From the Vicar's Jottings

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 26.03.21

 

“For everything there is a season...” (Ecclesiastes 3v.1)

 

Next week we begin our journey through Holy Week with the joy of sharing at least some of our worship back in church again. This is another step along the road for us all and gives me the opportunity to thank all those who have shared the journey of this last year with me through these jottings. When I penned my first tentative lines I had no idea that I’d still be posting a year later, albeit with a few gaps along the way!

 

I’m going to take a pause for a while. Next week we’ll be posting the lovely prayers for Holy Week which Roy has written and which will also be published on our website as usual.

 

Earlier this week I had the great privilege (along with some 150 clergy colleagues) of “Zooming” with Archbishop Justin Welby.  We were asked to think of three words which best described how we felt at this time, a year on from the beginning of the pandemic.  Not surprisingly perhaps many, including me, chose “tired” as one of those words. 

 

I’m sure that’s true for many amongst us too. Whoever we are, whatever age we might be, whether we are working or not, living in a family or alone, this year has taken its toll in different ways on all of us.  I treasure the promise of the prophet Isaiah as we look to the still uncertain future ahead: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).  As we celebrate Easter, even in a quieter way than we may have done before, let us look forward to God renewing our hope in Him as we journey on together. 

 

My second word was “sad”.  This week has rightly made us very mindful of those to whom this past year has brought the greatest sadness.  The long season of the pandemic will leave a painful legacy of sorrow, even when eventually it draws to a close.  This Easter it is perhaps more important than ever that we take to ourselves the promise fulfilled in Jesus: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).

 

My third word was “uplifted”.  Things remain far from the normality that we took so long for granted.  It would be easy to stay downcast.  But the poster displayed outside St Jude’s at present conveys a simple but profound message for us all. It is a drawing of a crude wooden cross with the inscription “This is love”.  The weariness and sorrow of Jesus was displayed on the cross for all to see, but such love should uplift every heart once again this Holy Week and Easter, and not least because:

 

“After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life” (Isa 53:11)

 

God bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 25.03.21

 

Today would have been the 83rd birthday of a very dear friend of mine. Some of you will remember Margaret Willis who was one of those behind the vision of a community outreach programme based within the Englefield Green Methodist Church.  She would be so thrilled to see how the work is thriving there today under the dedicated leadership of Ali and her team. 

 

I find myself wondering what Margaret would have made of the situation we are facing today.  She would often tell me that it was pointless for me to worry over something about which I could do nothing, so I guess she would have said that quite a lot.  But she would have been the first to advocate sensible and wise precautions in every way open to us.  Her over-riding concern would be, as it always was, for her beloved family.  She would be saddened that her treasured grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren whom she would also have adored, are growing up in such an altered and uncertain world.  She would have turned that sadness into prayer. 

 

Margaret was always very proud to share her birthday with the Feast Day described as “The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary”. On this day the Angel Gabriel began to unfold to the young Mary God’s eternal plan of salvation for the world.  On this day Mary offered up her whole life in service to God, (Luke 1:26-38).

 

I looked back in my jottings to see what I had written on this day last year. Then, as always, it was the suffering of Mary that moved me most; suffering that was predicted and described so powerfully in Simeon’s words to her as he held the infant Jesus in the Temple: : “...a sword will pierce your own soul...” (Luke 2:35).

 

Margaret died on Good Friday three years ago. As she died the church was remembering Mary standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus. There Mary endured pain no mother should have to endure as she witnessed her Son dying that cruel death. There she felt that sword pierce to the very depths of her being.   

 

No stranger to sorrow herself, Margaret was perhaps more able than many of us to identify with the grief of Mary. I sense too that she would have wisely tried to see the suffering of this present time against the backdrop of the suffering that the world has created and endured throughout its turbulent history. 

 

I know Margaret liked the hymn I quoted this time last year:

 

God is Love: and he enfoldeth
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow's iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching
deep within the heart of God.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 24.03.21

 

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried”

                                                                                  Oscar Romero

 

Today the church commemorates the life of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.  The words quoted above, which come from his pen, seem especially appropriate today as many of us yesterday shared in some way in the tears of our nation for the many losses we have suffered this year. 

 

Oscar Romero was the second of seven children. He was born in Ciudad Barrios, in the mountainous east of El Salvador, on 15th August 1917. At the age of only thirteen he already sensed God’s calling to the priesthood.  He attended seminaries in San Miguel and Rome and was ordained in 1942. He became secretary to the San Miguel diocese, a position he held for twenty-three years. He quickly came to be regarded as an inspirational preacher and his sermons were broadcast across the city by five local radio stations.  He went on to hold two Bishoprics and in February 1977 became Archbishop of San Salvador.

 

In the same month as Oscar Romero’s consecration a crowd of protesters was attacked by soldiers in the town square of the capital. The following month a prominent radical priest was murdered. Months of violence followed. The newly elected government was believed to have gained power fraudulently. There was talk of revolution.

