Dear Friends, As you well know, I can’t stand name droppers, but I thought you might be interested to know that I attended a very important meeting at Number 10 Downing St this past week. Please see photo above! It was facilitated by the Prime Minister, who had to keep popping in and out of the room as he was supposed to be looking after young Master Wilfred. After all, it was to be the Prime Minister’s latest child’s first Christmas and the PM wanted it to be as beautiful a Christmas as possible, given the Covid circumstances. Also in attendance was the Secretary of State for Festivities, SSFF, commonly known as Feste. Obviously being a Christian festival, they wanted a representative from the Christian Community to be present, and as everyone else was writing Christmas cards, preparing for Sabbaticals, attending Zoom meetings on "Making Christmas Meaningful in Lockdown" and doing risk assessments about using churches for Private Prayer, only I was available (you could literally hear the scraping of the proverbial barrel..) We were allowed to use the White Drawing Room on the first floor for our meeting, which, as those of you who have been there will know, has a wonderful view of Horseguards and also boasts two of the very best paintings by Turner. They are amazing light-scapes that seem to glow and radiate an incredible and ethereal atmosphere. There are also some very comfortable arm chairs, sitting down on one of which was very welcome after my journey up to town. For reasons of social distancing, they had positioned the chairs at opposite ends of the room for Feste and myself, with the result that we had to shout (Feste is a little hard of hearing, though he insists "it’s because everyone mumbles nowadays"). Understandably the PM could not really stay long enough in the room to sit down, so hovered and loitered and bounced around in a rather restless way, which was actually rather distracting. He was the very picture of a Butcher’s Dog, as he frequently describes himself. Dear Matthew John David Hancock couldn’t attend in person, as his desk was and is rather fuller than many other people’s, but he sent a kind little note wishing us well and reminding us of the importance of the correct procedure. I suppose they wanted to get all their protocols and procedures right with God, not offend the Church, allow the festival to continue whilst protecting the electorate and the Health Service. The full guidance will soon be forthcoming but I thought I would share with you some of the Government’s thinking so far, as I thought you might find it interesting.... They announced that, as no travel is permitted except in exceptional circumstances, Mary and Joseph will no longer have to go to Bethlehem in person for the census. They can now attend by Zoom. But, as I pointed out, if this were the case, not only would it seriously interfere with the Old Testament prophecies, it would also change the whole story of Christmas. They are pondering this and will give an update after a series of risk assessments have taken place and conversations had with governments in other countries about co-ordinated travel restrictions. No choir of angels would be permitted to sing, because of the possibility of contaminated droplets being released into the air. At this point, I reminded them that the said choirs only ever sang in the open air, when not in Heaven itself, which is beyond the UK Government’s jurisdiction (which came as a surprise to at least one of them). Also, they must surely be seen to inhabit a "bubble" when singing as the "Heavenly Host”. They are consulting with the Minister for Culture and Sports on regulations relating to "team sports and events" which was the only way they could understand the concept. When it came to the question of the Wise Men there was lots of muttering and tutting, though they insisted on recording them as "non-gender specific personages with a higher than average I.Q, whilst equally valuing those with alternative intellectual abilities." Non-essential travel was not permitted in any circumstances from a list of certain countries, they insisted. I explained that it was vital for the purposes of inclusion, as the birth was heralded as the Saviour to the WHOLE WORLD, not just one section of it, who was being celebrated. This suggestion of "inclusion" seemed to resonate with them well, so they will now consider safe air passages for these "non-gender specific personages." I then mentioned that they would be accompanied by camels, and soon wished I hadn’t. This would apparently put them into the "migrant" category, which involved the Home Office. The mention of the Home Secretary caused some significant discomfort in the room, from both the PM and Feste. "It’s more than our jobs are worth to start meddling in that area........" they both concurred, which obviously I impart to you in confidence. When it came to the birth itself, Feste (Secretary of State for Festivities) read out a list of protocols from Matt Hancock, which made War and Peace read like a postcard. Who was going to sanitise the manger? For Health and Safety reasons, proximity to animals would be forbidden. Only straw which had been first washed three times in disinfectant would be permitted...........and so the list went on. They all mean well and are, I am sure, all doing a marvellous job in