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Rector’s Letter, June 2024

The month of May saw two connected events: one local and one worldwide. The first was the Young Person’s Art Show in St Mary’s church. The second was Pentecost Sunday, (otherwise known as Whitsun).

Pentecost – remembering the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples – is associated with many Christian ideas, above all else God and God’s love working in our own lives and inspiring us. And creativity is behind artwork and behind art is inspiration – which is why the church, when it is working well, has always been a patron of the arts. (When it is not working well, it supresses art and creativity – a very good book and film on that theme is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco).

The best-known poem I know about God’s creativity and Pentecost is by my old favourite – RS Thomas. It is difficult, but I think it is reflecting on the way suddenly, when we feel dry and withered, something starts humming and off we go. I also like it (and indeed the poet himself) because he often refers to “the machine” referring to modern technology in negative terms – I too think so much modern technology can be stifling and yet he writes three lines from the bottom as he does – reminding me I too might on occasion be guilty of supressing creativity!

Suddenly

Suddenly after long silence

he has become voluble.

He addresses me from a myriad

directions with the fluency

of water, the articulateness

of green leaves; and in the genes,

too, the components

of my existence. The rock,

so long speechless, is the library

of his poetry. He sings to me

in the chain-saw, writes

with the surgeon’s hand

on the skin’s parchment messages

of healing. The weather

is his mind’s turbine

driving the earth’s bulk round

and around on its remedial

journey. I have no need

to despair; as at

some second Pentecost

of a Gentile, I listen to the things

round me: weeds, stones, instruments,

the machine itself, all

speaking to me in the vernacular

of the purposes of One who is.

All of which takes me back to our Art Show. As I write, it is not yet set up: but I have seen at least some of the artwork at our Primary school – and there is much evidence of creativity. May God’s Spirit of love work in all our lives, may we be addressed from a “myriad of directions” and find that inspiration in the beauty, the people, the goodness and the love which is all around us.

Peter

Stonepillow Collections

Stonepillow is a Chichester based charity which empowers homeless people to transform their lives.  Their website is here.

Donations of any kind can be left at The Forge, Reynold’s Lane, or at Carolyn Cole’s house in Sunnybox Lane: just put items in the green bin on her doorstep at the Nook.  Thank you to everyone for making donations.

To contact Carolyn, Stonepillow Co-ordinator, phone 814608 or email bustle2700@gmail.com

Rector’s Letter, May 2024

I am not the gardening correspondent for the Horticultural Society, but I want to talk about fritillaries and peonies! Both are firm favourites for me and how lucky am I in my garden: at the time of writing there are two little groups of fritillaries – one with seven and one with four flowers. Their delicacy and colour are exquisite. And then I am watching five clumps of peonies sprouting from the ground – one more than last year. Even in the rain they are literally growing about two inches a day. They will not have flowers until the end of the month: they will start tight buds, then bloom and then become gloriously blousy.

My present circumstances have challenged me, what do I see?  That’s is not such a strange question: when you live with someone and a fritillary, for instance, appears in your garden, you can be so excited and busy telling the other person and showing them, that you don’t actually look closely yourself. Now, I just go into the garden and look and focus on the beautiful mauve flower with its delicate tracery and head bowed as in prayer. (Lola comes round with me and tries to work out what I am looking at so intently, but not surprisingly, she doesn’t quite get it). Just looking at something beautiful and for some minutes, is actually an extraordinary and spiritual experience.

When Arthur was baptised at Madehurst on Easter Day, I showed those present one of those pictures in which you can see different things – in this case it was an old woman and a young woman in the same picture. I think there are many different ways of seeing things. The problem in our society is we are pushed into either/or rather than both/and. My picture points to the truth of “both and”. I personally have no problem with all that science teaches me, whilst also seeing pointers to another way of looking at things.