 

Oscar Romero responded by committing himself more and more to the poor and the persecuted.  His church began to document the abuse of human rights, seeking to establish the truth in a country governed by lies. He suffered vicious attacks in the press and a number of his fellow priests lost their lives to violence. On 24th March 1980 Romero himself was brutally murdered while celebrating Holy Communion in the chapel of the hospital which was his home. Today Oscar Romero is celebrated as a martyr.

 

Just minutes before his death, Archbishop Romero was preaching on Jesus’ parable of the wheat, on which some of us reflected last Sunday (John 12:24). These were his words:  "Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grains of wheat that dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies”.

 

Archbishop Romero’s great gift to his people was his complete identification with their suffering, and that gift led to his death.  Among the many who have lost their lives in the last year are those who have died as they embraced the suffering of others. We thank God for them.

 

And we thank God for the hope that Oscar Romero’s love for Christ inspires.  These too were his words: “I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection”.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 23.03.21

Hear my cry, O God....From the ends of the earth I call to you; I call as my heart grows faint (Psalm 61:1, 2)

 

Those were the words I quoted in the very first of these jottings nearly a year ago.  What a year it has been. 

 

Today we remember very especially those who have lost their lives to COVID 19. Across the world there have been 115 million cases confirmed cases of the virus and more than 2.5 million deaths caused by it. In Britain 126,000 deaths from COVID have been recorded.

 

As has been said so often – behind each statistic there lies heartbreak.  The sorrow caused by the virus cannot be measured in numbers or words.  Today our country will fall silent at 12 noon to remember those who have died and those many more who grieve.  Yesterday I spoke with someone who had lost someone very dear to her right at the beginning of the pandemic.  Tragically, like so many, she and her family could not even be with their loved one as he reached the end of his life. 

 

We shall also remember the untold cost of COVID even to those who have not suffered directly from it.  Yesterday once again I conducted a Funeral Service where a sad and untimely death had not been caused by COVID but limitations had necessarily had to be placed on the numbers gathering to mourn. 

 

Today we remember also those who have continued to risk their lives to protect our lives.  At the end of January the British Medical Journal reported that over 850 UK healthcare workers were thought to have died of COVID between March and December 2020. The number is thought to have grown in the months since then.

 

Perhaps we shall also quietly acknowledge the many other heroes of the pandemic. Many volunteers and professionals from our own community have given so much support to so many during this past year. Among them are those who are now helping to underpin the amazing roll-out of the vaccination programme.  I want to thank the staff of our local Funerals Directors, Cemeteries and Crematoria for their courage and for the compassion they have shown to so many.  We are indebted to shopkeepers who have stayed open to keep food on our tables.  Thank you to the wonderful teachers and staff of our local schools who have worked almost unceasingly alongside our parents and children.  Thank you to so many more besides.

 

The way ahead is still uncertain but today fittingly we stop to honour those who have died and to grieve with those who grieve.  We pause to say “thank you” to those who have walked with us.

 

Let’s also pause to wait upon God:

 

“For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe” (Psalm 61:3)

 

God bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR'S JOTTINGS 22.03.21

The National Day of Reflection is of course on Tuesday but I wanted to use this jotting to make some of the suggested prayers available to you beforehand. 

 

Lord God, the maker and redeemer of all,

we come before you in thanksgiving for the gift of health and life,

and we grieve for the thousands who have died.

Comfort us with your presence; sustain us with the hope of your kingdom,

And give us grace to live our lives well; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Psalm 23: 4, 6

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Matthew 11:28 -30

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

 

Romans 8:38-39

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxieties upon God, for God cares for you

 

God of Love, Be with us as we think about all that has changed this year,
And help us to trust that you are always with us.
Be close to us as we remember those who have died,
And help us to trust they are at peace with you.
Show us how to reach out to others with kindness and care,
So that hope shines out in every heart and home. Amen

 

Lord Jesus Christ, when fear and anxiety besiege us and hope is veiled in grief,

hold us in your wounded hands and make your face shine on us again, 

for you are our Lord and God. Amen

 

Christ the Good Shepherd, enfold us with love, fill us with peace,

and lead us in hope, to the end of our days. Amen

 

God be with you and with all who remember.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 19.03.21

 

It’s hard to believe perhaps but next Tuesday, 23rd March, will mark the year anniversary of the first COVID 19 Lockdown. The day has been designated a National Day of Reflection and will be marked in various ways across the country.

 

I quote from the recent words of the Archbishop of Canterbury: 

 

The first anniversary of the UK’s national lockdown on 23rd March is an opportunity to pause and reflect on all that has happened over the past year. We will remember those who have died, and give thanks for those who have looked after us.

 

My prayer will be that our Father in Heaven might comfort us in our grief and stand with us at the foot of the Cross of the suffering Christ. May He lead us into the hope of the resurrection – and remind us of the promise of eternal life. And may God guide us in rebuilding a society that honours those we have lost.

