Residents old and new: Garden wildlife in lockdown

In amongst the ‘madness’ that has been learning to minister in lockdown, we’ve discovered that the local wildlife is no respecter of social isolation rules!

2020-03-26 hedgehogFirstly we discovered that the Hedgehog we’ve been encouraging for two years had over-wintered! Great excitement, especially as my husband snuck a peek in our hog-houses late one afternoon to confirm that ‘the Hogfather’ as I’ve knick-named him or her, was truly resident – apparently with a preference for the left hand of our two hog-houses. There is a short video of it’s nocturnal wanderings HERE. We do have a hedghog-diner which it likes, but it’s also rather partial to the remains of the sunflower hearts left by the Goldfinches!

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Cock House Sparrow taking nesting material into the swift-box 10th April 2020

 

Then this Holy Week, as we’ve been pottering around the garden trying to make the most of our limited growing space and a collection of out-of-date seeds (anything to get away from the video and computer screen) we heard scrabbling above us. In 2018 we’d also had members of the Blackwater Valley Swift group install a 4 story swift box on our expansive north wall, as we knew that in summer we get a small group calling near the house, and lodging in the neighbouring street. Despite using the ‘swift-caller’ they lent us near the swift-box, we’ve had no joy at attracting returning juvenilles (which is what the idea was) nor any other resident Swifts. However, on looking up this week, we noted that whilst the ‘flats’ as I call them had warped a little, blocking one entrance completely, the scrabbling I heard Good Friday proved to be…. House Sparrows! There are edited highlights HERE of some (fairly shoddy) video and stills, including an extended view of sparrows doing ‘what comes naturally’ when it’s nesting season!

[It was also a chance to practice some very basic video editing skills for ministry, so please excuse the naff header/footer etc.]

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Blue-Tit bringing moss to our Birch nest-box 12th April 2020

 

2018 must have been a good year for our intentions toward wildlife, as we were also given and installed by the north-facing kitchen window, a Birch nest-box – that has likewise remained empty until now. We’d been aware from inside our kitchen over the last few days of an irregular tap-tap-tapping that we couldn’t attribute to anything inside. Yesterday, we discovered that we’ve also got Blue-tits nesting. This morning before our online service, they proved a little camera-shy, so no video to accompany the photos yet! Creation it seems believes in generating the new life of the Easter Season.

So all in all, we’re delighted to have other couples moving in to share our social isolation. In fact, couldn’t be happier… unless the Swifts move in, but they could find it crowded!

Reflections on ministry in lockdown – Good Friday 2020

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First attempts at set up for Sunday Worship for 29th March 2020

Over a month since I last posted!
Somehow life isn’t quite the same… and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming.
40 days on, and things have become very strange indeed.
But you’re living it too, so you know that.

So this is by way of a memorandum and reflection to myself, as to a few of the things I’ve learnt and needed to be creative about, to maintain ministry in the lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Technical support and a ‘behind the scenes’ view of that first attempt at recording services in the garden. Glad I was that I’d liberated a couple of necessary props from church before locking up the last time, and that I have horded an interesting selection of useful heirlooms.

As a minister I think I’d become too reliant on contact with parishioners on a Sunday morning in the physical spaces that are our church buildings. Those are special times (especially in memory, when you can’t stand round and have coffee), but actually I’ve spent more time talking to people, and talked to more people more meaningfully, one-to-one, particularly the phone, than I ever have, at any stage of my ministry. I feel embarrassed that people have been surprised that I’ve rung, and depending on their circumstances, more than once. Without exception, everyone has been positive, understanding and supportive, as my colleague and I have grappled with the new needs of ministry in lockdown. If by any chance, you’re one of them, reading this… thank you, it has been hugely appreciated.

Jesus walked, and talked, and met people, and talked and taught some more. My husband and I took what should have been our statutory one-hour walk one day last week, on a route we know takes us about that, one hour. It took us 2.5 hours, as the socially-distanced conversations flowed! We’ve lived here over 20 years, so many familiar faces crossed our paths, parochially related and otherwise. I had a strong sense of healing in what at times was some fairly black humour, of words becoming the new sense of touch, of gift that God was providing in these days of glorious weather. As is so often the case, it is in looking back at your footsteps that you see where it was that Christ carries you.

Christ has a such weight to be bear now – and his burden gets heavier each day; and there should be no irony in the fact that I say that on Good Friday, as we acknowledge most particularly his sacrifice on the cross. A few months ago, I’d wondered whether I ought to change my pattern of ministry to take in some connection with our Foodbank. Not unusually I’d done nothing about it, distracting myself with other things, and probably appropriately getting excited about growing a fresh community project. But the cafe plans are of necessity on hold, though I must make sure they’re ‘oven-ready’ at a week’s notice, for when we’re free to fraternise again.

