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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:
Star Viewing
Listen to radio stations around the world
BBC Bitesize
We get a deal
Grow Veg
Radio Garden
World Quizzing
Knitting Reference Library

Useful websites

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 Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others. In art, Paul is depicted as small in stature, bald and bandy-legged, with a long face, long nose and eyebrows meeting over deep-set eyes. His usual emblems are a sword and a book.  In England he was never as popular as St Peter, and ancient English churches dedicated to him alone number only 43. 

The history of the relics of Peter and Paul is not very clear. Tradition says that Peter was buried at the Vatican and Paul on the Ostian Way under his basilica. Certainly, both apostles were venerated from very early times both in the Liturgy and in private prayers, as testified by Greek and Latin graffiti in the catacombs of the early 3rd century.

St Peter, ‘the Rock’

St Peter (d. c. 64AD), originally called Simon, was a married fisherman from Bethsaida, near the Sea of Galilee. He met Jesus through his brother, Andrew. Jesus gave him the name of Cephas (Peter) which means rock. Peter is always named first in the list of apostles. He was one of the three apostles who were privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and the Agony in the Garden. 

When Peter made his famous confession of faith, that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus recognised it as being the result of a revelation from the Father. He in turn told Peter that he would be the rock on which His Church would be built, that the ‘gates of hell’ would never prevail against it. Peter and the apostles would have the power of ‘binding and loosing’, but Peter would be personally given ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’.  Jesus also forewarned Peter of his betrayal and subsequent strengthening of the other apostles.  After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter before the other apostles, and later entrusted him with the mission to feed both the lambs and the sheep of Christ’s flock.

Peter played a big part in the early Church, and he is mentioned many times in the Book of Acts, where in the early chapters he organised the choice of Judas’ successor, preached with stirring authority at Pentecost; and was the very first apostle to work a miracle. Peter went on to defend the apostles’ right to teach at the Sanhedrin, and to condemn Ananias and Sapphira. It was Peter who first realised that Christianity was also for the Gentiles, after his meeting with Cornelius. Later he took a prominent part in the council at Jerusalem and went on to clash with St Paul at Antioch for hesitating about eating with Gentiles.

Early tradition links Peter with an apostolate and martyrdom at Rome. The New Testament does not tell us either way, but Peter being in Rome would make sense, especially as Peter’s first epistle refers to ‘Babylon’, which was usually identified with Rome. Peter’s presence in Rome is mentioned by early church fathers such as Clement of Rome and Irenaeus. Tradition also tells us that Peter suffered under Nero and was crucified head-downwards. There is no conclusive proof either way that St Peter’s relics are at the Vatican, but it is significant that Rome is the only city that ever claimed to be Peter’s place of death.

St Peter was a major influence on Mark when writing his gospel, and the First Epistle of Peter was very probably his. (Many scholars believe that the Second Epistle was written at a later date.)

From very early times Peter was invoked by Christians as a universal saint. He was the heavenly door-keeper, the patron of the Church and the papacy, a saint both powerful and accessible.

In England there were important dedications to Peter from early times: monasteries such as Canterbury, Glastonbury, Malmesbury, Peterborough, Lindisfarne, Whitby, Wearmouth, and especially Westminster. Cathedrals were named after him, too: York, Lichfield, Worcester and Selsey. In all, it has been calculated that 1,129 pre-Reformation churches were dedicated to St Peter, and another 283 to SS Peter and Paul together. 

Images of Peter are innumerable, but his portraiture remains curiously the same: a man with a square face, a bald or tonsured head, and a short square, curly beard. Not surprisingly, his chief emblem is a set of keys, sometimes along with a ship or fish.

Who do you tell your problems to?

One day a chaplain found a woman crying at the back of the hospital chapel.   He suggested they pray together about her problems, but she refused.  “It won’t do any good,” she said hopelessly. “God won’t hear me.”   

The chaplain thought a moment.  “Okay, then, let’s curse God together, shall we?”

The woman was shocked.  “Certainly not,” she said. “He’ll punish me.”

The chaplain replied: “So you believe that God will hear you if you curse him, but not if you pray to him?”

The Bible is full of verses encouraging us to come to God in prayer.  “Call upon me and I will answer you,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 33.3) .  The key to having your prayers answered is NOT to go to God for a miracle now and then, but for a relationship all the time.  Jesus said that if we come to him, and stick around, then his Father will hear us. 

As for right now?  “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus urged.  That promise can be yours today.   The Psalmist said:  ‘I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me.’  (Psalm 3:4)  He will hear you, too.

In the Bishop Libby covid update issued today (26 June) she says after the “Government announced that church buildings will be able to reopen for public worship from Saturday, 4 July, providing physical distancing remains in place. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England Recovery Group, said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement … that we will soon be able to begin to meet and worship together in our church buildings again … 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.” Detailed advice for parishes will be updated, as necessary, in the coming days to reflect the detail of the Government guidance once published. We are not expecting this government guidance until next week. Weddings will be able to resume, along with other services.

As we begin to reopen our church-buildings, we are aware that during the period of lockdown many parishes have begun to consider prayerfully the place of their buildings for the future of Christian mission and ministry in their communities. For some, there has been a wrestling with very difficult and challenging questions about how buildings best serve the opportunities and challenges in particular places moving forward. The bishop, archdeacons and area deans, together with the DM&M team, positively welcome these discussions - and are on-hand to listen and help frame those conversations."     Covid update

Early Morning

In the quiet of early morning
As a new day is unfurled,
It’s a privilege to sit and gaze
At the beauty of God’s world.

 

The golden rays of sunshine
The grandeur of the trees,
The nodding of the flowers
In the gentle morning breeze.

 

A carefully woven tapestry
With joy in every strand,
A vision of sheer loveliness
Created by a master hand.

Colin Hammacott  

 

More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength and performance…. The false sense of security comes from deifying our achievement and expecting it to keep us safe from the troubles of life in a way that only God can…  Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God…. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. - Timothy Keller

Actual complaints received by a resort chain (before lockdown!)

On my holiday to India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food.

We booked an excursion to a water park, but no one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.  

The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room. 

No one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared. 

It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.  

We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.

I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.

During the war, the rose window in the great Rheims Cathedral was shattered into bits by an indirect hit. The parishioners lovingly got down onto their hands and knees to gather together all the tiny pieces of broken glass. When the war was over, they hired the most skilled workmen available to rebuild it, piece by piece, from the gathered fragments. Today’s rose window in Rheims is more beautiful than it ever was. So God can take our broken lives and reshape them as we pray, ‘Lord, please forgive my mistakes of this day.’ - Reuben Youngdahl

St Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr

Alban was the very first Christian martyr in Britain - or at least the first we know of. A ‘martyr’ is someone who has died for the faith - the word literally means ‘witness’. He was probably killed during the persecution under the emperor Diocletian in the early years of the fourth century, in the late stages of the Roman occupation of Britain. His martyrdom took place in the amphitheatre outside the Roman city of Verulamium, which is now St Albans, in Hertfordshire.

The church historian Bede, writing six hundred years after Alban‘s death, records that Alban was a Roman citizen (possibly a soldier) who gave shelter to a priest who was being hunted by the Romans. During the priest’s stay in his home, Alban was converted to the Christian faith. When the soldiers eventually tracked the priest down, they arrived at Alban’s house and insisted on searching it. What they found was Alban dressed in the priest’s clothes, while their real prey escaped. They arrested Alban and demanded that he make a sacrifice to the Emperor - a common test of loyalty. He refused. He was then condemned to death and taken into the amphitheatre, which still stands in the fields below St Alban’s Abbey, to be put to death. One of his executioners was converted, Bede claims, but the other one took a sword and beheaded him.

He was buried nearby, on a site where a shrine was later erected. In the early fifth century two Continental bishops, Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes, were sent to Britain and record that they visited the shrine of Alban at Verulamium. The date of their visit was given as 429.

The martyrdom of Alban is a reminder that Christianity was planted first in these islands during the Roman occupation, though it was all but extinguished in England in the dark centuries that followed, until people like David, Cuthbert and the other Celtic missionaries restored the faith in many parts of the land - especially in the north. The fact that his shrine existed and was venerated right through to the time of Bede also demonstrates that the faith did not die out completely, even in the south of England.

Not a great deal is known about Alban apart from the story of his martyrdom, but what we do know is probably enough to give him a substantial claim to be the patron saint of England ahead of the foreigner St George.

Fathers’ Day, a time to celebrate male role models

 Fathers Day

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 June 19th, 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.

