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March 2018

Holyford Mission Community Pilgrimage to the Holy Land 2018

On Tuesday 30th January in the icy cold of the early morning twenty hardy pilgrims left Colyton square heading for Heathrow airport.   On Friday 9th February those same twenty pilgrims returned to Colyton, to be met by the torrential rain of a winter’s night.  In between, we experienced a warm, sunny journey that took us to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada, Bethany, Jericho, Tiberias, Nazareth, Capernaum, the River Jordan, Cana, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Beatitudes and Caesarea.  Accompanied by our ever-patient driver Hassan, and our wonderful guide Samer, whose knowledge of history, archaeology, religion, art, botany, politics and culture was profound, yet shared with such humility, we were generously fed. We visited plenty of ancient stones but drew our greatest inspiration and learning from the living ones – the people who faithfully live out what they believe in the most difficult circumstances. We heard stories of pain and loss, light and hope, and of remarkable co-operation between those of all faiths and none. Such a journey will take time for us to process, and in time we will share our stories and photographs. For now, here are a few first impressions from our intrepid travellers:

A land of contrast and contradiction and blessing.

Old stone, repurposed so many times; history sits in thick layers, yet the light over the water is unchanged, the green of spring just as fresh. Perhaps the old stones matter less than the living stones – those who we met, we who are changed.

No wonder the Lord of all creation was raised in the beautiful land of Galilee, though amid so many human tensions, and chose the shores of the lake for so much of his ministry.

I enjoyed the singing: the Peruvian Gloria in St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, and then again at the Sea of Galilee; singing heartily in St George’s, remembering the harmony to ‘Just as I am’; the exquisite acoustic of St Anne’s in Jerusalem;

hearing other groups around us with their chants and hymns, some very different from our sacred music.

Jerusalem: beautiful in an unbeautiful way.

Gethsemane: the feeling of Christ among the ancient olive trees.

Tabgha: a moving, relevant, Eucharist over-looking the Sea of Galilee.

Tiberias: saying prayers in the early morning on my balcony.  As I read the phrase, ‘Christ as a light’, so the sun appeared over the hills opposite.  What an amazing feeling and a great way to finish a wonderful pilgrimage.

Inspiring, thoughtful, provoking, insightful….and just the start of our journey.

Finally, some words from our guide Samer, which we found helpful on our pilgrimage, and will carry with us into the future:

‘In this world, there is no black or white, only grey.’ 

And, his oft-repeated injunction to us in Arabic to walk ‘shway, shway’ (slowly, slowly), encouraging us to move more slowly through this world, lest we miss signs of God’s glory in beauty, creation and the faces of our neighbours.


February 2018

This month’s letter comes from Rev’d John Lees:

Visiting St Andrew’s Colyton – in New Zealand

It feels like some time ago now, but in October Jan and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in New Zealand. Before we set out we were delighted to receive an invitation to visit St Andrew’s church in Colyton. Colyton NZ is a small farming community on North Island, some way north of Wellington. The nearest big town is Feilding. The area was turned into farmland in the late 19th century and it’s clear that the area was mapped out by someone with a ruler. The roads are in a grid system, many of them long and entirely straight. Colyton sits around one of the rural crossroads, with a village hall, a few houses, and a pretty wooden church. The big Scottish influence in NZ means that there are many St Andrew’s churches over there, but this one was founded by an East Devon family.

Colyton NZ is a quiet, rural parish, with a small but thriving community supporting its life. Bryan and Joanne Guy gave us supper and overnight accommodation and gave us a real insight into life into this farming community, dominated by large dairy farms.

We were given a huge welcome by Graham Conlon, a local secondary school teacher who serves as worship leader, and by the Ven Wendy Scott, who not only looks after a large group of churches centred on Feilding but also acts as Rural Dean and Archdeacon.

Jan and I were invited to talk about life in our Mission Community, so we said something about all of our churches, talking about the Harvest Festival services going on the same weekend we were overseas. I showed photographs of all five churches, and our audience was delighted to see that we have a painting of our NZ counterpart church here in Devon – look for it in the bookshop corner in Colyton.

We also showed images from the ‘God at Work’ exhibition from last June, telling them how the event came together. Jan told the congregation one of the stories told at the exhibition – with plenty of sound effects and actions to join in with.

