From the Associate Priest - January 2021

Dear Friends,

New Year Resolutions! The very idea awakens thoughts of new starts, new beginnings, turning over a new leaf, radical change!! Normally, at this time, this is where our thoughts would be going and our determination to ‘make changes’ in our lives strong, but what about this coming year? What resolutions can we make with any degree of certainty that they are achievable? This coming year much of our lives and many of our actions will be determined by what is happening with COVID-19, whether the vaccines are plentiful and effective, whether our livelihoods have survived its impact, and for some, whether our family is still intact. This year, more than any other I can remember as an adult, much of what I can or cannot do is proscribed and I am powerless to change it so, it is even more important than ever to have some discipline and order in the areas where I can make decisions, where I can effect change.

Throughout history the commencement of a New Year has been a time for new beginnings, for settling old wrongs and debts, putting them aside and starting anew, for examining our lives and habits and deciding where changes will be good, where some practices should be consigned to the past and new horizons sought. Simple things like the traditional “New Year Diet” will not be affected by COVID, eating less or differently is something in our control, but the intention to seek a new job, to start some special training, those may now be either impossible or much delayed, so we have to be flexible in our approach to the New Year and adapt to our changing circumstances.

Just now many of us are looking at the night sky to the west in the hope of seeing a Planetary event which only occurs every four hundred years. For those of us who believe, there is much excitement in thinking we could be looking at “The Star of Bethlehem” because one of the times this particular event occurred was at the time Jesus was born. I wonder if God had this in mind when He set the plan in motion!

This happening reminds us that God can use all sorts of conditions to make what he wishes happen. He used the Roman’s political decision to run a Census which caused Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem to be registered for that census, something so very inconvenient and possibly dangerous, just so that Jesus could be born where the prophets had foretold. This coming year, whatever the COVID problem throws at us, let us find ways to make it work for good, and let us make one big resolution that COVID will not ruin 2021 for us all. I have heard tales of so many instances of peoples’ kindness, of time given, shopping done, telephone chats and of course, Zoom. We can keep together as a community, we can show love and care even in these circumstances, and we do not have to be separated from everyone all the time, even if we are confined to our own homes. Make 2021 a year when “Reaching Out” is the predominant message.

Christmas is a time when we celebrate the great act of Love by God when Jesus, His Son, came to us a little baby. Let’s all share that love with others.

June

 

Postscript

A Message Of Thanks

I just want to say how marvellous everyone has been over these past months. When our churches had to close, I wondered just how we should manage but within days, Zoom was discovered and put to use. Every Sunday we have had acts of worship throughout the Benefice whether the church building is able to open or not, but, these Services do not just happen by magic - they entail a great deal of work and preparation, all by volunteers.

As I am the only priest we have living in the villages and we are without a Rector who would normally be saying this to everyone who has helped to keep our worship alive, i just want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. God’s Spirit is alive and well in the Benefice of St Bartholomew and each one of you who has contributed has kept it so.

Carol Services

I know everyone loves singing carols. I do as much as anyone and the loss of singing in church has been keenly felt, but we have managed to have special Advent and Carol Services despite this. In some cases a small choir singing on behalf of the congregation and, in others, recorded or downloaded music has taken the part. We have had our usual Readings and the message has been revisited in 2020 with great enthusiasm and joy.

I do not wish to single out any one of these Services as I was unable to attend all, but I do wish to say ‘Thank You’ to all who made them possible, especially our volunteer choir leaders and Technical whizz kids. It has made this Advent a memorable one!


From the Associate Priest - December 2020

Dear Friends,

christmas“How are we all going to celebrate Christmas 2020?” “This Christmas will be different! “ “There is no way we can provide the ‘normal’ Christmas this year.” How many times have you heard one, or indeed all, of the above in the last month I wonder. I have lost count and I am seriously fed up with the endless speculation, a feeling I am sure echoed by many of you. Even if we do come out of Lockdown on the 3rd. Dec. there is no way any responsible government will give ‘carte blanche’ so that everyone can do just as they wish, some forms of restriction will have to apply to keep everyone safe and well.

So, what will Christmas be like this year?

