- The Rectory
- The Street, Barham
- CT4 6PA
THOUGHT FOR JUNE 2021
is a comin’
Desire without knowledge is not good,
and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way. (Proverbs 19:2)
will be aware that the way the government registers marriages changed on the 4th
May bringing in much needed reform since the Marriage Act of 1837. In April, I
conducted the marriage of Heidi and Doug at St John’s as part of our regular pastoral
ministry but it was for the last time (and for all clergy) that I acted as a
Registrar on the day. Instead, a marriage document will be drawn up, and signed
by the couple and witnesses on the Wedding day, and then returned to the local
registry office who will issue the actual marriage certificate to the
newly-weds. All other legal requirements, banns and ID checks will still remain
in the functioning of the church. The big change also allows couples to now
register their mothers as well as their fathers, and the new certificate will
be a handier A4 version.
Change is coming so that by the time this magazine is distributed we will know whether we can finally be rid of pandemic restrictions but also in how we begin to change our habits again in terms of our relationships, work, travel and consumerism. Can we truly learn from the time in Lockdown in order to curb harmful ways of living to ourselves and to our planet? Can we change enough for the next generations to share in the continuing benisons of God’s creation?
The Church can not stand outside of change and the dramatic Pentecost encounter of the Holy Spirit upon St Peter and the disciples (Acts 2), and the subsequent outpouring of the Spirit on countless generations, tells us that the Spirit of God is both irresistible and life affirming.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
THOUGHT FOR MAY 2021
May the ‘Queen of Months’
IN the month of May, namely on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind; and for example hereof
John Stow, Survey of London 1603
Happily, we are approaching that time of year when we can begin to feel that winter is finally conquered. In mild May the countryside seems to come alive with flowers and the hedgerows are white with the ‘May’ of the flowering hawthorn. It is a truly lovely season when life seems to blossom irrepressibly all around us. Traditionally of course the month of May has been marked by festivities that mirror and celebrate this growth and the new life it represents.
Perhaps the best known of these celebrations is ‘May Day’ marked every year on the first day of the month. It’s likely this was an ancient festival of Spring which dates back into pre-history. May Day itself is often claimed to be associated with the Roman festival of Floralia which honoured the goddess Flora with performances, games and the release of wild animals such as hares and goats. In England the historical record of May Day dates back to the Middle Ages. In the 1390s the poet Geoffrey Chaucer described how the all the royal court, from the greatest to the least, went out at dawn ‘to fetch flowers fresh, and branch and bloom’. Other accounts record the dressing up (as Robin Hood and Marian for example) dancing and garlanding with flowers with which people marked May Day over the centuries.
Given its reputation some might think that the church would frown on May Day but that, with the exception of some scandalous excesses, was never really the case. Indeed, the earliest record of the festival was a complaint by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1230 that too many of his priests were ‘bringing in the May’. In later centuries May was associated with the Virgin Mary, a connection between simplicity, loveliness and holiness which we can also see in the many wayside flowers named in honour the Mother of Jesus: Lady's smock, marigold, lady's thistle, lady's bedstraw, may blossom, are all called after Mary.
The church has for most of its history welcomed May celebrations as a means of expressing delight and thanks for God’s loving gifts to us: of the natural world in all of its beauty; of love, new life and also the honouring of time which we mark by the changing seasons.
One jolly example of this is the ‘Night Song’ recorded in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in 1823.
A bunch of May we have brought you and at your door it stands,
It is but a sprout, but it’s well budded out, by the work of our Lord’s hands
The hedges and trees they are so green, As green as any leek,
Our heavenly father watered them, With his heavenly dew so sweet.
So, May the beauty of the springtime delight you and may the peace and joy of Christ surround you Amen
THOUGHT FOR APRIL 2021
‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
were there, sitting opposite the tomb.’
‘Why do you look for the living
among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told
‘Christ minds: Christ’s interest,
what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care háunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friend.’
The Lantern Out of Doors, Gerald Manley Hopkins
How we need Easter!