I closed the service by talking about the Royal British Legion badge I was wearing, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Passchendaele. I’d been given it in September to take with me, but I hadn’t realised that Passchendaele means such a great deal to New Zealanders, who suffered more casualties on 12th October 1917 than any other day of the first world war. That day fell close to the time of our visit.

We may have left two ideas behind us. Wendy was very keen to try the God at Work idea in one of her churches. And Colyton NZ may be hosting its very first tractor run…. We await developments.

We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome, both in terms of our overnight accommodation and in church. Our hosts kindly allowed us to disrupt their normal Sunday morning service entirely, and then very kindly organised a big parish lunch to celebrate the visit.

We also couldn’t fail to notice how pride of place has been given to the stained glass cross sent over from St Andrew’s here in Devon in 2013. The cross is made from glass saved from our west window. It now sits on an internal wall, illuminated by light coming into the parish rooms. Like our visit and the warm welcome we received, a firm reminder of a strong connection between churches many thousands of miles apart.

January 2018

In 2013 the author Tracy Chevalier published a novel called The Last Runaway. Set in the 1850s, it tells the story of a young Quaker girl who leaves Dorset for America with her sister.  During the hazardous journey her sister dies, leaving Honor to make her own way in an unknown country.  One theme of the book is the underground railway which helped slaves to escape to freedom.  Another theme is quilting which was such a feature of American domestic life.

In order to immerse herself in her book’s subject matter, Tracy Chevalier taught herself to quilt and soon discovered a passion for sewing.  She went on to curate a quilt show in Bexleyheath and, as a result of that show, was contacted by the charity Fine Cell Work which teaches needlework to prisoners in UK prisons.  They invited Tracy to speak about her book and her quilts, and this led to 63 prisoners from Wandsworth prison working with her to design and make a quilt with the theme of sleep, each creating a ten-inch square for the finished quilt.

In an article in The Guardian newspaper in October Tracey describes how the project turned out to be more therapeutic than she had first imagined: things came out, emotions came out. Sleep is quite contentious in prisons, and I hadn’t known that. But when we’re going to sleep, it’s often the time we think the most. For prisoners, things have gone wrong for them in their lives and that’s the time it comes out. That definitely came through in the quilt.” *

The finished quilt represents every possible emotion, together with the hopes, fears and dreams of those who created it.  A book called ‘The Sleep Quilt’** has now been published, funded by many individuals who believed in the value of the project.  It contains images of the squares and the words of those who sewed them.

We often think about learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby at the start of the year.  Tracey Chevalier did, discovering something hugely pleasurable and rewarding for herself, which also turned out to bring help and new life to those who needed it most.


* The Guardian, 18.10.17

** The Sleep Quilt by Tracey Chevalier and Katy Emck, published by Pallas Athene, Oct 2017

December 2017

This month’s letter comes from Rev’d Anne Futcher.

We’re now well into the season of nativity plays.  And every time I watch one, I’m taken back to my son’s first ever public performance.  His playgroup was staging a nativity tableau.  James was desperate to be the drummer boy.  We awaited the casting decision anxiously.   The news wasn’t good.  He’d been cast as Joseph.

The day arrived.  James came on stage looking solemn. Clearly he was taking his paternal responsibilities to heart.   Mary looked depressed.  The little boy playing the donkey was insistent in placing his orange felt carrot inside the crib.  Maybe he meant it as his gift for the baby.  But James was equally insistent in removing it.  We watched, helpless with laughter and tears, as the carrot went in and out of the crib – over and over again.  That nativity is a cherished part of our family story.

Back in August, nearly thirty years later and newly married, James visited Rwanda with his wife, Katie.  On their return, James and Katie presented us with a beautiful set of crib figures, made by a wood carver in Kigali. There are shepherds wearing traditional robes. There are the three kings each bearing a differently shaped casket.  Mary in local headdress, smiles serenely.  A bareheaded Joseph looks suitably solemn. And there is baby Jesus in his crib.  He’s attended, not by an insistent donkey brandishing a felt carrot, but by a sheep and a long-horned cow.

I learned that this long-horned cow, called an inyambo, is considered by Rwandans to be very special indeed.  Under the traditional Rwandan monarchy, inyambo were bred specifically for ceremonial purposes and sent to the king’s palace.   There they were trained to listen, and to move, to traditional songs.  Bedecked with jewels, they’d then take part in elaborate parades to honour the king.

