Pastoral Letter - 31st July
A few of you have asked for a copy of the talk I gave last Sunday at our Zoom service, so I thought I would send it to you as this week's letter. As you may recall, it relates to a wonderful moment in the Gospel, where Jesus stills the storm. (Luke Chapter 8 verses 22 -25.) You might like to refresh your memory of the story before you read on............ I know that people think in different ways: some of a more analytical nature think in concepts and relish technical detail and data, others are fashioned differently and use their imagination to discern truth through image, symbol and metaphor. The latter allow such imagery to become part of their inner landscape for them to revisit and receive something they can draw upon and feed off. Such is this passage for me. The story of the stilling of the storm helps me to encounter who Jesus is, what it was like to be in His presence, how in His humanity He was resourced and empowered for His work as our Saviour. Through our God-given imagination perhaps we can all enter into the impact of the scene. Jesus is exhausted by the demands of those He has met with in His ministry - their questions, their need for healing, their constant presence and He asks His disciples to take the boat out on the lake, partly so as to separate Himself from their noise and needs. He is so weak with fatigue that He goes down into the place in the boat where He finds a cushion and makes Himself comfortable there and soon falls asleep. It is such a human moment which is recorded in this story. There, with the rocking of the boat and the rhythm of the waves, he slips away into a deep, refreshing sleep. What His disciples are experiencing as He sleeps is markedly different. When they had boarded their craft all seemed calm and tranquil. They, or at least some of them, as experienced fishermen, would not have gone out in the boat had they seen that a storm was approaching. It was no longer approaching, it was upon them, all around them. A day which had been one of dazzling sunshine had become dark and sinister. A breeze had become a howling wind. The boat is feeling increasingly unsteady on the turbulent lake, indeed, they fear they will soon be in the water and not just on it. For those with memories of such experiences and for those with an active imagination, you can easily picture the scene. Colours which had been bright pastel have now become sharp, dark, livid. Sounds which had been gentle and soothing have now become deafening. A landscape which had been serene and spacious has now become obscured by darkness and all they can see is the boat and each other, just. They are terrified for their lives. All the way through as the storm is growing, Jesus sleeps. He sleeps..........Where is He when they need Him? One of them goes to wake Him, "Don't you care if we perish? Don't you care if we drown? Do something, you worker of miracles, do something NOW!" And the slumbering Saviour rises, faces the full force of the storm and does something extraordinary: He projects His own inner peace into the landscape, influences the very winds to be still and creates calm, communicates His inner peace so powerfully that the outer landscape becomes one with His inner landscape. We see this capacity manifesting itself elsewhere in the Gospels, the healing peace of His own wellbeing reaching out into the lame limbs, blind eyes, tortured minds of others, creating in them a sense of healing and wellbeing too. We see it in that extraordinary story of the Transfiguration, when, having been affirmed by His Father's presence in the bright light on the mountain top, accompanied by the mystical presence of Moses and Elijah as witnessed by James, Peter and John, He then projects that power into the young boy tormented with a demon when they return to the others below. (Matthew Chapter 17 verses 14-21) We see it in one of His resurrection appearances, as He comes into a room full of fear and projects His peace, saying "Peace be with you" and breathing upon them with the Holy Spirit. (John Chapter 20 verses 19-23) These are all moments when He becomes an agent, a channel, a conduit for the life of the kingdom which is poured into human reality and human suffering, recreating and renewing through the energy of the Holy Spirit. The story of the stilling of the storm is one of the most significant story for me, exposing as it does the full impact of His intervening power in human need and physical reality. It admits us a little more deeply into His inner life, his inner landscape, the difference being a praying person makes to life. It also admits one a little more deeply into what it must be like to be in His presence, where He is radiant and where His will reigns unrestrained. Perhaps like me, you have met people who can similarly project a calm and a sense of wellbeing on those they shine the light of their countenance upon. People whose felicity and deep rooted happiness radiates to those around them, quickening others with a sense of wonder and of joy. It's wonderful to sense this happening when we meet for worship, when we realise anew how inextricably linked to one another we are in the human family, where what one feels, others similarly feel, such is the contagion of celebration. But there is a shadow side to this capacity for people's feelings to be contagious of course. We have all known times I am sure when someone being angry toward us has made something equally angry erupt within us, even though a few moments previously we have been as tranquil and serene as the lake before the storm. At the moment we all have to be extra especially vigilant as so many people's nerves are so raw, with months of lockdown, feelings of being trapped, fears of catching Covid, concern for friends, being out of practice at human interaction, discomfort at being physically close to others, missing the company of those we care about. These last months have stretched the patience and resilience of even the most saintly and sanguine of us. You will have seen for yourselves on the news, those who have, during this time, felt the need to take to the streets to angrily protest at the inequality they feel in the Black Lives Matter Campaign. There has been anger at the Government's perceived slow response to the reality that was growing in our midst in the early months of the year, the lack of PPE for key workers, their negligence, as some see it, and indecisive leadership. There have been more local explosions of rage and violence, through frustration and fear and who knows what has been going on behind closed doors? Surely none of us has been untouched by the negative impact of what we have collectively as well as personally experienced. Surely all of us are in need of the resource and refreshment which meeting with the presence of God can bring. Surely all of us crave the experience of His Spirit, His peace, His strength, His blessing, to help us better negotiate the challenges we are undergoing and what may lay ahead. We seek these things for ourselves and also for those we interact with, that we may be agents of positive energy, from whom peace may flow into the lives of others. I have been