Dear Friends, One of the things which has kept me sane since March has been my walks with the dogs in the mornings. I know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care initially told us that exercise should be confined to one hour, but he has obviously not had dealings with Labradors! Since our first Lockdown those early morning walks have been the times when I have processed the implications of what I have heard and seen on the news. It offered me the opportunity to be released from being in my cell-like home (in the monastic, not penal, sense of the word) and gave me the chance to take photographs which I have then shared with you at the top of this series of letters. Through these walks I have delighted in sheer physical space; in natural, ever changing beauty; in the emergence of Spring. This year, perhaps more consciously than ever before, I noticed that "greening of the year," the hatching of ducklings on the Thames, the coming into bud of flowers, the fragrance of elderflower and bluebell. Thanks to the prompting of others I have spotted the Little Owls and the Tawny Owls in the park and I have got to know several new people I now count as friends. In all honesty, without these dog walks, I cannot conceive of how I would otherwise have coped with what has been happening to us all. I am grateful too for the health and stamina, as well as the good weather, which has made all of these things possible for me, whilst being mindful of those who have not been able to enjoy such pleasures. The other chief joy for me over the last months has been getting to know an array of new canine friends, through my own canine companions, Mahler and Timothy. I now count as friends: Sandy, Poppy, Lucy, Truffle, Otis, Mojo, Teddy, Bruce, Olive, Pablo, Rocky, Winston, Albert, Willow, Walter, Spud, Ghost, Shadow, Dolly, Lily, Lolly, Saga, Atticus, Maud, Crocus, Mabel and many, many more. As you may have noticed yourselves, a huge number of puppies have gambolled into our lives since Lockdown began, bundles of energy and lickers all, with such exuberance and enthusiasm for life, all completely oblivious of the Covid virus and a welcome distraction from it. Lots of new breeds now grace our parks, parlours and pavements, canine concoctions such as Cockerpoos, Labradoodles, Cavapoos to add to the already established breeds that have kept us company for centuries. All of them beautiful, all of them full of character, all of them needing exercise, all of them needing love. When I recently visited the vet’s for Mahler to have his MOT and annual boosters, I said to Adam, his vet, "you must have seen so many puppies here this year". "Yes, most of them are Cockerpoos" said he, "But thankfully they are all gorgeous." Lots of people, locked down due to the Pandemic, who may have been putting off having a dog "until the time is right and our work/life balance is better" have now succumbed. It is endearing to see diligent new dog owners, as self-conscious as new parents, taking their charges out for a walk and being so attentive, indulgent and protective. I just hope, as I know many of you do too, that this time next year when hopefully things return to normal, or whatever then passes for normal, that it will still be possible for the majority of these people to keep their dogs and that Animal Rescue Centres the country over will not be inundated with these beautiful young dogs. As the clock ticks toward Christmas, I am reminded of the old slogan: "A puppy is for life, not just for Christmas." Which perhaps could be updated to: "A dog is for life, not just for Lockdown." This last year another slogan has taken root in my mind, as we have all struggled to connect what is happening to us all, with what Christianity is all about. It may seem a little strange perhaps but what has become very real to me as I have reflected on our shared faith and our shared experience of Covid, has been that "Christmas is not just for Christmas, but for life." Let me explain what it is I mean. Just a few days ago we embarked upon the Advent journey towards Christmas. We now look forward to the time when children will dress up as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, innkeepers, wise men, camels, lambs, and anything else imaginative teachers and parents can think of, and find clothes for in the dressing-up box, so as to include all the children in Nativity Plays. We are being deprived of doing so much of what we enjoy of Christmas this year, but in years past, people used to put on their warmest clothes and make their way to church, there to be warmed by the sight of candles burning in ancient parish churches and sing well-loved Christmas carols, with more gusto than musicality in many cases. Priests such as myself would prepare to proclaim, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.....and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." That marvellous moment when we believe that God came to comfort and befriend His people, taking the form of an infant, making His home with us, "pitching His tent among us" as the Greek has it, to reach out to us with compassion and healing, allowing the blind to see and the lame to dance, the condemned feel accepted, the guilty know forgiveness, the unloved feel loved, the unlovely feel adored. More than ever this year, I have known that Christmas is not just for Christmas, it is for the whole year and for the whole of one’s life. What we will celebrate in a few weeks’ time is a light which shines into every moment of the year, even the darkest, there to bring healing and hope. Although it is at Christmas that we especially focus on God becoming one with us to share in our struggles and our joys, our aspirations and our anxieties, our sense of woundedness and incompleteness, our desire for a sense of wonder and fulfilment, this truth of Him being with us shines strong throughout the year, for us to look to and draw strength and inspiration from.
