Pastoral Letter - 31st December 2020
My dear Friends,
This is the last Pastoral Letter I shall write to you this year. As I have mentioned to you before, had I known in March that I would still be writing to you in December, I may have had second thoughts about starting on this venture! But if I have learned anything about myself during recent months, it is that I very much want to be in touch with you and to assure you of my prayers, as we encourage one another to look to God to strengthen and inspire us to deal positively and creatively with the situation in which we find ourselves.
Thank you for all your responses to my Pastoral Letters and our services on Zoom, I have welcomed your keeping in touch as perhaps we all recognise afresh how important "communion" is to us, in all its meanings.
The Church of England had long looked forward to 2020 as a year of Vision, based on the optometrists use of the word to denote clear sightedness. That went out of the window very early on as all our efforts were expended in adapting to new circumstances. Yet, for those of us who have been part of the St Mary’s community, extended through Zoom and the Pastoral Letters to many others beyond our church membership list, in many ways it has indeed been a year of vision.
I for one have welcomed my ministry being stripped down to what essentially matters, leaving the more administrative, bureaucratic and organisational things aside and being able to focus on the more relational essentials. Many of you too, in your stripped-down existences, have realised afresh what and who really matters to you and have seen the non-essential elements of your life for the mirages and sometimes the distractions, which they really are.
Perhaps like you, I have had more "evenings in" than I have ever done before. As there is not much on television that I wish to see, I have discovered the YouTube option on my television. One of the treats I have especially enjoyed has been to see old films I never thought I would see again, amongst them the old black and white Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce reworkings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. They made fourteen of these which were released between 1939 and 1946 and were very much scripted to raise the spirits of a nation at war, to remind people of the essential values of goodness, honour and public service and are unashamedly morale boosting.
The last scene in each film, invariably between Holmes and Watson, is very much addressed to good and honourable people everywhere, encouraging them to rise to the challenge of rebuilding a broken world, having seen during the time of conflict what needs to be done that all may live in peace, plenty and freedom, as God intended. As we, hopefully, begin to emerge from the pandemic which has cast so dark and so deep a shadow over 2020 and as we look forward to 2021, I want to quote one of those scenes. It is Holmes who is speaking to Watson as they ride along in an open topped car: "There’s a new spirit abroad in the land, Watson. The old days of grab and greed are on the way out. We are beginning to think of what we owe the other fellow, not what we are compelled to give him. The time is coming when we won’t be able to fill our bellies in comfort, while other folk go hungry; or sleep in warm beds, while others shiver in the cold; when we won’t be able to kneel and thank God for blessings before our shining altars, while men anywhere are kneeling in either physical or spiritual subjection. And God willing, Watson, we will live to see that day..."
Many have traced similarities between being at war and what we have been going through. Some of you have written to me with your thanksgivings, with your prayers for Christmas and 2021 and with your commitments as we pledge ourselves, based on what we have realised afresh over the experiences of the last year, to making as creative and positive a difference as we can to others and our planet in the years to come. Below you will find a series of these, with which I did not wish to interfere, other than to "anonymise" them so that you don’t know their author!
May we all recommit ourselves at this the cusp of the year, to looking back and recalling to whom we have been grateful, looking forward and pledging to be there for others who need us and to keep our hearts full of love, our souls full of faith, our minds full of positive ideas and our lives full of kind deeds.
May God bless, guide and inspire us all as we walk forward in faith, in the strength of the Spirit and with renewed resolve to making a constructive, compassionate, creative and Christ-centred difference to others in the year ahead.
With my thanks for the kindness, generosity and good wishes expressed in the cards and messages you have sent me over recent weeks and my thanks for your friendship and fellowship throughout the past year.
Blessings galore for 2021! Jeff
COMMITMENTS FOR 2021, from the extended community of St Mary`s Twickenham.
I am glad your challenge to us to identify ‘commitments’ following the lockdown provoked a thoughtful response. Hearing you this morning prompted me to review mine. I would express my commitment as: ‘Finding the courage to look forward with confidence despite life’s challenges drawing on and building my Christian faith’. I set myself six life objectives when I retired; this better defines my spiritual objective which I defined then as ‘Giving more time to my Christian faith and becoming a more active member of St Mary’s’. I find objectives - or commitments - a valuable way of thinking.
These are my thoughts about these past months, & my way forward.
During the long lockdown, the change in my life was so different. If I look at my diary, it is full of cancellations. Holidays, theatres, concerts, exhibitions, all with dear friends. Not able to have relatives for their holiday with me. Not able to see my family. Not being able to spend precious time with dear friends, four of them very unwell. Not able to go to Walsingham. Starting to feel overwhelmed with worry for my family.
Moving forward. I have found an inner peace. Time to sort out my priorities. To stop, to absorb. This has, without doubt been helped by your Pastoral Letters & the Zoom services. I have let God into my life in an even more powerful way. Thank you for your guidance & thank you to your great team.