 

The Church of England website is offering material for reflection and prayer and I include some of that material here. I shall offer some more in my Monday jotting.

 

Loving God, 
You hold all our times in your hands, our past, our present, our future. Be close to us now as we remember all the difficulties and disappointments of the past year. Be especially close to all of us who are thinking of someone we loved and knew, but see no longer, whether family, friend, colleague or neighbour. Help us to trust that they are at peace with you, and comfort us with your presence. 

 

Loving God, 
You place us in families and communities, and we give you thanks for all those around us who serve us and help us in so many ways. Give wisdom to community leaders, to our schools, hospitals, care homes and other agencies who make a difference to our lives. Help each of us to have the courage to reach out with thanks and kindness to those around us and to speak words of faith as we share the good news of your love.

 

Loving God, 
As we journey towards Easter, help us to live as people of hope, knowing that beyond the pain of the cross lies the joy of resurrection. Inspire us in our worship, through our churches and in our homes, that we may bring glory to you and joy to others. Be with those who are struggling in mind, body or spirit, and give courage to those who are facing uncertainty and change ahead. Help each of us to keep our eyes fixed on you, that we may reflect your light to all whom we meet.

 

Even within our own local community there are many who have been tragically affected by COVID. We pray especially for them at this time. 

 

God Bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 18.03.21

 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

 

Today in the life of the church is designated as an “Ember” Day.  The name comes originally from the Latin quattuor tempora, which means “Four Times” or “Four Seasons.” Ember days were traditionally observed to mark the beginning of a new season and during this continuing pandemic, it is especially uplifting to remember that this particular Ember Day heralds the dawn of spring with its promise of new life and hope.  In the past it was the custom to give thanks for the rebirth of nature and for the gift of light.

 

Ember Days more recently have been set aside as specific opportunities to pray for the life of the church and for those who serve God within the church.  The New Testament is clear that means all of us! As the children of God we are all called to serve Him together using the gifts which He has given us.  We all share the challenge to shine the light of His love amidst the darkness of the world. 

 

The prayers set for today in the Church of England remind us that we need to know the love of God at work in our own lives in order to reflect His love and life to those around us.  Today I offer my own adaptation of those prayers.

 

We pray for new life and hope as we begin to emerge from the dark shadow of the pandemic.

 

We pray that we may walk more closely with God so that our lives might bring others closer to Him.  

 

We pray that as we seek to bring God’s wholeness to others we may know His wholeness in ourselves.

 

We pray that as we speak God’s word to others we may have our ears attuned to His gentle whisper to us.

 

We pray that as we seek the fulfilment of God’s purpose in our world we may be willing to see His purpose fulfilled in our own lives.

 

We pray that amidst the upheaval of this constantly changing world our faith in God’s power and love may speak to those around us of His unchanging faithfulness.   

 

We give thanks for all those whose lives have been a joy and example to us and we pray that we like them may use the opportunities of today to build a legacy of love for tomorrow.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

 

 

Bless those who have been a joy and example to us and who have gone before us into your eternal Kingdom, especially we remember...

Lord of the Church, hear our prayer, and make us one in heart and mind to serve you with joy forever. Amen.

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 17.03.21

 

Today the church celebrates the life and ministry of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. This jotting comes with special greetings to those reading who are of Irish descent!

 

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain late in the 4th century to a privileged imperial family. Both his father and grandfather are believed to have been leaders in the early Christian church.

 

At the age of 16 Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. He was put to work as a shepherd in the hills of what is now County Antrim. It is said that while he tended sheep and pigs he clung to the faith of his family, seeking God’s presence in his isolation. He is believed to have remained there for 6 years and during that time to have experienced his own profound personal encounter with God.

 

Eventually he managed to escape but the experience had left him with a heart for the Irish people. He returned to Ireland around 432 determined to bring the Christian Gospel to them. By the time of his death, on 17th March 451, he had founded a number of monasteries, churches and schools. It is believed that his ministry led to the conversion of thousands of people.

 

In his "Confessions", a remarkable account of his life written not long before he died, Patrick records his absolute trust in a loving God, his gratitude for the gift of faith and his joy in seeing the lives of many Irish men and women transformed as they heard God's word. Sadly, however his confessions do not record the story of Patrick using the three-leafed shamrock to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, nor do they refer to the legend that it was he who drove out the snakes from Ireland!

 

But Patrick nonetheless has passed on to us the legacy of his writing and the prayers he left behind still have much to say to us today. I leave you with a reflection and a blessing, both from Patrick's pen:

 

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity

By invocation of the same, the three in one and One in three.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead.

His eye to watch; His might to stay; His ear to harken to my need.

The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, his shield to ward;

The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.

 

May the Strength of God pilot us. May the Power of God preserve us.

May the Wisdom of God instruct us. May the Hand of God protect us.

May the Way of God direct us. May the Shield of God defend us.

