A Trip to Flanders, September 2018
When I was 14, at the start of my fourth year at school we sat down for our first O level history lesson. (To talk of fourth year and O levels is old money, I know). That first lesson was on the First World War. OK, I thought, I know about this, trench warfare and all that.
And then our history teacher unravelled my limited understanding by explaining, in graphic detail, exactly what trench warfare meant. The mud, the cold, the rats, the lice, the bad food, the terror, the foot rot, over the top, the barbed wire, no manâ€™s land, snipers, gas, tanks, tunnels and the youth and the innocent naivety of the soldiersâ€¦..I came out of that lesson profoundly shocked. I had no idea that it was so horrific. And that sense of horror has stayed with me and Iâ€™ve since wanted to visit the battlefields, and when I became a Christian, I realised that I wanted to go to offer my prayers in that place, for that time of terrible suffering and sacrifice.
And then earlier this year, the opportunity to visit Belgium with a charity called Toc H came. Toc H take a group of ministers in training to Flanders every year to help those ministers gain more understanding about the reality of war, and to help us think about peace and reconciliation.
There were many profound experiences on this trip.
Â One was staying in Talbot House in Poperinge. This was the town behind the front where the British soldiers went for their leave. Two army chaplains set up Talbot House as a kind of retreat house, offering somewhere for the soldiers to sit quietly, have a cup of tea and write letters home. They called it Every Mans Club because on entering the house, your rank didnt count. There was a message board where a note could be left enquiring after your brother, cousin or friend “surprisingly effective and early form of social media.
Â The upstairs loft room was where the chapel was set up and it remains the chapel today. It was very humbling and moving to enter that chapel and to receive Communion there, in the space where those soldiers had also received Communion. For some of them it was their first Communion, for others it was their last and for yet others, it was both their first and their last Communion.Â A heart-breaking realisation.
In that chapel, and in the other places we visited, I did get to offer my prayers (and my tears). An experience for which Im very grateful to Toc H for providing.
The charity Toc H is actually the legacy of Talbot House and the work of the army chaplains that set it up. (Toc denotes T in the signals spelling alphabet used by the British Army, so Toc H stands for TH, Talbot House). The principles with which they looked after the soldiers of First War World define them now as a charity, and these are known as the four points of the Toc H compass. They are Friendship (to love widely), Service (to build bravely), Fairmindedness (to think fairly) and Witness (to witness humbly). These are principles that we would all do well to use, both to improve our own lives and those of others but also as a way of honouring those who died in the First World War. Honouring them by creating the society that they fought and died for.
The first Chinnor Volunteer awards celebration was a splendid occasion with fanfares, speeches, canapes, bucksfizz, and with the great and the good of Chinnor in attendance.Â And by the great and the good, I mean those that the event was celebrating:Â the people in Chinnor who volunteer their time, energy and considerable skills to make the village a vibrant place to live. The Parish Council have showed great wisdom and understanding of what makes Chinnor tick by taking the time to thank this very special group of people.
It was interesting to observe that a number of the volunteers being celebrated were church goers, active and committed Christians. Such people are consciously and actively living out their faith through their charitable acts.Â There were also people who were not active Christians who have done, and continue to do, many wonderful things for the community in Chinnor.Â I would gently suggest that even the volunteers that wouldnâ€™t think of themselves as Christians are enacting Christians values in their offering of selfless service to our community.
For example, it was very clear at the awards evening that caring by for others, and about the community, the volunteers of Chinnor live by the maxim given to us by Jesus â€œlove your neighbour as yourselfâ€.Â
To be community minded is a Christian value.Â Reading the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, which shows us how the Early Church organised itself, it is clear that there was a commitment to look after everyone, no one was to be left in need. And through the Holy Trinity the very nature of God is be in community, to be in relationship and fellowship with others is who God is.
One of the volunteers spoke about how his volunteering came from clear and precise instructions from his mother to always take the time to speak kindly to people. This reminded me of Jesusâ€™ instruction to the disciples to â€œLet the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.â€Â Not all the volunteers are involved directly with childrenâ€™s work but the phrase little children could also be a metaphor those who are vulnerable in our community, those who are need extra support and care.
There were people in the marquee with a huge range of gifts and talents.Â Being prepared to offer those gifts is another Christian value.Â Jesus instructed us not to hide our gifts (the lamp under a bushel parable) but to let them shine. This can often be quite a scary thing to do, stepping forward to say â€œI can do thatâ€ often takes some confidence (and a deep breath!).Â This is another very admirable thing about the volunteers in Chinnor, they are prepared to make themselves vulnerable for the sake of others.Â And this is possibly the ultimate Christian quality, the one that Jesus Christ most clearly modelled for us.
