our prayer.
Drive away from us the shadow of sin.
Seek us, kindly light.

You, who created us in holiness,
Who condemned our sin,
Who redeemed us from our sin,
Sustain us by your power.

Pour your gentle light into our dull minds,
Filling our heads with holy thoughts.
Pour your glorious light into our cold breasts,
Kindling holy love within our hearts.

From horror, lust and fear,
Guard us while we sleep.
And if we cannot sleep,
Let our eyes behold your heavenly host.
By Alcuin of York, c. 735 – 804, was later abbot of Tours.

A Scientist’s Letter to the UK Church:

Power, love and self-control I want to share a message of hope that Christians in the sciences around the world can bring to the church. Dr Francis Collins, who leads medical research in the US, spoke earlier in the pandemic about his faith and his hope in God to help us through this time. He expressed the grief that so many are experiencing, described an intensity of scientific work he has never experienced before, and shared his conviction that he is in exactly the right place just now - serving God with science. He is holding on tight to the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7, ‘for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’
Power In 2 Timothy the apostle Paul encourages his friend to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ that is in him. I am thankful that scientists like Francis are using their own particular talents to understand this virus, and to help prevent or treat infection. The things they discover are not just useful, but at times they can also display the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.
Love A scientist shows their love for God, for people and for the rest of creation through their work in the lab. One scientist described his experiences to me: “I study God’s fingerprints in His creation to learn more of Him and the world He placed us in and to learn how we should take care of it and each other…I pray for inspiration and insight into how His creation works…and that He provides the opportunities to give the glory to Him.”
Self-Control It is largely our own and others’ selfish actions that can turn one animal’s friendly virus into our own species’ personal nightmare. Thankfully Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection are the solution to evil. Our ultimate and certain hope is that one day all Creation will be renewed. We can also have hope for today, that God is with us in our suffering. When we respond in positive ways to painful events, that is evidence that Jesus is alive and working in our lives.
Science will not solve all our problems, but with God’s help and wisdom we can use the tools of science to serve him and love others. Let’s pray together for the strength to cope, and for an end to this pandemic.

Give God your best and he will bless the rest.

‘Quarantine’ - the 2020 word of the year.

The Cambridge Dictionary has named ‘quarantine’ as its ‘word of the year’ for 2020. Apparently, it was the word most looked up between January and October of last year. ‘Quarantine’ even beat ‘pandemic’ and ‘lockdown’.
The Cambridge Dictionary has now added a new meaning to the word ‘quarantine’. It runs: ‘A general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease.’
The editors are also considering some possible new words for the dictionary. These include ‘Quaranteam’ (a group of people who go into quarantine together), Lockstalgia (a feeling of nostalgia for the lockdown period), and Coronnial (someone born around the time of the pandemic).

Did you know?

Five things I’d like to see in 2021:

I keep hearing people say that 2020 was a ‘year like no other.’ Friends have been writing a special journal recording the year, so they can pass it on to their grandchildren. Others just want to leave 2020 behind and look to a happier new year.
Both reactions are completely understandable. But I’ve been looking ahead to 2021 and thinking about the five top things I’d like to see in the year ahead. I wonder if you’ll agree with them or not? Maybe you could put together your own list.

1. Let’s make sure the vaccines are distributed fairly and speedily. Those who need the vaccine most urgently should receive it first, with a fair system for ensuring everyone else can be vaccinated quickly and efficiently. We need to ensure that everyone receives the vaccine wherever they live in the world – from the poorest to the richest. Especially, in those parts of the world where there is war, and people are living as refugees.

2. Let’s learn the lessons of the pandemic – not just going back to how life was, as quickly as possible. Many of us learnt to appreciate our family so very much more – especially when we could not be with them for months on end. We learnt lessons about how important our neighbours and local businesses are, how precious our NHS, medical researchers, care providers and other frontline workers are. Let’s not forget them.

3. Let’s value nature. Those of us with gardens, or with parks or fields nearby, have been massively blessed. I’ve learnt to pay attention to birdsong, to the changing colours of the trees, and how unexpected plants have taken root in our garden. Pets have played a major part in helping us endure the lockdowns, especially for people who live alone. May we all learn to value the natural world on our doorsteps in the year ahead and beyond.

4. Let’s bless technology. Without the use of the internet, meeting people ‘online’ or keeping in touch via email, Facetime or other technologies, 2020 would have been a whole lot tougher. Churches across the country moved their Sunday services online, and soon adapted to a different way of worshipping – not the same, but still helping us to worship together and see familiar faces. Let’s continue to give thanks for the science that made that contact possible in 2020.

5. Let’s value our church family. Imperfect we may be, like any family. But the months without being physically able to worship with them, share communion with them, sing alongside them have been hard. I value so much how many churches have risen to the pandemic challenge and sought to serve their communities in all kinds of ways.

May we take all this experience into 2021 and build upon it. Whatever 2021 holds for you and all those that you love, I pray that you may know the love of God in your life, and be able to pass it on to others. 
The Revd Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the New Year ahead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(An acrostic poem where the first letter of each line spells out the title of the poem)

Heaven’s gift of another year
As the old departs and the new is born,
Plans for a future and a hope
Preparing us for each new dawn.

Yesterday has gone forever,
New days and ventures lie ahead,
Even darkness turns to light
When we make the Lord our head.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit
Ever mindful that He’s there,
As we live our lives before Him
Rejoicing in His loving care.

By Megan Carter

Prayer for New Year 2021

 Dear Father God,
Here we are, nervously wobbling on the brink of this New Year. All our hopes, expectations, plans and possibilities for last year stolen by the relentless pandemic.
The landscape of our lives has been shaken and changed, Lord. Nothing is the same. Normality has been redefined. 2020 was a year like no other. How dare we move into the uncertainty of 2021?
Lord, we dare - because of the one, wonderful certainty we do have - that You have been with us through it all. Thank you that You sent Jesus to save us, to offer us that bigger reality of life for all eternity - if we put our trust in Him, Jesus, who never changes.
You promise that You will never leave us or forsake us. We will be able to navigate the challenges lie ahead, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, our compass; if we trust His Holy Spirit to lead us, however strange and unfamiliar the days of 2021 may be.
You are with us! You are with us! You are with us!
Thank you, Lord of the years, that You know and love each one of us, and that we are safe in Your hands. We can go forward.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

Christmas Eve - How do you celebrate Christmas Eve?

It has its own customs, the most popular of which is going to Midnight Mass, or the Christ-Mas. This is the only Mass of the year that is allowed to start after sunset. In Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Poland, Midnight Mass is in fact the most important church service of the entire Christmas season, and many people traditionally fast beforehand. In other countries, such as Belgium and Denmark, people dine during the evening, and then go on to the Midnight Service.
The British are behind some countries when it comes to exchanging presents: in Germany, Sweden and Portugal the custom is to exchange on Christmas Eve. But the British are ahead of Serbia and Slovakia, where the Christmas tree is not even brought into the house and decorated until Christmas Eve.
Yule logs are not so popular since the decline of the fireplace, but traditionally it was lit on Christmas Eve from a bit of the previous year’s log, and then would be burned non-stop until 12th Night (6th January). Tradition also decreed that any greenery such as holly, ivy or mistletoe must wait until Christmas Eve until being brought into the house.

Believe in God and you’ll believe in miracles. Believe in the baby of Bethlehem, and you’ll experience one. - Anon

The Story is still the same!

'Christmas may look different, but the story is still the same!’ That’s the message for Christmas in 2020. Coronavirus will make our celebrations this year look very different from usual. However, the message of the baby born in Bethlehem is still relevant!
In one nativity play, the highlight was to illuminate Jesus, with a light in the manger, when all the other lights were turned off. At the appropriate time, all the lights went out, including the manger one. The silence was broken when one of the shepherds loudly whispered: ‘Hey, you turned off Jesus.’ Of course, nobody can turn off Jesus this Christmas!
The angels announced, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.’ (Luke 2: 10,11). The birth of this baby brings great joy and good news for everyone! As the king of the universe, He has come as our Saviour. In an uncertain world, He offers joy and hope, because He holds this pandemic in His hands. This is a real cause for joy!
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.’ (Luke 2:14). We may feel anything but peace amid the anxieties over our current circumstances. How can a Jewish infant born to a peasant family in first century Palestine bring peace to our lives today? Jesus established peace with God through His death on the cross. Trusting the Prince of Peace for our lives brings God’s peace amid the huge uncertainties we face. As the carol says, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her King.’


Was Jesus really born on 25th December?

Almost certainly not. But the story of how that date came to be chosen as His ‘birthday’ is one that stretches back long before His birth.
It seems to have started on the Greek island of Rhodes in 283 BC. That year the solstice fell on 25th December, and it was also the year that the Ancient World’s largest Sun God statue – the 34 metre, 200 tonne Colossus of Rhodes, was consecrated.
By 46 BC, Julius Caesar had made 25th December the official winter solstice.
In AD 274, the Roman Emperer Aureilian chose the winter solstice to be the birthday of the Sun God. He also decreed that Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) was ‘Lord of the Roman Empire’.
50 years after that, and Constantine had become the first pro-Christian Roman Emperor. He wanted the Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on 25thDecember. Perhaps it was that to him, Jesus was more or less the same person as the mighty Sun God. Or perhaps he felt that the ancient Sun God’s association with goodness, light, warmth and life would help ease the people’s transition from paganism to Christianity.
Whatever the reason, the Church went along with it, and chose 25th December to be the date of Christmas. And in an ancient mosaic in the crypt of St Peter’s Cathedral, Jesus is portrayed as adorned with sun rays and riding in a chariot – just like Sol Invictus.
As for the huge, bronze 200 tonne Sol Invictus? He fell over during an earthquake and was sold off for scrap metal in 654AD by an enterprising Arab scrap merchant. Meanwhile, Jesus lives on…

Who is ‘Santa Claus’?

On the whole British people are happy with the title ‘Father Christmas’, a suitably neutral name for the central character in children’s Christmases, writes David Winter.
In America, however, and by a process of cultural indoctrination increasingly in other English-speaking countries, the same red-coated and bearded fellow with his sack of presents is known as ‘Santa Claus’. They are, of course, one and the same person, distantly related to a bishop in Turkey in the fourth century (hence the red coat and hat – a cope and mitre originally). His name was Nicholas, and he was known as a patron of children, who would from time to time distribute gifts to them.
From that comes the practice of giving presents at Christmas. We can’t give them to Jesus on His birthday, so we give them to someone else, in love and gratitude. That, at least, is the theory. Quite how the massive commercialisation of such giving developed probably owes more to smart marketing than Christian generosity.
It’s not Nicholas’s fault, of course, nor of the Dutch Christians who took the practice to America as migrants 300 years ago. In any case, his feast day, 6th December, is when ‘Christmas’ presents are handed over in Holland.

Thank Dickens for Christmas as you know it!

 Ever wonder where many of our Christmas traditions come from? A surprising amount of our modern Christmas celebrations can be traced back to the well-loved story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, by Charles Dickens.
When you read ‘A Christmas Carol’, you discover almost a template of the ‘ideal Christmas’ which we still hold dear today. Dickens seems to have selected the best of the Christmas celebrations of his day (he ignored some of the odd excesses) and packaged them in such a way as to give us traditions that we could accommodate and treasure – more than a century later.
So, for instance, in A Christmas Carol, Christmas is a family day, with a family-centred feast. In a home decorated with holly and candles the characters enjoy a roast turkey, followed by Christmas pudding. They give their loved ones presents. Scrooge even gives donations to charity (!).
And all the while outside, there is snow and frost, while church bells ring, and carol singers sing, and hope for mulled wine. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ there is even a Father Christmas – in the shape of Christmas Present. Only the Christmas tree itself came later, when Prince Albert imported ‘a pretty German toy’ that won the heart of the English court, and hence the rest of Victorian society.

We three kings of Orient are... what?

“A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey, in. The way’s deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter.” (TS Eliot)
It was 1622, and the Bishop of Winchester, Launcelot Andrews, was preaching a magnificent sermon to King James I. Reckoned one of the best preachers ever, Launcelot Andrews’ words were later taken up by T S Eliot and transformed into his wonderful poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’.
What a vivid picture – we can see it all! The camels’ breath steaming in the night air as the kings, in their gorgeous robes of silk and cloth-of-gold, and clutching their precious gifts, kneel to adore the baby in the manger.
Yet the Bible does not give us as much detail as some people think. Tradition down the centuries has added a great deal more. For instance, we know from St Matthew that the magi were ‘wise’, or learned men of some sort, but we do not know if they were kings or not. The Bible tells us there were several; tradition has decided upon three, and even named them: Balthassar, Melchior, and Caspar (or Gaspar). But the Bible does tell us that the magi gave baby Jesus three highly symbolic gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Gold stands for kingship, frankincense for worship, and myrrh for anointing – anticipating His death.
There is a lovely ancient mosaic in Ravenna, Italy, that is 1,500 years old. It depicts the wise men in oriental garb of trousers and Phrygian caps, carrying their gifts past palm trees towards the star that they followed... straight to Jesus.


Mistletoe’s smelly history.

 Did you know that the word ‘mistletoe’ means dung on a tree? The Anglo-Saxons thought that mistletoe grew in trees where birds had left their droppings. Mistel means dung, and tan means twig.

World’s oldest fake tree.

 Did you know that it is a family in Wiltshire, the Parkers, who claim to own the world’s oldest artificial Christmas tree? It was bought in 1886, and it is still put up every year.

The story of mince pies.

Did you know that mince pies have been traditional English Christmas fare since the Middle Ages, when meat was a key ingredient? The addition of spices, suet and alcohol to meat came about because it was an alternative to salting and smoking in order to preserve the food. Mince pies used to be a different shape - cradle-shaped with a pastry baby Jesus on top.

Why the world was ready for Christmas

Ever wonder why Jesus was born when He was? The Bible tells us that “when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son…” The Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah for centuries. Why did God send Him precisely when He did?
Many biblical scholars believe that the ‘time had fully come’ for Jesus because of the politics of the time. The Roman Empire’s sheer size and dominance had achieved something unique in world history: the opportunity for travel from Bethlehem to Berwick on Tweed without ever crossing into ‘enemy territory’ or needing a ‘passport’.
For the first time ever, it was possible for ‘common’ people to travel wide and far, and quickly spread news and ideas. And all you needed were two languages - Greek to the east of Rome, and Latin to the west and north. You could set sail from Joppa (Tel Aviv) and head for any port on the Med. And the Roman roads ran straight and true throughout the empire.
So, the Roman Empire achieved something it never intended: it helped spread news of Christianity far and wide for 400 years. After that, the Empire crumbled, and the borders shut down. Not until the 19th century would people again roam so freely. The time for Jesus to be born, and for news of Him to be able to travel, had indeed ‘fully come’.

Why was Jesus born in a barn?

Our pretty Christmas cards do not do it justice – the stable that Jesus was born in would have been smelly, dirty, and full of mess. So why did God not provide something better for His beloved Son? Why let Joseph and Mary scrounge around until they ended up in a smelly stable?
Perhaps because the King of Kings being born in a foul stable is a perfect picture of redemption. Jesus came from glory into a world filled with the dirt, filth and darkness of sin. And Jesus was not put off by darkness in the least – instead, He came to be the Light of the World. Thank God for His unspeakable gift. No wonder the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

Where did Christmas stockings come from?

No one is really sure, but a story is told of St Nicholas, a bishop who lived in the 4th century, who may have started the custom by accident. St Nicholas was of a wealthy family, and of a generous heart. As Christmas approached one year, he wanted to help a poor family whom he knew, but he did not want them to know it was him. So he climbed up on their roof on Christmas Eve and dropped some coins down the chimney.
The next morning the coins, to the great surprise of the family, were found in the stockings of the ladies, who had hung them to dry by the fire the night before. Every year after that they put their stockings out, in the hope that some more money would fall into them. They told the story of this amazing appearance to their friends and neighbours, and the custom caught on.

Where did Christmas trees come from?

There are two early stories that mention fir trees. The first involves St Boniface, who went to Germany in the 8th century as a missionary and found people sacrificing a child to their god under an oak tree. Boniface was appalled, and he rescued the child. He then chopped down the oak tree and found a tiny fir tree growing nearby. He gave this to the people and said: “This is a symbol of life. Whenever you look at this tree, remember the Christ-child who is the One who will give you life, because He gave His life for you.”
The second early fir tree story involves Martin Luther in the 16th century. It is said that one year he decided to drag a fir tree into his home and to decorate it with candles. He used it as a visual aid, telling people that the candles symbolised Jesus as the light of the world, and the evergreen tree symbolised the eternal life that Jesus gives to us. Many of the people who followed Luther were struck by the idea and took up the custom.

And there were shepherds…

Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is brilliantly told – the angel’s visit to Mary to tell her she would be mother of the long-promised Messiah, the old priest in the Temple told by another angel that his wife would have a son to be called ‘John’, who would prepare the people of Israel for that event, and then Mary and Joseph making the 60 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as required by the Roman census. When they got there, no room at the inn, and they settled instead for a convenient stable, where Mary gave birth to a boy child.
Suddenly, Luke changes the tone. ‘And there were shepherds …’ – that’s what he actually wrote, just like that. ‘And there were shepherds’, doing exactly what shepherds do, looking after their flocks by night. But this night was different: yet another angelic message – a call to abandon their sheep and go into Bethlehem to see the baby Messiah. They were given directions and a ‘sign’ to identify Him. He would be lying in a feeding trough. Well, at least they would recognise that.
And why the shepherds, in this glorious story of our salvation? Because the event needed witnesses, and the chosen witnesses would be this bunch of scruffy, smelly shepherds straight from the sheep-pen. Nothing could speak more eloquently of God’s purpose than that. This was not a Saviour for the strong, rich and powerful, but for everybody. The carpenter and his wife guarded the Saviour of the world, and the very first witnesses were not kings or priests but a handful of shabby shepherds.

The man who married Mary

The traditional Nativity scene on our Christmas cards has Mary with the Holy Babe. Around her are the shepherds and Magi. We may also see stable animals, angels and a star! While Joseph is often included, his presence seems to be of minor importance.
After all, we praise God for Jesus with our familiar Christmas carols, mentioning angels, shepherds, Wise Men and Mary but the name of Joseph is absent! Why is Joseph given a low profile? For he is a man to be remembered.
Joseph was a resident of Nazareth. He worked as a carpenter and his skills would have included making furniture, repairing buildings and crafting agricultural tools. Although Joseph had an honourable profession, he would not have been a man of great wealth.
The gospel writers Matthew and Luke give Joseph a few brief mentions. After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary go to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the Baby to God. Afterwards, they flee into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod and much later return to Nazareth. 12 years later, Mary and Joseph go with Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Here they lose Jesus, only to find Him in the Temple talking with religious leaders!
Apart from these verses, the New Testament is silent about the rest of Joseph’s life. However, we do know that Joseph was father to other children by Mary. His four sons are named, and they had at least two daughters. (See Matthew 13:55)
And we also know that Joseph was someone who quietly and humbly took on the awesome role in caring for the early life of the Son of God. Joseph would have taught Jesus many things – not just the skills of a labourer, but the lore of the countryside which was evident in our Lord’s teaching. Jesus grew up within a loving family and described God as ‘Father’, knowing also the good fatherly qualities of Joseph.
In the Christmas story, Joseph is placed into a situation that brought him misunderstanding and suspicion. But Joseph remained faithful in the knowledge that as long as God had spoken, the opinion of others mattered little. Before Jesus began His ministry, it is believed that Joseph died. It is likely Jesus took on many of His father’s responsibilities before He left home.
In the eyes of the world, Joseph was a nobody. He was not a man of valour, fame and fortune. But he was the one who had parental responsibility for the greatest person who has ever lived!
It is sad that we often equate ordinariness with ineffectiveness. Down the ages, God has used many ordinary people to accomplish great things. God continues to use ordinary people. Like Joseph, we need to know that doing God’s will is the most important thing in life. May we, this Christmas, respond to God’s call to us and please Him in all that we do.


Why begin at midnight with Holy Communion?

The hour was first chosen at Rome in the fifth century to symbolise the idea that Christ was born at midnight – a mystical idea in no way hindered by historical evidence! No one knows the real hour of His birth.
Certainly, in recent times, Holy Communion at midnight on Christmas morning has proved popular with modern families. One British writer pointed out its “domestic convenience” in 1947: “for where there are children and no servants, husband and wife may be unable to communicate at any other time.” (So things don’t change, then!)


Christingle - a generous present from the Moravians

It is the Moravians whom we have to thank for bringing us the Christingle. Especially one Moravian clergyman: John de Watteville.
On 20th December 1747, John de Watteville was taking a children’s service in his Moravian church in Marienborn, Germany. He led the children in some hymns and read out verses which the children themselves had written to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then he explained to the children that true happiness only comes through knowing Jesus. Jesus, said John de Watteville, “has kindled in each little heart a flame which keeps burning to their joy and our happiness”.
John de Watteville then went on to illustrate that ‘flame’. He gave each child a little lighted wax candle, tied around with a red ribbon. He ended his service with a little prayer: “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these children’s hearts, that theirs like Thine become”.
The visual aid was a great success with the children; for the Marienborn Diary for that day concludes: “hereupon the children went full of joy with their lighted candles to their rooms and so went glad and happy to bed”.
The candle and red ribbon were remembered the following year, and the following after that.... The years came and went, and as the Moravians began to travel beyond Germany, so they took the custom with them: to Labrador, to Pennsylvania, to Tibet and Suriname, to the Caribbean and South Africa. In each country the Christians adapted it for their own use.
No one knows for certain when the word ‘Christingle’ was first used with regard to the custom. No one even knows where the word ‘Christingle’ comes from. Some people say it is from the old Saxon word ‘ingle’ (fire), meaning ‘Christ-fire or light’. Another theory is that it derives from the German ‘engel’ (angel), meaning ‘Christ-angel’.
In any event, the symbolism of Christingle gradually developed, until today the Moravians in the British Province use an orange, representing the world, with a lighted candle to represent Christ, the Light of the World. Nuts, raisins and sweets on cocktail sticks around the candle represent God’s bounty and goodness in providing the fruits of the earth. Red paper, forming a frill around the base of the candle, reminds us of the blood of Christ shed for all people on the cross at Calvary.
In Moravian churches, the Christingle Service is usually held on the Sunday before Christmas or on Christmas Eve. The website for the Moravian Church says: “We are glad that the Moravian Church has been able to make this contribution to the wider Christian world.”


