Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

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Greenfinch catching the sunlight – yes, there was some!

This morning I took the annual hour out to count the garden birds for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Now obviously I watch the garden birds more often than once year, possibly a little too much, especially when I have other things I ought to be doing! But doing it for citizen science can bring surprises, as it did with last year’s Redpolls.

Sadly however, there wasn’t so much to excitement me this year – though it was good to get our local Dunnocks on the list. As yet there are no Redpolls, nor the Siskin, but the latter don’t usually materialise until late February, for reasons I don’t know.

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A split second of peace between squabbling Greenfinch and Goldfinch – probably because they’ve both got their mouths full! 

Anyway, this years list is as follows with some notes – as always the numbers are the maximum number of birds viewed at any one time within the hour:
Goldfinches 13 (quarrelsome bunch)
Greenfinches 3 (don’t always win their battles with the Goldfinches despite their relative bulk!)
Dunnock 2 (I think there’s a romance going on, they follow each other faithfully)
Blue Tit 2 (I really wish they’d use the lovely birch bird-box on their regular flight-path at the corner of the house.)
Wood Pigeon 2 (who spent most the hour at either end of the fence, like bookends.)
Feral Pigeon 4 (about a third of the actual number, which continually rises.)
Robin 1 (as territorial as always, and particularly fond of seeing off the Dunnocks.)

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A very poor photo of the resident love-birds – sorry Dunnocks. They are also one of the best songsters in the garden which might be why our Robin doesn’t like the competition!

Blackbird 1 (briefly, high in his vantage point in the apple tree)
Chaffinch 1 (briefly identifiable among the Goldfinches but didn’t fight for space to feed, which is sad when they used to be far the most numerous finch in the garden.)
Starling 2 (numbers are down locally, they used to be almost a nuisance on the fat balls.)

The best bit of bird-watching in the day came immediately after I stopped watching the feeders – as I washed up yesterday’s dishes I watched the corvids mobbing a Sparrowhawk over the houses opposite! Typical.

Falling back into craftiness!

What is it that brings you alive, or helps you to a point of healing?

For me, over the last 6 months, it has been… knitting.

In the last two years since I concluded my curacy, it has been wonderful not to be writing essays, reflections or other proofs of my theological understanding and knowledge! In the years since I started Reader Training in 2006, I’ve spent 11 of them doing some sort of training that required essays – and I hate essays. It left me somehow injured, unable to settle to a healthier approach to life. To put no fine a point on it, the academic toll of training sucked the life out of me.

With brief and sporadic exceptions in holidays, I had little opportunity to do the various crafts that I’d previously enjoyed trying at various points in the previous 30+ years of my life; knitting, tapestry, cross-stitch, silk painting, stone and leather painting. Yes, I’ve gardened when I could and I’ve made the most of encounters with wildlife, but inside the house my hands had been focused on the keypad of the computer.

In August 2019 – a couple of days after my last wildlife blog post – at the beginning of a holiday in Wyoming USA, we visited Jackson and needing to find something to reduce the anxiety I’d encountered flying long-haul from the UK in time for the return flight, and a delightful little yarn shop called Knit on Pearl. Having checked with the airline first, I bought 1 set of wooden, circular knitting needles and some yarn. Not any old yard – it wasn’t that sort of shop – but some lovely autumnal coloured Rios merino wool yarn by Malabrigo. I could knit my way back to the UK. I spotted a few lovely shawl kits too, made with several different yarns, but out of my price range – their importance came later.

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When the yarn matches the bruises!

Buying yarn and needles was a prophetic move, which found me knitting far sooner than expected. That afternoon on Mount Rendezvous, one of the Teton Mountains, I slipped whilst photographing a grasshopper (yes really), something went ‘pop’ in my left shin, and to cut a very long story short, I spent the rest of the holiday (including around Yellowstone) in a wheelchair, on crutches…. or with my foot up, knitting! Thank you Lord.

 

I still saw some amazing wildlife though – but that’s for another post.

