From The Rector - May 2022

Beating the Bounds

kate mcf s

As some of you will have seen, the area in Semley which backs on to the Rectory and the school has recently been cleared, with a long-term plan being formulated to develop it as a nature-enhancing wildflower area.

While the clearance work was needed, it was something of a shock to see large bushes being apparently sucked from our boundary by an enormous piece of machinery. Incidentally, care was taken to save several oak saplings which lurked among the scrub.

With this natural boundary somewhat depleted, the rectory suddenly seemed very open and exposed, our subsequent storm-victim fallen tree at the gate adding to a sense of loss. So my husband and sons have been busy since then, planting a little glade of silver birches by the road, replacing storm-felled hedging trees with willow, holly and beech, and adding a few fruit trees to the part of the garden still termed an orchard but without much left to show for it. Our boundaries will, in time, be bountifully restored and, hopefully, the rectory garden enhanced for decades to come.

This month sees our church celebration of boundaries. On Sunday 22nd May, I am looking forward to my first celebration of Rogation when we will beat the bounds in Sedgehill, starting from Sweetwell Farm at 9.00am, with our traditional barn service at 10.30. The beating the bounds' procession is the church's time to ask God's blessing on the land, to encourage fellowship between neighbours, reconciling differences, and also for generous giving. The name Rogation itself comes from the Latin 'to ask' recalling Jesus' words: 'Whatsoever ye shall ask for in my name, he will give it to you'.

I find particularly moving the invitation to Confession that we will use at our Rogation service, because it seems to chime all too relevantly with our current environmental crisis:

Let us ask God to have mercy on our tired land,
And to prosper the work of our soiled hands.
Let us ask God to forgive our delusion of self-sufficiency
So that we may praise him for his provision and goodness.

Do please join us on Sunday 22nd so we can pray this prayer together.


From The Rector - April 2022

After the Fire

kate mcf s

Perhaps, like me, you were captivated recently by David Attenborough's new series, The Green Planet.

I was particularly struck by his story of how South African plants respond to fire. He showed footage of a beautiful landscape which is swiftly and dramatically transformed into an apocalyptic scene, an 'inferno', as he called it - every living thing in the landscape incinerated. Not a single plant was left, only charred, blackened stumps.

Yet, from this scene of devastation, after just four days, a green shoot appeared. A fire lily, hidden ever since the last fire 15 years before, offered an exquisite, vibrant flash of red, immediately drawing to itself the birds which were sorely in need of nourishment in the barren wilderness.

I found this a powerful image of 'life rising from the ashes', as Attenborough put it, and an image it might be useful for us to have in our minds as we try to process the horrors we have been witnessing in Ukraine, while seeking to retain any sense of hope for the future.

It is also, perhaps an apt image for what we celebrate at Easter. On Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday we commemorate the beautiful landscape Jesus has created around him, the excited crowds greeting him ecstatically on his humble donkey-ride into the holy city, and then the special sharing of his last supper with his friends, the origin of our precious communion meal at which we still gather to remember him.

Good Friday is the inferno, the time of destruction and the reducing of the beauty to a wasteland, the point at which even Jesus cries out 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me'; but following it is Holy Saturday night, with the coming of the Easter light, the fresh new shoot of the fire lily emerging, the first glimpse of hope, which will burst into joyous colour with our Easter Day celebrations.

If you are struggling, in our current profoundly upsetting and disturbing context, to find some sense in it all, please do consider joining us not just on Easter Sunday but throughout Holy Week. Travel this ancient journey, through grief and death and lament, to new life and new hope, and let the rhythm and poetry of these ancient traditions and services restore to you some meaning, at this time when our world so sorely needs it.


From The Rector - March 2022

Storms and Stopping

kate mcf s

I wonder how you fared in our recent storms. A planner by nature, I had a full agenda for the day Storm Eunice struck; a service to take, pastoral visits to make and multiple admin tasks to complete.

The first disruption came when my husband and children gleefully announced that school had been cancelled - so much for a peaceful working environment! Then concerns about the safety of holding our usual Friday Eucharist were raised and we agreed to cancel. Next came the power cut, the internet was disconnected and my computer swiftly died. To cap it all a tree fell across the Rectory gate; no one was coming in or going out (at least not until our wonderful farmer opposite rescued us).

