Barham Downs Churches

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Resurrection Realised

O sweetest of all joys, the blessed feeling- 
To proffer peace, to hold the hand of healing
Freely extended 
And say,
"There's nothing now but love and light!"
…I seek another goal, my spirit burning 
To reach the haven
Before the groundswell of the day shall cease.   

Easter Week
, Erik Axel Karfeldt


When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.        

                                                               Mark 16:1-8


I often call the coming of Spring the ‘Resurrection Days’ and for obvious reasons when the blossoms burst forth, the fresh green leaves unfurl and the splash of floral colours spread rapidly across the landscape. The warmth of the sunlight on the skin gives rise to a feeling of thankfulness and of life renewed and indeed “there’s nothing now but love and light.” Although this past winter has been relatively free from snow it has for many been a long haul through the gloom of endless rainy days.

In the Easter story, as portrayed by St.Mark, I wonder what the visiting women (the ardent followers of Jesus) were expecting as they approached the tomb. On their way to anoint the body, according to their local custom, they had not even given it a thought how the heavy entrance stone to the tomb could be rolled to one side. They were caught up in the winter of their own grief and did not expect to see the tomb open let alone a young man in white apparently awaiting their arrival. They are then given a paradigm shift of reality by the messenger and in fleeing the tomb they feel the paradox of both joy and fear as they process what has been said to them. My favourite line is ‘they said nothing to anyone.’ Err… I guess they did otherwise Mark’s gospel would not be with us today and instead the new spring of life experienced by those ladies became apparent to those who in time heard the tale of an empty tomb and the message of a resurrected Jesus. 

We may never know why the original manuscript of Mark’s gospel ended here, but I wonder whether Mark wanted the impact of the message to sink in deeply so that we would want to revisit the scene but also to bring others along the way to help share the resurrection experience. As the former Archbishop Rowan Williams alluded to, Easter becomes not a matter of our questioning of the Resurrection, but instead allows the impact of the resurrection to question us. Who are we now, and what must we become in the light of the risen Christ?  How will we be transformed this Eastertide and how will we help others along the way?



True Love & Freedom comes at a Cost

Love suffereth all things,

And we,
Out of the travail and pain of our striving,
Bring unto Thee the perfect Prayer:
For the lips of no man utter love,
Suffering even for Love’s sake
                  Sacrifice by Frederic Manning, July 1916


For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.      
John 3:16-17

Recently the Head of the British Army, General Sanders, stated that we would need to beef up our armed forces including the creation of a Citizen Army in order to face the realities of the political crises around the world. In other words, we are having to move from a long post-war state of peace to a pre-war state of preparedness. It caused a bit of a stir and when the BBC interviewed young adults throughout the country it became apparent (and worrying) that there was no desire to enlist or join an organisation for the defence of the realm citing all kinds of reason – a far cry from the beginning of the world wars. No one looks for conflict, no one wants it and we must always pray that common sense among international leaders and of failed states prevail– lest we forget!
The Australian poet Manning took three attempts to enlist due to his fragile constitution and like many saw the cost of sacrifice especially at the Somme.

s we travel the Lenten road ending with Easter Sunday on the last day of the month, we can hear the naivety of the disciples who fail to hear why Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. In Mark, the gospel for this year, we read how Jesus will be betrayed, killed, and after three days rise again; also, in the Garden of Gethsemane he prays for God to remove the cup of suffering from him. ‘Suffering’ is a word we hear far too often whether in conflicts, within social injustices, and of the personal costs we must bear among ourselves and our loved ones. It is understandable that when suffering overwhelms us it is harder to see what any sacrifice will achieve. Jesus knew all to keenly about suffering and was not willing to go to the cross (as some hymns might suggest); nevertheless, he knew that through that demeaning death on the cross his sacrifice would open up an exemplary path in which his suffering, as the incarnate God, would bind all unjust suffering and thereby lead to a salvation beyond our wildest dreams. We can only but wonder how much more unfolds from out of the empty tomb on Easter morning as we stare and ponder and then look back at the teachings of Jesus – then remember to do likewise.

Christ is alive! Let Christian sing. The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praised ring. Love drowned in death, shall never die.
Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and oceans ring with joy, with justice love and praise.
 (Brian Wren)

I invite you all to attend our services over the Easter weekend and wish you all a blessed Eastertide.



New Birth & New Death

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After…
When… three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
                                     BC:AD – U.A. Fanthorpe

There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.                  
Journey of the Magi – T.S. Eliot

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, 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.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.   
Matthew 2:1-3

With a new year dawning do we even make and keep ‘New Year Resolutions?’
Whether we greet 2024 with joy or in trepidation, life continues, the world keeps turning while trends keep changing. As we move into January and Epiphany, we should note that the season of Christmas lingers and remains unchanged as we welcome the three magi hastening to their destination to worship the newly-born ‘King of Kings.’
In Eliot’s poem, their pilgrimage from Persia had marked and changed them in what they had witnessed along the way, and according to Fanthorpe, by the time they arrive haphazard into this new kingdom of God they realise that it was not a shiny Christmas that they were hoping for but one where a significant death – the death of Christ will change the world far more than the birth. No wonder Herod is afraid – for he has failed to read the signs and portents.  

When it comes to life and death a recent survey showed that 47% of us would do not want a funeral service and we know that direct cremations (without a ceremony) have risen sharply. What does it say about our shifting views on death and are we able to cope without the psychological and theological processes when saying farewell to our loved ones? Time will only tell but how we honour the dead is important in the seasons and anniversaries to come. If the Christmas season and its message echoed in story and song has marked us for the better then perhaps we are all like the magi seeking a new way to live, to grapple with what is before us but always keeping the star of hope ahead of us. I wish you all a blessed New Year.


THOUGHT for December 2023

Of Christmas Peace

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."           
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.    
             Isaiah 9:6-7


What is that we understand about Christmas?
I remember last year the buzz phrase was ‘how we so need Christmas this year’ as a response to the periods of lockdown, but what is it that we are looking for? After all, a family gathering with presents can be dished out any time of the year, fairy lights can be put on any tree and plant and yet we know there is more to this.

I suspect that deep-down in each and every one of us is a desire for the world to be momentarily put on hold like the trench warfare of the First World War when soldiers from both sides recognised the spirit of Christmas, the peace which the body and soul desperately seeks, so that football was played in no-man’s land while gifts and photos were exchanged without a shot fired. What will it take for this to be repeated in the streets of Ukrainian towns and villages in blasted ruins and also on the derelict streets of Gaza. When will the senseless butchery of innocent lives on both sides of the conflict be halted? As we sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem” are we even aware that in the perfect Christmas card image the town of Bethlehem is occupied and stifled?

