From us to you:

Together @ St. Mary's

Dear Friends,

As we prepare to return to church this coming Sunday for our 9.30am Parish Eucharist, first come with me down an imagined, but perhaps typical, London street..... Ben’s mother drank, a lot, sometimes an incredible amount. The kitchen surfaces were frequently covered with bottles, large quantities of lager bottles, sometimes whisky bottles too. Ben had noticed that alcohol made some people talk, even rant, but with his mother, it just made her silent. She would fall as though into a deep, dark place within herself and go further and further down. Ben couldn’t bear to see her in this state so he would go out for walks. He would put his haversack on his back and go to the door of their cramped flat, taking a furtive look at himself before leaving in the smudged mirror in the small hallway. Ben was ten. In many ways he was advanced for his age, matured by pain and a sense of responsibility for his mother, in some ways he was just an average boy of his age, in other ways naively young. He had big, milk chocolate coloured eyes that looked out at the world with frightened wonder. His eye lashes were longer than usual and curled at the ends, the envy of some of the girls in his class at school. His lips were a deep red, mainly from having bitten them and chewed them in anguish and his hair was that "impossible to do anything with" fuzz, a rusty dull brown. He wore clothes which either social workers or a neighbour who volunteered at a local charity shop occasionally thrust into his hand in an old, much used carrier bag, when she saw him in the corridor. That was on the outside of Ben, but inside he was different. Ben had great riches inside, he would sit for hours letting his imagination take him to places he had never been, only seen on the television or read of in books, which he explored, undisturbed, in his mind. Sometimes these places he would inhabit in his fantasies were more real to him that the realities around him in his flat, in his neighbourhood and in his school. He read, avidly, forming deep attachments to the books he read and then re-read. In some of these stories he would make his imaginary home, finding a sense of identity and purpose between the cherished pages, making friends with the characters described. Together they would laugh, smile, tell jokes, there he would be popular, succeed and achieve great things. These moments were amongst the most real and significant of his existence and a sense of contentment came upon him at those times which eluded him elsewhere. What else was there for him to do when he got home from school, on those days when his mother had been drinking? The television was boring, created for kids in homes and relationships with which he couldn`t identify, had nothing in common with. They spoke as though in a language he simply didn`t understand and experienced things which he had never encountered. Such programmes left him feeling even more lonely than just listening to the silence of the flat he shared with his mother on the outskirts of London, with the constant drone of traffic outside, the inevitable blaring of horns from impatient drivers, the occasional screeching of brakes. Night time noises were a little different: screams of laughter from gaggles of girls tipsy, swaying their way home from the pub, always dressed in bright exotic colours and walking on sharp spears of shoes; cans being kicked aimlessly down the road in an otherwise silent street in the early hours and always, the smell of cooking coming through their window which would never quite shut. In some ways, for Ben, it was the smells which were the most disturbing, making their way to him as they did when he was at his hungriest. His mother would spend so much on booze, there wasn`t much left for food. Thin slices of white bread, shiny slithers of tasteless, pink ham, margarine a bright improbable yellow, and whatever was on special offer or reduced because of the sell by date at the supermarket. Such was the food he ate at home, thank goodness for school lunches. What hope was there for Ben? What prospect of ever escaping the tired, monotonous boredom of his life? He would sometimes gaze at a fly, trapped on the wrong side of the windows which never opened, buzzing away in a frenzy, desperate to escape, finally falling down exhausted and Ben would look at the fly and feel the bond between them............. A few doors away from the flat which Ben shared with his mother, in a modern maisonette, Marjory is singing. Marjory is happier than she has been in months. For the first time since Christmas 2019 her son, Gerald, and his partner Katie and their two children, Alice and Peter, are coming to see her. She has planned the menu in her head a thousand times and has been down to the shops to get everything required. The oven is on, smells are starting to spread through the house and an excitement is similarly spreading through her whole body. It is going to be such a celebration, a combination of all the Christmas dinners, Easter lunches, Mothering Sunday meals, Birthday celebrations they have missed, because of the dreaded Covid. She smiles at her cat and laughs to herself as she waits for the ring of the doorbell, which will happen at any moment............. In the next house along, Charles is putting off telling his father that, after having converted the garage into a "granny annex" with the implicit agreement that, having made a generous contribution from his savings to the project, his father could come to live with them, Samantha, his rather domineering wife has unilaterally decided that she simply has to have a live in nanny, who will need to be accommodated in the extra space. Charles looks at the `phone and is dreading the conversation with his gentle, ever trusting, father..... In a semi-detached Victorian house a few more doors down the road, is George. George is a young executive, very up and coming. He had an easy time at University, sailing through with an easy First. He had been head hunted and given his first job immediately, earning an improbable amount of money from the start. Because of his specialist area of expertise, the huge global company for which he worked relied upon him hugely. But tonight George is in his daughter, Jennifer's room. Jennifer is five and the most perfect thing he has ever seen. Sometimes when he looks at her it is as though his heart will break for the pain of loving her so strongly. He sits beside her bed as she sleeps, a night light warming the air with its glow. He hears only her soft breathing, he sees only her face content in sleep, her lips slightly open, exposing the tip of her tongue and her milky white teeth. George has been asked to work in America. It is only for twelve months, they promised, hardly any time at all and the request has been accompanied by an incredible financial incentive, it would set them up for years. His partner Jill has refused to join him, so it would mean being away from them both