By including the inyambo among his crib figures, the Rwandan woodcarver was welcoming and honouring baby Jesus in the best way he could.  And by embellishing the Christmas story with local detail, he made it his own.

Each time we retell the nativity we make it our own too.  It’s no longer a story about an insignificant family in an insignificant village long ago.  It becomes a story that transcends time and place:  It’s James’ story. It’s his and Katie’s story.  It’s the woodcarver’s story.  It’s yours and it’s mine.

And above all, it’s God’s story.  It’s the story of the God who chooses to come to us, as vulnerable as a baby, across time and place.  He comes to us in Palestine and Rwanda and England, in the first century and the twenty-first.  Over and over again, God overflows into our lives and our stories with love.

This Christmas, like that boy with his felt carrot; like the woodcarver with his inyambo, let us welcome him and honour him in the best way we can.


November 2017

In May this year, the Ecclesiastical Insurance company launched a competition inviting churches to submit a piece of art work which captured and celebrated the role their church plays in its local community.  Many churches entered, and now the winning entries have been made into a 10 metre long and 3 metre high ‘Great Community Mural.’  The mural was unveiled at St Paul’s Cathedral on October 2nd and is currently touring the country.

EIG said the following about this year’s competition:

It has really highlighted the wide and varied role that churches play in their communities. We’ve seen all manner of activities represented in the artwork; from helping the elderly and the lonely to running youth clubs, mother and toddler groups, and advice centres that support those with alcohol and drug problems. Much of this work goes unnoticed and we hope that this competition sheds some light on the important contribution churches make to society.

It was an inspired idea because churches are loved by many people, not just church goers.  Many of us have favourite churches, perhaps because of family associations or because they are in places that are dear to us.  It might be that they evoke particularly happy or poignant memories, or have striking architecture or a wonderful atmosphere.  Of course, for many people, churches are places where we come close to God, through worship, prayer and fellowship with others. And they are hubs for the wider community, providing social activity, friendship and support. Often a written description falls far short of properly capturing a beloved church or special place.  We quickly reach what Rowan Williams calls ‘the edge of words’.  It is then that we turn to the imagination to capture our favourite places through paint, poetry, photography or other artistic media.

We are blessed to have such beautiful churches in our Mission Community.  What is special to you about them? How would you capture their peace, beauty and significance?  You might have a wonderful photograph or painting, or you might have written a poem about a favourite church.  Or you might feel inspired to create or compose something.  Whatever each one of us feels about our beautiful churches, what unites us all is that ‘these places are our places.’  In this season of Remembering it is good to remember that our churches are safe, peaceful and holy meeting places – places for everyone.


October 2017

“Forget Norwegian fjords and Icelandic glaciers. Some of the most breathtaking landscapes are right here under our noses.”

That was the advice of one daily newspaper last October when the UK was ablaze with its glorious Autumn colours.  And our corner of it was no exception.

The newspaper’s advice came back to me when I visited Iceland for a few days in late August.  I was impressed by the barrenness of its lunar landscape; at the unpredictability of its spurting geysers; and at the power of its waterfalls.  It was stunning.  But I couldn’t help feeling there was something missing.

Then the penny dropped.  Where were the trees?

I gathered that the early settlers had cut most of them down to create farms, and to build and heat their houses. So by the 1950s only 1% of the land had trees.  Since then, there’s been a huge national replanting programme.  But from the little I saw, the trees still seemed very few and far between.

Icelanders may have the fleeting glories of the Northern Lights, but how can you have an Autumn without trees?

The turning of the leaves from green through a myriad of vibrant hues of yellow, gold, red, and finally brown is simply a wonder and a delight.

Yet Autumn is a season of paradox.  A time of exhilarating beauty and steady decline.  The days shorten and cool.  Summer’s abundance starts to decay.  We have the inevitable ‘touch of frost’ and the trees shed their glory.

In his poem “Spring and Fall” the Jesuit Father and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was compelled to make up new phrases to try to express just this paradox.  And so he gives us “grieving over goldengrove unleaving” and the lying “worlds of wanwood leafmeal”. Phrases filled with wonder and sadness.