Yet peace we hold to very much as the prophet Isaiah foresaw in the Christ-Child born in a stable in Bethlehem and also under occupation at that time. Christmas reminds us that Jesus is the bringer of peace and if we could just hold on to the two practical rules that he provided – to love God with all your being, and to love your neighbour as oneself, and if neighbour means a person in our sphere of influence, then surely the peace of Christmas would start to reign in our hearts, the bells once more joyful and the presents and lights might just add another dimension to who we actually are in relation to the image of God.
I wish you all, wherever you are a blessed Christmastide.


THOUGHT for November 2023

Draw the blanket of ocean
Over the frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights.

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-pointed Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea,

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

Charles Causley 1917 – 2003


Each November is marked with three days remembering the dead. The month opens with All Saints Day and all Souls Day is a day later. These are followed by Remembrance Day on the eleventh day, when at the eleventh hour we stop to mark the Armistice in 1918 that brought the Great War to an end and we pay our respects to the war dead.


Over the years our family holidays have included trips to British War Cemeteries and memorials in France, Belgium and Holland. They are places of peace and calm. Some vast, the Hall of Memory at the Menin Gate contains the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient during the First World War, but whose bodies have never been identified or found. Some are tiny, Jerusalem War Cemetery between Bayeux and Tilly-sur-Seulles has just 48 graves of a few killed in 1944 during the Normandy Invasion and battles that followed. It includes one headstone for an unknown soldier, in place of the usual personal inscription it is inscribed with the words ‘Known Unto God’.


While in Ypres we were joined by a coach party of British children who’d ‘done’ the memorial and were now hitting the shops buying chocolate, souvenirs and fireworks. My first thought was, how disrespectful – don’t they understand the history? My second was to reflect that the values for which many of the soldiers were fighting included the space and freedom for children to be children.


Some time ago, the Radio 4 PM Programme included a feature giving listeners the opportunity to share a single sentence of their news. One lady’s story stuck with me, it went something like this:


It was Robert’s funeral today, I didn’t go, we’d been lovers for twenty years, but no one knew.


I’ve wondered about it over the years. From whom was it hidden? How was it not discovered? How did the lady carry her secret grief? Many of us carry grief, and it is often hidden, because life has to go on. Grief for children taken too soon, for miscarriage and still birth, for parents, partners and friends, for abortion. Sadness for things said that can’t be unsaid, and for things not said and questions not asked. Guilt for things done that can’t be undone, or that just were not done. All life leaves its mark.


In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31.

It is a reminder that we, and those we love and have loved, are Known Unto God.


A brief blog: I’m Simon Pooley and in February 2022 moved to Barham with my wife (Liz). We attend Barham Church. Having been a Methodist Local Preacher since 2007 I was recently licensed as a Reader in the Anglican Church.

THOUGHT for October 2023

Season of Wonder

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! 
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies! 
   Thy mists, that roll and rise! 
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag 
And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag
To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff! 
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough! 

Long have I known a glory in it all, 
         But never knew I this;  
         Here such a passion
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear 
Thoust made the world too beautiful this year; 
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall 
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.         (God’s World, Edna St.Vincent Millay)

  ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?       (God’s Response in Job 38:4-7)

The onset of autumn brings about a new change of scenery with the canopy of leaves changing almost daily into a myriad of wonderful colours, like a rich tapestry interlaced with red and golden hues. Even though this is (still) the annual cycle of change and of contrast it allow us to contemplate the summer past, but at the same time enjoy the mists, the dew-drop webs, the lengthening shadows and the changing of the light. It is as if it was a show put on just for us, and no matter our spiritual outlook we just need to enjoy the view and the moment. We know that the trees withdraw their sugar nutrients from their leaves so to store it in their roots in order to survive winter, yet that still allows us to appreciate what is going on.  The poet (St Vincent Millay) recognises the aching glory and the surprising moment of passion stretching her senses beyond her limit and acknowledges that thou’st made the world too beautiful this year. The hapless and troubled Job of the Bible ponders over the magnitude of Creation and gets more than he bargained for when God responds from out of a whirlwind, as if to say ‘who do you think stretched and set the limits of creation?’ In the Church calendar this period between September and October is known as Creation Season to remind us of all what nature offers us, but  also where it is marred due to our own actions or inactions. Creation Season folds into the Harvest Season and so our thanksgiving and wonder multiplies in our gratitude to all that we have to sustain us and in providing for families in our community; yet above all we me must praise our farming community for their tireless vocation among us, echoed in the words of a harvest hymn. God, whose farm is all creation, take the gratitude we give; take the finest of our harvest, crops we grow that we may live. (L. Arlott)



THOUGHT for September 2023

Striving, Riding and Striding


Then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;  (Isaiah 58:14)

You have made me stride freely,
and my feet do not slip;                   (2 Samuel 22:37)

As the late summer sun begins to cast longer shadows in the eveningtide we instinctively  begin to change our daily rhythms with our children starting or returning to school, colleges and universities or starting new careers. Each academic year brings new challenges for the students to strive for, including adults returning after summer holidays who also face new tasks and outcomes. Others may look forward to starting new activity groups or returning to them. At the time of writing this article I was out in the field with army cadets and instructors where teenagers were encouraged to take on tasks, and often were out of their comfort zones, but nevertheless, they endured and thereby gained skills and qualifications along the way - also widening their physical and spiritual horizons. This month we have our annual  ‘Ride & Stride’ day on the 9th September which is an opportunity for all to be sponsored to either ride or walk between our wonderful churches that dot our rolling rural landscape on behalf of ‘Friends of Kent Churches’. The funds raised are channelled into support and maintenance projects so that future generations can continue to enjoy our sacred buildings in each of our communities. If you would like to ride or stride then please click here for more details and for a sponsor form. What might you notice along the path and who may we encounter along the way? And if you happen to be striding towards a village like Emmaus then do not be surprised as to who may be walking alongside you!
(Luke 24:13-35).

With all good blessings.


THOUGHT for August 2023

Celebrating our children and pockets of Eden

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Luke 12:27)

Jesus… said,  ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18: 3-4)

Summer is upon us and our Year 6 students from Barham and Adisham Primary schools will enjoy a summer of freedom and of course transition as they prepare for life in our nearby secondary schools. The Leavers Service in church is often an emotional moment but one full of celebration of their achievements and not just academically as we also recognise their gifts and talents. We acknowledge the hard work of the teaching and  support staff as well as the Friends of the Schools that have emboldened them over the years. I often chuckle that when they leave they say “goodbye RevT and enjoy your six  week summer holiday”…now there’s an idea, but, will it wash with the Archdeacon? 🤔 
I hope that as the children and staff enjoy their well-deserved break they may absorb the beauty of creation around them. 