…And I should
add, including the season that follows what I often coin “Resurrection Days.” This
Easter our churches will open for services (with all the social distancing
policies in place) and in the life of the Christian journey, it is the ultimate
event in celebrating the risen Christ, who conquers death and draws all of humanity
into the fullness of the Divine. However, it is perhaps too easy to just jump
to this moment without truly bearing in mind the cost of suffering along the
way for all of our communities this last year. All of us have been affected by
the pandemic, but also by the illnesses and deaths from other causes, and
compounded by the way we are living when we cannot fully gather to pay our respects,
to give thanks for a life and to mourn collectively. In a grotesque way we have
been living an extended ‘Holy Saturday’ (the day between Good Friday and Easter
Sunday); a magnification of the women followers of Jesus grieving in stunned
disbelief outside his tomb. Life will return to us all, but it will be a
different life now that the Covid vaccines offer hope and will allow (in time)
for a re-gathering of friends and loved ones and to ‘remember’ and to give ‘thanks’
to all who supported us along the way. As the warmer weather breaks and new
life appears across our landscape and in our homes let us truly embrace the
resurrection days to come.
With all good blessings this Eastertide.
THOUGHT FOR FEBRUARY 2021
The Sap of Candlemas
when another morning came
with frost, as Candlemas with flame…
sky was steel there was no sun,
the elder leaves were dead and gone…
within the elder tree
the strong sap rose, though none could see.
(At Candlemas, by Charles Causley)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15)
In the deepest days of winter how we are more eager than before to look for signs of new life, whether with the onset of snowdrops or early buds on trees, or rejoicing in the lengthening of the day with evening birdsong, or in this year more than most that life may be preserved through good healthcare and saved through the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
Winter may seem to be the bleakest of all days and yet on a clear blue-sky-day where the countryside tingles with delicate frost patterns we can only but marvel at its beauty and hidden life.
Candlemas marks a turning point for the natural seasons and of the church seasons – both look to the life to come, and of better days ahead. In local traditions the forty days after Christmas meant bringing new household candles to the church to be blessed.
In the Bible we find that Jesus, the lux mundi,
is blessed in the Temple by elderly prophets (Luke 2:22-38) who had most
certainly seen too many winters in both a physical and spiritual sense. Nevertheless,
elderly Simeon beholds the precious bundle in his arms, the divine sap, whose
mission would bring new life.
Jesus would later confirm that he “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
As a community we look forward to a renewed life to come when doors can once more be opened and people greeted longingly and where our churches continue to be spaces of hope and resurrection. Let the sap rise!
THOUGHT FOR December 2020
Wise men from
the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born
king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to
pay him homage.’
Matthew 2:1-2, Magi following the Star
Bright star, would I
were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart… John Keats, Bright Star
certain generation there is no mistaking Lee Marvin’s gravel voice singing “I
was born under a wandering star” from the film Paint Your Wagon; and
wandering star(s) has been apt in recent months when looking up into the night
sky. The word planet comes from the Greek meaning ‘wandering star’ as to early observers
they meandered at different speeds against the background stars and
occasionally changed direction (retrograde motion) as Earth’s orbit is quicker
than the outer planets. I have very much enjoyed seeing Mars, Jupiter and
Saturn hang like bright jewels in the velvet sky.
I expect at the height of the dark season we will seek light where ever we can so to bring hope in the gloom from lighting Advent candles to placing a lit star on top of a Christmas tree.
A sense of better times has been challenging in a year of the pandemic, but the hope of a vaccine becomes a medical star to strengthen our bodies; but we also must be cautious that we do not return so quickly to retrograde living when the danger has not passed.
The magi, so long ago were following a star that arose like a sceptre out of the land of Israel (Numbers 24:17) and were wise indeed to track its progress, especially if the sign was a conjunction of planets. They sought the Son of God who would be a star to transcend all physical and spiritual limitations and that out of the mournful gift of myrrh, a symbol of bodily embalming, a new hope for us all would shine out in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christmas may be different this year depending upon restrictions laid upon us all, but we have a bright hope as Jesus claimed,
“for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matt.18:20). May the Christmas star shine brightly in your wanderings and in your homes.
THOUGHT FOR November 2020
Introducing Rev Lesley Hardy (Assistant Curate)
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
Greetings to you all from your new curate! Firstly, I want to say that I am delighted to be with you and to let you know a little about me and the journey that has brought me to you in the Barham Downs Benefice. My curacy with you started on the day after I was ordained on 27th September and I’ve spent an enjoyable first few weeks getting to know people and exploring the local area. There’s so much more to learn but one thing that has struck me is the antiquity of our villages and churches and the loveliness of the countryside that surrounds them.
