Pastoral Letter - 24th December
My Dear Friends,
Thank you for reading these witterings from the Dog House where I live over the past months, and thank you to those of you who have sent me cards and greetings over recent weeks. It is always lovely to hear from you and I truly appreciate your good wishes for Christmas and the New Year. My prayers and blessings to each and every one of you for the coming days and weeks and months. For those of you who are unable to join us for the Crib Service later this week, here is a video clip especially for you. It is the story I have written for the children of the parish for Christmas, with some help from young Master Timothy! https://youtu.be/wk0SXoF1Iaw There is only one more of these Pastoral Letters to go, unless the Government bring in greater restrictions which curtail church services, so may I say a heartfelt thank you to those of you who have read them and responded to them. I have greatly enjoyed your feedback and your keeping in touch. It has been a strange time in our life together, but an interesting one when I feel that I have made and got to know new friends. I thought it presumptuous to write you a Pastoral Letter from myself at this special time of year, so here is a letter from a shepherd who was there........ With my best wishes for a safe and special Christmas and a New Year of recovery and renewal. Blessings Galore Jeff
"And lo, there were shepherds out in the fields that night, tending their sheep." Well, we would be wouldn’t we? That's what shepherds do. Where else would we be? But did you hear that? "Shepherds, SHEPHERDS!" Ain’t it marvellous?! One of the most important moments in everything that has happened in the history of the human race, thank you very much, and they couldn’t even have included our names!
Others got their names in the Good Book didn’t they? Oh dear me yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they made sure of that they did, they even made sure that some were not confused with others, "Blah the son of Blah, begat, begat, begat etc..." But me and my mates, relegated to the chorus yet again. The "also rans" the "not really important enough to merit being named". "Shepherds!" Pah!
Actually, I enjoyed being a shepherd, it suited me. As you may have gathered, I can be a bit quick tempered, voicing my opinion at the least provocation, not exactly the quietest member of the community. It was probably best that I did spend most of my time out on the hills with the sheep. I was better with sheep than with people. I always had a way with sheep. I could rant with the best of them, and frequently did after having a bit too much to drink, at festivals and the like. But then tap me on the shoulder and tell me that there’s a lamb being born and I am as sober as a Sadducee, as speedily as lightening. Being there, looking after a ewe as she’s lambing, making reassuring noises, making sure everything is going smoothly, is when something deep down inside of me comes to the fore and I’m your man, there ain’t no better. Mostly things go well, sometimes things do not, a lamb chokes on the cord as it comes out or, try as she might, she can’t find the strength to push. Sometimes things go wrong, I hate it, the suffering, the pain, the silence which descends, the emptiness that fills you when one of them tiny mites dies. It’s like a part of you dies with them. You get over it, of course you do, you have to, that's part of the job, part of life, but I try not to think about it.
Let me tell you what makes me laugh. Them lambs, when they are still finding their legs, when they have just filled themselves with their mother's milk, they behave as I do when I have had a few too many cups of wine. They go mad! They go skipping. They just bounce in the air as high as they can, just for the sheer joy of it. I had two last season who seemed to like competing with each other to see which of them could jump the higher. I just sit there, on the grass, looking, mesmerised, a great silly grin on my big ugly face. They are so alive and they make me feel alive too. That's one of the best things about the job, well I say job, it’s more than a job really, it’s a life. And it’s not for everyone, let me tell you. Not everyone wants to be out in all weathers, alert at night in case of danger. Not everyone wants to be out of doors, far away from others. But it suits me well enough and, actually, I wouldn't fancy doing anything else.
"There were shepherds out in the fields at night, tending their flocks." Drives me mad that sentence does and all those pretty pictures I have seen on Christmas cards, it all looks so idyllic, we look like celebrities in period costumes. You can’t sense the danger and the wildness or the isolation or the fear. And there’s another thing you can't pick up on either. You see, shepherds at the time were thought of as fairly low class. I know! I probably come across to you as a classy kinda guy, but no, us shepherds... sorry, we shepherds - though necessary, though they couldn’t do without us, though somebody had to do the job - were thought of as pretty low skilled, menial, manual workers. I will let you think of equivalents in your own day, I wouldn’t want to be accused of prejudice. Nobody thought much of us, indeed, many probably didn’t think of us at all. But someone did. To someone we, me and me mates, sorry...my mates and I, were thought special, though, true to form, none of us got our names in The Book. I know, I mentioned it before, but it grates, it really annoys me.
Names are important. Knowing someone’s name means that you know them, relate to them, connect with them in a different way. When someone calls you by name rather than "Oi, you!" you feel more valued, respected, even loved. And, hand on heart, I know now that someone did know my name, did know who I was, who I am underneath this gruff exterior, beyond the words I utter. Knew me through and through, accepted me, was amused by me, delighted in me, believed in me. And that’s the wonder of it. It was because they knew my name that it all began.
