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November 2018

Remembering matters

What is the difference between remembrance and remembering? In dictionary terms, very little, but the term ‘remembrance’ is often used in connection with special moments in time. We remember a wide range of things in passing, randomly, but remembrance is about setting time aside to think deeply about the past.

The first two-minute silence of remembrance in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe silence at 11am, exactly one year after the end of World War One. He made the request so “the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”. This reminds us that remembrance is a shared activity – something we do as a community.

During the 1970s many people predicted that Remembrance Day would soon be forgotten. In fact, since the Falklands conflict and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Remembrance Sunday seems as relevant today as it was in 1919. It is a day which marks more than the end of one terrible war, in 1918, where industrialised killing achieved horrors never previously imagined. On this day we fall still – to remember the cost of war, and the burdens carried by those who fight in our behalf. Many of those leaving our armed forces become homeless; some suffer lasting mental health problems.

Remembrance isn’t just about recollecting things we know – it’s about learning. We might find out about long forgotten wars – for example those who served in less well known conflicts in 1940s Israel, 1950s Korea, 1960s Malaya, or 1990s Bosnia. We might take the time to find out about those wars happening across our world today, often unnoticed by the media. We might say a quiet prayer for all those in harm’s way somewhere in the world, and those who wait for them.

If remembrance means learning, we might look at the bigger picture of the 20th Century, where around 200 million people died, directly or indirectly, as a result of war, and millions more were displaced or exiled.

This year naturally we focus on the 1918 Armistice. Some communities across the UK will be thinking this month not just about those named on war memorials, but those who returned and tried to pick up the pieces of their lives. We remember, too, families who have endured wars at home, waiting for an awful telegram.

Remembrance is an action, a choice. It might mean hearing new stories. For example, finding out more about the largely forgotten contributions of African and Caribbean servicemen to the First World War, where over 2 million Africans and 16,000 Caribbean citizens were active participants. We might find out more about the wide ranging roles undertaken by women in war.

Remembrance also means trying to understand; to fathom what causes wars and what avoids them. To understand the full range of experiences of those who go to war, oppose war, or whose lives are consumed by war.

And finally, through understanding, we seek wisdom. One thing all faiths have in common is hope for peace – generosity before guns, tolerance before trumpets. Peace, we know from experience, is precious and needs to be cherished and protected.

Christians know that peace is God’s hope for the world, and that it begins with a simple action – treating others as we hope to be treated ourselves. As we fall still this November we call to mind a powerful truth: peace begins among us.

Revd John Lees, Associate Priest

October 2018

Children and Families in the Holyford Mission Community

For the past six years we have had a dedicated Children and Families worker in our community of five churches.  For the past four of those it has been Kathryn Radley.  Kathryn, alongside an extensive team of volunteers, has done an amazing job.  She has built up Noah’s Ark, our thriving group for families and very young children.  She has led Messy Church with great creativity and flair. And she has run a lunchtime club at Branscombe School which has been hugely valued by the children and school community.  Kathryn has now moved on, but she goes with our love and thanks, and we will continue to see her around from time to time.

Over the summer months we have appointed a new Children and Families worker and I am delighted to introduce to you Linda Joy. Linda comes to us with great experience of working with children and is going to introduce herself in her own words:

Hello, my name is Linda Joy and I have recently moved to Devon from Northamptonshire.  I am an Early Years Teacher and Forest School Leader, and I have a passion for work with children and their families. As well as running a pre-school, over the years I have been involved in Sunday Schools, Messy Church, Café Church and Sporty Church.  Since arriving in Devon, I have joined the Holyford Community Mission working as Children & Families worker.  I am delighted to say that I will be working together with the excellent teams at Noah’s Ark and Messy Church and will continue to run a lunch time club at Branscombe School, where I hope to explore the Christian faith through Forest School sessions with the children. I hope to be popping up at the various locations in the Mission Community soon and I look forward to getting to know everyone and to having lots of fun times together.

We are delighted to have Linda with us.  She will be popping in to each of our churches over the next few weeks to talk to our congregations and our Autumn term programme is now up and running.  Please see below for dates for Noah’s Ark and Messy Church and we hope to see you soon.

Noah’s Ark : Thursday at Colyford Memorial Hall, 1.15-2.45

Oct 4th, 18th; Nov 1st, 15th, 29th; Dec 13th.