I must confess to an abiding love of all things historical and ancient. I believe that History and landscape are always important for us -they shape the way that we see ourselves and each other and they are a constant reminder that we are not alone but follow in the paths of others who have walked the same roads and looked at the same stars and trees before us.
Both history and landscape have certainly always been important to me and I have come to see that they have always run alongside my love for God. As a small child I lived in Ash next to the church and the churchyard was where I used to play. I was a bit of a lonely child but it was there that I first understood that God was with me -that I wasn’t on my own.
Later, as an adult I studied History and worked as a lecturer in London but was drawn back to Kent and spent many years teaching at Canterbury Christ Church University. In the last fifteen or so years I have been focusing on community archaeology and heritage projects happily working to excavate and conserve Iron Age, Roman and Medieval sites and, in my latest work, searching for a local saint, Eanswythe, an Anglo-Saxon Kentish princess who died in Folkestone over thirteen hundred years ago.
This sense of the past remains alive to me now and, rather than running alongside my faith, I have come to see that it flows into and enriches my sense of the love that God has for us. I have come to understand that God is the God of past, present and future and holds all things -in all of their complexity and change together. The best of all historians, our God does not forget or overlook us, He hears our stories and knows what we have been and what we will be. He is a God of all time and all places.
THOUGHT FOR October 2020
Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are ripe for harvesting.
Gather the fruit for eternal life.
God has called you by name and made you his own.
Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit. (Confirmation liturgy)
As we begin to move back to regular services in October which includes the partaking of Holy Communion (of one kind – the blessed wafer only) we begin to affirm or reaffirm where we are in our spiritual journeys. One of my pastoral care team members stated that the period of coronavirus lock-down became a time to undergo an inner pilgrimage, and hopefully, we have all in one way or another found time to reassess our priorities and values in life; especially in not knowing how the pandemic will affect us and where we may face further restrictions. Nevertheless, we become more resilient and adapt as best as we can in such circumstances.
We also have confirmation of certain moments in the seasonal calendar such as in the harvest of crops and fruit now gathered: to give thanks, to bless and to be thankful. In the Church calendar we also have a special moment of Confirmation where those seeking to explore their faith further become Confirmands and by attending classes, they seek to explorer a greater awareness of their relationship with the Triune God and to understand the role of the Church as the body of Christ.
On the 31st October at 5pm we welcome for the first time Bishop Rose to our benefice where she will Confirm four candidates, witnessed by family and friends at St John’s in Barham. Let us rejoice in such dedication as we keep Sharon, Toby, Grace and Kestrel in our affirming prayers.
THOUGHT FOR September 2020
As summer gradually dwindles, we perhaps pray for an Indian Summer to bring warmth and light into the autumn rather than than the intense heat we experienced in August. As we begin to see the change of colour in our countryside it would seem that the wheat harvest was earlier than normal as we give thanks for our farming communities who used the good weather to bring in the harvest - blessings of Creation and with prayerful thanks from us all! The line in Matthew 9:37 about the harvest being plenty and the labourers being few still remains a practical agricultural problem with the ever changing political end economical landscapes but also for the Church in providing good pastoral and spiritual support for all who live in our parishes. There is indeed good news about this type of harvest as we welcome Rev Dr Lesley Hardy (not the previous Rev Lesley Hardy) as Assistant Curate to our five parishes. Lesley previously taught history at Christ Church University Canterbury and was part of the team that helped to identify the actual bones of St Eanswythe currently located in a Folkestone church of the same name. Lesley and her family will for the next two years be living at St Mary’s Vicarage in Wingham due to available accommodation but will be very much part of our community when she joins us from the 28th September. I know that you will very much welcome her and the mission that always comes from God as we have noticed in our continuing services whether in church, by website, YouTube and Podcast including the joys of weddings despite the current restrictions.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
THOUGHT FOR August 2020
Where the great Sun begins his state,
Rob'd in flames, and amber light,
The clouds in thousand liveries dight.