With heartfelt admiration to all volunteers in our community,
We are having the most glorious weather this year, the England football team has done well in the World Cup, and life is on the surface of things good. Sadly though, there is also a large shadow over us all at the moment. It is causing problems for the whole of the United Parish and it will ultimately have a knock-on effect for the wider community.
As you know, every parish is asked to pay their ‘Share’ to the Diocese. This is to support the mission and ministry of the Church (chiefly in terms of clergy stipends and housing) and it is calculated by using an agreed formula that seeks to recognise the need of some churches to be supported by others. The total amount needed each year is divided between the 29 deaneries of the Diocese.
Historically, the United Parish has been pretty good at paying its share, in spite of it being £76,000. For an electoral role of roughly 150, that means that each member needs to give £506 every year (£9.73 every week) just to cover the share. Two of our churches require considerable, costly repairs to the stonework; all four churches need constant maintenance; all four churches have utility bills to pay; and we employ our Administrator and Secretary to the PCC, Louise.
For several years now, the PCC has had to dip into its reserves in order to meet our share. This year, we cannot pay our share in full without wiping out our reserves completely. Just to meet the share, each parishioner on the electoral role would need to give a further £153 per year on top of what is already very generous giving.
Our Treasurer and I met with our Deanery Treasurer to discuss this projected deficit earlier in the year. The outcome was that we are doing nothing wrong and everything right, which was great news, but it still left us with the problem. Our share cannot be recalculated this year, but we have made a case which may help us in future. This leaves very few other options.
As part of our ongoing discussions, I have promised that I will ask you all to help even more than you already do: financially, if you possibly can, and certainly by praying for a solution. Through the other village newsletters and magazines I shall be asking the wider community for their help too. If you can offer any suggestions, the PCC and I would be glad to hear them.
That’s all very gloomy, I know, and there are many, many wonderful things that are happening in the United Parish as I reported at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. We have to keep focused and remember why the Church exists through all this: we have faith, and trust in the one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is our joy and our hope for health and salvation There is an answer - we just haven’t found it yet.
Hair today, gone tomorrow…..
My latest hair cut has been rather dramatic- a grade 4 with bleach - and it has led to a number of discussions and people rubbing my head!
It has been a good haircut for the hot weather that we’ve had, it’s been the ultimate wash and go!But it also felt a significant and instinctive thing to do, as I move into my second year of being an ordained minister. And on 24th June, I will be ordained fora second time to become a priest (last year’s ordination was to become a deacon).
Our hair is a strong part of our identity,and changing your hair style can have a dramatic effect on your confidence and outlook on life. I know two people who relate changing their hair styles to gaining the courage to make very serious, life changing decisions.
Talking to a hairdresser friend, he explained how he can very often gain a sense of someone’s overall health as he cuts their hair. Hormonal imbalances often affect the quality of a person’s hair.Iron is a very important mineral for hair growth, and he often correctly realises when someone has become anaemic. So, take it seriously if your hairdresser suggests you should see with your GP -a course of iron tablets may be required!
There are actually many spiritual teachings associated with hair.
For example, ancient Eastern traditions hold that we have a “third eye” in the centre of our foreheads and it is through this third eye that we experience intuition.Legend has it that Genghis Khan took this teaching so seriously that, when he conquered China, he ordered all woman to cut a fringe over their foreheads to keep them timid and more easily controlled.
In a similar ancient teaching, the yogis understand hair to be part of the nervous system and cutting your hair reduces your sensitivity to your environment.
There is an unverified story that during the Vietnam war, the US government wanted to use Native American men as trackers in Vietnam.Men were enlisted who were known to be expert trackers but, upon joining the Army, they found they could not perform as well as they did before they enlisted. These men realised that it was the military hair cut that led to their diminished powers.Without their long hair, they were unable to access the subtle information from the surrounding environment.
In the Bible, the famous story about hair is that of Samson and Delilah. Samson was famous for his strength, but it was all lost when Delilah cut his hair – for the full, fascinating (and somewhat odd) story you will need to read Judges chapters 13 -16.Samson had been declared a Nazirite from the time of his birth.A Nazirite was someone (man or woman) who took a vow to consecrate themselves to God for a set period of time. During this time they were to drink no wine or strong drink, and were not to cut their hair. This is all detailed in Numbers chapter 6.