The ‘Big Butterfly Count’ is an easy project to monitor how many butterflies we can observe in a sunny garden or field for fifteen minutes and note their varieties; but even on our meanderings we can enjoy the wildflowers, the bees and dragonflies among the meadows and ponds. As This time I am mindful of the very hot weather patterns in Southern Europe and beyond and thankful to have had cooler weather closer to home. I often hear that we don’t see as much wildlife as we used to and I dare say this is accurate and yet I have noticed many more meadows in the west of Kent and In East Sussex and in those wonderful pockets of Eden one can still find many insects and bees that we might not see in numbers back home. This gives me hope for the children and the generations to come. Whether in our gardens or in our churchyards we are reminded how important it is for re-wilding to take place. 

As I have written this article, I have recorded six Red Admirals, three Large Whites and one Green Veined White from my study. In the simplicity of just observing I am indeed appreciating the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven and far more glorious than Solomon.
I bid you all a restorative summer.


THOUGHT for July 2023

Scorching Heat - signs and wonders

Scorching heat, sweat pours
Vicious winds, couldn't tame it
Sweat river. It's summer. Whoa!
     (GitacharYa VedaLa)

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire, they were scorched by the fierce heat, but they cursed the name of God.

(Revelation 16:9)

And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be a scorching heat”; and it happens.     (Luke 12:55)

I often wonder how conspiracy theorists have so much time to peddle their (mis)trust; perhaps the furloughed-lockdown was for some a period of throwing more oil on to their fires. Then, again one might just say that John of Patmos (St John the Divine) was not exactly a bundle of laughs with his dire prophetic visions recorded in the Book of Revelation, but the Bible has a habit of bringing our self-destructive point home.

John envisioned humanity reneging against their Creator, plundering creation and setting up their own demi-gods or even following false prophets (or beasts). Sounds familiar when we cast our weary eyes over the daily headlines whether on paper or on screen, and yet, it would seem the truth is ‘out’ as we see morally-dubious political figures fall from grace – there is hope indeed. We know in our human history how temperature fluctuates and even the Romans enjoyed decent wine grown in the diocese of Britannia; nevertheless, the figures do add-up with unprecedented global warming for our times pushing us beyond the 1.5c rise limit set by the COP21 Paris Agreement.

We may need to reread what the fourth angel represents whether as corporations or countries defying and blindly ignoring the peril we put before the generations to come. Jesus basically said, ‘read the signs, and act upon it’ and so we must all do in our own daily way in reducing our carbon footprint. Yet we must not forget that summers are beneficially good: the sense of freedom and of exploring, recreation and wonder, and how is that children seem to grow even quicker during the holidays than any other time of year? The future means more resilience but also an urgency in preserving the pockets of Eden we take for granted. 

Hope for all humanity must prevail so that earth can mirror heaven, where the tree of life gives fruit to repair nations and from whose garden no despoiling will be possible (cf. Rev. 22). Amen. Amen.


THOUGHT for June 2023

More than a Big Help Out

Give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us…

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine…

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference. 

(When Giving Is All We Have, Alberto Rios b.1952)

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.    
                                                                                     (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, St Paul d.64)

In the afterglow of the Coronation weekend the nation was urged to take up volunteering again with the launch of the Bank Holiday Monday Big Help Out. It’s not as if volunteering per se has suddenly stopped as we all know of someone helping in all sorts of ways, from neighbourly help through to children’s uniformed organisations, our village shop in Barham, in our schools, to supporting our churches to name just a few of many activities. 

Since Lockdown sociological data has suggested a down-turn of long-term volunteering. What changed during the time of isolation?
I expect that answer is complicated, but it seems to mirror the many job vacancies still unfulfilled across our nation. Well, if you are thinking how can I support my community, each village has a church, which run on ‘cheerful giving’ in time and presence, and you would be most welcome to join us and become involved whether in the upkeep of these glorious buildings or assisting in services. I pray that this year will see a renewal of helping-out whether in religious or secular groups and activities and my sincere gratitude to all who already do so. 

In commemorating the 650th year of Julian of Norwich’s mystic ‘Revelations of Divine Love,’ we are reminded that in taking the first steps in committing ourselves to something greater than ourselves that in the end, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Servus Christi


The Anointed One

Daughters of Zion, come, behold

The crown of honour and of gold

Which the glad church, with joys unknown,

Placed on the head of Solomon.


Jesus, thou everlasting King,

Accept the tribute which we bring;

Accept the well-deserved renown,

And wear our praises as thy crown.            (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)


‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.       Luke 4:18

This month marks a poignant moment in British history with the Coronation of Charles III at Westminster Abbey, and for the majority of the UK population, this will be a ‘first’ in observing this royal pageant with all its symbolism stretching back to the kings and queens of old. One thing we are quite aware of is that this monarchy will be different to the last one. The Elizabethan era spanned across times of waning Empire, World War, the national recovery thereafter, the emerging of
The Commonwealth and Britain becoming closer integrated with European trade. That era saw the Royal Family becoming much closer to its people through social media and with a Queen well respected across the world. 

The Carolingian era will endure much of the same trappings and representation but with a smaller ‘working’ royal family and tasked to project a uniqueness of the United Kingdom to the countries we work closely with, in particular European states.  The Coronation festivities seem to be slimmed-down compared to 1953 with its overriding theme on how we volunteer in our communities – an important reminder for us all since the Lockdown months – what can we give back?

We may have anointed monarchs for the last thousand years with Holy Oil and for King Charles’ anointing the oil has come from Jerusalem blessed by three bishops. In the Bible we read how Saul and then David the first Kings of Israel were anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel (almost 3,000 years ago). In every Maundy Thursday Chrism Service at Canterbury Cathedral, part of the service involves the Archbishop in blessing the oil for ministerial use such as for Baptisms, Confirmations and for the healing ministry to the sick and unwell. This oil when marking a person represents the indelible nature of God’s Spirit upon the anointed what I call the invisible badge of God’s presence, so whether a child is baptised, or a monarch anointed, we should all be loved and treated equally in God’s Community. Above all, let us enjoy the Coronation Service both nationally and communally and to remind ourselves of service to one another.




For Easter to happen...

Before dawn there came a throng of angels,
the joy of the host surrounded the Saviour’s tomb.
Open was the earthen vault. The Prince’s body
received the breath of life, the ground shook,
hell-dwellers laughed; the young warrior awoke,
dauntless from the dust, majesty arose,
victorious and wise.
                                      (from The Descent into Hell, Saxon poem)

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.  

