Dear Friends, who are still reading!
Surely one of our most well known and most well loved hymns starts with the words:
"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways..."
The words are taken from a poem by the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) and the poem is obviously informed and inspired by Quaker spirituality.
As I may have mentioned in a previous Letter, one of the books which made most of an impression upon me in my formative years, was a volume by another American Quaker, Thomas Kelly. It is entitled "Testament of Devotion" and well worth a read if you are able to find a copy.
What I have been struck by in the spirituality of both of these writers is the relationship between attentive prayer and social action. Both men were attuned to meditative prayer, by which I mean simply and quietly being in God’s presence, making their minds, hearts, imaginations, available to His influence and inspiration and both men then expressed that experience and that relationship in subsequent social involvement and action. For example, Whittier argued passionately against slavery based on his sense, derived through prayerful contemplation of our Creator, of the unique worth and dignity of each and every person made in God’s image. It is this relationship between allowing the heart of us to meet with the heart of God in what we call prayer and what that then leads to in our political actions and social involvement and intervention, which is at the heart of our discipleship. Otherwise our discipleship is only skin deep and we have not allowed it to penetrate our behaviour, motives and acts. Words need to become flesh, as we are reminded of frequently in the scriptures.
Jesus Christ Himself exemplified this crucial connection so many times in the Gospels, showing us that our behaviour and actions should begin with who we are before God in prayer. *You will recall that immediately after His Baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. There it is He is prepared for what is to come in His ministry.
* Before significant moments in His teaching and healing ministry, Jesus is seen to go to the hills in the early morning, to pray. There it is where He is resourced by the wisdom and the power of God for the challenges and requests which are to come.
* Before the direction and focus of His mission leads Him to Jerusalem, there to experience the saving events of what became known as Holy Week, Jesus ascends the hill of the Transfiguration with His three closest friends. There it is He is forewarned by Moses and Elijah of the price He will pay for our salvation and is given the reassurance of His Father’s affirmation and love.
This relationship between attentiveness to God in prayer and any subsequent action, seems to be crucial to the life of Christ and central to the spirituality of our brothers and sisters in the Quaker community.
Please reacquaint yourselves with all the verses of the hymn which has as its first line, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind...." especially in view of the fact that it was initially composed as a poem, but let me draw your attention to one verse especially: "O Sabbath rest by Galilee, O calm of hills above, Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee The silence of eternity, Interpreted by love."
Right at the beginning of the scriptures, right at the beginning of God’s revelation of who He is, we are told that, having created, God rested. Rest, refreshment, relaxation, renewal, recovery, were all part of the balance within the created order and you and I know in our lives too how important such times of rest and recuperation are. We all know of people who have experienced "burn out" either due to too much being asked of them by others at work or in relationships, or too much being asked of them by themselves. Some also feel threatened by not working, as though that is who they essentially are and they will not be loved, accepted or admired unless they show how hard working they are. Perhaps we even recognise something of that in ourselves. We all know deep down that in order to function at our fullest, times of relaxation need to happen. It was one of the Desert Fathers in the first centuries after Christ, who used the image of a bow and arrow, saying that unless a bow is released from being held in tension, it will break and no longer be able to function properly. So too with us. God has made us so that we work and also rest, both being components in the creative enterprise of living.
I am so glad that each week we have the Sabbath, which I hope we can all take advantage of, not just to worship but also to appreciate a change of gear, the opportunity to relax and do other things which stimulate us and remind us that our lives are more than just work, that we are more than who we are as working people.
I am so relieved that each year we have the chance to enjoy what passes for Summer in the UK, with the chance to get away and enjoy other scenery, before the cold, dark, more restrictive months of the Autumn and Winter.
