From the Licensed Lay Minister - 23rd August 2020

I am a Winnie the Pooh fan and it is quite surprising that the bear of very little brain often says important things that we would do well to remember. A passage which I found worth a second thought was:-

‘Rabbit’s clever’, said Pooh thoughtfully,

‘Yes’ said Piglet, ‘Rabbit’s clever’,

‘And he has Brain’

‘Yes’ said Piglet, ‘Rabbit has Brain’.

There was a long silence.

‘I suppose’, said Pooh, ‘that that’s why he never understands anything’.

This statement from a small bear is filled with wisdom. How often have we met a very intelligent, educated person and after some thought decided that they do not possess a grain of common sense? They may be able to read their Bible in the original Greek but then you find that they have planted all their tulips upside down.

Jesus had immense common sense – he met people where they were and instead of trying to get them to understand by way of some highly convincing intellectual argument – a thing of which I am sure he was very capable – he explained by way of the things they knew on a daily basis. How many stories are there in the Bible which are based on shepherding, viniculture, fishing and fig trees? These are all things which the people understood and worked with all the time, they knew exactly where Jesus was coming from. No further explanation necessary. So often when Jesus tried to explain things to the disciples in a rather more academic way they missed the point but when he tried more grounded lifestyle versions they could relate to those stories more readily – not that sometimes he still had to explain word for word, as in the case of the sower and the seed, which left the disciples floundering!

It’s easy to understand in retrospect but would we have done any better if Jesus was telling us a parable?

Jo Johnson
Licensed Lay Minister 

From the Licensed Lay Minister - 3rd August 2020

lammas loaf sRecently we have been celebrating Lammas, a time when we thank God for providing for our needs, embodied in our “Daily Bread”. The Jewish people celebrated this two thousand years ago as a time to thank God for the first fruits of the harvest, for making their crops grow well so that there would be a plentiful harvest in due course.

It is no bad thing to have a reminder that we owe thanks to God for all the good things in our lives – it’s really easy to just take things for granted and accept them as the norm. Well, perhaps life in the last three or four months has shown us that it is all too easy for the norm to change. Suddenly shops are closed, older people are advised to stay at home and oddest of all, churches have closed their doors.

Now things are creeping back to something resembling life as we knew it, although many restrictions still remain and this gives us even more opportunities to be thankful for the restoration of things we used to take for granted. I cannot explain how thankful I was last Monday to visit my hairdresser, returning home and looking in the mirror, to see me as I remembered, looking back. The strange Old English Sheepdog had gone and I had become my old self again.

It is a pity that it takes something as earth-shattering as a pandemic to make us appreciate the things we used to take for granted. Mindfulness is being promoted as a modern concept - I don’t believe that it is. However, that doesn’t mean that I think it is a bad one. We must learn to live in the moment, to appreciate what we have now, because at any moment it may be taken away and sadly, it is only when it is too late and the moment has passed do we realise that it was the last time we should ever do that thing.

With the opportunity to slow down, live life at a slightly slower pace, don’t let us waste it, experience things differently and remember to thank God for our Daily Bread every day.

Jo Johnson

From the Licensed Lay Minister - 22nd June 2020

How my outlook on life has changed in the last three months.

Three months ago I would hardly have recognised myself! I was rushing to work four times a week, struggling with the major roadworks on the A350, which always made me either very early or very late – never on time, trying to fit more into four hours than was possible, looking after a disabled husband and running a home. Sometimes I despaired – I just seemed to do everything badly because there was never enough time to do it well.

Now, with no travelling, no roadworks, and an entirely different way of managing both the office and services, it is all possible. I am calm and mostly collected, my IT skills have grown exponentially and my conscience has gone on holiday. Time has expanded. All those little jobs, both at home and in the office which had been conveniently put off – sometimes for years – were now done and dealt with. Kitchen cupboards with items time expired in 2006 are now much more roomy, the odd housekeeping jobs on the office computer which needed a solid block of time with no interruptions, have now been achieved – really my halo is shining brightly.

Even better, there has been time for so much enjoyment. As well as working in my garden I have made time to rest on my long chair, to actually enjoy watching my flowers come out, to work at my needlepoint with a clear conscience – no little voice asking me why I am doing that when countless other things should have a higher priority – even the birds seem to be singing more sweetly.

I am only too well aware that this time has not been like this for everyone and I am so glad that I don’t live in a 15th floor flat in a city. We have been very blessed here in the West Country, with low levels of pandemic infection but the daily reports on the radio and television keep in our minds how badly others are faring. Is it fanciful to imagine that God is appreciating that his world is experiencing lower levels of pollution and noise? Is that why the birds seem so happy this year? Is it a reminder to us that our span on earth is but a blink in God’s eye and that we must therefore make good use of our time here.

