Pastoral Letter - 18th February
My dear Friends, I recently conducted a Bible Service at St Mary’s church. This is an annual event for the school when we present each child in one of the year groups with their own copy of the scriptures. We do so while they are still attending the school, rather than as a leaving gift, so that their teachers can help them learn how to use it. Inside each book we write their name and say that it is presented to them as a gift from all at St Mary’s church. The Trustees, who are the Vicar, Church Wardens and a few others whom they appoint, donate these Bibles each year and we bless them and the pupils during the course of the service.
One of the things I mention at these services is that the Bible records the human experience of the God who has revealed Himself to us throughout history, pre-eminently in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. I also tell them of the family Bibles which I currently have, which also record in the inside pages the key events in the life of my family. The point being that the story of people’s interaction with God goes on. God did not stop making Himself real to us or caring about us 2,000 years ago when the final full stop was added after the final word of the final sentence of the scriptures. The Holy Spirit lives on, God’s care and concern for us continues, as surely as ever before. Our encounters with God are part of the ongoing testimony to who God is, how He loves us, how He interacts with our lives, what questions about Him we wrestle with and how He calls us to celebrate Him and make Him known in each generation.
Over these past two years, that calling to celebrate who God is and make Him known to those who are searching for a deeper experience of Him, has been especially challenging as we have tried to deal with the realities imposed upon us by Covid. What you have written to me since March 2020 in your emails in response to this series of Pastoral letters, has been extraordinarily powerful, testifying as you have done to who God has been for you during this time, how you have experienced Him reaching out to you, what you have realised you need of Him, as perhaps never before, what you have learned about the truth of yourselves and the implications of your choices and behaviour upon others, who you know now to be the true friends of your lives, how you want to spend the rest of the time that is left to you here on earth. And for all of those heart-felt and marvellous emails, I thank you.
Were we all to meet and write a collective account of what we have gone through and of what we feel has resourced and inspired us, what we have realised and what we wish to recommit ourselves to, such a document would be a significant document indeed. The people of God have frequently, all down the centuries, met together to reflect on key events in their emerging history. They have listened carefully and reflectively to each other’s stories, seeking to discern patterns and recurring themes. They have crafted words which celebrate and give thanks for what has sustained them, in part to realise anew for themselves and also to pass on to the generations to follow, the resilience of the human spirit and the reassurance which comes from their relationship with the living God.
I have heard recordings made by those who endured the Great Storm of 15th October 1987, their voices trembling in the immediate aftermath of that experience as they spoke, offering their account of that frightening night. I have heard people recount stories of their experiences during the Second World War and even a few from World War One. They spoke movingly, factually, of what happened to them, then pondered what they had realised as a result, what resources they found with others’ help and from their sense of God’s presence with them to get them through.
What we have recently experienced, individually and as a community and country, isn’t so different from many other significant events which have shaped our shared history and determined to some extent, the direction of travel, the values society lives by, the new reality caused by those experiences. And some of us may relish the opportunity, now that we are hopefully and thankfully, emerging from the most acute effects of Covid, to reflect with others on what we have endured and make spiritual as well as emotional sense out of what we have all gone through.
We are all so different from one another, our experiences have been different, our reactions and attitude to risk is bound to be different. Some have been ill, some have been lonely, some have been frightened, others of us not so much so. But as a community, rather than a series of individuals, such a discussion, such an opportunity to share our stories, our realities with others who are prepared to listen patiently to us as we seek to find the words to adequately express to ourselves as well as to them, what we have gone through, may well be rewarding and may well be necessary for our wellbeing and deeper sense of being part of a supportive community.
Lent is traditionally a time when Christians are encouraged to join together to discuss various aspects of our faith; to seek to discern the connections between people’s experience of God as revealed in the scriptures and the experience of Him we are having now. Perhaps this year, 2022, more than ever, I would like to encourage you, even if you have not done so previously, to join one of our Lent discussion groups to discuss the experience of the last two years with a view to allowing that to admit us into a more informed and inspired progress into the years ahead, individually and also as a church community.
This year we will be focusing on some of the stories of Jesus’ followers after His fake trial, seeming failure and gruesome crucifixion, as they too wrestled with and reflected on their traumatic experiences, seeking spiritual insights and asking: "Where was God in all of that?" For as you may remember, it was when they were aching with grief, agonising with questions, introverted with guilt, frightened for the future and lost in doubt, that the Risen Christ make Himself known to them and answered their needs with His presence and His message of hope. These seemingly unpromising situations were the starting points for a fresh new experience of Him and a discovery of who God is and what He is calling us to do in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I really hope that you will be part of the Lent Groups this year, that together we may reflect on what has been and help each other toward the recovery we all need, that we may experience a reawakened sense of what God is calling us to be and do as His people in the future.
With richest blessings
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, as I have mentioned in the letter above, make a special effort to join us.
With all good wishes,
On the Second Sunday before Lent, as we worship in the Eucharist at 9.30am in church and at the Zoom service at 5pm online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke 8 verses 22-25.
ALMIGHTY GOD YOU HAVE CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH AND HAVE MADE US IN YOUR IMAGE: TEACH US TO DISCERN YOUR HAND IN ALL YOUR WORKS AND YOUR LIKENESS IN ALL YOUR CHILDREN. 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.