Summer Solstice – longest day of the year

June, of course is the month of the summer solstice, the month of the Sun.  Sol + stice come from two Latin words meaning ‘sun’ and ‘to stand still’.  As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky. The Summer Solstice results in the longest day and the shortest night of the year.  The Northern Hemisphere celebrates in June, and the Southern Hemisphere celebrates in December.

While the Druids worship at Stonehenge and elsewhere, here are some Christian alternatives that honour the Creator rather than the created.

 A Canticle for Brother Sun
Praised be You, My Lord, in all Your creatures,o:p
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who makes the day and enlightens us through You.
He is lovely and radiant and grand;
And he heralds You, his Most High Lord.

St Francis of Assisi

God in All

He inspires all,
He gives life to all,
He dominates all,
He supports all.
He lights the light of the sun.
He furnishes the light of the night.
He has made springs in dry land.
Hs the God of heaven and earth,
of sea and rivers,
of sun, moon and stars,
of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley,
the God above heaven,
and in heaven,
and under heaven.

A prayer of St Patrick

The queue

While waiting in a long queue early one morning for the supermarket to open for us ‘seniors’, I was surprised to see a young man saunter along and try to cut in at the front of the queue. A furious old lady waved her cane at him, and he quickly backed away.

A moment later, the young man tried again. He managed to dodge the old lady, but then two old men started shouting at him. Again, the young man backed away.

But he wasn’t giving up, and soon the young man approached the queue for the third time. By now, all of us pensioners were ready for him, an angry wall of opposition.

 The young man stood there for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders. "If you people won't let me unlock the door, none of you will ever get in to shop."

Peace be with you

(Jn 20:24-31, 14:5,11:16)

Through absence,
Through doubt,
Through questions
And fears,
Through locked doors
And longing
Jesus comes.

 

His risen presence
Bringing blessing,
Hope and healing,
Restoration
And His precious,
Faith-affirming
Gift of peace.
 

Coronavirus and local churches

‘Going to church’ is not what it used to be. With our church buildings closed, many of us  now ‘go’ to services transmitted via YouTube or other social media. They last only about 45 minutes, half the length of a normal Sunday church service.

Some churches also transmit a daily prayer slot, or provide a children’s programme on line once or twice a week.  All such seem to be popular and attract those who may well not have visited the relevant church for years!

So – what are the positives in all this?  For there are some!

Many non-regular church people watching.  It would seem that many people in isolation are watching these streamed services at home, many more than usually attend the church in question. Many churches are reporting increases from viewing of 20%, 50% or even 100%. 

Advantages of social media viewing.  It is easier to ‘attend’, especially for the elderly or disabled, and you can have a cup of tea alongside you if you wish! 

Popularity of format.  Some say they like the ‘personal’ approach with the preacher as he/she seems just a couple of feet away, which means the sermon is more likely to be listened to!  It’s usually shorter also.  It may help bring calm to worried people.  Some may be seeking answers from the Christian faith as to why God has sent or allowed this worldwide plague.

What about the negative aspects of online services?

Middle-class and/or resource dominance.  Many churchgoing people, particularly the elderly and less well-off, do not have a smart phone, a tablet or computer. 

Primacy within the preaching is not known.  How far the Gospel is actually being preached is unknown; how many people are coming to faith is unknown.

Long-term impact uncertain.   Online services cannot give the connectedness of face-to-face interaction, though they may suggest a wider and simpler framework for the future.  They cannot help loneliness to the same extent, nor can the minister get to know people personally.

One probable long-term implication

Helpful service supports faith image.  Churches which are now serving their local community, especially with meals, food banks, and other like services, are building an image of love and care.  Finance for such is often being donated by the churches, and volunteers are coming forward.  Those churches which do the most are likely to emerge the stronger, or at least more respected than they were.

Churches soon to lose a friend in the media?

 Are British Christians in danger of losing their best friends in the media?

One of the many casualties of the coronavirus shutdown has been the country’s local and regional newspapers.

As businesses have closed or cut back, they have withdrawn advertising in local titles. Sales have dropped as people in lockdown can’t venture out to get a newspaper.

In response, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has called on people to buy a paper to help local, regional and national publications survive the coronavirus shutdown.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, he said: “A free country needs a free press and the national, the regional and the local newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure.”

The thousands of local papers and their associated websites and social media feeds have often been – alongside parish magazines – the best ways for local churches to promote their services, activities, and events to the community around.

Local titles have often given the best coverage to grassroots church projects and been open to publishing regular Christian comment columns.

But now the outlook looks increasingly bleak. Even before the lockdown, local titles were facing major challenges with much advertising revenue going to Facebook, Google and other digital platforms. People are increasingly consuming their news free online, with often the originators of the news receiving little or no payment.

Research shows that people value local news. Objective, professional reporting cannot be replaced by community Facebook or WhatsApp groups. The local and regional media play a vital role in holding elected officials to account, and keeping people informed of decisions being taken in their name. They highlight the work of numerous local charities from food banks to debt counselling services and publicise their fund-raising. They promote voluntary groups that bring people together.

Christians can play their part by paying for their news – online or in print – promoting support for the local media in their church networks and supplying them with news and information.

Good tips to help you avoid the virus

If you receive a package in the post, it is a good idea to leave it alone for 72 hours before opening it, in order to reduce the risk of infection.

That is just one of a number of tips which the website is offering to anyone who wants to reduce their risk of infection transmission. Information

This website is run by researchers from the universities of Bath, Bristol and Southampton, who are working closely with Public Health England.

Lawyers in Lockdown

 For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver… (Isaiah 33:22)

The last few months has proved a busy time for many solicitors. Sadly, the added stress, uncertainty, isolation, and changes to daily life brought on by coronavirus has led to many disputes. People have ended up fighting their business contacts, colleagues, neighbours and even family members.  

Strangers may also prove a threat. There are increasing numbers of scam emails, as crooks try to hack into your computer or try to get you to invest in some get-rich-quick scheme. Then there are those advertisements for gambling on television. They are disguised as ‘fun’, but in reality, they are anything but fun: gambling during lockdown can escalate very quickly.

The lockdown has thrown up some questions: what to do if the post office is prevented from delivering mail to tenants on an estate and whether you still have to pay rent for a student accommodation if the student has gone home. The tenants have a right to receive mail and the answer to the other question is probably ‘yes’, because student lets are often for a fixed period without an option to end the letting early. 

People are spending more time close together, although in isolation. This can lead to domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. Neighbours, tenants and landlords can get on each other’s nerves.  Anti-social behaviour indoors or outdoors is always taken seriously by the authorities.

Some of us are spending more time in the garden and this can lead to noticing problems about that tree which overhangs your house and the branches that bang on the roof in a high wind or the fence that needs a repair.

Being a good neighbour/colleague/family member is more important now than ever. It is always best to first talk to people - at a safe distance!

Why sometimes you need a broken heart

There is a Hasidic tale which evokes Deuteronomy 11:18, and seems especially apt for now:

‘The pupil comes to the rabbi and asks, “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon our hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

‘The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay, until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”’

It’s often the case that our own breakthroughs seem to happen when we, ourselves, break open, isn’t it?

This has been, without doubt, a time of breaking open; if not for us personally, then almost certainly for some of those we know and love.

And we’re all affected, in different ways. We’ve all experienced disorientation. We’ve all lost direct contact with people we love. Many still have no physical contact with others. There’s a place for keeping calm and carrying on, but there’s time enough to honour sorrow, too.

The words of the Aaronic blessing have flowed so beautifully through the world, in song, this season. So often, it’s when ‘all is well’ that we perceive God’s blessing in our lives. But how resonant, those words, from within a place where all is not?

Perhaps we can treasure those words that may have rested gently on our hearts, awaiting the time they fall a little further into place. May we thus be open, within this historic opening. And may, indeed:

‘the LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face towards you
and give you peace.’

One in 20 starts praying since Coronavirus began

Is the nation turning to God in prayer? Well, not quite yet, but recent research from Tearfund has shown that prayer is more common than many would think, with just under half (44%) of UK adults saying that they pray, and one in twenty (5%) saying they have started praying during the lockdown.

In addition, a quarter (24%) of UK adults say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown, 5% of whom say they have never been to church before. Some churches are seeing double, sometimes triple, the number of people watching their Sunday meetings online that would normally attend in person.