Jo Johnson
Licensed Lay Minister

From the Licensed Lay Minister - Ascension

AscensionFor my first degree I studied History of Art and I have always been fascinated by the way that churches have chosen to depict difficult theological subjects to people who were unable to read about them for themselves. During May, we were hearing about Jesus’ ascension to heaven, to sit at the right hand of his Father. Many artists have attempted to depict this with varying success, and the picture on the right is one that I particularly like. The crowd of people are displaying utter amazement on their faces as one might expect, but after that, the picture becomes rather bizarre.

Heavenly blue summer sky, fluffy clouds and then the weird bit, with two feet protruding from the cloud! Laughable in this day and age! However, set yourself the task of explaining this story and see if you can do any better. If nothing else, this story is a strong test of faith. We are told that “He withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven”. The ‘now you see Him now. you don’t’ situation – how hard was that for the simple, uneducated, non-technical folk to whom the story was related. Who would want to be a Renaissance artist commissioned to depict that one!

Jo Johnson

From the Licensed Lay Minister - January 2020

Dear Friends

When I picked up my pen to begin writing this, the thought came to me that it is rather like the New Year edition of the Parish Magazine.

Firstly the old, the past, as we look back on 2019, written with a pad and biro, then we move on to 2020, the shining, new unblemished year - the future and my fair copy, produced on my laptop and emailed to the editor - the new way of doing things.

Looking forward, we think of that shining, unblemished page of the New Year, at this moment mostly hidden beneath its cover, which lifted on January 1st as we began our new story. What will we write there, new plans, new hopes, new resolutions, a few fears perhaps? We will have the opportunity of getting to know new friends, new thoughts, new feelings, so many new things waiting for us to discover there.

Let us begin the New Year with a few resolutions to help look after God's wonderful world. It is easy to think that one's tiny contribution will make no difference but a thousand tiny contributions do make a big change possible. Let's start this New Year with a sense of responsibility; we all know the adage, "For evil to flourish it only needs one good man to do nothing”. Don't let that one man or woman be us! We like to think that we have invented re-cycling but you have only to look at the North wall in St Peter's church in Shaftesbury, to see that that is not the case - so much of the stone and carved niches are re-cycled from Shaftesbury Abbey! Little did the Reformation iconoclasts realise that the devastation which they produced would go on to beautify other places of worship in the future.

It is our responsibility to carry on the good work of re-cycling. I often feel that if we had to walk a mile to fetch clean water we might treat it with more respect, so turning off taps, mending drips and taking smaller baths and showers could be our way of shepherding a finite resource.

The wonderful thing about being a Christian is that when we open that cover and look at the new page headed 2020, it will be pristine. The cover will close on 2019 so that all the blots and smudges we managed to make in that year, are all miraculously wiped out in the blood of the Lamb - the best eraser ever invented.

The very special season of Christmas is over - but please let us cling to the real meaning of the festival - the most important birthday that ever happened. Let us celebrate with prayers for world peace, action on climate change and an end to poverty. I wish you all a New Year filled with exciting ideas about living in and sharing the love of God.

Wishing you all a happy New Year.

Jo Johnson
Licensed Lay Minister

From the Licensed Lay Minister - March 2018

Spring is on the doorstep! We, as an Easter people are looking forward and waiting for one of the major festivals of the church’s year when even the earth celebrates with flowers, birds and the slight greening of Spring.

Lent is seen by some as a penitential season, it seems to be a habit to give up all those little treats which give us a reward at the end of the day — chocolate, a glass of wine or a bit of TV. There is another way of looking at this however, and that is to give up all the things which we do and should not do. l have a friend who gives up exceeding the speed limit for Lent — I'm never quite sure about that - but other things such as passing on gossip or making decisions without hearing all the facts are things we could well do without.

Children today are much less familiar with stories from the Bible than we were as children, so I think that the walk to church with a real donkey on Palm Sunday at Charlton does a lot to make the story more real and memorable for them. Living in the country as we do, we are lucky to be able to enjoy these things and watch our children grow to know the difference between a primrose and a bluebell, while we as adults just have to thank God for the diversity of creation and enjoy the colours, smells and sounds of Spring in the countryside.

The shops are full of Easter eggs of the chocolate variety but I remember as a child dipping eggs in cochineal or tying them in onion skins to produce either red or yellow shells. I think my most memorable Easter was when I lived in Cyprus, where the festival is taken very seriously indeed. My household help invited us to join her on Easter morning on the top of the cliff at daybreak. The children were given bright red hard-boiled eggs to hold and we all waited with an enormous sense of anticipation for the sun to rise out of the sea.