While the ploughman near at hand,
Whistles o'er the furrow'd land,
And the milkmaid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe,
And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures. (L’Allegro, John Milton 1608-1674)
I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-15)
Recently I received a novel written by a cousin about the last few years of John Milton’s life, blending fact with poetic licence. Both he and I share a great interest in his poetry and perhaps quite surprising as Milton was in his time an anti-establishment figure of the monarchy and the Church of England. Oddly enough his ideas of seeing the Church needing to be far more simplified in regulation and procedure seems to be back in vogue today. Nevertheless, there is something of his poetry and prose that at times transports our imaginations to rustic and pastoral scenes. I think we need much more than this as an alternative to being totally transfixed to the hourly news feeds. So let us this summer, wherever we are, whether alone or with friends and family, young or old, allow our imaginations soar as we gaze upon our wonderful Downs and valleys and to give thanks to those who manage, cultivate, restore, sow and reap with thankful prayer. After all, all that comes from God we give back with blessings and more and as a Church we celebrate this whenever we can. Enjoy!
THOUGHT FOR July 2020
Faith for a Season
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7)
The summer time is an occasion to enjoy the benefits of the sun and the glories of creation all around us and yet, in trepidation, we make a mental note of those still dying from the coronavirus as we are challenged in adjusting to a ‘new-normal’ of living with some social movement restrictions in place. We know that we are part of the seasons that affect out landscape and our moods and the writer of Ecclesiastes is quite right in observing that for ‘everything, there is a season; and we can not forget when we lose loved ones under natural conditions no matter which season. I would like to pay tribute to the ministry-season of Rev Canon Alan Duke who recently died in Cumbria with Mary his family around him. Although a few incumbents before my time he is remembered with much fondness throughout what was then a smaller Benefice but also holding the role of the Diocesan Communications spokesperson and later to be the Bishop’s Chaplain.
No matter the season or occasion I very much valued Alan’s wise words of counsel and deep insights to the pastoral work of a minister. As one parishioner commented “He was quite simply, a lovely man and your archetype Parish Priest, before they were all made to do stuff which has little to do with the priestly vocation” and Mary has allowed me to share the thoughts of our former Archbishop, Rowan Williams. “All my memories of Alan are such happy and grateful ones. He was a deeply loyal and loving friend to me, whose company and wisdom and warmth meant such a lot. He’ll be so missed - Thank you for sharing Alan with us.”
There is no doubt that he held his faith and ran the good race of life including the many years in the Benefice and it is here that we hold those whom we love and lose, no matter the season, in our hearts and prayers, with memories which become more focused in November at the All Souls Service in Church where we give thanks for the time we had with our loved ones no matter the season or the race they ran.
THOUGHT FOR June 2020
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. [Acts 2:1-4]
As we celebrate Whitsun and embrace the warmer weather I can’t help thinking how many of us have been forced to move out from our so-called ‘comfort zones’ during the period of this pandemic? We are an ingenious species and have always been able to confront and adapt to that which imperils us. However, it is also quite natural that we look for the easier option in our daily routines, but not anymore when we think of having to decide where we go, what we do, keep our distance, wash our hands. This new routine that has taken us out of our old habits is beginning to look like a new ‘discomfort zone.’ Then on top of this, many of us have had to adapt to the marvels of internet and other software technologies so that we can continue to work, study and more importantly keep in touch with family members and friends. Had this coronavirus struck thirty years ago we would all have felt very much more isolated with no mobile communications.
It is easy to overlook the fact that at Whitsun (Pentecost)
the disciples of Jesus were about to shift out of another comfort zone. It was
terrible enough when suffering the shock of Jesus’ crucifixion, but then to be
confronted by his Resurrection rips up all the rules about what is normal and
then to accept the Holy Spirit in a wind-shaken house! Life for them proved to
be wholly different and it would seem that God does not do normal but is in our
everyday lives whether we are comfortable or not.
The presence of Holy Spirit is promised in Jesus’ farewell blessing:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ [Matt.28:18,20]
THOUGHT FOR May 2020
True Constants & The Waters of Life
Be like the flowing river,
Silent in the night.
Be not afraid of the dark.
If there are stars in the sky, reflect them back.
If there are clouds in the sky,
Remember, clouds, like the river, are water.
So, gladly reflect them too,
In your own tranquil depths Paulo Coelho, Like A Flowing River
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2
In these strangest of days we take much comfort from the ‘constants, in life whether casually observing the wonderful star constellations of the Spring night or of the colourful flowers we witness bursting forth on country walks, or just the delight of the tranquil Nailbourne flowing through our valley.