I am struck by Augustine’s prayer, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. Could it be that as the noise and busyness of normal life have subsided, restlessness has started to surface and, faced with new fears and uncertainties, hearts have started to turn to God?

Let this research give you a new courage to offer to pray for people you know who are struggling, or invite them to watch an online service. And let’s also turn our prayers and actions beyond our immediate horizons to remember that we are part of a global community.

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.

Psalm 46 – a psalm of comfort in anxious times

To say that we are living in uncertain times is an understatement! Psalm 46 speaks into our anxiety and fear, just as it did to Israel originally. At this time, we must focus on God, who alone can deliver us in such times.

He is our refuge: ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ (1). In the midst of our difficulties, God promises Himself to be our refuge, strength and help. A ‘refuge’ is a place of trust, where God promises to protect us. When the whole world is turned upside down, we can come to Him without fear.

He is our resource: ‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.’ (4,5). Jerusalem was able to withstand enemy attack, because of the water that resourced it. For us, this is a picture of the presence of God’s Spirit, who resources us when we are under pressure. This psalm promises that God’s is with is in all our troubles on a daily basis: ‘The Lord Almighty is with us...’ (7,11).

He is our ruler: ‘He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ (10). When we consider all that God has done in the past, we can see the way in which He has worked among us to provide, protect, and deliver us. We are called to ‘cease fighting’ God and surrender our lives to God. Let’s worship Him, as we let go fear and as we depend on Him in this current time of crisis.

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing’ (Martin Luther).

Columba of Iona, missionary to the UK

In 563 AD St Columba sailed from Ireland to Iona – a tiny island off Mull, in the Western Highlands. He brought Christianity with him.

Columba (c. 521 -97) was born in Donegal of the royal Ui Neill clan, and he trained as a monk. He founded the monasteries of Derry (546), Durrow (c.556) and probably Kells. But in 565 Columba left Ireland with twelve companions for Iona, an island off southwest Scotland. Iona had been given to him for a monastery by the ruler of the Irish Dalriada. 

Why would a monk in his mid-40s go into such voluntary exile? Various explanations include: voluntary exile for Christ, an attempt to help overseas compatriots in their struggle for survival, or even as some sort of punishment for his part in a row over a psalter in Ireland. Whatever the reason, Columba went to Iona and spent the rest of his life in Scotland, returning to Ireland only for occasional visits.

Columba’s biographer, Adomnan, portrays him as a tall, striking figure of powerful build and impressive presence, who combined the skills of scholar, poet and ruler with a fearless commitment to God’s cause. Able, ardent, and sometimes harsh, Columba seems to have mellowed with age. 

As well as building his monastery on Iona, Columba also converted Brude, king of the Picts. Columba had great skill as a scribe, and an example of this can be seen in the Cathach of Columba, a late 6th century psalter in the Irish Academy, which is the oldest surviving example of Irish majuscule writing. In his later years Columba spent much time transcribing books. 

Columba’s death was apparently foreseen by his community, and even, it seems, sensed by his favourite horse. He died in the church just before Matins, and it is a tribute to this man that his traditions were upheld by his followers for about a century, not least in the Synod of Whitby and in Irish monasteries on the continent of Europe.

Here is a prayer of St Columba:
Christ With Us
My dearest Lord,
Be Thou a bright flame before me,
Be Thou a guiding star above me,
Be Thou a smooth path beneath me,
Be Thou a kindly shepherd behind me,
Today and evermore.

The Frailty of Life

According to one survey, during the lockdown, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service and one in 20 have started praying. While the majority of people who contract Covid-19 survive, it reminds us that we are much more frail and weak than we like to think. As the prophet Isaiah says, ‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8).

Isaiah’s words really resonate at this time. In more normal times we can avoid facing up to our vulnerability, but this pandemic has forced us to recognise our weakness and fragility.

However, this shouldn’t lead us to despair or fear; rather it is an opportunity to worship and praise for His constancy and care. In Peter’s first letter he quotes this passage from Isaiah and says, ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23). Peter contrasts our mortality with the eternal Word of God, which bring us new birth and life through the power of the Spirit. Jesus died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, so that through faith in Him we can know eternal life. We don’t need to be afraid of our frailty, for God is a dependable foundation on which to build our lives and face eternity.

‘We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree. And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.’ (Immortal, invisible, Walter C Smith).

 Without the Trinity, there is no Christianity

The Trinity is easier to say than to explain. Christians believe in one God, made up of three equal Persons. It is fundamental to the Nicene Creed, which sets out the definitive doctrine of the Trinity for more than two billion Christians worldwide, including all Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Reformed Christians.  

The theologian Ian Paul, writing on the Book of Revelation, points out that chapter five has a wonderful depiction of the Trinity in action. He writes:  ““…another figure appears in the drama, the lion who looks like a lamb. … Here is the one who fulfils the hopes of God’s people Israel, as the promised anointed Davidic king who was to come. Here is one who is fierce and powerful enough to conquer their enemies, and tear them apart.

 “And yet when John sees Him, He is like a weak and vulnerable lamb who has been slaughtered, just as the Passover lamb eaten by the people, the suffering servant who was ‘wounded for our transgressions’ and the lamb offered as an atoning sacrifice. He is the one who was slain, but now stands, and shares the throne with God, and with Him sends the Spirit to enact His will on earth. Here we have the most explicit (and perhaps the most complex) Trinitarian statement in the whole New Testament.”

 From the Rev Dr Ian Paul’s blog: Tell us about the Trinity

Christian Aid’s concern for women during Covid-19

The ACT Alliance, a network of 135 faith-based actors and churches operating in 120 countries, has called attention to the gendered dimension of Covid-19.  It is urging that the international community, including churches and religious organisations, should take this into account.  

Women are afforded fewer rights than men worldwide, and although the disease itself might cause higher mortality amongst men, it is clear that the social impacts of Covid-19 will impact women the most.

Women living in poverty do not have the ability to take time off work, do not have adequate access to housing to self-isolate, and cannot stockpile provisions. o:p>

Poor women, girls and vulnerable groups are least likely to be able to access healthcare and treatment. The situation will be critical for women migrant workers, women on the move and those living in refugee camps or slums.

Daniela Varano, Communications Officer at ACT Alliance said: "Domestic violence cases have risen dramatically as women and girls across most countries have been quarantined, often with their abusers. It is crucial that all governments put in place affirmative actions and inclusive policies that level the playing field.”

ACT Alliance, together with its members, has launched a Global Appeal to support the most marginalised communities during this crisis.

Praying for end to coronavirus crisis, for frontline workers and the world’s poor

British adults are praying for an end to the Covid-19 crisis, as well as for frontline workers and those living in poverty both in the UK and around the world, according to a new poll commissioned by Christian Aid.

The research, undertaken by Savanta ComRes, found that one in four (26%) British adults say they have prayed for an end to the Covid-19 crisis since lockdown, while an equal proportion (26%) say they have prayed for people working on the frontline and other key workers since the crisis began.

One in five (21%) British adults say they have prayed for people living in poverty in the UK or around the world since the lockdown.

The poll also indicated that the Covid-19 lockdown is slightly more likely to increase than decrease people’s faith in God (5% vs. 2%), life after death (4% vs. 2%) and the power of prayer (5% vs. 2%). This was particularly true of younger Brits aged 18-24.   

Chine McDonald from Christian Aid said: “At times of crisis like the world is experiencing now, faith can play a key part in helping people to cope with daily realities and pressures.”

Online book of remembrance opened at St Paul’s

St Paul’s Cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online book of remembrance for all those who have been living in the UK who have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People of all faiths, beliefs or none are invited to contribute to Remember Me.  

HRH The Prince of Wales , who recorded a video message,  said: “This virtual book of remembrance is here not just to recall our loss and sorrow, but also to be thankful for everything good that those we have loved brought into our lives.” 

Family, friends and carers of those who have died can submit, free of charge, the name, photograph and a short message in honour of a deceased person via the Remember Me website. The deceased person must have been living in the UK. Remember Me will be open for entries for as long as needed.   It is intended that the Remember Me site will become a physical memorial at the Cathedral.

Remember Me website

Gardening Against the Odds?

The Conservation Foundation has relaunched Gardening Against the Odds as a virtual network and is getting some excellent interest.

As a result, it may be making a radio series soon, featuring some of the projects it has discovered over the years which show how people combat ‘odds’ – mental, physical and environmental - by gardening, even when they have no garden. 

