Creating a small pond

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Lunch with a view – a wonderful addition to the garden!

I’ve been sitting on the patio for lunch in the lovely autumn sun this week, admiring our new pond and watching the creatures already living around it.

We’ve dreamt of having a wildlife pond for some years. However, in effectively twelve years of ministry training, it wasn’t a priority, and there was always the significant likelihood that we’d rent the house out and move on. However God had other ideas, and having discovered this year that we’re staying put for the foreseeable future, it seemed right that a few home improvements were in order. Ponds are so much more interesting than new bathrooms (though we’ve done that too)!

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16th July 2018

We only have a small garden, so it had to be a small pond. We also know the ground we’re on well enough that layers of builders rubble lie under our garden, and with a gravel-bed geology, digging even a small pond was going to be very hard work. So, I’m afraid we found someone younger and fitter than us for that bit. The lovely Matt (son of a friend and colleague in ministry locally) even provided a pre-formed liner he and his father had never used!

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18th July 2018

However, we wanted a pond that hedgehogs could live with, without drowning, that insects could drink at, that might encourage damselflies and dragonflies, and host interesting creatures. So it needed a shallow-end of gravel. So we sunk the preformed liner an additional 3 inches below ground level, under the edge of the house near the patio, and not directly under the trees. It was dug and filled with tap water on 16th July, and allowed to settle for a couple of days.

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Bumblebee drinking 18th July 2018

This was I guess the other part of our wedding anniversary present to ourselves – the first bit being a trail-cam to video the hedgehogs! So, on 18th July we were able to add plants, gravel and pebbles, and start to see what happened. On that very first day, we had a bumble-bee drinking on the gravel, and I was a kid at Christmas… the project was looking like it was going to be a success.

Over the next two months, various things have been added. Some plants came home from a holiday visit to RHS Rosemoor. The collection of rocks was added to with fossils we’d collected on visits to beaches, favourite hills, and other significant places in years passed. Tidying out the shed allowed us to use our son’s cast-off wood (he carves greenwood spoons) to create a small woodpile that was accidentally positioned under a drip from the guttering where it will rot nicely we hope. Effectively it’s a pond of memories as well as for the future.

PLANTS:

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Rat-tailed maggot – the lavae of some hoverfly

Yellow water iris Iris pseudacorus – put on the shelf of the pond one end; the wind kept blowing it over, so eventually it was weighted into place by having some ‘fairy-stones’ wired to it. Chosen for the lava of dragon- and damselflies to crawl up to hatch.

Water mint Mentha aquatica – very attractive to insects, and should give shade, nooks and crannies for the water creatures to hide in.
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria – initially put on the shelf the other end, but it regularly got blown over too, and was really too close to the Water Mint. Dad has a plant in his flowerbed that has flowered endlessly this year, so we moved ours out into the ground surrounding to the pond.
Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae – went in initially floating on the surface, as a native oxygenator, but very quickly looked like it would take over in our small pond, and became home to a lot of snail eggs (see below) so that went after about a month.
Water-lily (for which the label is still in the pond!) A small specimen recommended by the lovely lady at Maidenhead Aquatics for our size of pond. Initially on a shelf, and then moved down onto an old roof tile in the bottom – the tile is curvy so will also provide a home for water-creatures that need to hide.
Lampranthus brownii, Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’, Dianthus ‘Whetmans Stars Supernova’, Agastache ‘Kudos Silver Blue’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Braunherz’ were all planted around the pond to attract insects.

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Greater-pond skater or Back-swimmer 27th September 2018

PONDLIFE:
We also imported some pondweed from a neighbours small pond, complete with two Great Pond Snails, from whence the snail-eggs came we guess. As it transpires, the weed (which has since vanished interestingly) may have contained fish-eggs. Another friend donated us some nymphs from their much larger pond, a couple of Common Pond-skaters, a Great Water-boatman (otherwise known as Back-swimmers), and one small fish that crept into their net.

As I’ve sat by the pond for my lunch this week, I’ve watched not one, but eight small fish (and no more mosquito lavae)!!! Our friends swear blind they’ve not been surreptitiously filling our pond with creatures, so we’re assuming there were eggs in the weed from the neighbour who also reputedly has fish. They will have to take their chance as we’ve not added a pump, as it’s not advised if you want dragonfly lavae – they tend to get stuck in it!

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European Hornet drinking 27th September 2018

Water-boatmen apparently fly at night and are attracted to light, which is why we put four cheap solar-lights round the pond; this seems to have worked as we now have three water-boatman! A dragonfly did a circuit of the pond but didn’t stop, but a Hornet has been a regular visitor, joining the hoverflies that sit in the sun on the pebbles.

To say we’re thrilled that all this has been achieved in a little over two months is an understatement. The big test will be whether we get frogs and toads in the spring, who hatches, and what more wildlife we’ve had visit by this time next year. I will of course, log all the excitement here.

 

 

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Hog-news

With the end of the holidays we’re not being quite so regular in our setting of the trail-cam.

However, I’m pleased to report that the regular hedgehog (what we first thought were leaves stuck on it’s bottom may perhaps be scars but make good identifying marks) is apparently now using the hog-house that we cleaned out Bank Holiday weekend. Our first video of this was 4th September, but we had a second video last night 10th September, so we’re thinking the ‘hogfather’ may now be resident?

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Look closely – two hedgehogs again!

Last nights other exciting hog news was video of two hedgehogs, the ‘resident’ hogfather, and one other (on the left in the video). The first time this happened, the second hedgehog seemed much smaller than the other. On this occasion the second hedgehog seems of similar size?! Wondering if that means there are three hedgehogs using the garden?!