What was interesting to read is that the Nazirite was consecrated for only a set amount of time (Samson was an unusual in that regard) and at the end of the set time, they cut their hair. This was to mark the change, and marking the change is what I’ve aimed to do with my hair cut.I certainly wasn’t intending to diminish my strength or my sensitivity!My hope and prayer is that, along with other things, my hair cut is helping me mark the transition from deacon into serving the parish as a priest.
With Love and Light
Curate to the United Parish
Jacky and I attended the Diocesan Clergy Conference last week and we thought you may like to here just a little of what went on.
Jacky - Intially the idea of a conference with 300+ clergy was a daunting one but when I arrived, it dawned on me “oh yes, I am one of them!”so the conference as a whole did serve to further strengthen and confirm my identity as an ordained minister.
Of the talks that I went to, I was particularly struck by the clarity of Rachel Mash.She spoke about how we have lost the theology of creation, and that its been over taken by a focus on the theology of redemption. Rachel pointed out the first commandment was actually to take care of the Earth and a lovely phrase she used was that “nature contains God’s fingerprints”.
Each morning, Bishop Steven discussed a different passage from the book of Colossians. This was very instructive as this is a letter I wasn’t particularly familiar with.There is a focus on thanksgiving in this letter and the Bishop pointed out that to live a truly Eucharistic life is to live a life of thanksgiving, that this is what we are called to do before anything else.And from that attitude of gratitude, God’s grace can then flow to and through us.
Maggie - This was a week absolutely crammed with stimulating talks, workshops and worship, all focussing on +Steven’s 3 Cs: contemplation, courage and compassion.For all of us, we’ll be taking away some ideas for our parishes and also things for our own personal development. Rachel Mash spoke passionately about creation and for a Parish that’s aiming to be ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’, it was affirming to hear an ‘expert’ speaking on the very things we discuss and implement at Chinnor Churches Go Wild, but more than that, she described global warming in metaphorical terms as the Titanic. The earth is heading for an iceberg (she estimates within 5 years) and we’ll either scrape the sides of the ship or steer directly into disaster. We have to make a response at the individual and corporate level and we have to do it now.
Archbishop Angaelos (of the Coptic Church) spoke about raising awareness of the persecuted Church. This can often pass us by because we don’t experience this in extreme form in this country. He is a quiet and humble man and by the end of the session, most of us were ready to have a cross tatooed on our wrists in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who fear even the walk to church.
Loretta Minghella challenged us to be more compassionate. With so, so much to concern us in a suffering world, and with so much on our doorstep, I for one can feel overwhelmed and unsure of even how to pray for every situation where suffering is reported. With television showing us suffering on a daily basis, we perhaps become hardened and immune to it. Loretta spoke so calmly and courageously about her own stories of suffering and several others which she had found herself working with, that the sound in the room wasn’t that of being able to hear a pin drop, rather it was the sound of the stifled sobs of 320 clergy.
All 320 preferences of worship seemed to be catered for. The mix was high and low, Taize, plainchant, worship songs, traditional hymns, pointed psalms, metrical psalms. We sang in English, Setswana and Latin and sat alongside delegates not just from Oxford, but also from the link dioceses of Kimberley and Kuruman, Växjö and Southern India. Our prayer groups reflected the breadth of the Anglican Communion and with senior clergy also participating, there was a refreshing lack of clericalism.
At a personal level, some were challenged to learn circus skills, some abseilled, some had improvised music played for them, some learnt how to laugh more. God really did seem to be speaking to us all through that was on offer, through all the chance encounters with old friends and new and through the times of quiet on prayer walks, in the chapel and in the labyrinth.
No doubt our experiences will gradually unfold in our sermons, our small groups and in our conversations with all of you.Every blessing Maggie
PS: One outcome of the clergy conference is that Jacky & I are regularly saying the General Thanksgiving together, if you would like to join us from your own home here it is:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks
for all your goodness and loving kindness,
We bless you for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful,
and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but with our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, for ever and ever.Amen
Getting used to the intensity and pace of life as an ordained minister does take some getting used to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, not in a negative way, just in a very different way.
It turns out that I’m required to make an annual retreat, this is something that the Church mandates and, as I’m getting ready to leave for my retreat, I’m aware of the wisdom of this. I’m aware that I need to pause, to catch my breath and reflect on the first nine months of my ordained ministry.There is joy and excitement to being in a parish as busy as ours, but it is very easy to get caught in the whirl of busy-ness, in the permanent need for immediacy.
So, here I am packing to head to North Wales to a retreat house called St Beuno’s for a five-day silent retreat. I’m really looking forward to sinking into that silence.