And we may grieve with Manley Hopkins as beauty goes to ground. But with the “unleaving” is so very much promise.   Seeds are being planted, and that “wanwood leafmeal” composts the earth ready for another springtime.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the promise of renewal and hope, of yet another uprising of green.  Silently and lavishly, the seeds of new life are always being sown – not only in the natural world but in each one of us.

So this October, let’s enjoy our trees in all their vibrant glory.  And as we do so, let’s celebrate that God is forever making all things new.

Anne Futcher

September 2017

 Hilary writes:

As autumn draws near, so we begin a season of special celebrations.  Carnival and Harvest are particular favourites in this part of the world.  For centuries communities in every culture have marked shorter days, the steady drop in temperature and the approach of winter, with festivals which allow us to say thank you: for a safe Harvest, for families and friendship, for the summer that has passed.  Carnival processions are filled with light, a way of taking some of the light and warmth of summer into the darker days of winter.

In China families mark the Mid-Autumn festival, one of the major celebrations of the year. Dating back to the Tang dynasty, the festival draws on the symbolism of the moon, its round shape a sign of unity.  Families travel hundreds of miles to be together for dragon dancing, lantern burning and the sharing of food, notably moon cakes. The festivities encourage a spirit of thanksgiving, expressed so beautifully in the words of this ancient Chinese poem:

“May we live long and share the beauty of the moon,
even if we are hundreds of miles apart.”

In a smaller way, we have the chance to come together this Harvest time, to say thank you for one another and the beautiful part of the world we share. In Branscombe this year, our Harvest Festival will be part of the special Harvest Fair weekend, an opportunity to give thanks for our village and community life. In Colyton, we will be giving special thanks for home grown produce, for our gardeners and growers.  There will be a tractor procession for the children and the service will be preceded by a special Harvest breakfast, as we also celebrate our new-ish and popular Breakfast Service.  There will be services and food to share in Colyford, Musbury and Southleigh, and all the services will provide us with an opportunity to contribute to charity and to bring food and toiletries for our local foodbanks.

Above all we will have the chance to say thank you for the blessings in our lives, our families, friends and neighbours, and for the love of God which, as the Bible tells us, binds everything together in perfect unity.  Do come and join in Harvest services across our Mission Community in September and October– full details of times and places can be found in our magazines, and on our notice boards and this website.

August 2017

This month’s letter comes from our associate minister, Revd John Lees

Welcoming the stranger

A recent newspaper article explored how we have redefined the word ‘alien’. Today we normally mean little green men in spaceships. In the past the word meant ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’.

New learners of English confuse these terms, and one language guide offers a very clear definition: an alien is a technical term for a foreign national, and a stranger is somebody you don’t know yet.

Here in East Devon many people earn their living by providing a welcome to strangers, and we do it well.

I’ve often thought that in this part of the world we should invent a new Christian festival to supplement Christmas, Easter, and Harvest. We should arguably have a Festival of Hospitality, celebrating all the people who stay among us, enjoy themselves, and support the economy. It wouldn’t just be acknowledging tourism, but a celebration of welcome.

Many Bible stories tell us about welcoming people we don’t know, especially if they are in need. It’s a powerful antidote to tribalism and suspicion. This isn’t just about helping people you don’t know. It’s about fundamental trust – trusting in strangers, and encouraging them to trust that you will be a good host.

The Bible says important things about aliens – visitors, travellers, people from other cultures. Perhaps the idea is rooted in exile: ‘”So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt’. As in many cultures, offering welcome to strangers was vital. It’s a good reminder to treat people as you would hope to be treated yourself. Besides, your visitor might be an angel or (as Sarah and Abraham found) God himself visiting your tent. Sharing food with strangers is one of the most important ways getting to know them (the word companion simply means someone you break bread with).

Hospitality isn’t just about feeding and entertaining people – it’s about being generous, and being curious. Is about what we can learn from each other and seeing the world through new eyes. You may take your home town granted, but for a visitor it may be a visual treat.

As for a service celebrating hospitality – let me know what you think. In the meantime, watch out for aliens, and be prepared to offer them tea.



July 2017

This month’s letter is from Anne:

As summer and holidays are well and truly upon us, I’m reminded of one of my favourite old T-shirt designs.  On the front is printed the legend: ‘Sail fast, live slow’.

The great 20th century philosopher, Wittgenstein, is very hard to understand. He wrote with irony, parody and jokes.  He spattered his writing with punctuation marks.  He mixed up fragments of texts. He seemed to change the subject at random.