I am truly excited about being able, in the near future, to pray, in the forward-looking St Mary’s. To be part of seeing this new space open up to new ideas. To see new people enter this space, & find a welcome awaiting them. To involve myself more in the life of our church.
Thinking back over the past 7 months and using that experience to look forward, I have come to the conclusion that my chief commitment is to keep up the contact and involvement I have had with my neighbours and not fall back into old ways. Sadly, our contact had already lessened so this will take an effort to do. In a broader and more personal sense, I still need to make better use of my time and feel content with being on my own.
I've often been reluctant to express commitment in this way as I don't want to be like the son who said he would help in the vineyard but didn't, but on the other hand there is something rather powerful and potentially galvanising about setting out aims, so anyway, here are a few thoughts.
Whilst it's true that giving thanksgiving and praise are not enough, they are in themselves something, they are acts- often it will occur to me that I have taken something for granted and then I am grateful because I am reminded to be grateful!
My availability can often change at very short notice so I've often been reluctant to volunteer for things where I might let people down. What an excuse... My availability can indeed change, but I'm sure that there are ways I can overcome this.
In the meantime, I can in any case perform small acts of kindness: for example, helping elderly neighbours bring in recycling boxes; picking up medicines and shopping; mowing people's lawns etc.
And whether I am free or not, I can of course pray wherever I am, whatever I am doing. (And hopefully of course, the more I pray for people, the more I will be active in helping them. I remember The Salvation Army had an advertising campaign with a very nice slogan: "We believe in life before death".)
I don't earn a lot of money (though even as I say that, I am aware as to just how luxurious a life I still manage to lead which makes the former statement seem absurd!) but I can unquestionably give more of the money I do earn away and make an effort to use it for good (and remember that it isn't really mine in any case.)
I have an intense dislike of phones (inherited I suspect from my grandmother) so I've not been great at telephoning people (another excuse not to do something... a pattern seems to be emerging here....!) but I am making a bit of an effort to overcome it as I know how lonely people have been in recent times especially, and I am making an effort to, at the very least, let people know that I am thinking of them and praying for them, whether by emailing, dropping cards, writing letters and so on.
Commitments for the future:
- I commit to always praying with my children, inspiring them and keeping our faith in God.
- I commit to teaching them about God, I'd feel that I would fail God if I didn`t do that…
- I commit to teaching my children about being more kind to others and also to praise and thank God even for the little things.
- I commit to do some kind of charity work with my children.
Communication - I like to think that over the years I have worked hard to keep in touch with family & friends but the experience of recent months has taught me to appreciate, even more, how very important communicating with one another really is - and it doesn't have to be a long letter, email, phone call. Little & often perhaps! It has been so heart-warming to receive messages/phone calls from friends with whom I hadn't communicated for years. It has had the same effect the other way round too - when I have decided to make contact and the friend at the receiving end has been so pleased to hear from me. It has been so good to realise that it really doesn't matter about time past - the gap closes as soon as we start talking! In addition to this is the communication with people whom we don't know - a few words exchanged whilst walking past in the street/woods etc, or just a smile acknowledging our mutual existence at that precise moment. Sharing a moment in time!
Appreciation - when lockdown started I made a resolution that I would go out walking every day. Those walks gradually became longer and I discovered footpaths locally that I previously hadn't ventured upon. That daily exercise (which I'm pleased to say has continued) is so uplifting and I soon began to appreciate my local surroundings far more than I had previously. I am not a great photographer but I found that I wanted to take photographs just to try to capture the beauty of the moment - bluebells in the woods, poppies along the verge of the road, the sun shining through the trees etc. Those walks really helped me to "enjoy" the limitations of lockdown as I had the time to devote to myself and my own thoughts (that sounds a bit selfish doesn't it?) In addition to this I began to consciously appreciate what I have far more and each night when we would sit down for dinner I would say to my partner - "Look what we have - aren't we lucky? A meal in front of us, a roof over our heads, a garden to look out on, no financial worries, our health, children who are healthy and in employment". I do so want to take that appreciation forward into the rest of my life and not take anything for granted - I hope and pray that I do.
There are two commitments I will take forward:
The first is very straightforward. It’s a basic commitment to resist the temptation to forget the people we have relied on this year. The people I took completely for granted previously. Naturally this includes the small number of family and friends who became more important during lockdown because, apart from the risk of losing them, I was reminded just how important they are. I’m also thinking about the people I gave no real thought to before, the staff in supermarkets who carried on working from day one, postal workers and everyone who looks after us in the NHS and emergency services.
The second commitment is the more difficult one. Given the unavoidable uncertainty we face over the nation’s health, Brexit, break-up of the UK and widespread economic hardship, I want to commit myself to remaining positive and holding fast to the Christian faith which puts most of what we read in newspapers into context. More personally, as I grow a little older I want that faith to be the context for some of the health concerns which I and family members are likely to face. Drawing on a faith which I am working to strengthen bit by bit every day I want to grasp and hold fast to the most important things rather than be distracted or cast down by everyday dross.
