From the Rector
From the Rector - October 2012
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.
Martin Luther King
You may have noticed that there has been a lot of building work going on in our churches over the past few months. There is quite a bit more planned too! Donhead St Mary has had major repairs done to the large wall by the road, and the tower and west door have been repaired. East Knoyle church is currently closed whilst a major reordering project is completed. You can read more details about this work by clicking on this link. Semley has work to do in its Lady Chapel, and Donhead St Andrew has major plans to make the church into a more accessible and comfortable building. This will involve changing the heating and lighting, installing a toilet and a kitchen and enlarging the vestry area. The hope is that the church will then be used by other community groups and for concerts. You can find out more details on this project by clicking on this link. Using a church building in this way is nothing new. Back in ancient times, the Roman basilica, used for meetings, markets and courts of law, was the basis for large Christian churches – it gave its name to the Christian Basilica. Churches have always moved with the times – 500 years ago most of our churches would have had no pews, no organ, no heating, no electricity, no stained glass, and many would have been much smaller than they are now. Throughout the country many churches are modernising their buildings so that they can serve the world of today just as they have done for centuries.
Churches are not reordered just for the sake of it; nor without serious research beforehand. There is no point having a perfect building if there is no one in it! A huge amount of thought, prayer and preparation goes into the process of ensuring that a church is both up to date and able to meet the needs of its community. The building work itself work is only part of the process. All of our churches are keen to grow and to find new ways of serving God in their local areas.
This is why our benefice of six churches now employs a mission and outreach worker to work alongside the Rector, the Ministry Team and others. As we are a very rural area, there is very little in the way of youth work; and support for the elderly, entertainment and community events often have to be home grown. I am always amazed by the dedication and commitment of folk who run groups like Happy Gathering and T@3. The church is keen to do what it can to help.
Churches belong to everyone in the community, whether they choose to go or not, and we are very keen to listen to people and to respond to them. If you went to one of the fêtes you will have seen the church stall that explained the many things that the church currently does – from obvious things like weddings, baptisms and funerals and visiting the sick and elderly, to less obvious ones like youth work, governing local schools, charity work and so much more. If you have any ideas as to what we should or could be doing to serve our local communities then please let us know. Take a look at the plans in Donhead St Andrew church, or maybe go and see East Knoyle church when it reopens in October. Just to tempt you – there is a fantastic coffee machine there now!
Ordination of Alice Goodall
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
Alice Goodall, our Curate, will be ordained Deacon at Salisbury Cathedral on Saturday 29th September at 11.00 am. Please remember her in your prayers. You are very welcome to attend the ceremony.
From the Rector - August 2012
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
It's strange that words are so inadequate. Yet, like the asthmatic struggling for breath, so the lover
must struggle for words.
T. S. Eliot
There is a certain sort of logic that is spoken only by small boys and Doctor Spock. Last week, a little boy asked me “Could Dodos fly?” “No” I replied. “That’s strange” he said, “because Concord could”. I knew there must be some cold hard logic in there somewhere so I asked him what Concord had to do with dodos. He replied with a withering look that only a child can give when explaining the blindingly obvious to a thick adult: “Because Concord was like a dodo.” I thought long and hard, then it dawned on me – the clue was in the use of the past tense. “You mean that Concord is extinct” “yes” he said “so why do people say it is like a Dodo when it’s only half like it?” I admitted defeat at that one.
Concord made its last commercial flight 9 years ago, but I had never thought of it as being extinct. It seems so much more final to say ‘extinct’ rather than “made its last flight.” There are often lots of ways of saying the same thing. Some ways just give the facts; others tell you how a person feels about the facts. Imagining Concord as a large flightless bird is almost poetic.
I am not the world’s greatest poet. And I don’t like Gerald Manley Hopkins either which I know makes me a philistine. But I am fascinated by the writer’s endless quest to find meaningful ways of saying things that matter to them. This is what poetry really means to me: the struggle to find the right words to express something that either means a lot to you or is just plain difficult to put your finger on. You can spend ages trying to explain what you mean, coming at it from all sorts of angles but never quite getting there. But when you do find the right form of words you know you’ve got it. I once heard someone say “you are so annoying – you are like a grain of sand in pot of Vaseline.” That’s poetry!