The outward silence of a retreat like this is all about trying to foster an inner silence, to allow our minds to be quietened.Our minds are so very busy, and this is exactly what the mind is designed to do.God has given us our minds to run our lives, to make sure the outward stuff of life keeps going.The thing is, though, our minds are so good at doing this job that it can become permanently engaged in trying to solve everything, trying to second guess what’s going on, trying to make sure we’ve got everything covered. The danger of an overactive mind is that it can distract us from what is going on in our hearts and obscure what it is our soul is asking of us. It’s also just plain tiring to always be thinking hard – did you know that the brain is the organ that uses the most energy?
I know that I’m extraordinarily blessed to have the kind of job that mandates an annual retreat.But really this quietening of the mind shouldn’t be a once a year event. It’s something that we all should try and practice daily. Recognition of this is why Mindfulness courses and yoga classes are popular.A simple but incredibly effective way of quietening your mind is focus on your breath.Try it now:just take three long slow deep breaths, giving all your attention and focus to breathing those three breaths. These three breaths can be extended to three minutes or however much time as you have. I actually find counting my breath very helpful and it gives my always-wants-to-busy mind just enough to do.I count silently to five as I breathe in, and five as I breathe out.Experiment and find what works for you to create a daily mini retreat.
Wishing you all inner quiet and peace,
Curate to the United Parish of Chinnor, Sydenham, Aston Rowant and Crowell.
Statistics about the Church of England, indeed for most of the Christian churches, simply do not reflect the reality: ours is certainly a vibrant and extremely busy parish. It may disappoint some people that none of our four churches bulge with people at Sunday services every week, but for many, church happens at other times of the week. For example, over 400 children attend our Open The Book assemblies every week which re-enact a Bible story, have a short meditation and prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a hymn - rather like a family service, and there is also a sizeable congregation at Hempton Field care home.
It’s the season for planning weddings and baptisms (I’ve twice been called about these services whilst writing this!) Perhaps it’s surprising, if we take too much notice of statistics, that young people still want to be married in a church and still want to have their children baptized. What I do notice, though, is that although parents are baptized themselves, they usually don’t have any knowledge of confirmation. This means that there are many attending services who haven’t made adult declarations of faith, however unsure or questioning they might be.
A service of confirmation only comes around in the Parish once a year, and our date this year is Sunday 13th May. There is still time to think about this and make yourself known to me should you want to make your declaration. It involves a short course, which people in the past have found illuminating, encouraging and helpful.
Once confirmed, the adult is fully part of the Church and may receive Holy Communion. This Eastertide when we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, why wouldn’t we want to receive Him into our whole person and take our place with all God’s people in response to the knowledge that God calls us all by name (Isaiah 43.7) and longs for a closer relationship with us (Romans 5.8)?
Winter has been long and it may be one of those years when we seem to move straight from winter to summer, but whatever the temperature and precipitation, life is bursting all around us: flowers are blooming and trees are beginning to look greener. I hope you enjoy the milder weather, but I also hope that you’ll see something of Easter as you get out into your gardens or enjoy a walk in the sunshine. This seems to be an apt quote to leave you with: “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” (Martin Luther)
He is risen! Alleluia!
Happy Easter and every blessing
Have you noticed that Easter is never on time?It’s early or its late – but never on time!
Easter is calculated as the Sunday after the first full moon (known as the Paschal Moon) after the Spring Equinox (21 March).
The fact that the moon that occurs at this time of year is known as the Paschal Moon points us towards the Jewish roots of Easter.In our western Christian society, “Paschal” now refers to Easter but originally, within a Jewish context, it meant Passover.Jesus” last supper is generally considered to be a Passover meal, and the Passover too is calculated based on the moon around the spring equinox. This calculation is not done in quite the same way as Easter, however, because Christians have adjusted things so that the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus is always on a Sunday.
Easter Sunday can occur anywhere between 22nd March and 25th April. So, by my reckoning, the only date that Easter can be “on time” is if it falls on either 8th or 9th April.Either side of this mid-point means Easter must be either early or late.The last Easter to be “on time” was in 2012, and our next “on time” Easter won’t take place until 2023.All this discussion of dates and moons and our perception of time confirms what Dr Who explains about time: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually ... it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff.”It is just complicated!
This year Easter Sunday is on 1st April.For many, therefore, it is deemed to have “come early”.The Paschal Moon will occur on Saturday 31st March, and because this is the second full moon in March, it will also be a Blue Moon.There was also a Blue Moon in January this year, so maybe we should currently be more cautious about describing something as “once in a blue moon”!