In his later writing, Wittgenstein explained why he did this: “Sometimes a sentence can only be understood if it is read at the right speed. My sentences are all meant to be read slowly.”  And later:  “I really want my copious punctuation marks to slow down the speed of reading.  Because I should like to be read slowly.”

A few weeks ago I re-read (quite slowly!) the delightful novel, ‘Salmon fishing in the Yemen’, by Paul Torday.  In it, a sheikh has a seemingly impossible vision.  He wants to introduce salmon to the seasonal waters of a wadi in the desert.  As a lover of fishing himself, he believes that it will help his people to enjoy life and to be less hot-tempered:  “My countrymen will stand on the banks side by side and fish for salmon.  And their natures too will be changed.  They will feel the enchantment of this silver fish, and the overwhelming love that I know for the fish and the river it swims in.  And then when talk turns to what this tribe said or did, and voices grow heated, then someone will say, “Let us arise, and go fishing”.

God is committed to our full enjoyment of this extraordinary world.  One rabbi famously said that the first question God would ask him at the end of his life would be “Did you enjoy my creation?”

In the three short years of Jesus’s busy ministry on earth he found time to do just that.  He’d journey around the countryside at walking pace, and with a deep sense of wonder he’d point out to his friends the glory around them: the birds of the air, the beauty of the meadow flowers.  Jesus would pause and marvel at the world’s beauty and in so doing, draw closer to God, his Father.

As this holiday season gets into full swing, I hope that all of us find time, whether we’re at home or further afield, to do just that: to pause and marvel at God’s glorious creation; to savour good books at leisure; to ‘live slow’ and to draw closer to God.

Anne Futcher

June 2017

You and Me

Engaging with the big questions of life and faith is one of the most rewarding parts of what I do.  I love conversations with people of all ages. When I was working in my previous group of parishes I remember showing a group of our very youngest school children around the church.  As we stood looking at the church tower, I asked them if they knew why church bells are rung on Sundays and before services.  One of them replied, quick as a flash: to tell us that God is at home.

A brilliant answer to a question, which led to more questions and a debate about where God is, and whether God is only to be found in church buildings.  We quickly decided that, whilst we hope we will encounter God in our church buildings and church services, God is to be found at all times and in all places.  Perhaps one of the best places to find God is in the time we spend with one another, friends, families and neighbours and in the conversations we share.

As we head into the summer months there are so many opportunities to meet up, spend time together and enjoy one another’s company in our Mission Community of churches.  We are looking forward to the God at Work exhibition in St Andrew’s Colyton, the Songs of Praise services on the beach at Branscombe, the open day at St Winifred’s church, the cream tea in Musbury and many other events and services, including those in Colyford and Southleigh.

One of my favourite poems is called Between, by Richard Skinner a local Devon poet.  In the poem, he describes a God who is not static but dynamic, present in our actions and reactions, in the words we say and in the time we spend together.  This is how it begins:

God is in the ‘and’ of you and me.

Not you, not me; but you and me. *

I hope this summer will be a very special time, enjoying one another’s company, and glimpsing God’s love and goodness in the spaces, activities and conversations we share together.


*Between’ published in ‘Leaping and Staggering’, Dilettante Publications. 2nd Ed. 1996.

May 2017

This month’s letter comes from Revd. Hilary Dawson and Revd. John Lees

New from May 2017 – The Breakfast Service

If you fancy the idea of a late breakfast, a chance to gather with friends, and informal worship, you might be excited to hear about something new happening at St Andrews.

We are blessed in our Mission Community because we serve people from all backgrounds and age groups. We already do a great deal with children and young families, for example Messy Church, expertly managed by our children’s worker Kathryn Radley. At Harvest, Christmas and Easter families join us in large numbers. We want to welcome into church more often.

A small focus group gathered earlier this year to think about possibilities. The group helped us understand how some people find it daunting to come into church, and what they hear inside can feel like ‘insider’ language. We talked also about what feels relevant and encouraging to busy families. So it’s no surprise that the first suggestion made was that we should begin with breakfast.

Food and hospitality have always been close to the heart of faith and community. One of the best stories in John’s gospel is where Jesus, returned from the dead, stands on a beach and watches his friends out fishing in their boats. He calls to them. He says ‘come and eat breakfast’. Jesus is restored to life, and what does he do? He cooks a meal for his friends.

