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  • Emily Bainbridge

Pastoral Letter - 17th July

Dear Friends,

One of the curious pleasures of the Covid lockdown for me has been the novel experience of "having evenings." For most of the thirty years of my ministry, on average five out of every seven evenings have been taken up with meetings or visiting the homes of those kind enough to invite me round, the better for us to get to know each other. I have no complaints about the latter, though meetings may be a different matter. Since this March of course, much of this has changed. `Phone calls may well have taken the place of many of the evening events but on the whole I have enjoyed what others may have been lucky enough to know, that change of pace being declared as the clock chimes six o'clock, a drink and then dinner in an un-rushed and more pleasurable way. Marvellous! I may get used to it! And what, other than eat, is there to do? Sometimes I have read, listened to Bach, `phoned friends, but other times I have switched on the television in the hope of finding something interesting and enjoyable to watch. I am not claiming it to come under either of those categories, but I have occasionally found myself watching the re-re-re-runs of Downton Abbey, if only to store up some of Dame Maggie's lines for future reference in future conversations. The music, for me, is one of the series' greatest charms, that plus the presence of a Labrador not unlike my own. Some say that it is more of a comedy than a drama, but that seems the way of it nowadays. Comparisons to a series I watched as a child, Upstairs Downstairs, help me to realise that in the 60s and 70s people's attention span seemed to be longer, an eye for historical detail may have been keener and things didn't have to be so "dumbed down," though that may just be grumpy old man speak. I read that foreign students of English were encouraged to watch Upstairs Downstairs some years ago, as they were told that if they watched the sequence of episodes, they would be presented with accurate facts pertaining to the key historical events in the years included in the series. Downton, whereas it may entertain, may not be able to boast the same ability. However, it is certainly a window on that world, as people emerged from the trauma of the Great War and faced the rebuilding of the country and the reconfiguration of the class structure in very changed circumstances. Some of the episodes of Downton which have been shown most recently have dealt with the threat to Downton Abbey and other estates throughout the country after the savagery and transformation of World War One. It is the end of Feudal Britain, the Squire in his Manor House offering employment to the local community and oftentimes accommodation too. The way farming had been done for centuries is now not seen as cost effective, new methods must be employed or the estates and their farms will go under. Servants are harder to find and thus large houses able to be run in the grand style. After the Great Crash of 1929 things only got worse and estates like Downton had to adapt or die. Many grand homes, historic buildings, architectural gems as well as monstrosities built to satisfy the egos of their owners, are pulled down before they fall down as families fail to find the money to sustain and maintain them. The landowning class suffers a challenge they simply had not expected and no historic assets or elevated social positions are able to protect them from the new reality. Their assumption was that things would continue in ever unbroken continuity for generations to come. But it was not to be. The old way was not sustainable and if the Crawleys and other, non fictional families, wished to retain their estates and continue to inhabit their grand homes, then changes needed to be made to accommodate the new reality, however uncomfortable and threatening that may be. As we well know, some estates have been transformed into Safari Parks, others have become Conference Centres, Wedding, Horse Racing or Motor Car Rally venues. Many have had to open their doors to the paying public to view, as though how a different species lives in their natural habitat. The old ways have had to adapt. Old buildings have had to adjust to new uses, those which have adapted have survived, many of those which have not have sadly perished. The dear old Church of England has been part of the Establishment of this country for centuries, oftentimes with the Patronage of the old families. We too have inherited significant historical buildings and national treasures and we too have seen a significant change in historic funds and income, which have traditionally supported its structures and its stipends. To support a listed building just from donations from congregations and no support from the State is an ever increasing challenge, falling on those already finding life financially challenging. Cathedrals now invariably charge an entrance fee, which I find difficult though understandable. Abandoned and derelict churches cannot but sadden the onlooker, as though the enterprise of faith has failed, become redundant, irrelevant, in retreat. But of course, the Church of England is far more than its buildings, it is primarily its people and this Covid year has made it clearer than ever that the Church at a local level at least, is alive and kicking, a force for good, an agency of assistance, a focus for unity, completely independent of us inhabiting our buildings, beautiful though some of them undoubtedly are. This is mainly thanks to technology, telephones, computers, Internet and Zoom. Praise the Lord for all of them! I would suggest to you that our own church of St Mary's and indeed many, many others, are not just surviving this present lockdown, we are thriving. Unable to meet in person to become "the Church of God" we meet in the Spirit, in our case at 9.30am on Sundays, courtesy of Zoom. And in the emails I often mention your having sent to me, especially in response to my invitation to contribute to the Anthem of Gratitude, you have expressed how much deeper your faith, your gratitude, your sense of God has become in recent months. Perhaps it always was that deep, but we may all have had the opportunity to appreciate and experience it at a deeper level. Our expressions of love and concern for one another, our sense of equality under God as a human family, the sacrificial caring of others by key workers, especially in the National Health Service and local charities, our getting to know our neighbours better, new communities springing up amongst interest groups, in my case of the dog walking variety: there is so much to feed us with hope that the Holy Spirit is at work within His people, irrespective of whether we are able to congregate in our churches. He is allowing us to become "Church" in exciting and new ways. When you and I will look back at this time, we may well see a stripping away of what we have become used to and familiar with, in the culture of church