These people plant seeds which they watch grow, eventually producing growth leading to flowers and fruit. Sometimes they work alone, sometimes there is an opportunity to share, producing a sense of community.  All this is nothing new, but many people are discovering the benefits of gardening as a result of lockdown – discovering how gardening can help combat loneliness and depression with a sense of caring and wellbeing sometimes with life changing results.

This is a very topical issue and so if you have discovered the benefits of gardening recently – or know someone who has – the Conservation Foundation would love to hear from you as soon as possible.

Please contact : davidshreeve@conservationfoundation.co.uk.

 More Information     Facebook

The Coronavirus, Church & You Survey

You are invited to take part in this national survey…details below

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had a profound effect on churches. The lockdown has severely restricted ministry in areas such as pastoral care, fellowship groups, and serving the community. On the other hand, for those with online access, worship has taken on new and creative forms over the last few weeks. Many clergy and ministry teams have risen to the challenge of operating in the virtual environment.

As we pass the most severe period of lockdown, it seems a good time to assess how churchgoers have responded to the experience, and what they think the future might hold. How well have people coped with the pandemic? Has it strengthened or weakened their faith? How has it been for clergy and ministry teams trying to work in this new environment? How have those receiving ministry found this novel experience? Will virtual ministry become part of the post-pandemic landscape, and will this be a good move for your church?

We have developed a survey over the last few weeks in discussion with bishops, clergy and lay people which we hope will enable you to record your experience of the pandemic, the ministry you have given or received, and what you think will happen to churches in a post-pandemic world.

In an article to launch the survey in the Church Times, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, wrote: “This survey is an attempt to go beyond anecdote… It will capture evidence of both excitement and fears for the future, of where stress levels have changed, and whether personal faith has weakened or grown.”

This is an online survey, which we estimate it will take you about 20-30 minutes to complete. Most of the questions simply require you to tick boxes, though there are options to specify your particular circumstances, and an opportunity at the end for you to tell us your views in your own words. Alongside questions about the pandemic and ministry there are sections which ask about you: these are important because they will allow us to see how the lockdown is affecting different sorts of people in different contexts.

The survey can be completed on mobile phones, though it is more quickly completed on devices with larger screens such as tablets or computers. Information

Please forward this link to any churches or churchgoers you feel might want to take part in the survey and support this research. We should have some initial results within a few weeks and will make these available as widely as we can.

 The Revd Professor Andrew Village, York St John University email:  a.village@yorksj.ac.uk

 The Revd Canon Professor Leslie J. Francis, Visiting Professor York St John University

God gives His gifts where He finds the vessel empty enough to receive them. - ib C S Lewis, writer

Whit Sunday -  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.

Joan of Arc: saving France from the English

How far would you go to respond to God’s call on your life? When, as the daughter of a peasant family in Champagne in 1426, 14-year-old Joan heard heavenly voices calling her to ‘save France’ from the English, she decided to obey the call, no matter what the consequences. 

Teenage girls who want to rescue their country from foreign troops were considered every bit as crazy back then as they would be now. But Joan eventually came to the notice of the Dauphin (Later Charles Vll) who decided to make use of her obvious ability to inspire people – in this case, the French, to fight. And so Joan, dressed in white armour, rode at the front of the French army when they relieved Orleans in April 1429.  Her presence and belief in her divine calling to get rid of the English, did wonders for the morale of the troops, who loved her even more when she sustained a wound in the breast, and made little of it.

A campaign in the Loire followed, and then in July the Dauphin was crowned at Rheims with Joan at his side, carrying her standard. More battles followed that winter, until Joan was captured and sold to the English. They attributed her success to witchcraft and spells, and imprisoned her at Rouen. She was brought before judges, where her spirited and shrewd defence were outstanding.

But the judges declared her false and diabolical, and she was condemned to die as a heretic. She was burnt at the stake in the marketplace at Rouen on 30 May 1431. Joan died as she had lived; with total faith in God and certainty that she was obeying His will for her life. She died with fortitude, looking at a cross and calling on the name of Jesus. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine.

Joan’s integrity and courage are what shine down the centuries. Here is a patron saint for you if you feel that God is calling you to do something extraordinary: something that is way, way beyond your comfort zone; but something that could right wrongs and make a difference in the world. Are you up for it?

Mothers’ Union offers range of resources

The Mothers’ Union has made a very practical response to the coronavirus.

As their website explains, “We know that our work and experience in re-building communities and supporting family life is going to be more important than ever once the threat of COVID-19 subsides. Our members will be some of the first in line to support those around them.”  

In the meantime, MU has drawn together a range of resources to “help nurture our members and their friends and neighbours through this challenging time.”  The resources will “help combat feelings of loneliness, to nourish faith and to help you continue to feel connected to your friends and community.”

These include: rainbows, prayer cards, prayer resources, puzzles resources, and Bible study resources.

Information

Mend and make do

According to handicraft expert Kirstie Allsopp, a missing button was the number one reason why 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothing may end up in UK landfill this year. 

But that was before lockdown.  Now you have time to make do – and mend!  Rescue and reuse your clothes.  After all, it saves money and the planet. 

What kind of stress do you have?

These are stressful days.  The towering storm clouds of coronavirus and financial trouble are casting a long shadow over all of us.

Many of us deal with our stress by expressing it. Loudly! We lose our temper, swear, shout and even throw things at our loved ones. We over-react to various personal setbacks because we can’t retaliate against the virus or the stock market.

But some of us do the opposite: we under-react. We display ‘quiet stress’.

“We quietly hold our stress within: we don’t speak up about how we feel.  And crucially, we become inert. We don’t act on situations that require action.” So warns Jillian Lavender of the London Meditation Centre.

“We stay in unhappy relationships and unfulfilling jobs. We feel overwhelmed, yet we ignore important admin tasks. We procrastinate.  Quiet stress creates an emotional paralysis that keeps us ‘stuck’ in unhappy situations.  Inaction is just as much of an inappropriate response to stress as over-reaction is”

A further danger of ‘quiet stress’ is that instead of taking positive action, people can withdraw into themselves, and turn to comfort eating or drinking too much. This further lowers their immune system.

The Valley of Dry Bones has a future hopeThe Valley of Dry Bones has a future hope

 ‘A dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. An' I hear the word of the Lord!’

At this time of global pandemic, we live with stark reality of death and life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) was given when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. They felt dead, being separated from home and God! The vision answers God’s question: ‘can these bones live?’.

We can also feel cut off from God, facing the loss of job, business, home or health, with churches unable to meet on Sundays. This vision assures us that God has power over death and can breathe new life into what is hopeless.

When Ezekiel is told to ‘prophesy to the bones,’ God brings them back to life: the bones come together and are covered with muscles and skin. He then prophesies to the wind, from the four corners of the earth, to bring the bodies alive. The physical bodies are then filled with God’s breath to bring new life. The miracle of this story is that God not only makes these bones live, but also brings the life of His Spirit. 

The Covid-19 virus robs people of their life by suffocation, so that they can’t breathe. Our hope beyond the pandemic is that the gift of God’s Spirit will bring new life to our lives, churches and world. Life will certainly look very different in the future, but we can be assured that God is with us and that we are safe in His hands.

‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’(vs14)

Christians and the bubonic plague of London

The Reverend Richard Peirson was one of the exceptions.  Most of the other clergy in the City of London had fled the Great Plague in 1665, but Peirson stayed behind to look after the parishioners of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, where he was Rector. The parish was densely populated and the pandemic was catastrophic. The church’s register records 636 burials that year in the month of September alone, with 43 interred in one day.

Houses of infected people were marked with a red cross on the door, with occupants kept inside for 40 days. Handcarts were pulled along the city streets to cart away the bodies; the drivers’ cries of “Bring out your dead”, became etched in the memories of subsequent generations. Relatives were banned from attending funerals.

The official count numbered 68,596 deaths in London alone, but other estimates suggested two or three times that number. Bubonic plague – for that is what it was – was incurable. Poor people were fatalistic about it but complained that even their ‘spiritual physicians’ had abandoned them. Clergy of the Church of England were often supplanted by non-conformist preachers.

It wasn’t just the St Bride’s Rector who put his life in jeopardy by staying at his post. While most wealthy people, along with King Charles II and his court, escaped the plague-ridden city, Churchwarden Henry Clarke also chose to remain at the church. When he succumbed to the illness, his brother William took over. William survived for a fortnight.  

Plague cases continued to occur sporadically at a modest rate until mid-1666. That year the Great Fire of London destroyed St Bride’s Church and much of the City of London. It was rebuilt to a design by Christopher Wren, but almost obliterated once more in 1940 during World War II before being restored yet again.

