Revd Howard’s August Notes

August ramblings

Now that August is here, it’s time for summery thoughts in anticipation of those long, hot sunny days basking in the fine weather of this season. Time to get away perhaps for a few days from the ‘normal’ pattern of living, to recharge one’s batteries, time for some ’me’ time and needed R & R….I hope that your plans in the coming weeks are achieved just as you dreamed.

Thinking back on the events of the past few weeks and months it would seem that it is not only us but much of the world that is in need of some ‘time out’ to allow clearer assessment to be made of just where the world is going to. Leadership in many places and at all levels, including that of the most powerful and influential nations seems to be confused about how to respond to the needs of  ordinary people and how appropriate relationships can be developed and maintained across international and cultural boundaries. Is there perhaps a tendency for isolationist views  to be gaining ground?

Perhaps a significant facet of this traditional period of relaxation and of recreation is to give opportunity for a space to review our life aims and objectives, not primarily from the narrow vision of ‘self’ but within the  broader picture…there is much wisdom in the old Chinese saying.. ‘the longest journey begins with a single step..’…individual actions do matter and can bring change.

In this connection, I was reminded of the appropriateness of an Old Testament lesson for  Sunday [7th Sunday after Trinity]…an account of a conversation between Yahweh and the  new young King of Israel, Solomon. The young ruler in reply to Yahweh’s question ‘what shall I give thee??…’ asked ‘…give your servant an understanding heart to govern your people…that I may discern between good and bad…’ [1 Kings 3, v 5-12]. Solomon’s vision was based upon his acceptance of his responsibilities to all and sundry… not a bad model to follow it seems to me!! [and Yahweh came to the same conclusion too!!]

This summer can be our chance to be re-created….to re-define our aims and objectives looking ahead, a time to review and be refreshed.

I trust that you will all enjoy the period ahead and face the future refreshed and strengthened.

God Bless

Howard

The Revd Howard’s thoughts for May

Random musing!!

One of the really good things about this time of year I think is that we are surrounded by change….almost imperceptibly . Fields, hedgerows even our gardens show dramatic changes ….yes I know its all about Spring but somehow I for one am always surprised by what I see

But there are also the changes about us too that are not nearly so welcome …I am still surprised by the much publicised actions of how badly people as individuals and communities respond to each other…hostility is never it seems off the human agenda. And yet there are also perhaps even more occasions [less reported] when  we can see benevolent humanity in action

There was this weekend something hugely uplifting I felt in the pictures of one marathon runner supporting a fellow, but physically suffering, athlete across the finish line in the London Marathon sacrificing his own finish time in order that the other could finish the run, achieve a time and gain his medal too!!  A trivial episode maybe but illustrative of what can and often is achieved by ordinary folk in their lives…helps redress the imbalance of horrors taking all the limelight

I guess action like that one and the changing signs about us of new life and new beginnings is just what this season of Easter is all about..namely …HOPE..

Desmond Tutu, [not unusually!] seems to get it right

‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’

There are many many signs of hope about us if we can only let ourselves see that the light is more powerful than the darkness…illumination that can ‘guide our feet into the way of peace..‘ to quote someone else [Luke 1,79]

I pray that the effect of the evolving Spring of Hope will enlighten your lives.

Howard

The Revd Mark’s thoughts for March

Dear Friends

I’m sure you were more aware than usual of the proceedings of the General Synod of the Church of England in February* Even if you wouldn’t normally be interested, it’s been all over the media. Sex sells. The media are never more interested in the Church than when we are talking about it. Except that we weren’t. Not really. This is in part where the issue comes from. Christians can tend to get so hung-up about people’s lovemaking and whether they regard it as legitimate or not. As the Archbishops said in the pastoral letter after the ‘take note’ debate in synod, what we’re discussing here is not an issue or a ‘problem’ for the Church, but people and their lives and their relationships. It would be hard to read the Bible and conclude that sexual morality is not important, but when we’re discussing marriage and what it means; sex is only a part of that, an important part, but a part nonetheless. Personally, I’m not persuaded that the Bible condemns sexual expression between two people, whatever their genders, who are in a loving, committed relationship. Others disagree. Some certainly do so out of homophobia. I would find it hard to agree that if the people I know of that ‘traditional’ mindset are coming from that place. But I have not had to live with the prejudice and stigma that my LGBT friends have endured, often, sadly in churches.