for a year. How can he explain his leaving for so long to a child who relies upon him so completely? No, that's not the truth of it at all he realises, quite the reverse, it is he who has come to depend upon her. Her voice, her giggle, her wide eyed excitement, her energy, her zest for life. How could he even contemplate leaving? And yet, like a door slamming in his mind, like a hosepipe of shimmering cold water directed at his face, he remembers that he has already spoken to the Company Director and more or less given his word............. Next door to George is the other semi-detached Victorian house, which has been turned into flats. In the basement, hanging up her washing over the bath which she has carefully done by hand, is Jewel from Nigeria. Jewel is a nurse and all the way through the pandemic she has worked in a busy London hospital. She has walked to work whenever possible, to keep to a minimum the opportunities for catching the dreaded Coronavirus on a bus or train. It extended her day and exhausted her body yet further, but there was no point in taking risks, people depended upon her. She had been living as frugally as she could from the meagre pay she got from the NHS, sending as much money as she could home to her family in Africa. But from now on there would be no need. They had all died of Covid within just a few weeks of each other. They had all been suffering, miles away from any hospital, while she had been caring for patients here in the UK. What purpose did she now have in life? She had no idea............ In the flat above Jewel live a young family. Two talented, vibrant, hard working, intelligent parents, always talking, discussing, entertaining. Two equally talented, vibrant teenage children and tonight they are all celebrating and cheering, for Tim has got the grades he needed for the course he wants to do at University and will be off there to start this new chapter in his life within weeks.......... In the bathroom of the flat above them is Kim. Kim too is celebrating tonight. She has longed for a child since she was in her teens, but it never seemed to happen. She is now thirty six and unbelievably, she has just done the pregnancy test and it is positive! She stares and stares at the small indicator on the test, trying to take in the full implications of what it is telling her. She screams. Paul comes running........"What is it? Are you alright?" She opens the door, eyes, face shining, aglow, looking at the man she adores, with tears in her eyes, the man who is the father of the child she now bares............. All these and countless other permutations of personal experience are going on all the time in the roads, streets, avenues and high rise flats of our neighbourhoods. Joys, tragedies, affirmations, disappointments and part of the uniquely treasured wonder of the Church of England is that everyone, everyone, is part of a parish, regardless of whether they attend church or not. Over the past 18 months, since I began writing these letters to you, parishes such as ours have been seeking to support, encourage, befriend, minister to, engage with, keep in touch with, those who are regular and irregular attendees at our churches and connect with those from other places too. And again, I would like to thank all those who have worked with me over these exceptional months. We had to rise to the challenge of maintaining a sense of "Church" while we were not able to enter our church buildings. We were tasked with continuing to celebrate God's presence at the heart of our community, when we couldn't physically meet together. We have needed to draw strength and inspiration from the scriptures together and eat and drink in a way that nourishes and refreshes us, whilst not being able to celebrate the Eucharist or receive Communion together, for the large part, and I am so grateful for the many creative ways in which the Spirit of the Living God has led us to know communion and a sense of community and togetherness, during some dark, cold, isolating, frightening and challenging times. The challenges, the opportunities, we must rise to now as we reopen our church for the Parish Eucharist on Sunday mornings, is to encourage people to come in and experience what being part of a community centred on the transforming love of Christ, is all about. People such as the ones whom I have described the lives and situations of earlier. We need to be a parish which attracts, welcomes, embraces Ben, Marjory, Charles, Samantha, Jewel, George, Jill, Tim, Kim, Paul and so many others besides. The church to which we return is not just for ourselves, it is a place which we must share with so many others. The love of God is longing to be invited into the lives, hearts, opportunities, experiences of everyone, as a resource and inspiration for deeper living. And ours is now the challenge to invite others into that encounter in ways which will empower people to help rebuild with compassion and care the communities of which we are part. And the Holy Spirit is already at work drawing people together, offering opportunities to connect, wanting always to heal, forgive, renew, liberate, accept, reassure, and the Holy Spirit is inviting us, you and me, to be part of this endeavour. The last 18 months have taken their toll on us all, I am all too aware of that in myself. None of us is the same as we were before March of 2020. Some of us are weaker and some of us are stronger for the experience. Some of us feel closer to others, some of us feel more distant at the moment, because of what we have been through, and we must try to be understanding and undemanding of each other as we try, at different speeds and with different thresholds and attitudes toward risk, to reclaim our lives and re-inhabit our church. The Church, you and I, must play our part in warming the places where we live with more genuine gestures of neighbourliness, more conscious acts of charity, more committed financial support for the things which really matter, more sincere offering of ourselves. Where we live is the raw material for what God is about to do in our midst and what He does is always of love, of compassion, of gentleness, of justice, of truth, that promotes harmony, unity, peace. This coming Sunday we will be celebrating, in church and on Zoom, the Patronal Festival of our church of Saint Mary's, a woman whom we are first introduced to in the scriptures when she dares to say yes, entrusting herself to whatever the Spirit of God has in store for her. Inspired by her example, let all of us say YES to how God is wanting to use us, and recommit ourselves to being part of the rebuilding of our church, community, country and indeed, the whole of creation. Thank you for being my companions in this sequence of letters and for reading them whenever you have had the chance. I will look back on these times as a rare opportunity in my ministry for the sharing some special moments together. With blessings and best wishes. As ever, your parish priest. Jeff