Maybe that is why Eskimos have over 100 words for snow: because it is so important to them and because it means different things in different ways. In reality this well-known fact is actually an urban myth. If you knock out plurals and other such variations on the same word there are only about a dozen or so words for snow in Inuit. This whole myth comes from a statement made in 1911 by anthropologist Franz Boas in his book Handbook of American Indian languages. He identified a number of different Eskimo words for snow (about 4) but every time he was quoted in the press the number grew and grew – just like the size of the one that got away. The legend has mushroomed (or snowballed) from there and now everyone knows that there are over 100 words for snow in Eskimo.
Mind you, even though Eskimos don’t really have over 100 words for snow, it isn’t really that much of a surprise that have more than one word for it. We do the same sort of thing in English. Take wheat for example. Wheat is a very important crop in this country, and if you think about it we have quite a lot of words for all the different forms of wheat: grain, flour, the harvest, dough, wheat, bread, cereal, grass, corn, loaf and so on.
When people come up with lots of different way to describe the same thing, it is either because the thing in question is very complicated to understand, or because it is so significant that words alone cannot do it justice. Sometimes it is for both these reasons. It is no accident that one of the most popular subjects for poetry is ‘love.’
There are at least 16 different words for Jesus in the New Testament: ‘Christ’, the ‘Son of God’, the ‘Word’, the ‘Messiah’ to name but a few. And then there are all the Christmassy ones in the Old Testament as well: ‘Emmanuel’, ‘Prince of Peace’ and so on. It seems that for thousands of years people have been trying to understand and get to know this amazing person who stands at the centre of the church and world history.
Many people struggle to see how a person who lived 2000 years ago can be important to us now. But as you look deeper into what he said and did you find answers to today’s difficult questions. He stood for love, for justice, for courage and for compassion - values as relevant today as then. For those of us who wrestle with faith, we soon find that there is so much wisdom to be found by understanding Jesus that we have to invent more words and songs and hymns to express them.
When people come through a crisis they often find when they look back on it that it was a very creative time. The same is true of countries – often the greatest technological advances and social changes happen at times of great upheaval and war. This is the paradox of life. We all want peace and prosperity and yet many of us are at our most creative during chaos and disturbance. Wouldn’t it be good to have the best of both worlds – peace without stagnation – chaos without pain and suffering? This is what God offers to me. God himself is constant and stable, yet the struggle to understand and apply His teaching and His love keep me fresh and inspired.
From the Rector - June 2012
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.
Have you ever tried cooking fish fingers in a toaster? Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was sharing a house with four friends back in the 1990s and we all had a craving for fish finger sandwiches. If you have never had a fish finger sandwich then you are missing out on one of life’s true pleasures. The cooker had broken and the poor unsuspecting toaster was sitting there innocently on the dresser. What could you do? The fish fingers cooked beautifully – it was just getting them out that was the problem. By the time we had dismantled the toaster and scraped all the orange breadcrumbs off the inside the fish fingers were stone cold. Toast never tasted quite the same again either.
I love good food and wine, but there is something about junk food that makes it irresistible; maybe it is all the unhealthy salt, sugar and fat. I have a doctor friend who always mentally doubles the amount of alcohol units a person says they drink; the same should be true for unhealthy food as people are rarely honest about the amount they eat.
According to the market research firm Mintel, the pie and pastry market in the UK is worth about 1 billion pounds a year and increasing by 5% annually. But most men when questioned say they are eating more carefully and cutting down on things like pork pies. At least that is what they tell their wives. Tesco conducted a survey a few years ago and concluded that many middle aged men are secretly addicted to pork pies. “Knowing that their wives or partners will disapprove, they buy large pies from the supermarket on the way home, eat them all at once and throw away the wrappers so there is no incriminating evidence.”
I can’t stand pork pies; my guilty pleasure is the Donner Kebab. I haven’t had one for ages which is what led me to make one of the stupidest decisions I have made for a long time; and it happened in the Co-op in Shaftesbury. The Co-op has introduced a new range of speciality pizzas, including a kebab flavoured one. I really should have known better but I just had to try one. Nothing could have prepared me for just how awful it was. I made myself eat all of it as a punishment whilst my bewildered wife looked on.