A story I have told over Easter relates to an orthodox church archbishop (Metropolitan Anthony), whilst a curate, going up to an old woman who used to come and just sit in the church every day. Eventually the archbishop-to-be went up to her and asked her what she was doing. Looking at a picture of Jesus in the stained glass she simply said, “I look at him and he looks at me”. Not so different perhaps than my looking in wonder at my group of fritillaries – which I did just before writing this. I am looking forward when the peonies come into flower to watch every stage minutely: tight blud, the opening up and the blousy flower.

The poets always say things better. From Gerard Manley Hopkins Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things –

   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.

Annual Report 2023

The Annual Report for the calendar year 2023 was presented to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting on Tuesday 23rd April 2024. All officers were elected without opposition, as were the financial accounts.

A copy of the Annual Report can be read here

St Mary’s Church Summer Fair, June 15th

The popular Summer Fair returns to the Forge Field and Coronation Hall, Slindon, on Saturday June 15th in the afternoon. A wide range of stalls, games, entertainment and refreshments will be available as usual – some old and much-loved, others new. Put the date in your calendars now!

Rector’s Letter, April 2024

Easter Day this year is 31st March – and knowing our highly efficient distribution team, your April magazine may well drop on your doorstep before Easter Day. It is a day full of hope for Christians, please come and join us!

Easter is a moveable feast. I could try and explain how the date works, but it would probably take 3 pages of the magazine to explain and we would all probably be still none the wiser! But here is an interesting question: if you were competing in “Who wants to be a millionaire”, it would be definitely one of those questions that if answered correctly, would get you a lot of money. The question is, what do the years 2018 and 2029 have in common in relation to Easter? The answer is: on those two years Easter falls on April 1st. April Fools Day. I think quite a good day for Easter – but not for the reasons those of a cynical nature might think.

In my student days there was a monk and theologian called Harry Williams. One of the books he wrote was called “Tensions” – about all the difficulties we face in life. In the last chapter he looks at gifts God has given us to help cope. One of those gifts he suggests is laughter.

His analysis is good. There are different types – one is nasty, laughing at people. In the gospels we quite often read that people laughed at Jesus – “scoffed”, because it was their defence against Jesus trying to open them up to God’s infinite love, which would have involved big changes in their judgemental attitudes.

There is then laughing with people which is very different and life enhancing and brings us closer to people. It can help change how we see something, give us hope. I remember reading a book on resilience in difficult times and the ability to laugh alongside another and with them, was high up the list of helpful attributes.

Harry Williams emphasises something that surprised me. He said the resurrection was laughter in the heart of God and so April Fool’s Day might be thought the appropriate day for Easter Sunday. The world is often a hard place and Good Friday and events leading up to it were certainly hard places for Jesus. On that first Good Friday, you can just imagine all the good people threatened by Jesus and his openness and all-encompassing love and whose scheming had sent him to his death, going to dinner that night thinking “at last we have got rid of him”. And then, on Easter Day he’s back! God having the last laugh. His way of inclusive love having the last word.

And, finally, three quick thoughts about April Fools.

St Paul suggests to us that we are to be fools for Christ.

He also says the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of humans.

And whilst on this subject, in Shakespeare’s great play King Lear, the only one able to speak the truth to Lear was, of course, the Fool.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Peter

Rector’s Letter, March 2024

One of my favourite novels is Any Human Heart by William Boyd – it charts in powerful prose the highs and lows of a man’s life – his griefs and his joys.

Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday, through Good Friday and onto Easter Day has the same feel concentrated into just eight Days.

Palm Sunday (24th March) an apparent high – Jesus is recognised as a great prophet, the crowds come out and palms are scattered – like the original tickertape welcomes that heroes used to get when arriving in New York!

But the darkness swiftly descends. Those forces which simply could not cope with Jesus’ message of inclusive love for all, perhaps especially for the outcasts and marginalised (those whom every society has and demonises), leads to Good Friday: deserted by friends, a kangaroo court and painful and ignominious death on the cross. The crowds that celebrated with him six days before, now hissing and jeering – another constant in history, the easily manipulated crowd!