And this year the date of Easter is interesting for two other reasons.Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our journey towards Easter, fell on Valentine’s Day, and Easter Sunday itself is on April Fool’s Day.Perhaps these days are perfectly apt.The miracle of Christ’s resurrection may seem, to some, a foolish thing in which to believe.But to us, as Christians, who know of God’s incredible power and grace, and most importantly, of his unconditional love, this miracle of Easter is far from foolish.It is deeply moving.
With Love and Light
If you have been trying to reach me by ‘phone since December you’ll know that I haven’t yet been connected to BT in the new Rectory. As this has also affected Broadband and the mobile signal is weak my internet connection has been annoyingly spasmodic too. Many apologies if I have been slow to respond, or worse, haven’t been able to respond to your message at all. Just maybe by the time the magazine is made available I’ll have my line back! Meanwhile Louise is doing all she can to relay any messages to me that find their way into the church office.
All of this difficulty in communication has reminded me just how vital being able to talk to people is and how having that voice removed to an extent is frustrating and paralysing. By coincidence the Lent course this year is based on the themes contained in the film ‘The Kings Speech’, which, as you may know, focuses on King George VI’s painful impediment. Those of you who enjoyed Shawshank redemption’ and discussing the themes of those films over previous, years, will also enjoy this course. Details of when I’ll be showing he film and when the discussion sessions will be held are contained elsewhere in this magazine.
Bishop Steven is encouraging us all to reflect upon being a ‘Contemplative, Compassionate and Courageous’ Church. It can sometimes take a lot of courage to say what we want to say to another person and that can apply to our prayer as well. Prayer goes in two directions, we might be cautious about taking something to God because we aren’t sure what the response will be. However God will always listen to us with compassion. He loves us and wants to be involved in our lives.
To encourage you to perhaps go a little deeper into your prayer life and to reflect on your faith journey. Jacky Des and I are making ourselves available through Lent to meet with those who’d like to take an hour to reflect of their journey. No one will be forced to share anything they don’t want to and anything said will be treated confidentially. This will be new to many, but those who have done it before will know that speaking to another about their journey can be deeply rewarding. Will you take a courageous step and rise to the challenge?
If you are unable to participate in the Lent group and feel that an hour of reflection isn’t for you, then you may prefer to pray this prayer through Lent instead:
Loving, compassionate Lord, hear my prayer for the life and ministry of this parish. Give me eyes that notice the distress of others, ears that listen attentively, a heart that cares and hands that reach out to nurture and to heal. Remove my heart of stone and the certainty that I can do things in my own strength, and grant me the humility to turn to you in prayer. You have conquered my greatest fear; fill me with the courage to act for the sake of your Kingdom. Lord my God, make me the compassionate, contemplative and courageous person you would have me be, in the power of the Holy Spirit and with your Son as my model and guide. I ask this through Christ the Lord.Amen
Every blessing for a more contemplative, compassionate and courageous Lenten journey. Maggie
“What exactly is a New Year’s Resolution?”
“It’s a to do list for the first week of January.”(Angus and Phil cartoon)
New Years Resolutions…you may be at the point of deciding which resolutions are manageable and which were the result of over enthusiasm.
A resolution that I make just about every year is to get up an hour earlier – I’m convinced that this will somehow mean that I will get 25 hours in a day, but it doesn’t take long before the horror of losing an hour of sleep means this resolution consistently fails!The resolution of going to bed an hour earlier hasn’t yet made it onto my list.
New Year’s resolutions have a long history, much longer than our ongoing annual attempts. According to the (hopefully reliable) source that is Wikipedia, roughly four thousand years ago the Babylonians committed to return any borrowed objects and to pay their debts at the start of each New Year.During the Jewish New Year reflecting on any wrongdoings over the year and seeking and offering forgiveness is encouraged – a practice that possibly started during the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, about 3000 years ago.
The Romans began their New Year by making promises to the god Janus, and this is the god that the month of January is named after. By Medieval times, the knights of old took what was called the peacock vow at the end of the Christmas season, to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
Inspired by the Moravian Christians, the founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley commissioned what became known as Watch Night Services 1740.This is a service held on New Year’s Eve to give Christians the opportunity to reaffirm their covenant with God, as well as praying for the year ahead and making resolutions.
The theme of self-improvement is evident in even these few examples of ancient New Year resolution making, a tradition that we continue to be drawn to today. As you decide which of your resolutions are to be kept and which to let go, I leave you with the beginning of this prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr,
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
With Love and Prayers for a wonderful 2018!