So, each third Sunday of the month in Colyton we will gather for The Breakfast Service. We start at 10.00 with breakfast (bacon rolls, with a vegetarian alternative), followed by a short (less than 40 minutes) act of worship at 10.30 – with music, story-telling, and material we hope every age will find stimulating.

Recently we heard both Bishop Robert and Bishop Sarah describe churches in other parts of Devon who are using creative formats to attract newcomers, and we are delighted to follow their encouragement.

Every service is of course open to people of every generation, but all age worship means that the language, music, activities, stories and talks communicate something to every age group from school children to adults. In keeping things short and snappy we are particularly mindful of the needs of families with youngsters, but we plan to ensure that everyone is fed, in all senses of the word.

The warmest welcome considers the needs of guests, so we want to offer hospitality, companionship, interesting words and music, a chance for as many people to participate as possible, and, yes, breakfast too.

This new service will complement the wide range of worship offered throughout our Mission Community. Our five churches provide a full range of choices from lively traditional to creatively modern. The new Breakfast Service adds to this rich and much-valued mix. It’s sometimes said that the Church of England is one of the few organisations which serves non-members. That’s important. We serve all of our community, and we want to continue to find ways of making you all welcome.

So, do join us in St Andrew’s, Colyton at 10.00 on Sunday 21 May, and every third Sunday of the month – come and have breakfast.

If you fancy helping, we need the whole A to Z-: baristas, baby bouncers, bread roll slicers, collection takers, croissant wranglers, doorkeepers, ketchup monitors, organisers, publicists, pamphleteers, puppeteers, singers, storytellers, tea pourers, waiters, warm-up comics, washer-uppers, and welcomers. And probably several other jobs we haven’t thought of yet – just get in touch.

But if you’d rather just turn up, that would be good too.

Hilary and John

April 2017

Our letter this month comes from Revd Anne Futcher

“An event, seen from one point of view gives one impression.  Seen from another point of view it gives quite a different impression.  But it’s only when you get the whole picture, you can fully understand what’s going on.”

That’s the voiceover of a television commercial for a national newspaper, back in 1986.

It shows a series of three scenes.  In the first we see the figure of a young man.  His head is closely shaven.   He’s casually dressed.  He runs furiously round a street corner.  Clearly he’s running away.

In the second, the young man runs straight towards a smartly dressed older man whom he pushes roughly. Clearly he’s assaulting the second man.

As the final shot pans out to show the whole scene, we begin to understand what’s going on.  The younger man did push the older.  But he pushed him out of the path of some masonry that was about to fall on him from a nearby building.  The older man’s life was in danger, but not from the young man.  He turns out to be his rescuer, not his assailant, after all.

In the space of just three seconds, our perspective is changed completely. Everything looks different.

One of the familiar Easter stories tells of the risen and unrecognised Jesus walking along the road to Emmaus with two of his bereft followers.  As they walk together, Jesus listens to them speaking of recent events. You can almost hear their incredulity at what’s happened; their disappointment and sadness as all their former hopes lie in tatters.  The person they’d put their faith in as king and saviour has turned out to be just a nobody – who’s died a criminal’s death on a cross.

But then there’s the concluding frame.  Jesus starts talking to them about what really happened, about how his death has fulfilled the promises of scripture.  And as their eyes are opened, they recognise him.  The disciples begin to see the whole picture.  Their perspective is changed completely.  Everything looks different.

Christ is risen. There’s a new world.  There is hope after all.

And when we recognise Jesus among us today, when we recognise him in one another, our perspective is changed completely too.  Everything looks different.  We have a new perception of our world.   Death and destruction don’t have the last word.  Life and love do.

This is the Easter message.  It is very Good News indeed.  Happy Easter!

March 2017

Hilary writes:

There are lots of traditions associated with Lent, the span of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day. Probably the most famous is the practice of giving something up.  It might be something edible: chocolate, wine or cake.  It might be a regular activity: computer games or watching TV.  Or it might be giving something up to make a lifestyle change: smoking perhaps, or foregoing the car in favour of walking.  Giving something up has its roots in the centuries old Christian tradition of fasting, which created time and space for devotion to God, a greater awareness of others and a more disciplined life of prayer.

