From the Rector - December 2019

Dear Friends,

How often these days do we hear about 'causing offence? It can be as though people go out of their way to take offence, or at least to be offended on behalf of others, who are often not remotely offended, but no matter! The festival of Christmas is often caught up in this and every year we can find examples of local authorities, schools, charities, shops or whoever else, diluting or even doing away entirely with this Christian celebration because of the fear of causing offence. Why should this be?

follow star sThe Christmas story is rather modern and multicultural. An unmarried mother, homelessness and sleeping rough, foreign visitors, travelling from afar, and then refugees fleeing persecution seeking shelter in a far-off land. What is there to fret over you might wonder? Indeed, you might question why Christianity is being more and more marginalised across Europe and for that matter, persecuted in numerous other regions across the globe. Perhaps it is because the true message of Christmas is indeed offensive to our modem, selfish way of thinking because it demands a response from us.

The dynamic message of the angels would transform our world for the better, if only we’d let it.

'Christ is born in Bethlehem'.

It demands a response. That response is either to bow down in worship or to judge the claims made of this baby as false and to move on, ignoring Christmas altogether. However, before being tempted by the latter, people should first examine the life and teachings of who this baby grew up to be. His teachings speak so powerfully across the generations right into our lives today. They are still transforming lives for the better and they can transform ours.

  • 'Love your neighbours as yourselves. Forgive those who sin against you.
  • Don’t hoard wealth, share it with those who have little.
  • Help the stranger, love the outcast, love each other, love God.'

It is so simple, yet the world thinks it knows best. But here is the answer to the world’s many problems. It is a message so alien to the wray humanity conducts itself, and God knew that. He knew what we needed, and so he gave it to us; He gave freely of His love, His guidance, His forgiveness and His redemption, clothed in the fragile, yet perfect form of the Christ child.

Yes, this message is uncomfortable for many. Much better to gloss over it and hold a Shopping Event in October or better to elbow out the life-changing message of the Prince of Peace by using the excuse that we don’t want to cause offence.

What really lies at the heart of these negative responses to Christmas as it's meant to be is an unwillingness to engage with that simple invitation that God gives us in the person of Christ.The Lord of the ages calls us into a relationship with him, yet so many would rather pretend they haven’t heard it because of the awkward challenges that such a relationship would bring to their lives.The all-embracing loving example of Jesus of Nazareth has been causing 'offence' for 2,000 years.

The light which first shone from Bethlehem’s stable will never be extinguished. It continues to shine all around our world, usually at its brightest when facing the greatest resistance. Why do so many light it? The gracious invitation is for us all.

'Peace on earth, goodwill to all men, salvation and forgiveness of our sins.'

It is freely available to each and every one of us, if only we would stop trying to change the subject and just accept that during our short, temporary lives, we would do well to follow the example of the shepherds and wise men; to acknowledge, like them, that something truly amazing happened that night in Bethlehem, something that we can no longer ignore. It is the greatest decision any of us can make. Christ, the saviour of the world came to bring you light and hope and peace. What is your response to be?

The season of Advent brings us the magnificent vision of life and hope for the future given to us by Christ. Advent is our time to become more involved, more caught up in the meaning and the possibilities of life as a Christian community. Thus we are preparing not only for Christmas but also for Christ's Second Coming.This means that when He comes again, we will be awake and watchful. He will not find us asleep.

Yours, Richard


From the Rector - November 2019

Dear Friends,

At this time of year, where we have the lists of departed loved ones out in our churches to be added to in the run up to All Souls, I find myself recalling the voices as well as faces of our departed friends and loved ones.

These days it’s rather common when someone dies that we have recordings of their voices or perhaps videos of them, which I am sure can be a comfort for the bereaved.