As the light emerged from the waves there was a huge shout of “Christos Annesti" — “Christ is risen"! Everyone hugged each other, the odd tear was shed — it really was a very moving occasion — the children, slightly more pragmatic, began to eat their eggs for breakfast. We piled back into the car and headed for home but that feeling of having witnessed a very special thing remained with us for the rest of the day.

I commend to you a thoughtful Lent, a joyful Easter when it arrives and the wonderful anticipation of watching the English Spring arrive leaf by leaf and flower by flower.

Jo Johnson
Licensed Lay Minister

From the Licensed Lay Minister - September 2017

September. As I look out of the window, the poet's vision of ‘Mists and mellow fruitfulness’, is present just outside the window. There is a mist filling the valley and the apple tree is groaning under the weight of wonderfully rosy apples. Children are still - just- on holiday and their voices can be heard, shouting happily as they and a large black Labrador, play football in the field. You could say it is the perfect rural idyll - but is it?

Although we are told that life in the twenty first century is so much easier, as some famous person said - “We've never had it so good” - is it really? The countryside is full of low waged agricultural workers and the elderly, often on a fixed income, so apart from a favoured few, life is not so easy.

Rural bus services are always the first economy made by local councils, making visits to Salisbury Hospital an expedition of the magnitude of a trek to the South Pole for some. Mobile Libraries seem to be the next area to feel the axe, depriving many of the enjoyment of a good read of a winter's evening.

Enough of the downside of life - let's be more positive! Local Village Shops in our rural communities are re-invigorating village life. Not only do they provide necessities but a place to sit and have a coffee and catch up on all the local news. Posters there advertise local functions and postcards publicise needs for help or the disposal of unwanted goods - a two-way street of opportunities for local people to help each other.

Church still fulfils its role of bringing people together, is a place for passing on news of those not so well, or just back from hospital and in need of a visit for tea and a chat - its members possibly unwittingly continuing the church's medieval function of caring for the sick and needy - in their minds just being good neighbours. It also celebrates our rural heritage, with seasonal services to ask God to bless the work of the farmer and services to thank God for his abundant provisions for us all.

Well, there are the plusses and the minuses, would you rather live in town or city, or in the countryside? I know which I would choose every time it's not just looking out on streets and having neighbours that you don't really know, it's the sense of community, being able to smile and say “Good Morning" to folk you meet, without them looking alarmed, seeing a glut of apples or vegetables being offered free at the gate - and then of course, there is God's glorious countryside with a background of birdsong. Moan we may from time to time but we have so much to be thankful for.

Jo Johnson

From Jo Johnson, Licensed Lay Minister - March 2017

jo johnson llmJust for a change, the Rector has asked me to write this month's piece. In view of the unavailability of some members the Benefice Ministry team, he has found himself under pressure to cover all services. I am a Licensed Lay Minister (LLM), in the Blackmore Vale Deanery, so I asked the Bishop for permission to help out here in Chalke Deanery. She agreed, and I have been delighted to "come home". I lived in Donhead St Andrew for eighteen years, so leading worship in the two Donheads really does feel like coming home. I have also branched out and have been to Sedgehill - March seeing me at East Knoyle as well.

Moving on from being a Lay Worship Leader, I have been an LLM for four years. The difference between the two, is that I wear a blue scarf which indicates that I hold the Bishop's permission to preach, which a Lay Worship Leader does not have, consequently needing to read someone else's words from a book. The path to LLM status is very interesting and stretching. I graduated from Oxford Brookes with a degree in Christian Ministry, having studied part time at Sarum College, and as my last Rector put it, ‘‘She knows what she is talking about, (academic hood), and what is more, has the Bishop's permission to talk about it, (scarf).

LLMs follow a variety of ministerial paths - because of my age, I am very comfortable leading BCP worship - let's face it - that is all there was in my youth and we said Matins three Sundays a month and had Communion once a month - how things have changed! Some of my college peers handle all the family and Informal Worship in their parishes - not my forte, I'm afraid. Some undertake nearly all the funerals and interments in their churches and yet another undertakes to reproduce the Sunday service in sign language for the deaf parishioners in Poole. As you can see, there is no real definition of Lay Ministry - it is a case of using the talents which God gave us, to the best of our ability.

Lent is upon us and this year I have produced a liturgy for the Stations of the Cross, which I shall lead on Holy Wednesday at St Peter's in Shaftesbury. Rather like this editorial, you never know what you will be asked to do next - it certainly keeps life interesting.

This year we have all been given a little book of prayers and suggested readings as a gift from the Bishop of Salisbury*. Lent is a time for reflection and I commend this book to you, for use in the forty days of this season. It will probably do you good and combined with a renouncement of chocolate will definitely be good for your soul!

* Copies of the booklets are available in each of the Benefice churches to take away.