It is amazing how seductive new and exciting things can be and how easily we all fall prey to the promises and the hype of the advertisers. Our entire economy relies on us buying vast quantities of new things – things we don’t really need or newer models of things that don’t really need replacing. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it, but the allure of a shiny new product can be very powerful and against our better judgement we buy things we don’t need. New possessions can be exciting, but they rarely have the life changing effects that the advertisers promise. New cars, new phones and new computers are all exiting for a while, but before long something else catches our eye and we long for that instead. How many of us lurch from one shiny new thing to another in search of contentment and fulfilment.
For centuries people in search of spiritual fulfilment have gone on pilgrimage to holy places. Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Lourdes in France and of course Jerusalem were popular pilgrimage sites - they still are. Jesus said that he came to bring life and fulfilment for everyone who followed him. Pilgrimages are one of the best ways to find that fulfilment.
A pilgrimage is more than just a visit to a place – a pilgrimage is visit where the journey is more important than the destination. If you talk to someone who has been on a pilgrimage they will almost always talk about the journey: the long walk, the discomfort of nights on the road, and most importantly of all; the camaraderie that builds up between fellow travellers. The destination never really gets a mention.
Santiago became famous as a pilgrimage site and is now a popular tourist destination. You can get to Santiago in about 3 hours from the UK. Many people try to capture the magic of being an ancient pilgrim after arriving there by plane and bus, but that doesn’t really work. To understand properly why Santiago and Lourdes are so special you have to do the pilgrimage itself and spend a month walking there.
There can be no short cut to fulfilment – you have to do it the hard way. It comes from journeying through life with a clear goal in mind and a prize to aim for. It comes from dealing with hardships on the way and allowing these hardships to change and mould you. It is no accident that Jesus tended not to give direct answers to questions. He tended to answer a question with another question and by doing so pointed people in the right direction so they could work it out for themselves. One of his most famous sayings is “I am the way, the truth and the light”.
From the Rector May 12
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
The best measure of a man's honesty isn't his income tax return. It's the zero adjust on his bathroom scale. Arthur C. Clarke
‘War,’ a school child announced to me last week ‘is the second worst thing in the world’. Intrigued, I asked him what the worst thing was. ‘Literacy’ he replied. Well I disagree. French was my least favourite subject at school, closely followed by history.
The strange thing is that I was quite good at French. I was also fascinated by history; in fact I still am. I can bore anyone to death with my views and theories on the lasting impact of the reformation on British society. Never, ever, get me on to this subject. My teachers at school somehow managed to make a lesson about an interesting topic into an ordeal where you quickly lost the will to live.
What I and every other school child really wanted from a history lesson was blood. All the really nasty, gory bits. This is why the ‘Horrible History’ books by Terry Deary are so popular. They have great titles too: ‘The Rotten Romans’ and ‘The Vile Victorians’ are my favourites. The BBC has made the books into a television series and in a recent interview the makers of the programmes were asked why they thought they were so successful. Was it that every fact was true? No, they said. The secret to bringing history alive for children was ‘death, poo, honesty and a bit of vomit’
There is something oddly fascinating about tragedies and disasters; at least when they are viewed from a safe distance. At its worst you see this on motorways when everyone slows down to look at a car crash on the other side – we’ve all done it. But tragedies also expose the deepest feelings and motives that make us who we are. If you can identify with someone’s suffering then your heart goes out to them and you connect in the most personal way.
The oldest history book of them all is of course the bible, and there are some great stories in it, some of them truly horrible; all of them honest. I love the bible because it does not shy away from reality. It deals head on with the passion and tragedy of human life. It deals with some tricky subjects too: betrayal, lust, sacrifice and revenge to name just a few. The great biblical characters were just as prone to sin and wrong doing as any other person. What the bible does is to show how God transforms these proud and difficult individuals into a people who achieved great and noble things. You don’t have to be perfect to be Godly – just honest and a bit humble about your motives.
One of my favourite stories in the Bible is the story of Ehud: a man who was sent by God to save the ancient Israelites from the enemy Moabites by assassinating their king. It’s a story that you will never hear if you only read the recommended readings for Sunday mornings; perhaps the church thinks we are all too delicate to hear it! You can find it in Judges chapter 3.