Whilst the yarn I bought matched the bruises nicely (as you can see), and though I wasn’t happy with what I created from my rusty knitting technique, it did re-engage the craftiness in my fingers. On my return home, I unpicked the initial attempt at a scarf. Then I found some Colinette mohair yarn I’d bought in their old factory shop by the WLR Station in Llanfair Caereignion about 15 years before. It went with the Rios yarn brilliantly, and I remembered the amazing multi-yarn shawl I’d seen in Knit on Pearl. So I came up with a random 225 stitch scarf creation of my own!

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Matching my new malabrigo yarn, to some old Colinette mohair bought many years ago!

 

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Deciding to convert from my grandmother’s stiff old circular needles to the new KnitPro one’s in interchangable lengths!

Knitting has moved on since my grandfather taught me squares before I was 10, and my grandmother knitted me numerous jumpers through my youth. I love the KnitPro laminated birchwood needles I’d discovered in the US, and that they’re available here too, and then discovered circular needles can now have interchangable lengths too!

 

I have to say that as the ruptured ligament has all too slowly healed in the months since, so my enthusiasm for craft, specifically knitting has increased. With busy hands, my ‘down time’ has been more creative, healing my soul of all those years of essays. I’ve made numerous scarfs, creating several Christmas presents in doing so, am learning knew stitches, and yesterday I attended my first crochet class!

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Merino/Mohair scarf – the first step to healing my craftiness!

With this has come to life an idea for a community project that might yet form part of my parochial ministry – truly creative healing!!

 

But the detail of all that is for the future, because it might just be it’s brought my blogging back to life too!!!

And writing this blog post has meant I’ve tracked back to that first yarn, found the name of it in my photos, and found it’s available in the UK! Tonight, I’m a happy crafter.

August Hedgehog update

Since early July we’ve been monitoring the hedgehogs using the garden more regularly, and discovered that at best we now have 3 hedgehogs in the garden – which could be a mother and a couple of babies. Typically the only night we had a photo of three, we’d knocked the settings on the trail-cam and there were no videos triggered! (Grrrr…)

A conversation with a new neighbour (next-door but one changed hands around Easter) produced the news that she has a family of three under the wooden playhouse in the garden. Apparently they steal the food left for her two cats… which might be why the cats were stealing the hedgehog food in our garden when we weren’t using the feeding box as a way of monitoring how many hedgehogs we actually had!

It also explains why our hedgehog houses never got used over the winter – they were hidden under the playhouse two-doors up!

For those who don’t see what we post on the ‘book of face’ and want to see more, I’ve included a couple of photos, and there’s a video here for you to enjoy.

If you look really carefully, there’s a small hog top right of ‘Mum’ and another further away top left of here, near the herbaceous border!
‘Mum’ and one hoglet

Kingsley, Questions, Controversies and Children – a reflection for Trinity Sunday in Eversley

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The grave of Charles Kingsley, with flowers laid by the students of the school he founded, Eversley, June 2019

One of the two churches I serve, St. Mary’s Eversley, has the author of the ‘Water Babies’ buried in it’s churchyard; hardly surprising given Charles Kingsley was the Rector in this quiet corner of Hampshire for over 30 years! He also founded the local school that bears his name, and of which I happen to be a governor. 

The school are very good and every year they celebrate their Founders Day, laying flowers at his grave and remembering to root themselves in Kingsley’s work as a social reformer, natural scientist, and author. But this year, in fact last week, was the bicentenary of his birth, which meant some of the locals had also thought it worth celebrating Kingsley’s gifts, so they put on a ‘thing’ – a mini literary festival if you like.

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Clergy present and ‘past’… with Peter Duncan in the role of Charles Kingsley, outside St. Mary’s Eversley, June 2019 (Photo courtesy of the producer of a short play ‘resurrecting’ Kingsley, Denise Silvey)

Yes, I fully expected to attend particularly to support the school, but the little matter of my colleagues over-enthusiastic Pentecost children’s talk last Sunday (which landed him in plaster) meant that I was a busier than I had anticipated. This had downsides; I missed a talk by Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser I really wanted to hear. But also upsides; like the school children I met Charles Kingsley his very self – or more accurately Peter Duncan who I remember as a Blue Peter presenter in my teens! I also got to relive my Greenbelt visits in the Tiny Tea Tent, but that’s another story…

It also meant I had to preach this morning, and link the life of Charles Kingsley with the fact it is Trinity Sunday – giving me a chance to reflect on what I’d seen and heard in the previous couple of days. So here, for what little a fear it’s worth, is my stab at doing that… and no, I didn’t forget it was also Father’s Day – at the end of the service each gentleman attending got both chocolate and a sequoia cone! Read on, to find out why:

Readings: Psalm 8 (NIV rendering) and John 16:12-15

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The sequoia in the churchyard at St. Mary’s Everlsey, planted by Rose Kingsley from seed collected by Charles Kingsley. It has a ‘twin’ on The Mount adjacent where the Kingsley 200 Festival took place.

