Pastoral Letter - 5 November 2021
My dear Friends,
First may I say how grateful I am to those of you who have taken the trouble to write back to me in recent weeks, to reassure me that someone is still reading these letters. I am also hugely grateful to Tamasin Little and Emily Bainbridge who continue to format these letters and send them out to you on Mailchimp. I appreciate the opportunity of being in touch with you all so much. It is that sense of closeness and connection which has helped so many of us get through these last two years and my sense is that we have all grown so much closer to one another as a result and more open and honest with each other too, which some might even say is marvellous!
It was reported on 17th October that families in Afghanistan are being encouraged to sell their children to pay off debts. This is because the economy in that troubled country is very near collapse. One mother, reportedly earning 50p per day as a cleaner in Herat, owes £400 to a man she borrowed money from to feed her family. She has been told by him that he will write off her debt if she sells him her 3 year old daughter. If she does not pay off the debt in 3 months, her daughter will move into the lenders house to work for him before she is married off to one of his sons when she reaches puberty. (Source: Rachael Bunyan for Mailonline)
£400 for a human life. Of course, other human lives have had higher price tags attached to them. In 1953, Bobby Greenlease was ransomed for $600,000, equivalent to $5.100,000 today. He was then 6 years old, the son of one of Kansas City’s richest men. Ronal Groves was ransomed for $1,000,000 in 1972, $5,480,000 now.
If people were assessed simply in terms of their fiscal value, I wonder how much you or I would be worth. What price a human life? There are couples who have spent thousands, far more than their savings, on IVF, so committed are they to the desire to have a child of their own. And when a child has eventually been born, there has been great rejoicing which completely eclipses any financial considerations, so complete is their happiness and contentment. Something far richer than monetary wealth has been experienced. Similarly, 32 years ago, I recall wandering around a Special Needs School in the Cotswolds late one Saturday afternoon, entering a cavernous and brightly lit room and seeing a solitary young boy in a wheeled chair. He was hardly able to control his arms or hands but eventually with much diligence and determination, his misshapen fingers pressed a button on a computer pad fixed to his lap and a computerized voice filled the space between us, "Hello, my name is Michael." Another involved physical manoeuvre followed and subsequent words were heard, "Can I help you?" I realised at that very moment that however many thousands of pounds that instrument had cost, it was worth every penny, for this child, who was otherwise trapped in a body that didn’t do his bidding, was able to communicate with the world and the difference that made, shook the stars. Having said that, his eyes were fluent beyond the range or reach of mere words, brimming over with love and amusement and happiness. The encounter lasted less than 5 minutes, but here I am 32 years later, being able to recall it in all its clarity and force for what it showed me about the value of things as well and of the importance of investing in people.
Money. We can’t do without it yet how complicated it is to live with it. A couple of weeks ago the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, sought to rise to the challenge in the Budget to help the economy, the National Health Service, Social Services, Public Health Sector workers, Uncle and Aunty Tom Cobley and all. By making adjustments to what we pay in Tax and other sources of revenue and when we pay it, then distributing money according to his blue print, he was attempting to alter people’s experience of life. Earlier this week he again spoke at COP26, together with Mark Carney, Former Governor of the Bank of England. They are trying to set out ways in which the Financial Institutions of the world work with rather than against the attempt to control Climate Change, because as with so many matters, wealth and wellbeing seem inextricably linked as society negotiates the vexed question of what it truly values, funds, makes possible and the effect that has on the health of people’s lives and livelihoods. And while we are speaking of money, were Francis, our parish Chancellor of the Exchequer looking over my shoulder as I type, he may well say in that gentle way of his, "Jeff, do you think that now would be the time to remind people of how much money we lost last year, due to not being able to let out the hall and not being able to take cash collections at services? We certainly can’t afford to pay for another Assistant Priest if people don’t increase their planned giving and oh yes, heating bills are due to go up substantially next year. Could you please encourage people to give more by increasing their donations, to give more frequently through Planned Giving and to give more effectively through using Gift Aid?"
It is interesting, to me at least, that Jesus taught more about money than He did about sex, despite the fascination and preoccupation the institution of the Church has had with the latter for so many decades. Money, the currency by which we transact the business of our lives, does seem to go to the core of who we are, showing what we value, what and who we believe in, what we begrudge, what we are willing to invest in, what provision we make for ourselves, how generous we are to others. To look at someone’s Bank Statement will tell you so much about them: how much they pay in insurance because of what they fear may happen, what proportion of their income they give to charity or a family member who is in need, what proportion they spend on themselves, how much they feel they need to save, what they can afford to spend on heating, food, holidays etc. How we use our money tells us much about who we really are.
Christ’s insights over money are striking. "The Widow’s Mite" in Luke 21 v 1-4, tells us of a woman giving a small amount of money, yet for her, it was the whole of her life savings. In Luke 15 v 8-9 a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. She searches high and low until she finds it and is so overjoyed, she calls together all her friends and almost has a party to celebrate, a party which will cost far more than the money she recovered. "Render unto Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s." (Mark 12 v 17.) "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19 v 24) "If you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me." (Matthew 19 v 21) Then there is the story of Divers and Lazarus, the rich man descending to Hades, the poor man being embraced by the company of Heaven. (Luke 16 v 19-31) and of course Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Ch 6 verses 20-38, which assures us that "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God."
