Pastoral Letter - 12th February
My dear Friends, With snow all around and lockdown still in place, perhaps like you, I have been thinking about Summer holidays! Some go to the Seychelles, Bora Bora, the Fiji Islands or Tuscany for their holidays. When I was a child, a day trip or a long weekend to Porthcawl was the height of indulgence. The candy-floss scented Coney Beach, complete with the tinny sounds of merry go round music; the tiny grains of golden caster sugar sand beneath your feet; the sparkle and splash of the sea; the high pitched cries of delighted children momentarily freed from the hum drum life of terraced house towns under the brooding shadows of the coal pit hills above...........Porthcawl. A name to conjure with! I can even now smell the tang of the sea, the enticing mixed scent of wallflowers and fish and chips. One day, when my parents and I were on the beach in the fun fair part of the coastal town, the sand crowded with islands of families over-spilling their towels, bodies turning from lard-white to lobster-pink in one afternoon, voices were raised beside us. We had all been relaxing, eyes closed against the dazzle of the sun, limbs lethargic after the unaccustomed exertion in the exacting waves, bellies satisfied by sandwiches and slabs of cake, suddenly there was a change. A woman screaming at some children, vindictive, cruel, spiteful, accusing. Their resigned, closed faces looking to the ground, occasionally eyes daring to meet with each other’s. They were a party from a local orphanage and the woman in charge of them was sparing them nothing. Even now, half a century later, my stomach churns with the remembered violence of her tone, cutting through the perfect afternoon like sharp, smashed glass. I recall my parents looking at each other. One brave sunbather challenged the woman, but she railed yet louder. After a while it became too much to bear, telepathically my parents decided to leave, staying was no longer an option. Slowly they began to put our belongings in our bags, folded up the towels and like beaten puppies, we made our way in silence to the car, shimmering in the sunlight. I remember that the door handle was too hot to touch, the leather seats uncomfortably warm for my bare legs to sit on, but sit I did, we all did, in complete, shocked silence. I saw that my mother had tears welling up in her eyes, my father’s face was set with hardly repressed anger. What we had witnessed was horrendous, shedding light as it did on those young children’s lives, committed to the charge of one so merciless, unjust and harsh. I remember thinking that if that was the behaviour they had to endure in public, what did they endure when no one was there to see. It was later that day before my mother found the words, had the composure, to speak to me about what we had seen. Until then I had been trying to work out this adult world I had glimpsed, something strange and new of that afternoon. My thoughts and feelings had been floundering, as nothing now was as it had been when we had set out with smiling faces and light hearts for an afternoon on the pleasure beach. I had never before heard such anger, such hatred, such raised voices or seen children berated and humiliated in such a way. I had grown up in a gentle world of calm and controlled emotions, secure in the sense of home and love and belonging. Having heard only harmony, my young life had heard cacophony for the first time, and its violence and power had shaken the very foundations of my world. Patiently my mother explained to me that some families were not like ours. Some children did not live with mummies and daddies and had to grow up in large houses with other children, looked after by people who were paid to do so. What we had witnessed earlier that day, my mother said, was the exception, she was sure that most children in care were treated much more kindly. It was only then that she found the strength, could reach for the words and longed to be back in the moment, on the beach at Porthcawl, to confront that tyrant and give her a taste of her own medicine, to tell her not to dare speak to the children entrusted to her care in such a way as we had overheard, how she was unfit to be in charge of anyone, how my mother would report her to the authorities. But by then of course, it was too late and I know that the experience of that afternoon haunted my mother ever after, as indeed it stayed with me. I would often remember and think about what it would be like to grow up without the awareness, so often taken for granted by so many of us, of being loved. Love: it’s what we all need and, of course, what few of us deserve. Love: that safety net as we walk the tight rope, high wire, which is stretched over the world. Love: that embrace as we feel the acceptance, the affirmation, the protection of another. Love: that belief in us when we cannot believe in ourselves. Love: that light in the darkness. Love: that energy of hope which keeps us going when everything around us is desolation and destruction. Love: communicated by a strong hand in a fragile world. Love: glistening in the eyes of another when we dare to look up from the pain which sometimes overwhelms us. Love: that tide of optimism which keeps us afloat. Love: that clear note of sanity amidst the confusing din. Love: the food we crave, the drink we thirst for, that we may truly feel alive. Some will be keeping Saint Valentine’s Day this weekend, hoping for love, needing the reassurance of being loved, offering love, being grateful that we are capable of feeling love, being overwhelmed by being loved, hungry for love. Perhaps all of us should recommit to being kind, being patient, being understanding, being loving, not just this coming weekend, but always. Not just to those who love us in return, but generously, unconditionally, to others. And what of the one we call God? God could so easily be wrathful, quick tempered, judgemental, given our half-hearted commitment, our compromised motives, our self-seeking. But the God we see in Christ is gentle, patient, forgiving, understanding, tolerant, free from prejudice, giving us the benefit of the doubt. It is the bright warmth of His love above all else that we seek in the cold darkness in which we live, feeling our way toward fulfilment, purposefulness, belonging. Again and again the scriptures reassure us that He loves us. If only we could believe that this is so. And perhaps, just perhaps, in allowing ourselves to be embraced, we may find it easier to embrace others in return. Perhaps, just perhaps, in finding that we are accepted as we truly are, we may find it easier to accept others as they are. And perhaps, just perhaps, in knowing that we are loved, we may find the well spring of love flowing through us into the arid, asking soil around us, in this fragile, frightened, parched, pandemic-ridden world. Love: if I am honest, I am not sure I have even begun to know the full meaning of the word, but perhaps as with you, it beckons me, excites me, entices me, intrigues me, inspires me, as I pray that I may be capable of knowing but an inkling of its power to transform. So, again perhaps like you, I will dare to expose myself to the Saviour, truthfully, without pretence, without self-justification, without agenda and ask, as so many souls have asked before me, for His embrace of love, for His eyes of acceptance, for His hand of blessing to be known by me in my deepest being. For only in being loved, feeling loved, knowing that we are loved, can I or any of us feel truly alive. My friends, may you know the warmth, the empowerment, the liberation, of such love, now and always. Your priest and friend. Jeff
PRAYER Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, The true bond of peace and of all virtues, Without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son, Our Saviour, Jesus Christ. AMEN. ZOOM Please join us this coming Sunday at 9.30am for our Zoom Service. The readings will be: 2 Kings Ch 2 v 2-12 and Mark 9 v 2-9. The Collect: Almighty Father, Whose Son was revealed in majesty Before He suffered death upon the Cross: Give us grace to perceive your glory, That we may be strengthened to suffer with Him, And be changed into His likeness, From glory to glory. For He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
BISHOP’S VIDEO. As those of you who join us for our Zoom services will know, we had some technical problems last Sunday which meant that we were unable to show the video about housing, which the Bishop of Kensington had recently filmed at our church. If you have not sourced this on our website as yet and would like to view it, please click on the following link. With blessings and best wishes Jeff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNbzWGhxaQ0&feature=youtu.be