 

On Friday afternoon I shared in the joy of witnessing Charles Kingsley get very excited about the cones and seeds of a certain conifer, the sequoia. Our sequoia. No, his sequoia. Sorry, God’s sequoia, a tree that I humbly suggest like the moon and the stars, shows the majesty of God.

As he was with Tim (the churchwarden) and I, sharing a quiet cuppa after school ‘out of role’, Peter Duncan (who has been playing Charles Kingsley) read the display about Kingsley on the hall wall. He suddenly became very animated. It appears that a couple of years ago, Peter had visited the very same sequoia forests of western America that Kingsley visited. Like Kingsley, he had brought home a cone to dry. Like Rose Kingsley went on to do, he sowed the seeds, of which some germinated and one survives. Peter now has it growing in his garden. The producer Denise and I now have photos of Peter, or should that be Kingsley, excitedly scavenging for more cones under the sequoia here, so that he could take them home to keep alive the personal connection he’s made with Kingsley.

This weekend has been all about keeping connections alive, and specifically the connection between Charles Kingsley, this village and our school, between Kingsley, social reform and science. I was busy here, but Giles Fraser hopefully made some connection between Kingsley as a man of faith, called by God to serve this place and community and Kingsley as a polemicist, someone not averse to pushing the boundaries of what we as Christians believe, and therefore having to be comfortable with controversy.

Questions and controversies exist within the Christian community, because our faith is a living thing. Just as much as the sequoia outside, our Christian faith is a living thing because God has been revealed to and has a relationship with us in ways so complex that we struggle to find terminology, or a name, that does God full justice. The closest we’ve so far come is the name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the term Trinity. Yet, those in themselves still leave us with age-old controversies over which ‘person’ of the Trinity proceeds from which, and more modern questions over whether we should apply gender-specific identities to any element of our creator, redeemer and sanctifier in whose image each and everyone one of us is made.

Our Gospel today, makes it as clear as it’s ever going to be why such questions and controversies exist. Jesus was never meant to reveal to us during his earthly ministry, everything about God’s character and will for his people, because quite simply, we wouldn’t be able to bear it (John 16v12). They are only revealed to us on a need to know basis, through the power of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit or sanctifier, that at all times will point us back to Jesus the redeemer, and thence to his creator, and ours. Individuals will only grow in faith, and communities will only grow in service to each other if they share a living faith that constantly turns over different questions and ideas in seeking a way forward that glorifies Jesus and his example.

For the same purpose, Psalm 8 (by far and away my favourite Psalm) reminds us that we have been made by God as creatures capable of awe, wonder, and humility before God. Awe, wonder and humility that is often proclaimed best by our young people, but they are not possible without questions, and children are always full of questions. Questions also by their very nature create controversy, because the answers and explanations are not always simple; and yes, questions and controversy create change, because change is life – if we are not changing and growing, we are not alive.

I have one sadness about this weekend, as I have experienced it. My sadness is that we have not adequately heard the voices of our children and our young people, the very people that Kingsley worked so hard to offer a future to. Yes, our children have been dressed up and paraded across a field to be photographed re-enacting the past. Yes they have created written reflections on elements of Kingsley’s story and ours, that their exhausted teachers have used for wonderful displays which only a few visiting dignitaries and parents will see – unless we can find a way to change that. But have we let the children speak? And have we listened?