I felt, as many of us did, frustrated and anxious but as the day wore on and I ran out of achievable tasks I began to relish this enforced pause. I had had a particularly busy week and actually stopping was probably the most valuable thing I could do. I was forced to let go, to turn aside from my own plans and to be in the moment. With no heating to switch on, I relished it when the sun broke through those stormy clouds and warmed my face as I sat at an empty desk and prayed my gratitude.

I wonder if this isn't what Lent, which begins on 2nd March, is really about. We get distracted by 'giving things up' - the wine or the chocolate, or by taking up extra disciplines; while actually Lent is simply our call into the wilderness, a time to mirror Jesus' 40 days in the desert. Lent is our opportunity to step aside from ordinary routines, to relinquish our self-absorbed focus on our own plans and schemes, redirecting our gaze toward God and seeking to place him at the centre of life once more.

So this Lent, why not seek out your own 'wilderness"; switch off the mobile, the computer, the TV. Leave aside some of your planning, busyness, and endless engagements, however tempting and demanding they may be. Take moments simply to stop, to be present to God and to allow God to be present to you. 'Be still and know' that God is God and perhaps then, like Jesus, you may find that it is in the wilderness that 'the angels come and wait on you'.


From the Rector - February 2022

Not an Angel in Sight

candlemasFebruary begins with the feast of Candlemas, when we remember the baby Jesus being presented in the temple by Mary and Joseph and being recognised by two faithful people who have long looked for him. I'm always deeply impressed by Simeon and Anna. Up to this point all our Christmas nativity stories are filled with wondrous angels, visions and dreams. Dramatic visitations leave Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, all astounded and amazed.

Simeon and Anna see no such miraculous visions or glittering guiding stars. No angels from the realms of glory visit them to proclaim who Jesus is and where he is to be found.

Their story is, instead, one of long years of patience and endurance; Simeon lives a life of devout service and Anna, widowed after just 7 years of marriage^s 84 when her faithfulness is finally rewarded.

Their encounter with Jesus comes not as dramatic, unexpected gift; it's hard won after long lives lived against a backdrop of sabre-rattling by hostile powers, daily and commonplace corruption, and personal loss; which may perhaps sound familiar! And yet they have remained people of hope; obstinately continuing to believe in a God who brings consolation and in a future better than their present.

And when old Simeon heeds the prompts and nudges which draw him to the temple on that crucial day, he doesn't stand on the side-lines and watch, he rushes to take Jesus in his arms and embrace him, holding tightly to this precious new life.

So if your February begins with rather a dearth of angelic visitations or somewhat lacking in glimpses of heavenly glory, you are in very good company; but keep persevering, heed the prompts and nudges you receive to keep looking for God, and you may just find him waiting for you.


From the Rector - January 2022

Uncertain Times

kate mcf sI have struggled this month to know quite what to offer you because everything currently seems so uncertain. I am writing this in the week before Christmas, unsure whether we may be heading into a new lockdown, whether the new Covid variant is a more or less serious threat than previous variants, whether our services can go ahead as planned and whether I will see any of my wider family or not.

Most of us, I suspect, find this now recurring uncertainty very unsettling. We love to be able to see ahead and to plan, to know what is happening and when, yet for a second year we are being forced to accept being in the dark about the future.

Perhaps though, far as these feelings are from the cosyness and appealing predictability of our customary Christmas and New Year traditions, unsettling uncertainty is at the heart of the story of Jesus' birth, Jesus is born far from home, in makeshift surroundings and among strangers, and is forced to begin his human life by fleeing all that Joseph and Mary had ever known, seeking safety in a foreign land. Even the 'wise men' of our nativity stories don't know where they are going, choosing to ask guidance from the worst possible and most threatening of sources - Herod. Their search for Christ is full of the darkness and perturbing unpredictability we are experiencing now.