All Hallows prides itself on being an inclusive church. We have become a safe haven for a handful of LGBT people who have not found the same welcome elsewhere. Inclusivity is in our DNA. If that means anything, it must also mean that people who hold to what’s regarded as the traditional teaching on sexuality should also find a welcome here. That welcome and inclusivity does mean that anyone has the freedom to wound others with their prurient questioning or by presuming that they can teach others about their lives. The basis of our welcome has been, and I believe should continue to be, that we celebrate our differences and the richness that gives us. There may be spaces we can create for honest and compassionate conversation but never singling anyone out for special scrutiny.

In this season of Lent, perhaps we could take some time to consider the radical hospitality of Jesus. In this time of self-reflection we might ask ourselves, who is it that I exclude, in my thinking, in my words, or in my behaviour—consciously or unconsciously? Diversity is a gift of God in Creation. By opening ourselves even more fully to difference this Lent, we may grow in our knowledge and love of God and neighbour.

Peace

Mark

The Revd Howard’s February thoughts….

My Musings…..

To say that things sometimes fail to go according to plan is not a particularly deep thought; for most of us, it is a common truism and our life path and plan has to be in constant review and re-assessment. This train of thought has been set in motion for me as I muse over the events of the beginning of this New Year… No matter where you stand on any political spectrum it remains true for us all that the results of the voting of last summer to leave or stay within the EU and the more recent Presidential election in the USA dominate much media space and introduce, unexpectedly perhaps, that element of surprise and ’whoever would have thought that could happen…’ into our lives

I was reminded that this is not a new phenomenon by a reading for evensong last Sunday…the story of Jacob’s adventure into the desert [Gen 28, 10-22] and his unexpected experience of God himself acting in the everyday events. To say the least Jacob found himself challenged and compelled to rethink his life choices

I just wonder whether in our more contemplative moments we as individuals may see the unexpected events as some sort of a wake-up call to encourage us to reassess our attitudes to questions and situations that perhaps we regarded as too remote to be that important?

How do we really feel about our relationship with neighbouring countries and cultures…and not only on that macro scale but closer to home how do/should we relate and what is our real responsibility to the communities and neighbourhoods of which we are physically a part? Something about being ‘our brother’s keeper….’ comes to mind!

All of this is perhaps a bit deep and certainly challenging but none the less, a reflection of what may face us…a reminder that whether we like it or not distant events do impact upon each of us in some way and challenge us to respond.

Fortunately as Jacob, with the problems he saw coming his way, was soon assured that there was help  alongside ..’’I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest…’’said the Lord [Gen 28,v15] …are we being reminded too that there is a power greater than ours to aid in bringing peace and justice into the world…maybe our resolution for this year ought to be to seek something of that divine help too

Blessings

Howard

Revd Mark’s Christmas message

Dear friends

It seems that we might be living in the era of the strong man. Putin in Russia. Assad in Syria. Mugabe (still) in Zimbabwe. And now Trump in America. In a time when everything seems uncertain and insecure, it is very tempting to try to go back to a time when we imagined things were different and our family, our tribe, our nation, was strong: make America great again. This is not America, of course, but that tendency lurks in our own culture and politics too.

What does this strength look like? So often, it is reflected in a sort of machismo, an unshakeable self-belief, a demolition of opponents and an aggression towards outsiders.  ‘Power‘  is so often associated with this sort of strength that I personally don’t like to use the word. Can there be any sort of power that isn’t about muscling your way to the top?

I think there is. The Bible talks about the power of the Holy Spirit. It always struck me as odd to talk about power when thinking of the person of the Holy Spirit that the Bible portrays as a dove, but the original word ‘dunamis; is much more about dynamism and energy than the sort of power exercised by supposedly strong men. This is the energising power of love, of strength displayed in love and gentleness. Above all, this is the power of God – the creative energy behind the Universe – being revealed in an infant in a manger. Let us be inspired this Christmas and beyond, in our work, in our play, in our families, in our friendships to make this sort of power the principle that shapes our actions and our relationships. Let us risk weakness in order to experience the power of love. In the end, it is this power, the power of love, not the aggressive strength of powerful men, that will help us navigate through these changing times.