The story of the Christingle

The word ‘Christingle’ actually means ‘Christ Light’, and celebrates the light of Jesus coming into the world. Stories of how the Christingle began look back to the Moravian Church, which is found in the Czech Republic. The Moravians have held Christingle services for more than 200 years, and according to them, this is how the first Christingle might have been made: Many years ago the children in a village were asked to bring a Christmas gift to put beside the crib in the church. One family was very poor, and had no money for gifts, but the three children were still determined to take something. The only nice thing they had was an orange, so they decided to give the Christ-child that.
But then they discovered the top was going green, so the eldest cut it out, and put a candle in the hole. To add some colour, one of the girls took a red ribbon from her hair and tied it around the middle of the orange. It was hard to make the ribbon stay still, so they fastened it in place with toothpicks. The toothpicks looked a bit bare, so the youngest child added some raisins to them. Christingle
The children took their decorated orange lantern to the church for the Christmas Mass. The other children sneered at their meagre gift, but the priest seized upon it with joy. He held it up as an example of the true understanding of the meaning of Christmas, for the following reasons: the orange is round, like the world; the candle gives us light in the dark, like the love of God; the red ribbon goes round the ‘world’, as a symbol of Christ’s blood, given for everyone; the four sticks point in all directions, and symbolise that God is over all: North, South, East and West; and the fruit and nuts remind us of God’s blessings.
The Children’s Society first introduced the Christingle Service to The Church of England in 1968, and it has since become a popular event in the church calendar. This candlelit celebration is an ideal way to share the key messages of the Christian faith, while helping to raise vital funds to help vulnerable children across the country. Visit: www.childrenssociety.org.uk


The History of Christmas.

The Bible does not give a date for the birth of Jesus. In the third century it was suggested that Jesus was conceived at the Spring equinox, 25th March, popularising the belief that He was born nine months later on 25th December. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, encouraged Christians worldwide to make Christmas a holy day in about 400.
In the early Middle Ages, Christians celebrated a series of midwinter holy days. Epiphany (which recalls the visit to the infant Jesus of the wise men bearing gifts) was the climax of 12 days of Christmas, beginning on 25th December. The Emperor Charlemagne chose 25th December for his coronation in 800, and the prominence of Christmas Day rose. In England, William the Conqueror also chose 25th December for his coronation in 1066, and the date became a fixture both for religious observance and feasting.
Cooking a boar was a common feature of mediaeval Christmas feasts, and singing carols accompanied it. Writers of the time lament the fact that the true significance of Christmas was being lost because of partying. They condemn the rise of ‘misrule’ – drunken dancing and promiscuity. The day was a public holiday, and traditions of bringing evergreen foliage into the house and the exchange of gifts (usually on Epiphany) date from this time.
In the 17th century the rise of new Protestant denominations led to a rejection of many celebrations that were associated with Catholic Christianity. Christmas was one of them. After the execution of Charles I, England’s Puritan rulers made the celebration of Christmas illegal for 14 years. The restoration of Charles II ended the ban, but religious leaders continued to discourage excess, especially in Scotland. In Western Europe (but not world wide) the day for exchanging gifts changed from Epiphany (6th January) to Christmas Day. By the 1820s, the significance of Christmas was declining. Charles Dickens was one of several writers who sought to restore it. His novel A Christmas Carol was significant in reviving merriment during the festival. He emphasised charity and family reunions, alongside religious observance. Christmas trees, paper chains, cards and many well-known carols date from this time. So did the tradition of Boxing Day, on 26th December, when tradesmen who ha
d given reliable service during the year would collect ‘boxes’ of money or gifts from their customers. In Europe Santa Claus is the figure associated with the bringing of gifts. Santa Claus is a shortening of the name of Saint Nicholas, who was a Christian bishop in the fourth century in present-day Turkey. He was particularly noted for his care for children and for his generosity to the poor. By the Middle Ages his appearance, in red bishop’s robes and a mitre, was adored in the Netherlands and familiar across Europe.
Father Christmas dates from 17th century England, where he was a secular figure of good cheer (more associated with drunkenness than gifts). The transformation of Santa Claus into today’s Father Christmas started in New York in the 1880s, where his red robes and white beard became potent advertising symbols. In some countries (such as Latin America and Eastern Europe) the tradition attempts to combine the secular and religious elements by holding that Santa Claus makes children’s presents and then gives them to the baby Jesus to distribute.

The story behind the hymn: O Come, All ye Faithful

Nobody knows who wrote this well-loved Christmas carol. It was originally a Latin Christmas hymn, ‘Adeste Fidelis’. It seems to have first ‘surfaced’ in English due to a John Francis Wade, who lived in the 18th century, and who made his living copying manuscripts and, sometimes, music by hand. Wade was a Roman Catholic, and all services in the church at that time were conducted in Latin, and so he knew the language well.
The story goes that in about 1750 he slipped this hymn into a manuscript he was copying for the English Roman Catholic College in Lisbon, Portugal. 35 years later, in 1785, it turned up in the Portuguese Chapel in London, where it became known as the ‘Portuguese Hymn’. From there the hymn appears to have ‘travelled’ across to the Margaret Chapel in London’s West End. Young William Ewart Gladstone, who later became British Prime Minister, greatly appreciated the services at this church. He said that the congregation were “the most devout and happy that I have ever seen.” The minister at that time was Frederick Oakley, one of the leaders of the 19th century Oxford Movement, who was later to convert to Roman Catholicism. Oakley believed strongly in the power of religious symbols and fine music, and before he bade farewell to the Margaret Chapel, he introduced this hymn to the congregation. Having started as ‘Adeste Fidelis’, and been for a while ‘The Portuguese Hymn’, this hymn soon became known – and loved worldwide – as ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’.
O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

Christmas: Celebrating the Incarnation

C.S. Lewis called it the Grand Miracle and the Central Miracle. He noted that “Every other miracle prepares for this, exhibits this, or results from this...The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depend on their relations to the Grand Miracle.”
So if you can believe in Christmas – the incarnation of the Son of God: the Grand, the Central Miracle, you should have no problem believing the miracles in the Old Testament narratives or the miracle of the Virgin Birth, the miracles Jesus performed of feeding the multitudes, of His healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water and calming the storms. You also need have no problem in believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and His ascension back into the heavenly realms, where He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In other words, to believe the essence of the Christmas story is to believe the miracle that will open the pathway to faith and eternal life, a life of following this risen Jesus as your Lord. To understand and believe the truth of the Incarnation will not only transform your idea of Christmas—it will change your life now and your everlasting destiny.


Christmas can’t come too early Every year it happens.

I hear Christians lamenting how ‘Christmas comes earlier every year.’
Since this September (or before!) supermarkets, shops and garden centres have been selling Christmas jumpers, socks and pyjamas and all kinds of other seasonal merchandise. Should we be annoyed or exasperated? Should we have gone around reminding people that it’s much too early for tinsel and mistletoe?
This year, of all years, the answer from churches and Christians of all denominations must surely be a resounding ‘NO.’
As people began looking to Christmas for some light in the gloom of the pandemic – and hard-hit businesses desperately need to increase their income and chances of survival – it sounds a woefully wrong note if the Church is saying ‘hold back, it’s not time yet…’
Because Christmas is that time of year when increasing numbers of people want to come to church services and share in the story of the new-born King. It is when carols are played in shopping centres, and there are openings to speak of the meaning of the season.
Churches might not be able to host big indoor carol services this year, but the challenge is how we take the Christmas message out into the streets and neighbourhoods around our buildings.
This year has been one like no other for millions of people, with little prospect of better news into the New Year. So we need to be declaring the Christmas message of hope and light and joy in the darkness. And to be doing so at every opportunity.
But also, we need to be doing so with sensitivity and care, for the many who will find it hard to be celebrating this pandemic year, and with the prospect of large family gatherings in doubt because of Covid 19 regulations.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell wrote in his 2009 book ‘Do Nothing Christmas is Coming’, “Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. It is also one of the most stressful. It is laden with expectations. It is often overtaken with grief. It might be the season of good will, but it can feel like the last straw on an already overburdened camel.” He added ruefully, “Wise men would not ride this one.”
Archbishop Cottrell is right that Christmas has to be approached sensitively, that we need to take care in how we celebrate, that for many people who have lost loved ones and livelihoods during this traumatic year, Christmas will not be easy.
We come alongside people with the news that the baby born in the manger grew up to be the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who experienced suffering and bereavement. God, born as Man, who shared our pain as well as our celebrations, ultimately died on a cross to rise again.
Our mission is to bring a message of hope, and to do so with love, humility and sensitivity to a hurting disorientated world – one that’s eager for light in the gloom.
The Revd Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, a former Director of Communications with the CofE, and the author of ‘Responding to Post-Truth’ (Grove Books).

A prayer for Advent

Stir up our hearts, we beseech you, to prepare ourselves to receive your Son.
When He comes and knocks, may He find us not sleeping in sin,
But awake to righteousness,
Ceaselessly rejoicing in His love.
May our hearts and minds be so purified,
That we may be ready to receive His promise of eternal life.

from The Gelasian Sacramentary, c.500 (oldest official prayer book of the Western Church)

Andrew - first disciple of Jesus

Andrew, whose feast day ends the Christian year on 30th November, is probably best known to us as the patron saint of Scotland, though his only connection with the country is that some of his bones were reputedly transported in the 8th century to Fife and preserved at a church in a place now named St Andrews.
In fact, there are so many legends about him all over Europe and the Middle East that it’s safest to stick to what the Gospels tell us - though the strong tradition that he was martyred by crucifixion is probably true and is perpetuated in the ‘St Andrew’s Cross’, the ‘saltyre’ of Scotland.
The Gospels record that he was one of the first disciples of Jesus, and the very first to bring someone else to Christ - his own brother. Like many fervent Jews at the time Andrew and an unnamed companion had been drawn to the desert, to be taught by the charismatic prophet known to us as John
the Baptist. Many thought that he was the long-promised Messiah, but John insisted that he was not. ‘I am the voice crying in the wilderness,’ he told the crowds. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord! One comes after me who is greater than I am.’ So when one day John pointed out Jesus to Andrew and his friend and described him as the ‘Lamb of God’, the two young men assumed that the next stage of their spiritual search was about to unfold. So, as Jesus made off, they followed him.
All the more strange, then (though, on reflection, very true to human nature) that when Jesus turned and asked them what they were ‘seeking’, all they could come up with was a lame enquiry about his current place of residence: ‘where are you
staying?’ Or, perhaps, they were hinting that what they were seeking could not be dealt with in a brief conversation. If they could come to his lodgings, perhaps their burning questions might be answered. The reply of Jesus was the most straight-forward invitation anyone can receive: ‘Come and see’. Come and see what I’m like, what I do, the sort of person I am. What an invitation!
The results of their response were in this case life-changing - for themselves, and for many other people. Andrew brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. The next day Jesus met Philip and
called him to ‘follow‘. Philip then brought Nathaniel. The little apostolic band who would carry the message of Jesus to the whole world was being formed. They came, they saw, they were conquered! And right at the front of the column, as it were, was Andrew, the first disciple of Jesus.

Advent

Why do we need Advent? Many people say: “I can understand God, but I can’t see where Jesus fits into the picture.”
A theologian called Athanasius, Egyptian by birth and Greek by education, gave the answer to your question 1600 years ago. He said: “The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which HE is the starting point!”
Once we try to begin with our own human-based attempt at understanding God and the meaning of life – let alone the place that Christ occupies – we’ll be like the man who tries to do up his shirt buttons, beginning with the wrong button. He may hope that it will all work out, and that the shirt will eventually fit properly, but it never will.
So, you need to begin with Christ, if you want the picture to make sense. He is right there in the Bible, from the start. All Creation finds both its origin and its fulfilment in Him, its rightful heir (Colossians 1:15-17). You will notice from Colossians 1:17 that, far from Christ fitting into our system, we can only ‘fit’ – and thus find coherence and meaning – in His… or rather, in HIM.
It is through Christ alone that we can know the face of God, and His salvation in our lives. Jesus is fully God and fully human, Christ – the God-Man – is the perfect mediator. By His saving death He has bridged the gulf between heaven and earth (Philippians 2:5-11).
No one else will do. That was the blazing conviction of those first-century Christians. Beside Christ there was no other name (Acts 4:12). Historically, Christ’s name claims supreme recognition in all the areas of life that matter most. It happened in the world of worship – where the Druids, ju-ju men, witch doctors, temple priests and the gigantic gods Mithras, Serapis, Diana, Jupiter and Venus were all swept away.
It also happened in the world of suffering. When we put the leaders of history and of thought together, it is quite clear that none of them suffered as Jesus did. In Him we see God incarnate, living among us, loving, suffering, dying and reclaiming. This fact alone is enough to explain the beginning of hospitals in our world. They were never begun by a state department. They owe their origin to the influence of Christ, and reflect His compassion.
It happened in the world of creativity. Christ has inspired symphonies, paintings, soaring architectures and enduring literature. Take Christ away, and the writings of Shakespeare would be meaningless. Atheism, by its very nature, could never have this impact, for atheism has no wings.
It happened in the world of eternity. The pre-Christian epitaphs say it all: ‘I was not, I was born, I lived, I am not, that is all’. ‘Guesswork is over all’, Xenophanes had written. Into that world exploded the message of Christ, bodily raised from death, never to die again. That message alone is enough to change our view of the entire universe. The universe itself only fits because of Christ.
By the Revd Richard Bewes, a former Rector of All Souls Langham Place, London

RSPCA launches emergency appeal in wake of Covid

The RSPCA has been overwhelmed this year by calls for help from people who are ill with Covid-19.
The animal welfare charity was swamped with 442,344 calls, and responded to 106,676 incidents of animals in need just between 24th March and 5th August. That averaged out at 790 incidents a day.
Such a volume of need was especially a challenge to meet, as the charity was working with fewer officers, due to ‘furlough, shielding and ill health’, a spokesman explained.
He went on: “As well as operating an emergency service, rescuing animals in need,
RSPCA officers have also been collecting animals from the homes of people who have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19, who may not have anyone else to care for them while their owners are being treated.”
The charity has now launched an emergency fund-raising appeal, and said that its front-line animal rescue and care teams have been “stretched to their limit”.
With about 6,400 animals in the care of the RSPCA across England and Wales, it is the largest animal welfare charity in the UK.


Why should you bother to pray?

The great preacher C.H. Spurgeon once said this of prayer: ‘God says to His own son: “Ask of Me and I will give you the nation for your inheritance.” [Psalm 2:7-8] If the royal and divine Son cannot be exempt from the rule of asking, that He may have; you and I cannot expect that rule to be relaxed in our favour. God will bless Elijah and send rain - but Elijah must pray for it.’ And God promises us that if we really seek Him, He will make sure that we find Him.

Ode to Job

What mysteries this book unfurls
Of a God who works His grand design
As a curtain is drawn in the heavenly realm
And plans are unveiled for all mankind.

Who can fathom His intricate workings
And the purposes that He has planned,
Or know the moving of His ways,
How could Job ever understand?

They came from afar to offer advice
Why all of this pain and woe should descend,
They wrestled with all that had happened to Job Alas, no comfort could they give their friend.

God speaks to Job, who then makes reply,
‘These are things too wonderful to understand’
Our knowledge like Job’s is only in part
The bigger picture is held in Deity’s hands.

By Megan Carter

Catherine is thought to have been a noble girl who lived in the 4th century.

She was persecuted for her Christianity, and despised marriage with the Emperor because she was a ‘bride of Christ’. According to the legend, Catherine was no push-over intellectually, either: she disputed successfully with 50 philosophers who were called in to convince her of the errors of Christianity.
Catherine protested against the persecution of Christians by Maxentius, and then she herself was tortured: broken on a wheel (later called Catherine wheel), but the machine then broke down itself, injuring bystanders. Catherine was then beheaded.
This legend strongly appealed to the Middle Age imagination. Catherine became the patron of young girls, students, philosophers, nurses and craftsmen such as wheelwrights, spinners and millers.
In England 62 churches were dedicated to her, and 170 medieval bells still bear her name. ‘Lives’, poems, miracle plays, stained-glass windows, panels and paintings have all been done in Catherine’s honour.


Church of England launches its Anti-Racism Taskforce

A Taskforce has been set up to ensure racial equality in the Church of England.
The Anti-Racism Taskforce will carry out preparatory work ahead of the launch of the Archbishops’ Commission to address racism in Spring next year. It is expected to complete its work by the end of January.
The Revd Sonia Barron, Co-Chair of the Taskforce, and a former adviser to the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, (CMEAC) said: “The Taskforce has been set up at a critical time in the history of the Church of England, with the Black Lives Matter movement pushing racial justice right up the agenda. The Church has an opportunity that it cannot afford to miss – we cannot just pay lip service to issues of racism as we have done for so long. It is vital that we listen to all the different voices out there and having listened, fulfil our mission as a Church, by taking appropriate action.”
Fewer than four per cent of serving clergy identify as being from a UKME background, according to the latest statistics.
The General Synod voted in February to apologise for racism experienced by UKME people in the Church of England since the arrival of the Windrush Generation.
Speaking to the General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said there was ‘no doubt’ that the Church of England was still ‘deeply institutionally racist’.


The Church is the only society in the world that never loses any of its members, even by death. – John Blanchard

Nurture your friendships

Lockdown has damaged our social life, so badly that many of our friendships may not be the same for up to a year after lockdown. And although Zoom is ‘extremely good’ at slowing down the rate of a friendship’s decay, ‘nothing on earth is going to stop a relationship quietly sliding away, if you don’t once in a while meet up physically.”
So warns an Oxford University academic, Robin Dunbar, who is an evolutionary psychology professor. He was talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Diamonds are for lockdown… engagement ringHere’s an unexpected outcome of Covid-19: it has inspired more of us to get engaged.
Engagement rings sales have risen this year, in some firms by up to 73 per cent, a survey of various jewellery firms has discovered.
When, at the beginning of lockdown, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested that couples could get round the coming isolation by moving in together, it seems that many listened to her.  They decided to give it a go and ‘test the strength of their relationship.’
“A lot of people have now resolved to go ahead and tie the knot,” said one jeweller. “Perhaps they are thinking: ‘life’s too short, let’s go for it’.”
Another jeweller said: “Maybe if you can make it through lockdown together, you can make it through anything.”
  

Lord, prop us up!

There is a story of an old farmer who always prayed the same prayer at his church meeting. 'Lord, prop us up on our leanin' side’. After hearing this many times, his minister asked him one day quite what he meant.

The famer replied: “Well, it's like this... I’ve got an old barn out in one of my fields. It's been there a long time, and gone through a lot of storms. One day a few years ago I noticed that it was leaning to one side a bit. So, I went and got some poles and propped it up on its leaning side, so it wouldn't fall. Then I got to thinking about how much I was like that old barn. I've been around a long time, and seen plenty of storms in life. I was still standing, but I was also leaning a bit. So, I decided to ask the Lord to prop me up, too, on my leaning side.

Our ‘leaning side’ is where we are weakest in ourselves. Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, bitterness, bleakness in life. Then we too need to pray for God to prop us up, especially on that leaning side.  He wants us to stand tall and free, in Him.

Politicians are currently discussing the measures they should take to 'save' Christmas. This is somewhat bizarre - as Christmas does not need to be 'saved'. Here are some examples why the true meaning of Christmas does not need 'saving'. So let us go back to that first Christmas, 2000 years ago.
1. Judea was not in lockdown and therefore there were no travel restrictions and so Joseph and Mary were able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
2. There were no restrictions on inns and hospitality venues. People were able to mix freely with people from other households from different areas - so much so that the inn was full and Joseph and Mary had to be put up in a stable.
3. The Inkeeper was able to do this as he had sufficient staff on the premises to check that they were ok - he did not have to furlough them.
4. Joseph was able to be present during the whole process of Mary's labour and Jesus' birth. He did not have to stand worrying outside.
5. There were no restrictions on choral singing - and therefore the angels were able to sing God's praises and inform the shepherds of the good news of the birth of the King of Kings.
6. There were no rules stating that masks had to be worn indoors and in public places - and no 'rule of six' - therefore the group of shepherds could all go together to visit the Holy Family in the stable.
7.There were no international quarantine regulations for international travellers - therefore the three Wise Men were able to visit and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
8. It is not Christmas which needs to be 'saved' - but ourselves. The good news of Jesus' birth was the dawn of a new beginning - and God's love for us is the same - yesterday, today and forever - especially at this difficult time.
This Christmas is going to be hard for all of us as we can't celebrate in the way we normally do. But please do not talk about Christmas being cancelled. The heart of Christmas is very much alive in our lives and in our faith.

Fruit of the Spirit    (Gal 5:22,23, Ps 34:8)

Opportunities
To ripen your fruit in our lives,
Lord, give us opportunities.

To grow in your Spirit,
Know your warmth
And your light,
Allow the segments of
Self-control, gentleness,
Faithfulness, goodness,
Kindness, patience, peace and joy
To be lubricated and sweetened
By love,
Showing the world
Your nature transforming
Our natures,
In the fruit bowl of our lives
In Jesus.

Lord give opportunities
For the hungry to taste
Your ripening fruit in us,
See that you are good
And come to you.
Amen

A grain of sand at a time

This autumn, do you feel overwhelmed with all the things that you need to get done?   Then think of your life as an hourglass. There are thousands of grains of sand in the top of the hourglass; and they all pass slowly and evenly through the narrow neck in the middle. 

We are like that hourglass. When we start in the morning, there are hundreds of tasks which we feel that we must accomplish that day. But if we do not take them one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly, as do the grains of sand passing through the narrow neck of the hourglass, then we are bound to break our own fragile physical and mental structure.  Do not attempt more than God designed you to do. 

Lower your hostility

Keep calm, and keep kind, if you want to live longer. It seems that being sarcastic and irritable only makes heart attack victims more likely to die from a second coronary.

A recent study in the US on the personality traits of patients who had had heart attacks found that hostile personality traits (sarcasm, cynicism, resentment, impatience, irritability) was a common factor.

One doctor at the University of Tennessee said: “We know that taking control of lifestyle habits improved the outlook for heart attack patients, and our study suggests that improving hostile behaviour could also be a positive move.”