Death is a subject that many wish to avoid, yet in November it is unavoidable, at least in church life. We of course celebrate All Saints Day, followed by All Souls, where we gather to remember all those we love but see no longer. This is followed by Remembrance Sunday with Armistice Day on the 11th. Some might think this all a bit miserable, especially as the shops fill with Christmas paraphernalia. However, to my mind, death is so much a part of life that it is healthy to face the reality of it, to acknowledge the pain it brings and to take the time and space to remember those who have gone.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Christ Church incumbents conference in Oxford. Alice (our former Curate) and I spent a lovely afternoon together visiting Blenheim Palace. There is an organ in the library there which has the following inscription from the 8th Duke of Marlborough: “In memory of happy days we leave thy voice to speak within these walls in years to come when ours are still.” What a marvellous notion, leaving that wonderful instrument behind for the benefit of those who would come after his death.

Throughout the years of Christian history there have been men and women of vision and courage whose witness and example continue to speak to us. We call them 'Saints' and rightly celebrate their legacy on All Saints Day.

However, the Bible says that all Christians are saints and so I am left pondering what our legacies might be. What are we doing now in Christ’s service and what will we leave behind when our voices are stilled? It is a sobering thought and one that should prompt all Christians to reflect both on the quality of their service and commitment to our Lord.

In a previous letter, I told the story of a father and daughter saying goodbye to each for what they know will be the last time as his health fades... in which his parting words were “I wish you enough”..

I wish you enough sun to keep your outlook bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough "Hello's" to get you through the final "Goodbye."

It is now our turn to make our mark for Christ and to do the very best we can to share His love with a world in so much need of it. Every Christian has a part to play. One day we shall just be a face and voice in someone’s memory. What will they say of us?

As Christians we are not untouched by death, but we also have the hope of springtime.

The springtime of eternal life to come.

My friends, I wish you enough!

Yours,

Richard


From the Rector - October 2019

Dear Friends,

September ends with the Feast of the Angels, the creatures who in various forms and guises acts as God’s ambassadors in both Old and New Testaments. But the word,‘angel’, is just a translation of the Greek word for ‘messenger’ and they can come with, or more usually, without wings!

From the feast of messengers, we move to the celebration of harvest. We concentrate on thankfulness for the good gifts of creation and, as part of our thank-offering, take our gifts to our local Food Banks. This is a right thing to do; things we often take for granted and presume will always be there for us, are to others, sought after necessities.

But when Jesus speaks of harvest in the gospels, he speaks of the harvest of souls. He commissions his disciples to go out to bring in a living harvest. He says to Peter and Andrew “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4. 19). His teaching is based on just that - equipping his disciples, his followers, with the tools of the Good News. Matthew’s gospel ends with a command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...”. (Matthew 28. 19) So the followers become messengers; the disciples become angels.

The same command holds now. It holds with an even greater urgency in a society which needs Good News, which needs to re-capture an understanding of God and salvation, a society which is becoming lost. It is a command based not on our need to welcome more worshippers (though they are welcome) but because we, who come to learn, need to follow our learning through to the end. To learn enough to become messengers, true bearers of a message which is not ours but His.

To end with a word from Isaiah “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and I said, “Here I am. Send me!”

Yours,

Richard


From the Rector - August 2019

Dear Friends,

Darnel is a common weed in Palestine and indeed around the world. The seed of the darnel is easily mistaken for wheat and the two plants are indistinguishable until they have ripened and the ear has developed. This means that they are easily confused for each other.

Wheat and darnel are so alike that darnel is even known in some places as false-wheat. The major difference between the two plants is that darnel is highly toxic and when consumed can result in a kind of drunken nausea which in some cases can be fatal.

The weeds and the wheat and the explanation in Matthew’s parable (Chapter 13. 24-43) are unmistakeable. Jesus is warning us that there will be a time of judgement and that on that day we will be dealt with according to where our true loyalties lie. The story allows for mature judgement and also contains a message to take care not to damage what is good by dealing prematurely with what is bad.

The weeds are not just in the big wide world out there - they are much closer at hand, even within the church we love.

"Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?" Behind all these questions is the big one, "Will evil or good have the last word?"

The parable doesn’t give an easy answer. It doesn’t explain what’s happening: why evil exists; why there is suffering; why good gets corrupted? But at least it admits to the problem: good and evil co-exist, up close to one another and up close to our lives. They are intertwined and seem to be involved in a struggle for a final victory.