(The Resurrection, Matthew 28:2-5)

As we celebrate Easter Sunday, we are reminded that it is more than just a date on a calendar, more than the shining eggs we may seek that morning. It is for many about the good news of the empty tomb and the risen Christ. It is about earth-shaking joy.

The women at the tomb nor the disciples could never conceive that such an event would take place. In Saxon writings we see Jesus as a warrior, which may not be a modern understanding of the Christ, but it is symbolic enough to realise that what took place was, and still is, a triumph of hope over adversity, life over death, a battle of good over evil. On the eve of Easter some churches hold a special service in which the new Easter (paschal) Candle is marked by the wounds of Jesus and is lit. As everyone enters the darkened church the light forces its way into the darkness and the exsultet is sung:

Sing, choirs of heaven! Let saints and angels sing!
Around God’s throne exult in harmony!
Now Jesus Christ is risen from the grave!

Is it wrong for us to have such hope in a world seemingly darkened by encroaching conflicts, famine, social and economic injustices and holding on to a fragile eco-system? Jesus starkly reminded his disciples and ourselves that there will be trouble in the world, whether famines, earthquakes and wars until God’s salvation comes to fruition starting with the resurrection scars of Jesus, so that we like the disciple Thomas, might gaze upon them and ponder, and to know of hope.  Hell’s prisoners are set free from captivity as Christ bursts from the tomb and renders the gates of despair from it hinges. There is no greater symbol than that of liberation. For us the question is, how can we be Christlike in liberating those around us and to look into the light?

I wish you all a blessed Eastertide.



Living in Love and Faith

I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore
  (Genesis 22:17)

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you.
  (Psalm 139:14,15)

In a world of polarised opinions, including the recent deliberations of the Church Of England’s General Synod about the blessing of same sex-relationships, I found myself slightly bemused listening to the Old Testament reading from Genesis during Evensong at the Cathedral (and with our St John’s Choir singing the service) where we heard how the patriarch Jacob had twelve children through two wives and two concubines!  A few eyebrows were raised and I wondered if any particular churchmanship groups would claim that it was acceptable because it was recorded in scripture.

In all the angst and angers that we witness online we are forgetting that for cohesive and loving communities to flourish we need compassion and tolerance and as we travel through Lent let us keep this foremost in our minds. We have to remember that people like Abraham, the Magi and Shepherds among others were not guided solely by scripture. 

When Abraham was told by God that his descendants would be as many as the stars of the heavens and the grains of sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17) then we must take note of what God is pointing to. The stars in the night sky and the grains of sand come in all sizes, colour and texture, all wholesome and wonderfully made, and in our wonder, we realise that God revels in the diversity of his creation – that means all of us, no matter who we are when invited to be Kingdom dwelling people.



Tradition & Customs

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find 
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.                  

Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve, Robert Herrick


Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.’   

Song of Simeon
, Luke 2:29-31

Some traditions and customs are very much worth holding on to in a digital age when news reports and fashion statements can so easily be forgotten and where the siren call of social media influencers catch our mayfly-like attention span.

It is not so long ago in our history, and before the advent of artificial trees and electric lights, that the tradition of keeping Christmas decorations up until Candlemas (2nd Feb) was celebrated using Mistletoe, Holly and Ivy and I for one also keep the nativity scene out to this date, albeit with the shepherds long gone leaving the magi at the crib in adoration.

The evergreen endures and reminds us of the dormant and yet rising sap and when Jesus is presented in the Jerusalem Temple at 40 days to receive the customary blessing of his time we are reminded that the sap of God’s love is growing within the Christ-child which old Simeon and Anna fully recognise.

The church year with its rich tradition of seasons endures in a way that allows us to follow God in marking his mission to us and all creation. Even today many people still find themselves marking the spiritually-rich moments of Christmas and Easter. We also rejoice when a new life is born into our family and of a blessing of that young child at a Christening (baptism) where we like Simeon and Anna can momentarily stand in awe and wonder, knowing that some traditions are worth holding on to in our rural communities.




January's Star-Seekers

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, 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.…When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage

Matthew 2:1-2,10-11

Under a white coverlet of snow
The infant year is lying,
A leaden canopy of cloud above.
Now to this cradle haste
The royal seasons, in their robes,
Of green, crimson, and rich russet,
Bearing their gifts - the sunshine gold of spring,
Incense of summer flowers, and acrid tang
Of autumn’s burning leaves.
                                      John Heath Stubbs

Have we ever found ourselves thinking a few days after the big day that that’s Christmas over for another year? The bank holidays have played out, the house is much quieter and the grey dull skies of winter dominate our thoughts save for the odd hoar-frost sunrise and sunset.

We make new resolutions in how this year will be different to last year and trying not to compare both years like the Roman god Janus (from whom we get the name of this month). But are we any good at keeping our resolutions and promises, and what is it we seek?

The season of Epiphany begins on the 6th January and it is a time where we still live in the leeward side of Christmas when we contemplate the visit of the Magi, or the Wisemen, following a wandering star. They offer precious gifts which ominously signpost the life ahead of this hapless infant, this vulnerable God. In return the gift to us is Emanuel, God with us, in the blessing of baptism, the first miracle of water to wine, the invitation to follow, and in seeing God dwelling with his people and of more promises to come.

The year 2023 may be a tough financial year in comparison to last year but as we travel through the calendar let us look for signs of hope in the gifts of God; in the seasons of creation, in the fellowship of our families and friends, our community, our church, and knowing that God walks alongside us in our own quest.

Wishing you all a blessed and promising New Year.




Hear the Angels sing for joy!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’     
[Luke 2:13-14]

In the universe one
world beneath cloud
foliage. In that world
a town. In the town

A house with a child,
who is blind, staring
over the edge of the universe
into the depths of love. 
                 [Still Point, R.S. Thomas] 

What is it about our Advent and Christmas Carols that allows our imagination to truly touch a moment where the troubles of this world are stilled and where heart and soul ineffably embraces the wonders of the Nativity?
In our current times it would be too easy to ape the prophetic voice of doom with a continuing bleakness of our country’s welfare, economy and moral standing. Yet, at Christmastide we read, that out of darkness the supernal heavens opened (perhaps blazed) with angelic choirs, singing for joy; their voices permeating creation with the good news of ‘God among us’.  This new-born infant, dwelling darkly and blindly in a dim stable will have potency to extend God’s grace to all by going to the edge of the universe and back again in order to offer us the glorious light of resurrection that fulfils God’s purpose for us all. 