Peace, Mark

Revd Mark’s November Notes

Dear friends

Prussian general and war theorist Carl von Clausewitz, said, in the 18th century, that, ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’. That way of thinking, all too prevalent sadly even in our own time, diminishes the devastating impact that war has on human lives (as well as the environment). In every age, people have suffered catastrophic injuries in their bodies and minds as a result of armed conflict, but it was only in the last century that this destruction look place on an industrial scale. That’s why it’s so important that we keep alive the memory of the two calamitous conflicts of the first half of the 20th century and many more since. Once again this month we mark Remembrance with special services at All Hallows and St Edmund’s. These special commemorations do not glorify war, but remind us of its terrible cost for both combatants and civilians.

The Christian tradition leaves room for different views on war, but even if we are among those who believe that there are circumstances where it cannot be avoided, we must recognise that it is the greatest of human disasters. We just need to look at the terrible experience of people in Aleppo or Mosul in recent weeks to know that.

Violence is easy to condemn when other people in other places resort to it. But perhaps as we commemorate the terrible cost of armed conflict on Remembrance Sunday, we need to examine our own hearts and commit ourselves to peace not just on the grand scale in our ordinary everyday dealings with each other. Only if more and more people commit to peace in these small ways can we avoid the great conflicts that all too often devastate our communities and our world.

Peace, Mark

Revd Mark’s October thoughts….

Dear friends

I love the warmth and length of summer days. As the nights draw in, and green gives way to russet on the trees, I am prone to feel a bit sad. The colours can be beautiful but we know they are the colours of life retrenching ahead of the darkness and frigidity of winter. But autumn is also the season when we celebrate the harvest. This is the time when the storehouses are filled.

I think this might be a helpful way about thinking about the season we’re in at All Hallows’ and St. Edmund’s. The summertime of having our students with us has come to an end and we might be feeling like the life they brought has drawn back. But much as we might miss those bright summer days we might also think about what we might gather in to the storehouse of our life together.

Andi, Darren, Ed, Gail and Ivor, and their families, and Jess too, in the time she was with us, brought new life. But they didn’t take it all away again. Their presence was a catalyst for spiritual awakening and growth in a number of people. That growth in faith is something we need to harvest for the benefit of all. How has your faith changed in the past two years? How has your relationship with God deepened? How might this be a gift you can share with other members of the church and in time with others in our community?

These are the questions I invite you to ponder as we approach a new season in our life together. I’d be really pleased to talk with you about what the answer might be for you.

 

Peace

Mark

Revd Howard’s August/September thoughts….

I suppose that over the past week or so the topic that has dominated the media has been the Olympics in Rio. Unsurprising I guess, as they only come every four years and whether we are sports mad or not, there is considerable interest in just how well [or otherwise] members of Team GB perform.

As I write ‘our’ team is not doing badly… indeed, just as successful as the London 2012 Games and likely to be a better haul of medals at the end compared with any previous ‘overseas’ games. Proper justification for the money that has been invested in all aspects of training for potential athletes.
One of the aspects that comes across quite forcibly as one hears the interviews conducted in the after competition ‘slots’, is that the outcomes are the result of very considerable dedication and persistence in rigorous training over many years…. and what is also a common factor is the involvement of those close to the athlete, family and friends, who also have made, often not inconsiderable, sacrifices in their support. Family and social life put on hold to enable the athlete to achieve. Such dedication to a cause is a worthy example to those of us who stand by and watch…. a job worth doing needs to be worked at consistently and persistently and set-backs met head on and overcome.

Another emotionally powerful sign was in the opening ceremony [and will no doubt be repeated in the Grand Finale]… pictures of a group of about a dozen athletes completing under the Olympic flag. Significance? They were all refugees… unable to live in the land of their birth. A visual example of an organisation that found a way to restore the humanity of these folk helping in a small way to remove them from an anonymous statistics file. In this act they have been acknowledged as individuals, full people with talents and a future and worthy of consideration and affirmation.

It is good for us to be reminded in our world that we should as society and as individuals recognise the similarities that join us as ‘homo sapiens’ rather than allowing the differences we have and hold to dictate our actions towards others and particularly towards those whose backgrounds, beliefs and cultures differ from ours.

That group of refugees in Rio are but a tiny icon of the masses of similarly displaced and disenfranchised world-wide [the last figure I heard was that they number some 60 million!]. This is a major problem that faces all of the world and from which we cannot escape some responsibility as part of a rich Christian based society. Our involvement, our response is not necessarily easy, it raises big political and socio-economic issues but nevertheless our responsibility as Christians is clearly illustrated in the example of Jesus himself and given the definitive support and command when he said ’… anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me…[Matt 25, v40]

The Revd Howard’s thoughts for May……

Spring, when  thoughts turn……………..