Planning additional protection for the hog-house from the elements – we need to prune a large bush out front, and think we’ll use some branches to cover it for the winter. However the question is, do we need another hog-house as well?

 

Songs of salvation #RIPAretha – Ephesians 5:10-20 and John 6:51-58

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
Comin’ for to carry me home
A band of angels comin’ after me
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

If you get there ‘fore I do
Comin’ for to carry me home
Tell all my friends, that I comin’ there too
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

The brightest day that ever I saw
Comin’ for to carry me home
When Jesus washed my sins away
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

I’m sometimes up an’ sometimes down
Comin’ for to carry me home
But still my soul feels heavenly bound
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

(Original words as noted in 1873 as sung by Wallace Willis)

“Be filled with the Spirit,…” writes St. Paul.

“As you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is something deeply appropriate about the fact that this morning, we have in our Epistle, the words of scripture that gave rise to the term ‘spiritual’ as a musical term. In fact Ephesians is thought to encapsulate within it, poetic language drawn at least in part from early Christian hymns and liturgies. In this case, the writer of Ephesians is pointing out that when we’re fighting evil, when we’re trying to shine light in the darkest places of life, when we know we’ve got an addictive personality and need to shut out the cravings, or when we’ve been taught that indeed you must make the most of every opportunity or you’re going to be deemed a failure (Eph 5:16), then actually what we really need is to rest in the presence of God, and music, will help us overcome those things and bring us to that place of healing and hope. Music, sung, played or even participated in from the comfort of your armchair, can lift our hearts to God, giving us a strength to carry on in the face of adversity, and helping us give thanks to Jesus for the good things he has given us.

Music has the power to deliver a powerful spiritual message. We know for example, that Moses and Miriam his sister led the Israelites in singing as the means of celebrating their freedom immediately after they’d walked through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Purposefully and rightfully they give the credit to God:
“Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy.”
(Exodus 15:6)

When the slaves of the British colonies of the 17th century first received and accepted the Christian faith, seeing the links between their own plight and that of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, it was with simple songs that they too shared those scriptures, and their yearning for freedom, giving birth to what we know as “the spiritual”. There are theories as to other uses for these spiritual songs in that some people think they contained hidden references to the means of escape via the ‘underground railroad’, crossing over their ‘Jordon’ from the wilderness of slavery via the network of safe houses to the free-states and Canada; but nothing is proven. However, the very fact that those theories exist, gives us an idea of the spiritual strength gained from making sense of their own reality through singing of the difficulties which others had suffered.

That is why I would describe music is being ‘alive’, because through the experiences, words and phrases of others, it helps us to make sense of our own reality. But, it also has a life of its own which means that its use can change over time only keeping a tenuous grasp on its original meaning or context. For example, some of us will associate the song ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ with the England Rugby Union Side, but it first gained that association via a group of boys from the Benedictine school at Douai Abbey. They sang it in 1988 each time Chris Oti scored, overcoming a two-year England try-drought with a hat-trick against Ireland. In the context of rugby, the song’s use has changed dramatically; the Christian message has been lost; only the idea of overcoming difficulty and hardship to gain victory has remained. Without the message of hope being contained within the context of the salvation that sees God intervening in the lives of his people, the song has perhaps lost some of its power.

Salvation, being saved from a situation of hopelessness, sometimes of our own making, makes no sense without the flesh and blood Son of God having lived and died for us. The Jews would have found the idea abhorrent because of their strict laws about blood, but they would profit from the shedding of his blood because it was the means by which the prophecy of the Messiah bringing hope to the whole world was to be fulfilled. Like yeast being the raising agent that brings bread to life, we gain life by taking Jesus into our very souls and bodies. We can do that in the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning because the words that at the time fell on the stony ground of many hardened hearts, were treasured by those who held them safe in their memory and then understood them in the light of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ words about his own flesh and blood did not come to life until they could be sung as the song of eternal salvation.

I’m going to finish this morning with another spiritual song, this time one adopted and adapted into the genre ‘spiritual’ from a very different back ground. This was written in 1855 by a gentleman in Canada called Jospeh Scriven, as a poem to his mother in Ireland, when news reached him that she was critically ill. Published anonymously, and only attributed to its writer after it had been made popular when someone set it to music, the spiritual ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ was also about overcoming adversity, the adversity of illness in this case, by finding refuge in Jesus through prayer and in the promise of eternal rest with Christ. With the help of a darn good tune, the words also hold the spiritual truth that in and of itself is a memorable prayer about the hope we hold in salvation.

It seemed appropriate today to use a recording of a spiritual song sung by Aretha Franklin. If you’ve read or heard anything of Aretha’s life in the few days since her death, you may know that she was well acquainted with abuse, addiction and illness. However, despite these she appears to have continued to retain her faith in God, in the salvation that Jesus brought, and most definitely in the power that “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” have in bringing our faith alive. As she enters her eternal rest, let us pray that we can continue to sing “thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a friend we have in Jesus.

 

I’ve never before sung the opening to opening to a sermon as I did this Sunday, but in the context of the Epistle from Ephesians, and following the very recent death of Aretha Franklin, it seemed appropriate. Despite the less-than-perfect rendition of ‘Swing Low’ feedback was also unexpectedly positive, I think because people were moved to join in, for a variety of reasons. The unexpected testimony for whom ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ is a special song, was a great encouragement…. sometimes music enables God to reach us in the way other people and prayers and can’t. 

If you can bear it, there’s an audio of the whole sermon (with the readings first) here.