2020-03-22 22.29.51Instead, I find myself giving significant support to that previously noted Foodbank – not least because so many of the regular volunteers are now forced to protect themselves in isolation. Whilst it is horrible that we live in a society where one is needed, and tragic that the economic impact of the Coronavirus have brought so many more people to the crisis-point of needing one, there is a (slightly exhausting) joy in being able to deliver those shopping bags to socially distanced doorsteps – it’s not just food, it’s hope and a sign that people care. The same goes for the donations that have come flooding in, in particular through Eversley’s Centre Stores (who have carefully stocked the Foodbank to people’s cash donations) but also to our doorstep – one of the benefits of having lived here for a while. People’s generosity has been great, and the Foodbank is so grateful for it. No, making such things happen is not without anxiety and risk, and yes there is a cost in that, but after all, being a herald of hope is one of our diaconal responsibilities in ordination. Once again, perhaps I’m fulfilling more ordination vows more fully than before.

So, where’s the creative Rachel been? Lost, literally, frequently and for long periods, in an open source video editor (OpenShot), Facebook ‘live’ and otherwise, Zoom for Messy Church (less messy and calmer than it’s cousin, at least if you’re not ‘hosting’), and Zoom for PCC and other meetings; all via computer, phone, iPad and camera! I’ve ended up looking at myself in a way that I really would prefer not to. Perhaps, I’m seeing myself as Christ sees me, more than I do normally – flaws and all – but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.

My first recorded Morning Prayer, was a spur of the moment experiment outside St. Mary’s, but received an encouraging response. My colleague also took up the challenge and ‘went live’, and we were glad we’d started promptly, as within the week we were on lockdown, and leading worship purely from home. Bless him, he’d done a little video editing before – I am a complete newbie. I am grateful he’s putting together the really complicated Sunday Services like our first attempt. There has at times been some distinctly un-clerical language; “purely pastoral” as a past spiritual director would have it. There are also unhealthy strains associated with so much screen-time, on the eyes, the back and on the anxiety levels.

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Cuckoo-pint… or do you know it as Lords and Ladies? Photographed in a nearby lane, 8th April 2020 on our less than daily constitutional.

But once again, there is a strong sense of fulfilling my calling in not only a different way, but in a way that is reaching more people and encouraging them in their discipleship somehow in a way that may have a greater long-term significance of them, then perhaps our regular church-based worship does. I’m not sure that says much for our regular services, but I do find myself wondering what of all these skills and forms of worship need to be kept when we find a new way of post-lockdown living and liturgy?

There have been times to relax… there’s a crochet blanket for a loved-one slowly taking shape, an activity that can prove a prayerful Compline of sorts at the end of a long day, and there have been some gems of moments around the home and on our walks. More of the former in other posts, but if happen to have read this far (bless you) enjoy some Pipistrelle bats at late dusk – another use for my mobile phone which has resulted in interesting pastoral, and wildlife related conversations!

 

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!!!!

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.

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.

Sanctuary to Sacrifice – Reflection on barbed wire for Remembrance #ThankYou100 #RemembranceDay100

The opening moments of our Service of Remembrance, St. Barnabas Darby Green 2018 (Photograph courtesy Graham Hartland)

It is always tough to try and convey the Gospel message, alongside paying appropriate respect to those who have fallen during WWI and in conflicts since. Today in this centenary of Armistice was no exception. However, it was an immense privilege to lead people in Darby Green in their Service of Remembrance, which thanks to the creativity of church members and local Guides, Brownies and Rainbows was focused around two falls of poppies, one inside, and one outside.

Below is a transcript of roughly what I said, alongside images of the barbed wire used in two forms; some made for me to use safely as a visual aid, and some of those made by the congregation from pipe-cleaners. 

Activity:

Can anyone tell me what ‘sanctuary’ means?    Refuge, place of safety, hideout, hiding place, shelter…

What sort of things might you look for if you were creating your own sanctuary?  Hidden, covering over you, protection…. (the children talked a lot about tree houses and hiding under the bed, to which I referred later informally.)

Sanctuary Wood, Flanders (photographed in 2017)

Does this look like a place of Sanctuary? Video of birdsong in Sanctuary Wood, Flanders (2017)

Now, if I play it again, imagine there are no trees, noisy bombs going off around you rather than birdsong, and lots of mud being thrown up into the air as the bombs hit the ground.

Does it still look like a place of sanctuary? No…. not if you’ve used your imagination as I suggested!