Messy Church : 4-6pm at Reece Strawbridge Centre Colyton

Sundays October 14th and November 11th

September 2018

During my recent sabbatical leave I had the opportunity to spend time in different church contexts and was hugely grateful for the hospitality I received and all that I was able to learn.  Likewise, it is a privilege to welcome colleagues to our churches here.  For a few weeks this summer we have been joined by Revd Katharine Hawksley from Chard.  It has been lovely to get to know her and learn from her and we wish her well for the future.  Hilary

Katharine writes:

I’ve been on placement in the Holyford Mission Community for six weeks. I’m just starting my third year of curacy in Chard and I do a placement as part of my training. During my time with you, I’ve had the opportunity to come to community groups such as Noah’s Ark, the pre-school group in Colyford, Southleigh Fayre and the Community Café in Colyton – this does make it sound as though I’ve spent six weeks drinking coffee! Joking aside, it has been a blessing to meet so many people and to hear their stories. Groups like these are so important to the communities in which we live. They provide outreach and support for many people and are cherished and appreciated.

I’ve also spent time with the congregations in the Mission Community too. It’s been a delight to take part in your worship and to learn about each of the churches. They are all very different and have their own unique personality.

The one thing I have gleaned from my time with you is that the Mission Community really is a community. It has been wonderful to see communities which work on their own, but also with the communities around them. The people who live around us are so important. It can be easy to feel isolated but working together strengthens who we are. It is encouraging to see parishes working well together and communities which care for one another.

The early Christians were a community. They weren’t simply a group who came together on a Sunday. They often lived together, ate together and provided outreach for those in need. Society was community focussed; people took care of one another and family was important. They didn’t have as much as we do and lived in a patriarchal society and so they depended on one another for survival. The society we live in today is very different. It is one that focusses on the individual and on their dreams and aspirations. That is no bad thing and it encourages people to grow and develop, however it can feel that something has been lost along the way. That is why the Mission Community is so important. It’s a group of people coming alongside to support one another.

Finally, I’d like to say thank you to each and everyone of you for your welcome and your time. It’s truly been a pleasure to be with you for these six weeks. I wish you every blessing for the future.

Katharine

August 2018

The Sound of Silence

Every ten years or so, clergy in the Church of England are encouraged to take three months away from their usual duties and to use the space in ways that will help them, and hopefully those whom they serve. Between April and the beginning of July this year I was on sabbatical study leave.  Over the twelve weeks I spent my time resting, praying, reading, studying, working alongside colleagues in different church settings and travelling. And I’ve also managed to complete another quilt! I am very conscious of the blessing this time has been, and I am so grateful to the ministry team, church wardens and PCCs for giving me the space to do this.

An article in the newspaper last week highlighted the level of noise all around us, and the way in which prolonged or high volumes of noise can affect our physical and mental health.  Even in this relatively quiet area it is hard to escape traffic noise, and many of us are ‘plugged in’ to music, conversation and communication all the time.  Conversely, we know that the sound of TV, radio and music can be a great source of solace and company to many.

However, for large numbers of people silence is very rare indeed and can seem daunting.  At the beginning of my sabbatical I went to North Wales, to St Beunos retreat centre.  There I spent a full week in silence, broken only by a twenty-minute daily conversation with my retreat guide.  I discovered that silence is not just the absence of noise.  Some sounds grew clearer in the ‘silence’ – the sound of my heartbeat and footsteps, the movement of the trees, birdsong, the everyday sounds that are so often drowned out by the noise I impose.  Silence removed all my usual distractions – for example, on my retreat reading was discouraged, as of course were TV, internet etc. A challenging consequence of this was that I had to face things about myself that I would probably rather avoid!  But it also sharpened my other senses, heightening my awareness of the world around me, and the many blessings of life. Most of all, as the silence did its work, it brought with it a greater sense of peace and calm.

Churches are wonderful places to enjoy stillness.  Over the summer three of our churches will be offering ‘Breathing Space’, an opportunity to come and experience half an hour of silence.  Everyone is very welcome!   Hilary

July 2018

This month’s letter comes from Reader Jan Lees.

The Book of The World

In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Duke Senior says that he ‘finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.’  It’s a reference to the idea of ‘The Book of the World’ – the belief that God speaks to us through Creation.  And I think that’s true – though if you take it too literally God will sometimes seem to be saying some very strange things…  For example, I don’t think the mating habits of the Black Widow spider should be taken as a pattern for family life.