We know when we sing carols and songs that we feel elated and in groups and choirs we share that sense of ‘something other’, a connection to ourselves and beyond which also promotes wellbeing and peace. With all that our communities have gone through these last two years, we may find that some of our festivities may be lessened; nevertheless, do light the Advent candles, stand around the Christmas Tree and sing together of the love that can never die. We remember in all adversities that truth is greater than falsehood, love stronger than hatred, peace outweighing all conflicts and of light overcoming darkness.

 Let us once more hear the angels sing and hear that midnight message that “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 14-5). My prayers and thoughts are with you all this Christmastide and beyond.



Souls and Bodies

 “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience”  (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

 Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

 Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you? Therefore glorify God in your body.   (1. Corinthians 6;19,20)

As we approach
Kingdom Season (the church observance between All Saints and the first Sunday of Advent) we are increasingly reminded of our own mortality and of the precious gift of life breathed into us by God. When on the 1st November we remember the Saints who have gone before us  and also the following day of those souls whom we have loved and lost, we can often wrongly be seen as a church unable to wait for death as if our physical life is not as important and that is far from truth of our creative purpose. 

The Psalmist reminds us that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and with poetic imagination  sees us as being ‘knitted together’ in our mother’s womb or ‘’made in the ‘darkness of the earth.’ St Paul reminds us how important each of our body parts are in relation to the whole and this is amplified into being many humans of a community that adheres to the common good.

In the gradual changing of the seasons and apprehension of colder weather to come we need to ask ourselves how can we be many members of one body, in offering warm spaces to our neighbours, in ensuring food banks are supported as best as can be. Our ancient church buildings may not be the best places for warming but they still offer a sense of divine presence and to be in communion with all the saints, both living and dead. As a church we are blessed at this time to be able to assist those in need within our parishes with a one-off grant to help cover costs for fuel and food bills, for example. This is made possible due to the generous giving from members of our community and any request for aid is confidentially dealt with. Further details can be found at

Jesus once rebuked Satan that man can not live on bread alone, which is true in the complex support we all need in living well, but with the bread that we receive comes a hope of companionship along the way (the Latin source of companion meaning bread-eaters). That hope is in our community where we are directed to recharge the body with physical food and the soul with spiritual food so that as psychosomatic beings we are made whole and well.



God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."

And he replied:

"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.

And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

This poem entitled ‘God Knows’ was written by the Christian academic and poet Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957).  Haskins led a life devoted to others which encompassed working as a missionary in Lambeth and India, caring for munitions workers in the First World war and later studying the impact of industrialisation, as a brilliant student and teacher of Sociology at the London School of Economics. As one of her tutors later wrote, she was a woman of ‘rare understanding and sympathy and infinite patience, combined with a great deal of love and interest in people.’

As I write this the country is mourning another great woman who dedicated her life to the welfare of others, her Majesty the Queen. I think we can be sure that these two, Minnie and Elizabeth, would have understood each other had they met and talked because the young princess Elizabeth, as she then was, was the person who introduced this poem to her Father, King George VI. The King liked it so much that he used it in Christmas broadcast to the nation in the first months of war in 1939.

As the dark nights begin to wrap around us, the poem reminds us that we shouldn’t be afraid of stepping out into an unknown future. Change can be unsettling but God doesn’t want us to be afraid. What lies ahead of us may be obscure to us, but is known to God and all of God’s purposes for us are good. Whatever the future, He is holding us by the hand, like a parent, and will not let us go. As I leave you to go on to my own unknown future I take great comfort from that certainty. I thank God for the time I have had with you and for all the love and happiness I have received here at Barham Downs. I thank Him also that he holds my hand as I step out. I thank Him that even darkness is light to Him who is our creator, comforter and the lover of our souls and I pray that all of our ways will be blessed. Amen.

Rev Lesley



God of the idle heat, in this glaring road
            you dominate all.
And over the green fields wilted down
            under your blaze,      these
thirsty unruly plants grow a jungle domesticity
            to protect their fruit.
Of all hidden things, I sing,    waiting
for evening’s grace.
                                           (Robert Duncan, d. 1988)


Thy touch has still its ancient power;
no word from thee can fruitless fall:
hear on this solemn evening hour,
and in thy mercy heal us all.
                               (Henry Twells, d. 1900)


As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.  Genesis 8:22

For those of us who were children during the hot summer of 1975, the memory will be of endless sunny days and a never-ending holiday. A sense of freedom and fun was abounded while our parents and community worried about access to water, rationing, and standpipe queues. Looking back now, we could not conceive that the gradual rise of hotter summers, then sporadic, would be the beginnings of the Climate Crisis that we have become aware of accelerated by human industry and technical progression. It seems that in this century we face the prospect of regular heatwaves puncturing the summer season.

August is the season of the sun and nature has a limitation to how it adapts and flexes it's ability to keep a healthy equilibrium from the macro to the micro. In the late 1970’s the scientist, James Lovelock, described this regulator as Gaia (after the Greek goddess of the earth) but did not attribute this theory to the supernatural. He suggested that the earth’s biosphere acted as a unique controller in ensuring climatic stability, but that pushed too far there may not be a way to return to what we have taken for granted.

The biblical story of Creation in Genesis wonderfully illustrates the fundamentals of existence with light, day and seasons governing, and here we see read the importance of that which endures – or ‘while it endures’, as long as we are careful.  At the time of the Gaia publication, fellow scientists mocked Lovelock’s theory – but fifty years later we starkly recognise a world which is finite and fragile.

This summer let us be more aware of how we can do our part in being stewards of the world, starting in our own homes and gardens; to lobbying our MP’s and industry that pollute and fail in recycling. Imagine the surprise of one supermarket cashier and the queue behind me as I started stripping the plastic and non-recyclable materials as I packed the products in my bag! The younger generation are far more eco-active and will need our support but it should not stop us enjoying the long summer days, the school holidays and outings, the harvest to come, so that in the cool of the evening shadows we give thanks for the grace of our Creator.


The Rule of Three - The Trinity

Three is a number that people have associated with the deepest ideas and beliefs.  More than two and half thousand years ago, the ancient philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras believed it was a divine number, a number of harmony and insight where there was no split or duality. Aristotle went on to apply the ‘rule of three’ in speech making and writing explaining that three examples, points or characters were harmonious and more powerful for the listener or reader. Such ideas may be even older so in folklore and myth we talk of three wishes and the Three Fates; in history and storytelling we think of beginnings, middles and ends; in time, of past, present and future. It’s not surprising then that the number three (and its multiples) appears in the Bible and the life of Jesus.  There are three Magi, twelve disciples and, of course, Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Perhaps in these different ways we are glimpsing something deeply embedded in creation and in the ways that we can understand God.

