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World Day of Prayer 2024

The World Day of Prayer worship service has a special annual theme which is developed by women of a different country each year. A national committee then prepares an order of service on that theme. This year’s country, chosen before recent events, is Palestine.

The National Committee in Palestine works in conjunction with a wide variety of organisations that are connected to the Christian Church. Involvement with the movement since the 1950s has enabled Palestinian women to interact with over 100 countries, strengthening the Middle East presence and witness. The invitation to write the service for 2024 was an opportunity to reflect on continuing challenging times, encouraging Palestinian Christian women to keep searching for a deeper understanding among all the people who share the land, trusting for and hoping in the humanity of one another.

Please come and join us for this special and moving service of worship at St Mary’s Church, Slindon on Friday March 1st at 2.30pm. People of all denominations – or none – are very welcome.

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

Rector’s Letter, November 2023

I have fond memories of my mother’s best friend “aunty” Eileen. She died in 1979 leaving no family. Her picture comes into my mind with regularity. I can picture her talking, laughing and the way she made me a particularly delectable (and large) cherry sponge cake every term I went back to school. It was, I think, the French writer Guy de Maupassant who wrote a short story on the theme that a person, on one meaningful level, does not die until the last person who knew them dies. There is still a conscious awareness of them and, hopefully, of the love they have given and the love they have received. Remembering makes a person or an occasion real: just look back on photos of a holiday and the holiday floods back into the mind.

Remembrance is a traditional theme for November. The church remembers All Saints Day on 1st November – not a particular person, but the billions of people, names mostly now unknown, who in their lives trusted in God’s love for them, and tried to show a little of that in how they lived.

Then on 5th November we have a service In Loving Memory. This is much more personal. Anyone who wants to can ask for a name to be read out and a candle lit for those whom they remember with love and thanks, but also a sense of loss. It is always a moving service – and I hope a gentle one.

And then there is Remembrance Day itself – which falls this year on November 12th – the Sunday when, as a nation, we commemorate the fallen. That is both national and for many intensely personal. We remember millions, but each one an individual. I try in our service to focus on one who died – this year it will be a soldier or sailor who used to live in Madehurst – millions can seem just a statistic, but one death is a tragedy – and so, concentrating on the one can, I think, sometimes bring home the reality of the Remembrance: the grief, the cost, the doing of duty (some reluctantly and some willingly), and so often the bravery. And the remembering can take us from the past to the present and future: to care for those afflicted by war and to work for peace with justice.

The church has regular “remembering” services. They are called Holy Communion. They have been the central thread of worship and the continuation of the Christian faith for two millennia. And they too make things real, which is my understanding of what we mean by that phrase “Body and Blood of Christ”. We remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples where he enigmatically said he was giving himself in love for others and that we are to remember this in the simple act of eating and drinking. And the next day he died on the cross and three days later, the most enigmatic part of all, the disciples realised that was not the end of the story.

And so, my taking the bread and wine and remembering and picturing that Last Supper, somehow makes real for me his self-giving, his love and the hope that love is stronger than all things. All these acts of remembrance – the personal, the national, the church and Last Supper take place this month and everyone is welcome.

Peter

Rector’s Letter, October 2023

I am still on the theme of newspaper headlines. Today’s is from The Daily Telegraph of 5th September this year: “Britons have given up on the Church – we’d rather worship ourselves”.  The second half of that might seem slightly harsh, yet so much of the focus in social media and the obsession with selfies, might suggest there is some truth here.

The Christian faith resolutely challenges us to look outside ourselves and focus on the needs of others. It is an effort and most of us struggle with it – the old school report could apply to most of us – certainly to me – “could do better”.  But I suspect the most important thing here is that we know what should be our direction of travel – trying to live with others as the priority. The direction we are trying to travel is important – because it sets our priorities, aims and goals, our awareness that we don’t sometimes manage it, and a way we judge our achievements.

So, a society where self is allowed to be first will end up with different individual goals, reflection and achievement than one where people are trying to put others first. I suspect this difference is behind a qualitative change not just in relation to what is happening to the church but to many groups trying to build up community.

There is a danger, of course, in what I am arguing for here: by putting others first, there is the possibility that we ignore our own needs or even allow ourselves to be hurt by others – and in the mix low self-esteem can become a reality, which can lead to a lot of grief.

But here, as well, I find the Christian faith to be helpful. Nowhere does the bible say I should have low self-esteem: firstly every individual is of worth and value to God, (which is why the Judeo-Christian tradition is the foundation stone of western human rights understanding); and secondly, yes, I am called to love my neighbour –  but, “as myself”.  That is the starting point and is the context to having the confidence to reflect and admit that I do get that calling to love my neighbour wrong, whilst knowing I am loved and forgiven and freed to try and do better.

As I keep trying to say to people, the Christian faith is not about believing a million and one strange facts before breakfast, but actually gives a real experiential way of trying to live a full and rewarding life.

