Pastoral Letter - 14th August
Dear Friends, Interestingly, for me at least, the gospel set for the last Sunday when churches were allowed to meet to pray and praise together before lockdown, the Third Sunday of Lent, March 15th, was John Chapter 4 verses 5-42. I would like to draw your attention particularly to verses 19-26, which you may like to read before proceeding with this letter. It includes the vexed question of where it is we are called to pray, where we need to be in order to encounter the Presence of the Lord and meet with His favour and Blessing. As you will know, in the Jewish tradition, Temple worship was core and, as the woman mentions here, mountains were also sacred places in the Jewish story, as we considered last week in the story of the Transfiguration. It was on mountain tops and hill tops that God had appeared, for example to Moses when he was given the Ten Commandments, thereby revealing His character in the Law. Ironically this year's Lent Course, which had to be abandoned after just two sessions, also focused on five hill tops significant in Salvation History: Mount Sinai where Moses recorded the Ten Commandments Mount Eremos, where Jesus gave us the Beatitudes Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured Mount Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified The Mount of Olives, from where Jesus ascended into Heaven. For the most part we, as practicing Christians, have not been able to go to our equivalent of the Temple for some months, or for that matter to significant hill tops, though again, I was fortunate enough to walk along some cliffs 400 foot high some weeks ago, where I was able to see buzzards swaying in the air currents from above. Our homes have become the places where we are called to pray: either on our own, on the telephone or the computer courtesy of Zoom on a Sunday. All of us have been required to "do church" in a different way since March 23rd. I have sympathy for those who spend hours every day on Zoom because of work, for whom joining a service through the same medium is a complexity and challenge. Some have to work in their studies and spend hours locked away in there and again, therefore find having a "sacred time" in the same space difficult. Some choose to remove their computer into another room in their house or flat, should it be that large, in order to get a different perspective and be able to attune better to a sense of the numinous and an aspiration to commune with fellow Christians and the God who draws us ever closer to Himself. All of us have been required to adapt and some have found it easier than others. I was surprised in some ways that when our church was open for "private prayer" some weeks ago, before building work began, we were not exactly overwhelmed with people seeking admission. Which is probably just as well as numbers were limited to 20 and thankfully we never had to turn anyone away. I for one have found it a real blessing to use my home for prayer and worship, as a significant meeting point between myself, my fellow Christians and my God. To carve out time as well as space within my home life to focus my thoughts and attention on the things of God, join with you in listening to the scriptures being read, praying together for those who may not be able to pray for themselves at the moment and gain some sense of common purpose with those whose energy I feel encouraged by, even if it is on Zoom. Two things I was surprised by on Zoom, that our time together there could feel so emotional and that our time together there would feel so spiritual. I, like you, crave Communion as we have known it for most of our worshipping lives. I have no idea as to the sacramental character of what we do together on Zoom with bread and wine, but I do know that ours is a creator God who takes what is given and makes transformative sense of it. As we see when that young boy presented Jesus with a few loaves and fishes, (John Chapter 6 verse 9) even though the need was for five thousand times as much. We offer what we can, He takes and uses that creatively and transformingly and what He offers back is always what nourishes and blesses. As our homes are: the places we deal with the reality of what is going on, where we worry about those we love and care for, where we hear the news on the television of radio, where we seek a sense of comfort and security, where we look for the refreshment of sleep, where we may talk to others on the `phone, on the internet or in person............... one of the indirect benefits of the last months has been the sense that our homes have become the place where we now do something sacred every Sunday, perhaps as we have never done before. And my prayer is that this is one of the ways in which God has used this opportunity creatively to remind us all of one of the most extraordinary statements in any salvation history and it is this (John Chapter 1 verse 14) "And God came and made His home with us" ("Pitched His tent among us"). When we think of meeting with God, we may indeed consider it necessary to visit a holy place or sacred site: The Holy Land, Rome, Assisi, Santiago de Compostela, Fatima, Lourdes, Walsingham, Wales! And