 

 

 

 

Diary of a Hogfather?

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First contact: 7th May 2018 11am

Back on a fairly toasty morning in early May I was gardening and heard a rustling sound. Since no bird flew away, I explored the source of the sound, and discovered a little mound of prickles under some ornamental Cuckoo Pint. We had…. our very own Hedgehog in the garden! Cue> much excitement.

Being a hot day this was a great excuse to down tools, as I didn’t want to disturb it so much that it got dehydrated. Gardening was carefully resumed late afternoon, and then late evening we stood watch. About 9.45pm we were not disappointed, and even managed a decent snap in the gloaming.

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First recorded evening visit: 7th May 2018 9:54pm

We had known there were hedgehogs in the area, and when the fence had been replaced a couple of years before had left a small unobtrusive gap between the front and the back, but had no idea that a hog was making use of it. Now, we hastily took further steps: by next evening we were the proud possessors of a hog-house and later in the week some hedgehog food!

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Hedgehog-house installed with fresh hay: 8th May 2018

There ensued many weeks which were acts of faith, that ‘Mrs Tiggywinkle’ was resident. We put out food, and it vanished. We guessed the local cats may have taken an interest in the food, but couldn’t be sure who was eating. There was also no way of telling if anyone was using the hog-house. There were other things going on in the garden, not least a small pond was dug in July (another story), but we made sure there was a shallow end so that our assumed resident could get out. We even arranged for a lovely local friend who had recently had Hedgehogs in her front garden to feed it whilst we were away on holiday!

On our return, there were found to be spider webs across the door of the hog-house. Daytime inspection confirmed that no-one was resident, and we feared the worst, but the hog-food was still disappearing. But, we had bought ourselves a wedding anniversary present of a trail-cam, so we pressed it into action.

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7th August 2018: trail-cam proof that we still have a Hedgehog!

The first night proved there were indeed cats in the garden. However, the following night brought great joy: we still had a hedgehog, and s/he was exploring the edge of the pond, and appearing to go to drink among other things! The first decent video is here!!

It looked like s/he was quite chunky from the stills we had and on it’s own, so by this stage we’re thinking it’s a male hedgehog and had re-‘named’ it The Hogfather! But another surprise was awaiting us.

We were intermittently at home, so not setting the trail-cam every night, but on 15th August, we were surprised to find not one, but two Hedgehogs!! One (with what we think is a bayleaf on it’s back – we’d moved the large potted bay-tree so we could see the pond and it had shed leaves!)

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Big hedgehog, smaller hedgehog! 15th August 2018

So, it appears there are two Hedgehogs frequenting the garden, though this video evidence currently suggests they are not necessarily that keen on each other! We plan plan to clean and put new hay in the hog-house this weekend, and will share more Hedgehog news when we have it.

Any wisdom from Hedgehog specialists would be greatly appreciated via the comments facility.

 

 

 

 

 

“Gluten-free” Jesus – John 6:35,41-51 and Ephesians 4:25-5:2

To see the broad smile our resident celiac’s face, when she received the same communion bread as everyone else this morning, made preaching a slightly ‘alternative’ sermon worth while. The gluten-free pitta bread was also popular with several others, and some suggested it should be a regular thing.

At the start of service I got the children up and talked about the selection of bread I’d got laid out on a tray:

Many of us are used to the way that Jesus describes himself in this morning’s Gospel – the “bread of life”.

It’s a lovely image isn’t it; Jesus being one of the most simple and ubiquitous sources of nourishment and therefore health and well-being that the world has. Bread. We could live on bread and water if there was nothing else. Might help to have a few vegetables to keep us in perfect working order, but we would survive.

When Jesus shared a meal with 5000+ hungry folk, he used 5 loaves of bread (as well as 2 fish). That’s all. 5000 people, 5 loaves, oh, and God’s power at work through him. The people’s physical hunger was fed, so they were able to stay near Jesus, and have their spiritual hunger nourished. It was the miracle that sparked off this conversation Jesus was having about bread – with that many witnesses, word had got around as to what he had done; Jesus knew that.

The Jews knew their history, and they knew that someone else had provided miraculous bread for their ancestors in the past. When wandering in a desert for 40 years, the Israelites had called that miraculous bread, manna. In that case, through Moses, God told the people what to do with it, and gave them just the right amount to feed them each day (in that case with quail not fish). It gave them the energy they needed to continue their physical journey, whilst they learnt the patience and obedience required for them to enter the Promised Land.

In the bit of the Bible we heard this morning, Jesus is talking about himself being a bread that helps us on our journey’s, that helps us be patient and do as he tells us, that nourishes us spiritually by being a point of contact between ourselves and God. Jesus is the sort of bread that ‘teaches’ (v45), encourages, and builds us up so that we can be more like the people God really wants us to be (Eph 4:29).

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This was my tray of breads, after one of the children had eaten one communion wafer and most of a slice of gluten free bread!

I then asked the children to come and look at the bread again, and why they though I might have laid out two different versions of each sort of bread, and got round to one lot being ‘gluten free’. Then we talked about gluten making some people ill, but that without it, bread has a habit of falling apart, so to cook it, people often use something called Xanthem Gum. I also let the children eat some of the bread if they wanted it.

If I gave ordinary bread to people who I know are made ill by the gluten found in wheat and barley grains, would that be a good thing? No! It would be unkind, hurtful and upsetting for them. It could make them very ill indeed. Equally, it would also be wrong if I didn’t give them anything at all. In both cases, it excludes them from sharing in a meal we could otherwise share together. Often, if we know someone who can’t eat gluten we give them their own special bread, or they may bring their own. However, the ideal would be to all share the same sort of bread, the gluten free sort, so that everyone receives the same, that way everyone feels included in the meal.