That, of course, should be the end of the story. But something then happened. It cannot be tied down, but I have no doubt something did happen – because somehow those broken-down failures of followers were turned into a group that changed the world and, by the way, gave their lives for proclaiming their truth “this Jesus whom you crucified is risen”. A mystery certainly, but one that has changed the world.

I always get slightly irked when people tell me Christianity is an escape from reality: “pie in the sky when you die”, because that is not my belief. For me the Christian story rings true to both the highs and the lows of life. We can experience such utter highs when all is good and life so worth living, but most of us sometime or other experience also lows, where darkness seems to have the upper hand.

And for me, the cross holds both together – both the reality of pain and suffering and the hope that love and goodness are stronger and will triumph. That hope has been a foundation for millions upon millions both over the ages and in the present day. As St John says in his glorious prologue to his Gospel: “The light – the light of Christ – shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Our world seems quite a dark place sometimes both globally and sometimes for us: Holy Week can help lead us into the love of God revealed in Jesus.

I invite all who wish to, to joins us in that walk from Palm Sunday, (where I am delighted to say we are joining with St Richards), through Good Friday, to the glory of Easter Day.

Rector’s Letter, February 2024

This year Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, is 14th February – which, of course, is also St Valentine’s Day.

My first reaction on making the connection was to think that is a bit of a downer: all the romance, positivity and love we think about on Valentine’s Day, doesn’t appear at first sight to go with the seriousness of Lent which for Christians is meant to be a preparation first for the saddest day in the Christian calendar, Good Friday as well, of course, for the glorious day of Easter Sunday.

But the more I thought about this, the more I did see quite an important connection. Jesus’ journey to Good Friday, the day we remember his crucifixion, is a journey of love. It is a curiously overlooked fact and question – why was Jesus put to death? The answer becomes clear by reading any one of the four gospels in its entirety, (something that takes about an hour or so): Jesus proclaimed the inclusive love of God for all people. Not only did he say it but he lived it. As the bible tells us, the good people of the time said angrily “He eats with tax collectors and sinners”!! For so many people that was deeply shocking and offensive, as it challenged their own lack of love and narrow-mindedness. And so, they stitched him up with a kangaroo court of a trial. Even then Jesus showed a depth of love right to the cross itself – whilst being mocked as he was being crucified, saying “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”.

If all that isn’t about the highest quality of love, what is it? So, this Ash Wednesday, whilst acknowledging the serious nature of the day, I am going to see it also as a celebration of God’s infinite love shown in Jesus.

And then another link came to mind. In the past, we were always encouraged to give up something for Lent, which in my experience used to lead either to failure, which is not a positive feeling, or grumpiness because I wanted that bar of chocolate but could not have it – or indeed both! In more recent years, Chrisitan spiritual writers have suggested, rather than give something up as a symbol of trying to do better, actually to do something positive. And that too is easily linked to loving. Love is not just a romantic idea, but a practical living out of a way of life. So perhaps to think of someone in need of help, or support, or friendship – but somehow, up to now, our busy lives have not quite made the time; or someone with whom we have struggled and whom we find difficult, instead trying to work towards reconciliation or forgiveness.

The love of Valentine’s Day can encompass both the romance AND our living more loving lives, which, for Christians, might well involve looking to, and learning from Jesus, his life and his loving.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Peter

Rector’s Letter, January 2024

There are twelve days of Christmas ending with the Epiphany – the 12th day – on 6th January. This is my excuse for staying with a Christmas theme! In November we had some house groups in Slindon and what follows comes from a question that someone attending asked.

As an aside, one of the things I love about church or any discussion group is we learn from one another. As a parish priest, I have always found I have a lot to learn from my parishioners, both from those I meet in church and those I don’t.

The context: I was asking those attending what Christmas meant to them. One member referred to the word for Jesus used particularly at Christmas – “Immanuel” or God with us. So far so good and the rector is still on very comfy ground. Then the question came: so, what would the church look like, feel like, be like, if we lived as if God really was with us?

No longer quite so comfortable. For, of course, behind that question is both the comfort that God in his love is with us, but also the challenge, (a big one), that God’s love is so radical that it led to a profound quality of love and a love that the world found so challenging, that it led to the cross.