I wonder how often it is that we recognise as important those unexpected and surprising events that change in some way our path of life? Some can turn our life upside down whilst others bring change that is barely detectable…  In   the last few weeks I have had at least three such events that were, to say the very least, totally unexpected .
The letter that arrived via Holme Pierrepont Hall from a former colleague at BGS in the 1960s was a real surprise, as was the phone call a couple of weeks ago from another one of my BGS team members whom I have not seen or heard from since 1993…  neither demanded a great deal from me but did furnish the opportunity to reflect on and to some degree relive that part of my life experience of years ago. Neither of these were in any way solicited, but were totally unexpected  and I guess that most of us have had similar and more dramatic unexpected encounters any of which had some impact on our life

This year the month of May contains a trio of Christian festivals that encompass and celebrate  the unexpected…Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity the former two of which fall very obviously into the category of the unexpected and surprising happenings for those early disciples of Jesus . It is true that they had failed to  understand the early warnings they had been given by Jesus as they travelled with him  and were consequently surprised at the permanent effect and changes that were made to their lives as he left them [Ascension] and as the Holy Spirit reappeared at Pentecost. The record that we have of these events quite clearly demonstrate the changes that the ‘unexpected and surprising’ had on their lives and provide us, too, with the assurance of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This is God’s unsolicited gift to each one of us.

How can we fail to see God at work in the daily changing world about us as Spring arrives with the renewing of life in plants and creatures ? Or recognise that God is somewhere in this crazy mixed-up and often cruel world as we hear of acts of mercy and kindness enacted by ordinary folk upon others – even towards us from unexpected sources
Perhaps the reawakening of the Spring could /should be accompanied by a renewed understanding that God does act in unexpected ways…  will surprise us…  but only I fear if we accept that not only is his promise to be with us always is true,  but that may well be in ways that can surprise us…  conforming not to our expectations but to His greater pattern and plan not only for the world but for us too…  and I cannot but wonder what changes to us and the world  would be brought about if we really believed and lived our lives knowing that God is actually present and with us!!
The mind boggles…………….

Easter thoughts…. from the Revd Howard

It doesn’t really seem very long ago that we were putting the final touches to the celebrations of Christmas…..and now we find that Easter is almost upon us…. three more Sundays before that great festival…perhaps the greatest of our celebrations!!!

Lent has and is the time when we are meant to actively prepare ourselves to make that transition from the hypocrisy of Jesus’ detention and trial feel the horror and cruelty of the day of his crucifixion and rise to the joy and hopefulness of the Easter Resurrection… something of an emotional rollercoaster if we engage with it at all seriously. But it is a journey that we need to experience if the real significance of God’s involvement with his world is to attain its true meaning. It is often, quite truly said, that there can be no Easter without the pain and sadness of the preceding Good Friday.

At St Edmund’s as in countless other churches we will observe the journey during our ‘devotions’ on Good Friday… bible readings and suitable music enabling a solemn revisiting of the events through the trial to the crucifixion and onwards both in time and spirit to the glorious coming of light in the Service of Light on Easter Saturday before the magnificence of the Easter Eucharist on THE day itself at which service the words of the ‘Gloria’ [deleted from Lenten communions], is re-established with renewed heart and meaning….and with the renewal of  hope for this tormented world.

As with many other of the Christian festivals there is a continuing ‘creeping secularisation’ which seeks to replace the true meaning of the celebration with a commercially oriented alternative…. Fluffy chicks, chocolate eggs and newborn lambs can and are valid celebrations of the renewed life that comes into Gods created world at this time but they are no substitute for the remembrance and participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this act things were changed and hope was for us and for the entirety of the world and creation placed centre stage… and all the evidence I see is that we do need renewed hope in a future that will overcome the trials that so beset God’s world

Perhaps some words of Cardinal Basil Hume [former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster] place Easter in its right context

‘’The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake‘’.

I trust that the image of fluffy chicks, gambolling lambs and foil wrapped chocolate eggs will indeed enhance your enjoyment of this season but that they will too your faith that in that first Easter God in Christ has indeed changed all things!!

I look forward to welcoming you to our services as we join together in making our journey from the Cross to the Light of new hope and in celebrating that new hope in the world and in our lives.

A joyous, hope filled and happy Easter to you all…

Howard