Weeds get into everything, even into the landscape of our own spiritual field. There are definitely times when we must make decisions about what is right and wrong.

Still, this is a parable that has something to say to our church and personal lives - especially when, in our enthusiasm, we are quick to judge, pull up, cast aside and give up: when we are quick to jump to conclusions about ourselves and our institutions; when we think we have all the evidence, but may not have and be in no position to judge.

Jesus, the teller of the parable knew this from his own experience. He chose servants to do God’s work, yet early signs did not accurately forecast the future. Judas was the keeper of the purse and showed good skills for his position. He was a "mover and a shaker," Peter, Mary Magdalen, Thomas and the rest, revealed early signs of failure, doubt and fear. Yet, he gave them a chance to grow and bear much fruit - and they did.

You may not think it but this is an encouraging parable for each of us.

It is a story of grace, patience and hope. We look back on the mistakes we have made and are grateful we have had time to change; been able, with God’s help, to work things out. What used to be a weed, we were sure, turned out to be wheat. Suppose we had been judged back then, on the spot, without being given more of a chance?

As we look and still see weeds in our lives and the lives of those around us, rather than being overcome by discouragement, the parable holds out hope for us. Good seed had been planted in us; it is growing. What’s more, the burden of the struggle isn’t ours alone.

We can trust the Owner, who knows what is happening, to come to help us sort things out If not now, then surely later - if the parable has any truth to it!

At its heart, this is a parable of confidence. God is in charge. God is not indifferent to our struggle. God is not unaware of what still needs doing. God is guiding us and the church in the process of bringing about a good harvest.

We need to recall this parable, especially when things dismay and discourage us. We will look out at the field and think we know what is going on and what needs to be done. But we will hear this parable and be comforted that it is God who has the final word.

Richard


From the Rectory - July 2019

caw logoLast year, I took on the role of planning and co-ordinating Children’s Activity Week alongside a small team of helpers. This was quite a task, following on from an established team with 20 years of Children’s Activity Week under their belt!

We made some changes to the format (running it over 5 days instead of 4, offering a breakfast club and an overnight camp in The Rectory garden!) and it was a huge success!

Dates this year are Monday 29th July to Friday 2nd August 2019, and application forms are available by telephoning 01747 830174. Alternatively, you can request an application form from me by email by clicking here, and when the new window opens, click on the 'Contact Form' tab to send your message.

We have chosen an eco-theme, partly after considering that our Diocese is the first to be granted Eco Diocese Status! There will be lots of fun activities, including an over-night camp and family BBQ! Please do share this with any families that you think may be interested.

In a time where the Church of England has seen a decline in attendance, this is three times as pronounced among children, so our outreach becomes more vital, yet it feels to go often unnoticed.

“The average attendance by children, defined as being under 16, fell by 24 per cent in our Diocese between 2012 and 2017, compared with an 8-per-cent fall among adults” (Statistics, 2018)

Here are some of our stats:

  • Children’s Activity Week 2018 involved over 30 families from across the Benefice
  • Messy Church - held in Semley School Hall each month during term time - has up to 25 children in attendance
  • We offer tea & coffee once a month at Semley Church - predominantly for those on the school run (although anyone is of course welcome!) which saw 18 children having fun exploring the Church while 16 adults (eventually) relaxed, letting their children run free while they enjoyed a cuppa!
  • We also have our re-launched Baby & Toddler Group in East Knoyle Church on the Ist Thursday of each month
  • There’s KidzClub at Charlton Church on the 3rd Tuesday of the month
  • Open the Book in our schools
  • The Easter Experience
  • Assemblies... not just at Semley and Ludwell, but Hindon too...
  • Regular visits to St Mary’s School, including preparing the students for confirmation

WOW - don’t we do a huge amount!

So here comes the plea for help! It is all too often the same people that volunteer for these groups ... please can you consider whether you can support us? You don’t have to lead anything in particular - just manning the refreshments would be fabulous!

