From us to you:

Together @ St. Mary's

My dear Friends,


"Love", according to Michael (Mouse) Tolliver in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, "is having someone to buy a Christmas Tree with." A poignant and profound perspective on this time of year and of what it is to be, or not to be, in a relationship.


I love seeing families with enthusiastic children choosing the best shaped and most magnificent tree, usually the bigger the better! Or couples, self-conscious in the newness of their love, allowing the choice of tree to symbolise something which is to do with the putting down of roots with one another in the emerging experience of love. Occasionally I hear of someone told to "go out and buy a tree, and get a nice one!" and see them almost sweating with the strain and responsibility foisted upon them to ensure the delivery of the perfect Christmas for others. I have weighed Michael Tolliver’s words for three decades and still find that they resonate with the experience of human love, its presence or absence, especially at this time of year.


Who knows what Christmas will be like for us this year, or who we will spend it with. Christmas 2020 was for many a non-event, deprived as we were of the company of many of those we love. Or else, if enjoyed with others, then it was with the shadow of Covid hanging overhead and the guilty question tugging at our consciences, "are we putting our loved ones at risk by meeting?" Last year I was offered several turkeys, ordered in advance by people and ultimately not needed because of cancelled plans. One woman, not a church-goer, was quite angry with me when I explained that I couldn’t really use her turkey, as it was just the dogs and me for Christmas and a partridge would suffice. The dogs were also very angry with me for refusing such a gift!


Last year many of us were challenged in our keeping of Christmas, confined as we were to celebrating on our own, with those we lived with or with those we trusted sufficiently to admit to our homes in the hope that they would not give us anything but presents, certainly not the Coronavirus, for Christmas. Many of us had to think afresh as to what Christmas really, essentially meant to us. Was it really cancelled? Was it a non-event? Or was it something we experienced in a different way, having a different encounter with the spiritual dimension of the day?


I have been challenged by what to preach about at Christmas for years. The popular social ideal of Christmas is of happy families in improbable harmony having the perfect meal with all the vegetables and trimmings timed to perfection, to compliment the glistening, perfectly cooked Christmas bird. Everyone receiving the perfect Christmas present, which is "just what they always wanted". Smiles of contentment on everyone’s shining, happy faces. I have been challenged by preaching about Christmas in the context of this, because of course the events we remember at the first Christmas were completely different.


Mary was pregnant, apparently by someone other than her betrothed; they had to go on a long and inconvenient journey far away from home over rough terrain; they had to register in the home city of the husband’s family because of the edict of an unsympathetic government; wives were obliged to accompany their husbands, irrespective of whether or not they were expecting a child. Then not being able to find a room at an inn for her to give birth when they arrived, the gospel implying that Mary had to give birth at the roadside where mangers were traditionally positioned just outside an inn, where animals would feed from as they rested between journeys. The stable seems to be a Western addition to the tale, possibly because of the "dwelling" referred to when the "wise men from the East" come to pay homage in Matthew’s Gospel. It would seem that the first Christmas was anything but perfect, and yet we put ourselves and others under enormous pressure to deliver the perfect Christmas, each and every year, and of course we ourselves are all too imperfect, well, I am anyway.


And isn’t that such a liberating and empowering thing to remember? That God came to share in what it is to be us when things were going wrong, not when things were going right; when there was danger, not when there was safety; when there were difficulties, not when things were going marvellously. The revelation of the God we encounter at Christmas does not just come to those in tinsel decorated homes of perfect relationships in compatible harmony, if indeed such people really exist. The God we meet in Christ in the Bible is one who is most at home with outcasts, with those for whom things have gone wrong, with those who don’t feel welcome or who don’t feel that they fit in. It is there, in chaos, in confusion, in disappointment, in discord, that He most wanted to make Himself known 2,000 years ago and wants to make Himself real to us now. The God of Christmas is also of course the God of the Cross, who does not eschew danger or discord, it is when and where He reaches out to us all most passionately, there to create His wholeness in our brokenness. And that’s the wonder of it.


Of course, I hope that your Christmas is one of beauty and of pleasure, of companionship and comfort, of decent food and delicious wines. I further hope that your central heating works and doesn`t break down, that you will all feel well and able to enjoy the presence of those whose love for you warms your life with a sense of meaning and belonging. I also hope that you find a way of joining us, either on Zoom or in church, for the wonder of worship and take comfort from communion and strength from the sacrament. But if any of these things do not happen, it won`t necessarily mean that you won’t experience the spiritual essence of Christmas, it may just mean that you experience it in a different way, even perhaps a deeper way, as many of us found this time last year. For Emmanuel, "God with us”, is One who accompanies us in the darkness and danger of our existence and reminds us of that in the Christmas Gospel. He is most potently with us when we experience the fragile nature of life and the precarious nature of love, where brokenness and scars hurt us and haunt us.