And I would suggest that because love is the meaning of the Christmas story, the question I was asked can be asked of any community, though the well-spring for our individual answers might be different. What would our parishes look like if that radical love was at the centre of it?

The hope in my life is centred on a belief that God is with me and us – but I am also to live out the radical love bit, however much I might stumble in the attempt.

By mistake (I misread the passage I was meant to be looking up for the service the following Sunday!), I came across part of the First Letter of Peter Chapter 3. The two letters of Peter are probably the bit of the New Testament I know least well. I very seldom quote from the Bible: but this passage brings together the comfort and hope with the challenge:

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing…… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience……For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil……..For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

I am hoping in my personal life and in our church life to explore further that question: what would the church look like, feel like and how would its life be – and indeed what would I look like, feel like and how would I live – if I took “Immanuel”, God with us and me, deeper into my life?

Peter

Rector’s Letter, December 2023

I am writing this on a wet windy day leading up to Remembrance Sunday. The weather is dismal and the world is too – with the unspeakable horrors in Gaza and Israel imprinted daily on our minds. Christmas and what it represents seems a long way away. I shall return to Christmas at the end.

Remembrance Sunday might help too in our wondering what can we do. One of the basic themes of Remembrance is: what can we do in our time to be peacemakers?  Jesus refers to them in the beautiful set of blessings at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic building blocks for peacemaking start with us in our families and our communities – words such a forgiveness, compassion, wanting fairness and justice, thinking of others. That may seem a long way from Gaza – it is – but, that is where peace starts. So, the question is: what can each of us do to bring about peace here in our everyday lives?

Something else we can perhaps do is get informed. I read a great deal about increased polarisation and extremism as a direct result of looking at a very limited selection of media. It was my youngest daughter who referred me to the phrase “echo chamber” – and not in a complimentary setting!! There is a lot wrong with the Church of England: but one of the things I really value about it, is that it is a broad church, trying to listen to very different points of view (however hard that is), and has an honourable tradition of scholarship reaching way beyond narrow confines.

In that context, the most striking article I have read is one suggesting that where you start – some start at 1000 years BC, others as late as 1968, with many significant dates in between – will affect your view.  Which I think is thought provoking. Where do I start and how does that shape my view?

On that note I remember doing a module led by a Professor M R D Foot, a Professor of Modern History at Manchester when I was a student. It was a module on the Irish troubles – at a time when they were violent and with no apparent solution. His opening words were: “The present Irish troubles can be traced back to the sinking of The White Ship on 25th November 1120, in which Henry 1’s son died.” The weight of history – and its complexity – can mean we literally drown in troubles. And yet, the political will from a leadership across the divides, together with hard and costly work at local community level by community groups, churches and families, has led to a more peaceful place, however precarious that sometimes feels.

And then turning to the Christmas calendar, the third day of the season, December 28th, is always remembered as the massacre of the innocents – when Herod put to death children in his efforts to do away with the baby Jesus. And whatever our views, surely everyone of us cries out about the massacre of innocent people, including children and babies, in  both Gaza and Israel.

And then Christmas Day itself – for me a shaft of light in the darkness we do seem to face. As Isaiah the prophet says: “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”. A helpless baby brought into the world, who went on to show the power of love – seemingly so vulnerable, yet a light of hope that cannot be extinguished. Everyone is welcome to join us as we celebrate that hope this Christmas.

Peter

Jun
26
Wed
1662 Holy Communion @ St Mary's Slindon
Jun 26 @ 10:30 am – 11:30 am
Jun
30
Sun
United Benefice Communion @ St Margaret's Eartham
Jun 30 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Jul
7
Sun
Holy Communion @ St Margaret's Eartham
Jul 7 @ 9:30 am – 10:30 am
Matins @ St Mary's Slindon
Jul 7 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Jul
14
Sun
Holy Communion @ St Mary Magdalene Madehurst
Jul 14 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am