Today’s Rector, Canon Alison Joyce, says that compared with her predecessor Richard Peirson, she has it easy. Like everyone else, she is confined by the lockdown rules to her Rectory next to the church. But her pastoral work continues, and she collates sermons and archive music to create a Sunday webcast service. Alison writes, “these days it is a ministry of telephone calls, emails and Facetime. I offer such practical help and support to the vulnerable as I can . . . I keep a candle burning before our main altar and continue a ministry of prayer.”

Alison says she is surprised when people regard the faith as a kind of celestial insurance policy against bad things happening to them. The first followers of Jesus knew that in dedicating their lives to following the crucified and risen Christ, their discipleship would take them into the very heart of darkness, not away from it. 

She adds, “Hope is no hope at all unless it can engage with utter despair and meaninglessness.”

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.

St Alban, helping a stranger in need

Alban should be the patron saint of anyone who impulsively offers to help a stranger in need… and finds their own life turned upside down as a result.

The story goes that Alban was a Roman citizen quietly living in England in the third century.  Then, miles away in Rome, the emperor, Diocletian ordered a persecution of the Christians. Nothing to do with Alban… except that suddenly he found a desperate priest on his doorstep, being hunted down by local soldiers. Alban decided to give the priest shelter, and within days was converted to Christianity himself, and then baptised.  

As if this was not brave enough, when the soldiers arrived, Alban decided to take the priest’s place. He dressed up in the priest’s clothes to enable the priest to escape. Not surprisingly, the soldiers then arrested Alban himself. Now a Christian, Alban refused to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, and so was condemned to death.  

But the story doesn’t end there, for Alban went to his execution with such holiness and serenity that one of the executioners was converted, and the other executioner’s eyes fell out (or so the story goes). Alban was buried nearby, and the shrine built to his memory was soon known for its healing powers. Alban’s cult extended all over England, and nine ancient English churches were dedicated to him.

One-line quiz questions

 1. What time of day was Adam created? - Just a little before Eve.

 2. Who was the fastest runner in the race? - Adam. He was first in the human race.

 3. Why are atoms Catholic? - Because they all have mass.

 4 Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark? - Because Noah was always standing on the deck

 5. Why didn’t Noah ever go fishing? - He only had two worms.

 6. Did Eve ever have a date with Adam? - No — just an apple.

 7. Why did the unemployed man get excited while reading his Bible? - He thought he saw a job.

 8. Does God love everyone? - Yes, but He prefers ‘fruits of the spirit’ to ‘religious nuts’.

 9. Why couldn’t Jonah trust the ocean? - He just knew there was something fishy about it.

 10. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth? - Absolutely ruthless.

 11. The good Lord didn’t create anything without a purpose. - Mosquitoes come close, though.

 12. What’s so funny about forbidden fruits? - They create many jams.

21st May - 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)

Disciples at the Ascension

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 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.

Nature out and about

The lockdown this Spring at least gave Nature a brief respite. Wild goats, herds of deer, sparrowhawks, stoats, snakes, badgers, spawning toads and songbirds all seemed to have enjoyed the peace and quiet. 

We, in turn, have enjoyed watching them from our windows. As Mark Thompson, a presenter on Stargazing Life, said, “This lockdown is giving people a chance not just to connect with our families, but also to connect with Nature around us.  It has given us the change to recalibrate.”

St Sofa’s

We worship at St Sofa’s now
Since Covid came to stay
We don’t dress up or do our hair
But still we come to pray!

 

Our Vicar is a clever chap
A Zoom with his IT
And so we sit down ev’ry week
And meet up virtually!

 

Our Parish Church stands empty
With praise she does not ring;
But still her people gather round
To pray, and praise, and sing!

 

The virus is a nasty thing
Yet it has helped us see
The church is NOT a building
But folk like you and me!

Over 6,000 calls in first 48 hours to Daily Hope

A free phone line offering hymns, prayers, and reflections 24 hours a day while church buildings are closed because of the coronavirus received more than 6,000 calls in the first 48 hours.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently launched ‘Daily Hope’ as a simple new way to bring worship and prayer into people’s homes, during the lockdown period..

Dalily Hope phone detailsThe line – which is available 24 hours a day – has been set up particularly with those unable to join online church services in mind.

The service is supported by the Church of England nationally as well as through the Connections group based at Holy Trinity Claygate in Surrey and the Christian charity Faith in Later Life.

 

Within 48 hours the line had received more than 6,000 calls from across the country, with many being referred by friends, family or members. Calls have so far spanned more than 50,000 minutes, with some of those accessing the service listening to the music, prayers and reflections for up to 50 minutes at a time.

The Revd Canon Dave Male, the Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, said: “The volume of calls shows that Daily Hope is meeting a need.

“We have a duty in these strange and difficult times to find new ways of bringing prayer and worship to people wherever they are, and this is one more way of helping people to connect with God from their own homes.

“This is such a simple idea – planned and launched all within a few short weeks by a small dedicated team – but I pray it will bring real comfort, hope and inspiration to people at this time.”

Callers to the line hear a short greeting from the Archbishop before being able to choose from a range of options, including hymns, prayers, reflections and advice on COVID-19.

 Options available include materials also made available digitally by the Church of England’s Communications team such as Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer, updated daily, from Common Worship, and a recording of the Church of England weekly national online service.

C of E Weekly Service

Join the celebration of nurses and healthcare workers in an online service on 10 May by clicking above. Bishop of London and former Chief Nursing Officer Sarah Mullally lead the service, with contributions from the current Chief Nursing Officer and many more, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.

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 a blog or parish magazine. 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’.

#FaithAtHome aims to make prayer a household habit

The Church of England has recently launched #FaithAtHome, a new programme which it is hoped will “make prayer a household habit once again.”

#FaithAtHome will feature weekly video content to help families to talk about faith and pray together. The videos will be led by children, young people, staff and school leaders from across the country.

The #FaithAtHome programme will run for an initial 11 weeks, until the end of July, and can be accessed at churchofengland.org/faithathomeIt will explore themes including courage, patience, generosity, resilience, love and hope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “The aim of these resources is to offer simple ways for families and households to approach complex and difficult topics, such as illness, fear and bereavement.  The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to confront difficult and painful questions that none of us can explore on our own.

“My hope and prayer is that #FaithAtHome will not only equip children and young people to engage with difficult questions, but also inspire them.”

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Nigel Genders said: "Home is the new normal, and faith at home is a habit we need to rediscover. #FaithAtHome will offer people of all ages and faith backgrounds a chance to pause, think and reflect, and to rebuild lost habits of prayer and faithful reflection in the home.”

Psalm 34

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, we all live with fear and uncertainty. How do we deal with fear? I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’ (Ps 34:4). In this psalm, David expresses real fears. He was on the run from Saul, who was trying to murder him! Yet David points to three simple habits that help overcome fear.

Praising God always: I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. (1). It was David’s pattern of life to praise God daily, whatever his circumstances. He was acknowledging God’s lordship over his life. Praise affirms that my circumstances are in His hands and He is with me in all that I am going through.

Seeking God continually: ‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.’ (6). David looked to God, who released him from all his fears. It’s easy for our fears to overwhelm us and rob us of the assurance that God loves us and wants the best for us. When we seek God, He hears us and responds, as He is not powerless to act.

Finding refuge in God: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.’ (8). David’s personal invitation is to taste and see that God is good. Our fears often tell us that the opposite is true for us. Fear tells us that God cannot be trusted and that He will abandon us. We can make God our secure refuge and not be afraid.

This psalm helps us to see fear from a totally different perspective: ‘Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.’ (9).

Creative things you can do with your Bible

Bible Society is urging people to make good use of their enforced time at home by using their creativity to read the Bible with better appreciation. To help with this, Bible Society is offering a range of creative Bible-based resources to help people learn new skills, such as journaling, colouring or doing crafts that are Bible-based. 

These include: 

Bless Our Nest (£5.95) - a colouring book filled with Bible verse designs, featuring colour charts and tools for Bible journaling.

Faithful Papercrafting (£12.99) - now you can create note cards, gift tags and scrapbook paper, mini cards, bookmarks and envelope templates full of inspiring Scripture.

Complete Guide to Bible Journaling (£14.99) - offering new creative techniques for Bible journaling.

Go here

Sometimes we need occasionaly to have a laugh so here are some items put in church notice sheets.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our children’s minister, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

 Baptisms: after Easter, the North and South ends of the church will be utilised. Children will be baptised at both ends.