THIS SUNDAY


Collect for this Sunday:


Almighty God

Who looked upon the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary

And chose her to be the mother of your only Son:

Grant that we who are redeemed by His blood

May share with her in the glory of your eternal kingdom,

This we ask through the same, Jesus Christ our Lord

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, now and for ever.

AMEN


WELCOME to our worship at St Mary's on this our Patronal Festival, whether you are joining us in church or on Zoom.


Today at both the 9.30am Eucharist in church and the 5pm Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke Chapter 1 verses 46-55.


We will also be remembering others in our prayers of intercession (click here to access our intercession list).

Dear Friends,


I know that some of you may think I may have lost what few priestly marbles I might have, but may I ask you to forget for a moment about the concept of God, with all its associated images and ideas. I want you instead to come back with me millions, billions, trillions, quillions of years and look at the great, vast nothingness before there was a universe, a solar system, anything. Just nothingness, emptiness, silence.


Then I want you to sense that initial spark that generated life, that first fragment of form which "was." Then to be aware of the energy that was present, an energy which grew and explored and became and developed and evolved and multiplied and spread. This energy held everything together so that all worked as one. It developed colour, texture, form, individuality, diversity, complementarity. That energy was in everything and was everything. Everything came into being because of that energy, and it is about that energy that I wish to write to you now.


Perhaps like you, I can recall as a child knocking two flints together and after a few failed efforts, a spark was born. That spark then set fire to some paper, that paper set light to more paper and then twigs, branches, logs, then coals on a fire. All came into being before our eyes from such a small beginning. Warmth, light, changed the landscape, the moment, the experience.


It is that spark, that energy, that light, that warmth which came into being when those three components we call the Holy Trinity collided in creative harmony, which resulted in life as we know it, in all its wonder and wideness.


As I say, set aside your churchy notions of God and just sense this energy, this life force, that caused all to be in the experiment and experience of living; this attempt at sharing the experience of "being." The freedom which was necessary for life to form and to thrive had a shadow side as we know, and again there is a churchy word for it, but essentially it was to do with being anti-life, anti-that which is essential, and intrinsic, to life.


In the same way in which darkness is the opposite of light, so was this force opposite to life and still this force seeks to drain us of life and sometimes in our conscious choices we collude with this presence which is anti-life. But life, at its most essential, deep down we instinctively know, is sacred, special, something which should be respected, reverenced, revered. We are vividly reminded of it when we see young life, in an infant, a puppy, a kitten, a chick, a duckling or a bud on a branch. Something deep within us recognizes the wonder of new life and an awe and a softness comes upon us unawares.