Jesus was “Gluten-free”. There was nothing in him, or that he did, that exuded them, turned them away, or made them ill. When people came to him, they all received the same love, the same understanding, of what was deep inside them. Whatever the people who approached him were like, sad, angry, hurt, obstructive, ill, confused, hopeless, they received the same love from Jesus, even if it was served in different ways…. the angry and obstructive would be challenged to change so that they could live more like God wanted them to, the ill and the confused would be comforted and healed. We might describe the love of God that he shared as being the Xanthan Gum that held our Gluten-free Jesus together.

We are used to hearing the church described as the body of Christ (a phrase that comes out of various teachings of St. Paul in 1 Cor 12), and by coming to share in hearing the bible, in prayer and worship, and in the wine and bread, we are doing just that, we are trying to be the body of Jesus in the world today. Being the body of Christ or all members of one body (Eph 4:25) as this mornings passage in Ephesians puts it, is also about how we live our lives, how we relate to other people, whether we’re being a good example of who Jesus was and what he came to do.

In our Gospel, Jesus is challenging those who are deliberately picking holes in what he is saying, and not looking at and listening to who he is saying he is and what he is doing to prove it. The Jews were past masters at arguing with each other, sharing what they thought, rather than listening to what others might be telling or showing them of what God was doing. That’s what had landed the Israelites in wilderness needing manna from heaven, and little had changed.

By the time St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians the problem had transferred into the Christian community. We can all think of situations where those difficulties are visible in our own families, friendships, and even dare I say it here in our church community. Why? Because being fond of our own views, getting angry, bitter or resentful when others offer alternative views or ways of approaching things, are the bits of being human that are not part of the way God made us. Local or familial disagreements are small, but they are not that far removed to many of the situations that we are so often eager to decry around the world today.

If we’ve got things in us that are simply unpalatable to others, make them physically, mentally or spiritually ill, and if we aren’t looking and listening to what God is doing, then we’re not showing people grace (Eph 4:29), or living in love (Eph 5:1). Therefore we’re not showing ourselves to be God’s beloved children. If there are things about the way that we behave that mean people can’t ‘stomach us’, we’re not holding together as good bread should, and we need more of the Xanthan Gum of grace and love.

This morning I’ve set aside enough gluten free pitta-bread on the altar for us to all share in one bread; gluten-free Jesus-bread. When we share in bread and wine, it is meant to be a unifying symbol that binds us together, because we are all sharing in the body of Christ, to enable us to be the body of Christ. As we take and eat it, safe in the knowledge that there’s nothing in it that can make us ill, we will also be reminded of the fact that it’s held together because it contains Xanthan Gum, and that we too need to act in all our relationships with the gum of grace and love that binds us together as the body of Christ, to him who is the bread of life.

 

 

 

 

Nuthatch – a very close encounter

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I don’t think St. Frances had quite this much trouble! (Photo credit to my husband.)

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down for a spot of therapy in a busy Sunday. I needed to paint a stone for the Charles Kingsley School art installation commemorating 165 years since they were founded. It’s got a Brimstone butterfly on it, but that’s not the point of this post.

I became distracted when a bird flew in through the open french window. We hastily shut the internal doors and opened all the appropriate windows, hoping it would fly out, but no, it simply battered itself against the windows we couldn’t open and then perched panting on a picture frame.

I fully expected it to be one of the resident baby Blue Tits that clamour in the apple tree for their parents’ attention, but no, it was of all things, a Nuthatch, something we rarely see in the garden let alone in the house!

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Can you see the little ‘pillows’ of pale feathers on the underside of the Nuthatches tail? (Please ignore the cobwebs… I prefer wildlife encounters and ministry to housework!…. Photo credit to the husband again.)

My husband needless to say grabbed the camera, whilst I acted as bird-wrangler in chief.  In the end, after further capers round our dining room, I briefly caught it and steered it out the window, after which it sat panting on the pergola, recovering its equilibrium before flying off. Sadly it lost four feathers in the process but otherwise it seemed none the worse for its adventure.

Needless to say we now have some excellent photos of a Nuthatch that we wouldn’t otherwise have! In the process I noticed something that you don’t normally see when they’re pressed against a tree trunk… they have the most beautiful little pillowly clouds of pale feathers underneath.

Always grateful for these up close encounters with wild animals, even if they’re sometimes a little nerve-racking. Here’s to the next.

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I got the camera eventually, after all the excitement was over! This is the Nuthatch recovering on our pergola, and you can just make out the ‘pillows’ underneath the tail. I wonder if they have a purpose?

Peregrines at Winchester Cathedral

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Male Peregrine, Winchester Cathedral, 16th April 2018

I’ve been keeping a secret, and finally I can share it.

Back on 21st March, I had finished a meeting at Winchester Cathedral, and got in the car, when I heard an incredibly distinctive noise that had me behaving like a terrier on ‘point’. It was not a sound I’d expected to hear at the Cathedral, but it had me out car and over to the iron railings with the binoculars that live under the car seat, faster than you can “Church of England”!

There, sat on the roof of the north aisle, flying to the west and end and back, were two individuals of a species I’d only ever seen briefly and at great distance on Cornish cliffs, or in organised, camera assisted watches at Salisbury and Chichester Cathedrals. Peregrines. I only had my phone, pictures on which showed but specs on the roof, but the video of the distinctive calls were good enough to send to Keith Betton of Hampshire Ornothological Society (HOS), to check that I wasn’t going mad. Returning to my car, a passing bishop seemed rather bemused to see me peering at the architecture with binoculars, but thankfully didn’t query the behaviour of one of his junior clergy!