The Christmas which I suspect God longs for is quite simple: that in the ordinariness and in the truth of who we are, we may grow aware of the loyalty and steadfastness of His love. He will join us in any darkness we may be inhabiting. He will join us in any danger. He will join us in our questions. He will join us in our longings. He will join us in our lostness. He will join us in our loneliness. He will join us when we are with those we love. He will be with us when we are with those we care about. He will be with us when we have decisions to make. He will be with us to prompt us through our transitions. He was with us when we were in the womb. He will be with us when we breathe our last and we will be with Him in whatever is beyond.


Something new is born at Christmas when we dare to open our minds and hearts to discern and discover not what we think Christmas should be all about, but what God would have us know of His commitment to and compassion for, the people He has created to know His love.


May each and every one of you have the growing sense of Him reaching out into the unique wonder of who you are this Christmas, however you spend it, on your own or with others. "God is with us". Perhaps that`s all we need to know in this life and, knowing it, can relax and rejoice.


May the joy of the angels, The eagerness of the shepherds, The perseverance of the wise men, The trust of Mary and Joseph and The peace of the Christ Child Be with you all this Christmas.

With blessings and best wishes.

Jeff


WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s at this, the Fourth Sunday of ADVENT, as we worship in church and on Zoom.

Today’s Eucharist in church will be our eagerly anticipated NATIVITY EUCHARIST, when the children remind us of the Christmas story.

The Zoom service will as usual be at 5pm when we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke Chapter 1 v 39-55.

The Christmas Carol Service will be in church at 6pm.

Today’s Collect,

O God our redeemer, Who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary To be the mother of your Son: Grant that, as she looked for His coming as our Saviour So we may be ready to meet Him When He comes again as our judge. Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit One God now and for ever. AMEN.


9.30 EUCHARIST

The carols we shall be singing at our Eucharist today will be on the specially printed orders of service.


CHRISTMAS EUCHARISTS will be celebrated at the following times: 11pm 24th December, Christmas Eve, 10am 25th December, Christmas Day, 10am 26th December, Boxing Day. As we are having to restrict numbers at each of these services to 160 congregants, in order to ensure that all who wish to do so receive their Christmas Communion, may we respectfully suggest that people only attend one of these three Christmas Eucharists. We hugely appreciate your understanding and co-operation at this complex and challenging time. Thank you.




My Dear Friends,


One of the great joys of parish ministry is seeing people coming alive in their Christian faith. One of the great privileges of priesthood is to be able to encourage people to become more involved in the worship and witness of the Church. In the three parishes in which I have served: St Mary’s Eastbourne, St John’s Upper St Leonards and St Mary’s Twickenham, I have had the extraordinary opportunity of working with some inspiring and committed Christians and I give thanks for them all. Some celebrate their faith in quiet, almost invisible ways; others in more administrative tasks; many choose to express their faith in practical ways; yet others by taking part in worship; there are those who show their commitment to Christ beyond the life of the institutional Church in the everyday life of the so called "secular world", as though there is any division, but whatever the way, the Holy Spirit uses all who offer themselves to His influence, wonderfully and creatively.


We are reminded so many times throughout the scriptures that we are a pilgrim people, constantly on the move. One of the less enjoyable aspects of parish priesthood is saying farewell to people when they move on from being members of a congregation where they are valued and loved. Having spoken with a few people over recent months, I am aware that the experience of lockdown has caused many to question what they are doing in life, which direction they should take and whether they should make any changes. Regrettably, for us, this includes saying farewell to a few members of the congregation who are moving away from the Twickenham area early in the new year. Kelly Burley has served St Mary’s so well as one of our Governors at the school, we will miss her greatly. Her fabulous husband Oli, who has sometimes led our prayers of intercession with so much sensitivity and care, and their amazing children, Jennifer and William who you may recall from Zoom services singing "It’s a wonderful world" along with Louis Armstrong and teaching us all their version of the Lord’s Prayer: "And lead us not to TERMINATION, but deliver us from evil!" They are surely amongst the most enthusiastic and appreciative of our community! We love them and will miss them.


As many of you may also have heard me say last weekend, we are also losing Katherine Cox and so for this, one of my final Pastoral Letters, I would like to share with you what I said of her last Sunday, as we wish her well for her move to Devonshire.