We know, at a level deeper and more profound than our conscious minds, that the energy which created life, is intrinsically good and that growing sense within us of the gift, the wonder, the privilege, the fragility, the goodness of life, we then gave a name to. Human beings, the now dominant life form in our world at least, cannot be nourished or sustained, without the complementarity of creation. Then, extraordinarily, part of that creative energy which caused us to be, became one of us to show by example how to live, how to align ourselves with the energy and essence of life at its purest and most potently enlivening. His name was Jesus and He came that we may know life and know it abundantly. (John Ch. 10 v. 10) This man also spoke about something we call prayer, and again perhaps our preconceptions rob the word of its essential meaning, coming as it does with expectations we feel unequal to adequately experiencing or expressing. The activity which is called prayer is simply when we tune in to the creative energy which is at the heart of the life force from which we come. This is what He, Jesus, did and we can see the result of His so doing. He allowed His humanity to be in harmony with that life force and that gave Him the power, the energy, the capacity to heal those broken of body or spirit and to teach in a way that revealed truth which set people free. Ultimately of course, His living in tune, in harmony, in alignment with the source of all life allowed Him to rise from the dead and it is precisely this creative energy at the very heart of the gift of life that I would ask you to consider.


I would invite you to contemplate with me the relationship at the heart of the life force, the energy field which caused us to be. Three components working in creative harmony which effectively shared the experience of living with forms beyond themselves. Henceforth they are inevitably part of who we are, we are part of who they are. That is why we worship, that is what worship is, finding our way back into living in creative harmony with our Creator, freeing our minds from falsehoods, knowing the truth which will set us free, being released from the dark impulses which persuade us to choose self rather than community, thus separating us from the complementarity at the heart of all that is. In worshipping in this way we are invited to eat, drink, be nourished, refreshed, become one with each other, the rest of creation and with our Creator in the sustaining act we call Eucharist.


This is one of the reasons I find it difficult to open my mind and my imagination to the contemplation of these things last thing at night for, while reassuring and comforting, they are also too stimulating for me to bear before the repose of sleep. To consider these things awakens me, makes me feel more alert and alive. It is to feel the creative energy surging through one`s body, mind and spirit. Better by far to think of these things early in the morning!


But that is why you and I need to spend time opening ourselves, offering ourselves, to the communion we need to have, not because we are necessarily religious, but because we are human and alive. As created beings, we need to feed from the presence and power of our Creator, there to be refreshed and renewed. That`s where we find our resources for living, for loving, for confronting the things which are anti-life and thence be able to make a constructive difference to the world, as we see wonderfully exampled in the life of Jesus, Son of Man.



In this, I believe my 88th Pastoral Letter since March of last year and possibly the penultimate one, for the time being at least, I wish I could more adequately convey to you the energy I seek to celebrate, the energy which exists in the frisson between who has been revealed to us in the Christian community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose image we have been created. I wish I could express more vividly the energy we can encounter when we turn our minds and open our hearts in what we tend to call the enterprise of prayer. Prayer: when the depths of ourselves reach out to the depths of our Creator and when the depths of our Creator reaches out to the truth of who were are. It is the most extraordinarily life enhancing thing which we can ever know.


You and I are invited on an adventure of discovery and an ever deepening relationship with the source of our existence. Jesus admits us to it, the Holy Spirit energises us for it and the Father draws us into it. What is required of us is simply that we believe in it and entrust ourselves to it, for there we will find riches, belonging, identity, purpose, meaning, wonder, truth, reassurance and what we mean by light and life and love.


May we all continue to experience the energy of which I speak in a way which empowers and equips us for all that lays ahead beyond the experience of the Covid Pandemic, Social Distancing and Lockdown, in the recovery of people`s lives and the rebuilding of the communities of which we are part, for we are in great need of it and cannot do these things in our own strength alone.


With blessings and best wishes,

Jeff





ZOOM AND MORE

As you may have heard me say in church and at the last few Zoom services, this coming Sunday, 29th August, will be our last Zoom service at 9.30am. From 5th September we will be holding the 9.30am service in church and our Zoom service will be celebrated at 5pm. I hope you will join us for one of these worshipping experiences. You can join us this Sunday for our ZOOM SERVICE at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm for our final 6pm Eucharist. You can also join us for Private Prayer in the church 10am-11am on Wednesdays 1st and 8th September. From 15th September the Holy Eucharist will be celebrated at 10am. The reading this Sunday is: John Chapter 20 verses 1-18. The Collect: Almighty God Who called your Church to bear witness That you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: Help us to proclaim the good news of your love, That all who hear it may be drawn to you; This we ask and pray through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you, In the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.