Pastoral Letter - 29th April
80 years ago tomorrow, on the 30th April 1940, at the age of 21, my father (photo above) was captured by German soldiers, having been shot in the shoulder and the leg and left for dead by all but one of of his comrades. They’d had a rough crossing over three nights and three days across the North Sea to Norway. They were then sent into battle on comparatively empty stomachs armed with only left over guns from the First World War.
Some of his comrades were shot within minutes, others drowned as they tried to escape from the unequal numbers and guns of their enemies, my father and his mate Onslow Thomas were shot, captured and taken prisoner.
As they were in such a bad state they and others who had been captured during the day were, in the dead of night, told to get out of the truck that was transporting them, lined up against a hedge in the open country and realised that they were to be shot.
My father turned to the man next to him, a stranger, and said "I don’t know whether you believe in God, but I would start saying your prayers if I were you." He said he began to say the Lord’s Prayer.
It sounds improbable, but at that moment a German officer rode by on a motorbike, saw what was just about to happen and stopped it. "Take these men to hospital immediately" he ordered, and that’s the last my father remembered until waking up to see the kind face of a hospital nurse the next day.
Years later, when things were difficult for my father or life was hard, he would say "This is nothing Jeff. I survived 5 years in a POW Camp, I spent months in solitary confinement for helping others to escape and I was just over 6 stone in weight when I came home." In spite of the anguish of those years, it seemed to have built up resources within him which he drew strength from for the rest of his life.
Though what most of us are currently going through is not as dramatic or as extreme as what my father and so many others experienced during the war, I am sure that I am not alone in finding that I am relying on the resources I have built up through testing times in the past, the better to deal with our present situation.
- Friendships that have been seasoned by years of shared experiences which now give one so much warmth, inspiration and energy.
- The way we have endured adversity in years past, bereavement, disappointment, rejection, loneliness etc. has built up our emotional muscles in ways we hadn’t previously realised.
- The sense that the God has been with us in the past, prompting us through the transitions, continues to be with us now when we need His help.
As with my father, the resilience we have found within ourselves in times past to deal with these experiences and to make creative use out of them and not to be overcome by them, will stand us in good stead as we seek to glean something positive out of our present circumstances. And the influence and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is constantly being offered to us as we seek to make sense out of what is happening, as we call upon Him in our hour of need, as we seek to be a prayerful conduit for grace for others and as we pray that we may recognise the opportunities for serving Christ in the lives of one another throughout this shared experience.
May all of us find within ourselves, and beyond ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit, the physical, psychological and emotional resources we need to deal creatively with the coming days and may this experience draw us ever closer to God and closer to each other in the mutual bonds of healthy dependency, which is intrinsic to how God has made us.
Blessed are they who recognise their need for God,
The strength of the Holy Spirit will be given them!
With continued prayers and good wishes.
Lord, we give thanks for all those who have intervened in our lives
To make that essential difference between hope and fear,
Intimacy and isolation, acceptance and rejection.
Please prompt us to be there for others
To make those differences too,
That we may live as people prompted
By the love you have for each and every person in our lives.
In these strange and challenging days of Covid 19,
Please help us to know that you are with us, no matter what,
That nothing can ever distance you from us or us from you.
Help us Lord to find within us, the gifts and grace of the Holy Spirit
To assist and resource us for the days to come.
May we know your strength surrounding and empowering us
To deal creatively with these current circumstances
And to use this time constructively to reflect on what
Really, lastingly matters and then to invest our lives
In those things which give dignity and purpose to our existence.
This we ask, in the assurance of your presence, power and protection,
And in Jesus’ name.