The example of Greta Thunburg and Malala Yousafzai are surely showing the world, that as humanity struggles to combat the climate change it has inflicted on God’s creation, and in the area of human rights, God is using the children and young people of the world to silence the selfishness of humanity toward God’s creation, and establish a stronghold of justice, mercy and humility between and within communities. They may or may not be Christians but surely they are a living testimony to the God-given ability of young people to protect us from the enemy within ourselves (as Psalm 8 suggests), and create change; the sort of change that is in keeping with the Spirit of truth that is Jesus. And it’s just possible that we might be harbouring a Greta or Malala in Eversley, if we could build on the education principles Kingsley and others started, and hear our children speak for their future, rather than dwell on our past.

In Kingsley’s era, this community and society at large, needed to know that children of all sectors of society should be educated, that they shouldn’t be enslaved up chimneys, in fields or anywhere else for that matter, and that it is perfectly possible to be both a scientist that believes in evolution, and a Christian who believes God created the world. No, he wasn’t a child, but much of Kingsley’s attention was on children, and since he died at 56 he was younger than me when he did most of that work, indeed younger than many of us when he made his voice heard in the world.

We are reminded today by both our belief in a Trinitarian God, and by Charles Kingsley, that ours is a living faith, precisely because there is stuff we still don’t know and can’t explain about God and about the world around us. Recognising that should help us to be humble before God.  But awe and wonder at what we see, isn’t always a positive emotion, it can be one of horror, as we are reminded of the things in society that need changing because of the mess we’ve made of them up to now.

Like a sequoia tree, we need to be allowed to grow, and we need space to grow, however old we are. If we are to understand the purposes and nature of God better, we need to listen to our children, for in them God’s Spirit of Truth is revealed, and they might just have some answers that will change the world.

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A wonder of ‘festival season’ – and a great example of sustainable living!

Greenbelt ‘Clapping Creed’ (‘We Will Rock You’ rhythm) and Lego Easter Garden

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Lego Easter Garden at St. Barnabas, 2019 (photo credit: Graham Hartland)

During Palm Sunday and Easter Day family services, Graham and I have taught St. Barnabas a form of the Creed that involves clapping to the rhythm of ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen. We also built a Lego Easter Garden to illustrate the Easter story from Luke 24:1-12 for the children, so some photos are here too.

We came across this ‘Affirmation of Faith’ via the livestream/video of the Sunday worship Greenbelt Festival in 2018, which was based around the 70th Anniversary off the Windrush migration and more recent scandals. You can enjoy the whole service at https://youtu.be/JJGxA9S0U6k but to watch specifically what we’ve called the ‘clapping creed’ you need to watch at 38.42 to 40.24.

This morning we’ve woken to a request from one of our young children for the words so they can learn it, as they ‘can’t find them online’. We couldn’t find them either, but at the time I’d written them down – so they are now. If anyone at Greenbelt knows who we can credit for this please let us know! [Edit: It’s great what tweeting a blog post can teach you – apparently Andrew Graystone is the one to be credited with this! Hopefully Andrew is happy that this is written down and shared to enthuse children in their faith.]

Apparently we’re going to be asked to do it at Messy Church soon, and obviously we need to teach it to St. Mary’s Eversley too!

We believe that God Creator (‘We will rock you’ Creed)

Rhythm: Thighs, thighs, clap, get this going first – and then keep the rhythm whilst doing the actions!

We believe that God Creator
Spoke and brought the world to birth.

Christ has died (arms out like a cross),
Christ is risen (raise arms up over heads),
Christ will come again (jazz hands).

We believe that Jesus Saviour,
Lived and died with us on earth.

Christ has died (arms out like a cross),
Christ is risen (raise arms up over heads),
Christ will come again (jazz hands).

We believe the Holy Spirit,
Soaks the world with love and grace.

Christ has died (arms out like a cross),
Christ is risen (raise arms up over heads),
Christ will come again (jazz hands).

This we share with every Christian,
Throughout time in every place.

Christ has died (arms out like a cross),
Christ is risen (raise arms up over heads),
Christ will come again (jazz hands).

 

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Close-up of our Lego Easter Garden, based on Luke 24:1-12 (photo credit Graham Hartland)… those are definitely NOT fairies, they’re angels!!!!

Hog-news – First Contact 2019!

 

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Hedgehog poo! (Hand for scale)

I get excited about some strange things I guess – they include Hedgehog poo!