Going to church in the coronavirus pandemic

More than 17,000 online services and events have been provided by Church of England churches since the introduction of the lockdown and restrictions on public worship earlier this year.

Figures from the Church of England’s A Church Near You website, which allows people to search for church services and events, show that more than 17,000 online services or events are now listed, including Sunday Communion services, Bible studies and morning or night prayer. Many of these services take place regularly and this figure represents a snapshot of the likely total number.

The statistics do not include the Church of England’s national online weekly services broadcast on Sundays and shared on Facebook and YouTube. There have been nearly three million views of the national online services and posts about the weekly broadcasts have been seen 23.6 million times. Contributors have included the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Duke of Cambridge and Pope Francis.

The national online services are being watched by a wide range of ages and around one in five people viewing go to church infrequently or not at all.

Other figures in the report show that official Church of England apps from Church House Publishing – the most popular being Daily Prayer, or the Daily Office of morning, evening and night prayer - have been used more than seven million times so far this year, up from five million in 2019. Church of England social media posts have been seen 86 million times so far, nearly double the total for last year.

The growth in online services has been helped by the Church of England stepping up its digital training programme for congregations. More than 4,200 vicars and local church leaders have taken part in remote digital training courses so far this year, four times the number as in 2019.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “At a time when many have felt isolated and fearful, Church of England parishes and clergy have broadcast thousands of online church services and events, seeking to bring comfort and hope to their communities. We know that tens of thousands of those tuning in will never have had contact with their local Church of England parish before and may never have heard the Christian message. Their welcome presence is a sign of the great hunger we all have for spiritual meaning in our lives.”

When life goes wrong for us

Where is God when we are hurting? When we are sick or a loved one is sick, why doesn’t God always answer our prayer for healing? If He has not answered us, how do we know that He is even there at all? 

The words of Alister McGrath* are helpful;

“Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word… the theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in His world, quite independently of whether we experience Him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.

“So – where does that leave us? As with the Cross, it may be that our personal darkest hour may be also God’s finest moment for us. It may be there that He does His greatest work in and for us, albeit unseen by us at the time. Thus, instead of letting circumstances consume us, we are to be consumed with God. To that end, we should pray without ceasing, trust in His sovereignty, and find comfort in His love and hope.”

* Mystery of the Cross (Zondervan, 1990)

Zoom Zoom Zoom!

The pandemic is leaving a “lasting digital legacy”, and changing the UK’s internet habits and behaviour “indelibly”.  So says a recent Ofcom study.   

Since March we have broken the four-hour barrier, which means that, on average, we spend more than a quarter of our waking hours each day online. That is up from an average of three hours and 29 minutes this time last year.

Zoom has soared in popularity. Last December it reached 498,00 people in the UK; by April this had soared to 13million in the UK.

TikTok, which lets users share short videos set to pop music, had 5.4 million UK users in January; by April it had 12.9million users.

In February, 35 per cent of UK adults made a video call once a week. By April that had soared to 71 per cent. The largest increase has been among the over-65s, with now 61 per cent of them making weekly video calls. 

Older people favour Zoom, in order to ‘visit’ their relatives and friends; while many teenagers have become addicted to TikTok and endless videos.

Churches report rising food bank demand as a result of pandemic

Nearly 100,000 households sought food aid from the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks for the first time earlier this year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Demand is surging further this autumn, as a result of the economic fallout from the virus.

The research comes after food banks run or supported by Church of England churches reported rocketing demand during lockdown with some opening food banks for the first time while some opened new food banks after lockdown. 

Just two examples: 

Hackney Church in East London was distributing parcels with enough food for 1,000 meals a week at start of lockdown. This figure rose to 8,000 and 9,000 meals a week in June, after the church opened a second food bank. It has since served 120,000 meals. 

In Co. Durham, the Shildon Alive food bank, founded by St John’s Church, has seen demand surge by 500 percent during lockdown.

Honey, honey!

If your grannie gave you honey when you had a cold, she was right.

Research published in The British Medical Journal has found that honey is especially good for treating upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) such as the common cold.

Honey has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. These do better at soothing your cough and sniffles than any of the over-the-counter remedies. In fact, URTI sufferers who were given honey suffered their symptoms for up to two days LESS than those who did not use honey.

All good news, especially as honey is cheap, readily available, and has virtually no side effects.

HYMN:  The story behind … JUST AS I AM

 The hymn ‘Just As I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world.   It has been sung by tens of millions of Christians at Billy Graham Crusades the world over, just for starters!  Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today.   Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.

Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789.  She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse.   All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression.  A minister, Dr Caesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her.  Instead of sympathising, he asked her an unexpected question:  did she have peace with God?    Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.

But after he left, his question haunted her.  Did she have peace with God?  She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things.  So she invited Dr Malan to return.  She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first.

Dr Malan again said the unexpected:  “Come just as you are.”  The words were a revelation to Charlotte.  She had assumed that she would have to put her life in order before she could hope to be accepted by God.  Instead, she realised that Jesus wanted her just as she was - and he would take care of the sin.   Charlotte became a Christian that day.

14 years later, in 1836, Charlotte wrote some verses that summed up how it had been between her and Jesus that day.  They ran:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids’t me come to Thee

O lamb of God, I come! I come!Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Charlotte could not have dreamed that 150 years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel presented at many great Billy Graham crusades, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes - to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’

Moral questions from the pandemic

You may have missed it at the time. The movie ‘Contagion’ didn’t make much of an impact when it was released for public viewing in 2011. Perhaps it was thought to be unrealistic. It was about a highly contagious, unknown virus, transmitted by an infected bat to a pig in a Chinese marketplace. From there it spread like wildfire round the world.   

It was fiction then of course, but not so far-fetched as to be distant from reality, as we now know. Deadly viruses, and the plagues they cause, have been part of world history since time began. In the early days, when travel between continents was infrequent, their spread was slower and usually confined to local regions. 

The way the film’s imaginary plot develops bears an uncanny resemblance to what we have experienced this year. Panic buying empties supermarkets, whole populations adopt social distancing, scientists work flat out to identify the virus and then search for a means to combat it. Meanwhile, millions are infected, and quarantines are imposed. 

The story progresses far beyond the reality which is familiar to us. The irresponsible use of social media and false rumours of a cure lead to the looting of pharmacies. Emergency food supplies are ransacked, law and order break down. Troops police the streets. Then there’s a breakthrough: a vaccine is discovered. But that raises a new moral problem: who will get it first and what would be a fair distribution system? 

The movie is still available via Netflix, or you can buy a DVD online. Despite the inevitable carnage of the pandemic and the suffering it portrays, it contrives to have a relatively happy ending.   

In real life, we haven’t got that far yet. But, please God, we will. After all, most deadly diseases are now under control and both vaccination and immunisation are part and parcel of everyday life; old ‘uns take it for granted that their GP will summon them for an anti-flu jab each winter.   

But we may face an ethical dilemma when it comes to a vaccine for Covid-19. If there’s an initial shortage, who should get it first? Should money come into it? Are Christian principles applicable?

THE WAY I SEE IT:  What’s in a word?

We were in the supermarket queue. The woman in front of me was greeted by a friend, who asked how she was. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘I’ve been under the doctor again with my legs’. Her friend knew what she meant. I knew what she meant and the woman at the till knew what she meant. But try translating that into, say, French: ‘J’etais sous le medecin encore avec mes jambes’. Now it becomes utterly baffling, and possibly indecent.

Words are funny things and our use of them even funnier. Most languages, and even local areas, have ways of saying things that are peculiar (in the proper meaning of the word). I remember years ago driving past a scrawled sign at the side of a major road in the north-east where there had been several nasty accidents. ‘Gan canny, hinnes’, it advised. Clearly ‘foreigners’ were welcome to kill themselves if they chose.

Mostly our little misunderstandings of what is said or written don‘t matter, but sometimes they matter a great deal. We ask, in the Lord‘s Prayer, that God will not ‘lead us into temptation‘. Why on earth would he want to do that? Later in the Bible we are told quite clearly ‘God himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it’ (James 1:13). The word translated ’temptation’ in the Lord’s Prayer really means ’tested’ - but every time anyone has tried to change it we all complain. Familiarity always trumps accuracy!

It’s also true of familiar sayings. ‘The exception proves the rule’ is commonly taken to mean that a single exception demonstrates the accuracy of the proposition. In fact, of course, it’s the old meaning of ‘proves’, which is (again) ‘tests’. The exception tests the theory. If there’s a single exception, then there’s no ‘rule’.

In practice, we assume that people understand - and if they don’t, they very quickly learn. Normally it doesn’t matter. One could hear what the woman said in the supermarket queue and remain baffled by her meaning (as many younger people would be) without it affecting us at all.

But sometimes it’s important. For instance, Jesus didn’t ‘come back from the dead’. He rose. Believe me, there’s a big difference!

‘O happy band of pilgrims’ - leave room for God to surprise you 

When we go on pilgrimage, (when this is all over!) we must decide where to go. Then we prepare for the journey. We read about it or google. We make plans: what to take, where to stay, and cost it all. There is a part of us that likes everything to be organised so that there are no hitches on the way. But we have to remember that pilgrimages are made in faith. Whatever our plans, we need to find a place for God in all the preparations and allow for those God-given moments, unplanned and unscheduled, where we can meet His love and grace. That is why we underpin the journey with prayer as well as preparation.

If we think of the journeys in scripture – Abraham or Elijah, the wise men or the shepherds – what characterised them was not the preparation, but the spirit of faith in which they travelled. We need to journey with that same trust in the God who may surprise us. David Sox realised that in the Holy Land. He had consulted maps and guides. But when he was there in person, the places made a special impression on him above and beyond what the books told him - even in the barren wilderness. ‘ At sunset the Bedouin scurry to light their fires and bring in their wandering goats; there is an eerie quiet in this region. Stopping in the desert at night and experiencing the quiet is unforgettable.’

Gerard Hughes wrote about a pilgrimage to Rome when he sat to enjoy a coffee at Grenoble. As he stretched out on a bench, he noticed that his boots were now without tread, his arms and legs were sun-tanned, and the soles and heels of his feet were hard. ‘But,’ he wrote, ‘the important change was within me. I felt a great sense of peace, the peace of at-oneness…I felt I was seeing more, hearing more, and living more fully.’

He had changed physically, but he had also changed spiritually. His experience is a moving testimony to the way in which God can surprise each of us when we go on a special pilgrimage or make our journey through life. God can meet us, often when we least expect it, and transform our lives.

Sorry

Our minister, an avid golfer, was once taking part in a local tournament. As he was preparing to tee off, the organiser of the tournament approached him and pointed to the dark, threatening storm clouds which were gathering. “Sir," the organiser said, "I trust you'll see to it that the weather won't turn bad on us.
Our minister shook his head. "Sorry," he replied. "I'm in sales, not management!” "

5th November:   Guy Fawkes - an early terrorist

Back in 1605 Guy Fawkes managed to stow a good few barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords without anybody noticing. He was part of a Roman Catholic plot to murder James 1 of England and his parliament at the state opening.  Fortunately, Guy Fawkes was found - and stopped - in time. 

Need for healing

Heavenly Father,
We bring to you all those struggling with their mental health just now.
We pray:
For everyone who is smiling, when inside they’re in pain.
For everyone who is saying they’re fine, when inside they feel drained and empty.
For everyone struggling with fear and worry as the easing of the lockdown brings new anxieties.
Be with them in their suffering, as so much of their world has been stripped back and emptied.
When loved family and friends have been taken by illness,
Or made distant by lockdown.
Pour your healing balm into their pain and sadness.
May you walk with them besides still waters
May you speak to them in a still small voice.
May you heal them, and fill them, and bless them with your abundant love and fullness of life.
And may they know that they are loved by you for the beautiful unique person that they are, created in the image of their heavenly creator and loving Lord.

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

In praise of peanut butter

One quirky change of life under Coivd-19 is that for some reason, we are eating more peanut butter.  According to a recent report in The Grocer, sales of the stuff rose by 35.5 per cent in the Spring. 

Peanut butter producer Kirstie Hawkins (Whole Earth brand) is delighted. “Peanut butter offers an easy way to add more nutrition to breakfast and snack choices.” 

Whatever the reason, sales of peanut butter, at £98.9million in the past year, are now £2million more than those for jam.

God is with us in our pain and fear’ – Bishop of London’s message of hope

The Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, has said that despite this being a time of “great uncertainty and challenge” as the world struggles to “overcome a devastating pandemic that has cut short earthly lives, destroyed livelihoods, and separated us from the people and activities we enjoy,” yet still “we are not without hope.”

Speaking recently in St Paul’s Cathedral, she said: “Through word, prayer, song and symbol, we are reminded that God’s love for us can never be destroyed. God is with us in our pain and fear and will lead us to a yet more glorious day.” 

Bishop Sarah also praised the ongoing work of the “real heroes and heroines at work in intensive care units, the Emergency Department, oncology and elderly care wards.”

These people have been “giving their all, and are continuing to give their all, because we are still very much in the midst of the Covid pandemic.” 

“Yet,” she went on, ‘The hope we have in our hearts as Christians is eternal. Hope that is in Christ will not be disappointed.” 

1st November:  All Saints’ Day – the feast day of all the redeemed

All Saints, or All Hallows, is the feast of all the redeemed, known and unknown, who are now in heaven. When the English Reformation took place, the number of saints in the calendar was drastically reduced, with the result that All Saints’ Day stood out with a prominence that it had never had before.

This feast day first began in the East, perhaps as early as the 5th century, as commemorating ‘the martyrs of the whole world’. A Northern English 9th century calendar named All Hallows as a principal feast, and such it has remained. Down the centuries devotional writers have seen in it the fulfilment of Pentecost and indeed of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and resurrection. 

The saints do not belong to any religious tradition, and their lives and witness to Christ can be appreciated by all Christians. Richard Baxter, writing in the 17th century, wrote the following: 

He wants not friends that hath thy love,
And made converse and walk with thee,
And with thy saints here and above,
With whom for ever I must be...

As for my friends, they are not lost;
The several vessels of thy fleet,
Though parted now, by tempests tost,
Shall safely in thy haven meet....

The heavenly hosts, world without end,
Shall be my company above;
And thou, my best and surest Friend,
Who shall divide me from thy love?*

1,255 ancient English churches were dedicated to All Saints - a number only surpassed by those dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

*(Maurice Frost (ed.), Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient and Modern (London: Clowes, 1962), no. 274, verses 1,3,6.

All Hallows Eve – or Holy Evening - 31 October

 Modern Halloween celebrations have their roots with the Celtic peoples of pre-Christian times. 

In those long-ago days, on the last night of October, the Celts celebrated the Festival of Samhain, or ‘Summer’s End’. The priests, or Druids, performed ceremonies to thank and honour the sun. For there was a very dark side to all this: Samhain also signalled the onset of winter, a time when it was feared that unfriendly ghosts, nature-spirits, and witches roamed the earth, creating mischief. So the Druid priests lit great bonfires and performed magic rites to ward off or appease these dark supernatural powers. 

Then the Romans arrived, and brought their Harvest Festival which honoured the Goddess Pomona with gifts of apples and nuts. The two festivals slowly merged. 

When Christianity arrived still later, it began to replace the Roman and Druid religions.  1st November - All Saints’ Day - was dedicated to all Christian Martyrs and Saints who had died. It was called ‘All Hallows’ Day’. The evening before became an evening of prayer and preparation and was called ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, The Holy Evening, later shortened to ‘Halloween’.   

For many centuries, however, fear of the supernatural remained strong. During the Middle Ages, animal costumes and frightening masks were worn to ward off the evil spirits of darkness on Halloween. Magic words and charms were used to keep away bad luck, and everybody believed that witches ride about on broomsticks. Fortune telling was popular, and predicting the future by the use of nuts and apples was so popular that Halloween is still sometimes known as Nutcrack Night or Snap-Apple Night. 

Today, Christians have learned to turn to prayer instead of charms to overcome the powers of darkness. And the deeper, true meaning of All Hallows’ Eve, should not be forgotten. As Christians, we all draw closer to Christ when we remember and give thanks for our loved ones and for others who have gone before us through the gates of death.  

"Be careful with your words. One said, they can only be forgiven, not forgotten."
Carl Sandburg; (1878-1967)

A Helping Hand

There is much we can do just to brighten
This world of all take and no give,
There's a great deal that we can contribute
Through the everyday lives that we live.

By supporting one's elderly neighbours
Or through lending a hand in some way
It's by taking a bunch of spring flowers
To someone to brighten their day.

It's by sparing a few precious hours
In the service of those most in need
It's all about setting a standard
And trying to give others a lead

It’s the way that we tend to treat others
And help and aid folks in distress
In the care and assistance we offer
That will set us apart from the rest.

The choice that we face is quite simple
The rewards plain for all men to see
As you did all of this to my brother
Then said Jesus, you did it to me.

Help our wildlife before it is too late

A quarter of mammals in the UK are at risk of extinction, and this decline will continue unless their habitats are restored and some species are reintroduced.

So warns the chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, referring to a recent list of endangered animals issued by the Mammal Society, and approved by the United Nations.

UK mammals most in danger are the greater mouse-eared bat, the water vole, the hedgehog, hazel dormouse and Scottish wildcat.  The European wolf is already extinct.

Tony Juniper advises that reintroducing some mammals would help others at greater risk. For example, introducing more pine martens would help control the grey squirrels, which in turn would give our native red squirrels a better chance.

As one professor of environmental biology said: “Here in Britain we are managing to send even rodents towards extinction. Things have to change rapidly if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the wildlife that we take for granted.”

HYMN:  The story behind … Dear Lord and Father of mankind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee.

 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.

This is the nation’s second favourite hymn, according to a poll taken by the BBC Songs of Praise programme in 2013.  But it did not originate in the UK, nor did it begin life as a hymn.  It began in the USA, as part of a poem about a drug-induced religious frenzy.

John Greenleaf Whittier had been born in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1807. His family were part of a pious Quaker community, and so the young John had grown up in an atmosphere of reverence, of waiting upon God in prayerful silence.   Whittier wanted to be a poet, but his father directed him to journalism instead, in order to be sure his son could earn a living.  Obediently, Whittier took up his pen and began to write for the papers.  He was soon engaged in the fight against slavery, which he called the ‘national crime’. He was frequently abused and criticized for his stand, and found his solace in turning to his first love, poetry.

In 1872 he wrote a 17 verse ‘hymn-poem’ called ‘The Brewing of Soma’.  It was an attempt to depict the futile ways in which mankind tries to engage with God.  The story line is of priests of the Vedic religion (close to Hinduism) brewing soma, a sacred ritual drink with hallucinogenic properties. The priests are hoping that Soma will give them an experience of the divine, but instead they simply get drunk.  This failure is then compared to some Christians' use of "music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or lift men up to heaven!"  But all their effort is in vain.   It is mere intoxicated folly.  

And so the poem runs for 11 verses.  Then, in verse 12, the whole scene changes, and we are not using props any longer, but simply looking into the loving face of the God of the Bible.  We come to Him in penitence, and are met with grace and love.   We encounter Jesus, and follow Him in obedience.  The result is peace, stillness, and eternal life.

The poem became the hymn in 1884, when Garrett Horder took the poem’s final five verses and made them the hymn we love today.  Here in the UK we sing it to the tune ‘Repton’, by C Hubert H Parry. 

You and your smartphone

Do you spend more than an hour on your smartphone each day?  If so, ever wonder why?   According to a new study in the USA, it may be that you are depressed. 

The study found that the more time we spend using a phone for any reason – including texting and browsing the internet - the most likely we are to have the blues.  On average, a depressed person spends about 68 minutes a day on their phone, while a non-depressed person keeps it to about 17 minutes.

“When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things,” said one scientist from Northwestern University.  Instead, they distract themselves by using their phones.  “…It’s an avoidance behaviour we see in depression.”

As more than one in ten people in Britain are reckoned to suffer from anxiety and depression, the findings suggest that monitoring phone data might be an easy way to pick up the problem.  The scientists were able to identify depressive symptoms with 87 per cent accuracy, using the phone data.

Understanding the Bible

 As we acknowledge Bible Sunday yesterday, it’s a good opportunity to ask the question: why should I read the Bible?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book of all time. However, it isn’t one book, but a library of 66 books, composed by some 44 writers over a period of 1500 years in a range of literature including history, poetry, prophecy, letters and apocalyptic (end times). Despite having a number of different writers, the Bible claims one author: God himself!

This is the basis of the unity of its message and authoritative claim to be the primary way by which God speaks to us: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is inspired (‘the word of God in the words of men’) and presents itself as a manual for life, equipping us to live for God in every aspect of our lives. We also have the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us in applying the words to our lives: the Spirit will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:13).

However, the Bible could also be described as a love letter from God, as He uses it to deepen our relationship with him. As Jesus said: ‘You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39,40). Christians follow a person not a book, and the Scriptures are intended to help us to know Jesus better.

At her coronation the Queen was given a Bible with the words ‘the most precious thing this world affords’. Does this reflect our own attitude to the Bible?

BIBLE SUNDAY: Who authorised the Bible, anyway?

Question: If it was the Church that finally decided which books should be included in the Bible, then isn’t the Church the top authority?

Answer: No; the Bible produced the Church, not the Church the Bible. This is the real issue: what caused a book to be accepted within the ‘Canon’ of Scripture?  (Greek: kanon, ‘standard’ or ‘rule’).

As far as the Old Testament was concerned:

1.  Books that were recognised by Jesus Christ as infallible ‘Scripture’ could not be broken (Matthew 5:18). In John 10:35 Jesus didn’t have to explain what He meant by ‘Scripture’, though elsewhere He did refer to its different categories (law, prophets, psalms) as pointing to Himself (Luke 24:44; Matthew 24:37). All was to be believed and obeyed.

2.  Books that were recognised by God’s people because of their impact. God’s people will always recognise His voice (John 10:27). Jesus clashed with the Pharisees for adding their traditions to the Scripture; yet all were agreed that the Old Testament Scriptures were God’s word.

3.  Books that were recognised by the New Testament. It is significant that the New Testament features hundreds of Old Testament allusions. Only two are from the body of books known as the Apocrypha (Jude 9, 14) – seemingly in similar style to Paul’s quotation from a Greek poet (Acts 17:28). The Apocryphal books were perceived to be on a lower level.