This may be one reason why the Trinity, that is there is One God as Three ‘Persons’ or aspects, is at the very heart of Christian faith. This way of thinking about God wasn’t pinned down immediately but was rooted in the everyday experience of the earliest Christians. Finally in AD 325 a Council of the church met at Nicea (now Turkey) and agreed a way of expressing this truth in what came to be called the Nicene Creed (from ‘credo’ -I believe) and which is sometimes summarised as ‘We believe in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.

There is a legend that St Patrick taught people about the Trinity using a three leafed shamrock but this seems unlikely and, in some ways, it’s unhelpful. An alternative image is one offered by the Roman writer Tertullian (AD 160-220) who says that the Trinity can be compared to the roots, trunk and branches of the same tree.  

July is an excellent time to think about such things. On the first Sunday after Pentecost (this year June the 12th) we celebrate this way of understanding God in Trinity Sunday. Between then and October, when we begin to prepare for Advent, we call each week the first, second, third, fourth etc, etc ‘week after Trinity’.  Whichever way we try to understand it the Trinity tells us that God reaches out to us in different ways but always with the same love. This summer, God willing, there may be time to think about such deep things: sacred geometry, trees and theology.



Our Constant Monarch

Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever. Your royal sceptre is a sceptre of equity; Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; at your right hand stands the queen in gold.  
(cf. Psalm 45)

We are living in extraordinary and challenging times when one considers how the paradigm of western civilization is rapidly changing with every media and cultural headline. The Lockdown period has allowed for many people to take stock of their activities and perhaps the uncertain direction that they are heading in. We are in essence still finding our feet as a nation with over-stretched public services and economic delays, while on the horizon, we nervously glimpse the reality of war in eastern Europe and how that might threaten our own way of life.
We crave for a sense of simplicity in living, family values and whether rightly or wrongly, we peer through our rose-tinted spectacles to a distant golden age of when all was (seemingly) right – for God, Queen and Country. We yearn for constancy in our lives and it can be said that the only constancy that we have valued in the United Kingdom is the monarchy; and we have enjoyed the faithfulness of Her Majesty to our country and to her God. A monarch who in the likeness of Christ serves her subjects both here and in the Commonwealth nations.
In this year of her Platinum Jubilee, we are reminded of her service from experiencing war damage in England to being anointed with holy oil on her enthronement, to celebrating her long reign with the nation. With all the community events that will take place including the activities within our parish – bunting, cakes, flags et al – let us rightly rejoice in her fidelity as we pray for her:-

Gracious God, we give you thanks for the reign of your servant Elizabeth our Queen, and for the example of loving and faithful service which she has shown among us. Help us to follow her example of dedication and to commit our lives to you and to one another, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.     (Jubilee Collect)



Remembering and Forgetting A Kentish antiquarian and an Anglo-Saxon Saint.

At 6.30 pm on Saturday May 21st at St Giles Church Kingston there will be a free public meeting and discussion held by the ‘3 Days in January Project’. The project is a partnership between churches in the diocese and a number of local heritage experts. At the centre of the project is the long and creative relationship between faith and science. Our starting point was the investigation of the relics of St Eanswythye of Folkestone in January 2020 but at Kingston we will be thinking about how in the C18th antiquarian or archaeological science was applied by local priest antiquarian Bryan Faussett in the discovery and understanding of extensive Anglo-Saxon sites near the village.

With such questions in mind, today I am reflecting on past, present and future through the life of St Pancras who is remembered on May 12th and whose name (Latin Pancratius) means ‘he who holds all’.

Like that of many early martyrs and saints the story of Pancras has to be read through layers of time and altered meaning. An early history tells us that Pancras, who lived with his Uncle in Rome, helped shelter Christians who were hiding from the violent persecution then being pursued by the Emperor Diocletian. This period of violence shaped the identity of the early church and it is salutary to read lists of those who are remembered as martyrs from this time. Although only fourteen years old Pancras was found, subjected to a long trial, and finally taken out of the city and beheaded on the via Aurelia.

People though remembered the boy. Pancras’ body came to be venerated as a sort of touchstone to the past and to heaven; people believed that the bravery and principle of his life meant that he would be close to God and able to intercede for them, as a sympathetic friend and supporter, in heaven.

Nearly 300 years after his death some relics of St Pancras were sent, perhaps along with Augustine, to Canterbury and we know that during the C7th a church dedicated to the saint was built from Roman brick and stone on the site of what would become St Augustine’s Abbey. This ancient church, an important place of worship for centuries, was dismantled along with the rest of the Abbey in 1541 and much of its fabric sold off; what remained became a brewery and later a farm house; the church survives today but is in ruins.

Like many other important aspects of our past, reflection on the saints lays a trail of stories, identities and issues; if we choose to follow such trails they can take us, often by round-about means, right back to ourselves. Today we are not pulling down our churches but we are struggling to maintain them and it may seem tempting to think that buildings, history and tradition don’t matter – I rather suspect that they do. Such people and places are part of the treasures of our faith and we have the responsibility to hold fast and to pass them on in our own voice to those who come after us; by such means the particularity and individual faith of a young boy was remembered and preserved over centuries. Perhaps 'He who hold all' still has something to teach us.

Rev Lesley



Lenten Shadows & Wings of Risen Hope

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah, leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring:
cover my defenceless head with the shadow of thy wing.
        (Charles Wesley d. 1788)

On the 24th February the lights of hope and of free humanity flickered on the edges of eastern Europe and gradually dimmed as the Russian armed forces staged an illegal war against the people of Ukraine. ‘The lamps may not be going out all over Europe’ as observed by Sir Edward Grey in 1914, but the rise of nationalism and of belligerent autocratic states is apparent so that we find ourselves in the shadow of potential mass destruction. How do we even grasp the outcome let alone know how to react? On the Eve of Ash Wednesday, a communal prayer service for Ukraine was held at St. John’s attended by many whether regulars or not, with new voices heard in open prayer, in lament, in petition which raised £825 for UNICEF Ukraine ‘Protect the Children Appeal’ (and I am most heartened to hear of other community events supporting).
The Lent journey is about self-introspection, repentance and forgiveness and this must be a global projection for the sake of the next generations, to overcome the moment of Good Friday where the only outcome of conflict is devastation and of distraught minds. We look beyond our petty differences and to the helpless refugees who seek protection from us under the shadow of God’s wing. A striking image from Ukraine was the removal of a life size crucified Jesus being removed from a cathedral and placed into a bomb shelter which eerily resembles a tomb. The men holding the figure are like those who cut Christ down from the cross for a hasty burial, and then, the sun goes down. The Easter message at sunrise is of hope, of life beyond death, of death losing its sting. This is also about us in welcoming the Ukrainians to our shores, to listen, to make safe and for life to be restored, and where we can be one people without borders.
Therefore, let us truly be the Easter people.

Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place and time.
In every insult, rift and war, where colour, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died.

                                                                                                                          (Brian Wren b.1936)



A Holy Garden

This year we will once again be creating Easter gardens in each of the churches throughout our benefice. Most gardens will be prepared in the week or so before Easter and on Holy Saturday, the 13th April, we will be hosting an Easter Pilgrimage Day so that people can not only visit the gardens but the churches too -to find a bit of peace, say a prayer in memory of loved ones and to take some refreshment. In anticipation of our pilgrimage I wanted to share with you some thoughts about Easter Gardens , their origins and meanings.

If you have never seen one, an Easter garden is a small garden created to  help us remember and imagine the Easter story of the resurrection.  Usually the garden has crosses and a ‘tomb’ made from stones. Late on Easter Eve the ‘doorstone’ of the tomb is rolled away and some bandages or cloths are left to represent the empty tomb and the wrappings that were found there when Mary Magdalene and the others  arrived at daybreak on the third day to anoint Jesus’ body.  In my childhood we used to make them in shoe boxes with soil and moss and stones but the first Easter gardens were much more elaborate and lovely creations.

This lovely tradition probably only dates back to the 1930s and may well have a local origin. In his book, British Customs and ceremonies Cecil Hunt records how, on the eve of war in 1939, at Harbledown near Canterbury, thousands of pilgrims came to visit an Easter garden made by the Rector’s wife Mrs John Allen: 

It depicts in miniature, on platforms occupying a large part of the east end of the church, the whole story of the Passion and the Resurrection. It is a custom of singular beauty and reverence, conceived and executed with remarkable artistry…’

Before gardens though, English churches had another way of memorialising Easter. In mediaeval times many churches had an Easter Sepulchre which was a decorated space with a flat shelf, rather like an empty tomb niche, built into the wall on the North side of the Chancel (near the altar). This created a sort of stage, on which, as with the gardens of our own times, people could re-enact the divine drama of Easter. Jesus’ death  was recalled by a cross which was lovingly wrapped in a linen shroud and His  body  by a consecrated host  which was ‘buried’  in a wooden box representing the tomb. People came to kneel at the Sepulchre, like the disciples at the foot of the cross. All night on Easter Eve, a vigil was kept at the sepulchre and on Easter morning, to the sound of singing and bells, the cross and host were lifted up before the congregation and taken to the altar to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Such drama and re-enactment were banned at the Reformation and today we have a gentler way of remembering the passion of Our Lord. What has survived the centuries though is our willingness to enter into the sorrow and joy of Easter and to understand it in personal and human terms-as something that happened in time and in a place not so very different to our own.

I hope that, in visiting our gardens this year, you will be able to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us and stepping in imagination into the holy garden will find there the peace and blessing of our God.

Look out on our church website and for posters around the villages to find out more about the Easter Garden Pilgrimage 2022.

Rev Lesley Hardy


The Darkness behind us 


Splish splosh, February-fill-the-dike,

Sleet in the wind, mud underfoot.
What hint, you ask, of spring? But trust
the honest mistle-thrush, who shouts his song
And builds his nest – a less accomplished singer
Than is the clear-voiced mavis, but he is brave and true.

…And trust the aconite and crocus, Bright
As wicks of thread which now are lighted up
For ceremonials of Candlemas.                              
          (John Heath-Stubbs)


When candles are lighted on Candlemas Day
the dark is behind us, and spring’s on the way…
The candles invite us to praise and pray
when Christmas greets Easter on Candlemas Day      (Elizabeth J Cosnett)

As we enter the deepest part of winter, we already begin to look for the reawakening of the world around us and teased out by the gradual lengthening of the day. Christmas and Epiphany gave us a glimpse into the light of Christ emanating from the manger, or from a distant star, but always a light which the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

The way that climate change is affecting ours seasons it is often hard to predict when the snowdrops or crocuses will first appear, and should we be fortunate to receive an exceptionally warm and sunny February day, then we cling to and hope for the warmer months to come, and even more so when we think how heating costs will increase for us all in the near future, The natural world restores the harmonious rhythms that we yearn for, and at Candlemas, there is restorative gathering in church in recognising the incarnational God in the arms of an older man on the steps of a Temple from so long ago, and how he waited for this promise to be filled (Luke 2:22-38). 

Do we not also look with hope when holding a young child and peering into the future as to what promises are yet to be revealed?
That future is like the new candles that were brought into the church each year to be blessed – on their own they remain inert like the image of Adam when formed out of the Earth until life is breathed into him by God  (Genesis 2:7) but when life is lit what had potential now becomes actual, moving from the darkness of a Good Friday into the tremendous brilliance of Transfigured and Resurrection Light. There is much to hope for and God proved this in becoming Word made Flesh in the messiness, fragility and uncertainty of the human form. Are we prepared to live in that hope?



Anticipating Christmas 

Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat… in the shadow of death light had dawned                                                                                                             [Matthew 4:15,16]

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…     [Luke 2:14]

Before this year even draws to an end, I have heard so many people say how much they are looking forward to Christmas, and more so than before. It’s not hard to agree with this observation considering how we were in Lockdown last year. This yearning for Christmas reminds me of a TV advert where two children dressed up in Halloween outfits, and going about trick-or-treating, are confronted by a house already brightly lit with colourful Christmas lights!  However, before we even get to the big day of Jesus’ birth, we have the opportunity to prepare for it, and not just in the excitement of buying and wrapping of presents, decorating the house and tree and ensuring that the larder is full – yet, we might want to consider how the Advent season invites us to light a candle for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. Each lit candle speaks of divine hope when we find ourselves in despair; the promises that God fulfils through the people he sends to remind us that ‘he is with us’ (Immanuel); a guiding star to follow and to seek out its meaning; to remember the first Carol sung by the heavenly host over the downs and just imagine it occurring over the downs where we live! Christmas reminds us that should we be privileged to hold a new-born child then we are holding the image of Creation and ineffably we are also cradling the likeness of the vulnerable God – now that’s a powerful thought!  Our churches will be holding several services during Advent leading up to Christmas and all are most welcome to experience the love that keeps giving from a lowly cradle so long ago. I wish you much joy and may the blessing of this season fill you with hope and happiness.