I wonder if anyone can tell me what this looks like? Piece of barbed-wire

The British Army used it around places of sanctuary called trenches which were created for soldiers to hide in.  Barbed wire was also used in rolls and piles higher than you or me, making it impossible for people to get through.

An informal war memorial in Sanctuary Wood made from the bombed stump of a tree, and barbed wire. (Photographed in 2017)

In WW1, around all of the trenches in Sanctuary Wood in Belgium where the video was filmed, there would have been a lot of barbed wire. The only barbed wire there now, is wrapped round tree trunks snapped off where they were bombed in WW1. Today they are used as a war memorial, a place to remember those who died there.

You each now have the opportunity to make a piece of barbed wire – and before the adults get all worried, we’re using pipe-cleaners, not real wire! In each of the paper bags you’re going to be given, there are 7 pieces of pipecleaner, 1 long one, and 6 short ones. You can twist the short ones, round the long ones, to create a very simple piece of barbed wire. Hand out, demonstrate, create.

The makings of pipe-cleaner barbed wire.

As you look at your piece of barbed wire, think about the things that keep you safe, the places you might think of as a sanctuary, the people whom you feel safe with, or somewhere you hide if you play hide-and-seek. It might be your home, or your bed, a favourite place on a walk; a parent, an animal or something entirely different.

Would barbed wire (show real thing) really help you create any of those feelings and emotions?  No!

Hebrews 9:24-28 (Contemporary English Translation)

Talk:…

… Often the places which we might describe as a sanctuary are not as simple and straightforward as we might wish. There are times when we feel vulnerable once again because something within them changes or disappears. Barbed wire around a trench was as much a danger to the soldiers that it was meant to protect, as it is to those whom they were being protected from. In the First World War, many thousands of people died because they got caught up on the very barbed wire that they had been using for protection in their place of sanctuary.

The sanctuary that is being talked about in our Bible passage is God’s presence. In the time before Jesus, people had tried to make a special place which they called a sanctuary, which they called ‘holy’ and carried around with them. But it became dangerous to them because it became more important to them than God himself, and they got hung up on it.

Jesus was was also in effect, a soldier; in his case, he was God’s Son following God’s orders. Jesus died, because he got caught up on the barbed wire of the people who he was actually trying to help misunderstanding who he was. People killed Jesus because they couldn’t understand that God’s love for them, and God’s wish that they would have a permanent place of real sanctuary and safety with him. That is why we describe Jesus as having made the ultimate sacrifice.

Barbed wire and pipe-cleaner crowns of thorns

I took my length of barbed wire, twisted and looped it around itself, and asked what does it look like? A crown of thorns.

If we loop our sections of pipe-cleaner barbed wire around on themselves the same way and twist the ends, we also have something that also looks like a crown of thorns.

In this way, we can be helped to remember that Jesus sacrificed his life to help others come into God’s presence, and that the motivation for that was his love for us. When Jesus lived two thousand years ago, we were not alive then, but he still knew that we needed to live in a perfect place of sanctuary at peace with one another, and that is only possible in God’s presence.

Remembrance Day can in some ways become a sanctuary; a place of safety in which are able to come together to remember those who in the past have sacrificed their lives. Some died because they loved and sought to protect their country and a way of life. Some died because they were following orders. Some died through no fault of their own. Some died to save the lives of friends, or to protect people because they realised that you do not have to know someone to love their right to life. It is good that we are a community which believes their sacrifice should not be forgotten.

The danger is that, like barbed wire, Remembrance Day can become a difficult obstacle in itself. For those who have experienced the explosions and dangers of warfare themselves, it is dangerous because it brings back those memories and it can be difficult to live with the pain and emotions that causes. For many of us, the danger is that we only remember on this one day of the year, the sacrifices that other people have made in the past.

Barbed wire crown of thorns on Cross of Remembrance, Darby Green 2018 (Photograph courtesy Graham Hartland)

Barbed wire, especially when it is twisted into a crown of thorns, is a helpful reminder that we must never forget all those whose lives have been sacrificed to enable us to have the freedom to love one another and to live in relative peace. As a reminder that Jesus died with a similar crown around his head, we are encouraged to remember that this safety also gives us the freedom to discover what it is to live in the sanctuary of God’s presence. We will only live at peace with each other if we are willing to offer people a place of safety and sanctuary with us, and as Jesus understood only too well, we made need to make some sacrifices ourselves, to make that possible.

The barbed wire ‘crown of thorns’ was placed on the simple wooden cross that stands in church, adorned also today with poppies.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

“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).

2018-08-12 11.54.03
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.