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Male Peregrine, Winchester Cathedral, 15th May 2018

Keith assured me I wasn’t bonkers, that a nesting tray had been freshly inserted into the (cathedral sized) gutter that had flooded in these birds 2017 attempt at nesting, and that fingers were crossed (and perhaps prayers being said). These were birds that HOS had been aware of for years, and which had been ousted from their previous site by the demolition of the old Hampshire Police HQ in winter 2016-17. The news that they were nesting on purpose built, hopefully flood proof, accommodation at the Cathedral this year, was however to be kept quiet at this stage, at the request of the Cathedral staff. So I stayed ‘stum’.

My camera has accompanied my two excursions to the cathedral since, nestled among my robes when arriving to volunteer as a Cathedral Chaplain. I’ve taken what photos I could: the male showing well on the first trip, male and female visible most recently. Quiet conversations with the birds guardians (the virgers) were had. I also reported in to Keith when I saw them.

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Female Peregrine, Winchester Cathedral, 15th May 2018

Last week Keith did me the courtesy of letting me know there were three chicks that needed ringing, and this was achieved on Monday 21st May. At that point the Cathedral staff also agreed the news could be made public, so you may have seen it on their Facebook feed, or on the local TV morning news on Tuesday 22nd May. I hope this success story might encourage Winchester Cathedral to work further towards become an Eco-cathedral as the diocese works on become and Eco-diocese.

To be able to photograph Peregrines on ‘my’ cathedral, in the city my father grew up in, and in which my grandmother lived all her life, was thrilling. Then I was offered the chance to be among a small group who could watch the chicks on a different nest in south Hampshire being ringed 22nd May, and the diary was flexed to make it possible. So this week I watched four chicks of these Schedule 1 species, having their ID fitted under license, so that they can be identified, and their future distribution and success tracked.

The population growth since the first Hampshire pair in the 1970s, is one of the success stories of conservation post WWII (when they were shot so as not to stop the passage of vital carrier pigeon messages to the resistance in continental Europe) and post-DDT. I’ve now witnessed two of the nineteen successful Peregrine sites in Hampshire this year!

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Three of the four Peregrine chicks I witnessed being ringed in south Hampshire, 22nd May 2018.

 

Exam subject: LOVE  Pass/Fail? John 15.9-17 and Acts 10.44-end

 

20180506_112148cBack at St. Barnabas this week, with the sun streaming in through the window, and God’s presence very much present, quietly at work among those who need to feel his touch. One or two commented afterwards they wanted to ‘listen again’ so the link is here. For those who prefer to read things back, here’s the text of my sermon:

It’s May now, and there’s a sense in which we may be feeling that we’ve left Easter far behind us. The world has moved on from chocolate eggs and fluffy chicks. Many children and young people have entered the season of revision and exams, or in our case, the delights of dissertation writing, due consideration of future employment and the need for a place to live. We might encourage, suggest and hopefully even have modelled how to do these things well, and we can tell them how they might approach what they’re facing, but each has to understand and apply for themselves the skills and knowledge they’ve been taught by us or others. Whether we are parents, friends, teachers, or even if we feel like by-standers, the only examination we have to pass is whether we are willing to continue to love them, unconditionally, whatever fruit their efforts produce in the way of results, careers and jobs.

Yet, as Christians, the context of that unconditional love is very much still set within the Easter Season, especially as we prepare to remember Jesus’ Ascension to his Father, and the work his disciples were commissioned for through the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When Jesus was using the allegory of the vine, with himself as the rootstock of God’s love, he very clearly had his own journey to Jerusalem and the Cross in mind. He too had taught his followers by word and example all he could about the love of God for all people, and that was propelling him toward the Cross so that he, not they, took most difficult examination of them all.

That is why there is a real sense of urgency in our Gospel this morning: just like any parent or teacher who finds themselves repeating the same instructions and encouragements time (and time, and time), again. Jesus didn’t have much more time left before that final exam in which to get the message across: “Love one another”; as God has loved you in my existence, for goodness sake go out and “love one another”; to find the real joy that is the fruit of what I am about to do, he says, take down all the barriers that exist between yourselves, your Father God, and each other, and “love one another”. That, is why he calls them friends.

Peter, bless him, is only just putting the message into practice when we reach the point of our Epistle this morning. Peter has been called to the home of Cornelius, by a vision that tore down the barriers that had been created between the so-called ‘clean and the unclean’, Jew and Gentile, one group of humans and another. There he proclaims the revelation of God’s story, God’s love, revealed in Jesus in the preceding weeks; Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and all. Before this reading, Peter’s account of all that has apparently been brief, and notably Cornelius has not even had the chance to respond with words of faith and belief in the forgiveness Jesus offers, before the Holy Spirit steps in again, enabling him to praise God for what he has done in Jesus. That outpouring of the Spirit was as much for Peter’s benefit as for Cornelius and his family, confirming for Peter that these uncircumcised people were regarded by God as fit vessels for his love, his presence and his voice.

Looked at together these two readings emphasise the unconditional love that Peter, and we as his fellow disciples, are called to put into action as a response to God’s love in Jesus, dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit. They also underline that to make that love visible, to enable the joy of that love to infect the whole world, the barriers that exist between those who serve and those who lead, and between one social or faith grouping and another, must come down. Nothing must stand in the way of the waters of baptism being poured out.

