Pastoral Letter - March 5th
Dear Friends, "In my Father’s House are many mansions." We are told that Jesus said this in John Chapter 14 v.1. Most of us probably don’t live in mansions, would that we did when most are confined to their own homes at the moment. At least then we could walk down the long gallery for some exercise, or pop into the west wing for a change of scene......... One of the things I have found most interesting during my time in ministry has been visiting people in their homes (and if you think that’s a hint to be invited when life allows, that’s correct!) We are all different in our own spaces and surround ourselves with things which are significant to us and evoke a sense of who we are, where we have been, what and who are important to us. Homes speak eloquently about us. The need for a sense of "home" is intrinsic to us. But getting back to mansions......I used to rather fancy living in a mansion: grand rooms with high ceilings and large windows opening onto parkland with peacocks and deer, glimmering ponds and fragrant flowers. Nowadays I would settle for a converted barn or an ancient cottage. For a start it would be easier to heat and even easier to maintain and keep clean! But in the same way as I mentioned in last week’s pastoral letter that we all pray differently; our homes are also very different. It interested me that at college, we all had identical rooms but after taking up residence and putting out our belongings, books, pictures etc., they were all unique in character and feel. So, as we think this Lent about prayer, prompted in part by the material in our Lent Course which many of you are following, and as most of us are stuck in our homes for the duration of this pandemic, I wondered if we could combine the two things and explore how our homes can help prompt us to pray. For this I am imagining a dwelling which has a number of rooms, which allows me to speak about different types of prayer. Your home may be smaller or larger than the one I will be describing, but it will probably have all the same areas if not rooms to which I refer. If we have to spend the majority of our time at home, at least let it be a place where we can think about praying in different ways and for different people going through a variety of different experiences..... The Hallway: This is where the front door stands, separating us from the outside world. Here perhaps we can remember to pray for those on any sort of threshold in their lives or at any sort of transition point. We may think about those who are fearful of exclusion, those who feel they have been rejected, with doors being slammed in their faces. But doors can be opened too, so here we should remember those on the perimeters of faith and for those who long for entry into the life of the Church. Let us pray for those who may need to feel welcomed into healing, befriending, affirming relationships; those who are looking for a sense of sanctuary and security, a place where they can rest and belong. And here too let us pray that the Holy Spirit may prompt people through the transition points in their lives as we offer ourselves to be "doorkeepers in the house of the Lord" (Ps. 84 v. 10) to welcome people in. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. The Dining Room. I often think that I feel closest to those I have eaten with (and again, if you think this is a hint to be invited to join you for lunch or dinner when this Covid business is over, then you are correct!) Sharing food is a powerful and a profound way in which we can feel "one" with others and is of course at the very heart of who we are as worshipping people, centred on the life, teaching and spirit of Jesus Christ, whom we celebrate most potently and evocatively when we "do this in remembrance" of Him at the altar with gifts of bread and wine. Here in this space within our Mansion of Prayer, we must surely remember those who are deprived of food in the world: those whose crops have failed, those whose land has been scorched by fire or dried by drought, those whose lands are under water due to flooding or living in areas of warfare where the soil is scarred by bombing. Here too let us recall special meals we have shared in years past with special companions, when friendships were deepened and laughter was resonant. Here let us consider the blessings we have known, the way in which life has provided us with sustenance and pleasure and, as we give thanks for the hospitality we have enjoyed, let us make a note to invite others to our table when life allows. Let us also remember all those who work in the hospitality sector, in many cases, those who do not work in that capacity at the moment due to Covid closures, furloughing and businesses failing. Let us pray that they may find ways in which to be sustained and for those increasingly dependent upon Food Banks in or country as well as overseas and those who provide food for them and who act as volunteers. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. The Drawing Room/Sitting Room/Living Room/Lounge! Here it is we sit and relax, on our own or with those we feel closest to. Sometimes it is the venue for heated discussions, other times for confidences shared. Here let us pray for the core relationships of our lives, the ones who keep us motivated, strong, warmed as we are by their loving belief in us. Here too let us pause to pray for those who need the opportunity to relax, those who are exhausted, those who need the companionship and support of others, those who need someone in whom to confide. As I spy a telephone in this room, let us pray for The Samaritans and for all who offer a listening ear on the telephone. I also see someone sitting alone, looking across the room to an empty chair. Let us here pray for those recently, or indeed not recently, bereaved, regardless as to whether it was from Covid or not, death is devastating no matter what the cause. Let us also give thanks for our own homes, for those places where we can feel safe, protected and most truly ourselves. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. The Kitchen. I joke with some of our young families who have spent an absolute fortune on their houses and yet live in the kitchen, just as the poorest of the poor would have done centuries ago! But kitchens now are not what kitchens used to be. Nowadays some people spend more money decorating and designing their kitchen than any other room in their houses. The kitchen is oftentimes where people feel at their most comfortable, where they feel most able to "be themselves". It is where some of the best and most open and self-revealing conversations happen at parties. It is where the real business of living, relating, discussing, arguing and forgiving is transacted. Indeed, someone I knew who did live in an historic manor house used to refer to their kitchen as the "engine room". So here, let us pray for good relations with those we know, for any relationships in our lives which need sorting out. The kitchen is also where food is stored and cooked, so let us also pray for those who work in food production and supermarkets who provide us with the food we can sometimes take for granted. It is sometimes the place where the ironing is done and other chores that keep the household going, so let us pray in this the "engine room" in the house for those who keep the country going through their industry and hard work. You will think of people for yourselves, but here I am reminded of those who do all those necessary yet unglamorous jobs without which our lives would not be so comfortable or cosy. Here let us pray for all on whom we rely, even if we are unaware of who they are and what they do to aid our lives. We need them, we thank them, we pray for them. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. The Bathroom. Whether we prefer baths or showers, we probably all enjoy a good wash, to feel clean, to feel refreshed, to feel reinvigorated. We sometimes need to feel cleansed of some bad experience, the better to be prepared for moving on in our lives. That is true of us as people with consciences too, sometimes we feel the need the reassurance of forgiveness, to be washed whiter than snow in the loving forgiveness of God. We need to feel cleansed when we have felt compromised by the world, we need to be refreshed when we have been worn out by the world. Here too let us give thanks for those who refresh us with their humour, shared laughter, common sense and perspective. Here as we wallow in a soapy bath or are energized by a power shower, let us remember those in the world who live in places of drought, for whom each drop of water is precious, the difference between crops growing or crops failing, a person living or a person dying. For all charities seeking to bring clean water to small communities in other lands and let us give thanks for the water in which we were Baptised, that we may be refreshed in it each and every time we turn to God in prayer. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. The Bedroom. Sleep is a necessity, but alas eludes many. Dreams are the stuff which could fill a thousand Pastoral Letters. What happens to us when we sleep? Where do we go to in our minds? What are dreams all about? Why do we dream at all? Oftentimes we cannot sleep when things are on our minds, is this the part of the day when, unable to keep ourselves distracted by "doing", the real issues pressing in on us are able to surface, demanding to be dealt with before rest can come our way. I remember visiting some friends years ago, for whose young son I am the Godfather. They asked me if I would "put him down" which to someone more used to vets than children, had a completely different meaning! Simeon is now 22 and getting married later this year, but at the time I am writing about, he was around 3. His parents had encouraged him to do one of the most important things I think any parent can encourage their children to do, that they grow up with a positive sense of God and find ways of dealing with the negative or concerning issues we all have to live with. What they had taught Sim to do was, just before settling down for sleep, was to entrust all the people he had met that day, all the things that had been difficult or challenging, to God, asking, trusting, that He would sort things out while Simeon slept. It was a profound lesson to me to listen to him pray that evening, handing over all the things his little mind and heart were at a loss to deal with, in complete and humbling confidence that God would sort it all out so he could sleep. It’s a practice I heartily recommend for a peaceful night’s sleep as well as a peaceful state of mind to adults and children alike! So here, let us pray for those with huge burdens, that they may be able to offer them to God. Here let us pray for carers who are exhausted, those who need energy in order to cope with the pressures of a new day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. My friends, I have walked around our Mansion of Prayer offering thoughts about who we can pray for in the different rooms or areas of rooms which we inhabit. I hope that even though our lives may be confined to our homes for the present, we will all know that our spirits are not confined and so we will all be able to use the different spaces in our homes as a prompt to prayer. There is so much that we are not able to do at the moment, but such as this we are able to do, whilst sticking to the rules, so let`s do it! With blessings and best wishes, Jeff
Zoom Service. Do please join us on Zoom this coming Sunday at 9.30am for the Third Sunday in Lent. Our readings will be: 1 Corinthians Chapter 1 verses 18-25 and John Chapter 2 verses 13-22. The Collect: Almighty God, whose most dear Son Went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, And entered not into glory before He was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the Cross, May find it none other than the way of life and peace. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who lives and reigns With you and the Holy Spirit, one God, Now and for ever. AMEN.