The national obsession with the answer to “what will be allowed at Christmas?” says much about what Christmas means to most of us. It is important on so many fronts, a time for family get togethers, a time for everyone to sit down to Lunch together, a time to meet up with family you have not seen all year. A time for eating, drinking and the giving of expensive gifts. It is these things which are most likely to be affected by that decision on the 2nd. but, is that all Christmas is really about?

I do not think that Mary and Joseph actually wanted to spend the birth of their firstborn so far away from home. Where the birth actually happened was decided by government, by the ruling conquerors, the Romans. it was Rome who insisted on having a Census, a count of all their conquered subjects, and furthermore that it should take place in the town or city which signified the particular Tribe to which each belonged. For Joseph and Mary that happened to be Bethlehem in Judea, a long way from Nazareth where Joseph had his home and business. Of course, we also know that this was prophesied so God had something to do with it as well!

However it came about, that very first Christmas came at a time when everyone was forced to be somewhere not of their own choosing, to make journeys not wanted or easy, when everyone had to make do and mend, to make the best of a bad situation , and the result? From all that confusion and worry came the wonderful, magical events of the first Christmas. The stories of the Shepherds in the countryside, the Angels, the Stable with the Manger and the animals because there was “no room” at the Inn. None of that would have been the same in busy Nazareth. Think of all the lovely Nativity plays you have seen and the way it all comes together and imparts a feeling of love and wonder.

At the heart of Christmas is Love. God’s love for the whole of His creation, His wish to bring us back to Him and His gift of His Son, Jesus, the greatest gift ever given to anyone, by anyone, anywhere! No matter what changes in our family traditions this year God’s loving gift does not. That is unchanging, everlasting.

I hope that at least the churches will be open for some of our Christmas Services, that we shall be able to gather, even if socially distanced, to remember and give thanks, to have some sharing. But whatever happens, however we are allowed to celebrate Christmas 2020, let us decide to make it the best we can. Make Christmas 2020 memorable. Let’s look at what Mary and Joseph did and see if we can follow their example. Perhaps, like their story, we shall create some new, magical traditions which we shall want to keep forever.

A very Happy Christmas to You All.

June


From the Associate Priest - September 2020

Dear Friends,

Semley ChurchLast Sunday, Brian and I drove to East Knoyle for the Sunday Service and as we were leaving Gutch Common, there was a break in the trees lining the lane. Just through this gap I had a clear view of Semley Church, and it appeared to be quite a distance away and well over to my right.  Immediately the tree line became dense again, and the view disappeared but, just moments later, as we emerged from the Hollow and drove down the hill to Semley the perspective changed, suddenly Semley Church seemed to be directly in front of us, just measurable yards away.

Both views of the church, whilst giving quite different ideas of distance and relative position, were clear and well defined.  Any stranger would have no difficulty in identifying just what they were viewing from either vantage point.  The church building with its high tower stood clear and sharp on the skyline.  For decades, Semley church has stood tall, a well defined landmark and one which is constantly used as a reference point for directing people to other buildings and houses.  For centuries, our churches have served as clear and well defined landmarks, often built on the highest point in the village and their towers and steeples standing higher than any other building in the village, visible for miles.  Lost travellers on moonlit nights welcomed the sight of the church tower as a sign that they were not really lost, just a little way off the correct path, not far from home, and in centuries past, they signalled a place of safety to the runaway, the hunted, seeking sanctuary.

As well as being a landmark, church towers usually house the bells - bells which call the faithful to worship, which sound out at times of national importance, which mark the  joy of a wedding or the distress of a loved one’s passing. All of these purposes for one building and particularly for one part of that building.

For some months, our churches have had to remain empty - COVID-19 meant that we were not allowed to use them for Prayer or for worship.  Even now, as we are open again, we have to observe social distancing, follow the guidelines of sanitising everything; we cannot sing or shout Alleluia!  The rules curtail so much of what is normal - even our usual Harvest Thanksgiving will be rather different this year.  But even with all of these restrictions, it is good to be back, to enter that quiet space hallowed by centuries of prayer and love. To drink in the peace and serenity which permeates each one of our beautiful churches.