Jesus’ way of seeing the world and assessing the value of things and of people is powerfully different from how contemporary society assumes we will do so. You may think that the monastic tradition, which is based on the life and example of Jesus and His early followers, has nothing to tell those of us who have to transact the business of life in the commercial world of the 21st Century rather than in the Cloister. But their principle of poverty, of relying solely on God for all their needs and not being preoccupied with financial remuneration themselves, has something significant to say to all of us. For their vow is not to do with effectively saying, "we don’t live our lives concentrating on financial considerations/we don’t need money in order to live" but rather, "we won’t let money and the acquisition of wealth be the guiding principal of our lives, we want to see it from a different perspective, and not ourselves be "owned" or controlled by it." Perhaps the true Christian craves that most desirous of states to be in, neither to have too much so that it is a burden and a preoccupation, nor too little so that life is too hard. It is to have just enough to manage on in order to live and be able to be generous to others and as Mahatma Gandhi put it, "To live more simply, that others may simply live," rather than seeing life as an attempt to amass more and more wealth for oneself and to measure our lives by our savings and possessions.
We are told that the early Christians "had all things in common," Acts 2 v 44, indeed they had a Common Fund, through which the needs of all in the community were catered for. Communism is said to have had that as its guiding principal, only without the God bit! For various reasons that has not been seen to have worked, though for many, the principle is a good one. The problem seems to be that as human beings, our skill sets are different, our values are different, our earning potential is different and we long to express ourselves financially as we personally wish, rather than having that imposed upon us. Some are envious of the riches of others, some have a rose tinted idea of the simplicity of life, some think nothing of going on holiday for a several thousand pounds, others have difficult choices to make about whether to buy food or to heat their homes this winter. Money, it’s a dilemma, and ultimately each of us has to find our own way through the conundrum.
"Think of the lilies of the field..." (Matthew 6 v 25-34 and Luke 12 v 22-32) may not be what we find ourselves doing when we are trying to balance the books at the end of each month or filling in our Tax Return, but perhaps that is the attitude we should cultivate within ourselves, lifting our preoccupations from the mundanity of money to other things which make life good and gives value to our experiences of life. Perhaps we should evaluate the worth of things beyond the price of things. Perhaps too, to consider how much the Church or other Charities have tried to support you and those you care about over the pandemic thus far and consider in your turn how you might support them financially and through volunteering in some practical way to show your valuing of what they do and your desire to invest in what they are committed to making real for people.
I began by writing of the harrowing account of an Afghan child being "valued" at £400. I end by remembering a short story, I think by E.M. Forster. I seem to have lost my copy of the book, but as I remember it, a wealthy person is saved from death by someone from a lower income bracket. The expectation is that some financial reward will be forthcoming to express the gratitude of the survivor. But when it comes to it, the one who is saved simply cannot put a price on the life which has been given back to him, he just cannot put a figure to it, so instead he simply says "Thank you." It is not meanness which is being expressed, simply the inability to quantify the gift of his life in terms of money. Such perhaps is true for us. There are many things which come with a price tag and it sounds as though with the economy going the way it is, we will all need to be mindful of the cost of living over the coming months. Some will feel envious of others who have more and therefore may well be more comfortable or at least protected from the difficulties which may lay ahead. But "life is more than clothing" Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 v 25. Life: that’s the real riches that we have. Lifting our eyes from our possessions, breathing in the air, knowing that we are alive and relatively well, remembering the warmth of friends, believing that the hand of God reaches out to us, seeing the sun rise on the rippling waters of the Thames or the sea, listening to the sounds around us in the middle of the night, recalling shared laughter, looking into the eyes of a Labrador as I am doing now and seeing unconditional love.......in such ways I hope that all of us are aware of the richness of our lives.
Communion says so much and is revolutionary in its way: we open our hands, offering and entrusting ourselves totally to God and He entrusts Himself, gifts Himself personally to each one of us in a fragile wafer. Life infuses life and one becomes one with the other. Perhaps that is one of the richest moments of our lives, for extraordinarily, it shows us how much we are valued and loved by God. He gave Himself totally for each and every one of us on the Cross and gives Himself still in the gift of His Holy Spirit, for our happiness, wholeness and wellbeing. God loves us: that’s the shining, shimmering truth at the heart of our faith and that is what gives meaning and value to our existence. Perhaps it would be greedy to ask for anything more.........
With blessings and best wishes
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY. Apart from last year, we tended to hold the Parish Eucharist at 10am rather than at the usual time of 9.30am, so that we could all keep the Act of Remembrance together at 11am. This year, I have been asked to conduct the Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial in Radnor Gardens. This will mean that the service at St Mary’s will be at the usual time of 9.30am after which, if anyone would like to join me, I shall then be walking up to Radnor Gardens for the service which will begin there at 10.50am. On Remembrance Sunday evening at 6pm, there will be a special performance of The Requiem Mass, by Gabriel Faure. This will also include passages of scripture which will be read between the different movements. Please join us for these special moments as we remember and pray for all who have died, especially those who died from our community in the two World Wars of the last century. Thank you. Jeff H.W.
WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s on this the Third Sunday before Advent as we worship in church and on Zoom.
Today at both the 9.30am Eucharist in church and the 5pm Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Mark Chapter 1 verses 14-20.
Today’s Collect, Almighty Father Whose will is to restore all things In your beloved Son, the King of all: Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, And bring the families of the nations Divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, To be subject to His just and gentle rule. This we ask though Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN
The hymns we shall be singing at our Eucharist today are 293 at the beginning and 560 at the end. The choir will be singing something special for us at the Offertory. No booking is necessary for the 9.30am church service. Please use the hand sanitizer provided before entering the church. We would ask that you place your collection envelope in the basket as you enter the church which will be brought up to the altar at the Offertory (or use the contactless/tap payment card facility close by). We would strongly recommend the wearing of facemasks throught the service for all other than those exempted from doing so on medical or age grounds. Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, in fairness to others. 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. You are welcome to join us in the Parish Hall for refreshments after the service.