going. We may well see a shift in how we "do church" and what we think we should be involved in, seek to provide and give a lead to, in our community. As church attenders, we have surely all been stripped to the bare essentials, to recognise that what we are really here for: - To provide a space where people may discover the presence of God. - To offer a place of encouragement, welcome and affirmation. - To celebrate the fact that God is interested in the whole of our lives and not just the "holy" bit. - To be a focal point for our community as it celebrates or commemorates the key events in our shared history. - To make possible the experience of Communion with Christ. - To offer opportunities of learning more about the Christian faith. - To be a place where the creative arts are allowed to inform, animate and inspire our lives. - To be a place where Christ's injunction to serve those in need may be obeyed. - To promote a sense of justice, equality and compassion for all. - To be a place where the weak may feel stronger, the marginalised find companionship, the sick find healing, the lost feel that they belong. - To be a place where people, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, cultural heritage or place on the spectrum of faith may find their place. I am hopeful that when we do re-emerge to "do church" again within our buildings, we will, even subtly, be doing so in different ways. This will of course be even more possible after the place is re-opened in September after the new floor, heating system and seating arrangements are completed, work on which will commence this coming week. Then I look forward to the opportunity of engaging with you in looking at what has strengthened and sustained us, what lessons we need to learn about how God is calling is to be His community and what He is inviting us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit, to help heal and renew our community as it seeks to recover. The Pandemic may not have been at the whim or will of God, but He will use it creatively as once He transformed lame limbs into dancing ones, blind eyes into seeing ones, for "all things work for good, for those who are in Christ." (Romans 8 v.28) Ours is a Creator God who always "makes things new." (Revelation 21 v.5) We must be alive to that, responsive to that and seek to celebrate that, as we offer ourselves to become His transforming presence at the heart of our community. And what of Downton Abbey and what of the church of St Mary's Twickenham? The challenge in our day may well be to use our buildings in new ways the better, not just to survive, but to thrive. To re-establish, to re-interpret who we are for the community in which we are set. To meet the needs, not of who we were decades ago, but the needs of who we will become by God's grace, in decades to come. The Church of God should, like any traveller, through time or through the world, always have eyes set on the future, not the past, for where our eyes are, there will our feet follow also! You will all know, especially from my letter two weeks ago about special sites in Wales, that I greatly value places which are numinous, where we feel the touch of God upon our shoulders and breathe the air of Heaven. But church buildings, like historic homes such as the fictional Downton Abbey a century ago, have to adapt and not just be a venue for how people worshipped in the past, probably once a week. We must be more ambitious by far than that. We must be at the vibrant, innovative, creative heart of our community and celebrate the fact that the God we seek to know and serve is interested in every aspect, not just the worshipping part, of who and what we are. He looks upon not who we are when we sing or pray, He looks at us too with loving eyes when we are homeless or hungry, when we feel lonely or unconnected, where we need to feel uplifted and held, when we need to share the story of who we are, with others. And the work to allow our church to maintain what we value of the past, whilst allowing us to enjoy an updated and more flexible space which can be used in new ways in the future, will mark an exciting stage in the unfolding of the story of the people of God, Twickenham branch! Indeed, we may even look back and see this strange dovetailing of the Covid re-evaluation and lockdown and the renewal of our church interior, as a prophetic moment that lifts us into God's future for us. For perhaps, in the providence of God, we need a newly configured interior, the better to offer our community ways throughout the coming years in which to connect their lives and stories to the life and ongoing story of our Creator God . In the meantime, we continue to connect with each other and commune with God through our personal prayers and through our services together on Zoom, asking that God would use this time to prepare us and equip us for the days which lay ahead. When we do all re-convene, I hope we will support and stimulate each other to meeting the challenges of being church and a context for transformation, allowing all that has been good and for which we are profoundly grateful over recent months, all that we have realised is of real, lasting worth, to inform and inspire us to offer a resource for spiritual, artistic, intellectual, social and welfare needs and to respond to those needs with affirmation, empathy, compassion and love. Thank you to all of you who support St Mary's in this aspiration and endeavour and who have given so generously to the reordering fund to make this exciting moment possible. I look forward to our working together as we offer our church buildings and community to God, that He may use us in new ways and reassures us that He continues to be at the beating heart of our community, as He has been in ever innovative ways all down the centuries: a reference point and a resource as we consider the core questions of our existence and how we can help build a world He once "looked upon and saw that it was good." (Genesis 1 v. 31) May St. Mary's forever be a place where God's people are fed and nurtured and where all are affirmed and forgiven. May it be a place of presence and transformation which testifies to the truth that God is with us always, even to the end of the age. May all those who turn to Him always find Him there, waiting, offering solace and strength and may His light continue to burn bright in our midst where no darkness will ever overcome it. With blessings and best wishes, Jeff


Please join us again this Sunday on Zoom, for our time of worship. The readings will be Psalm 118 verses 1-9 & 19-the end. Luke 17 verses 11-19 Our Collect is: Merciful God, You have prepared for those who love you Such good things as pass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward you, That we, loving you in all things and above all things, May obtain your promises, Which exceed all that we can desire. This we ask through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN


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