May the Host of God guard us.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 16.03.21

 

“The night will shine like the day for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:12)

 

Among my books is one that has survived a number of years and several moves. It’s a little book by Amy Carmichael, who went to India as a missionary in 1895 and founded the Dohnavur Fellowship which established a home for children in the Tirunelveli District of South India. The Fellowship still provides childcare and education for children in the same district today.

 

The book, “His Thoughts said...His Father said” is framed as a conversation between a son and his father God.  Each brief section begins: “His thoughts said...” It’s a great book to dip into and although published 80 years ago remains strangely apt. My eye was drawn to a paragraph which began: “His thoughts said: my heart is overwhelmed”.

 

The passage goes on to quote from Psalm 61:2 “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I” The son “remembered how often at midnight, or in the small hours of the morning when all life’s mole-hills become mountains, some familiar scripture flowing through his mind had renewed his strength...”

 

I remember writing earlier on in the pandemic about the anxious thoughts which can so often disturb us and preoccupy us at night.  In all that has been said and written about the effect that the pandemic has had on mental health, I am not sure that i have seen much about its effect on our sleep pattern.  But I do believe that for some of us at least the inevitable changes in our life style as well as the concerns raised or exacerbated by the virus, have meant longer times of wakefulness at night.

 

It is so good to see the days lengthening.  I think I have been more aware of that in 2021 than almost ever before.  Soon the clocks will go forward and the hours of evening daylight will extend still further.  But the nights remain and most of us have experienced how easily life’s molehills can become mountains in the darkness.

 

Interestingly, an apparent gap in the consumer market seems to have been identified and filled in the last few months. The “weighted blanket” has appeared, advertised as having the power to restore sleep to those distressed at nighttimes by anxiety or pain.  If the abundance of reviews is too believed this new and innovative design is proving remarkably effective.   For some at least some comfort has been found!

 

The overwhelmed son in Amy Carmichael’s imagination turned to God to subdue his fears. Reflecting on the scripture that came to him and sustained him through long dark nights he wrote: “He knew that in these words was a power that was not of earth”.

 

“When I awake I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18)

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 15.03.21

 

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love” (Psalm 31:7)

 

Maybe it was a lingering reminder of my Friday jotting but Mothering Sunday was not an easy day.  Perhaps some of you, like me, felt particularly the pain that many of those around us are experiencing.  For the St Jude’s congregation too it was a reminder that our Mothering Sunday Service 2020 was the last service to be held in church before the first lockdown began. 

 

The sense of loss has perhaps been heightened too by the story that is still most prominent in the news headlines: that of the tragic death of Sarah Everard and the equally grim reminder of the many other women and children whose lives have been similarly and heartbreakingly lost.  The news of the disruption of the vigil planned in Sarah’s honour also makes disturbing reading.  It confronts us again with COVID 19 and the tremendous pressure that trying to keep us safe has put on our frontline healthcare and emergency workers. Once again, the virus leaves its own long and terrible shadow.

 

So it was a real joy to hear Andrew Reed’s Mothering Sunday message to us all. Andrew drew our attention to the wonderful Hebrew word “hesed” which appears around 250 times in the Old Testament.  English words such as love, grace and faithfulness touch on some shades of its meaning.  All those words describe aspects of the character of God who described Himself as “abounding” in hesed, (Exodus 34:16-17), translated among several different ways as “unfailing love” or “steadfast love” .

 

The word “hesed” is also used to describe God’s compassion and mercy. In King David’s great cry for forgiveness, which is recorded in Psalm 51, he prays: “Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion...” (Psalm 51:1).

 

Many among us were thankfully still able to celebrate Mothering Sunday with great joy, although perhaps more quietly than usual.  Many undoubtedly were celebrating their first Mothering Sunday with precious lockdown babies.  Gladness as well as sorrow has emerged from the long months of the pandemic.  And perhaps for all of us Mothering Sunday also afforded an opportunity to reflect on the nature of God’s love for us, which the Bible sometimes likens to the love of the very best among human mothers.

 

Nowhere is the unfailing love of God seen more clearly than in the coming of His Son.  Nowhere is His steadfast love more evident than in the redeeming death of Jesus on the cross.  In Jesus, God’s “Hesed” is made complete. In directing our gaze to Him we turn our eyes away from this present sadness and fix them on the One whose love transcends the darkness.

 

“...because you saw my affliction and the anguish of my soul” (Psalm 31:7)

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 12.03.21

 

“I prayed for this child and the Lord has granted what I asked of Him”

 (1 Samuel 1:27)

 

Every year there is a poignancy about Mothering Sunday and perhaps especially so this year. COVID 19 has robbed mothers of their children and children of their mothers. On a greater than normal scale it has done what death under any circumstances always does: it has brought sorrow and separation; upheaval and devastation. 

 

Perhaps more than ever in 2021 we need to remember those for whom Mothering Sunday does not necessarily bring joy.  There are always those who are bereaved either of mothers or children.  There are always those who have never known a mother’s love.  There are always those who are childless and desperately long for children.  There are always families parted by distance or by circumstance. 