difficult circumstances but, as I walked down the celebrated staircase after the meeting had been adjourned, seeing portraits of all who had held the highest office down the decades, my mind strayed back 2,000 years, to the chaos which then reigned. Having to travel because of a political edict, even when a woman was pregnant; having to give birth by the roadside and place your babe in a food trough intended for animals; having only strangers visit and wish you and your infant well; then having to escape under the radar as you had heard that the Government had declared that all male children under the age of two were to be put to death.... It wasn’t the ideal Christmas for Mary, Joseph and others then, as it isn’t an ideal Christmas which lies ahead for us now, but here’s the thing: it didn`t need to be ideal or perfect in order for the presence of God to come into being in their midst. It was into a world of confusion and chaos, political interference and social restriction, exploitation and fear, that He chose to come among us. However and wherever we spend our Christmas, on our own or with others, we can all take heart from the fact that God asks not for perfect conditions in order to become real to us and one with us. He asks only for humbleness and openness of heart, to come and make His home with us. May each and every one of us find a moment to be humble and open in the lead up to Christmas, and invite Christ to come to share our Christmas with us. We are forever in His bubble and He in ours. With blessings and best wishes Jeff
HELP: Please send me your wishes for what gifts you would ask for yourselves, those you care about and for the world, that I may turn it into our Christmas Prayer. It would be marvellous to hear back from you by Monday 7th December. Thank you. J
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom Service at 9.30am. I am enormously grateful to the Marble Hill Singers who have recorded pieces which we will be playing each Sunday during Advent at our Zoom services. Our readings for the First Sunday of Advent will be: Isaiah Chapter 64 verses 1-9 and Mark Chapter 13 verses 24-end. Collect for the First Sunday in Advent: Almighty God, Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness And to put on the armour of light, Now in the time of this mortal life In which your Son Jesus Christ Came to us in great humility: That on the last day, When He shall come again in His glorious majesty To judge the living and the dead, We may rise to the life immortal. Through Him who lives and reigns With you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN. The Prayer for the lighting of the First Advent Candle: Blessed are you, Sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors, To you be glory for ever. You called the Patriarchs to live By the light of faith, And to journey in the hope Of your promised fulfilment. May we be obedient to your call And be ready and watchful to Receive your Christ, A lamp to our feet and a light to our path. For you are our light and our salvation. BLESSED BE GOD FOR EVER. AMEN. Our church will be open for Personal Prayer 3pm-4pm on Sunday and 10am-11.30am on Wednesday. All who are free of Covid symptoms are welcome.
CHRISTMAS AT ST MARY’S. Following the announcement from the Prime Minister a few days ago, it looks as though we will be able to open up our doors to the worshipping community of Twickenham in the lead up to and over the period of Christmas. Alleluia! However, social distancing will need to be observed, thus there will be a limit on how many can be admitted through our doors. On Sundays 6th, 13th and 20th December, there will be a Eucharist celebrated at 11am, following the 9.30am Zoom Service. Because of social distancing, seats will be limited to around 30. To book for these please email Betty Miller on: email@example.com My thanks to Betty for helping us in this way. To maximise the number of people who will be able to receive communion, CHRISTMAS EUCHARISTS will be celebrated at 11am on: Wednesday 23rd December. Friday 25th December. Sunday 27th December. Priority will initially be given to those in the "vulnerable" category in our congregation, after which others will be able to book a seat for themselves or their bubble, in the way explained above. For obvious reasons, you will only be able to book for one of the dates, 23rd, 25th or 27th December.
There will also be a Zoom Service at 9.30am on Christmas Day for those who would like to join us. Details of how to join us will be sent in the mailing earlier that week.
I recognise that this is not entirely as we would wish it to be, but as RAB Butler called it, we are engaging in "the art of the possible." Please join us for our Sunday Zoom services at 9.30am, as advertised elsewhere. There will also be a Zoom Christingle Service on Sunday 6th December at 10.30am and a Crib service which will be sent out as a video link in my Pastoral Letter on 23rd December. Wherever and however you spend your Christmas, please know that you are in the heart, mind and prayers of St Mary's and, thanks to the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ will not be prevented or restricted from being with you wherever you are. He is a God who does not "do" social distancing and who comes "to make His home among us." With blessings and best wishes Jeff