We would love the families and children from the Benefice to know that our Benefice is a community of faith. They matter and they don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome. It matters that our families and children are an integral part of our Church and that their prayers, songs, and even their badly (or perfectly-timed, depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

Anna Warhurst


From the Rector - July 2019 Placements

priestThe Diocese uses July for doing rural placements, so The Rev’d Kevin will be attached to a parish in Dorset for much of this time. For this reason, there will not be Morning Prayer or Saturday Eucharist at Donhead St Andrew during July 2019.

 

This year, the Diocese has invited ordinands training at Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxfordshire, to do placements. We are pleased to welcome George Meyrick with us for two weeks from Lammas Sunday which this year is also Rural Mission Sunday.


From the Rector - June 2019

Dear Friends,

On June 16th we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is primarily an experience; it is the way we experience God in our lives. But we have turned it into a matter of faith: an idea to be understood. And then we get frustrated when we can’t understand the Trinity and so we defend ourselves, we defend our faith by declaring it a mystery beyond understanding. Yet, of course, the Trinity is a mystery but not because it is a complicated doctrine! It’s a mystery because the Trinity is an Event of Love - and Love is a mystery. We can’t describe Love. We can only experience it; and so it is with the Trinity too.

There are many torturous metaphors to try to ‘understand’ the Trinity: the notion of a Shamrock - 3 leaves joined in one stem, water - existing as ice, steam and liquid, an apple - made of peel, flesh and core, or St. Augustine's analogy of God the lover, Jesus the beloved and the Holy Spirit who is the love that binds them together; three all who are love, all participating in love.

All of these analogies are good as far as they go. But they are all attempts to rationalise what is beyond rationality: they are all attempts to logically examine what is beyond logic. The experience of love is not hallmarked by rationality. The experience of love is not logical.

This month, Anna and I will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary and in the words of the old Preface to the marriage service 'man and woman become one flesh' and 'they begin a new life together in the community'. I believe that the Holy Trinity is a perfect model on which to base our relationships with each other. We assert that the Trinity is co-equal. The three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equal to each other and yet fulfil different roles.

The Trinity exists together three persons with distinct functions and yet the one God. It is to this ideal we are called in all our relationships. To build a community of love where all are welcomed and respected and thought of as an intimate part of our family and related to ourselves and each other.

The distinctiveness of the three Persons lies in the relationships that relate them to one another. Just as relationships remain vital to the very life of the Trinity, so are they in our life of faith.

It is crucial that we know that Jesus is with us always, until the end of the world. And we encounter that saving, transforming presence as we embrace it in the person of our neighbour.

So this month, Trinity Sunday calls us to an experience of love - but one that stirs us into action: obedience to God’s commandments, which has an outworking in love towards him but. just as importantly, love towards others too.

There is nothing passive about love. As believers, we are constantly being re-made in the image of God and called to mirror that into the world through our words and actions and loving service. As we practice the presence of God in our lives, so we will become more concerned for the well-being of others and seek to serve them to the best of our ability.

My prayer is that we will journey on together to become mirrors in the world of the grace, compassion, love and hospitality of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Richard


From the Rector - May 2019

Dear Friends,

When I first met with the primary schools when I arrived in the Benefice in 2015, I had a conversation with the head teachers around the version of the Lord’s Prayer they would like to be taught. Over the course of assemblies we learnt the ‘traditional’ version and over time we have taught the importance of this prayer and understanding and implication of the words Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done....’

Over the years, through various walks of ministry, I have experienced the power of praying this prayer individually and in groups, large and small. Holding hands around a hospital bed having given the last rites to Anna’s grandmother... at the hospice where a non-church goer sought the comfort of these familiar words... at bedtime here at The Rectory with Sophia and Tilly... in the homes of the lonely and the bereaved, and of course on my own. In fact, these words echo through every church service, day in, day out.

This year, the Archbishops’ initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is marked again on the nine days (novena) between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost - 30 May to 9 June, and we are invited to pray with Christians around the world, encouraging us to explore through prayer how we might witness courageously to God’s life-changing work.