 

There are always those too who owe their experience of a loving, stable home to someone other than a mother.  There are many who care lovingly and sacrificially for the children of another parent. It may be a father, a grandparent, a sibling, aunt or treasured friend who will be honoured especially this Mothering Sunday.  Mothering Sunday can be a fresh opportunity to give thanks to God for whoever it may be who has taught us the meaning of love and stood by us through the hard times as well as the good.

 

The Bible does not flinch from portraying the sadness motherhood can so often bring.  Moses’ mother had to relinquish the care of her son, not once but twice (Exodus 2:1-10). Naomi, mother-in-law to Ruth, was bereaved of both her adult sons (Ruth 1:1-5). Hannah, Samuel’s mother, experienced the agony of childlessness and then, when God granted her a son, the hard choice to give him back to God’s service (1 Samuel 1). Mary, the mother of Jesus is warned early on in the life of her Son that: “A sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35). And Mary goes on to bear the cruel pain of watching her Son dying on the Calvary cross (John 19:25-27).

 

But the Bible does not hide the joy of parenting.  Mark beautifully describes children being brought to Jesus for His blessing.  Many were probably carried by their mothers.  Yet Mark says simply that “People were bringing little children to Jesus...” (Mark 10:13).   Among the crowd would have been those other than mothers with children in their care whom they wanted to bring to the feet of Jesus.

 

On Mothering Sunday 2021 we remember those whom we love but see no longer; those who are grieving; those who are apart; those who are isolated and alone.  All those and so many more we too can bring to the feet of Jesus.

 

“I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16)

 

God bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 11.03.21

 

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow...on those who take refuge in you”. (Psalm 31:19)

 

I have to confess to having great sympathy with the people who have told me at various times over the last year that they do not feel able to watch/listen to the news at the moment.  The dominance of the news media by COVID 19; the daily death toll, each number representing untold sorrow and loss; the numbers of hospitalisations adding to the unbearable strain on our frontline healthcare workers in particular and the fluctuating rates of infection which so easily generate fear and despair; all those have been very hard to bear.

 

At last those distressing numbers are accompanied by something positive.  It is so heartening to watch the rising numbers of vaccines administered day by day, including now the numbers of second vaccines.  Those numbers speak hope to us all and we are grateful.  They cannot take away the burden of bereavement and pain shouldered by those who have already been so affected by the virus, but they remind us the world is working hard to ensure others do not have to suffer such loss.

 

But now the coronavirus has been denied a little bit of space on our screens, there is room for other things which are disturbing in their own way. One of the recent news bulletins to which I listened seemed entirely directed towards undermining trust in some of the most familiar structures of our society.  One by one the presenters called into question the ability of our Government to make the wisest use of our resources; the commitment of some of our law enforcement authorities to protect  those who are vulnerable, and the resolve of the Monarchy as an institution to stand for equality and justice. 

 

I know we have our own views on all these things but I found that tide of uncertainty very unsettling.  Early on in our experience of the pandemic there was so much talk about building a better world, a kinder world, a freer world. We are so privileged to see the blossoming of those qualities in the exceptional and outstanding care that so many individuals have shown to others during the course of this past year.

 

But, as we go forward, where do we place our trust?  In this constantly changing world where can we find firm ground on which to place our feet ready for the tough journey ahead?  Thank God for those whom we love and who love us.  Thank God for people at every level of society who have our well-being at heart. But thank God above all for the promises of his word:

 

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24)

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 10.03.21

 

Monday this week, as well as being International Women’s Day, was also Commonwealth Day.  As with everything at this present time, celebrations were muted, but the BBC broadcast a pre-recorded service from Westminster Abbey on Sunday to which several members of the Royal family, including the Queen and the Prince of Wales, contributed.

 

At this searingly difficult and painful time for our Royal family, it was perhaps especially moving to hear what was said. In speaking of the significance of the relationships across the Commonwealth, the Queen reflected that we had learnt through the pandemic that distance cannot cancel friendship.  In every country over these past months we have seen stirring examples of courage, commitment and selfless dedication to duty, most notably amongst healthcare workers. We have seen commonwealth nations making immensely significant advances in vaccines and treatment for COVID.  And we have remained connected with one another largely because of the international innovative zeal that has inspired digital communication.

Just as interesting as what the Queen said was what was said about her. We were reminded that the dress designed for her coronation featured the floral emblems of the countries of the United Kingdom and those of the other countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, including the English Tudor rose, Scots thistle , Welsh leek , Irish shamrock, Canadian  maple leafAustralian wattle, New Zealand silver fern, South African protea (sugarbush), Indian lotus flower, the Lotus flower of Ceylon, and Pakistan's wheatcotton, and jute. The design was both a discreet and powerful expression of her Majesty’s commitment to the commonwealth, a commitment which has never wavered.

 

That commitment is reflected perhaps most of all in the way in which the Queen herself embodies some of the qualities she herself most associates with relationships within the commonwealth. The concepts of loyalty, friendship, freedom and peace are among those which she identified as being of especial significance.  