In recent years, the idea of giving something up has been replaced for some by the idea of taking something up.  Instead of attempting something which might end in disappointment or failure, the idea is to do something positive which makes a difference to us, our family, friends, the local community or the wider world, and which might last beyond Lent.  It could be volunteering, actively supporting a charity, or learning a new skill which will benefit others.

For many, Lent has become an opportunity for both.  A time to give something up which has become distracting or unhelpful in order to create some valuable time for reflection.  And a time to make a commitment to doing something which might be life-enhancing or even life-changing.

One of my favourite prayers asks that we would forget the God we don’t believe in, and find the God who believes in us.  So many of us build up a picture of God which might well be distorted or unhelpful.  We might imagine a God that is too small, or a God that is petty, judgmental or distant.  Perhaps the best thing we can do this Lent is to ‘give up’ the God we stopped believing in long ago, find some time for reflection, and ‘take up’ the God who has never stopped believing in us.

February 2017

This month’s letter comes from Revd John Lees, associate priest in the Holyford Mission Community

On the shoulders of others


Sometimes sporting champions are carried around a stadium on the shoulders of their team-mates. This way of raising people up and making them visible relates nicely to a phrase made famous by Isaac Newton in 1676: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Newton was talking about the way discovery builds on earlier thinking, but it’s a good image for how we achieve things in life. If we see the world clearly, if we make new things happen, it’s because of other people.

Modern society likes to think of us all as individual achievers. You sit exams on your own, go to job interviews alone. We put career success down to individual ability. In reality, no one achieves any of these things on their own.

The Nigerian proverb “it takes a whole village to raise a child” exists in different forms across Africa – the Tanzanian equivalent is “One knee does not bring up a child”. It reflects a culture where bringing up a child is a shared effort, with responsibility shared not just amongst extended family but the wider community.

This a picture of how society has worked through most of our history. It’s only in recent generations that people have lived in a much more isolated way.

The proverb also reminds us how much we owe other people. Behind every person who succeeds you will find parents, godparents and the wider family, close friends, and many other people who shape us into who we are. We don’t always acknowledge the many people who have taught us, inspired us to new challenges, shared expertise, trusted us to grow in confidence.

Lent begins on 1 March this year. In Holyford Mission Community we run annual Lent programmes of learning and discussion, with each of the five churches we serve hosting one occasion. This year’s lent course takes the theme Inspirations. We will be joined by speakers from a wide range of backgrounds (public service, education, theological education, literature, and Christian leadership). Each speaker will be telling us about the people who have inspired them to become the people they are today. All are welcome. Please see separate post for details.





January 2017

Hilary writes: ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’

No, this is not about the old Goons song – that was called ‘I’m walking backwards for Christmas’! Walking Backwards to Christmas is the title of a beautiful book by Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford.

In it, he tells the Christmas story backwards. Starting with Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to be presented at the temple, he travels backwards with each chapter. Escape to Egypt, Wise Men, Shepherds, birth, journey to Bethlehem, the visit of the angel, the prophecies of old. Right the way back to God appearing to Moses at the burning bush. This unusual backwards story-telling helps Cottrell get to the heart of the story: God first makes his name, purpose and love known to Moses. And then he makes his name, purpose and love known to the whole world when Jesus is born, Emmanuel, God with us.

Here we are in January, ready to walk forwards from Christmas. Every year it’s the same. We tidy up the decorations, and get on with our lives, often without a backward glance. This January, as we look forward to what 2017 might bring for us, let’s not forget to look back as well as forward. We might have closed the book but the story hasn’t finished. The baby has been born. God is still with us, on the difficult days, ordinary day and joyful days. Wherever love is, there is God.

In one chapter in his book, Cottrell imagines Casper as one of the wise men who uses all his wisdom, experience and longing to find the baby. When he does so, the baby changes him for ever. And as he turns to leave Jesus and continue his journey he says:

I tell you now, as we turn our faces away from Bethlehem, it doesn’t feel like an ending. Something has begun here. Something that has to do with love.

We don’t know what 2017 has in store for us or our world – but looking back to Christmas reminds us that something has begun. And it has to do with love.

 What do Christians believe? We are hoping to run a short course on Wednesday evenings starting on January 18th for anyone who would like to discover more about the Christian faith. Please contact Hilary Dawson or Anne Futcher to find out more.