Next, what determined inclusion in the New Testament Canon?

1.  Books that are Christ-centred in their emphasis. It was inconceivable to the early Church that the Gospels, for example, which focused so much upon the life and death of Jesus, could have any lower place than that given to the Old Testament Scriptures.

2.  Books that are apostolic in their teaching. It was to the apostles exclusively that Jesus promised guidance ‘into all truth’ through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration (John 16:13). The result of this was the New Testament (1 Corinthians 2:12,13). Significantly, Peter brackets Paul’s writings with what he calls ‘the other scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:15,16).

3.  Books that are faith-building in their effect, and thus, to be read in the congregations (John 20:30,31; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16; 1 Peter 2:2; Revelation 1:3).  When the Christian scriptures take hold of the thinking of masses of people, they have the effect of ‘stabilising society, without sterilising it’ (historian T. R. Glover).

The books of the Old Testament were becoming largely accepted by AD 70; those of the New Testament by the end of the second century. The drawing of a line around them discouraged forgers and religious peddlers.

So no one really ‘put’ the books into the Bible; they put themselves in, because of their innate quality. No council by itself could have conferred authority upon the books; this, they possessed already. It is an authority that is inherent, not imposed. If art lovers say of a Renoir painting, ‘This is a genuine Renoir’, their acclaim in no way invests the painting with authority; it was already authentic. It is the same with the Scriptures; we can only recognise them as such…. and live by them.

 Felix of Thibiuca - the man who would not give up his Bible

Do you value your Bible? If so, Felix of Thibiuca (247 – 303) is a good patron saint for you. The year was 303, and Diocletian was emperor in Rome.  In February of that year he decided that Christians were NOT a good thing. So, he issued an edict:  all copies of the Christian Scriptures and all liturgical books were to be surrendered and burnt.  Diocletian had decided to ‘wind up’ this upstart religion.

The persecution began in Rome. By June of that year, the edict had reached North Africa, and Thibiuca, where Felix was bishop. Felix was arrested and interrogated. Yes, he said, he did have a copy of the Scriptures. No, he said, he would not hand them over.

Felix was a highly respected bishop, and even the authorities were loath to take immediate action against him. So they gave him three days grace to see sense, and back down. But Felix prayed and became only more certain that this was a conflict between the commandments of God and the commandments of men.

At the end of the three days Felix was referred to the proconsul. He still refused to hand over his Scriptures. His last words in public were memorable “God, I thank you. I have passed 56 years in this world. I have preserved my chastity; I have observed the Gospels; I have preached the faith and the truth. Lord God of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, I bend my neck as a sacrifice for you, who abides for ever.” He was condemned to be beheaded at Carthage, and became one of the first martyrs to die under Diocletian.

Needless to say, Diocletian did not succeed in destroying the Scriptures. Today there are hundreds of millions of copies around the world, and tomorrow, Christians will thank God for the Scriptures when they celebrate Bible Sunday.   

Sleep easy 

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  That has been biblical advice for millennium.  Now a study at Oxford has found medical evidence that agrees.      

A study at the university’s sleep and circadian neuroscience institute has found that ending your day angry, or sleeping right after a traumatic event, can make bad memories stick.  Instead, sleep deprivation prevents the consolidation of bad memories, and therefore leads to fewer flashbacks.  The findings, published in the journal Sleep, may also suggest that the practice of giving sedatives in trauma treatment should be reconsidered.

Give Him a Call!

The phone was a great invention. How easy it is to press a few numbers on our small devices and speak to someone the other side of the world. There was a time when a phone in a home was a luxury item.  Now, it seems, we take it for granted that we have a gadget in our pocket enabling us to contact anyone, at any time, in any place. 

However, how many times have you wanted to speak to someone, only to be given a recorded message giving a variety of options?  Then you have to wait in a queue for ages before your call is answered. Sometimes a voice informs you ‘your call is important to us’ … but meanwhile you are left waiting, listening to endless music.  

Yes, a phone may be useful in all kinds of circumstances, but they can also be very frustrating!  So, it’s good to know that God can be contacted immediately we need Him. There is no celestial call centre where our messages are delayed or referred. With prayer we can call on God directly. This service is free with no charges. He hears our every call and we can be confident that our Creator will answer us in ways which are only for our good.

‘When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.’ (Isaiah 58:9)

Discovering the vital route from Atlantic to Pacific

It was 500 years ago, on 21st October 1520, that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s Spanish expedition to the East Indies discovered the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of Chile.

His ships, backed by King Charles I of Spain (soon to become Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) were seeking shelter in a bay after a foiled mutiny when they unexpectedly found that they could continue sailing west – though the route among many islands and channels was tortuous, with mainland South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego to the south.

Until the creation of the Panama Canal in 1914, this was a vital passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, though it has a cold, foggy climate and is prone to fierce storms. Wrecks of ships can be seen along its banks.

Magellan and his men took over a month to get through the strait (or straits). During that time the master of one of the remaining ships mutinied and sailed home.

The surviving ships continued on what became the first circumnavigation of the globe, though Magellan himself was killed in a fight with natives in the Philippines, and Spaniard Juan Sabastian Elcano took command.

From fisherman to rock man

‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16: 17,18)

Here is the hinge moment of Matthew’s Gospel. The little company had reached Caesarea Philippi, at the source of the river Jordan. Part of it is a grotto – said to be the birthplace of the god Pan. Jesus would have been standing beside the ancient carved shrines to Pan - still visible today - as he addressed the disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The answers came quickly: John the Baptist back again? A famous prophet from the past? But then it became personal. “But who do YOU say that I am?”  It is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Get it wrong – and even our very existence won’t quite make sense. People sometimes say, “I don’t understand about Jesus! God I can understand - but where does Jesus fit in?”  It was that great theologian, Athanasius - Egyptian born and Greek trained - who gave the answer sixteen centuries ago. He said, “The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit, is the one in which He is the starting point!”

Get it right about Jesus, then - and everything else will begin to glow with significance. Get it wrong – and we’ll be like the man who does up his shirt buttons in the morning, starting with the wrong button!  He may say to himself, “Well, it’ll probably work out if I just keep on” – No, it won’t! It’s the same with Christ. Get it wrong about him, and the very meaning of life and existence will always remain a puzzle. Jesus Christ, the first and the last, is the culmination of all God’s saving purposes for our world; ‘YOU… are the very Messiah of God!’ exclaimed Simon.

Simon the fisherman had hit the jackpot and so became spokesman for us all. Jesus re-names him Peter - Petros ‘the Rock. That name – ‘Peter’ – would go world-wide. University colleges would be called by that name. Whole cities would be called after Peter – and countless thousands of churches, the same. Mums and dads all down history, by the million, would call their sons ‘Peter,’ and their dogs ‘Caesar’ – just one of the changes Jesus makes!

JESUS

If I could package faith into one parcel
And collect all hope into a single can –
If I could roll all love into one heart-ball
And commoditise it in a living man
I’d already have a fully detailed label
Prepared before the world itself began -
And it would have one name -
And that name – JESUS -
At the centre of God’s universal plan
To take the world along the course
God’s surge of love provoked
Till wholeness flows through everything
With God’s Spirit of life unyoked.

HYMN:  The story behind … O God, our help in ages past

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure…

A thousand ages in The sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night,
Before the rising sun.

Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) is often called the ‘Father of English hymnody’. Certainly before his hymns came along, congregational singing was a tedious business. 

Watts was born in July 1674 in Southampton.  (At the time of his birth, his father, an educated deacon in a dissenting Congregational church, was briefly in prison for his non-conformist beliefs.) As a boy, Watts showed outstanding ability with language (learning Greek, Hebrew, Latin and French).  He also had an unusual ability for easy rhyming in English.  (At the age of five, when scolded for giggling in family prayers, it was because he had seen a mouse on the bell-rope, and instantly composed the line:  ‘There was a mouse, for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say his prayers!’) 

Watts’ literary ability, combined with his interest in theology, made him very unhappy with the congregational singing of the day, which focused almost entirely on strict metrical versions of the psalms.  One Sunday after church, Isaac complained to his father about this.  His father challenged him to write something better.  Though only 18, Watts accepted the challenge, and produced his first hymn – which was duly sung the following Sunday. 

It was such a success that he wrote new hymn texts every Sunday for the next two years.  In all, he went on to write more than 600 hymns.  Some of them are still well-loved today: from this one,  ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’,  which is a paraphrase of Psalm 90, to ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, and the Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World’.

Egypt tops list as 3.7 million Scriptures given to children last year

Bible Society teams worldwide provided almost 3.7 million Scripture items for children last year.  More than 1.1 million children’s Scriptures were distributed in Egypt alone. This is the largest number for one nation, in a place where ministry with young people is a top priority.

Through festivals, competitions and quizzes, the Bible Society of Egypt engages with hundreds of thousands of children each year.

Inability does not equal inactivity

It is perhaps a well-polished truth, but one well worth remembering again:  when it comes to salvation, “We were justified by faith alone, through grace alone, but we are not sanctified by faith alone”.

In other words, we are made acceptable to God only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who dealt with our sin.  But then the Bible calls on Christians to take their transformation into Christlikeness very seriously.  Repentance and conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives is just the beginning.   Now we need to do all we can to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives. 

From now on, our daily walk is never alone: we are to keep in step with his Spirit, and to “work out” our salvation in our daily lives.  In other words, obedience to God is fundamental in our Christian pilgrimage.

St Paul stressed this again and again.  In Romans 12 he set forth 23 directives to clarify what we must do as we cooperate with the Spirit in our transformation.  St Peter adds (2 Peter 1:10,11)  “…make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

When we truly want to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection”, we will see the Holy Spirit beginning to transform us.  As Augustine wisely noted about the walk into a sanctified Christlike life: “Without us, God will not; but without him, we cannot”.

As someone once put it:  “Each morning we must raise the sails of our boat and go where the Spirit leads. He brings the wind and he governs the speed and direction, but we must cooperate by ensuring that we join him on the journey.”

Prayer of thanks

Lord Jesus,
Thank you for coming to live as one of us.
Thank you for telling those wonderful stories of everyday people and events, which you filled with messages of truth and eternity.
Help us, Lord, to learn from your written Word and to recognise you as the living Word - and our Saviour, the only way to the Father.
In your name we pray, Lord Jesus,
Amen.

Hymns for People Over 50

Give Me the Old Timers’ Religion

Precious Lord, Take My Hand, And Help Me Up 

Just a Slower Walk with Thee

Go Tell It on the Mountain, But Speak Up

Nobody Knows the Trouble I Have Seeing

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, I've Forgotten Where I've Parked The Car

Count Your Many Birthdays, Count Them One By One

Blessed Insurance

It Is Well With My Soul, But My Knees Hurt

Volunteers have a longer, happier life

Volunteering may be as helpful to you as it is to the people you help:  a recent study has found that it may well improve your health and make you happier.

People who volunteer report having lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being than average, while some research even suggests that it promotes a longer and healthier life.

A review of 40 papers on the subject by researchers at the University of Exeter has found that volunteers were a fifth less likely to die within the next four to seven years than average.  They have lower depression and higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction.

Volunteers often say they want to ‘give something back’ to their community, but experts say they struggle to explain the benefits that volunteers apparently receive.  An estimated 22.5 per cent of people in Europe devote part of their spare time to volunteering, compared with 27 per cent in America and 36 per cent in Australia. 

As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)

Hymns help reduce anxiety

Listening to hymns can make older people less anxious about death, according to a recent study.  Listening to religious music can also increase life satisfaction, self-esteem and a sense of control over your life. 

Gospel music, in particular, has a powerful ability to decrease anxiety about death.  The study, published online in The Gerontologist, found that “religion has been linked with desirable mental health outcomes among older adults.  This study shows that listening to religious music may promote psychological well-being in later life.”

Serve One Another

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord…whose service is perfect freedom’ (Collect for Peace, BCP).   

Paul wrote to the Galatians:  ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ (Gal 5:1). To a church which consisted largely of slaves, he adds ‘serve one another in love’ (13). How does Paul encourage us to use our freedom to serve others?

Free to serve unselfishly         All of us would prefer to be served by others, but Paul’s challenge is ‘do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh’ (13). If you want to understand the word flesh, take off the h and read backwards ie self! If we are serving one another, it’s not about my needs, but looking to the concerns of others. How available are we to serve others? Do we offer the excuse of being too busy or resent the time? When stepping out of our comfort zone, be prepared to risk rejection and misunderstanding!!

Free to serve lovingly:       Luis Suárez was sent home from the 2014 World Cup for biting other players! Paul warns of the danger of Christians falling into the same trap: ‘If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other’ (15). We are called to love others, rather than using or exploiting them for our own purposes.

Are we prepared to think about people’s needs and put ourselves in their shoes? Paul tells us to ‘live and be led by the Spirit’ (16,18), for it’s the Holy Spirit who will enable us to see others with the eyes of Jesus.   ‘A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone’ (Martin Luther).

HYMN:  The story behind … ABIDE WITH ME

One of the most famous hymns in the world came out of Brixham, near Torbay, Devon, in 1847.  In those days it was a poor, obscure fishing village, and the vicar was the Rev Henry Francis Lyte.   It was a discouraging place to be a pastor, but Henry felt that God wanted him there, and so he stayed, though it was lonely work, and he suffered constant ill health.  By the time he was 54, Henry had contracted tuberculosis and asthma, and he and his family knew he was dying.   It would have been so easy for him to look back on his life and feel a complete failure.  What had he ever much accomplished?   And yet – and yet – Henry knew that in life it is not worldly success that matters, but how much we respond to Jesus Christ, and how much we follow him. 

In September of 1847 Henry was preparing to travel to the south of France, as was the custom for people with tuberculosis at that time.   One day before he left, he read the story in the gospel of Luke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They were met by Jesus on the day of his resurrection, and they invited him to stay with them because it was getting late.  “Abide with us”, they said “for it is towards evening.” 

“Abide with us - for it is toward evening.”   These words struck a chord with Henry, who knew that it was getting ‘towards evening’ in his life.  So he sat down and wrote this hymn as a prayer to God – (the following are just some of the verses)

Abide with me

 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Shortly after Henry wrote that hymn, he preached his last sermon.  He was so ill he practically crawled into the pulpit to do so.   A few weeks later, in Nice, France,  he died, and so of course he never knew that his hymn would go on to become world famous, and that nearly 100 years later it would be the last hymn played by the brave musicians on board the Titanic the night it went down.  

Prayer for Direction

Heavenly Father,
The world is broken. So many lives are broken.
People don’t know which way to turn, or who to go to for help.
And yet, you have provided everything we need.
You gave us Jesus, who is the Way to you.
Prompt us, by your Holy Spirit, to turn to him, instead of wandering aimlessly.
You gave us your written Word as a living guide book and manual for living in this world.
Open our eyes and hearts to receive your direction through it.
Thank you Father, for your unfailing love and provision for us.
In Jesus name,
Amen.

App for prayer

 

 

Apps to help you pray.

 

 

App - Lectio 365  Lectio 365 - daily devotional resource that helps you pray the Bible every day.

App - PrayerMate  PrayerMate - Helping you to pray faithfully and widely.

App - Pray as you go  Pray as you go - Daily prayer whenever you need it.

App - YouVision  YouVision Prayer - Bible reading plans and devotions.

App - Soultime  Soultime - Discover Christian Meditation.

Volunteers have a longer, happier life

Volunteering may be as helpful to you as it is to the people you help:  a recent study has found that it may well improve your health and make you happier.

People who volunteer report having lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being than average, while some research even suggests that it promotes a longer and healthier life.

A review of 40 papers on the subject by researchers at the University of Exeter has found that volunteers were a fifth less likely to die within the next four to seven years than average.  They have lower depression and higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction.

Volunteers often say they want to ‘give something back’ to their community, but experts say they struggle to explain the benefits that volunteers apparently receive.  An estimated 22.5 per cent of people in Europe devote part of their spare time to volunteering, compared with 27 per cent in America and 36 per cent in Australia. 

As St Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)

Put together a Memory Book

Do you have grandchildren?  Then this winter, during those long dark days, why not spend some time putting together a sort of scrapbook of memories to pass on to them?  Things you might include could be:  where you lived when you were a child; what your school was like, what games you most enjoyed, who your best buddies were, what pets you had, what your first job was, and how you met your partner.  What was your first car, and where was your first home as an adult?   Add a selection of photographs that you have from the past.   

blurb website

Websites like www.blurb.co.uk has lots of ideas to help you create your memory book.

Is your face mask making your skin break out?

Face masks are giving us skin complaints. In fact, so many of us are now suffering that the complaint has been given its own name: ‘maskne’.

The causes are obvious. Our breath is warm and moist, and every time we exhale into our masks this humid air gets trapped. Masks move, and so we have friction. Added to that is the unpleasant fact that our salvia is actually teeming with bacteria (with more bugs per square inch than even a loo seat!).

Acne mechanica is the medical term for ‘maskne’. With all that bacteria being trapped and rubbed against our nose and chin, no wonder ‘mask breakouts’ are rising dramatically.

Stress is another cause for skin complaints, and the pandemic has given many of us huge stress this year. We may face crippling anxiety over job security, finances, the health of loved ones, social isolation, or even being trapped in an abusive household. No wonder our faces are breaking out in a rash!

Xartoon.

Bishop’s Harvest Appeal 2020 Peace of Mind – supporting wellbeing in Derbyshire

This year’s harvest season will not resemble previous years. How we will celebrate in church and in schools will be very different as the Coronavirus continues to affect every aspect of our lives. Many people have experienced loss during this pandemic – loss of loved ones, loss of jobs and usual routines. This has resulted in many people experiencing anxiety and other mental health problems, and sadly there has been an increase in domestic violence and abuse. That’s why this year the Bishop of Derby’s Harvest Appeal will focus on supporting the wellbeing of everyone in Derbyshire. This year’s appeal is Peace of Mind: supporting wellbeing in Derbyshire. There are a number of free online resources and events to support positive mental health and wellbeing. Included is an online reading group, poetry for health and community activities. Workshops are free and will be held via Zoom. You can book a place via the Learning in Faith pages on the Diocesan website. Alongside the events programme Bishop Libby has set a target to raise £15,000 to support Derbyshire Mind’s wellbeing programme ‘Enjoying Derbyshire’. Enjoying Derbyshire is a project that offers a diverse menu of activities and workshops aimed at improving mental wellbeing. You can find more information at:

mind - derbyshire

Forgive

Almighty God, most merciful
You know our thoughts and deeds
Our sins have been most plentiful
Forgive, we plead!

 

Our hearts are far from You, O Lord
You should be first, not last
Our neighbours have not known accord
Forgive our past!

 

Help us amend what we’ve become
Direct what we shall be
With justice, mercy, peace we come
Humbly with Thee!

Give people confidence

Sometimes we think that self-confidence is something you either have or don’t have, like a talent for music.  But really, it is something that is either created in you, or destroyed, as you interact with other people.

We can either intentionally encourage and empower other people, co-creating with them the confidence they need to pursue their hopes and dreams, or we can criticise and undermine them, or even cripple them with fears.  We all know people who make us feel better about ourselves for having spent time with them, and also people who make us feel worse!

Someone once said:  ‘Life is not so much about what happens to people, but what happens between people.’    So – why not make an effort to aim to encourage people?  Let them talk to you, and give them the opportunity to share their hopes and anxieties.  As the saying goes:  ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’   The Bible puts it this way:  ‘Encourage one another and build each other up.’ (1 Thess. 5:11)

Soothing power of music

Does someone you love have heart disease?  Want to help prevent them having a heart attack?   Praying or playing music to them can be very effective safeguards, right up there with proper diet, exercise and not smoking.

Greek medical researchers have found that prayer and music, or so-called psychological interventions, can more than halve deaths and cardiovascular events such as a heart attack in heart disease patients.  Dr Zoi Aggelopoulou, a Greek nurse, said: “The nurses on our coronary care unit observed that patients were less likely to have another heart attack, die, or return to hospital when we talked to them about their treatment, played music for them or helped religious patients to say prayers.” Various medical studies have found that psychological factors such as depression, social isolation, low socio-economic status and chronic stress such as occupational or marital distress, can increase the likelihood of a heart attack in the first place.

 HYMN:  The story behind … Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All be safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear:
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be….

By H Alford (1810 – 71)

Very probably, you will sing this well-loved Harvest hymn this month.  It was written by the Rev Henry Aldford, DD, a Victorian clergyman who had been a fellow student at Trinity College, Cambridge with Alfred Tennyson, and whose transparent goodness and friendliness seem to have made him liked and appreciated wherever he went.  

His ministry began as vicar of Wymeswold, a tiny village in Leicestershire with a badly neglected church.  Over 18 years, Henry rebuilt the faltering Christian community, faithfully visiting every person in his parish, and preaching his way through the Bible in sermons that were so clear that everyone could understand him.  He then moved on to the incumbency of Quebec Chapel in London for four years, before moving to the Deanery of Canterbury, in 1857, where he lived until his death in early 1871.

Henry was one of life’s good people; gentle, kindly, grateful for everything he had (he used to say ‘grace’ before AND after each meal), and eager to encourage all those whom he served.   He was prodigiously productive:  writing something like 50 books.   The best known of these was a four volume exposition of the New Testament, which took him nearly 20 years.  

His famous hymn draws upon two of Jesus’ parables:  the story of the wheat and tares (Mt 13:24-30) and also the story of the seed that grows unbeknown to the sower (Mark 4:26-29).  Both are parables draw from agriculture; both are about the ultimate harvest of our souls before God.  During this lifetime we properly give thanks to God for our harvest of his gifts of creation, but we should also reflect on what seed we are sowing in our lives, and what harvest we may expect; as one day God will gather together only his own for the eternal heavenly harvest. 

Litter Virus

A face mask is a helpful thing –
It traps those nasty germs!
An extra message I must bring
In these poetic terms:
When you’ve finished with your mask
A bin is simply found
So drop it in – an easy task!

By Nigel Beeton

Mind your back!