There may be many more constants that gladdens the heart especially in witnessing the faith of our community to pull together and look out for each other as we ride out the storm of the pandemic. In prayer and support we look to our brave frontline health professionals in caring and healing as well as for those who transport and deliver vital produce. Local shops and schools stay open and all staff give their time and more to ensure that the common good prevails.
Never has the country been challenged in terms of restrictions since
the Second World War or challenged so medically since the Spanish flu, a hundred years ago, and yet
I see signs of future transformations in society
where we continue in being much kinder to each other; more careful with what we
buy, consider whether certain journeys we take are necessary, and so society
and creation begins to heal.
This time has allowed us to have a sense of perspective on the world.
For the Church with its lack of worship services (or the pealing of bells) during Passion Week and Eastertide it has meant that we continue to explore our faith-constants differently via digital inputs to the Barham Downs Churches website and other media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Podbean). One excellent community app that has flourished is Zoom and has been important for many families and social groups including the congregants of Holy Innocents Adisham to keep together.
As this magazine is published and read I hope that some of the restrictions will have lifted slightly and then there will be time to properly mourn the dead and those debilitated by the coronavirus and to celebrate rescheduled weddings and other joyous occasions. We believe that the risen Christ is the source of all living water and on the banks of the River of Life we pray for the healing of all nations.
THOUGHT FOR APRIL 2020
IStrange times in the Light of Easter
It was said last year that we live in strange times with Brexit and perhaps much stranger as we face a threat to public health not seen for generations. As we move from Lent into Easter the church readings from the book of Exodus take us through the liberation of the Hebrew people out of Egypt led by Moses. We read how various plagues and illnesses beset the people of Egypt which with no doubt would have disrupted life throughout the country; however, we continue to read how the hope of a promised land is realised for the future Israelites with God’s guidance. The days that lead up to and including Easter Sunday takes us through a variety of emotions from an exhilarating Palm Sunday entry by Jesus into Jerusalem to his trial and crucifixion on Good Friday, and then the impossible - The Resurrection. With our nation facing the debilitating effects of COVID-19 we know that we will face disruption and yet we need to look to the future when the storm is past. This will be an uncertain journey for our community but we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:27) and our instincts must be like that of the Good Samaritan in ensuring that our neighbours, whether well or unwell, and who are vulnerable, lonely and the elderly are looked after in practical needs by delivering food produce and prescriptions and to be in contact regularly. By caring for our neighbours we help to change lives and by changing lives we become Christlike. I pray that the hope of the coming Eastertide will renew our own lives to a greater service. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing...Amen (Jude 24).
THOUGHT FOR March 2020
When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens...You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54,56)
Knowing our seasons
I wonder whether most visitors in our churches (Anglican and Catholic) actually notice that the primary colour on the altar, lectern and pulpit reflects the season the church is journeying through.
We know the signs of our four weather seasons well enough by the changing landscape around us and by the variation of temperatures (even more so in these strange times) and so the Church year is also governed from the Advent of Jesus to his return as Christ the King.
During Lent the vestment colour will be Purple or Violet and this season is about fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline; although you might be excused to break from it on each Lenten Sunday. It is the same colour for Advent season and often worn by Clergy at funerals for mourning. Other colours include Gold for key Feast Days such as Christmas Day, Epiphany, Candlemas, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day and Trinity Sunday. During the seasons of Christmas, Epiphany and Easter the main colour is White but also for Saints as is Red for those saints and martyrs who died for their faith. Red can also be used for a season known as Kingdom season from after All Saints Day up until Advent. Even Rose colour may be spotted on Mothering Sunday and third Sunday of Advent. The longest season of the Church is known as Ordinary Time (which makes me chuckle as if God does not get up to much) and the Green for this season can be seen from June into October and between Epiphany and Lent.
How we see or attempt to see ‘the signs’ around us on a geo-political scene can be bewildering and at times misleading. How we interpret these signs will after all come down to where we are on our own spiritual and faith journeys.