With blessings and best wishes

Jeff


***


Katherine Victoria Cox, child of Devon, child of God, psychotherapist, Doctor of Philosophy, Dowager Church Warden, Vulnerable Adults Champion, sometime organiser of the Summer Fayre, sometime organiser of the Christmas Fayre, Collective Worship Superstar at the School, Trustee of the School, St Mary’s Young People`s Group advocate, cat lover, Vegan, human equivalent of strong black coffee, enthusiast par excellence....we at St Mary’s owe you big time for all that you have contributed to the life of our church over the past 11 and a half years.


I am immensely grateful to the previous Vicar of a certain local parish, for not only failing to reply to your initial call when you ‘phoned to ask if they would conduct the Funeral of your father, Bob, but failed to ‘phone you back the second time too, hence your scraping the bottom of the ecclesiastical barrel and asking if the service could take place here at St Mary’s instead. I can still recall the energy and love which you injected into your tribute to that remarkable man, your father, and I am so pleased that, as a result of such a sad period in your life, new things grew as you found a home with us at St Mary’s.


Here, initially I think it’s fair to say, you came for refuge, to deal with the pain of losing your father and to deal with other issues in your life at the time. Then, as healing gradually happened and rehabilitation eventually resulted, you started to get involved, and how involved you got: investing far more than one hundred per cent of yourself in all you engaged in and undertook to do. We all vividly recall your manic, caffeine-charged Sunday morning appearances on Zoom and your presentations on the scriptures here in church at our 3rd Sunday Eucharists. You have mesmerised children of all ages with your memorable Christmas stories at the Crib Services; you have shown compassion and discernment in some complicated pastoral encounters; you have shown resilience and positivity in the face of challenges and setbacks; you have radiated depth of character and depth of spirituality when others have approached you in distress and you have dedicated yourself unconditionally to the nurturing of children and young people at our church and at our school in their encounter with the living God. I have heard from several parents of how grateful they will lastingly be to you for showing the exciting and attractive face of Christianity to their children, many of whom, they tell me, may well have rejected the Church but for the way in which you have presented and projected, in such a compelling way, what living in Christ is all about.


You, with many others I have been blessed with at St Mary’s to have as members of the congregation, have been a key component in the deepening and the enlivening of this community over the last few years and if you yourself have been blessed by as much as one per cent of the blessings you have helped bestow upon others, then the economy of grace is doing its work.

There is an established tradition in this parish, of Dowager Church Wardens having a home in Devonshire, three of your predecessors in just my time at St Mary’s. We hope, we pray, that there you will find sanctuary for your soul, stimulation for your mind, challenges which play to your strengths, opportunities for making a creative difference, new things to get enthusiastic about, close friends as yet unmet, scope for your considerable skills and gifts and a church community which will cherish and value, encourage and nurture you.


I have wondered what gift we could possibly give to someone who has been an extraordinary gift to us. Flowers would last but a week, wine or whisky probably considerably less time! So what we will be giving you instead is an olive tree, something to either plant in the soil of Devonshire as you put down roots in your new home, or something to keep in a pot, to keep open your options of returning to Twickenham!


An olive tree for various reasons: It was in the scented hush of olive groves that Our Lord Jesus Christ used to go to pray, and you, I know, pray. An olive branch has long been the symbol of peace and you are indeed a peacemaker. Olive oil is used for cooking and I know that hospitality is a really important part of your discipleship. Olive oil is used by the Church to anoint: - to prepare people for Baptism and open their souls to the influence of the Holy Spirit with the Oil of the Catechumenate. - to anoint the sick with the Oil of Healing, bestowing Christ’s reassurance and strength. - to consecrate and commission lives in Christ’s service with the Oil of Chrism. So, may this olive tree inspire your prayers, your peacemaking, your healing, listening ministry. Thank you for being part of the unfolding story of St Mary’s and for investing so much of yourself in our life together. May God bless you, guide you and use you gloriously as you go forward into His future for you.


***


WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s on the Third Sunday of ADVENT. As we worship 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 3 verses 7-18.


This Sunday’s Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who at your first coming sent your messenger John the Baptist To prepare your way before you: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries May likewise so prepare and make ready your way By turning the hearts of the disobedient To the wisdom of the just That, at your second coming to judge the world, We may be found an acceptable people in your sight. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit One God now and for ever.

AMEN. You can find the names of those we shall be remembering in our prayers by following this link to our website "Services" page https://www.stmarytwick.org.uk/services and clicking on the button for 'Our Current Intercessions List'.