Lots of everyday activities can take a toll on your back, even if you don’t notice it at the time. Here are a few tips that will help you to avoid back problems: 

Firstly, while standing to perform ordinary tasks like ironing or folding laundry, keep one foot on a small step-stool.  Then, when bending from the waist, always use your hands to support yourself.   Don’t sit or stand in the same position for too long. Stretch, shift your position and walk about a bit when you can. When sitting, keep your knees a bit higher than your hips and bend them at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should be comfortably on the floor (if they don’t reach the floor, put a book or a small stool under them).  Finally, remember that even using a vacuum cleaner can take a toll on your back.  So tackle a large room in chunks, spending no more than five or ten minutes at a time on this task.  Simple tips like these will pay dividends.

Prayer when life is difficult

Dear Father,       There are times when we don’t understand why things are as they are; why those children are hungry and homeless; why that person we prayed for died when they had so much still to live for; why that relationship broke down; why that accident happened to that lovely lady. There are times when we don’t know how to pray, when we just don’t know…

Help us, Lord, at such times, to remember what we do know; that you are our creator; that you love each one of us with the love of a perfect father; that you sent Jesus for just such times as these, to be our hope, to be our Saviour, to be with us always, in all circumstances. Help us to remember your goodness to us in the past, to trust that you are walking with us in the present and to have confidence in the future, because you alone hold it securely in your hands.

Remind us every day Lord to trust in you with all our hearts and not to depend on our own understanding – which is limited by our humanity.

Thank you Father that we are your children and you do hear our prayers, In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How to Read the Bible in Public

But is this a necessary topic? I’m afraid so.  I have heard the British actor David Suchet declare that he has been up and down churches everywhere…. and that the dull and listless public reading of the Scriptures is generally a disgrace to the power of the Bible.

 “The music was wonderful today”…. “That was a great talk!”…. “I loved the worship!” Hardly ever do I hear gratitude expressed for a Scripture reading.  Let this be the background to that occasion when you find yourself called upon to read from the Scriptures in a public gathering.

We are not simply pronouncing words when we stand at the front. Unhurried preliminary prayer is vital to the task. What is this passage all about? Why is it here in the Bible? What is its main point? I need to ask myself which words - as I read them - could do with a slight emphasis, a mental underlining, a raised or lowered inflexion?

Yet others should not be thinking, ‘What a great reader,’ but rather ‘My goodness, that passage was speaking to me!’  The voice must be naturally your own. Do normal people speak with ’holy’ churchy affectation? Did Jesus, when telling his parables?

We are to keep the voice natural, yet with an underlying awareness that - without straining - we need to project. True – there may be a microphone – but be not deceived! It is only there to impart a slight ‘lift’ to the voice; it simply cannot do the job for you.

Across the years I have recognized various unfortunate ‘Categories’ of reader. Be warned! One could be named after an early English king, unfortunately known as Ethelred the Unready.  Such a reader turns up, but has clearly not thought the passage through at all; the reading is an utter non-event.

 By contrast we have sometimes been subjected to The Thespian. Here a well-intentioned reader is so intent on ‘acting’ the passage with ham-fisted phony ‘accents’ that it is truly cringe-worthy. Public Scripture reading can be truly supernatural in power – without it ever becoming unnatural in delivery.

Have you sometimes heard The Dollard give the reading?  It is delivered in a flat monotone throughout; it could have been a recitation of shares on the stock market.

Then there is what may be called The Queen’s Speech, immaculate; beautifully spoken and with perfect diction. But somehow the reading lacked ‘Soul’ – was it a communication from heaven and a life of prayer, or a performance from the local dramatic society?

Give yourself some practice sessions! Try Luke 15:11-24 as an obvious ‘story’, and then, by contrast, Ephesians 2:1-10; then 1 Kings 18: 20-39.

Treat public Bible reading as an honour. For centuries the Bible has been described in the British Coronation Service as The most precious thing that this world affords. We are to treat it like that!

By Richard Bewes

Growing a Servant’s Heart

We have seen how David was anointed to be the next king of Israel. God used the madness of Saul to help train the shepherd boy for his role as king (1 Samuel 16:18-19). God uses the same tools to grow us, so that he can use us as his servants in our church, workplace and community.

God uses solitude:       It was on the hills with his sheep that David learned how to be alone with God and himself (19). Away from distractions, David learned how to hear the voice of God and discern his purpose for his life.

We shouldn’t fear times of solitude, as they are vital if we are to hear his voice and walk with him. We need time to be alone with God and find a place where you can hear his voice without the distractions of life clamouring for our attention.

God uses secrecy:       David also learned the lessons of servanthood in obscurity, before he was called to public office (18).  He learned ‘how to play the harp’, so that at the right time he would be called into Saul’s service. In his experience of protecting his sheep against lions and bears (cf 17: 34, 35), David learned the art of being ‘a brave man and a warrior’.

We should never despise the days of obscurity, when we can feel we are not being used much by God. He knows where we are and in his time, he will use us when, where and to the extent he chooses.

God uses sameness:    David must have found the monotony of keeping his father’s sheep quite difficult, knowing that he was the anointed king. However, it was in the routine of life that he learned the valuable lesson of faithfulness. David applied himself to giving his best during the mundane times of life. As a result it was evident that ‘the Lord is with him’, as God the sameness of his life to shape David for bigger things.

We are also called to keep faithful in the small things in our lives, especially in our workplace and with friends and family. As we live consistently for Jesus on a daily basis, God will bring us into those places and relationships where we can be effective witnesses for him.

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.’ (Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’)

The Blessings of God

What does it take for God’s blessing to descend not just on individuals, but on Christian organisations and local churches?  Some clues may be found in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

In Ezra 7 we find “The king granted (Ezra) all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.”  What brings the hand of God upon a person or a group of people?  Ezra 7:10 reads:  “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”  Clearly one of the prerequisites for the blessing of God is that their heart is set to study the Bible, to obey it, and to pass the knowledge on. As Ezra 8:22 makes it clear:  “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 

Prayerfulness and spiritual earnestness are likewise vital and we find it as Nehemiah prays:  “Let your ear be attentive, and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants” (Neh 1:6).  Nehemiah also took sin and the confession of it extremely seriously:  “We have acted very corruptly against you, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded…” (Neh 1:7).

So – if anyone wants God’s blessing, the Bible is clear on what needs to be done:   read the Bible seriously, and obey its teachings.   That is God speaking to us.  Second, be serious and committed in our prayers; that is us speaking to God.  Third, repent of any sin which we know to be in our lives.  That is obedience, and it will bring God’s blessing upon us.

Think happy thoughts   and help your immune system

A stressed mind can put your body at risk.  If you constantly think about negative things, and dwell on stressful events in your life, you could weaken your immune system and make yourself more susceptible to illness.

A recent study has found that simply thinking about negative events, even if they are only imagined, can increase the levels of inflammation in your body.  This inflammation, associated with the body’s response to trauma and infection, can weaken the immune system and has been linked to a number of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and dementia.

St Paul urged a better way of coping with the threats in our lives:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phill. 4:6)

Feeling rough?

Not feeling great today?  You are not alone:  it seems that most of us only feel 100 per cent fit and healthy for about 61 days a year.  The remaining 304 days we struggle with a variety of ills, from colds and sore throats to viruses and ear infections to cricked necks, heartburn and backache.  The research by Spire Bristol Hospital, also found that most of us feel run-down on at least two days every week.  Monday at 11.35am is the worst time of the week for feeling ill and Saturday lunchtime is the healthiest point in the week.  

How you might avoid a stroke

Now there is a good reason for you not to drift through 2014: those of us who have a clear purpose in life are 20 per cent less likely to suffer from a stroke, according to a recent study of over-50s.

Recent research at the University of Michigan found that people with defined goals for the future were at a much lower risk of suffering a clot on the brain than people with few objectives.  But it remained unclear whether setting aims later in life makes people more likely to keep up a healthy lifestyle or whether thinking positively about your life somehow protects you against a stroke.

About 200 people in the UK die from a stroke every day.  The NHS spends £2.3 billion a year treating the 100,000 people who suffer from one every year.  Writing in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the researchers concluded:  “Among older adults, greater purpose in life is linked with a lower risk of stroke.”

The Bible intends for us to have purpose in our lives.  God even promises: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way

Why we should be like donkeys

Are you a pet-lover? Many people own a dog, a cat or a budgie, but most of us don’t own a donkey!    Yet in Bible times, donkeys were essential to daily life. They did everything from helping to grind corn, to ploughing, to carrying people, to transporting their belongings.  Despite their small frame, donkeys are surprisingly tough.   They are content with poor fodder like thistles, and can travel an average of 20 miles a day. 

There are two occasions in the Christian calendar where donkeys walk into the picture. At Christmas, Mary travelled the 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. And although a donkey doesn’t get a specific mention in the manger story, that same one that transported her was probably there; where else would it have been? 

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Jesus deliberately chose this animal rather than a horse.  Why?  In Bible times, the horse was associated with war, conquest and worldly might. But the donkey was a symbol of peace and humility. Jesus used this animal to show that he had come with the dignity of the king of peace. His entry into the Holy City also fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah.  

Donkeys are hardworking and undemanding.  They wait for their master to put them to the work he has chosen for them.  And, remarkably, each one bears the mark of the Cross on their backs! 

Perhaps that is something we should learn—to wait for Jesus our Master, to be always obedient to him, to serve him with all our hearts, and to bear the mark of his grace in our lives.

Prayer for patience

Dear Father,
Waiting is so difficult. And we seem to have to do it so often, and in so many situations. Waiting for news, waiting for opportunities, waiting for test results, waiting for others – even waiting for you, Lord, when we so long for you to do something.
Please give us patience. Ripen in us that ‘patience’ part of the fruit of your Holy Spirit, so that we can wait without anger, without frustration, without stress, knowing that you are Sovereign, that your timing is perfect.
Help us to recognise that, in the end, simply trusting you can take the weight out of the wait.
So help us to trust you, Father, and to relax in your care as we wait.
In the name of Jesus.
Amen

Want to live longer?  Eat nuts.

This sounds unlikely, but is true:  eating an ounce of nuts each day may reduce your risk of dying from a variety of illnesses, ranging from heart disease to cancer.  People who eat nuts tend also to be slimmer, are less likely to smoke, and are more likely to have healthy habits such as exercising, taking vitamin supplements and eating fruit and vegetables.

The research was based on a study of nearly 120,000 men and women in the USA.  It found that as little as a handful of nuts a day are linked to a 20 per cent lower likelihood of dying from any cause in the following three decades.  Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, high-quality protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.  Researchers were not able to determine which types of nuts are the healthiest, but that peanuts, which are in fact a type of bean, have a similar effect on health as the walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans and pistachios. 

Being a good neighbour

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar...  Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge... Matthew 5:23-25 (NIV)

There is some really good legal advice in these verses, especially if you include ‘neighbour’ in this. “Settle matters quickly...” is advisable as disputes can easily be lengthy and very expensive.  They can also ruin relationships and make it difficult to sell your house because you have to tell buyers if there have been disputes which affect the property.

We are told to love thy neighbour and also that good fences make good neighbours. This is true as knowing where the boundaries are, sometimes in more than one sense of the word, is beneficial. Questions of ownership and position of boundaries are very often difficult to resolve and the cost of sorting it out is usually far in excess of the value of the land in question.  If there is a problem try to sort it out over a cup of tea. Deeds sometimes show the position of boundaries on the plans and say who is responsible for which.

It is not only fences and walls that come between neighbours. Pets, noise, car parking, overgrown trees, and rubbish can lead to complaints.

If there is a problem, legal advice may help and this does not necessarily mean going to court. The law should be a last resort. Even if you win you may not get all your money back and you still have to live with the neighbour. Some local authorities have mediation services to resolve problems.  

We should pray for our neighbours and enemies – even if they are sometimes the same people!

The story behind ‘Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son’

Here is a hymn that is so well known and loved that it has simply burst the bounds of Easter, and gets sung regularly at other times of the year.  It has two stories behind it. 

First, the music.  The rousing music did not start out as a hymn, but was written by Handel for his opera ‘Judas Maccabeus’, first performed in 1746.  Originally the words ran ‘See the conquering hero comes’, for Handel’s opera tells the story (found in the Apocrypha) of the leader of the Jews, Judas Maccabeus, who led an army against the Syrians and restored worship at the Temple.  With its triumphant refrain after each verse, the music is easy to learn and sing, and can be (and has been!) played to great effect either by the trumpets, on an organ in a large resonant church, or even on guitars (!).

Secondly, the words.  They were not written until 1884 – 138 years after the music.   We owe them to the Rev Raymond Budry, a Swiss pastor from Lausanne.   Ordained in the Free Evangelical Church in Vaud, he spent 35 years as the pastor of Vevey on Lake Geneva.  Budry wrote the hymn in French (‘A Toi La Gloire!’) to console himself after the death of his first wife, and a year later (1885) it was published in Chants Evangeliques.  Soon it found its way into English – translated by a Baptist minister from Kingston-upon-Thames, Richard Hoyle.  By 1904 it had made the YMCA Hymn Book, and was being translated into other languages.  

It is not clear who first had the happy idea of teaming words and music, but when they did,  the hymn really took off.  The theme of ‘battle’ is never far from this hymn, whether it was the battle of Judas Maccabeus, or the battle over sin which was won by Christ on the cross and in rising from the tomb.  Easter, of course, marked the biggest victory over the biggest enemies of all time:  sin and death.

What would Handel make of it, if he could know that his battle music had become one of the world’s most popular and well-known Easter hymns?   He was a devout man, working for the poor, praying twice each day, and attending St Pauls’ Cathedral.  So it seems pretty certain that he would be delighted.

The Bible in 50 words

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peaked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.
anon

 

Who are you really talking to?

In the early 1950s a well-known department store in Birmingham wanted to extend its premises.  Close by this department story in Birmingham was an ideal site.  But there was a problem:  it belonged to the Quakers, whose Meeting House had been there for well over two hundred years. 

Still, why should a bunch of Quakers stand in the way of commerce?

So, the department store wrote to the Quakers, offering to buy the site.  Very grandly, they said, “We will give you a very good price for the land.  In fact, we’ll send you a blank cheque.  Please fill in whatever sum of money you think appropriate and we will honour it.”   

Then they sat back and waited.  Weeks passed. Finally a letter arrived from the Quakers. It thanked the department store for their generous offer but declined to accept it.  “Our Meeting House has been here for almost two hundred and fifty years,” they  explained,  “much longer than your store.  We have no wish to sell our property.   However, if YOU would agree to sell YOUR site to us, we are very interested in buying it.  We will give you a very good price for it.  Just state your selling price and we will honour it.”  
The letter was signed ‘Cadburys.’ 

The department store thought they were dealing with a small, meek congregation of Quakers.  Instead they were dealing with the Cadburys’ empire.  Cadburys could have bought the department store twenty times over!

Sometimes life gives us hard knocks.  Problems mount up and threaten to overwhelm us.  We can feel alone and very vulnerable, very weak.  But we can take heart in remembering that we are never alone. God has not forgotten us. Only our dimness of vision prevents us from seeing his great presence and power and provision.  We do not need to fear, but to trust God.  He is bigger and more powerful than anything which tries to overwhelm us.

Whatever problems 2020 throws at us, remember, we’ve got ‘Cadburys’ on our side. 

What’s in your hand?

September is usually the time when we get back to our normal routines after the summer break. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s very different this year! However, it is still a good time to consider how God can use us to make a real difference in our workplace, school, family, friends and community. He equips us with everything we need to make His love known.

When God gave Moses the job of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, He asked the question, ‘What is in your hand?’(Exodus 4:2). Moses was holding his staff, which represented his livelihood (what he was good at); his resources (his flock represented his wealth) and his security (which God was asking him to lay down). God asks the same question of us: What has God given you? Our gifts, temperament, experience, relationships, mind, education can be used in the work God has given us to do. How will we use them to make a difference in the places where He calls us to serve Him?

John Ortberg, in his book It All Goes Back in the Box, speaks of Johnny, a 19-year-old with Downs syndrome. He worked at a supermarket checkout putting people’s items into bags. To encourage his customers, he decided to put a thought for the day into the bags. Every night his dad would help him to prepare the slips of paper and he would put the thoughts into the bags saying, ‘I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.’ A month later the store manager noticed that Johnny's line at the checkout was three times longer than anyone else's! People wanted Johnny's thought for the day. He wasn’t just filling bags with groceries, he was filling lives with hope!

What has God given you that will help and encourage others? 

St Protus and St Hyacinth - victims of mindless violence

On this, the 19th anniversary of the Twin Towers, we remember two innocent people who also met their death in the flames of mindless violence. These were Roman martyrs mentioned in the 4th century list of martyrs. Hyacinth’s tomb was discovered in the cemetery of Basilla, with his name and the date of his burial (11th September). Inside were charred bones, indicating death by fire. An inscription by Damasus says Protus Hyacinth were brothers, and another ancient source called them ‘teachers of the Christian law’. 

What the 23rd Psalm is really all about

The Lord is my Shepherd - that's relationship.
I shall not want - that's supply.
He makes me lie down in green pastures - that's rest.
He leads me beside the still waters - that's refreshment.
He restores my soul - that's healing.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness - that's guidance.
For his name’s sake - that's purpose.
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death - that's testing.
I will fear no evil - that's protection.
For You are with me - that's faithfulness.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me - that's discipline.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies - that's hope.
You anoint my head with oil - that's consecration.
My cup runs over - that's abundance.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life - that's blessing.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever - that's security
!

Have you done something which haunts you? 

Do you ever worry that your past failings mean that God will not accept you now?    Some of us have done many things which we regret – things that have caused us, or others, great pain.   We’ve given our children short shrift, we’ve betrayed our marriage partners, we’ve been dishonest at work, we’ve been ruthlessly greedy and ambitious -  no matter what the cost to anyone else.   And now the memory of the wrong we’ve done lingers, and makes us ashamed.   Our past failings make us very reluctant to turn to God.  Why should he forgive the damage we have done? 

If you think this way, then you have a big surprise waiting for you:  God isn’t like that.  You haven’t yet encountered his GRACE.   God knows all about you, and most of all he knows you need his help.  Jesus said that he came into the world to reach sinners - to help anyone who turns to him in true repentance to find forgiveness, and a new start.  

You can’t do anything to turn yourself into a good person.  But you don’t have to.  All that God asks of you is that you turn to Jesus in prayer, and say you are sorry, and ask him to forgive you, and to put his Spirit within you.   Then you find his GRACE – which means his loving-kindness, beginning in YOUR life.   Just try it.  Today let God begin to set you free from the past!

What you have in common with a woodcarving

Woodcarving isn’t as straightforward as it seems. You draw a plan of what you want to carve, and only when you’ve got that right do you start to start to shape your piece of wood.

The carver works his block with his plan alongside it. He cuts those bits of wood away that he doesn’t want, and shapes what’s left until it ever more closely resembles that original plan.  Only when the design on the wood and the paper plan are identical has the carver finished his job. He’s then made exactly what he’d hoped for, while working all along from that original plan.   

It’s the same for our lives. God is the master carpenter. As we go through life, God shapes us, cutting away those bits of us that he doesn’t want and which would spoil what he wants us to look like:  Jesus.  

But there’s one big difference between a human being and a block of wood. A block of wood has to sit impassively on the carver’s bench while he works at it. The wood cannot help the process along and has no idea what’s happening to it. 

God very much hopes that we’ll help him in the process of being shaped into his pattern. That’s why we read the Bible and worship and pray: only when we have some idea of what he wants us to be can we cooperate in the process.  However often we get it wrong and fail, there’s one promise we have. God will never give up on us, until he’s shaped us into exactly what he’s planned for us to be all along.

The story behind the Hymn – ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’

Praise my soul the King of heaven,
To His feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore his praises sing.
Alleluia!  Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King.

Praise him for His grace and favour
To our fathers in distress;
Praise Him, still the same as ever,
Slow to chide and swift to bless.
Alleluia!  Alleluia! Glorious in his faithfulness.

Father like, He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows;
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels in the height, adore Him,
Ye behold him face to face;
Sun and moon bow down before Him,
Dwellers all in time and space
Praise Him!  Praise him!
Praise with us the God of grace!

By Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

This stately poetic paraphrase of Psalm 103 has been included in probably more solemn ceremonies than any other hymn in the English language.  It was even chosen by Queen Elizabeth for her wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947.

Henry Lyte had been a brilliant theological student at university in Dublin, with a gift for versifying.  After graduation he moved to a tiny and remote parish in County Wexford to serve his curacy.  It was here, when he was about 25, that Henry had a religious experience which would transform his life.

A close friend of his, another clergyman, had fallen ill, and was clearly dying.  Henry went to visit him.  The friend was not as distressed as Henry had imagined he would be.  Instead the friend confessed that he had been re-reading the New Testament, with an eye on eternity, and had made a great discovery.  There was no need to rely on religious duties and formalities and good deeds to gain peace with God.  Instead, we can trust completely in the mercy of Christ and his saving power.   

Henry was sophisticated and had been very formal in his ministry.  But this encounter with his friend’s faith at death’s very door, made him reconsider his faith.  He wrote later that his dear friend ‘who died happy in the thought that there was One who would atone for his delinquencies’ made him ‘study my Bible and preach in another manner than I had previously done’.   And soon after this hymn appeared, in 1834.

Lyte rejoices in the majesty and wonder of the living God, who in turn loves us.  He captures the measure of the Psalm in enduring lyrics, which combine time, eternity, God and man all swept up into one embrace.  Its last verse summons all of the created order to join in a great act of joyous praise – surely a preview of eternity!

Don’t ‘go it alone’

If you are helping others at this time, remember to still leave space and time for yourself. Going the extra mile for other people all the time will only ensure one thing; your collapse. Work in teams. Even the Good Samaritan did not attempt to help the injured man all on his own; he brought in the innkeeper. By sharing the problem, they solved it!

Why are you facing such a temptation?

‘Happy is the man who doesn’t give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get …his reward.’  James 1:12

Are you facing a temptation of some sort? It is easy to think of it as a bad thing. But it can become a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block.  Just think: it is as much an opportunity to do the right thing, as the wrong thing. Temptation just gives you the choice!

God develops the fruit of the Spirit in us by allowing circumstances into our lives in which we are tempted – in order that we might express the exact opposite quality!  For instance: He teaches us to love by allowing unlovely people into our lives. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving you.

God teaches us joy in the midst of sorrow by urging us to turn to Him for comfort and strength when all other support is gone. 