We might like to think that the concept of servants and masters is dead and buried in the western world, and yet we have probably heard whispers of the woes of those trafficked into servitude and then illegally hidden, or abandoned to the iniquities of our immigration system. Elections too, however local, also highlight the muddy waters of who serves who in a democracy: we who elect people to serve our local interests have a habit of receiving commands or consequences from higher up the food-chain of politics that are not apparently motivated by the love and equality that might have been the ideals with which politicians were voted into their positions.

We’re probably not so blinkered as to think that there are no barriers between the social and faith groupings of both our country and the world, even within a single faith or between its denominations or sects. Yet, does the love we have for others make us hungry enough to be open to seeing and acting upon a vision of a different world, where at the very least the testimony of God’s love can be seen and heard, so that his Holy Spirit can be given space to work? In the light of today’s readings, we might like to consider whether we might be culturally or theologically prone to excluding others from the love of God, the waters of baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the call to shared ministry in Jesus’ name.

Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church in London spoke at a conference of Anglican clergy in Oxford Diocese – I wasn’t there but friends were, and YouTube has its uses! Among the important truths he shared about Christians in the Middle East was the fact that they present a reconciling picture. Talking of the fear that Christianity will disappear in some places (but not in his view completely from the region), he said that “in places where Christians do disappear there will be greater disruption and conflict because the Christians are a buffer, and reconcilers, and they present a loving example” of how to live at peace with their neighbours. That is a huge challenge to those of us who live in safer political climates. If we turn what he said into a question, how much do we live as a buffer to disruption and conflict, as reconcilers and at peace with our neighbours?

What lies at the heart of Jesus’ command to abide, dwell, and be rooted in his love, is the desire that we unconditionally love one another. The complete joy of which we are invited to partake, comes from sharing in God’s mission of love. Jesus kept his Father’s commandment to love all the way through his self-sacrifice on the Cross to the Resurrection. If the forgiveness and pruning of our sinful desires that we experience because of his actions means anything to us at all (as we probably considered last week with the first part of this image of the vine), we also have to accept that the Cross and Resurrection are proof of God’s love for all of humanity. Indeed we cannot experience the fullness of our own humanity and God’s authority in our lives, unless we do so in relationship with others, all others, not just people who we might deem as being ‘like us’.

There is in effect an examination that as Christians we all have to pass, and it is an examination of the quality of our love. Each of us has to understand and apply for ourselves the skills and knowledge we’ve been taught by our Father God, and his Son our teacher Jesus, and provide living examples of our willingness to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in applying it in the most difficult, and/or unexpected of circumstances. Words are not enough, for “the sound of our faith has more power if it is heard through works of righteousness” (Maximus the Confessor, quoted by Archbishop Angaelos) and those works must be works of love.

 

 

 

 

 

Whose voice are we listening to? John 10:11-18

My sermon this week, reflects the nature of our calling as Christians to listen to Jesus, and those who live, love and speak truth in his name, even, perhaps especially, when it’s counter to what is peddled by political leaders and news-mongers. 

This afternoon at the St. George’s Day Parade service, I’m going to (and did) briefly touch on the fact that St. George – the real one, no dragons here – had a Greek father, and a mother who was a Christian from the large Roman province of Syria Palestine. He lived out his soldiering career as a Christian, possibly protecting and releasing those who were falsely imprisoned, neither of which would have made him popular. He was martyred for his unwillingness to denounce his Christian faith. The thought-provoking irony of having a Christian Syrian Palestinian soldier as our Patron Saint should not be lost on us in the next few days.

There is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo, called Ghassan Ward.

“[His] bishop was kidnapped in April 2013, [his] church was destroyed, and [his] house was bombed. [His] two sons left the country, [his] wife died of cancer and [he] lost two… close family members because of the bombings.” But despite all this, Ghassan chose to stay in Syria, and care for his hurting community. “Many of my parish were rich before, now they are poor. They have no work, no income and all the savings are spent during the years of war,” he says. “The role of the church is not only having the services – we welcome the people and we try to help solve their problems. God gave us the love. It’s not easy to do this… The needs of the people are very big; we’re trying to meet their needs… We also help non-Christians. They are our neighbours, we live with them, and we cannot neglect a person who is hungry. When we give them a loaf of bread, the love of Christ is written on it.”

This story was told this week by the Open Doors charity, that serves and supports persecuted Christians. I have had it verified directly via one of the clergy and peers travelling in Syria this week, as typical of the work churches in the region are undertaking.

So what have these two people, St. George and a contemporary Syrian clergyman, got to do with this morning’s very famous, and deceptively simple parable?

Jesus is making some important points about who he is, but also about us. They are based round a claim that he fulfills the Old Testament prophesy of Ezekiel 34, where the Lord says he will rescue sheep “from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness” (Ezek 34:12) and that he will “place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.”

Why it is that Jesus is in the position to be both the Lord God and King David, and thus the Good Shepherd of all God’s sheep, is one of those things that this parable seeks to explain, and leads up to at the end of John 10. There Jesus declares “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Everything Jesus says and does, is based on, and returns to, his relationship with his Father; that is the means by which he has the willingness, love and authority to both lay down his life, and take it up again.

Jesus is also reminding his listeners, Jews like himself, children of God’s covenant with Moses, that God has always been interested in bringing more than just them into a relationship with him. This is being fulfilled in him, because it is through his death and resurrection that God reaches beyond the old covenant to the rest of the sheep in the world, a world that 3-4 centuries later would boast a Christian martyred soldier of Greek and Syrian heritage, and today includes a beleaguered Syrian priest with nothing left but his faith, funding from Open Doors, a team of like-minded survivors, and his desire to love all those in his community. Jesus came to create one single universal flock of people who know and love God, and have the freedom to do so.