thinking recently of something which happened when I was in school in South Wales. Believe it or not, I was Head Boy and one of the jobs that involved was going to look after classes if a teacher was absent for some reason or "indisposed." One day I was in the Sixth Form Common Room/Library when Vaughan Evans, our Head Master rushed into the room, like a bat from Hell, with his Masters Gown, a huge black thing I don't think ever saw him without, flapping all around him. "Williams, go to Room 8 now boy, look sharp. Look after the class until I can get there myself." Well, I was busy reading, deep I was in the pages of To The Lighthouse and I found it difficult to tear myself away from the story, the language, the landscape, so absorbed was I in the world of Virginia Woolf. But, as there was no real choice, I got up and made my way to the infamous Room 8. You could hear it before you could see it. Shouts, cries, bangs, scrapes, it was cacophonous, it was pandemonium. As you may know, I am and was even more so in those days, a timid, un-confrontational sort of person. I opened the door and walked in. I didn't say a word. I looked at them and they looked at me. I may have raised an eyebrow, but quite honestly, I just wanted to get back to my book, which I had brought with me. "I have work to do, I presume you have work to do, let's just get on with it shall we?" I said softly and sat down at the teachers' desk and resumed my reading. No one said a word. They were completely silent. I think on one occasion I heard someone speaking, I glared, they ceased. It went on in serene silence for around ten minutes. Then Vaughan Evans stormed in, still flapping away. He stopped short. Amazed, his eyes widening in wonder. Even he sensed the mood of calm and changed before our eyes, coming slowly into the room and taking the seat where I had sat. I left. And this anecdote isn't really about me, it's about the effect of when we are so present to something still and calm, like being absorbed in the story by Virginia Woolf, like being absorbed in the story of the stilling of the storm, that it cannot but communicate itself from us to those we engage with. And isn't that what Christ may be calling us to offer others at this point in our life together? Storms and tempests rage around us and sometimes we cannot but be caught up in the maelstrom. But you and I are called to carry on the work of Christ, to be part of His energy of recreating calm and healing peace. In our own strength we do not stand a chance, but in the power of the Holy Spirit all things are possible. That's really what the end of the holy eucharist centres upon: being sent out from the service in the power of the Holy Spirit to "live and work to His praise and glory." To carry on His work of transforming panic into peace, hate into harmony, despair into hope, darkness into light. And just because we now meet on Zoom not at church, it makes no difference to His invitation and calling. Indeed, is it not as important now as ever, that we "come to His table not simply for solace, but rather, for strength, not simply for forgiveness but also for renewal"? There are and will be storms which need to be counteracted by men and women who are prepared to be agents of Christ's transforming peace. Will you allow yourself to be one of them? This passage of the stilling of the storm is given to us to resource us, that we may inhabit its landscape and be affected by its power and inspired by its impact. He calls us to first encounter the experience of His peace in our prayerful meeting with Him, then to be sent into the rough and tumble of the world, being held in His love and in His peace, to project those qualities into the situations and relationships we become part of. He offers to equip us and gives us such passages as this (Luke Chapter 8 verses 22-25) to help us open ourselves to His presence and His peace. To be affected by it, to be infected by it, to allow it to become part of who we are. "Jesus rebuked the storm and wind and said: "peace, be still" and all was calm." As we pray for God's world, as we sense anew the anguish, pain, fear, despair, anger, fragility, exhaustion being experienced, let us see in our souls this Christ who confronts all that seeks to erode human wellbeing and who projects His power and His peace into their lives. Let us see this passage in our minds and use this story to help us pray His peace and presence into their lives and may we too, as we have need, be ministered to by that same Spirit which quelled the storm and quenched the disciple's fear, creating in their souls a sense of serenity and peace.
May God's blessing rest upon you, May God's peace flow from you, May God's love grow within you, May God's Spirit guide you, May God graciously use you, To bring healing and hope, To those for whom you pray. In Jesus' name. AMEN.
With all good wishes, Jeff.
Please join us for our Zoom Service on Sunday, 2nd August.
Our theme will be helping others and our Gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan.
The Collect: Almighty God and Everliving Lord We beseech you to direct, govern and sanctify Both our hearts and bodies In the ways of your laws and the works of your commandments to Love and serve others in your name, That, through your mighty protection, Both here and ever, We may be preserved both in body and soul Though Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
Readings: Romans Chapter 12 verses 6-16 and Luke Chapter 10 verses 25-37.
And the Lord said to Francis: "Rebuild My Church."
I am pleased to report that work is now well under way at St Mary's Church Twickenham. We had a hugely constructive meeting a week ago with our Architect, Contractors and ourselves to iron out any last minute issues and ensuring that all is proceeding as it should. The church is looking fantastic already and promises to be a truly beautiful space in which to worship and also to offer hospitality to the community in just a few months time. The wood has now arrived for the new floor and is stunning, in terms of quality, cut, colour and grain. Now that everything in the nave, except the aisle pathways, have been removed, it has revealed a wonderful space with an incredibly powerful and positive energy, as though the building has been freed and is able to breathe in a new way. I am particularly pleased to be able to say that those working in the building are showing not only great skill in the work they have done thus far, but also huge respect for the sacred nature of the building itself. If all goes to plan, and it looks at the moment as though it is going to, work should be completed by the beginning of October. We have invited the Bishop of Kensington to come and rededicate and reconsecrate the building on Sunday 25th October. If there are still strict restrictions on numbers able to be in church at that time, then we shall zoom the service from church on that day. These are exciting times as renewal is in the air and we pray that God will use our newly enhanced church to help with the rebuilding of lives when it reopened for His work to continue in the Autumn. With blessings and best wishes Jeff Hopkin Williams Vicar of St Mary's.