 Coming up:  Theological Open House. We discuss thought-provoking topics. Your opinions are hardly welcome.

  Next Sunday Mrs Brown will sing a solo at the morning service before the vicar preaches on the subject of ‘Terrible experiences and how to survive them’.

 Players picked for St Andrew’s darts team will be pinned to the board on Thursday.

Also what the teacher says and what the teacher means….

If you have ever wondered what the teachers really think of your child, you may enjoy these snippets from real reports….and the thought behind them!

James has a remarkable ability in gathering needed information from his classmates. (He was caught cheating on an exam.)

Karen is an endless fund of energy and viability. (Your hyperactive monster can’t stay put for five minutes.)

Fantastic imagination! (He’s one of the biggest liars I have ever met.)

Margie exhibits a relaxed attitude to school, indicating that high expectations don’t intimidate her. (The lazy thing hasn’t done one assignment all term.)

Sue is a real athlete, with superior hand-eye coordination. (The little creep stung me with a rubber band from 15 feet away.)

Nick thrives on interaction with his peers. (Your son never shuts up.)

Nancy’s greatest asset is demonstrative public discussions. (Every time I give an assignment, she responds by sparking a classroom argument over it.)

John enjoys the thrill of engaging challenges with his peers. (He’s an incorrigible bully.)

Jane is an adventurous nature lover, who rarely misses opportunities to explore new territory. (Your daughter skipped class and nearly drowned trying to catch wriggly things in the school pond.)

What does church look like - send us a photo.

Send your photos to: colin_rosemary@outlook.com and we will put them on this website.

Terry Waite - on coping with lockdown

Terry Waite spent four years in solitary confinement in Beirut. He says: “In isolation, it is easy to become introspective and depressed. All of us, when we are honest and examine ourselves critically, will discover things about ourselves of which we are not especially proud. I had to learn how to grow a greater acceptance of myself and work towards a deeper inner harmony. 

“…. Today in lockdown, it’s important to keep yourself well. Don’t slob around all day in pyjamas and a dressing gown. Dress properly and develop a routine. It’s important to have a structure – get up at a certain time, eat regular meals and so on.

“If you have faith, then that will give you resources to draw on”, especially if you know some hymns, psalms and prayers by heart. “When I was captured, they were there to call on.”

Dalily Hope phone details

How do you feel about your health?

Having a religious faith may well make you feel better about your health, according to recent government figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published data linking religious belief and health in an effort to “understand the circumstances of people of different religious identities.”

It found that 66 per cent of Muslims, 68 per cent of Christians, 69 per cent of Sikhs, 71 per cent of Buddhists, 72 per cent of Hindus and 77 per cent of Jews were satisfied with their health between 2016 and 2018.

In contrast, only 64 per cent of non-religious people reported being satisfied with their health during that time.

Michael Wakelin, chair of the Religious Media Centre, said: “I guess this has something to do with an attitude of gratitude.  If you are of the opinion that God loves you and He created you, you are more likely to be grateful for what you have.

“Also, if you have a faith you are more likely to be hopeful for a better future, so that even if things are a bit tough now, they will improve in God’s time.”

We can claim the gift of sleep

Many of us have had our sleep patterns disturbed in recent weeks.  After all, a pandemic, lockdown and growing financial crisis are hardly conducive to relaxation.

But the fact is that, whatever is happening out there, we desperately need our sleep. It is vital for the proper functioning of our brain and heart. Anyone who has ever been deprived of sleep for a period will remember their ever-diminishing ability to perform complicated tasks.

Sleep can also help us solve problems. We go to bed struggling with a decision to make or a relationship to resolve, and we wake up to find a solution presenting itself. The old advice to ‘sleep on it’ is true: we see things more clearly after sleep.

The Bible considers our sleep as a blessing from God.  As Christians, we can calmly commit ourselves to His loving care, secure that He who watches over us “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps 121:4). Knowing that God is with us, we can let ourselves go.

If you are having trouble sleeping, why not memorise one of the verses below, and repeat it to yourself as you lie in bed tonight?

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. (Ps 3:5)

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Ps 4:8)

 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat for He grants sleep to those He loves. (Ps 127:2)

 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.  (Prov. 3:24)

 ‘I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.’ (Jer. 31:25)

As the writer George MacDonald so aptly put it: “Sleep is God’s contrivance for giving man the help He cannot get into him when he is awake.”

Lockdown, you and IT

How are you getting on with technology?  The coronavirus pandemic has driven hundreds of millions of us to use it more than ever, as we sit at home in frustrated isolation.

If you are used to digital meetings and Zoom, it is not a problem, but for millions of grandparents wanting to see their families, or non-techie people wanting to see their friends, it has been quite a learning curve.  So, is there a patron saint of computers and electronics and all the difficult stuff?

Some people say the patron saint of the internet should be Saint Isidore of Seville, a Bishop and scholar in the Seventh Century who wrote a book called Etymologies or The Origins, in which he tried to record everything that was known. That seems to be a good basis for sainthood, or at least for the internet.

Another candidate is Saint Eligius who lived about the same time. He is quite busy already as the patron saint of goldsmiths, metalworkers, vets, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), horses and those who work with them. His main qualification seems to have been his ability to make things.

Another suggestion is Zebedee. No, not the character from The Magic Roundabout but the father of James and John.  After all, consider this: “James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John…were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. (Matt. 4:21)

Ok, it is not the internet, but Zebedee knew about mending a net which would have had both good and bad stuff all over it. 

Certainly, whenever one gets in an IT muddle during this lockdown, we would welcome any patron saint that was willing to help us!

Coping in the Storm

‘Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.’ (Mark 4:39).

What started out for the disciples as a routine trip across the Sea of Galilee, ended up with a storm threatening to overwhelm their boat! Jesus was asleep in the boat, so little wonder they feared for their lives: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (38).

Who would have thought two months ago that the world would be overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and our lives turned upside down! Self-isolating and self-distancing are now part of our daily vocabulary, as we live in an uncertain world. What does this story say to us in our circumstances?

Firstly, we read that Jesus calmed the storm: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’’ (39). He is the Lord of the storm and holds our circumstances in His hands. We are called to trust, not fear, being assured that He is with us to protect us. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (40). Nothing is outside of His control.

Secondly, despite the calm, the disciples were still terrified: ‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’’ (41). Like us, the disciples were asking why Jesus, who loved them, had allowed the storm to happen! Our circumstances provide us with an opportunity to understand more deeply who Jesus is. We can’t control Him and we don’t always understand His bigger plans for us and His world. We are called to overcome fear and insecurity, by living lives of peace, faith and hope. How contagious can we be for Jesus in a stormy world?

At this time of global pandemic, we live with stark reality of death and life. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (37:1-14) was given when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. They felt dead, being separated from home and God! The vision answers God’s question: ‘can these bones live?’ We can also feel cut off from God, facing the loss of job, business, home or health, with churches unable to meet on Sundays. This vision assures us that God has power over death and can breathe new life into what is hopeless.

When Ezekiel is told to ‘prophesy to the bones’ (4), God brings them back to life: the bones come together and are covered with muscles and skin, and then filled with God’s breath to bring new life, by the life of His Spirit. 

The Covid-19 virus robs people of their life by suffocation, so that they can’t breathe. Our hope beyond the pandemic is that the gift of God’s Spirit will bring new life to our lives, churches and world. Life will certainly look very different in the future, but we can be assured that God is with us and that we are safe in his hands.

‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ (14).

All Souls Prom Praise

The above is available on line - click above.

Take exercise for even half an hour a day – and lower depression!

Here is some good news for us all: if you are feeling low, get moving. A recent study at Harvard has found that even just half an hour of exercise a day can lower the risk of depression by 17 per cent.

So – even though we are told to stay home at present, do a work-out in your living room, run around the garden a dozen times, or run up and down your staircase 20 times -anything to get your heart pounding and your body moving!

Tearfund – still working around the world

“As you would expect, Tearfund's work will continue through our amazing network of courageous Christian partners and churches around the world.”  So says Nigel Harris, CEO of Tearfund.

“We are doing all we can to follow Jesus where the need is greatest, bringing practical help and powerful hope to the most vulnerable people, just as we have been doing for over 50 years.

“We are asking for God’s protection and His wisdom to deal with this unprecedented global situation. We would greatly value your prayers in the months ahead.