The bond between the sheep and the shepherd, as well as the Father and the Son, is one of trust and love. When he styles himself as the “Good” Shepherd, there’s a lot more depth to the meaning than the bland little English word “good” suggests. It is more emphasising that the trust and love that Jesus offers people is attractive – it is what motivates people like Ghassan to be risking their lives in places like Aleppo. We, and more importantly those who’ve not encountered Jesus before, should see something beautiful, inspiring and ultimately counter-cultural in who he is revealed to be, and through what he calls us to do. When Jesus says, ‘My own know me… [and] listen to my voice’ (John 10:14 and 16), he is demanding our willingness to trust and love him, as he did his Father, and at the very least, to be willing to be obedient to the example that he sets us, through the inspiration of his voice, in this parable as among many others he told.

This was completely revolutionary and counter cultural to Jesus’ world, filled as it was with hatred and suspicion, violence and counter-violence… a world that perhaps sounds all too similar to our own?! In the context of his conversation with and in front of the Pharisees, Jesus is saying, stop listening only to your traditions, your senior religious figures, whether what they are saying sounds good or not. Instead, Jesus is saying, start listening direct to God, to a vision of a world that is different, where people share what they have with their neighbour without worrying about where they fit in any particular religious or political picture or ideal.

Do we want to be ‘good’? Do we want to be beautiful? Do we want to be shepherds, shepherds who welcome all-comers to the fold? Do we want to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of truth, the voice of love?

There are two levels, two areas of the world stage, on which we are invited today to respond to those questions; there’s the macro level, and rather closer to home, the micro.

On the macro-level, where is the beautiful love of Jesus for all God’s people, most visible? One place it would seem, is Aleppo where Ghassan Ward works bravely and painstakingly with other churches of many denominations to feed Jesus’ sheep. That, I hope you agree, is beautiful. The same could be said for the work of the Open Doors organization which supports him, supports vulnerable Christians in Egypt, India, Iran, and nearly 50 other countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian. If that work and those places are where the love of God for his people, and the love of his people for Jesus is most visible, perhaps theirs are the voices we need to take most care to listen to.

Still on a macro-level, perhaps we need to start questioning more carefully what we’re told by our political and dare I say it, our religious leaders, and certainly by today’s mainstream press. Where are we reading the counter-cultural voices, the stories of love, the hidden truths – even if they’re unpalatable or unpopular and don’t fit the current zeitgeist? Jesus says false shepherds flee the sheep in their care, and so we see those with authority playing fast and loose with the security and welfare of our neighbours, because their paperwork isn’t complete or they can’t contribute financially to society because of their disabilities. Sometimes even not knowing who to believe about the reality of whether a chemical attack happened or not, is better than believing the stories of either side without question. What would Jesus have us listen to and believe?

Which brings things rather closer to home, closer to the micro-level of our own parish and benefice, perhaps pertinently on this the day of our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, with St. Barnabas’s to follow on Wednesday. I’m sure you will want to listen later to Rev’d Lerys, as our Priest-in-Charge, but collectively we need to listen to how Jesus wants us to care for his flock, to look at the neighbouring ‘folds’ or parishes, to see where they need help to do the same, or where they might be able to help us.

And what about the other sheep, those that walk past the church in the sunshine, ride down the lane into the forest, stand at the school gate, sit at home and knit, sew or garden, and use the village shop and pubs? They need to know that Jesus is attractive, beautiful and good too, and that can only be done through what we say, and do.

Jesus had a two-fold vocation: to save the sheep currently in his care, and to enlarge the flock considerably by bringing in a whole lot of very different sheep (John10:16). That vocation is ours, because we already know Jesus. Our responsibility now, is to listen to his voice, so that we know where and how to seek the other sheep that he wants brought into his fold.

 

 

 

 

Christ is risen; share the news – Mark 16:1-8

HAPPY EASTER! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This morning was a great chance to consider the Resurrection through the eyes of St. Mark with the children of our congregation taking part. So the following is something like what I said… with some of the props!

Who has already had some Easter Egg this morning?! Anyone willing to ‘fess up?!

So, I’ve 3 eggs, decorated or foil wrapped eggs, 3 Easter Eggs here for us to explore… and I’m sorry if those further away can’t see the action here, but eggs is eggs and don’t come (much) bigger! You are welcome to come closer if you wish.

We’ve got 3 eggs, all looking very pretty here, and we’re going to see if we can crack them into a glass bowl.

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Putting the Russian icon egg covers on the eggs on Holy Saturday.


Egg 1:
Russian icon egg, pretty, Jesus on it, HARD BOILED.

Egg 2: Foil wrapped, chocolate coated, (crack it…. dribble….) RAW.

Egg 3: Creme egg wrapped, wooden egg, open it…. nothing.

How do those eggs make you feel? Confused, disappointed, shocked… (hungry?!)
What day is it today? Easter Day!
What do you think should be in those eggs? Chocolate!
What’s the date today? April 1st, April Fool’s Day…. Check my watch; still before noon.
Do you think all this is just a joke?

Yes?
No?!
Good.
Why not? …..     Hopefully get an answer that involves the empty tomb.

Why don’t the children sit down here at the front (or with parents) for a few minutes…

There are four different accounts of the Easter story, Matthew’s, Luke’s, John’s and the one we heard this morning is…? Mark’s.