I was out in the fields, tending my sheep by night..... Oh no. They’ve got me doing it now! I was just sitting there, on my favourite rock. My mates and I had had an argument. I was just sharpening the wood at the end of a long stick, in case I had to prod something sinister in the darkness, that usually sees them off, the sharper the better. Then this soft, deep voice sounded beside me. "Reuben", it said. Well usually I would have sprung up, spear in hand to ward them off. I am not used to being startled in the darkness, not by someone I am not expecting to be there. But it sounded like the voice of someone who was a close friend, calling me by name and I turned toward them. I didn't recognise him and yet there was something familiar about him. He was smiling.
"My master has need of you tonight," he said. "Why? Has something gone wrong?" I asked that because other shepherds, when their sheep are in trouble, they all call for me. I have had years of experience and people know I have a gift when it comes to sheep.
"Nothing has gone wrong, but they need you anyway. You are good when births are happening. I know you love to see young life, it speaks to you in a way it doesn’t speak to others. Come with me."
"What about my sheep?" I asked in incredulity. Surely he wasn’t suggesting that I left them there, my mates weren't really to be trusted. "You and your friends must come. My friends will look after your sheep until you return, they will love that. They will be quite safe, I promise." And when he looked at me, I saw in his eyes the truth of what he said and I believed him, trusted him, utterly.
"Where must I go?" I ventured. "I will take you there myself," he said and began to walk away toward Bethlehem. The firelight from outside the many houses of the city was warming the air before us and with that, the strange man began to sing. Softly at first, a catchy, haunting, nostalgic song that reminded me of my childhood. I soon joined in, the others following and down the hills and into the city we went.
It was busy that night, crowds were everywhere, laughing, singing, arguing, pushing past one another. Eventually we came to an Inn. I thought we might have been going in for something to eat and drink but my singing friend, whom I had followed down the hill, went rather to the side of the building where it was mostly in shadow, a rough slanting roof over an area strewn with straw. There were two donkeys tethered to a post, snorting, braying, like they do, steam rising from their flared nostrils. I stroked their large heads, whispered words even I don’t exactly know the meaning of into their floppy ears and they seemed then to relax and found something to munch which had been on the floor.
Why had we come here, I wondered? Could it have been a ploy to get us away from our sheep? They were worth good money after all, those poor lambs, they fetch good money at the festival. Then I heard more singing, this time not from the one who had led us there, this time it was a woman’s voice, though it sounded as though she was no more than a young girl. A man came round from the back of the Inn carrying a lantern and a blanket. Exhausted he looked. He set the lantern carefully on the ground and wrapped the blanket around the young girl who was singing. By the lamp’s light, I then saw she was cradling an infant. You could still smell the birth on him, it was pungent in the air. I recognised it easily from my time with the lambs. She was cradling this tiny life she held in her arms, singing softly in the lamp lit darkness. We just listened. The companion who had led us there turned and looked at me, radiant with wonder. "I didn’t want you to miss this, Reuben" he said. No, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this either.
We didn’t stay long, they needed to rest, a few moments were enough. I didn’t walk back with the others, I wanted to walk by myself, taking it all in, remembering all that we had seen and what we had heard. Why me? Why ask me to witness such an everyday occurrence? Why invite me to sense something so significant, so extraordinary? I am just a shepherd, someone who just ensures the care of sheep, the producing of lambs, for slaughter, for sacrifice, for Passover, for others. I wasn’t called to be there for the birth itself which would have made more sense, especially if things had gone wrong, that’s when I am at my best, then I could have been of use. But what use had I been? No use at all. I had just stood there, looking, recognising that something which spoke to something profound within me had happened, something which spoke to some deep need, deeper within me that I could know.
I am not someone people recognise, rate, respect, even notice. I am just a person you would pass on the street without giving me a glance or a thought. Hardly anyone even knows my name. But that night I was noticed, I was known, I was wanted, I was needed and I felt special, special for the first time in my life. Me, Reuben, a no-one, an outcast, was wanted, was welcomed . And a warmth, a belief, a sense of belonging filled me and fills me still as I remember that sacred, special night, long, long ago.....
Christmas Blessings, from your unknown friend,
CHRISTMAS EVE: CRIB SERVICES: 3.30pm and 4.30pm (for those who have already booked.) MIDNIGHT MASS: 11pm CHRISTMAS MORNING: FESTIVAL EUCHARIST 10am BOXING DAY: CHRISTMAS EUCHARIST, 10 am for those unable to attend the other two Festival Eucharists. As numbers of those attending have to be limited, it would be appreciated if you could choose to come to just one of the Christmas Eucharists. BOXING DAY: Zoom Service, 5pm (please see below for details of how you can join this service) COLLECT FOR CHRISTMAS: ALMIGHTY GOD YOU HAVE GIVEN US YOUR ONLY BEGOTTEN SON TO TAKE OUR NATURE UPON HIM AND AT THIS TIME TO BE BORN OF A PURE VIRGIN: GRANT THAT WE, WHO HAVE BEEN BORN AGAIN AND MADE YOUR CHILDREN BY ADOPTION AND GRACE, MAY DAILY BE RENEWED BY YOUR HOLY SPIRIT 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 EUCHARISTS. 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.
BOXING DAY - 5 PM 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 on Boxing Day. This will take the same form which we have used from last April. Please have a candle, matches, bread and wine to hand.
There are three main ways to join the service: 1.click on this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 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!