indeed sometimes setting time aside to travel, to leave distracting things behind, to reflect on who we are travelling towards, all play their part in making such pilgrimages revealing and renewing. But, as the gospel passage I cited at the beginning of this letter states quite clearly, it is not in being dependent upon any physical place that allows us to meet with God, but rather, wonderfully and mysteriously, we meet with Him "in Spirit and in truth." Which could of course be anywhere... Places of pilgrimage, where powerful experiences of God have been felt in the past and where the potency of that encounter seems to have left an indelible impression on the atmosphere, do indeed help us to be open to the things of the Spirit and to the Holy Spirit Himself, and I will be writing of such places in the next few weeks, but He is just as easily accessed, felt, experienced, known, in the ordinariness of our homes for He says not just to Zacchaeus but to us, that He wishes to meet with us in our homes (Luke Chapter 19 verses 1-10) to come to us where we are most authentically ourselves, there to offer us the unconditional gift of Himself. Given what we have all been living through, in recent months, this sense that God wishes to come to me, be real to me, in my home has been a huge source of comfort, strength and inspiration. This renewed reminder that my meeting with Him, communing with Him, is not dependent upon my being in church, but rather, being "in spirit and in truth." Of course we are all missing the encouragement and energy of what it is to celebrate the Eucharist together, it is wonderful to join together in prayer and praise in church, but praise the Lord, we are able to continue communing with Him in our homes, perhaps in a different way, but I hope not in a less significant way. He is not limited to any location in this life, but walks abroad and walks through doors and visits His people, as and when He pleases. We are all able to be present to His presence when we allow ourselves to meet with Him "in spirit and in truth." And may those encounters which He seeks with each of us, change and sanctify our homes to lastingly be places where His presence dwells and His influence inspires. As I sit in my sitting room each Sunday and join you on Zoom, usually with my Labrador Mahler at my side as I do, I have that extraordinary sense of our doing something positive together. I imagine you in your own homes feeling the strength of the Spirit and the truth of His love and I pray that all of you have an enhanced sense since we have been worshipping together on Zoom, that our homes are indeed places: worthy of His being there, where we can turn to God and feel His influence and inspiration, where we can be honest with Him about our sense of sin and unworthiness, open about our needs and vulnerabilities express our longing for the assurance of His acceptance and love, as a place where we can entrust to Him our care and concern for others and where we can know the consolation of true communion with Him. May God continue to reach out to you, strengthen and sustain you, and may each one of you grow in the sense that He is One who seeks to make His home with you, in the extraordinary ordinariness of your lives, for He loves you and wants to share His life with you. May you all let Him and meet with Him daily, both in spirit and in truth.
With His Blessings and my best wishes, Jeff ===
ZOOM! Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom Service, which will take place at 9.30am. Details of how to join us are below. Our theme for this Sunday is how Christ nourishes and provides for us and how He continues to make the gift of Himself to us. Our readings are: 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 verses 23-26 and Matthew Chapter 14 verses 13-21. Our Collect is: Let your merciful ears, O Lord Be open to the prayers of your faithful people, And, that they may obtain their petitions, Prompt them to ask such things as please you, This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
ST MARY'S SCHOOL Our school is one of the most important things within our community, where the children born to us are nurtured and prepared for full and fulfilling lives. One of the ways in which we, as members of the wider community, can serve the school is by becoming a member of the Governing Body.
We currently have two vacancies pending, which we are looking to fill by the Autumn. The two positions falling vacant are for "Foundation Governors." This relates to the school being a "Christian foundation" and thus we are looking for Governors who see this as a way of expressing their Christian faith, which hopefully will inform and inspire their work as Governor.
More information on the work of the Governing body and its members can be found here, and should you, or anyone you know of be interested in learning more about being a Governor of St Mary’s, do please get in touch with me and I will direct you to speak with one of my fellow Governors. Please think carefully as to whether God is asking you to contribute to our community in this way. More information is freely available on request. Thanks and good wishes.