God grows peace in us by helping us learn to trust in Him in situations where we’re tempted to worry or be afraid. Likewise, patience grows through having to wait…

You can’t claim to be good if you’ve never been tempted to be bad; or to be faithful if you have never had the chance to be unfaithful. Integrity grows through defeating dishonesty; humility grows as you refuse to give place to pride. Endurance develops when you reject the temptation to give up. 

The truth is:  when temptation comes into your life, see it for what it is:  a chance for you to grow closer to Jesus.

Psalm 90

‘War simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.’ (CS Lewis on World War II). Coronavirus powerfully illustrates this, and Psalm 90 demonstrates a right response to the crisis: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ (12).  

The Shortness of Life
We live as though life will go on forever, but in reality our time on earth is short: ‘A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by’ (4). By contrast God, who inhabits eternity, sees the whole of history in a single moment. How can we see our lives in the light of God, who is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ (2). True wisdom is making sure that we don’t waste the time we are given in this life!

The Fragility of Life
Living to 80 years old is definitely an achievement! We know how we wear out in life until we are dust again: ‘You turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’(3). This is the result of turning from God to sin: ‘You have set our iniquities before you’ (88). True wisdom warns us not to trust in our own abilities or seek satisfaction in the things of this world.

The Love of God
During the pandemic, many have lost loved ones, yet if we allow God’s love to take hold of our lives, even death can bring us closer to God:
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.’ (14). True wisdom is able to ask: May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us’ ((17).

What’s in your hand?o:p>

September is usually the time when we get back to our normal routines after the summer break. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s very different this year! However, it is still a good time to consider how God can use us to make a real difference in our workplace, school, family, friends and community. He equips us with everything we need to make His love known.

When God gave Moses the job of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, He asked the question, ‘What is in your hand?’ (Exodus 4:2). Moses was holding his staff, which represented his livelihood (what he was good at); his resources (his flock represented his wealth) and his security (which God was asking him to lay down). God asks the same question of us: What has God given you? Our gifts, temperament, experience, relationships, mind, education can be used in the work God has given us to do. How will we use them to make a difference in the places where He calls us to serve Him?

John Ortberg, in his book It All Goes Back in the Box, speaks of Johnny, a 19-year-old with Downs syndrome. He worked at a supermarket checkout putting people’s items into bags. To encourage his customers, he decided to put a thought for the day into the bags. Every night his dad would help him to prepare the slips of paper and he would put the thoughts into the bags saying, ‘I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here.’ A month later the store manager noticed that Johnny's line at the checkout was three times longer than anyone else's! People wanted Johnny's thought for the day. He wasn’t just filling bags with groceries, he was filling lives with hope!

What has God given you that will help and encourage others?

Churches enjoy Zooming

Most churches who used digital channels during lockdown, in order to keep in touch with their congregations, found that their favourite platform was Zoom.

A recent survey by Ecclesiastical found that Zoom was used by 78 per cent; Skype by 12 per cent, and other platforms, including WhatsApp, by eight per cent.

Nearly one third of churches who used digital channels have also reported an increased attendance at their virtual services. 

That has led to some 38 per cent of churches saying that they would continue to use digital channels, even now that churches are physically open again.

Faithful Father,
Thank you for your presence with us, all the time. Thank you for your goodness towards us, all the time. Thank you for the forgiveness you offer when we put our trust in Jesus and what He did on the cross, so that not even the most desperate circumstances can cut us off from you. Thank you for the on-going possibility of a new start with bright hope for each tomorrow.
Thank you, thank you Lord,
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

My past is forgiven.

Have you ever been half-way through a project and wanted to start again? In life we all have regrets about things we have done, said or thought. The good news is that Jesus died to forgive these things: ‘All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross.’ (Colossians 2:14, The Message). The resurrection is the guarantee that we can know Jesus’ pardon and forgiveness. Do we need to let go a load of guilt and unforgiveness that we are carrying?

John Bunyan – the man who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress

After the Bible, John Bunyan’s wonderful Christian allegory, the Pilgrim’s Progress, is one of the most celebrated and widely-read books in the English language. It has been translated into more than 100 languages around the world and keeps its place as a Christian classic. 

Names of people and places from its pages have been commonplace wherever English is spoken. We need only recall Mr Great-Heart, Mr Valiant-for-Truth, Giant Despair, Madame Bubble, the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Delectable Mountains, the Hill Difficulty and the Celestial City. 

Bunyan was born on 28 November 1628, at Elstow, near Bedford, England, of a poor family. He had little formal education and his father taught him to be a metal worker. His first wife died young. His second wife, Elizabeth, helped him considerably with his blossoming literary career. His conversion was the result of reading the Bible, and the witness of local Christians. From that time the Bible became the great inspiration of his life. He wrote more than 50 books on Christianity.  A Baptist by conviction, he had little time for the Established Church.   

Bunyan became a popular preacher, but because of his opposition to the Established Church and because he did not have a Church of England preaching licence, he was imprisoned in 1661. It was in prison that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. It was not only Bunyan’s greatest book, but was destined to become one of the most popular Christian books in the world.

Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, using the names of people and places from the Bible to teach spiritual lessons. The vivid and unforgettable imagery in the Pilgrim’s Progress covers the whole Christian gospel from sin and condemnation all the way through faith, repentance, grace, justification, sanctification, and perseverance to heaven itself.

Bunyan died on 31st August 1688. His portrayal of the death of Mr Valiant For Truth is Bunyan at his allegorical best. This brave old soldier of Jesus Christ had received his summons to ‘go home.’ Calling his friends together he says, ‘“My sword I give to him who shall succeed me in my pilgrimage …  My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought His battles, Who will now be my rewarder.” … So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side...’

Lord

 Help me to live this day

Quietly, easily,

To lean on thy great strength

            Trustfully, restfully,

To await the unfolding of Thy will

            Patiently, joyously,

To face tomorrow

            Confidently, courageously.

 By St Francis of Assisi

God can use everything we give him

The story is told of a man in charge of building a great church, who was pestered by an apprentice who wanted to design the glass for one of the windows.  Finally, he agreed that the apprentice should be given one very small window.  BUT – the apprentice would have to provide all the materials himself.

Undaunted, the apprentice carefully swept up all the stray bits of coloured glass that had been discarded, and set to work.  Slowly, and with great care, he pieced together a window of rare beauty.  When the church was finally opened, many people stopped to stare in wonder at his small, but so beautiful, iridescent window.

Our lives can be like that - no matter how small we may feel, or that we have only scraps to offer to God, He can still help us to use every bit of time and energy and love we do have, to build a life that is beautiful, and which will reflect the glory of God to others.

Monica and Augustine - mother and son

On consecutive days this month (27th and 28th) the Christian Church celebrates a mother and her son. The mother is Monica, and her son is Augustine. The story of their relationship and how, after a long process, they both came to share the same Christian faith is a moving one, and perhaps has a message for anxious parents today.

Augustine was born in 354 and grew up in north Africa in the area we now call Algeria. His mother, Monica, was a deeply committed Christian. His father was not. In those circumstances she was deeply (one might say desperately) concerned that her clever young son should also believe and be baptised. But, in the way of wilful offspring, he steadfastly refused. Eventually Monica’s patience ran out. She stood outside the priest’s house and noisily asked why a mother’s anxious prayers had not been answered. He appeared at a window and rebuked her. “It is not possible,” he said, “that God has not heard your prayers and will answer them in His own way.” 

He was right, but it took a long while. By now Augustine had a mistress and a young son, and had moved to Milan in Italy, where he became Public Orator. However, it eventually happened – a moment of conversion in a garden, instruction and then baptism by the great Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Monica’s prayers were answered. Her gifted son was ordained and shortly became a bishop in Hippo, north Africa, and one of the greatest theologians and teachers of the Christian Church. Monica died the year before that happened, but I think we may assume that she died content. Her priest many years earlier had been right!

So far so good

So far today, God, I've done all right.   I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or over-indulgent.   I'm really glad about that.   But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed and from then on I'm going to need a lot more help.  Thank you.  In Jesus name. Amen

100 th anniversary of the death of William Booth – founder of The Salvation Army

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the death of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.   Most of us nowadays best know the Salvation Army through its cheerful music at Christmas,  but back when William Booth first founded it, it was dangerous and hard work to do Christian outreach in the East End of London. 

William Booth was born in Nottingham in 1829, and at 13 was sent out to work to support his mother and sisters.  He ended up in a pawnbroker’s shop, which he hated.  Like Charles Dickens, that early experience of seeing poverty on a daily basis marked him for life – making him keenly aware of the suffering of the common people.   As a teenager William became a Christian, and when he moved on to London as a young man, he joined his local Methodist church, and soon became a minister.

In 1855 William married a Catherine Mumford and the couple spent several years travelling the country. William preached in many Methodist churches, and was warmly welcomed.  But William felt more and more called to the common man, and so he returned to London.

One day in 1865 William was preaching outside the Blind Beggar pub in London and drawing the crowds.   He also drew the attention of several missioners, who invited him to lead a series of meeting for them in a large tent on the old Quaker burial ground in Whitechapel.   The date for the first meeting was set for 2nd July, 1865, and that night William knew he had finally found his life’s work: as a missionary to the notorious East End of London. 

A powerful preacher,  William Booth needed stamina and courage, for although the crowds responded,  there was also great opposition.   He would often  ‘stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue’, wrote his wife later.   Meetings  were attacked by locals with stones and fireworks.   William was often wounded, but went back to work next day, often in bandages.  Somehow he kept going,  shining the light of Christ’s love into those dark, dark corners of London’s soul.

After 13 years of struggle with variable results,  William had an inspiration:  in 1878 he changed the name of his ‘Christian Mission’ to ‘The Salvation Army’.   The new name inspired his group, and soon attracted wide admiration.  People liked the idea of a Christian Army fighting sin and marching forwards with Salvation.   The Army began to grow in size. 

Booth's electrifying sermons and graphic imagery of heaven and hell drove the Christian message home, and soon more and more people wanted to become soldiers in The Salvation Army.    The work spread abroad, and by the time William Booth died on  20th August 1912,  the Army had branches in 58 countries.

hands in a prayerful position.Teach us to pray

Lord, teach us to pray.  Some of us are not skilled in the art of prayer.  As we draw near to thee in thought, our spirits long for thy Spirit, and reach out for thee, longing to feel thee near.  We know not how to express the deepest emotions that lie hidden in our hearts.  ...We know that we are closest to thee when we have left behind the things that have held us captive so long.  ....we pray that thou wilt give unto us only what we really need.  ....give us the vision, the courage,  that shall enlarge our horizons and stretch our faith to the adventure of seeking thy loving will for our lives.       By Peter Marshall  He lLived 1902 – 1949; a former chaplain to the US Senate 

How will you become a better person than you are now? Have you ever denied yourself in order to try and please God? No matter what your dedication, it is unlikely that your efforts will ever have outshone those of Rose of Lima (1586–1617), who in 1671 became the first saint of America, and patron of South America. Her whole life raises the issue:  how do you draw closer to God?

Rose was born in Lima, Peru, in 1586, into a Spanish family that had once been rich. Her beauty earned her the name, and her character was just as attractive. She was eager to please, produced exquisite lace and embroidery, and was known for her charity.

Her parents hoped for a good marriage for her, but it was not to be. Rose did not want a husband and a place in the corrupt and wanton society of Lima at the time. Rose was an intensely spiritual person, and spent hours in contemplation of Jesus and St Mary, and took the ‘Blessed Sacrament’ on a daily basis. She devoted herself to prayer and simple acts of mortification. In those days ‘mortification’ of the flesh was seen as a way of keeping your earthly appetites under control, and therefore drawing nearer to God.

At 20, Rose joined the Third order of St Dominic, taking as her model Catherine of Siena.  Her love of God continued, as did her charity to others, but now a darker side to her spirituality began to grow. Rose lived as a recluse in a hut, and increased her acts of mortification. She wanted to suffer, because she thought it would bring her closer to God.

She cut off her hair and rubbed pepper and lye into her face until it was raw and blistered. She fasted until she could hardly stand. She drank gall mixed with bitter herbs. She filled her bed with broken glass, thorns and sharp things. She wore a tight iron chain around her waist.

She embraced every penance that she could think of, and yet still she suffered at times a feeling of terrible loneliness and desolation, for God seemed far away. Then she would pray: "Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase your love in my heart."  Sometimes she would indeed feel God near her, and then she would be in ecstasy for hours.

It is hard to explain why Rose thought she needed to inflect needless suffering on herself in order to get closer to God. One scholar has suggested that perhaps Rose wanted to “make reparation for the widespread sin and corruption” in her society at the time. She had said once that she wanted to pay for the sin of the idolatry of her countrymen. 

Again, this is hard to understand because the Bible never once says that any human being can ‘make payment’ to God for the sins of another person. We may grieve over the sins of others, but only Christ can offer them forgiveness. Only He has died for them.

In Uganda a number of years ago a nun asked a bishop for help. “I have done penance all my life. I have tried so hard to please God – but I still don’t feel any joy. What am I doing wrong?” The Bishop said gently: “Because, dear sister, you are hoping to find joy in what you have done for God. I am joyful because I have discovered what Jesus has done for me.”

Poor well-meaning but confused Rose: after a long illness which seems to have had some psychological as well as physical elements to it, she finally died, only 31 years old. 

The name above every name

Who is the Lord Jesus Christ – to give him his full name?  He is Jesus, the Saviour – this was the name given by the angel to Mary and Joseph.  He is Christ – the Messiah sent by God to bring in the new kingdom of justice and peace.  He is Lord – the One whom Christians worship as divine. 

There is a beautiful hymn on the divinity of Jesus, the one who ‘emptied himself’ and ‘took the form of a slave’ for our sakes, even becoming ‘obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.’  Therefore, God has ‘highly exalted him’, and given him the name above every name – one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.  Jesus earned the honour on the cross, and he is now the risen and ascended Lord Jesus who sits ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’ (Hebrews 1:3)

When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not shouting, "I am saved!"
I'm whispering, "I get lost; that is why I chose this way."

When I say, "I am a Christian," I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble and need Someone to be my Guide.


When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not bragging I am strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak, and pray for strength to carry on.


When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed and cannot ever pay the debt.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I'm not claiming to be perfect.
My flaws are all too visible, but God believes I'm worth it.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches, which is why I cry his name.

When I say, "I am a Christian," I do not wish to judge.

I have no authority; I only know I'm loved.

Don’t allow the modern culture to rule your life

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.   (Psalm 111:10) 

“Remember,” said W.C. Fields, “a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream.” This quotation, reproduced on T-shirts and in management books, appeals to our sense of nonconformist individuality. The reality, though, is that most of us want to belong and win approval. We fear the consequences of challenging toxic organisational cultures, disagreeing with accepted workplace wisdom, or showing any weakness. To go against the flow, to be distinctive in God-honouring ways, takes courage.

The psalmist emphasises that ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’. This godly fear is not to be placed alongside our fears of the opinions of our colleagues, important though they are, but takes precedence over them. Paul puts it starkly: ‘If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10).

The biblical wisdom is not merely intellectual capacity, but is linked with discipline and discernment, shrewdness and skill. It’s also profoundly countercultural, as Jesus’ own teaching illustrates: in order to live we are called to die; the first shall be last; giving away leads to being entrusted with much (Luke 6:38).

In our relationships, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Moreover, God’s wisdom, which looks foolish and weak in the world’s eyes, is seen supremely in the cross, where it is shown that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:25).

The phrase ‘fear of the LORD’ uses the covenantal name of God, implying a committed relationship of reverence and awe. If we allow the culture of our workplaces and the time pressures we experience to squeeze the fear of God out of our ‘wisdom’, we risk becoming ‘practical atheists’, where our responses to situations are barely distinguishable from those of our non-believing colleagues.

Forgive

Almighty God, most merciful
You know our thoughts and deeds
Our sins have been most plentiful
Forgive, we plead!

Our hearts are far from You, O Lord
You should be first, not last
Our neighbours have not known accord
Forgive our past!

Help us amend what we’ve become
Direct what we shall be
With justice, mercy, peace we come
Humbly with Thee!

By Nigel Beeton

The story behind the hymn: Thou art worthy

Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy, Thou art worthy, O Lord.
Thou art worthy to receive glory,
Glory and honour and power.
For Thou hast created, hast all things created,
For Thou hast created all things.
And for Thy pleasure they are created;
Thou art worthy, O Lord.
By Pauline Mills, 1883

All sons occasionally say things that surprise their mothers, but few do it in front of entire congregations. But that is what happened to Pauline Mills, one Sunday evening back in 1883, when she visited her son’s Foursquare church in Hillsboro Oregon.

For her son, Pastor Dick Mills, had that morning promised the congregation that his mother would write them a hymn on any Bible verse of their choosing. He had simply forgotten to tell his mother about it before she arrived with him for the evening service.

But Pauline Mills rose to the challenge of Revelation 4:11. She was used to the unexpected (having raised six children) and used to crowds (being a regular speaker for women’s groups). Above all, she was used to music, having already written 300 songs.

And so, by the time the service ended at 10pm that evening, she presented her hymn to the congregation, complete with music, which she said that the Lord had given to her. Thou Art Worthy was warmly received by the Foursquare congregation, but that was just the beginning. Soon the little hymn was spreading from church to church, until today it is much loved and sung right around the world.


Jeanne Delanoue – care for the poor

Some people are pushy and a bit grasping. They get on your nerves. Pray that they go on to find God’s will for their lives, for then all that pushiness is put to good use.

Take Jeanne Delanoue. She was born at Saumur in 1666, and grew up small, authoritarian, and quite frankly, a bit of a bossy-boots. When she took charge of the family shop, which sold drapery and pious articles, she was known to be a bit greedy.

Then, when she was 26, she met two Christians, including the Abe Genetau and a visionary called Francoise Suchet. The encounter changed her life. Jeanne gave most of her goods away to the poor and transformed the caves and cellars of her home by the River Loire into a guest-house for the homeless. 

An earthquake in 1703 destroyed the caves, but it took more than that to stop Jeanne. She founded the Sisters of Providence, with the help of two other young women, kept helping the poor of her town. When famine hit in 1709, she and her two friends cared for 100 desperate people in Providence House. 

Jeanne was always a driven lady; she rose at 3am and spent her days looking after the distressed, the abandoned, single mothers and prostitutes. Her work was deeply appreciated by the town, especially during the years of war and hunger. By the time she died in 1736, Jeanne - perhaps always a bit pushy! - had founded and inspired 12 communities. 

Laurence Loricatus - the saint who couldn’t forgive himself

Have you done something bad which haunts you? Does the memory of it still follow you – and sometimes keep you awake at night? If so, then Laurence Loricatus (c. 1190–1243) is the saint for you. He was born at Facciolo (Apulia) and as a youth he killed a man. 

After that, life changed forever for Laurence. His guilt overwhelmed him, and he decided to expiate for it. He made the long and difficult pilgrimage to Compostella, but he found no relief.  So, he became a hermit at Subiaco – cutting himself off from all the comforts of normal life. But he found no relief. So, then he began to wear not a hairshirt, but a coat of chainmail next to his skin. It was a heavy, unyielding weight which bruised and rubbed his skin raw. 

Laurence hated himself and would not forgive himself, though God had forgiven him years before.  He is a caution to anyone in the same situation today. His continued ‘penance’ did no one any good. Instead, the suffering absorbed hours of his attention, and got him nowhere.

When we do something we regret, of course God wants us to repent of it. But then He wants us to put it behind us. Our bad deed needs to be quarantined and left behind in our lives. If we won’t put it down, our life becomes focused on our hatred of ourselves, instead of on God’s love for us. It took the Pope years to get Laurence to take off that chain-shirt. 

Pandemic amid millions of locusts

The six African countries where Send a Cow works face devastation, not only by the pandemic, but also the huge swarms of locusts which have destroyed thousands of acres of crops. 

In response, Send a Cow staff have supported struggling communities by teaching them how to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as good hygiene.

Send a Cow is also providing radio broadcasts with information, and emergency food supplies and seeds, so that the farmers do not miss the next critical planting window.

Now Send a Cow is asking supporters in the UK if they could commit to a personal challenge like a run, cycle or climb, to raise funds, or maybe even simply donating on behalf of their business or family.  One couple ran and cycled for 260 miles, raising £2000. “Whatever we can each do is greatly appreciated,” says Send a Cow.

 Can you help

Left-handed

Bobby went to the park one Sunday afternoon with his grandmother.  It was late summer, but still many flowers were in bloom. Everything was beautiful. His grandmother remarked: "Doesn't it look like an artist painted this scenery? Did you know God painted this just for you?" 

Only a few hours away from church, Bobby said: "Yes, God did it and he did it left- handed."   Confused, his grannie asked him why he thought that.  “Easy,” said Bobby, "we learned at Sunday School this morning that Jesus sits on God's right hand!"  

Maximilian Kolbe - Christian witness amidst 20th century suffering

Some people’s lives seem to epitomise the suffering of millions, but also to shine with a Christian response to it. One such person was Maximilian Kolbe, 1894 - 1941, a Franciscan priest of Poland, and publisher extraordinary.

Maximilian was born at Zdunska Wola, near Lodz, where his parents, devout Christians, worked in a cottage weaving industry. Like thousands of others at the time, the family and their village were ground into poverty by Russian exploitation. In 1910 Maximilian entered the Franciscan Order and studied at Rome. After his ordination in 1919, Maximilian returned to Poland, where he was sent to teach church history in a seminary. But a new factor had entered his life: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Living in post-war Poland was difficult enough, but with tuberculosis as well? Most people would have quietly withered away. Not Maximilian Kolbe. Instead, the tuberculosis gave Maximilian a sense of urgency - a sense of the transitory nature of life.  He knew his time was slipping away. 

Instead of teaching history, he determined to do something to help the Christians living in Poland now, in the tatters of Europe after the First World War. And so, he founded a magazine for Christian readers in Cracow, who badly needed effective apologetics to help them hold to their faith in a chaotic world. 

Soon, the obsolete printing presses (which were operated by Maximilian’s fellow priests and lay brothers) were working overtime - the magazine’s circulation had leapt to 45,000. Then the printing presses were moved to a town near Warsaw, Niepokalanow, where Maximilian now founded a Franciscan community which combined prayer with cheerfulness and poverty with modern technology: daily as well as weekly newspapers were soon produced. The community grew and grew, until by the late 1930s it numbered 762 friars.