In Mark’s Gospel, that we heard just now, what surprises us?   No-one meets Jesus… there’s only one angel… there’s three women… the story is quite short… it ends without the women having done what the angel asked of them.

Mark’s story focuses on the confusion, shock and disappointment that three women experience at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.

The Friday night that Jesus died, two ladies called Mary, friends of Jesus, had watched as a man called Joseph of Arimathea, who secretly wondered if Jesus heralded a new part of God’s relationship with the Jews, had buried Jesus in a stone tomb. He’d rolled a big stone over the opening to stop people stealing the body.

36 hours later, and they’ve brought their friend Salome to help them anoint Jesus’ body with precious oils. They’re expecting to encounter the problem of moving the huge stone from the tomb entrance, but instead they’re confused by the fact it’s been rolled away.

Were the eggs that I brought with me this morning anything like you might have expected? No!
Were they confusing? Yes.

We all know that when we discover that things aren’t quite what we’re expecting, we become uncomfortable. We cast about for something that’s what we think of as normal, or expected. If we don’t find what we’re looking for, we’re suddenly hyper-sensitive to what’s different, or new. This is a good thing – it makes us curious. It’s how we gain new experiences and is how we learn.

So, the women are shocked and uncomfortable, but they are also curious, so they go inside the tomb. What are they looking for inside the tomb? Jesus’ body.

What do they find? Angel… man dressed in white.
Where’s Jesus? Risen… (going to meet the disciples in Galilee).

The Angel says “Jesus isn’t here. He’s been raised from the dead. The women are to go and tell his other disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.”

That’s the important bit… like the nice yellow, yolk in hard-boiled egg. It’s the important bit at the centre of the story. This isn’t a completely empty place, like my little wooden egg. Yes, they’re horribly disappointed, confused and shocked, but they’ve just been given a really important piece of information; they’ve learnt something so knew it’s never happened before in the history of the world. Someone has died, their friend Jesus has died, and risen to life again… resurrection!

So, what’s that important news again? Jesus is risen.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

What’s the other bit of news the angel gave them?… Get the adults to help… they were to go and tell the other disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

It’s easy to get distracted isn’t it? We get all excited about one particular bit of a new discovery, and something else about it gets forgotten until later. That’s like the chocolate covered egg I brought, isn’t it. We got all excited and distracted by the chocolate coating, that what might have been important about it, that message in the middle, all dribbled out and felt disappointing when we tried to crack it!

In a similar way, it’s very easy to remember the very exciting bit of Easter, that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead, and then get distracted by the chocolate so we forget the other bit about the angel’s Easter message. What were the women meant to do? Go and tell other people about Jesus being risen, and where they can meet him.

The women in Mark’s Gospel do run off, amazed, but also afraid. They’ve found everything that’s happened in the last few minutes, confusing, shocking and disappointing. They are just so overwhelmed by everything, that they are actually silent, they don’t tell anyone anything!

Is that what was meant to happen? No!

Did they never tell anyone anything about what they’d seen and heard? Hmmmmm….. Yes? Well, the resurrection story in Mark’s Gospel certainly stops there!

If yes…. So how do we know? How come it’s written down in Mark’s Gospel if they don’t tell anyone?

Here’s something that might surprise you: in the very earliest manuscripts (papers) that have been found of Mark’s Gospel, his whole Gospel stops there. Some people think that was all he wrote. Some people think that the last bit of his resurrection story, got lost… like the contents of that uncooked egg. Other people have actually tried to tell another last bit of the resurrection story for Mark, because they’ve added to the end of his Gospel.

The way that Mark’s Easter story ends, as we hear it this morning, is with the women running off and saying nothing to anyone. That’s really important because it makes us think. It makes us think about what’s important at the heart of the Jesus’ resurrection, and what we’re meant to do with that news. What are we meant to do with the news of Jesus’ resurrection? Share it!

The women must have shared the news eventually, because if they hadn’t, their story couldn’t have been told to Mark and written into his Gospel. We know the disciples did meet the risen Jesus, in Jerusalem and Galilee, because we are told that through the other Gospels. So this Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded that we need to share that news. We need to tell people who don’t know, and remind people who do know, but have perhaps forgotten that’s important. And we need to tell them where they can meet Jesus; here in church, perhaps when we pray, even when we’re confused, scared and disappointed.

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Our Easter Garden, set into the altar.

So, from my three eggs, have we got anything to share? Not a lot!
The wooden egg isn’t edible by anyone.
The chocolate was wrapped around a raw egg, and that’s now all a bit messy and yukky, so we can’t share that either.
The pretty hard-boiled egg is edible…. but it’s not going to go very far is it.

Have you all seen the beautiful Easter Garden at the front? Take the children to the altar…

There are the crosses on the hill, where Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.
Can you see the tomb?
Did you notice that at the very beginning of the service after we lit the candles and I put the big Easter candle in it’s stand, I went and rolled the stone away on the tomb?
Take a close look. What’s nearby?

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What was left of the contents of the golden egg after it had been shared.

They will find a large golden egg.
Get them to bring it to the front very carefully, and open it into a fresh glass bowl.
They will probably be excited, but ask them…

What they are meant to do with what’s inside, before we get too distracted?

SHARE IT! With the whole congregation….

Thanks to the ever-present strength and camera of Graham who keeps this clergy going. The pics are his.

As I was reminded at the end of the service, this was the last sermon of my curacy. On 9th April I will be Licensed as Associate Priest to the parishes of St. Mary’s Eversley and St. Barnabas Darby Green. My thanks to all those who have contributed to the journey thus far, and here’s to the next adventure…