Ehud was a left-handed man who owned a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long. He managed to gain an audience with the enemy king and smuggled his sword passed the guards despite being searched. Being a left hander had its advantages - the guards didn’t find his sword because Ehud had strapped it to his right thigh under his clothing; the guards would have searched his left side – where a right handed man would have hidden a sword.
The king was a huge fat man and when Ehud approached him he whispered into his ear that he had a secret message for his ears alone. The king sent everyone away and then, as he rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s great belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it and hid it. Ehud made his escape. After a while the king’s servants began to worry because the king hadn’t reappeared. But they didn’t dare to go into his chamber because the king liked to spend time sitting on the toilet. Judges 3 finishes the story like this ‘They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when the king did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.’ What a wonderfully horrible story – simple, honest and straight to the point. I am not sure I like the assassination approach – but God works in strange and uncomfortable ways sometimes. We must not judge the past by the standards of the present!
Do you know that the most common command in the bible is? It is not a moral command, nor does it tell you how to behave. The most common command in the bible is: ‘Fear not’. The bible is a truly honest book. If it has something to say it just gets on and says it – warts and all. It is also honest enough to know our deepest longings and fears. We all worry and we all fear things – some of these fears we admit and some we don’t. If the bible is honest enough to deal with our shortcoming, and perceptive enough to know our needs; then maybe it has some answers too.
From the Rector April 12
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.
There are easy questions and there are hard questions; just as there are mundane answers and answers that can change the world. One of the most profound questions you can ever ask is ‘what is a shed (or a garage) for?’’ Now, as far as I am concerned, putting a car in a garage is a total waste of good garage space. Garages are for mending things in, for storing things in (tidily) and for simply being in. I think I am at my happiest when I am in the garage listening to music and pottering about with bits of wood or metal.
I remember once hearing about a Salvation Army member who desperately wanted a shed. He had given his life to working for the poor and needy and as a result had never had much time or money for himself. For years he had dreamed of having a garden shed, but had always felt this was an indulgent waste of money. When he retired from full time work his colleagues gave him what he had dreamt of for so long – a shed of his own. He died contented three years later, happy with his life’s work and content with the simple pleasures of gardening and the privilege of having a whole shed to himself. Perhaps sheds can teach us humility too.
If a shed is little David, then Goliath must surely be St Paul’s Cathedral. The youth group went to visit St Paul’s as part of their visit to St Augustine’s church in Whitton last month; it is the 10th anniversary of our link between the two parishes. Everyone was impressed by the cathedral’s magnificence and its grandeur. We had all heard about the Occupy camp outside the building as well, and I must admit I was looking forward to seeing that as much as I was to seeing the cathedral. I was impressed by how polite and well informed the protesters were; well organised and very keen not to be in the way of those visiting the cathedral. We didn’t know at the time, but the camp would only exist for two more days before it was removed by bailiffs and the police.
Another anniversary that was celebrated recently was the 25th anniversary of the first performance of Les Miserables, the longest running musical in the world. The play is set in the early 19th century and depicts the events leading up to the Paris uprising of 1832. The motivations and beliefs of those portrayed in Les Miserables are very similar to those found in the Occupy movement; there are some historical parallels too. The years leading up to the 1832 uprising saw food shortages, economic problems and a huge increase in the cost of living.
Les Miserables has captured the imagination of many people. Folk from all walks of life go to see it and feel the passion and the energy that motivated the students in Paris. Yet I wonder how many theatre goers walked back to the tube past St Paul’s and didn’t make the connection that the folk in the camp had exactly the same motives as those 180 years before. It is easy to be romantic about things that have happened in the past; less so when the reality of scruffy struggle is there right before you. The struggles of the poor and the downtrodden are very rarely romantic – they are usually filled with pain, disease and hopelessness – anything but attractive.
The Salvation Army are famous for their work with the homeless and the destitute. I remember once being with them as they went round a city late at night, seeking out homeless people and distributing blankets and food. When they had finished they quietly went back to their own homes to sleep before the working world got up. That to me is real Christian charity – unseen heroes helping those most in need for no thanks or reward.
Jesus had a real concern for the poor and spent time with people shunned by everyone else. It is sad fact that whilst most of us hate poverty; very often we end up despising the poor themselves – calling them lazy, dirty, workshy and the like. In some countries the poor are even considered to be untouchable. It is much easier to despise the poor and to blame them for their lot in life than to do something about it. Sometimes they really are to blame for their plight, but the need is still there just the same.