Then in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. Maximilian sent most of his friars home, to protect them from what was to come. He turned the monastery into a refugee camp for 3,000 Poles and 1,500 Jews. And the presses continued: taking a patriotic, independent line, critical of the Third Reich.

Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo along with four friars. They were taken to Auschwitz in May 1941. Their names were exchanged for tattooed numbers; and they were sent to brutal forced labour. 

But Maximilian Kolbe continued his priestly ministry. He heard confessions in unlikely places, and smuggled in bread and wine for the Eucharist. His sympathy and compassion for those even more unfortunate than himself was outstanding.

Then came the final scene in his hard life. At the end of July, 1941, several men escaped from his bunker at the camp. The Gestapo, in revenge, came to select several more men from the same bunker who were to be starved to death. A man, Francis Gajowniczek, was chosen. As he cried in despair, Kolbe stepped forward. 

“I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” The officer in charge shrugged his shoulders - and obliged.

So Maximilian went to the death chamber of Cell 18, and set about preparing the others to die with dignity by prayers, psalms, and the example of Christ’s Passion. Two weeks later only four were left alive: Maximilian alone was fully conscious. He was injected with phenol and died on 14 August, aged 47.

He was beatified by Paul VI in 1971. In 1982 he was canonised by Pope John Paul II, formerly Archbishop of Cracow, the diocese which contains Auschwitz. Present at the ceremony that day was Francis Gajowniczek, the man whose life Maximilian Kolbe had saved.

Clare of Assisi - prayer and simplicity

In the year 1212 Clare, the 18-year-old daughter of a local Count, heard a young preacher called Francis. A few years earlier he had caused a sensation in the centre of the town where they both lived, Assisi in Italy, by stripping himself of his wealthy clothes and declaring that from now on he would live the life of a peasant. This, he said, was in obedience to the call of Christ, for whom the poor were ‘blessed’ and the rich were in peril of judgment.

Francis gathered a group of seven men prepared to embrace what he called ‘joyful poverty’ for Christ’s sake, but that day he was to enlist a female disciple. ‘You are a chosen soul from God’, he told Clare, when she expressed her eagerness to embrace the same strict rule as his male followers.

In due course, after a period in a Benedictine convent, Clare and her sister Agnes moved into the church of St Damiano, which Francis and his friends had restored, and gathered there a group of like-minded women. Eventually Francis made Clare the abbess of a religious Order, at first called the ‘Order of Poor Ladies’, eventually, and universally, to be known as the ‘Poor Clares’.  Unable to operate an itinerant ministry like the men, Clare’s sisters concentrated on a life of prayer and simplicity. In fact, their dedication to poverty was such that it affected the health of many of them.

Francis and Clare remained friends and colleagues over the next 14 years in this remarkable movement of renewal and mission. During the preceding century (as we can learn from Chaucer, among others) the religious Orders had in many cases substituted indulgence for discipline. Francis and Clare found this scandalous, and despite opposition from high places, set out to demonstrate that an effective Christian message required an appropriate Christian lifestyle. For them, poverty was not a burden but a joy - a release from the delusions of power and ambition. Their witness made an enormous impact on the poor people of Umbria and beyond, who saw an authenticity in their lives which spoke as eloquently as their words.

Clare helped to nurse Francis through his final illness, which lasted several years. She lived for 27 years after his death, like him suffering from the effects of long years of strict austerity. She died in 1253 and was canonised two years later. She is buried in the basilica of St Clare in Assisi, a few hundred yards from the basilica of St Francis. In life they proclaimed the same message of sacrificial love and service, and in their deaths they were not divided. Her special day was yesterday - 11th August.

On Going to Bed

As my head rests on my pillow
Let my soul rest in your mercy.
As my limbs relax on my mattress
Let my soul relax in your peace.
As my body finds warmth beneath the blankets,
Let my soul find warmth in your love.
As my mind is filled with dreams,
Let my soul be filled with visions of heaven.

A prayer of Johann Freylinghausen  (1670 – 1739) of the German Pietist movement.

Paul was thankful for others – brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow servants, ministry partners. In his correspondence Paul didn’t just leave it at generalised expressions of gratitude – he often took time to identify specific individuals for whom he was grateful and to let them know how much he appreciated their contribution to his life. Do we do that?  - Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Mary Sumner – founder of the Mothers’ Union 

The Mothers’ Union is now nearly 145 years old. It has accomplished a staggering amount in that time, and nowadays numbers more than four million members, doing good work in 83 countries. That is a far cry from the modest circle of prayer for mothers who cared about family life, which is how it all began with a rector’s wife, Mary Sumner. 

Mary was born in late 1828 in Swinton, near Manchester. When she was four, her family moved to Herefordshire. Mary’s father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker and historian. Her mother has been described as a woman of “faith, charm and sympathy” – qualities which Mary certainly inherited. Mrs Heywood also held informal ‘mothers’ meetings’ at her home, to encourage local women. Those meetings may well have inspired Mary’s later work.    

Mary was educated at home, spoke three foreign languages, and sang well. While in her late teens, on a visit to Rome she met George Sumner, a son of the Bishop of Winchester. It was a well-connected family: George’s uncle became Archbishop of Canterbury, and his second cousin was William Wilberforce. Mary and George married in July 1848, soon after his ordination. They moved to Old Alresford in 1851 and had three children: Margaret, Louise and George. Mary dedicated herself to raising her children and supporting her husband’s ministry by providing music and Bible classes. 

When in 1876 Mary’s eldest daughter Margaret, gave birth, Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood. Soon she decided to hold a meeting to which she invited the local women not only of her own class, but also all the village mothers. Her aim was to find out if women could be brought together to offer each other prayer and mutual support in their roles as wives and mothers. That meeting at Old Alresford Rectory was the inaugural meeting of the Mothers’ Union.   

For 11 years, the Mothers’ Union was limited to Old Alresford. Then in 1885 the Bishop of Newcastle invited Mary to address the women churchgoers of the Portsmouth Church Congress, some 20 miles away. Mary gave a passionate speech about the poor state of national morality, and the vital need for women to use their vocation as mothers to change the nation for the better. A number of the women present went back to their parishes to found mothers' meetings on Sumner's pattern. Soon, the Mothers’ Union spread to the dioceses of Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle. 

By 1892, there were already 60,000 members in 28 dioceses, and by 1900 there were 169,000 members. By the time Mary died in 1921, she had seen MU cross the seas and become an international organisation of prayer and good purpose.

Feel the tug

Have you ever wondered how you can be certain about who and what God really is? One Christian put it this way: “I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who was out flying a kite. The wind was brisk and large billowing clouds were blowing across the sky. The kite went up and up until it was entirely hidden by the clouds. Then a man came by and asked the little boy what he was doing, staring up at an empty sky. “I’m flying my kite,” he replied. 

The man replied: “What kite? How can you be sure it is still there? You can’t see a thing.”  

The little boy agreed that he could see nothing, “but every little while I feel a tug, so I know for sure that it is still up there and is connected to me!”

When it comes to God, you don’t need to take anyone else’s word for it. You can find Him for yourself by inviting Jesus Christ into your life. Then you too will know by the warm wonderful tug on your heartstrings that though you can’t see Him, He is up there, and that He lives in you. You are connected!

Don’t chase what isn’t there

‘…those who chase fantasies have no sense.’  Proverbs 12:11

Have you ever been attracted to computer gaming?  For many people it has become addictive; and they spend so much time in their fantasy world that their own avatar and those of their fellow players have come to seem more real to them than their own family and friends. 

You can get so drawn into this virtual world that you can resent the time you have to spend in the real world. Instead, you have come to prefer living in your fantasy world, where you always have the power and control. Problems come when a person spends so much time in their virtual world that they are too tired and distracted to do anything productive in their real world.  

Some people say that Christians live in a fantasy world, that our faith has no basis in reality. But faith in God is not a crutch - nor is it a fantasy.  Jesus was an historical person who lived and died - and rose again. Those who follow Him as Lord find that knowing Him, and having His Spirit within them, gives them the strength they need to live the right way in the real world, and to reach out to other real people with God’s love.   

Thursday 6th August - Feast of  The Transfiguration. 

TransfigurationThe story is told in Matthew (17:1-9), Mark (9:1-9) and Luke (9:28-36). 

It was a time when Jesus’ ministry was popular, when people were seeking Him out. 

But on this day, He made time to take Peter, James and John, His closest disciples, up a high mountain. In the fourth century, Cyrillic of Jerusalem identified it as Mount Tabor (and there is a great church up there today), but others believe it more likely to have been one of the three spurs of Mount Hermon, which rise to about 9,000 feet, and overlook Caesarea Philippi. 

High up on the mountain, Jesus was suddenly transfigured before His friends. His face began to shine as the sun, His garments became white and dazzling. Elijah and Moses, of all people, suddenly appeared, and talked with Him. A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples.

Peter was staggered, but, enthusiast that he was - immediately suggested building three tabernacles on that holy place, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But God’s ‘tabernacling’, God’s dwelling with mankind, does not any longer depend upon building a shrine. It depends on the presence of Jesus, instead. And so, a cloud covered them, and a Voice spoke out of the cloud, saying that Jesus was His beloved Son, whom the disciple should ‘hear’. God’s dwelling with mankind depends upon our listening to Jesus.

Then, just as suddenly, it is all over. What did it mean? Why Moses and Elijah? Well, these two men represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, or Old Testament. But now they are handing on the baton, if you like: for both the Law and the Prophets found their true and final fulfilment in Jesus, the Messiah.

Why on top of a mountain? In Exodus we read that Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the sacred covenant from Yahweh in the form of the Ten Commandments. Now Jesus goes up and is told about the ‘sealing’ of the New Covenant, or New Testament of God with man, which will be accomplished by His coming death in Jerusalem.

That day made a lifelong impact on the disciples. Peter mentions it in his second letter, 2 Peter 1:16-19, invariably the reading for this day.

The Eastern Churches have long held the Transfiguration as a feast as important as Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost. But it took a long time for the West to observe the Transfiguration. The feast starts appearing from the 11th and 12th centuries, and the Prayer Book included it among the calendar dates, but there was no liturgical provision for it until the 19th century.

HYMN:  The story behind … ABIDE WITH ME

One of the most famous hymns in the world came out of Brixham, near Torbay, Devon, in 1847.   

In those days it was a poor, obscure fishing village, and the vicar was the Rev Henry Francis Lyte. It was a discouraging place to be a pastor, but Henry felt that God wanted him there, and so he stayed, though it was lonely work, and he suffered constant ill health.

By the time he was 54, Henry had contracted tuberculosis and asthma, and he and his family knew he was dying. It would have been so easy for him to look back on his life and feel a complete failure.  What had he ever much accomplished? And yet – and yet – Henry knew that in life it is not worldly success that matters, but how much we respond to Jesus Christ, and how much we follow Him. 

In September of 1847 Henry was preparing to travel to the south of France, as was the custom for people with tuberculosis at that time. One day before he left, he read the story in the gospel of Luke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were met by Jesus on the day of His resurrection, and they invited Him to stay with them because it was getting late. “Abide with us”, they said “for it is towards evening.”   

“Abide with us - for it is toward evening.” These words struck a chord with Henry, who knew that it was getting ‘towards evening’ in his life. So, he sat down and wrote this hymn as a prayer to God – (the following are just some of the verses)

Abide with me

 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Shortly after Henry wrote that hymn, he preached his last sermon. He was so ill he practically crawled into the pulpit to do so. A few weeks later, in Nice, France, he died, and so of course he never knew that his hymn would go on to become greatly loved the world over. 

Sithney - the saint who preferred mad dogs to women

You know how some men find women’s interest in romance and clothes hard to cope with? Well, Sithney (or Sezni) should be the patron saint of all such men.  

According to a Breton folk legend, Sithney was a hermit of long ago, minding his own business, when one day God told him that he was going to make him the patron saint of girls. Sithney was horrified. He foresaw a future where thousands of young women were forever plaguing him to find them good husbands and fine clothes... the thought of it appalled him. So Sithney begged God for some other job, something more peaceful, than dealing with young women. “Very well,” said God.  “You can look after mad dogs, instead.”   

Sithney replied cheerfully: “I’d rather have mad dogs than women, any day.” And so it was. Since that time, young women have pestered other saints to bring them husbands and fine clothes, while sick and mad dogs have been taken to drink water from the well of St Sezni, patron of Sithney, near Helston in Cornwall.

Psalm 23 - a psalm for the pandemic

There are few psalms as personal and real as Psalm 23. It records David’s experience of God as his Shepherd going through dark times. In the midst of the effects of a global pandemic, this psalm speaks to the fears that can overwhelm us.

He Knows Me: ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’ Just as a good shepherd knows every sheep in his flock, so God know each one of us intimately.

He Provides for Me: He makes me lie down in green pastures…’ Just as the shepherd knows the needs of his sheep, so God will provide what we need in our lives and circumstances.

He Guides Me: ‘He guides me along the right paths…’ Just as the shepherd leads the sheep to the best pastures, so God provides the best for us, as we listen and follow Him.

He Protects Me: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley…’ Just as the sheep have no need to fear danger when following the shepherd, so we live knowing God’s presence and protection.

He Comforts Me: ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ As the shepherd’s rod defends the sheep, and the staff enables him to control the sheep, so God comforts us through His Word and discipline.

The final verses of the psalm (v5-6) offer the security of knowing that our lives are in His hands, even through death, as He leads us to the home we’ve been looking for all our lives.

Some years ago, a great actor was asked to recite Psalm 23, but asked one of the other guests to do the same. His remarkable rendition was followed by the other man, an older Christian speaking from the heart. Afterwards the actor said: ‘The difference between us is that I know the psalm, but he knows the shepherd.’

MU’s ‘Thank You Key Workers’ Appeal

 Mothers Union Thank You

The Mothers’ Union wants to help families of key workers by offering them a range of free day trips/experiences and short breaks. It is appealing to MU supporters to help make this possible.

As a spokeswoman for MU explains: “There has been an outpouring of compassion and care during the crisis from our hospital workers to our delivery drivers, carers to cleaners and our refuse collectors to bus drivers. But because of their personal sacrifices, quality family time has not always been possible. 

“Therefore, we are extending our existing Away from it all Programme (AFIA) to say a special ‘thank you’ to key workers in these unprecedented times.

“Any donation will help provide a range of day trips/experiences and short breaks for families of key workers, especially for those who have been kept apart or who are on low incomes - families who would generally be unable to have experiences like this.” 

Mothers Union donation to key workers family

Where is God book

Where is God in a Messed-Up World? By Roger Carswell, 10Publishing, £6.99

This book asks (and answers) questions that people are asking about God, life and suffering. Questions such as: ‘If God exists and really is a God of love, then why doesn't He stop the suffering and problems in our world?’

People often ask these questions in the wake of major tragedies. Glib answers don’t help.  Instead, Roger Carswell is realistic, admitting that there are things God reveals to us, and things He doesn't reveal.

But Carswell argues that the starting point is to find out who God is, and to figure out if He can be trusted – even if we don't have all the answers.

The author's own experience of suffering with depression, and the real–life stories that are included, make this a compassionate book. Carswell encourages us that our questioning need not be a barrier to entrusting ourselves to God.  He says: "God has not only been faithful to me, He has been overwhelmingly kind, incredibly merciful, consistently good and unbelievably patient."

William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano & Thomas Clarkson

During the 18th century many people in England were involved in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. The CofE remembers especially William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson - three very different but all tireless campaigners against the evil practice.

Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was an Anglican clergyman and one of the most prominent of the anti-slavery campaigners. In 1787 he helped form the first Abolitionist Committee, and his energy and hatred of injustice made him a ‘moral steam-engine’. He travelled hundreds of miles, gathering evidence from people caught up in the slave trade, from ship captains to doctors.

Olaudah Equianon (1745 – 1797) had been kidnapped in Nigeria, sold into slavery and sent to the West Indies. When he finally escaped, he made his way to London and became one of the most prominent black campaigners. His brutal autobiography of 1789 ran to nine reprints, and was translated into many languages, bringing home to people the horrors of the slave trade.

William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833), of course, became the main figurehead in Parliament.  He came from a wealthy family in Kingston-upon-Hull and represented the town in Parliament. He was recruited by Thomas Clarkson, who saw the need for a brilliant advocate within Parliament. Wilberforce was an inspired choice: not only wealthy and well-connected, but a gifted orator with a social conscience, especially after his conversion in 1785. He made his first speech in Parliament against slavery in 1789, but it was not until 1807, after a debate that raged for many years, that the Abolition Act was finally passed.

The Talking Centipede  

A man decided to get an unusual pet.  So he went to the pet shop and after some discussion, finally bought a talking centipede, (100-legged bug), which came in a little white box to use for his house.  The man took the box home, put it carefully on the table, and decided he would start off by taking his new pet to church with him. So next morning he asked the centipede in the box,   "Would you like to go to church with me today? We will have a good time."
But there was no answer from his new pet. This bothered the man, but he waited a few minutes and then asked again,   "How about going to church with me?” But again, there was no answer from his new friend and pet. So he waited a few minutes more, and decided to invite the centipede one last time.  This time he put his face up against the centipede's house and shouted, "Hey, in there! Would you like to go to church with me – or not?”
This time, a little voice came out of the box:  "I heard you the first time!  I'm putting my shoes on!"

Talking better with your hands

Do you move your arms about when you speak? Probably you do – at least sometimes. Gesturing while we speak has been common behaviour for thousands of years, but it has been less clear as to WHY we do it. 

Now a study by scientists at the University of Connecticut has found that there are changes in the size and shape of our chests when we gesture. These changes affect our speech in both tone and volume. 

Because of the way our bodies are made, our hand movements influence our torso and throat muscles and our gestures are tightly tied to amplitude. So, that means that, rather than just using your chest muscles to produce air flow for speech, moving your arms about as well can add acoustic emphasis and improve your overall communication. 

When tourists get lost

Have you ever got into trouble while abroad? The true story is told of a group of tourists who went to Israel some years ago and arrived in Jerusalem very eager to see the sites of the old city.

Four members of the group were so engrossed in taking pictures of each other by the Wailing Wall that they ignored the summons from the tour group leader to go back to the bus. A little while later, they realised that they were all on their own in Jerusalem. That’s when their problems started. 

The four tourists decided to head back to their hotel. But no one could remember the exact name of the hotel. So, they hailed a taxi, and asked it to drive around Jerusalem looking for the hotel. An hour or so later, the driver gave up and demanded payment.

That’s when they discovered that they did not have enough money to pay the driver.

So the driver took them to the police, who demanded some identification. That’s when the four tourists remembered that they had left their passports in the hotel safe...  

Some hours later, the tour guide tracked down the missing tourists. They greeted her with tears of relief as she provided the police with their passports, paid their debt, and prepared to lead them safely back to their hotel. The police gave some parting advice to the tourists: “From now on, you stay close to your friend!”

Stay close to your friend. It’s good advice for all of us. If your life is going in the wrong direction, if you have run up debts of wrong-doing, if you feel lost and alone, you need to take action. You need to stop going on like this. Turn around and go in another direction. The Bible calls this action of ‘stopping and turning around’ repentance. 

Repentance is when you stop one direction, and you turn to God. For the good news is that there is a heavenly tour guide on whom we can all call. Only God can save us from the mess we are in. He sent us His Son to forgive us our sins, to provide us with an identity, and, if we walk with Him, lead us safely through life.  As the Bible says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, proving a nap is good for you

Do you tend to avoid conflict? When you feel stressed, do you crave sleep? Then the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus would be good patron saints for you. But - you may find it hard to copy their successful method of avoiding trouble!

Legend has it that The Seven Sleepers were third century Christians who lived in Ephesus during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius. When things got very bad, the Seven Sleepers decided to ‘go to ground’. Literally. They found a cave on the outskirts of the city and walled themselves in. The story goes that then God simply put them to sleep.

200 years later they woke up and peeped out of the cave again. Things had changed:  Ephesus had converted to Christianity. Unfortunately, the Seven Sleepers did not get much time to enjoy the new freedoms, because within a short time they all died – of extreme old age. 

The story was popularised in the 6th century by Gregory of Tours and Jacob of Sarugh, who venerated the Seven Sleepers as saints. But it was challenged by Baronius and many scholars since. It is sometimes called a Christianised pagan or Jewish legend akin to Rip Van Winkle. 

A possible moral for anyone today is that when you find yourself in a storm of conflict, you don’t have to fight all the battles yourself. You can indeed seek refuge in God. He may not put you to sleep for 200 years, but He will be a safe hiding place for your soul.

Psalm 40 – desperation to security

‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1).

‘Dear God, I pray for patience, and I want it now!’ Most of us can identify with this prayer, especially as we face an uncertain future. Psalm 40:1-3 describes how David waited patiently on God (lit: ‘I waited, waited for the Lord.’). Do we also intensively wait on God?

David speaks of falling into a deep, dark well and sinking deep into the sludge: ‘a slimy pit of mud and mire’. This expresses his desperate helplessness that threatened to take his life. We don’t know what David was going through, but in our current situation we can easily identify with him.

David cried out to God, who answered his prayer: ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, he set my feet on a rock’. There is a world of difference between quicksand and rock, as God lifts us from desperation to security. Waiting on God is not inactivity, but it means engaging in service to God and others, as we discern His will and accept His wisdom and timing.

In response, David offers praise to God: ‘He put a new song in my mouth. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.’ His song is an expression of gratitude and trust in God, who can deliver us from every sort of pit and mire. People of praise never take their life for granted and they are credible witnesses to others, with a personal story of faith to tell.

‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud.’ Whatever our current circumstances, we can confidently turn to God alone for help, as our loving heavenly Father.

St Christopher, patron saint of motorists

The legend goes that St Christopher was a Canaanite who lived in the 3rd century.  He was a giant of a man, of fearsome appearance.  At first, he decided to serve the devil, but when he discovered that the devil was afraid of Christ and His Cross, Christopher decided to serve Christ instead. A nearby hermit instructed Christopher in the Christian faith and assigned to him a place near a river: Christopher’s job was to help travellers cross it safely. 