As we look towards 2022, a very well-known poem seems particularly apt:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied,
"Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way."
So I went forth, and finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Written in 1908, this poem was used by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast, catching the public imagination and offering comfort and inspiration at a time of immense fear at the beginning of World War II. It holds such power, perhaps, because it acknowledges the darkness of uncertainty while promising we won't find ourselves alone there; God, who entered into our bewildering world at Christmas, will be our companion, through even the darkest times, and it is he who will lead us, eventually, to the light.


From the Rector - December 2021

Light In The Darkness

christmasI wonder how the approach of Christmas is making you feel this year. For some of us there are high hopes that, unlike last year, we may be able to spend treasured time with friends and family. Perhaps the paraphernalia of Christmas feels more special because we missed out on so much in 2020.

For others, Christmas comes with a sense of dread because of financial pressures, because meeting family expectations is difficult or because there is conflict; and for some people it comes with an unspeakable sense of loss, because someone who should be at the heart of Christmas has died, is suffering with mental or physical illness, or is unreachably far away. To put on a false Christmas smile or salute people with inane Christmas greetings, feels more than cruel in such circumstances. We truly are ‘in the bleak midwinter’ of which the carol speaks.

If you have feelings such as these, perhaps we should return to another famous but particularly ancient carol written 1200 years ago:

O come, O come Immanuel, And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

I believe that the first Christmas came about because the world was mourning; Christ came into the world because people were living deep in the sorrows of separation, conflict and loss; and Christmas became our midwinter festival because it is in the times of darkness when we most keenly feel our need for light.

If Christmas does seem particularly dark for you this year, I pray that you might find flickerings of light piercing the gloom; and I urge us all to notice the people around us, not just family and friends, but neighbours and acquaintances who might be feeling the darkness particularly bitterly, and to offer them the light of our kindness and our attention.

And if you wish to pray a prayer this Christmas, I offer you this one to pray with me:

Lord, In the beginning when all was very dark,
you said: ‘Let there be light’.
And there was light
and life throughout the universe.
And when the human race was exhausted, tired and weary,
in the darkness of anxiety, confusion and loss,
into that darkness you came as light in Jesus Christ.
Once again it is dark, not just dark at midnight but dark in ourselves:
dark with doubt, dark with fear.
Come, Light of Life, lighten the darkness in our lives with your word of love.
Lighten our hearts with the joy of your promised coming.
Lighten our world with the hope that faith in you brings.
Amen

The Rev'd Kate McFarlane


From the Rector - November 2021

For Your Tomorrow We Gave our Today

kate mcf sNovember is, of course, the month of Remembrance. For Christians it begins with All Souls, remembering those most dear to us whom we have loved and lost, and continuing in the national and international commemorations on Remembrance Day. This year November also sees the immeasurably important UN Climate Change Conference, COP26.

As we begin to understand the severity of the climate emergency, and to appreciate the vested interests we must battle in order to make any meaningful changes, perhaps we should be remembering, and giving thanks for, the dedication and sacrifice of those who are paying the ultimate price for their commitment to protecting life on earth. 227 campaigners were killed around the world in 2020, a record number of people murdered while working to protect our planet and its rich diversity. Since the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2015, on average four activists have been killed each week, though even this is likely to be an underestimate because of growing restrictions on journalists and free speech.

These statistics are made up of people like Fikile Ntshangase, a South African grandmother who campaigned against a coalmine in KwaZulu-Natal province and was shot dead in her home; Oscar Eyraud Adams, an indigenous man murdered in Mexico for protesting when his crops dried up after the community water source was diverted to richer areas and a Heineken factory; and Gonzalo Cardona, a Colombian biologist committed to saving bird species from extinction.

kohima epitaphSo perhaps this November we can remember not only those who have died in war but those who are now dying in conflict related to the climate emergency, giving their lives for the future of our planet, defending our shared future. The famous Kohima Epitaph seems utterly apt: 'for your tomorrow we gave our today'.

What a challenge and inspiration these people are. The most powerful tribute we can pay to their sacrifice must be both to use our own freedom, won for us by previous generations, to demand change from companies and governments, and to make every personal lifestyle change we can to protect and restore our precious planet.