In May 2016 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York invited Christians from across the Church of England to join a wave of prayer during the days between Ascension and Pentecost - a time when the church traditionally focuses on prayer. They encouraged everyone to ask for the Holy Spirit to help them be witnesses to Jesus Christ and to pray for others to discover that living faith. Worship helps to us recognise who God really is, it opens our hearts to what is good, and it catches us up into the life of heaven. It is something we are called to every day of our lives and it is fulfilled, among other ways, when we pray and when we say the Lord’s Prayer.

What started as an idea gained momentum and in 2016 more than 100,000 Christians from different denominations and traditions took part from the UK and across the world. They joined in more than 3,000 events and services. The time of prayer culminated in six national Beacon Events over Pentecost weekend at cathedrals in different parts of the country.

In 2018, every diocese in the UK took part, and 85 per cent of Church of England churches and cathedrals were involved as well as the churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion and many other denominations and traditions. Leaders from Churches Together in England, including Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist and Methodist churches, Free churches and Orthodox churches came together to pray Thy Kingdom Come', and the event is now truly an ecumenical one.

As the apostles prayed together following Jesus’ ascension, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost, so we will wait and pray. They prayed in obedience, trusting that the way ahead would be revealed. We pray at this time that the Holy Spirit will show us new ways of living and loving. When God is at work in us, God is also at work through us in changing the lives of others, so let us pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come....’ together, and open our hearts and minds to new possibilities.

This prayer has brought me comfort, strength and hope; it has challenged me too as I’ve reflected on God’s call on my life. I pray that you will find in the Lord’s Prayer a source of God’s grace too.

Richard


From the Rector - February 2019

Dear Friends,

By now I hope most of you will have read articles by, if not met, our new Curate Kevin Martin. I am delighted to welcome another colleague in the Gospel to our team and am equally pleased that Kevin, Liz and their family will move into Donhead St Andrew this month.

This month (almost) begins with the feast of Candlemas or The Presentation of The child Jesus in the Temple. It signifies the end of our Christmas and Epiphany celebrations and turning our focus towards the cross and resurrection of Lent and Easter.

The season of Epiphany is about explaining who and what this child Jesus is, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. One of the first major themes is that this child that is born “king of the Jews” is actually for all people and is worshipped by magi from foreign lands. I have been thinking recently about the character of our rural churches and our villages and villagers. I think it is more evident in the countryside how important church buildings are to a community.

What a joy and blessing it is that we have people across the Benefice who are involved in the life of our churches. These are often people who are not themselves C of E. Some prominent examples would be The Rev’d John ‘the Baptist’ Passmore who leads services at St Catherine’s, Sedgehill on Christmas and Easter Day. At Donhead Saint Mary, Linda Franklin has been our lead flower arranger until their recent move, and at Semley, Sarah Howard is often seen helping with flowers - among other things; Fay Duthie helps at Messy Church - all three of whom are Roman Catholics. Across the Benefice there are many examples of members of other denominations and actually people who hold no faith who help with flowers, bells, cleaning and numerous other things. What a wonderful thing to rejoice in.

As I write this, we are coming to the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. One of the great pillars of the community once said to me that he joined the army at the wrong time in history because the empire was crumbling and that I had joined the Church at the wrong time because of its decline. There may be truth in that but God is always faithful. I give thanks every day that we no longer live in a time when denominations and their adherents mistrust and dislike each other. I give thanks every day that the support for the church from our rural communities is strong and genuine and full of good will.

Thank you.

Richard


From the Rector - December 2018

Dear Friends,

Have you ever said or heard the words ‘are we there yet?‘ I know that I have and can think of numerous occasions when driving that I hear Sophia and Tilly utter these words, on repeat, from the back! We always seem to be in a hurry to get places and if there's a short cut on a route I am sure most of us would take it.