All went well, and Christopher helped lots of people on their way until one day a child came along and asked to be carried across. Christopher put him on his back and set off, but was soon staggering under the astonishing weight of this child. The child then told him that He was in fact Jesus Christ, and that He carried the weight of the whole world. The Christ-child then told Christopher to plant his staff in the ground: the next day it bore flowers and dates – confirmation that the child was indeed who He claimed to be. 

After some time more of helping travellers cross the river, Christopher went to the city of Lycia, where he preached the gospel with such success that the Roman emperor (Decius?) had him arrested and imprisoned – especially when Christopher refused to sacrifice to the gods. Two women sent into his cell to seduce him came out converted Christians instead. So, Christopher was beaten, shot with arrows and finally beheaded.

Christopher has been well-loved of the English down the centuries. Many wall-paintings of him have been placed on the north wall of churches, opposite the porch, so that he would be seen by all who entered. There was good reason for this:  as patron saint of travellers, it was believed that anyone who saw an image of St Christopher would not die that day. As the ancient saying goes: ‘Behold St Christopher and go thy way in safety’.

A kind of daily insurance policy against death - this was so good that in due course St Christopher became the patron saint of motorists. There is even a church in the Javel area of Paris where Citroen cars are made, that is dedicated to St Christopher. In modern times, with the increase in air and motorway travel, Christopher has remained popular.

When in 1969 the Holy See reduced his feast day, there was a sharp protest in several countries, led in Italy by a number of popular film stars. If you ever travel in a taxi on the Continent, look out for a little St Christopher hanging from the rear-view mirror beside the driver. Now you know why it is there!

HYMN:  The story behind … JUST AS I AM

The hymn ‘Just As I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world. It has been sung by tens of millions of Christians at Billy Graham Crusades the world over, just for starters! Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today. Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.

Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789. She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse. All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression. A minister, Dr Caesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her. Instead of sympathising, he asked her an unexpected question: did she have peace with God? Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.

But after he left, his question haunted her. Did she have peace with God?  She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things. So, she invited Dr Malan to return. She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first. 

Dr Malan again said the unexpected: “Come just as you are.” The words were a revelation to Charlotte. She had assumed that she would have to put her life in order before she could hope to be accepted by God. Instead, she realised that Jesus wanted her just as she was - and He would take care of the sin. Charlotte became a Christian that day.

14 years later, in 1836, Charlotte wrote some verses that summed up how it had been between her and Jesus that day.  They ran:

 Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids’t me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Charlotte could not have dreamed that 150 years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel presented at many great Billy Graham crusades, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes - to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’

Eternity in the human heart

‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

The 60s hit ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds is based on verses in this chapter: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ The different seasons of life are not random, for God is in control and His timing is perfect: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’

The verse goes on to say that God ‘has also set eternity in the human heart.’ This means that we all have an in-built sense that there’s more to life than what we can see, as we search for meaning in life. However, we can fill our lives with other things: career, pleasure, shopping and relationships. While good in themselves, these things can never ultimately satisfy. It is only a relationship with God through Jesus that truly satisfies. How does this challenge us?

Firstly, we are to live for God in all that we do, knowing that it all counts for eternity. This includes helping others find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for eternity.

Secondly, we accept that there is lots in the current ‘season’ where it’s difficult to know what God is doing: ‘no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ However, we do know that everything has consequences for eternity.

Finally, how can we be more aware of eternity every day? Spending time with God in worship and prayer will bring us the true pleasure that belongs to eternity.

‘You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’ (St Augustine).

Mary Magdalene?

Fake news is not new. Perhaps one old example is the assertion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Back in the 6th Century, Pope Gregory is said to have confused her with two other women in the Bible. Medieval Bible scholars also attempted to name an unidentified sinful woman who had washed and anointed the feet of Jesus. As Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the next chapter, they regarded her as the same person!  After this, many classical artists painted Mary in various states of undress, perpetuating a falsehood.

So what do we really know about Mary? The Gospels tell us that she came from Magdala, a town in Galilee, and Jesus healed her by casting out seven evil spirits. After this she followed Jesus, with other women, on His ministry providing resources. Later, Mary watched Jesus die on the cross, and having cared for His needs while He was alive, wanted to care for Him after His death.

It was when Mary went to anoint the body of Jesus at the tomb that the risen Jesus appeared to her. He told Mary to go to His disciples and tell them about His return to Heaven. She was obedient and became the first emissary of the resurrection. In those days, the witness of a woman was worthless. Despite ridicule, Mary had the courage to speak about Jesus in a place of great disbelief. We have to ask ourselves, do we have the same courage as Mary? How prepared are we to stand our ground to share Jesus with others in the face of those who mock and scoff at us?

Although we usually associate Mary with the Easter story, this month on 22nd July, the Church celebrates her Feast Day. In this snapshot of Mary’s life we know she had experienced great distress and suffering. After Jesus healed her, Mary expressed her gratitude by being utterly committed and devoted to Him. 

Jesus can give everyone a new start; a new purpose and direction in life. Like Mary we can thank Him for blessing us, loving us and forgiving us and moving into practical forms of service. Only Jesus can transform our lives so that we can glorify God in all that we do.

The problem with a good story – and hers is as good as it gets – is that people can’t leave it alone. Down the centuries she has been John the Apostle’s fiancée until he left her to follow Christ. She has gone with Jesus’ mother and the same John to live in Ephesus and died there. In art and in literature she has become an alluring, sexual figure, disapproved of by the mother of Jesus. There is no historical evidence whatsoever for any of this. In fact, the Gospels suggest the two Marys were close in their shared devotion to Jesus.

Her popularity is shown in the fact that 187 ancient churches in Britain are dedicated to her, and a college at both Oxford and Cambridge. Whatever the details of her story, we cherish it because it shows that having a ‘past’ is no reason not to have a future.

Keep your distance!

I never thought the comment, "I wouldn't touch you with a six-foot pole" would become national policy, but here we are!

Do you have a sister? Is she ‘good news’ in your life? Macrina the Younger (c. 327 -79) should be the patron saint of all ‘sisters’ whose generosity helps their siblings to succeed.

Macrina the Younger was the eldest of 10 children. Their father was Basil the Elder, a leader in the church in 4th century Cappadocia. When Macrina’s fiancé died when she was 12, she decided not to marry, but instead to stay home and help educate her nine brothers and sisters.  Because of her self-sacrifice, they all learned to read the Bible and to have a deep faith in God.

Macrina’s life was not in vain: because of her example, two of her brothers, Gregory and Basil, entered the priesthood. They went on to become famous: Gregory of Nyssa became a much-loved bishop and Basil the Great became a great theologian. Along with another priest, Gregory of Nazianzus, they became known as The Cappadocian Fathers, and played a major role in protecting the 4th century church from heresy. Yet they would never have even learned to read without Macrina.

When in 379 Macrina fell ill, her brother Gregory rushed to her side. He found her lying on two planks on the floor of a small hut. Her poverty was absolute and her preparations for death complete.  She prayed: ‘Thou hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning of true life...May my soul be received into the hands...’ she died at the time of Vespers and was buried amid widespread grief and lamentation.

I encourage you to accept the, maybe rare, occasions when there is not so much to deal with. If you have days, or parts of days, without Zooms, or pre-recording, or scheduled phone calls / visits / preparation – accept the space, and don’t rush to fill it with outstanding emails or the next risk assessment or, or, or …  

It's OK to stop a while. In fact, we need to stop a while. And it’s OK if you don’t think any big thoughts in that time. Of course, there are big things to deal with, but if you are able to let them go for a while that’s probably a good thing. They'll still be there when you come back to them – and you might deal with them better because you’ve returned to them a little refreshed. 

Accepting the need to pace ourselves individually, will help us do that together as communities.  

Don't rush to pick up all the things that were paused when lockdown happened. Don’t assume you have to carry on everything that you took up because we were in lockdown - It’s OK that you’re not doing everything all at once: do less, be thoughtful about what is done – and if you have the grace of space and time, be thankful. 

“Do not strive … consider the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin … but seek first the Kingdom of God, and your heavenly Father will add all the rest” Luke 12 

Bishop Libby

The Lockdown Lifts

There's life in the town!
No longer 'locked down'!
The people stroll out in the sun
The majestic trees
Sway in the light breeze
Like they wanted to join in the fun!

 

Like light after dark!
We can walk in the park!
Buy our tea, and sit out on the grass!
We can chat to our friends
As our loneliness ends
And we smile at the strangers we pass!

 

Yes there are still queues
Which cease to amuse
But things are no longer so black!
As they sing in that song -
You miss what is gone,
But it's great when at last it comes back!

By Nigel Beeton

Chinese government removes 250 crosses from churches

Chinese authorities removed 250 more church crosses earlier this year, according to Bitter Winter, an organisation which monitors persecution of Christians.

The crosses were removed from ‘Three-Self’ churches in Anhui province. The action was part of an on-going and wider campaign aimed at deleting Christian images and replacing them with Communist ones.

One congregation of 100 Christians defended their cross at the historic Gulou Church in Fuyang city. But the next day government officials returned, and it was taken away. 

An elder from a Three-Self church in Hanshan county said that to know that crosses were being taken down on many churches “makes us very sad because the cross [is] the primary symbol of our faith. But we don’t dare to disobey central government orders: little fish don’t eat big fish.”

 Learn more at

Covid-19 C of E update (14 July)

Still love your neighbours?

One side-effect of lockdown has been seeing more of our neighbours – which of course can be very nice indeed. But if those neighbours constantly play loud music or hold smoky barbecues, it can be tiresome. And just wait until they invest the latest craze:  a big bubbling hot tub for their garden.

The craze seems to have started when we realised that summer holidays were not happening this year.  Sales of garden Jacuzzis went up 490 per cent on eBay, and at Argos almost every style was sold out. On Amazon, hot tubs feature on the ‘most wished for’ list. 

But now social media is buzzing with complaints about neighbours who flout lockdown advice with ‘hot-tub parties’, and neighbours who are inconsiderate when emptying their hot tub – sending a flood of water over into your garden.

St Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick (saint day - 14 July)

Sometimes those who suffer are best at helping others in a similar situation. Discharged from the Venetian army with an incurable leg wound, St Camillus (1550 – 1614) founded a religious order called the Ministers of the Sick (the Camellians). Both in their Holy Ghost Hospital in Rome, and by travelling to plague-stricken parts of the world, the Camellians dedicated their lives to caring for the sick. Camillus is the patron of the sick and of nurses.

Talking better with your hands

Do you move your arms about when you speak? Probably you do – at least sometimes. Gesturing while we speak has been common behaviour for thousands of years, but it has been less clear as to WHY we do it. 

Now a study by scientists at the University of Connecticut has found that there are changes in the size and shape of our chests when we gesture. These changes affect our speech in both tone and volume. 

Because of the way our bodies are made, our hand movements influence our torso and throat muscles and our gestures are tightly tied to amplitude. So, that means that, rather than just using your chest muscles to produce air flow for speech, moving your arms about as well can add acoustic emphasis and improve your overall communication. 

What is lurking in your garden?

Is there something alien in your garden which is beginning to worry you? Something that is growing too fast, spreading too fast, for you to keep up with?

Gardeners across the country are being asked by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and the University of Coventry to find – and report – the next Japanese knotweed before it ‘jumps the garden fence’ and causes havoc.

Japanese knotweedJapanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam both began innocently, as pretty ornamental garden plants. Then they escaped and have since marched across the UK like something out of War of the Worlds, causing immense damage to homes and waterways.

So now the question is: can you help a citizen science project to identify the next plant which could become a similar menace?  The project is called Plant Alert. It offers you an easy way to report any ornamental plants in your garden that you suspect are becoming aggressive.

Scientists say to look out for:  vigorous growth, prolific self-seeding, longer flowering periods. Plants which are logged on the Plant Alert app will be studied by botanists, and potentially restricted from sale.

Kevin Walker, head of science at BSBI, says: “Bitter experience has shown that species that are invasive in gardens are also the ones that are likely to ‘jump the fence’ and cause problems in the wild.”

THE WAY I SEE IT:  What have you missed most during lockdown?

It's a good question, because it is about the things that make us tick. When I examined my list, I found obvious things - going to church, live sport on TV, meeting up with friends for a coffee or a beer.

But as I thought more deeply about it, I realised that what I missed most was TOUCH. For nearly four months I have not touched another human being!

That is an astonishing deprivation. When a baby is born, its first experiences are all of touch. The strong hands of the midwife, mother’s excited and loving embrace, tiny hands reaching out to feel mummy’s face.  We touch our way into life.

And then it goes on. Holding hands with friends, being hugged by grandma, your first serious kiss, and perhaps a last tearful one at the end of a much-loved life.

We greet each other with a holy kiss, the Bible says. And why not?

Sight, smell, hearing and touch. Four senses. And I think lockdown has taught me that the greatest of these is touch!

Canon David Winter

Useful Links (websites) during Covid -19.:

Travel advice

Self development

Check your health with HNS

Children

Book of remembrance

Other interesting sites:
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Debts and lockdown

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered round him (King David), and he became their commander…  1 Samuel 22:2

Over the lockdown period there has been a honeymoon for people in debt, when some official action has been put on hold. Honeymoon is perhaps not the best word; holiday may be better.

At the beginning of the coronavirus emergency, the Government introduced regulations to temporarily prevent court officials such as bailiffs seizing goods in people’s homes or on highways (where your car may be).

There has also been a suspension of enforcement of house possession orders. In addition, many banks have agreed mortgage repayment holidays, or agreed overdrafts at lower interest rates. Some taxes such as VAT or other taxes will not be collected during the emergency. Many court hearings on are hold.

It all sounds too good to be true. This has been a unique experience offering a breathing space to people in debt, but what happens when the debt holiday ends? Many people must be very concerned at the reduction in income at the moment, and dread what will happen when things begin to get back to normal and the little brown envelopes start coming through the letterbox. So, what can you do? You can start preparing now.

Put some money aside every week if you can.

Set a budget and stick to it.

Talk to the people you owe money to. Make a note of what was said and confirm it by email or post.

Get advice from a debt counsellor or free advice agency.

Do not be afraid to ask for help or more time.

Do not do nothing!

Look out for each other. If you know of someone in trouble, suggest they get help.

As always this is a light-hearted comment on a complex subject. Always get proper professional advice.

Sick of preaching

Our new vicar had just been prescribed bifocals. The reading portion of the glasses improved his vision considerably, but the top portion of the glasses didn't work so well. In fact, he was experiencing dizziness every time he looked through them. He tried to explain this to the congregation on Sunday: "I hope you will excuse my continually removing my glasses. You see, when I look down, I can see fine, but when I look at you all, it makes me feel sick."

Did you know?

Handle wrote the "Messiah" in just over three weeks because he was in debt and needed some money.

Thomas More, Reformation martyr

These days, lawyers and politicians are held in the lowest esteem by the public, along with tabloid journalists and estate agents. St Thomas More was both a lawyer and politician, who is today much admired for holding steadfastly to his faith-based principles. He lived in dangerous times, when anyone, even queens, who displeased King Henry VIII could find themselves in a condemned cell in The Tower of London.

Sir Thomas More held the office of Lord High Chancellor and at one time was the king’s most trusted adviser. But when King Henry took personal control of the Church in England in order to divorce his first wife, More courageously opposed him. 

Thomas More was a social philosopher and the author of ‘Utopia’. This book described an imaginary republic governed by an educated elite who employed reason rather than self-interest for the general good of everyone. He was himself one of the pre-eminent scholars of his age.

As a Christian theologian he supported orthodox doctrine, vigorously opposed heresy and argued strongly against the new Protestant ideas taking hold in Europe. Although holding the highest political and legal office he was far from being a pragmatic politician and opportunist lawyer. In every matter he was a man who held firmly to what he believed was right in God’s eyes.

When Thomas More fell from favour with the king, as a result of his unflinching views, he was falsely accused of taking bribes. When this charge failed, his enemies accused him of supporting a celebrated seer of the times who was strongly critical of the king. This too failed. He was then required to swear to the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging Henry’s position as head of the Church of England. This he could not do in conscience.

He was put on trial and condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered for his treason, a punishment later changed to beheading. He died in 1535 and on the scaffold his final words were ‘I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.’ He has been officially declared a martyr saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Women in majority of deacons ordained last year, report shows

Women made up the majority of deacons ordained in the Church of England last year for the first time, according to the latest statistics.

A total of 570 deacons were ordained in 2019, with women making up just over a half, or 51% of the new intake.

Deacons are the first of three orders of ordained ministry.  Whilst all clergy continue as deacons throughout, the majority are also ordained as priests at the end of their first year of ministry.

The statistics show that women made up around 32% of the 20,000 active clergy last year, with a growing proportion of senior posts such as Bishops, Archdeacons and

Cathedral Deans, occupied by women, from 25% in 2018 to 27% last year.

Women were in the majority starting training for ordained ministry for the third year running, with equal numbers of men and women sponsored to train for ‘incumbent’ posts – such as Rector or Vicar - over the last two years. However currently only 25% of incumbent posts are occupied by women.

The number of stipendiary, or paid clergy, remained stable, at 7,700, between 2018 and 2019, following a period of decline. There were 7,830 Readers or licensed lay ministers compared to just under 10,000 in 2010. Readers and licensed lay ministers are not ordained but can lead worship and preach in churches, among other roles.  

The statistics show the number of stipendiary clergy from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds stood at 3.8%, while 7.8% of people entering training for ordained ministry last year were from a BAME background.

Out of a total of 550 people beginning training for ordained ministry last year, nearly a quarter, or 24%, were under 32 years old and more than two fifths, 44%, were aged under 40.

The Rt Revd Chris Goldsmith, Director of Ministry for the Church of England, said: “In recent years there has been an increasing diversity among our clergy, but we will not be content until those in public ministry truly reflect the whole church and the communities which they serve.”

Sadiq Khan thanks the churches

Sadiq Khan has praised church leaders for providing hope and leadership throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking recently to Premier radio, the Mayor of London praised the support he has received from faith leaders in the lockdown. 

He spoke of “the massive contribution… (that) the leadership of the Christian community has provided. I've spent some time talking to the Archbishop, but also Bishop of London as well as Cardinal Nichols and a number of other faith leaders in the Christian community.”

Music in our churches and cathedrals

The Church of England, together with the Royal School of Church Music, has encouraged the Government to be proactive in ensuring music-making can resume in church buildings, once it is safe to do so. 

Responding to the latest guidance, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said:We are encouraging the Government to be alert to the consequences of our choirs’ continued silence - and to take a proactive approach to allowing singing to return to our churches and cathedrals as soon as it is possible to do so safely.

“We look forward to a time where worship and music can once again be combined, in all their different expressions, as they have for centuries, turning our hearts to God.”

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Church of England partnered with the RSCM to provide free hymns for parishes for use in streamed worship, which have been downloaded more than 45,000 times.

Reopening of church buildings for public worship

Following the recent Government announcement that church buildings were able to reopen for public worship from 4th July, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said that the months since lockdown began “have been an extraordinary time - the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years.”

We will not be returning to normality overnight - this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.

"I would particularly like to thank clergy and lay leaders for all they have done during the time our buildings have been closed.”

Bishop Sarah warned that there will still be restrictions, “and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus… The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the whole country, especially for those who have been ill, who have suffered financial hardship, the loss of livelihoods and indeed, for many, those they love. We know that is not over and the Church has a task ahead to bring consolation and hope.

“Churches and cathedrals have risen to the recent challenges, finding new ways of meeting for worship, of serving our neighbours, and of reaching new people with the love of God. The challenge before us now is to take the next steps carefully and safely, without forgetting all that we’ve discovered about God and ourselves on the way.”

Name above all Names

Name above all Names, what’s in a name?
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End,
Apostle and High Priest, the sinners Friend.

Walking on water, calming the storm,
God incarnate calling us home
Creator, the I Am, nailed to a tree
Lion of Judah dying for me.

Risen, the Victor, conquering King
Coming with clouds redemption to bring
To gather His bride for heaven above
To reign with the Lamb whose name is Love.

By Megan Carter

Feast of SS Peter & Paul, the two most famous apostles  They are remembered this month, for they share a feast day.

 St Paul, apostle to the Gentiles

Like Peter, Paul (d. c. 65) also started life with another name: Saul. This great apostle to the Gentiles was a Jew born in Tarsus and brought up by Gamaliel as a Pharisee.  Keen was he to defend the god of his fathers that he became a persecutor of Christianity, and even took part in the stoning of Stephen. He hunted Christians down and imprisoned them, and it was while on his way to persecute more Christians in Damascus that he was suddenly given his vision of Christ.   

It was the decisive moment of Paul’s life – Paul suddenly realised that Jesus was truly the Messiah, and the Son of God, and that He was calling Paul to bring the Christian faith to the Gentiles. Paul was then healed of his temporary blindness, baptised, and retired to Arabia for about three years of prayer and solitude, before returning to Damascus.

From then on Paul seems to have lived a life full of hazard and hardship. He made many Jewish enemies, who stoned him, and wanted to kill him. Nevertheless, Paul made three great missionary journeys, first to Cyprus, then to Asia Minor and eastern Greece, and lastly to Ephesus, where he wrote 1 Corinthians, then to Macedonia and Achaia, where he wrote Romans, before returning to Jerusalem. 

After stonings, beatings and imprisonment in Jerusalem he was sent to Rome for trial as a Roman citizen. On the way he was shipwrecked at Malta; when he finally reached Rome he was put under house-arrest for two years, during which time he wrote the four ‘captivity’ epistles. Later Paul may have revisited Ephesus and even have reached Spain.  Tradition tells he was eventually martyred at Rome during the persecution of Nero, being beheaded (as a Roman citizen) at Tre Fontane and buried where the basilica of St Paul ‘outside the walls’ now stands. 

The belief that Peter and Paul died on the same day was caused by their sharing the same feast day.

Paul was not only a tireless missionary, but a great thinker. His epistles played a major part in the later development of Christian theology. Paul’s key ideas include that Redemption is only through faith in Christ, who abrogated the old Law and began the era of the Spirit; that Christ is not just the Messiah, but the eternal, pre-existent Son of God, exalted after the Resurrection to God’s right-hand; that the Church is the (mystical) body of Christ; that the believers live in Christ and will eventually be transformed by the final resurrection. 

It is difficult to overemphasise the influence of Paul on Christian thought and history:  he had a major effect on Aug