“At a recent Tearfund Prayer Day, we received a prophetic word about the ship that leaves a safe harbour to go out into rough waters, with the promise that our Lord will be with us. This feels very real as I write to you today. And it is a huge encouragement to me personally to have the reassurance that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.  We have a God who loves and cares for us. He has told us, ‘Do not fear, for I am with you’ (Isaiah 41:10). 

“I am daring to dream that this could be the opportunity in our generation for the Church to be known globally for its brave and compassionate response, putting the needs of others before our own, just as Jesus did. We know this is possible. We see acts of heroic love every day in the countries where we work.

“In the coming months, we may need to ask you again to dig deep to enable us to continue meeting the needs of the world’s poorest communities. Myself and my whole team at Tearfund will be digging deep into our own reserves of time, energy and resources to enable our vital work to continue.”

More at:
Tearfund link

Prayer

 If a prayer can move a mountain
If a prayer can stop a war,
If a prayer foster love and peace
……….Where hatred ruled before,
If a prayer can conquer hunger
If a prayer has power to heal,
If a prayer can mend division
……….Why are we so slow to kneel?
Offering prayers up to our maker,
Throughout each brand new day
To change things for the better,
……….In every kind of way.

Two books which we have not read but you may be interested in them:

Book - Hope beyond Coronovirus Hope beyond Coronovirus By Roger Carswell, 10Publishing.

This is a very helpful evangelistic tract you can bulk-order to share around, or you can download it free in an A4 pdf at:
10 0f those link

 

 

 Book - Where is God in a Coronavirus WorldWhere is God in a Coronavirus World? By John Lennox, The Good Book Company, £2.48

We are living through a unique, era-defining period. Many of our old certainties have gone, whatever our view of the world and whatever our beliefs. The coronavirus pandemic and its effects are perplexing and unsettling for all of us. How do we begin to think it through and cope with it?

In this short yet profound book, Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox examines the coronavirus in light of various belief systems and shows how the Christian worldview not only helps us to make sense of it, but also offers us a sure and certain hope to cling to.

John Lennox is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School and an Adjunct Lecturer for The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He has been part of numerous public debates defending the Christian faith against well-known atheists including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer.

ITV News journalist and presenter Julie Etchingham, a practising Christian, has defended the role played by journalists during the Coronavirus pandemic
She told the Christians in Media website, “Reporters are coming in for a lot of flack for the questions they are asking government. But what else are we for?  We all get that this is a crisis like no other; that few in government have ever had to navigate such a challenge.br>“But, if we’re still attempting to function as a democracy in the face of this, then scrutiny is clearly crucial.  Many in our frontline services and the wider public are demanding answers. We are there on their behalf. We don’t always get it right. This isn’t a moment to trip people up, but urgently to get to the truth.”
Now is the time for truth and accuracy to be at the centre of all our communications.
So, yes, we need to be praying for and supporting the front-line health service staff, the public health experts, the scientists researching vaccines to combat the virus, and the key workers keeping our societies running.
But we also need to be praying for and supporting the men and women working in and with the media to publish, upload, broadcast and distribute the most accurate information, without spin or distortion.
So here is a prayer for the media in these challenging days.
Loving God,
We pray for everyone working in and with media in these challenging times.
Encourage all who seek to explain and interpret the fast-changing world around us.
Embolden the truth-tellers, truth-seekers and fact-checkers.
Promote coverage that builds our shared humanity and where everyone has a voice.
Bring clarity where there is confusion
Bring knowledge where there is speculation
Bring wisdom and insight when the way ahead seems unclear.
And bring us all to a knowledge of truth that sets us free, and helps keep us safe.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

We are your people:

For the Christian community
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
wherever you call us.

Loneliness

From one who is ill or isolated
O God,
help me to trust you,
help me to know that you are with me,
help me to believe that nothing can separate me 
from your love
revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Caring for the sick

For hospital staff and medical researchers
all who are caring for the sick,
and your wisdom to those searching for a cure.
Strengthen them with your Spirit,
that through their work many will be restored to health;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Heal them

For those who are ill
Merciful God,
we entrust to your tender care
those who are ill or in pain,
knowing that whenever danger threatens
your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe.
Comfort and heal them,
and restore them to health and strength;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Be our hope

God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light;
through Him who suffered alone on the cross,
but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Give us strength

Lord Jesus Christ,
you taught us to love our neighbour,
and to care for those in need
as if we were caring for you.
In this time of anxiety, give us strength
to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick,
and to assure the isolated
of our love, and your love,
for your name’s sake.
Amen.

Time of distress:

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Christians coping with Coronavirus

Leave your dandelions alone

When mowing your lawn, avoid cutting your dandelions.  That is the advice of the president of the British Ecological Society, Prof Jane Memmott. It will help to save the bees.

She explains: “Dandelions are a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for the early pollinators in particular. If they were rare, people would be fighting over them, but because they’re common, people pull them out and spray them with all sorts of horrible things when they should just let them flower. If you leave the lawn to three or four inches, then dandelions, clover and daisies can flower and then you end with something like a tapestry, and it’s much nicer to sit there and watch the insects buzzing about.”

Prof Memmott encourages everyone to get a bee hotel for their garden. “There’s nothing nicer than being sat in a chair with a glass of wine and watching the bees going in and out of your own personal little beehive. Even just a potted plant on a doorstep will provide lunch for a bee or a fly or a butterfly.”

Church Mission Society launches a ‘lament space’ for those in pain

Church Mission Society has opened a space on its website for anyone to use.  It explains: “Our world, and our lives, have changed radically. Are you sad? Angry? Scared?

 “Well, then you’re not alone. Lamentspace is a place where we share our grief with God and each other. About the big things as well as those that may seem trivial.”  Go here

Psalm 34

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, we all live with fear and uncertainty. How do we deal with fear? I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.’ (Ps 34:4). In this psalm, David expresses real fears. He was on the run from Saul, who was trying to murder him! Yet David points to three simple habits that help overcome fear.

Praising God always: I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. (1). It was David’s pattern of life to praise God daily, whatever his circumstances. He was acknowledging God’s lordship over his life. Praise affirms that my circumstances are in His hands and He is with me in all that I am going through.

Seeking God continually: ‘This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.’ (6). David looked to God, who released him from all his fears. It’s easy for our fears to overwhelm us and rob us of the assurance that God loves us and wants the best for us. When we seek God, He hears us and responds, as He is not powerless to act.

Finding refuge in God: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.’ (8). David’s personal invitation is to taste and see that God is good. Our fears often tell us that the opposite is true for us. Fear tells us that God cannot be trusted and that He will abandon us. We can make God our secure refuge and not be afraid.

This psalm helps us to see fear from a totally different perspective: ‘Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.’ (9).

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

From church notice-sheets:

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Brown, our children’s minister, to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

Baptisms: after Easter, the North and South ends of the church will be utilised. Children will be baptised at both ends.

Coming up: Theological Open House. We discuss thought-provoking topics. Your opinions are hardly welcome.

Next Sunday Mrs Brown will sing a solo at the morning service before the vicar preaches on the subject of ‘Terrible experiences and how to survive them’.

Players picked for St Andrew’s darts team will be pinned to the board on Thursday.

EasterEASTER Sunday: the most joyful day of the year.

 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 Good Friday: Friday 7 April 30 AD or Friday 3 April, 33 AD, with Easter Day falling two days later. Modern scholars continue to think these 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 22 March, which last fell in 1818. The latest is 25 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.

Easter Saturday, on the Christian calendar, is the Saturday following the festival of Easter, the Saturday of Easter or Bright Week. In the liturgy of Western Christianity it is the last day of Easter Week, sometimes referred to as the Saturday of Easter Week or Saturday in Easter Week. In the liturgy of Eastern Christianity it is the last day of Bright Week, and called Bright Saturday,

The Bright and Holy Septave Saturday of Easter Eve, or The Bright and Holy Septave Paschal Artos and Octoechoes Saturday of Iscariot's Byzantine Easter Eve. Easter Saturday is the day preceding the Octave Day of Easter (also known as St. Thomas Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday).

Easter Story

The thud of nails on open palms,

‘Father forgive’ was all He said,

‘Finished’ was His final cry,

As death approached God bowed His head.

 

Born of a woman He entered our world,

Fully man yet fully divine,

Such is the mystery beyond comprehension

That One such as this should step into time.

 

He came to die and rise again

The firstfruits of the Father’s love,

That man should follow in His train

On wings of light to realms above.

How do we say goodbye to someone who we have known for many years and enjoyed their company? We arrange a farewell party!