There is a rhythm of life the acknowledgement of which is easier to comprehend with a belief in God. However anxious and concerned we maybe about the present predicament we all find ourselves experiencing we can always inwardly be assured of God's plan for us. We can personally feel privileged if he has given us the gift of a positive outlook and a mindset which helps us to always find something to look forward to. My commitment is to be conscious of others who live and feel alone and despondent and make efforts to cheer them up.
I have thought about this for sometime...
To connect with other people, listening without judgement, allowing them space to make their own choices while taking responsibly for my own choice which might be different.
To love and serve God, others and the planet
To live life in all its abundance
To make the gifts of life an icon, not an idol.
A new way about the gift, opportunity and privilege of being alive which I now want to take into the future:
The realisation that has kept me positive, hopeful and resilient:
The light that has kept me warm and acted as a lantern in whatever darkness the future might hold:
The one realisation to recommit myself to as I walk into the future.
A gift of life that is to know more and more my life is a message to the world and my message should be inspiring. A gift I get to share with the world and I do not get for long and with this gift of life account for the things I do and that these things will benefit others not just myself.
Life is brief and it quickly passes and everyone has been given the same amount of time in a day. Every time the clock ticks it seems to say NOW. The bible reminds me to redeem the time because the days are evil - and the days in which we are living are evil. If there is ever a time for the gospel that can transform the human heart it is now. With the opportunity of life, I must do the work of the Lord who sends me, with quality and dedication realising the brevity and urgency of time.
When I look through scriptures every famine, economic downturn, plague and disease that happened the people of God were sustained through every season that they went through because they put their trust in God. This makes me hopeful and resilient. The Lord has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm and He is walking with us, working His way and His will.
Knowing that I am the light of the world serves as an encouragement to me to manifest the glory of God within me having to embrace the unknown and step boldly into the new. To let this light shine I need to continue to be an example of love and hoping for more of it in the world.
For many years I have had a 'quiet time' each day of Bible reading and prayer, very often crammed into a few minutes at the beginning of a busy day. A few weeks ago we thought about Gratitude and I realised that time was something I felt gratitude for. I have tried to use this time usefully and, prompted by your thought about commitment, I have tried to spend more time in praying and being close to God not only first thing in the morning but during the day especially when I have felt lonely or worried about what the future might hold. My commitment is to continue to do this.
It’s always worth staying with difficult questions for 24 hours! Yesterday I wrote them out on a small piece of paper. I found myself angry at their far-reachedness and my inability to come up with anything. But in meditation I realised that the most important thing I’ve learned in the space of these months is that I mustn’t leave my body out of things. I’ve tried very hard to live life, particularly spiritually, from within my head! I easily disassociate.
A response to your last Pastoral Letter. I do not believe this strictly fits your criteria and is therefore probably not much help, but when you referred to ‘taking with me into the future’ it hit a chord with something I am currently aware of and wish to tackle during the remainder of the Covid crisis, assuming I see the end of it. In short, I find myself increasingly becoming a ‘grumpy old man’ which is out of character with my past and unnecessary given my circumstances. I am aware, however, that it sometimes has a negative effect on those around me which is unfair.
I am not sure whether it’s ‘an age thing’, though there are plenty of people even older than myself with more positive attitudes, or whether it’s because I have had time to read the newspaper each day (never a good thing!) or, indeed, something else
I quickly become frustrated and annoyed with Politicians, inefficiency, stupidity, etc. etc.
There seems to be a perpetual battle between the good things (such as those so beautifully portrayed by your photos in the Pastoral Letters, those closest to us and so on) and the bad things, of which there just seem to be so many at the moment.
In the past, I have never had much time to dwell on such matters, having always been frantically busy (which is why even periodical visits to St Mary’s on a Sunday provided an opportunity for focus and reflection)
It is not a good trait and one therefore I wish to leave behind me when we finally emerge from Covid.
In writing this, I am not sure that it is of any help to your request, but it has helped me to consider what I believe to have been one of the potential effects of the last six months.
One thing I would therefore like to take forward in the future, post Covid, is to rekindle a more positive approach to people and life in general. To say goodbye to Mr Grumpy and emerge as Mr Positive! "
May the God who has prompted us to express such commitments, give us the strength and resolve to fulfil them.
Blessings galore for 2021.
Do please join us for our service this Sunday, 3rd January, at 9.30am on Zoom. Our readings will be: Isaiah Chapter 60 verses 1-6 and Matthew Chapter 2 verses 1-12.
The Collect for the Feast of the Epiphany: O God, who by the leading of a star, Manifested your only Son to all the people of the world Mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, May at last behold your glory face to face, Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns With you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN.
HOWARD GREENWOOD Many of you will have heard that our dear friend, Howard Greenwood, died recently, His funeral was on 30th December at his beloved St Mary’s. As Covid restrictions meant that few of you could attend, I attach the link for you to view the service here: https://vimeo.com/495520622 Our thoughts and prayers continue for his wife Mon, their daughter Julie and all who mourn the death of this man of music, good humour, personal warmth and spiritual depth.