Follow The StarIn science fiction, we see creative solutions to the question ‘are we there yet?‘ Characters teleport from one place to another, they can jump forward or backwards in time, and I suspect that many of us would be tempted to use such methods if we could to avoid long journeys and satisfy our impatience. However, I believe that if we had the means to transport ourselves instantly from one place to another, we would significantly lose out on what those journeys could have entailed. Imagine arriving instantly at your destination of Lake Coniston having not travelled through the beautiful Lake District scenery. This is how I see Advent - a rich and significant journey which is so often ignored or omitted from our lives as we engage with the commercial belief that Christmas is already here.

I am writing this in November and the shops are already full of festive Christmas cheer. The irony is that while our shops and media begin Christmas early and end it on 25th December, in the Church, Christmas truly begins on 25th December. The Christmas season then continues into January with Epiphany and ends with the last feast of Christmas, Candlemas, on 2nd February (which is why, if you've ever wondered, our Christmas tree remains in the Rectory until then!). By this time the shops have long forgotten it and are stocked ready for Valentine's Day and Easter!

It seems to me that at best Advent is misunderstood and used only as a countdown to Christmas, or at worst is completely lost in the midst of festive shopping and parties.

So, what is Advent all about? Well it is, of course, partly to do with remembering Jesus‘ birth and because of where Advent is placed in the Church calendar, we can't help but anticipate remembering the Nativity. My children have Advent calendars and as they open the doors day by day they do indeed countdown until Christmas but this is not what is at the heart of Advent.

It is helpful to learn a little about the origin of the word Advent to understand it's meaning. The word comes from the Latin adventus which means ‘coming’. If we look back even further, the Greek word often translated to the Latin adventus is parousia. Although the Greek word parousia has a number of meanings, it is commonly the word used to refer to the second coming of Christ, his return in glory which is referenced and foretold throughout the Gospels. So the season of Advent can be thought of as a time of looking to the past as we remember Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and to the future in anticipation of his second coming.

For Christians this changes the way we engage with Advent, it shifts its focus from the past to the future, and in turn challenges us to look at how we live our lives in the present. Advent also marks the start of the new Church year, so while 1st January may seem the obvious date for New Year resolutions, Advent is also an opportunity to do this both individually and as a church.

My challenge is that this year we embrace Advent, make an effort to find out more about what this season means and what we can learn from it. Of course, we need to think about Christmas before the day — shopping, decorations, present lists, nativity rehearsals, cake making and so on — but despite the excitement and anticipation that Christmas brings, there is still room to experience the significance and richness of the Advent journey.

Advent also brings some excitement to our Benefice as we welcome our new Curate, Fr Kevin Martin. We hope you can join us at 10:30 am on Sunday 2nd December at St John’s Church, Charlton for a welcome Eucharist followed by yummy refreshments!

Yours,

Richard


From the Rector - New Curate

K MartinOn Sunday 18th November 2018, the following announcement from Bishop Nicholas was read in the Churches of The Shaftesbury team and in our own Benefice.

Fr Kevin Martin is leaving his Curacy in Shaftesbury in order to gain new experience in the Saint Bartholomew Benefice in the second half of his Curacy”.

The Rev’d Kevin will begin working in the Benefice on Monday 26th November 2018. This is a great opportunity for us, and I expect Kevin to be with us for a minimum of two years. In a few months time, he will move into the Curate’s house (“The Rectory”) in Donhead St Andrew but until then will travel from Shaftesbury.

His first Sunday will be Advent Sunday 2nd December. The Archdeacon reminds me that we need to do a service of welcome.

Services on 2nd December will now be as follows:

  • 9.45 am: Pilgrim East Knoyle.
  • 10.30 am: Welcome Eucharist at St John’s, Charlton, followed by refreshments.
  • 6.00 pm: Advent Carol Service, St Leonard’s, Semley. The Archdeacon of Sarum, The Ven. Alan Jeans, will be licensing The Rev'd Kevin at this service.

The Matins scheduled for 11.00 am at Donhead St Mary is cancelled.

Please make every effort to be there even if attending elsewhere that day, and please spread the word and encourage others to come.

Richard