 When Jesus prepared to leave, it was very different. He arranged His last meal and it was no party. His disciples were in for a shock. Jesus brought His friends together and then said one of them would betray Him! He then said Peter would deny Him.

Although Jesus was the host and should have been honoured, He changed His role and became a servant. He got up from the meal table, removed His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. Jesus humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples, much to their dismay and Peter’s objection.  

Hot Cross BunThe hot cross bun marks the end of Lent and different parts of the bun have a certain meaning, including the cross, representing the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices inside signifying the spices used to embalm him at his burial.

The most expensive hot cross bun 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.

Palm waving

It was Palm Sunday, but five-year-old Jamie stayed at home with mum because of a bad cold. When his father and sisters returned, they were carrying several palm fronds. His sister explained: “People held them over Jesus' head as He walked by.”

“That’s not fair!” Jamie protested. “The one Sunday I don't go, and He shows up!”

Visit the C of E online page:

There is now a range of digital resources for to you connect with God at this difficult time.  These include:

Time to Pray app:  Go here which is free and has an accompanying daily audio offering on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Mental health reflections: Go here

Tips to tackle isolation: Go here

Finally, there are the Church’s smart speaker apps, which provide a range of Christian resources:  GO TO  In March alone, the number of people using the Alexa app rose by more than 70 per cent.

 More details at: Go here

On the Covid Frontline

I work in Radiology in a hospital in the East of England – a region that is yet to experience the covid-19 virus with quite the same ferocity as colleagues in London and Birmingham, and certainly the situation is nowhere near as bad as that in China, Iran, Spain and, of course Italy.  But patients are coming into the hospital in increasing numbers experiencing the respiratory distress of a covid-19 infection. So, I’m finding out what it’s like to be on the front line during an epidemic.

As I write the country is in so-called ‘lockdown’, and the virus is impacting upon every aspect of all our lives. The News outlets report the best in people and the worst in people - examples of selfish behavior, especially in and around supermarkets, but also examples of people going well out of their way to help people who become very vulnerable during this period. I’m privileged to work alongside the very best.

Fear is almost the defining feature of this crisis. Of course, the patients themselves are frightened, our hearts go out to them, and though we are separated from them by our protective equipment we can still show that we care, and that we are doing our level best to help them.

The staff are frightened, too. I have heard long-serving, experienced staff tell me how very frightened they are. The conflict between their duty to our patients and their desire to protect themselves and their families is, at times, overwhelming. I'm spending a great deal of my time trying to be reassuring and trying to keep a grip on an ever-changing situation. It's the same across the hospital. Yet, every day, these wonderful people come towards the danger when their instincts tell them to run in the opposite direction.

Am I frightened? Yes, indeed I am frightened. I'm frightened that it will get as bad here as it has been in Italy. I'm frightened that some of my staff will become seriously ill, or worse, because so many healthcare staff seem to be getting sick despite all the protective equipment that we use. And, of course, I'm frightened for the people I care about. Maybe it’s OK to be frightened, because that is better than being blasé, overconfident, and foolhardy.

However, I think our faith in our God is a way to turn fear into calm. It connects us to others across the ages who have faced far, far worse situations than this. No-one is trying to drop high explosives down my chimney. There was only basic equipment and medicine during the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1920. The bubonic plagues of the Middle Ages took a much higher death toll, and the medicine of the time had absolutely no answer to it.

For our generation, who by the grace of God have only known peace, and for whom life has gone on much the same for several decades, it is a terrifying experience.

So far in most of our lives, we have not had to rely on God to quite the same extent as former generations but maybe, just maybe, this crisis will bring us closer to each other and to the God who loves us so dearly.

Five Tips for Tackling Loneliness and Isolation

 The Church of England has published a leaflet giving five tips to help loneliness:Libk to dealing with loneliness and isolation

Pray. Light a candle, if safe, and pray for hope, faith and strength to keep loving and caring for each other during this time of struggle.

Talk about how you feel. This may be difficult if you are self-isolating, but do use the telephone, internet, and social media. If you need to contact a counsellor this can be arranged by your GP, or via local agencies, or privately. Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, every day, and it’s free to call them on 116 123.

Focus on the things that you can change, not on the things you can’t.

Look after yourself - physically, emotionally, spiritually. Plan in things that you enjoy at regular intervals during the day – a TV programme, a phone call, a book, a favourite dish, a game.

Look after others. Even if only in small ways, but do what you can: a smile, a kind word, writing a letter or an email.

Passion Week: The events of Easter took place over a week.

Palms artworkIt 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 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.

Pray for your neighbours – lift them to the Lord!

Thank Him for all that they have done for you!

Claim for your friends the promise of His Word;

In intercession we find strength anew.

 

Ask of the Lord, and surely you’ll receive

Seek now His will, and surely you will find

Knock at His door, and truly we believe

In intercession we see God is kind.

 

Come to the Lord, for He is always there!

Our worries, cares, and our concerns we bring;

O waste no time, just come to Him in prayer

In intercession we find God the King!

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 3 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.”

Coping in the Storm

‘Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.’ (Mark 4:39).

What started out for the disciples as a routine trip across the Sea of Galilee, ended up with a storm threatening to overwhelm their boat! Jesus was asleep in the boat, so little wonder they feared for their lives: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ (38).

Who would have thought two months ago that the world would be overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and our lives turned upside down! Self-isolating and self-distancing are now part of our daily vocabulary, as we live in an uncertain world. What does this story say to us in our circumstances?

Firstly, we read that Jesus calmed the storm: ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’’ (39). He is the Lord of the storm and holds our circumstances in His hands. We are called to trust, not fear, being assured that He is with us to protect us. ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (40). Nothing is outside of His control.

Secondly, despite the calm, the disciples were still terrified: ‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!’’ (41). Like us, the disciples were asking why Jesus, who loved them, had allowed the storm to happen! Our circumstances provide us with an opportunity to understand more deeply who Jesus is. We can’t control Him and we don’t always understand His bigger plans for us and His world. We are called to overcome fear and insecurity, by living lives of peace, faith and hope. How contagious can we be for Jesus in a stormy world?

Paul Woolley of the Bible Society.

Coronavirus: a lesson from the past.

'So many people died that cities and villages in Italy … were abandoned and fell into ruin.'

That’s not a report about the impact of coronavirus, but an epidemic of smallpox that infected the Roman Empire in 165 AD. A second, equally devastating plague, possibly measles, swept the empire less than 100 years later.

Rodney Stark’s work The Rise of Christianity looks at the way Christianity spread in such a difficult context. The question is: How did this happen? Stark gives three reasons:

Firstly, Christianity offered a more satisfactory account of the world – and a better hope for the future – than the dominant pagan and Hellenic philosophies of the day.

Secondly, the Christian values of love and charity which characterised the early Christian community were also ‘translated’ into social service and community solidarity. In other words, those early Christians took care of the sick and vulnerable.

Stark quotes the early bishop Dionysius: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…” And the Romans marvelled at these Christians.

Thirdly, during the epidemic people lost the 'social bonds', the peer pressure, that had previously discouraged them from rebelling against prevailing ideologies and embracing the gospel.

Stark goes on to note that frequently in human history, crises produced by natural disasters have translated into crises of faith where the religion of the day is considered inadequate to the reality of people’s life-experience. In response to these failures of religion, societies often look elsewhere and adopt new faiths.

Of course, this all raises an important question: in light of coronavirus, how should Christians respond today? Inspired by those who have gone before us, perhaps I can offer three suggestions:

Firstly, we should use this period of 'social distancing' to reacquaint ourselves with the big story of the Bible. In the unfolding story of God and the world that we see in the Bible, we are presented with a robust and life-giving account of who God is, what the world is like, and what it means to be truly human.

Secondly, we need to 'translate' the Bible into our everyday lives. We need to practically live out 'love of God and neighbour'. We should support our neighbours by offering to do shopping, collect parcels, post mail, and ensure they have someone to talk to on the phone.

Thirdly, we need to be sensitive to the fact that the current situation will unsettle people and, uninhibited by their social bonds, prompt them to think about God and the purpose of life, perhaps for the very first time, and we need to be ready for conversations about this.

In the second century, the Christian community responded to the smallpox epidemic not by being anxious or fearful, but by being courageous, prayerful, and deeply, and lovingly practical. We need to do the same, secure in the fact that 'God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.' (Psalm 46.1, NIV)

This may be found on the Bible Society: website

 

 

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