This being the case, none of us need feel that we have to celebrate Christmas on 25th December, especially this year. It would surely be safer to wait and celebrate all that the Incarnation means when it is safe to do so, when we are not putting ourselves or others at risk. We will celebrate all that Christmas signifies when we are all able to congregate as normal in our church. I would even be happy to host a Christmas Carol Sing-Song in the Summer so that we don’t miss out on it this year! Ours is an incarnate God, a God who became familiar with all the emotions and experiences which make us who we are: the fear of loneliness and failure; the need for love, loyalty and friendship; the hunger for affirmation and encouragement; the thirst for meaning and adventure. Ours is a God who knows from the inside what being human is all about and it is to one who can empathise with us to whom we turn to share the truth of who we are, in complete honesty and openness. Prayer to such a God as this is simply one heart calling to another and, here’s the thing: this God of whom I speak longs for a deeper relationship with us than you or I have probably ever really begun to understand, believe, contemplate or imagine could be true. So, as we keep this holy time of Advent, let us know afresh the meaning of Emmanuel, "God with us", and draw strength and inspiration from the sense that we are not alone, we have not been nor ever will be alone, for God will never abandon us, He will forever accompany us. He does not only think of us when we think of Him, we are in His heart and mind always, waiting for us to turn to Him, open our hearts to Him, allow Him to embrace us in His love and fill us with the energy of His Holy Spirit. May part of your preparation for this, probably most unusual of Christmases, be to be open to a fresh discovery of the God who knows what it is to be a vulnerable, wonderful, human being, who wishes to love you into wholeness and wellbeing and who has already made it clear that He wishes to share His life with you and wants you to share, not just your Christmas, but your life with Him. With blessings and best wishes Jeff
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom Service at 9.30am. Our readings will be: Isaiah Chapter 40 verses 1-11 and Mark Chapter 1 verses 1-8.
The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent.
O Lord, raise up we pray your power, and Come among us and with great might succour us, That, whereas, through our sins and wickedness We are grievously hindered in running the race Which is before us, your bountiful grace and mercy May speedily help and deliver us. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN. Prayer for the lighting of the second candle on the Advent Wreath: Blessed are you, Sovereign Lord, just and true, To you be praise and glory for ever. Of old you spoke by the mouth of your prophets, But in our day you speak through your Son, Whom you have appointed the heir of all things. Grant us your people, to walk in His light, That we may be found ready and watching When He comes again in glory and in judgement. For you are our light and our salvation. Blessed be God for ever. AMEN.
CHRISTMAS AT ST MARY’S. Following the announcement from the Prime Minister, it looks as though we will be able to open up our doors to the worshipping community of Twickenham in the lead up to and over the period of Christmas. Alleluia! However, social distancing will need to be observed, thus there will be a limit on how many will be able to be admitted through our doors. On Sundays 6th, 13th and 20th December, there will be a Eucharist celebrated at 11am, following the 9.30am Zoom Service. Because of social distancing, seats will be limited to around 30. To book for these please email Betty Miller on: firstname.lastname@example.org My thanks to Betty for helping us in this way. To maximise the number of people who will be able to receive communion, CHRISTMAS EUCHARISTS will be celebrated at 11am on: Wednesday 23rd December. Friday 25th December. Sunday 27th December. Priority will initially be given to those in the "vulnerable" category in our congregation, after which others will be able to book a seat for themselves or their bubble, as explained above. For obvious reasons, you will only be able to book for one of the dates, 23rd, 25th or 27th December. There will also be a Zoom Service at 9.30am on Christmas Day for those who would like to join us. Details of how to join us will be sent in the mailing earlier that week. I recognise that this is not entirely as we would wish it to be, but as RAB Butler called it, we are engaging in "the art of the possible." Please join us for our Sunday Zoom services at 9.30am, as advertised elsewhere, there will also be a Crib service which will be sent out as a video link in my Pastoral Letter on 23rd December. Wherever and however you spend your Christmas, please know that you are in the heart, mind and prayers of St Mary's and, thanks to the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ will not be prevented or restricted from being with you wherever you are. He is a God who does not "do" social distancing and who comes "to make His home among us." With blessings and best wishes Jeff