But the beauty we see around us living in such a place as this and the friendship and support we can find in our communities certainly can be seen as a natural expression of God’s good will, of his desire for our well-being and his whole-hearted commitment to joy in our lives.

The Book of the World is a very useful idea if it helps you find joy – if it helps you identify what makes you feel at peace with yourself and others because those things are everyday blessings.  A cup of tea, a hot shower, the scent and colour of a flower, a view to the sea – all these things that make us feel happy and more open to the world are everyday blessings and we need to make the most of them.

Before I moved here I relished the idea of being able to swim in the sea -conditions permitting – and if I couldn’t swim, then at least I’d see the sea every day.  Now I’m here, I don’t make enough effort to visit the shore.  I’ve not ‘got used to the sea’, but I am in danger of taking my chance to visit it for granted.  I need to sort that out.

The world is full of such wonderful things and such interesting people it’s a shame not to enjoy their company.  We can get so involved in chores and jobs that we forget to savour life.  So, as the summer blossoms round you, don’t forget to be part of it.  Remember, no-one has ever lain on their deathbed and said ‘I wish I’d done more dusting.’

Jan Lees (Reader in Holyford Mission Community)

P.S.     St Andrew’s is at the start of hosting an ongoing art/craft project looking at the world of colour in the cycle of the church year.  Its next few sessions will focus on the idea of ‘The Book of the World’ and the colour green.  If you’re interested in joining us, or want to know more, get in touch.  (01297 551351)

June 2018

This month’s letter comes from Rev John Lees

The gift

This month a lot of conversations and events have got me thinking about friendship. For example, I’ve reconnected with one or two people I haven’t heard from in over 30 years. Often the conversation has started again because I’ve emailed an old photograph. Scanning old negatives, turning them into digital images not only prompts good memories, it’s given me an excuse to get track down people I though had lost touch with.

Another reason the topic comes to mind is that I was asked to contribute to an article about friendship at work. appearing in the work pages of the Financial Times. One of the conclusions reached by the piece is that many people spend so much time at work that it’s a place where relationships are built – but some people are wary of making friends with colleagues, especially where you have to manage them. Oddly, when the article appeared online many people wrote fairly dismissive, cynical messages about friendship being irrelevant or counter-productive at work.

We also know that as work pressures increase, the chances to build warm friendships during working hours diminish. In the past when things were a bit quiet at work you probably enjoyed a conversation or two. Today, when work slackens off, people on minimum hours contracts are often sent home. If your only experience of work is to be under pressure with no time to ask questions, learn from other people, or just spend time getting along with people, an important dimension is missing.

This might sadden us a little. We have our fair share of funerals here in this part of East Devon, and so we hear a lot of life stories. We hear about family life, but we often hear about work, too. In funeral addresses people rarely say ‘he met all his targets and always worked late’. Often what is remembered is deep trust, good humour, helping people out in difficult times, being alongside people in the ups and downs of life.

Christians believe that God provides many gifts. The gift of community, for example, and – of course – the gift of friendship. God is often most clearly seen in the people around us. Friendship is not just a ‘nice to have’ element after you’ve done your chores and paid your bills. Being valued, appreciated, having friends who enjoy your company – these are the greatest gift.

God makes us gifts to each other. These are the times we value most – quiet, companionable summer evenings, or a fireside chat in the winter. Perhaps a long walk in the country with someone whose company you enjoy.

So, if it’s fashionable to believe that life is too busy for friendships, why not be counter-cultural – show your friends how much they mean to you. Reach out to someone who matters to you, especially if they’ve dropped off your radar. It might make their day.

Revd John Lees, Associate Priest

May 2018

This month’s letter comes from Rev Anne Futcher.

“We sent 2,000 palm crosses to Exeter and in return, we get Anne!”  So the Very Reverend Chris Butt, Dean of Bahrain Cathedral and Awali Church told his congregations before I arrived in Bahrain.

That’s a lot of palm crosses to live up to!

As a curate, I have the chance of a placement to experience a different kind of ministry.  And, after meeting Chris Butt back in Spring 2017, it was agreed that I‘d visit Bahrain during Lent  – to join the ministry team at the Anglican Cathedral.