For many, these buildings may simply serve useful purposes such as that of landmark or guidepost, but primarily they serve as an enduring witness to God’s loving presence amongst us.  They serve as a permanent and substantial reminder that no matter how difficult the times in which we live, no matter how uncertain life can sometimes seem, God is here. He is our loving creator who calls us to himself in the person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Your friend in Jesus Christ,

June Lane


From the Associate Priest - 27th May 2020 - Building Bridges

bridgeVE day may seem a long way back now, two weeks or so ago on the 8th May, but I'm quite sure some of you will remember it 75 years ago. I wonder what memories it brings up for you or your family members?

For my father it was a red-letter day, when as a young craftsman in REME he found himself with his team in Hamburg Docks, having 'liberated' some large containers of French wine. Enough said about that, but recently the French Government decided to give any surviving British Veterans of the Normandy Landings the Legion d'Honneur, and my father was one of the lucky ones. To his surprise, two french schoolgirls and their teachers also came to the ceremony at Blandford camp, in January last year. Letters were exchanged, cards sent, and a visit was made to their school in Caen. When Lockdown began in March, the students, aged 14-15, began sending the veterans they knew, their 'Lockdown Chronicles' from their experiences studying at home, wearing pyjamas all day, learning dance moves, and so on.

One of the girls sent a video of her activities via her teacher to my mobile phone; so Bill decided to send videos back, in English, of him potting up tomatoes, cooking, doing his art work and so on. Imagine my surprise when a team from Associated Press contacted me, to ask if they could make a feature item for the VE Day news, about a British Veteran and French teenagers swopping Lockdown stories. A film crew came, it was duly filmed in Bill's back garden with social distancing, and the young French girl, Marion, and her teacher, were interviewed in France. The teacher took the last frame, standing by Pegasus Bridge, with his Union Jack shoes, talking about making history now, and the importance of building living bridges of friendship. This particular bridge spans extreme age and youth, and different nationalities.

Jesus' final prayer was that his followers should all be one, united in heart and mind. So often we allow contact to break down, so that friendship and support cannot flow easily. During this Lockdown period I have learned again the importance of reaching out, forgiving others and myself for percieved failures, and seeing friendship flourish in different ways, because the old patterns of life have suddenly disappeared. And this is happening all over the world, everywhere that the disruption of Coronavirus is being felt. So perhaps today it would be good to take a moment and give thanks for the kindnesses received, the contacts around us, the unexpected helps in the way, and to be bridge builders ourselves.

Mary Ridgewell


From the Associate Priest - 20th May 2020

As I write this I am conscious that tomorrow is the day we celebrate The Ascension of Christ. The day that the disciples saw Jesus for the very last time on this earth, the day they truly and finally had to accept that they faced the world without his physical presence, his care, his leadership. They felt as if God Himself had left the world.

Today, in real time, many people are asking the question “Where is God in all this?” Our world as we know it has been turned, if not actually upside down, at least somewhat off its axis. Lockdown has meant such a change in our daily pattern, such a curtailment of our liberties, such a disruption of normal life that we truly wonder just what it means and when, or indeed if, life will return to ‘normal’. Some are certainly asking if this pandemic is a punishment or warning sent by God to test or to teach us a lesson, whilst many more are questioning how a Loving God could let this happen if he truly exists.

All of these are valid questions, very much like the disciples on that day roughly 2,000 years ago, we are crying out for some proof that God has not deserted us, that He is a loving God who really cares what happens to us.

Apart from the very real fear of contracting the virus itself the main concern and frustration we all feel is that curtailment of our liberties. ‘Stay at Home’ meant we could not leave our own front doors, or gateway. “Stay Alert” means that more can go beyond that barrier but only under certain circumstances and with many precautions in place. Our lives truly are very different from what they were less than three short months ago, and more and more we realise they may never be quite the same again. We value that independence, that freedom to go our own way, to govern our own lives and bitterly resent that loss. God is like any loving parent, right from the beginning He gave humankind the freedom to choose their path. He did not impose His will and make it impossible to deny or disobey Him. The result is that we have often made a complete mess of things but, the mess is of our own making, the result of our own mismanagement. But, like any loving parent, He is always there to give comfort, to help pick up the pieces and to encourage us to continue. He does not cause disasters, He is there to help us overcome them. If we will just let Him we shall find Him right there in the midst of the difficulties and the frustrations, the sorrow and the loss. Just give Him a chance and let Him in. What have you got to lose?

June Lane