A couple of mornings ago (13th April to be precise), I found (and of course we then photographed) what I thought was Hedgehog droppings in 2 places in the garden. It certainly wasn’t the local moggies – they dig up my plants rather than fertilise the lawn! Graham then found a third lot.

I checked with the lovely Jayne at Happy Hedgehog Rescue in Yateley, and she confirmed it was indeed the poo of a healthy Hedgehog.

So of course we put the trail cameras out that night….. Nothing.

So we put them out again last night (14th – 15th April 2019)….. Success!!
We have a Hedgehog in our garden again. Couldn’t be more delighted. Simple things.

STC_0011cLooking at the photographs more closely, I’m thinking it has the same ‘roughed up’ bit on it’s left rump as last years, so I’m wondering if it’s the same Hedgehog?

We’ve had two hog-houses in the garden over the winter, and I’d sort of convinced myself that neither had been used. But this chap disappeared toward the opening of the left hand one twice last night, under the second trail-cam. So, now I’m not so sure on that either.

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Can you see the little rosette of ruffled prickles on it’s left buttock?

We will re-site and re-set the cameras over the next few nights, and see what we discover.

First video clip of 2019 is here.

The last video clip of the night, which I’ve entitled ‘Hedgehog at the Gates of Dawn’ because it also features the dawn chorus, is here.

The next task is to make our Hedgehog a proper feeding station as per the instructions Jayne sent me last year!

More news when we have some.

The donkey’s tail – as one who was a companion of Christ

This year’s Lenten creativity was prepared for a local Mothers’ Union gathering in which we focused on being companions rather than simply followers of Christ. It included the following, which in response to Matthew 21:1-9 is barely original, but instead inspired, loosely and without honour, on a reflection I found referred to as being of Francis de Sales for Palm Sunday 1622, the more recent poem ‘The Donkey’ by G.K.Chesterton, and Janet Morley’s reflection upon the latter in her 2011 book of poetry for Lent and Easter ‘The Heart’s Time’.

I am a slow ungainly animal, a simple beast of burden,
hardly the appropriate mount for the King,
the one those crowds proclaimed their Saviour.
And yet, he knew this Balaam’s ass
would recognise and carry willingly
the one who came destroying pride,
in his great love and humility.
My girth may travel close by the ground,
and yes, some call me lowly,
but I was not beneath the dignity of
he who came as by his very nature, slave.

The Father’s equal in all things,
his wisdom and his witness ignored
for being as worthless as my braying,
because the mob knew better what his purpose was,
the burden of their expectations being
other than what either of us could offer.
So, we shared together
the inappropriate adulation,
refused to bite, or kick, or shy away
and trod the welcoming path
that parodied the purpose of our shared sacrifice.

It was not me who really bore the weight of obedience
without murmur or excuse,
but he on whose shoulders lay not
the rough-wove cloaks of those who half-understood,
but the guilt of those who
in weakness, pride and anger
would carve for him a fashionable death.
Yet, whilst claiming an equality of shared submission
with he who held the reins of creation,
I ask only that with them I might be forgiven
the ubiquitous sin of stubbornness.

Redpolls on poll-day #BigGardenBirdwatch2019

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Goldfinch and (male) Lesser Redpoll #BigGardenBirdwatch2019

OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve but I wanted to log this for posterity.

I always try and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, and some years I’ve managed to blog about it – usually when something notable happens. Which it did this year. In fact it’s still happening.

The usual suspects visited the garden in my hour on the morning of Sun 27th Jan (9am-10am before I took service) – see the list below. I wasn’t at all surprised to see increasing numbers of Goldfinches – they love the fact we’ve gone over to feeding sunflower hearts as the mixed birdseed was causing too much waste and weeds. What I hadn’t stopped long enough to notice up until that morning was that some of the flock of 20+ Goldfinches were in fact Lesser Redpolls!

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Lesser Redpoll – surprisingly stripey – and a little less pink on it’s front so female?

We’ve had Siskin in the past (though not yet this year) but I’d never seen a Redpoll before, anywhere, ever, even though a near neighbour had said she’d had them about 10+ years ago. So a ‘lifer’ for me and a new ‘tick’ for our little suburban garden.