 

The majority of people alive in the UK and commonwealth today have never known another monarch. It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that our Queen’s personal commitment, discipline, devotion to duty and her faith has made on our lives. It is quite remarkable that the person who, as the young Princess Elizabeth, sought to support and sustain us through the devastation of the Second World War, is still seeking to support and sustain us through the devastation of COVID 19 almost 80 years on.

 

The Queen is undoubtedly an extraordinary human being.  But she is still also simply a human being, subject to the anxieties, sorrows and disappointments that many of us face, but played out on the world stage for all to see.  She deserves our prayers. She undoubtedly prays for us.

 

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and he is attentive to our prayer” (1 Peter 3:12)

 

God bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 09.03.21

 

“The Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11)

 

Yesterday the church commemorated the life of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, Priest and Poet. He was born in Leeds in 1883 and educated at Leeds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin. After a year's training at Ripon Clergy College he became a curate at St Andrew's ChurchRugby and then, in 1914, the vicar of St. Paul's, Worcester

 

On the outbreak of World War I, Studdert Kennedy volunteered as a chaplain to the army on the Western Front, where he gained the nickname Woodbine Willie for giving Woodbine cigarettes as well as spiritual care to injured and dying soldiers. In 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross. His citation read:

 

“Awarded for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited”..

 

Studdert Kennedy returned to parish ministry after the war and continued writing both poetry and hymns. Later he became an outspoken advocate for the working classes.  His last appointment was as a Missioner with the Industrial Christian Fellowship.  He travelled throughout the UK speaking on behalf of ICF.  It was on one of those tours, to Liverpool, that he died on 8th March 1929. His funeral took place in Worcester and was attended by many members of the working classes for whose cause he had fought so tirelessly. Despite his distinguished career the Dean of Westminster refused him burial in Westminster Abbey on the grounds that he was a socialist!

 

Among the hymns penned by Studdert Kennedy is one to greet the new day “Awake, awake to love and work, the lark is in the sky”.  But he also wrote the deeply sombre poem “Indifference” which begins:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

 

In the second verse of the poem Studdert Kennedy addresses how he saw the contemporary response of society to Jesus:

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

 

How I wonder would Studdert Kennedy record our response to Jesus as He comes alongside us in the pandemic of 2021?

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 08.03.21

“Blessed are you among women...” (Luke 1:42)

 

Marked annually on March 8th, International Women's Day describes itself as a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is often marked by rallies celebrating women’s achievements or lobbying for greater equality. International Women's Day has been observed since 1911. This year its theme is 'Choose to Challenge'. 

International Women’s Day has its own colours: purple signifies justice and dignity, green symbolises hope and white represents purity.

One of the women nominated for especial mention in 2021 is Professor Sarah Gilbert. Sarah holds the Professorship of Vaccinology at the Jenner Institute in Oxford. A year ago it is unlikely that many of us would ever have heard her name. Some while back, when Sarah was studying for her PhD she seriously contemplated giving up the idea of pursuing a career in science. If that had indeed turned out to be her decision it would have been a severe loss to us all. Professor Gilbert and her team at the Jenner were responsible for creating one of the COVID 19 vaccines.  What a debt of gratitude we owe to them all.

Sarah has a history of being involved in creating ground breaking vaccines. Back in 2014, she led the first trial of an Ebola vaccine. And when the Covid-19 outbreak first began, she was in Saudi Arabia trialling a vaccine for the Mers coronavirus. That’s what helped her team create the Oxford vaccine so quickly - she realised they could
use a similar approach.

Professor Gilbert and her team undoubtedly had to choose to challenge the fear that existed when the pandemic began: the fear that a suitable vaccine would not be found for many months, even perhaps for a year or so. The speed at which the vaccines have been developed, trialled and approved for use has been quite, quite remarkable and we have so much for which to thank God.  As we remember the many people who have already lost their lives to COVID it is important that we are able to honour their memory by ensuring that fewer are lost in the months ahead.

The pages of the Bible contain many accounts of the courage and determination of remarkable women.  Rahab, Ruth, Hannah and Esther are among those whose stories are told in the Old Testament. Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene and Lydia walk the pages of the New Testament.  And we may have forgotten the names of women like Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis but they are described by the apostle Paul as “Women who work hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:12).

And whilst many women across the world today still struggle for freedom, equality and recognition, it was Paul who also reminded us that men and women are:

“All one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 05.03.21

 

“The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall...” (Matthew 7:25)

 

The first Friday in March was for many years designated as the “Women’s World Day of Prayer”.  In more recent years the title has changed to the “World Day of Prayer” and offers an invitation to men and women across the world to come together in prayer and to focus in particular on the experiences and needs of the country that has prepared the service. 

 

This year that country is the commonwealth country Vanuatu, a cluster of islands 1100 miles east of Australia.  Vanuatu is always one of the first countries to begin the great wave of prayer on the Day of Prayer.  The service for 2021 has been prepared by the Christian women of Vanuatu who have chosen for its theme “Build on a Strong Foundation”.