And in our working lives too, we are encouraged to take time to pause and reflect at certain intervals, to engage in a course of intellectual or physical activity by way of refreshment and renewal. Even in the dear old Church of England one is encouraged to take a "Sabbatical." It is supposed to be a 3 month period for study every 7 years, as the word suggests, but quite often it is every 10 years. As those of you who have been at St Mary’s for awhile may recall, the last time I had a Sabbatical was 17 years ago and so the Bishop has very kindly agreed that I may have what will be my second and last Sabbatical of my working life, this year. Thus during May, June and July, I shall be relieved from parish duties so as to concentrate on other things. Many of you have been very kind and generous in your comments and appreciation of these Letters, which apart from other things, have been a record of a parish during a pandemic. They were initially written in response to the need to keep a congregation united and in touch, while we were not able to congregate due to Lockdown restrictions. They appeared before I had even heard of Zoom or knew of the possibility of our worshipping together in that way and were an attempt to encourage a recognition of the presence and purpose of God in what we were experiencing as we tried to discern how He was inviting us to respond to what was going on.
So what I will try to do during my three months away from you all is to review those letters which by now number over 100 and other stories I have written over the last two years and try to compile from them a representative selection with a view perhaps to publication. I would be interested to hear from you if there are any that have made a particular impression on you, as I seek to select the most representative, so do let me know if you would.
Father Ed Hanson who covered for me on 2nd January, has very kindly agreed to take the services during the period during which I shall be away and I am enormously grateful to him for that. I know you will be safe and well cared for in his experienced pastoral hands. But of course, I shall be with you until then, during our journey through Lent, as we keep Holy Week and celebrate Easter and to Chair what will be my 21st APCM on April 24th.
I would also ask that you pray that my forthcoming Sabbatical may reflect what Whittier, Kelly and so many other creative spirits have experienced in their discipleship over the years: this crucial, core connection between being attuned and attentive to God in prayer and honouring of Him in subsequent actions and deeds. As indeed is my prayer for you: that your Sabbath worship may feed into your weekday lives, whatever form those may take.
May God guide and inspire us all, that we may meet with the reality of Him in our prayer and honour Him in our actions and activities; that we may not only experience Him but also express Him; that in His strength, we may all be creative and productive in all that we are and do and say.
With blessings and best wishes.
WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s at this the Second Sunday of the Epiphany of Christ, as we worship in church and on Zoom.
At today’s Eucharist in church and at the Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is John Chapter 2 verses 1-11.
The Hymns at the 9.30am service will be: 10, 394 and 494.
ALMIGHTY GOD IN CHRIST YOU MAKE ALL THINGS NEW: BY THE RICHES OF YOUR GRACE AND IN THE RENEWAL OF LIVES, MAKE KNOWN YOUR HEAVENLY GLORY. 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.
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'. No booking is necessary for the service. Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms or you are required to self-isolate and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, in fairness to others. We would ask that unless you are officially exempted from doing so, everyone wears a face mask, in keeping with Government instructions. Please also consider and follow the other guidance on our website http://www.stmarytwick.org.uk about Covid precautions as we all seek to keep ourselves and others healthy. Communion will be offered in the form of the consecrated host, which you may receive in your hands and which we would ask you to consume immediately.
5 PM EACH SUNDAY UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: ZOOM SERVICE
We very much hope that those of you who are not able to join us in church for our service, join us online instead . This will take the same form which we have used from last April. Please have a candle, matches, bread and wine to hand.
Click Here to download the Order of Service (https://stmarytwick.us19.list-manage.com/track/click?u=460682c93e6c9933403fdd882&id=c3f558861c&e=f5f6e751b3)
There are three main ways to join the service:
1.click on this link:
2. Go to zoom.us (or use the Zoom app) and enter the following Webinar ID:
856 8533 9742
3. If you want to join by telephone dial any of these numbers:
0203 481 5237 or 0203 481 5240 or 0131 460 1196 or 0203 051 2874
and then type in this Webinar ID when prompted: 856 8533 9742
These details are the same every week!
10 AM WEDNESDAY
The Church will be open for private prayer between 10 am and 11 am on Wednesday.
If you would like to know more about the ongoing life of St Mary's and its activities , please see our website: www.stmarytwick.org.uk