Rev SC Thomas
THOUGHT FOR FEBRUARY 2020
Some candle burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all Black
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye. Gerald Manley Hopkins
also shall light my candle;
Lord my God shall make my darkness to be bright. Psalm 18:28
Candles are not just for Christmas
Why is it that when the evenings draw in we become like moths attracted to lights and especially candlelight? Is it something of our primordial nature where light and heat keeps not just the darkness away but also danger? Even when we experience a power-cut we eagerly seek candles in our homes and in lighting them we find relief and hope and often enjoy the soft aura of a temporary world. In this world without electric we become still and we become more aware of the mystery of our surroundings and perhaps a little disappointed when the power is switched back on. We very much associate candles with Christmas and in church this is reinforced in the prologue of John’s gospel where in ‘Him’ there was light and the darkness can not over come this special Light.
As the forty days of Christmas comes to an end on the 2nd February when we remember the Christ child being blessed in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40) one tradition holds that new household candles are brought to the church to be blessed for the new year and for old ones to be burnt.
Even as the days gradually lengthen during Lent we look forward to one more candle being lit, the most important one in the Church - the Paschal or Easter Candle. It reminds us that God continues to light our own candle within us: a spark of the Light of Christ. So, candles are not just for Christmas.
‘May the Lord make his face to ‘shine’ upon you, and be gracious to you.’
THOUGHT FOR January 2020
What shall we sing?
children,’ they asked in every town
Three kings from the land of the sun,
‘Which is the road to Bethlehem?’
But neither the old nor the young
tell, and the kings rode on:
Their guide was a star in the air
Of gold, which glittered ahead of them,
So clear, so clear.
The star stood still over Joseph’s house.
What will we sing in the New Year?
What hopes and purposes do we seek in our own journeys?
With the national election behind us it is much hoped for that the star we are following will take us from the shadowlands of doubt and division into a brighter land of hope with the renewal and healing of our nations.
January, despite the gloomy days and long nights, can still be lit up by the story of the Magi, a group of foreign and learned men who place their faith and their lives on a star that leads them to a greater glory, a new dawn in human history with a hint of the divine.
It is so easy to forget that they were not native to Israel in the same way of those economic travellers from inside and outside of the European Union who add to the flourishing of our industries and services. I am very mindful of those who work in our nursing and residential homes that offer light and hope to the vulnerable and the elderly.
Christingle service on the 5th January at St Giles Kingston (4pm) is
reminder of the light that shines in the
darkness as described in the opening chapter of John’s gospel and when our
children are invited to sing the last of the Christmas carols including ‘we
May your song be hopeful and with all good blessings for the New Year.
THOUGHT FOR DECEMBER 2019
The Advent of waiting
24/7 – The slogan of our time. When it comes to mass consumerism social historians have claimed that “we’ve never had it so good” but I expect they examine the data collectively, rather than regional or per family. If we have purchasing power then it seems that at a click of a button it will be delivered the next day and if ordered early in the day then with premium price it might, with some sellers, be delivered later that day. In fact, forget 25th December; let’s have Christmas now and at any time of the year!
OK, I may be exaggerating a bit but I wonder whether we are living with less anticipation and less waiting in our lives for something special. Waiting is what the season of Advent is all about in marking the four Sundays before Christmas and during this time you may find Advent wreaths in Churches (and some homes) with its purple or red candles lit each week in anticipation of the greater light on Christmas Day. If we ever think we need to wait for a long time then think about the wait for the Son of God over hundreds of years.
On Advent Sunday the first candle is lit and we are reminded of the Patriarchs called by God for specific purposes with Abraham being the first. The second candle the following week is lit to remind us of the Old Testament Prophets who foretold the coming of ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God with us’ (Isaiah). The third Sunday of Advent sees the candle lit to remember when John the Baptist whose calling from the river Jordan tells us to prepare the way for the Christ – of he who baptises us in the power of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). The following Sunday we rejoice (Gaudete) as the fourth candle is lit in remembering how a young Mary was chosen by God, through the message of angel Gabriel, to carry the seed of hope and salvation.
Finally on Christmas Day we light a white candle in the centre of the wreath in welcoming the birth of the Christ child. Like all pilgrimages it is the journey that we take where we learn to anticipate and where the destination is its fulfilment. I would invite you all to gather four candles and anticipate the moment as each candle is lit until Advent is no more and Christmas begins: with all good blessings for ‘both’ seasons.