 

COVID 19 has brought its own disruption to this year’s Day of Prayer.  In past years we have often enjoyed a beautiful service in St Jude’s or another of our village churches, followed by some great fellowship with Christians from other churches as well as our own, accompanied by some delicious home baked cakes.  This year we shall not be holding a “live” service but, instead, we are invited to tune into You Tube (WDPIC You Tube Channel) from 10.30am and worship with the people of Vanuatu themselves via the video they have prepared for us. 

 

The service opens with a description of this lovely island country; its black and white sandy beaches, coral reefs, exotic birds and fruitful forests. But the islands are vulnerable to frequent tropical storms, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.  So the call to “Build on a Strong Foundation” has especial practical resonance in this land.

 

The service includes testimonies from three women who have helped to put it together. One of them is Mothy who, partly because of her family’s poverty, was forced to live outdoors as a child, finding food on the streets and sleeping under an old sack to protect her from the cold. Mothy describes meeting some Christians who told her that God loved her. Away from the shelter of a loving family Mothy trusted God would care for her. That trust, she says, became the “foundation of my life”.

 

The tsunami of the pandemic has probably caused many of us to re-examine the foundations of our lives.  Where do we place our trust? The WDP service for 2022 will be prepared by Christians from the UK.  Its theme, chosen well before the outbreak of the pandemic is God’s promise “I know the plans I have for you”. There can be no surer foundation for us than the one we find in Him.

 

“...because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:25)

 

God bless you dear friends. Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 04.03.21

“Give...as the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 15:14)

One of the great themes of Lent is that of giving to those in need.  Two challenges in particular have been on my mind this week.

At the beginning of Lent Bishop Andrew launched an appeal across the diocese of Guildford, inviting us to make the Bishop of Guildford’s Communities Fund the focus of our Lent giving. The Fund supports the vulnerable and marginalised throughout the diocese, helping those parishes and charities which are reaching out into their local communities.

Usually collections taken at services such as clergy licensings and confirmations provide most of the fund’s income, but the COVID 19 has meant that most of these have not taken place. This means that the fund currently has few resources available to help those in most need.  2021 will continue to be a difficult year, with the pandemic leaving many people vulnerable and isolated, facing uncertainty due to redundancy or the difficulty of finding their first job. A generous response to this appeal would enable the fund to offer hope to some of those within our own wider community who are in such need at this time.

 

Beyond our shores the brutal suffering faced in many parts of the world continues.  This week we heard that our own government intends to reduce our country’s aid to war torn Yemen by some 60%. Whatever may be the reasons behind this decision it is hard to reconcile with what we understand of the situation there.

One of the charities working in the Yemen is “Médecins  Sans  Frontières”  or “Doctors without Borders”.  Their website reveals that since the beginning of 2021, MSF has been treating increasing numbers of severely malnourished patients at Abs Hospital, in the Hajjah governorate of northwest Yemen. Cases in Abs are up 41 percent compared to the same period last year.

A spokesperson for the charity states that the main reason they are seeing so many malnourished children is the six-year long conflict that has plagued Yemen. She says “The war has decimated the economy, destroying livelihoods so that people can no longer afford food to feed their families or fuel to travel to seek work or medical care”

 

We are so conscious today of all we owe to our own healthcare workers. It is shocking to read that many medical workers in Yemen have not been paid in years. The vast majority of the population in Abs relies on humanitarian aid for survival.

Some of us are not in a position to give very much, if at all.  But all of us can pray. These are tough times nationally and even more so globally. We pray for all those working to ensure help is directed towards those in greatest need.

 

“Give and it will be given to you”. (Luke 6:38)

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 03.03.21

 

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (1 Corinthians 6:2)

 

One of the lessons we’ve learnt during the pandemic is that COVID 19 has no power to cancel committees!  If anything, committees have flourished during the last twelve months, thanks to zoom (which is of course not the only online conferencing service available!!).  Even the Handforth Parish Council has continued to meet and unwittingly provided entertainment for a wider audience!

 

Tonight we have a meeting of our Village Centre Management Committee. The Village Centre Café has had to remain closed for much of the last eleven months because of corona virus restrictions and sadly our lettings have also had to be temporarily suspended. 

 

But...there is so much good news as well! Our Child Contact Centre has remained open and is meeting the needs of some of those families who have been under even greater pressure because of the pandemic. Our Baby Basics Charity has seen a really big increase in referrals from professionals within the Health and Social Care sector and Ali, our Centre Manager and her volunteers have been working hard to meet those needs also.

 

And last month saw the launch of the Community Fridge, another exciting initiative based at the Centre, which will enable the sensible collection and distribution locally of good food which would otherwise have been wasted. This facility is available to us all. 