It couldn’t have been more different from East Devon!  Bahrain is an archipelago on the north-eastern coast of the Persian Gulf, linked by a 16 mile causeway to Saudi Arabia.  Over half its population is non-indigenous – coming mainly from Australia, Kenya, India, the Philippines, Kenya and the UK.  And it was hot!  While I was there, the temperature reached 29 degrees centigrade – in the evening!

Bahrain is a Muslim country and Friday is the rest day for most people.  Accordingly, church services are held mainly on Fridays with smaller services held on both Saturdays and Sundays.  ‘Mothering Friday’ takes a bit of getting used to!

Bahrain has a proud tradition of hospitality to other faiths.  Apart from its churches, it hosts both Buddhist and Hindu temples, and a synagogue.

In its widest sense, hospitality loomed large during my visit.  I was overwhelmed by the generosity I received.  The sharing of so many personal stories – and wonderful meals – will stay with me.

I was intrigued, too, by how the Anglican Church was both a guest and a host.  As guest, the cathedral community was privileged to worship freely on land gifted by the Royal Family.  As host, it offered worship space to forty-three different local church communities.

I was struck afresh by the privilege of sharing in key moments of people’s life and faith journeys: in baptisms, weddings and marriage blessings – celebrations that melded together traditions from different cultures and backgrounds.  One wedding blessing service of an older couple particularly touched me.  Their Christian and cultural diversity was honoured by a reading in Arabic and in English from the Book of Ruth – a poignant acknowledgment of love and welcome offered to strangers in a strange land.

I was struck, too, by how the church family, in all its diversity, not only offered hospitality to one another, but also to its local community – through running a thriving thrift shop, supporting migrant workers in local labour camps; and, through its work with the Mission to Seafarers, to those in need at the Port.   I had an opportunity to spend time in each of these contexts during my stay.

My first Sunday back in the Holyford Mission Community was on Palm Sunday. As I held up my palm cross to be blessed, it felt even more special than usual.  It brought vividly to mind those Christians I’d met in Bahrain, and the journey we’d shared through Lent. And that morning, I had a sense we were all celebrating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem together.

Looking at my palm cross, I recalled some incidental meetings that spoke deeply of hospitality.  In one such meeting a local woman told of how, desperate for a child, she’d found herself drawn to the cathedral to pray to Mary.  Proudly showing us a photo of her small child, she spoke of looking forward to dropping in once more to share in a prayer of thanksgiving.

I recalled the welcome I received preaching to the Urdu congregation at the New Evangelical Church, presiding and preaching to the Tamil Cathredral congregation on ‘Mothering Friday’, and co-leading the vibrant and colourful worship on Women’s International Day of Prayer.

Was my visit worth 2,000 palm crosses? I can’t say.  It was certainly a very rich time of learning and ministry.  And despite being greeted by snow, it’s very good to be back  – in time for a Devon spring!

Anne Futcher

April 2018

As I write, we are just emerging from three bitterly cold days.  Deep snow and ice have brought our communities to a standstill and we have all had that strange experience of patterns and routines being forced to change, for good and ill.  As ever, the cold weather has seen our communities at their very best as everyone tried to help one another.  As the snow melts it seems hard to believe that Easter is just around the corner – it doesn’t seem a moment since we were celebrating Christmas.

A very good way to link both festivals is to think about the Christmas tree.  Our Christmas trees, with their lights and decorations, are wonderful, joyful celebrations of the love of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus.   After the festivities are over, many churches now carefully cut off the branches from the trunk of their Christmas tree.  The trunk is stored away and then used to make a cross.  The cross is brought into church in Holy Week, the solemn week of prayer and reflection that leads up to Easter Day, a stark reminder of the suffering and death of Jesus.  Rather than a polished and beautifully carved cross, the ‘Christmas tree’ cross is misshapen and rough, and somehow more redolent of the sadness and harshness that we remember as we tell the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and death.

Finally, on Easter Day, the ‘Christmas tree’ cross is decorated once more.  This time with white linen and spring flowers, symbols of the new life and hope that comes with Jesus’ resurrection.  Many people don’t realise that the Easter season last for 50 days.  As the days lengthen and new life flourishes all around us, do come and hear the Easter stories and join in the many services that will take place right across our Mission Community throughout those 50 days.  You will be very welcome.

Hilary

 

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.

Hilary

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.

Hilary

* 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.

 Hilary

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.