Jesus himself was condemned for spending time with those at the bottom of the heap. The Scribes and Pharisees criticised Jesus and his disciples for eating with tax collectors and sinners. I think Jesus made them feel deeply uncomfortable and they probably wished he would not draw attention to the plight of people they would rather forget about.
The Easter story is one of great triumph – Jesus conquers death and rises again. But it’s also a story that should challenge us. Jesus came to solve a problem and he had to suffer in order to do so. Achieving great things in one place usually means that a sacrifice has had to be made elsewhere. No matter who we are, we all have more than we need and Jesus calls us to give up more than we can afford for the sake of others. It’s a tough call, but generosity can work miracles.
From the Rector March 12
- Written by Rev. Steve Morgan
I love words and am endlessly fascinated by new ones. Last year over 400 new ones were added to the Oxford English dictionary. Cyberbullying appeared for the first time, as did woot, which means ‘to expresses enthusiasm or triumph’ and retweet, meaning ‘to forward a message on Twitter’. I find it fascinating how quickly our language changes and evolves.
There are some words whose job it is to give ordinary words powerful new meanings; one of the most well used of these is gate. This word was born after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s which led to the resignation of President Nixon. If you are reading a newspaper and find gate behind a familiar word, you can bet that there is a far-reaching scandal going on somewhere.
Since Watergate we have had endless gates. We had ‘Irangate’ in the 1980’ when Ronald Reagan’s government was found to have been supplying arms to Iran. ‘Iraqi dossier gate’ dogged Tony Blair’s government and then more recently we had ‘Climategate’ – caused by leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Then there was a real Clanger of a scandal involving a Scandinavian prince, his wicked uncle, a Welsh train and a bear from darkest Peru – this was Oliver Postgate.
The latest scandal to hit the headlines must be soufflégate. In Early February 2012, one of the contestants on Masterchef was filmed giving a fallen soufflé to the judges. One of the judges - Greg Wallace – then appeared to be eating a perfectly risen soufflé, declaring it ‘lovely’. Now, anyone with an ounce (or gram if you want to go metric) of soufflé knowledge will tell you that once a soufflé has deflated – it stays deflated. Was the soufflé substituted? Was there a second soufflé? Was there foul play? The BBC was adamant and issued an official statement in response to a number of newspaper articles which accused it of faking scenes in the show: “Any suggestion that a Masterchef contestant was allowed several attempts to cook a soufflé after it was shown deflated and then perfectly risen is completely untrue.”
These gate scandals often get deeper and darker when people issue statements denying any wrong doing; the newspapers seem to take this as a cue to begin to dig deeper and deeper. But sometimes despite the hype there is no scandal to find. This was the case with soufflégate. It turned out that no one had really made any accusations in the first place, and the BBC had in fact received no complaints at all about the programme. The world moved on and the scandal of soufflégate just sank, deflated, into history.
Everyone loves a good scandal and it is not hard to understand why. Scandals appeal to our basest motives: they help us to feel superior at the expense of others. It is so tempting to look down on others and compare ourselves favourably to them – especially when they are people of power who have shown that they are not worthy of their position. We all do it. The trouble with a scandal – in fact the trouble with anything judgemental - is that it encourages destruction rather than creation.
Scandals breed suspicion and suspicion eventually destroys trust. It is very hard to be creative in an atmosphere of distrust. If you have a good idea, you want people to be receptive and to see the good points in it – not to tear it down and ridicule it. I often wonder how many good ideas have been lost because people were afraid of how they might be received.
The trouble of course is that trusting is risky. If you trust someone you may get hurt or someone may take advantage of you. But I think I am prepared to take the risk for the hope of something much greater. I would much rather have thee odd disappointment than live a life of constant worry and suspicion. When you trust others, more often than not they come up trumps.
Jesus once said to his disciples: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to their life?’ There is nothing wrong with asking difficult questions, and it is a good job that we have ways of holding those in power and authority to account, but I think I would like a world where we erred on the side of trust and hope rather than on suspicion and caution. You may get the occasional knock, but it would be a much more pleasant place to live in!