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  • Chris Williams

Pastoral Letter - 11th February


Dear Friends,


I could smell it before I saw it, pungent with promise, as I made my way up the church path, just as the sun was setting over the Sussex South Downs. I had been walking in Friston Forest, it had turned out to be a longer walk than we had anticipated and we had come out rather unexpectedly in Jevington. As sunlight was fading and darkness was bruising the sky, the warm glow from the church which was snuggling in a fold of the Downs, beckoned. Its coloured, bejewelled stained glass windows as inviting as a sweet shop window to a greedy child. As I crunched my way up the path, the scent was strong in the early evening air. The church porch was packed with bunches and bouquets of straw and hay; branches of blackberries, bright as baubles; apples glistening with reds, greens and russet.


It was Harvest Thanksgiving weekend, in a way in which perhaps only country churches can celebrate it. This ancient, flint church, set as it was in the middle of land which had been used for centuries for bringing forth food, became the focal point for the poignant reminder at the cusp of the year, that it is not Harvest Festival which the Church celebrates, but rather, Harvest Thanksgiving. Not just to celebrate the harvesting of crops which would give sustenance and strength to the community through the barren months of winter, but Harvest Thanksgiving as the community recognised the source of their plentiful provisions.


It was there, that evening, in the apple scented church, decorated so brilliantly with the fruits of Autumn, that the people of the village, as excited as children on Christmas morning, crammed their church with fruit and flowers, vegetables and crops, branches from hedgerows, produce from their fields and gardens, all finding their place around an altar dedicated to the Holy Eucharist, the creative weekly opportunity of giving thanks to our Creator God with bread and wine, themselves the product of the Harvest. It was there that I became aware of the dependence these people had on the fields, the seeds, the winds, the rain, the sun, for their food and, for many, their income too. It was with relief as well as with joy that they were transforming their simple place of worship into something almost Baroque in terms of colour, richness and splendour.


I remember challenging myself once, when I was unable to sleep one night, to sum up my life in just one word. I know some that might say: searching, questioning, aching, sorrow, loss, children, work, service, longing, adventure.... but I knew instantly which word to choose. I know that some of you might think me verbose (the very idea!) but I could easily condense my life into one word: gratitude. There let it stand. Gratitude. But of course, being me, I cannot but expand! Gratitude to God; gratitude to my parents; gratitude to those who saw who I could become with encouragement, when I was an introverted, insecure child; gratitude for those in the parishes in which I have served who have worked with me; gratitude to friends who have put up with me; gratitude for health; gratitude for my senses; gratitude for my capacity to laugh and gratitude for dogs.


I also remember being seated next to someone I had not previously met, at a dinner party years ago. He worked at the College of Arms and had been working on a coat of arms for Catherine, soon to become Duchess of Cambridge, just after her engagement to Prince William. He explained to me how he had been asking her about her life, her family, her interests, her priorities in life, to help him create a design which adequately represented her. And that got me thinking: if you or I were asked similar questions, how would we respond? How could our life be represented in such a way? Pictorially I suppose, for me: a Celtic Cross, the setting or the rising sun and Labradors would recommend themselves. What about you? What would you include in your design, and what of your motto? For me, I think it would have to relate to my chosen word - Gratitude.


And with regard to gratitude: I wonder how much time we give to thinking about things we are grateful for. So much of life seems to be orchestrated to make us think about what we don’t have, what we have not experienced, where we have not been, what we don’t look like. Dissatisfaction seems essential to how marketing works and how a consumerist culture works on us. It was such a wake-up call to those of us who were at St Mary’s twenty years ago, when someone from a charity came to speak to us at Harvest Thanksgiving. I vividly remember her informing us that we, in West London, on average were in the top 10% of the top 10% of people on the planet, in terms of financial wellbeing and material possessions. What a privileged position most of us are in. But because we are in it, snugly, satisfyingly, we may have little sense of what it is to be otherwise. How grateful we should be for so many things we may even take for granted.


But are we? Are we people who focus on the negatives, on our needs and not on the positives, on our privileges? Perhaps that is a challenge to all of us, to reflect upon the paths our lives have taken: the opportunities we have had; the people we have met who have opened doors for us; the health care interventions which have helped us; the political freedom and relative peace which have characterised our lives for the most part; the skills and gifts that may have come easily to us which have enabled us to find rewarding employment; the friends who have accepted us, forgiven us, believed in us, loved us, irrespective of our deserving such generosity of heart.


So, may I just ask... were you to sum up your life in just one word, what would that word be? I would love to know, but it’s probably more important that you become aware of it yourselves.


With blessings and best wishes,

Jeff


***


LENT AT ST MARY`S


On Ash Wednesday, 2nd March, we will be reintroducing the Wednesday 10am Eucharist. On that special day, we will also be celebrating the Eucharist at 7.30pm, for those who cannot attend during the working day.


We will also be holding 5 sessions at 7.30pm on Mondays in Lent, beginning on 7th March, when we invite you to come along and meet others in the St Mary’s family. We will be reflecting on what we have all, collectively and individually, been experiencing over the last 2 years and on how, if at all, our faith has helped us through. To stimulate discussion, we will be looking at how the first disciples experienced the presence of Christ in similarly difficult and unpromising situations. Do please make a note of this in your diaries and make a special effort to join us. I will be writing further about this in next week`s Pastoral Letter.

With all good wishes Jeff


***


In our worship at St Mary’s on the Third Sunday before Lent, at the 9.30am Eucharist in church and at the 5pm Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke 6 verses 17-26


The Collect:

ALMIGHTY GOD, WHO ALONE CAN BRING ORDER TO THE UNRULY WILLS AND PASSIONS OF SINFUL HUMANITY: GIVE YOUR PEOPLE GRACE SO TO LOVE WHAT YOU COMMAND AND TO DESIRE WHAT YOU PROMISE THAT, AMONG THE MANY CHANGES OF THIS WORLD OUR HEARTS MAY SURELY THERE BE FIXED WHERE TRUE JOYS ARE TO BE FOUND. THIS WE ASK THROUGH JESUS CHRIST YOUR SON, WHO LIVES AND REIGNS WITH YOU AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, ONE GOD, NOW AND FOR EVER, AMEN.


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