Stefan (RevT)


Summer’s last gleaming


Sometimes with secure delight 

The upland hamlets will invite, 

When the merry bells ring round, 

And the jocund rebecks sound 

To many a youth, and many a maid, 

Dancing in the chequer'd shade; 

And young and old come forth to play 

On a sunshine holiday,                                        

                                                                 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.         Ecclesiastes 3:12-13


On Saturday the 4th August the ‘upland’ village of Kingston hosted a much-needed summer fete as we came out of the shadow of the pandemic. It was indeed quintessentially English and unashamedly joyful. Many came from across our benefice and beyond to sample and treasure the delights on offer, from barbeque and curry stalls to miniature train rides; from dog competition with fantastic awards such as the least-waggling-dog tail to beer & cheese tents; from tombola, bric-a-brac, ice-creams, afternoon teas and lemonade to an Anglo-Saxon treasure hunt in St Giles for children and adults alike. The donkeys (Freddy & Dusty) also had their own fan club and as they left the children followed them like the tale of the Pied Piper (but be reassured they did come back home). The fete was crowned by the hard work of mums like Sally Crump and Alice Wakefield to ensure that a new multi-purpose playground was built with much effort in raising money and applying for grants and opened by Mike Sole and Grace Hopthrow followed by a blessing of the play-area. There are so many to thank from organising, setting up and clearing away and I hope I have said as much personally. This last of the summer celebrations has raised close to £2000 for the upkeep of St Giles and much needed to ensure regular and pastoral services continue, having had two weddings there this year. The recent Ride & Stride 2021 weekend brought many out on their bikes or strolling between churches around East Kent with sponsor money going to the ‘Friends of Kent Churches’ and to our own. As with the fete there was a buzz of excitement in being out either alone, in families or large groups as I travelled around the churches of our benefice. Adisham village has also had a buzz with its own community events including the return of the Big Breakfast thanks to Sue Nyirenda and her team plus Open Heritage Day at Holy Innocents with thanks to Sarah Taylor and Robin Terry plus a children’s treasure hunt organised by Chloe Ewan. Perhaps the  ‘jocund rebecks’ mentioned by Milton may seem to be language from another time but to me it speaks of unbridled joy which we have experienced and all hallowed by the blessing of God’s Creation for us all – something to remind ourselves as the evenings draw in. I am most grateful.



Seasons unfettered


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.


The summer season is truly upon us where the great outdoors can be truly appreciated and where we are becoming less restrained as new freedoms are gained. It will for most still remain a cautious August and yet as July ended with the Year 6 Students from Barham and Adisham primary schools celebrating their camaraderie and academic achievements, I was reminded how much we need to hear their laughter and joy and to share in their future hopes. Our children are a blessing to us all and we have very much enjoyed them visiting our churches and to once more explore their geographical-historical-religious environments. They enjoyed discovering the flora and fauna of our churchyards, medieval graffiti on the stone work of the churches, to ring tower bells, and to imagine what a pilgrimage may actually be like wandering between the churches of our benefice as well as being fascinated by tombs and vaults. Their curiosity was a joy and a much-needed panacea for coming out of the Lockdown season. It made me appreciate how our church buildings remain a constant witness to the shifting seasons not only in terms of weather but also the shifting tides of human progress (or even regress). For our churches to weather what we have gone through and still to remain beacons of hope, we will need to support and treasure them more often so that future generations may ponder them anew.



Places and Things of Enchantment

This month I wanted to share some excellent news with you and also to reflect on an aspect of church life that we sometimes overlook. First the good news: we heard last week that we had been accepted for a grant that will fund from the ECLAS ‘Scientists in Congregations Programme’ ( a new project to explore the important relationship between secular and religious experience. The project is called Three Days in January: Encounters between Science and the Sacred in the investigation of Holy places and objects.

The three days in question were three days and nights spent by myself and colleagues from Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury Archaeological Trust and others in the very cold depths of winter in 2019-just before lockdown. We were there to investigate the extraordinary and fragile bones that had been discovered by builders in the church of St Mary and St Eanswythe in Folkestone in 1859, hidden away in a crumbling reliquary in the walls of the chancel. These bones were of a young woman and were immediately recognised as being the relics of Saint Eanswythe, an Anglo-Saxon Kentish royal princess and saint who died c. AD 660. People had long doubted the relics, though the church had always held that they were authentic. Now, with the permission of church and local community, we began the delicate process of removing the bones, laying them out and taking tiny samples so that, through the latest scientific testing at laboratories in Oxford and Belfast, we could understand whether these were indeed holy bones.

Some of you may have seen the news or even read in the papers about the discovery that indeed the bones laid before us on that night were those of a young woman whom we can now be overwhelmingly sure was Eanswythe. It was an amazing discovery and wonderful to know that in this quiet corner of East Kent an ancient saint had survived the destruction of the Reformation and Civil wars and was still, resting near the place she had lived and died nearly 1400 years ago.

The thing is that Eanswythe is not alone. In times past nearly every church would have had its relics and shrines dedicated to its own local saints and to others that were important to the whole church. Stories and histories of the saints were well known and sometimes had a local slant (as in the story of St Eanswythe’s Watercourse). The country was dotted with points of holiness, beautiful places and objects which reminded people of the love of God and directed their attention to Him. Many are gone but many survive and we can look for them.

Churches are still important places for the spirit, places that as some people say are ‘thin’ that is that they are places where as one writer commented ‘the distance between heaven and Earth collapses’. They are also places which remind us of humanity’s effort to understand , investigate and express itself and as such they objects and places which, as Abbot Suger wrote in the twelfth century, are of ‘true light’. In the new project then we want to explore places and objects in and around our churches that speak of this sense of the spiritual and the lovely and that have meaning for people whatever their faith or none. One important site within our benefice will be Kingston where the Revd Dr Bryan Faussett excavated the fabulous Kingston Brooch-an Anglo-Saxon treasure. There will of course be others. If you are interested in joining us or finding out more please contact me. In the meantime, may God bless all of your ways and lighten your mind to see all beauty. 


PS if you want to know more about Eanswythe visit the project website at . The Finding Eanswythe Book is available from me for £5 (all proceeds towards the conservation).


Change is a comin’

Desire without knowledge is not good,
and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way.
   (Proverbs 19:2)

Not many 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)



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

Rev Lesley 


Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.’
Matthew 27:61

‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you…’
Luke 24:5c-6a

‘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.



The Sap of Candlemas

…But when another morning came
with frost, as Candlemas with flame…

The sky was steel there was no sun,
the elder leaves were dead and gone…

But 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;
e 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

Wandering Light

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

For a 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


Alleluia, alleluia.
Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are ripe for harvesting.
Gather the fruit for eternal life.
                                                                                                               (Harvest liturgy)

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

Joyful Harvest

 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.
(Psalm 126:5-6)



THOUGHT FOR August 2020

Pastoral pleasures

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!



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.




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]


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.




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


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

You also shall light my candle;
The 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.’