THOUGHT FOR November 2019
In due season…
As a people we are quite observant and dutiful when we remember incredible events that have marked or shaped our nation. As we come into the month of November we are reminded by the many poppies on sale that Remembrance Day is coming and a year ago our sense of history was heightened as we commemorated the centenary of the end of The Great War. It is not as if dramatic history ended in 1919 as in the peace that followed the world was challenged by another offensive but this time by the virulent Spanish Flu which evolved into a deadly pandemic. It was estimated that up to five hundred million people were infected with ten percent of those dying from it making it the worst outbreak in human history – a sombre remembrance indeed.
We often wonder whether human history will ever repeat itself but nature does not ponder over such things and we have seen cycles of deadly diseases, mostly localised in different parts of the world. For some Climate Change observers it has been suggested that future diseases will spread far more effectively as global temperatures steadily increase.
There have been references to the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ proposed by James Lovelock a few decades ago in which he saw the earth as a self-regulating organism with the ability to keep the geo-eco system in check but even now he wonders whether we have put too much strain upon the planet.
The creation account in Genesis expresses that in the final moments of design the human race was seen to be ‘very good’ and with the ability not just to be preservers but also to be co-creators; this means listening carefully to young voices about their future habitat and to our scientists who provide solutions.
When I visit the primary schools of our benefice I see hope in the passion that the younger generation have for their environment and for the promise of sustaining our world – ‘so let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.’ [Galatians 6:9]
THOUGHT FOR OCTOBER 2019
As long as the Earth endures
long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ (Genesis 8:22)
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. (Jeremiah 8:20-21)
We rejoice in receiving the harvest of our lands, we give thanks to Farmers and Field Workers, Transporters and Supermarket Workers for all their hard labours ensuring that we have food on our plates during the Winter and Spring seasons, and yet we are faced with a very stark global reminder that we have only 12 years left on the ecological calendar to slow down and to reverse the damage that is of our own making. This is not fake news with countries around the world reporting crop failures and increasing sea pollution. This headline is daunting and overwhelming but individually and building up to a community level we have the virtue to make changes in our purchases away from unsustainable products, to recycle and to continue giving thanks for our daily bread.
At the end of the summer term the children from Barham Primary School performed the musical ‘Joseph’ which the students brilliantly acted and sung. One thing we can learn about the time of Joseph in Ancient Egypt was how his God-given wisdom enabled Egypt to sustain seven years of famine including the neighbouring lands and that is how Joseph eventually encounters his brothers. Today we require even greater wisdom in ensuring that we live by sustainability and not constantly by profit, to change and adapt if we are to survive. If we fail to heed the warnings then what produce our children bring to the harvest service in Church will begin to diminish and we will all be so much poorer for it in both body and soul. We pray that the Lord of the Harvest increases the labourers not just to sow and reap but also to preserve and protect.
THOUGHT FOR SEPTEMBER 2019
Valuing our Teens and Young Adults in our communities
you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13-16
It does seem at times that media reporting often portray teenage children to be constantly in trouble and at the heart of many crimes, not forgetting those who are also victims of crime, in particular with the terrible ‘County Lines' drug epidemic. In my experiences I have found adolescents to be wonderful and caring and would just like to be listened to a little more often!
During The annual summer camp of the Kent Army Cadets in Wales I had the privilege in seeing them complete different stages of their training and how they bonded with their cadres; showing loyalty and integrity throughout. During ‘Padre’s Hour’ in the evening the camp chapel was buzzing with their hopes, aspirations and questions they needed answering which they may not always receive from home or even schools - not that I may hold all the answers! It also became evident that they are seeking to find their spiritual potential in a world of conflicting ideas and values and against the backdrop of technological advances. We certainly need to recognise their inherent goodness and to support them along the way, especially those whom I met from broken homes and relationships who have never been told that they are worthy, special or their talents recognised. The Evening Prayer that followed offered a peaceful place and a sense of sanctuary that they long for whether church goers or not, and where they did not feel judged.
A few weeks ago it was lovely to see a young naval rating in Aylesham walking proudly in her uniform alongside her beaming mother. The joy of how she was progressing in her basic training was apparent - but also a good sign for any community in that young people are like the rest of us “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that their joys should ignite our own. That joy, after all, is located deep in the image of God.