The Rev'd Kate McFarlane


From the Rector - October 2021

Come and See

kate mcf sJust a few weeks into my new post as Rector, it already feels a different age from the March morning when, deep in Covid restrictions, I drove from Bedfordshire to Wiltshire to come and see your Benefice ahead of my Zoom interviews the following day. My first stop was St Mary's, East Knoyle where the warmth with which I was welcomed eased my nerves immensely and made me long for the opportunity to come and be the priest fortunate enough to serve such a committed and kind community. My first encounter with my other five churches did nothing to diminish this appealing first impression.

The Bible quote chosen to head your Benefice profile, which was what stirred me to apply in the first place, was the invitation (spoken by Jesus and then learnt from him and repeated by his disciples); 'Come and See' (John 1:39,46). I have always loved this phrase because it conveys such openness and welcome, a warm hospitality without demands or expectations. 'Come and see' who I am and what I can give you, invites Jesus, and we, as his disciples, can in turn make this invitation to others; 'Come and see - who we are and what we can offer you.'

As our churches begin to recover from the pandemic, this invitation should be at the heart of everything we do. We have so much to offer in terms of community, company and pastoral support and, above all, we have a precious message of hope, Gospel hope. However difficult may be the times in which we live, and however gloomy may be the stories we see on the news, we have a far greater story to tell, a 'Good News' story of God's loving, constant and faithful presence with us, of the coming of God's kingdom and of resurrection hope for us all.

So do 'Come and see' more of what our churches are offering and please do invite others so that they too can share in our Good News story. As well as our services, our Harvest Suppers and lunches are a wonderful opportunity for this, but also you are warmly invited by St Catherine's, Sedgehill, to join us on 24th October from 3.00 till 4.00 pm when we would be delighted if you would come and enjoy a cream tea, company and conversation. I look forward to meeting you there - 'Come and See!’

The Rev’d Kate McFarlane

Postscript

And thank you.......

The vacancy in our Benefice put huge demands upon all the Churchwardens and Ministry Team of St Bartholomew's Benefice, especially since it coincided with the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all who have enabled our churches to continue their mission and worship through this extraordinarily difficult time.

A message of thanks from our Rural Dean, Revd Dr Graham Southgate:

During the vacancy (which lasted almost seventeen months) the home team seemed to cope marvellously well. The presence of June Lane and Jo Johnson has provided a sense of continuity; if I was June, however, I would not wish to be attending any more PCC meetings. Coupled to them has been the calm and supportive presence of some very good churchwardens, which has eased very considerably my oversight role as Rural Dean.

Many, many thanks!


From the Rector Designate - Looking Forward

I write this just ahead of the lifting of Covid restrictions in July and at this time I wonder what you have most been looking forward to.

Travel? Music or theatre events? Sporting fixtures? Ditching those masks? Or simply spending time with family and friends again?

This summer I have much to look forward to because, from 1st September, I will be the new Rector serving St Bartholomew’s Benefice and your beautiful villages. Wholeheartedly I hope that, by then, I will be able freely to visit people in their homes, attend village events and welcome people warmly to our churches for both services and community gatherings.

I will be moving from my current parish of Marston Moreteyne in Bedfordshire, a village which enjoyed its 5 minutes of fame as the home of Captain Sir Tom Moore, and will be accompanied by my husband Stephen, a Physics and Classics teacher, and my 2 sons who are 11 and 13. I am an avid but slow reader, an enthusiastic but untrained singer, an organised lover of to-do lists (which are not so beloved of my family) and a fundamentally shy person who yet loves people and listening to their stories.

Before becoming a priest I ran Christian retreats and courses for young people, served as a Justice and Peace Fieldworker in Essex and East London and worked as a school chaplain in Cambridge, only exploring ordination after my sons both started school. I have never had a long-term plan for life, and used to think of myself as wary of change, yet have been repeatedly steered and gently prompted to varied roles, new places and fresh challenges.

So back to looking forward! I look forward immensely to meeting you and to learning about and becoming part of your communities. When I feel trepidation about my new role I find encouragement in these words from the New Testament which may also encourage you as you look forward to emerging from the pandemic:

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5)

I hope that you will indeed find this autumn a time of restoration and new strength and, as I become established, I pray our churches will continue to play their part in supporting you.

The Rev’d Kate McFarlane