 

In the midst of all the gloom that the pandemic seems constantly to leave in its wake, these are really good things to celebrate and share.  In this time of such uncertainty it is all too easy for inspiration and vision to disappear. Thanks to Ali and her Team this hasn’t happened at the Village Centre – far from it.  Those green shoots of growth, to which we all so much look forward, are already there.

 

Thinking about these things, and rejoicing in all the progress that has been made under such challenging circumstances, has made me think afresh about the need to live in the present.  I have spent a lot of energy and thought trying to imagine life restored beyond the pandemic.  But increasingly, I think, we are becoming aware that life beyond the pandemic may be a greater distance away than perhaps we had reckoned.  Government ministers and scientists are beginning to speak more of living “with” the virus than of life after it.

 

Whilst that may be depressing in some ways it should also spur on us to find ways to choose life in the here and now.  As someone once said “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come.  Today is a gift, that’s why we call it ‘the present’”.

 

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap the fruit of unfailing love...for it is time to seek the Lord”. (Hosea 10:12)

 

God Bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 02.03.21

 

Following yesterday’s celebration of the feast day of St. David, patron saint of Wales, the Christian church today commemorates the life of St Chad, who died on this day in 672 AD.

 

Almighty God, from the first fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ, you called your servant Chad to be an evangelist and bishop of his own people: give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature, humble spirit and prayerful life, that we may truly commend to others the faith which we ourselves profess...

 

At one time, it is believed, Chad came to be venerated as the patron saint of disputed elections.  If so, it is tempting to think he has had his work cut out in recent times. 

 

Chad was born in Northumbria, one of four brothers. Little is known about his early life although we do know that he was for some years a student at the Celtic monastery at Lindisfarne. He travelled to Ireland as a monk and was probably ordained priest at the age of thirty, according to the custom of the times, as the Lord Jesus began His own ministry at the age of thirty. 

 

We know that St Chad was the first bishop of Mercia and Lindsey at Lichfield. St Chad, like St David, was the founder of several monasteries, including the monastery at Lastingham, a tiny village in the historic North Riding of Yorkshire, where he and his older brother Cedd were both, at different times, abbots. Together St Chad and St Cedd are credited with being the first missionaries to the Angles.

 

The Venerable Bede, who was born just a year after the death of St Chad, and is most famous for his influential work:” An Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, wrote extensively about both Chad and Cedd.  It is from Bede that we learn of the character of Chad as being unusually “humble, devout, zealous and apostolic”

 

Trumbert, one of Chad’s students at Lastingham, described how Chad would stop reading whenever a gale sprang up and call on God for mercy. During prolonged storms he would go into the church itself to pray until calm returned. Asked to explain his behaviour, Chad expressed his conviction that storms are sent by God to humble us and to remind us of the day of judgement. Interestingly, England during the time of Chad’s ministry was beset by plague, and it would be interesting perhaps also to discover Chad’s interpretation of those times.

 

Bede also said of Chad that he was "a diligent performer in deed of what he had learnt in the Scriptures should be done." That perhaps is one of the highest accolades that could be offered to any believer.

 

Although far away in time both David and Chad remind us of the privilege of our Christian heritage.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

VICAR’S JOTTINGS 01.03.21

 

Almighty God, whose servant David revealed the loving service of Christ in his ministry as pastor of your people, awaken within us the love of Christ and keep us faithful to our Christian calling...

 

This is written with warmest greetings to all our Welsh friends on this particularly special day in your calendar.  

 

St. David, patron saint of Wales from the twelfth century, is the only native-born patron saint of the countries of Britain and Ireland. Legend has it that his mother, St Non, gave birth to him at the top of a Pembrokeshire cliff during a fierce storm in the year 500AD.  The ruins of St Non’s Chapel mark the spot where the birth is said to have taken place.  Nearby is a holy well, the water from which is said to have healing properties.

 

The earliest life of David was written in about 1090 by the son of the then Bishop of St David’s. It records David as having studied on an island for ten years as a priest. He was then to become Abbot Bishop of the Monastery at Menevia, nowadays St David’s, and from there he founded around a dozen monasteries which were renowned for their asceticism. Tradition has it that the monks used their own hands, rather than oxen, to plough the fields. It was said that they did not eat meat or consume beer. St David himself was believed by some to have eaten only leeks and drank only water – possibly an explanation as to why the leek became a national symbol of Wales!

 

David was revered as an eloquent preacher.  Legend has it that he was so gifted in preaching the word of God that on one occasion the place where he was standing to speak miraculously became a little hill so that David could be better heard! At the same time a white dove settled on his shoulder. 

 

In around 560AD the Synod of Brevi in Ceridigion, Wales, was called to address the problem of heretical teaching.  David was invited by the senior bishop to address the assembly. This he did with such skill that the senior bishop immediately retired to make way for David to take his place.

 

St David died on 1 March in c.589. His last words are said to have come from a sermon he had preached on the previous Sunday: ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’  Probably a word for today!

 

Almighty God, who called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: in your mercy grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the gospel of Christ, we may with him receive the crown of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

God bless you dear friends.  Judith

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