What’s more they’ve stayed among the flock of Goldfinches who arrive several times a day. I may therefore have spent more time watching the garden birds than I might normally do!

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Lesser Redpoll – tricky to photograph away from the feeders as they don’t stop still!

Big Garden Birdwarch 2019 – list

Goldfinch 21 (!!!)
Robin 1
Chaffinch 2
Bluetit 2
Greenfinch 1
Redpoll 3
Woodpidgeon 2
Collard Dove 4 (on the increase)
Crow 1
Feral Pidgeon (another, less welcome addition to the list)

In other garden wildlife news, the little pond is now 6 months old, some the fish we never put in are still alives, and so is one of the backswimmers! Roll on spring-time.

Those who pass by – a short reflection on The Good Samaritan

We recently had an Away Day with the PCCs of our Benefice. In the opening worship I used a reflection on the scripture: Luke 10:25-37 The Good Samaritan “Called to be an Innkeeper” by Elaine Gisbourne from the book ‘Wild Goose big book of worship resources‘. This was particularly appropriate for St Barnabas Darby Green with a now disused inn next door, but left the need to for something similarly appropriate for St Mary’s Eversley, where a well-used footpath goes through the churchyard. So I wrote this:

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The footpath at St Mary’s Eversley – one of my favourite images of when the church is used by the local school. The footpath continues round the back of the church, through fields and up into Bramshill Forest.

I bring you the passer-by,
those in a hurry to get where they think they’re going,
or stuck on their high horse unable to dismount grace-fully.

I offer you the passers-by,
who see the future in some other sphere,
of learning, of leadership, of leisure,
and notice it not in the suffering of friend or stranger.

What will stop them in their tracks,
prompt them to turn round, come back,
pique their interest,
ignite their compassion,
calm their fears?

I give you the passer-by,
in the rainfall of their fears and anxieties,
when grief or hardship strike,
or they pause to acknowledge –
there is something beyond their sphere of influence.

Their path may seem a far-cry from yours,
and yet it passes close-by,
intersecting where needs are met,
hope is found,
and grace abounds.

Feel free to use if you deem it worthy and appropriate, with suitable credit please, and note in the comments if at all possible.

Christmas Intercessions

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The Chapel at St. Mary’s Eversley at Christmas

It amused me this year when one of the churchwardens in one of my current parishes commented that he’d found some intercessions for Christmas Morning on the internet, and that they turned out to be mine! I’d completely forgotten I posted them in 2013, or noticed how popular that post was at Christmas!!

So, to continue the ministry of sharing resources, here’s a set of Christmas Intercessions I wrote and used for Lessons and Carols this year at Darby Green.

Christmas Intercessions – 2018

God, born as a baby,
we pray for children who cry and are not comforted,
for parents who fear for their children’s future,
and for the lonely who are scared to let people into their lives.
Infant Jesus, help us to have compassion on each other,
to overcome our own fears, and to find ways to shine your love
into the lives of those we meet each day.

Loving God, we look to you.
Receive our prayer.

God, for whom there was no room at the inn,
We pray for those denied shelter or asylum,
Those who are trafficked for profit,
And those for whom a safe haven suddenly becomes dangerous.
Jesus, through whom God risked all to reach us,
help us who have a voice to speak wisely,
to encourage justice, and offer hope and hospitality.

Loving God, we look to you.
Receive our prayer.

God, whose coming was announced with words of peace and joy,
We pray for a world where conflict dominates news headlines,
where the indecision of a few leads to hardship for many,
and where the gulf between wealth and poverty widens.
Jesus, in the humility of your birth,
help us to recognise where we risk adding to the world’s strife,
and inspire us to seek ways of bringing people together,
for the benefit of this community and to the glory of your name.

Loving God, we look to you.
Receive our prayer.

God, who came to bring salvation to the world,
we pray for those who do not recognise or know you,
whose hearts have become hardened to your message,
through a loss of trust and the pain of past hurts.
Jesus, who brought forgiveness of sin and the hope of the resurrection,
help us to acknowledge our mistakes,
to make room in our hearts for the apologies that others offer,
and to receive the gift of your Son as a living witness,
to the new life that you bring.

Loving God, we look to you.
Receive our prayer.

Merciful Father, Accept these prayers for the sake your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.