The final bit of this jigsaw is I believe God’s love can help me in my daily attempts – not in a magic way, one prayer and suddenly I’ve been promoted to sainthood; but as a life belief and challenge that we can grow into being more loving people.

One of the lovely things for me is opening Slindon Parish church every morning. The stillness is beautiful. I don’t stay long, but after opening and before leaving and thinking for a moment of what’s planned in the day ahead, I always say one of the short collects, (special prayers for the day), slightly amended:

I thank you God for bringing me safely to the beginning of this day. Defend me in it and grant that this day I fall into no sin or run into any kind of danger, but that all my doings may be ordered by your loving kindness and that I might do what is right in your eyes. Amen

I can think of worse starts to the day.

Peter

Rector’s Letter, September 2023

Reading a newspaper recently, this is what I found: “Church-going helps to keep depression at bay”. Being a vicar, I read further to discover it is based on a large sample (9000 Europeans aged over 50) and by a reputable institution (the LSE).

The findings: “Older people with depression can see a better improvement in their mental health by going to a church, synagogue or mosque than by engaging in charity work, sport or education. Researchers from the LSE found joining a religious organisation was the best way of combatting this condition. But they could not say whether it was having a faith that caused the beneficial effect or simply because it gave people a sense of belonging.”

I am aware that different people will give different explanations for this: I am not trying to do anything as facile as trying to suggest this proves anything. But it does make me wonder why churchgoing is sometimes squeezed out by the hundred and one other things – often good in themselves – we fill our lives with.

Church should be about:

  • A positive attitude of thankfulness;
  • An honest openness about who we are and what we get up to – and therefore no need to pretend we are something we are not;
  • An understanding that we are forgiven our mess ups and given new starts;
  • A motivation for getting out there and trying to be more loving and caring;
  • A community that accepts you and cares for you.

And what’s more it is an opportunity to have some space in very hectic lives. If the sermon gets you excited, all well and good: but if not, you can blank it out and just rest your mind. Years ago, I fell asleep during a talk by a senior clergyman and started “breathing deeply” (I never snore of course). Others looked embarrassed but the guy said: “if that’s what Peter needs, that is what he should be doing”.  So, please fall asleep in my sermons if that is helpful to your tired mind or body!

I also wonder if churchgoing actually helps find space for the real priorities, rather than being driven by all those understandable drivers – iPhones (they’re turned off in church!), the shopping, sport and… and… and……… They all need doing yet they can be exhausting.

All our churches here are, I think, open and welcoming, inclusive communities. If the language used or things going on seem a bit novel or unfamiliar, no worries – like the best things in life (cricket being the obvious example!!), you need to get into it to get something out of it. I have been known to get lost in my own services and everyone just smiles and that’s how it should be.

Drop by to take some time out: you will be very welcome.

Peter

Rector’s Letter August 2023

I have watched during the last two days 100 or so exhibits being brought into St Mary’s Slindon church for the art exhibition the weekend of 14 – 16 July. It is an impressive array – both in relation to diversity, (paintings, sculptures, iron work, posters) and quality. There are a lot of gifted, creative people in our villages. The same is true of the preparations in St Mary Magdalene Madehurst for an exciting flower festival at the end of September – and, of course, the same is true for our third village, St Margaret’s Eartham, where an open gardens was recently held to raise funds – the beauty of nature combined with the creativity of humans.

God as Creator is one of the fundamental building blocks of the Christian faith. As I can’t say too often, this is not a belief in opposition to science. My faith takes scientific discovery seriously – and actually whether it be the tiny wonders seen through a microscope, or the mind-boggling pictures and distances seen through a telescope, science helps me to be full of wonder and praise. What faith says is that this is not all chance – the force we call God is behind it – a force which, faith believes, Jesus shows is one of love and which can work in our lives as the Holy Spirit.

As I have looked at the exhibits as they come into church for the exhibition, there are a number of feelings I have experienced. The first is the quality of the talent. Everyone has their skills and gifts (though mine are certainly not in painting – I am still at the pin man stage of drawing). The exhibition reminds me I have the choice to use them for the common good or not. Art has been used to show beauty and to praise goodness, but sometimes in history it has been used for the opposite. We always have these choices.

Secondly, as I watch the organisers working solidly for five days, achievement also involves a lot of hard work! That is true of flower festivals and open gardens as well. I am very appreciative that so many people in our parishes put in such hard work – and not only, of course, for our churches but for the community and charities in general. Again, we have choices.

And then, talking to artists or writers, or anyone doing anything creative, they will talk of the pain and cost of creativity – the trying to get it right, the feeling that the picture or the writing could always be improved. The Roman Catholic poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote beautiful poetry about creation (“The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil”): but the poem also contains the image of God bent over the world in toil – and Hopkins himself destroyed most of his poetry because he just thought it was not good enough. At the heart of the Christian faith – the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – there is an understanding of the choice of goodness and love, its cost, and ultimately its triumph. Which takes me back to those pictures I have been looking at in church: the many right choices leading to the beauty of creation.

I will end with a verse from a hymn written by St Francis of Assisi, that great lover and appreciator of creation:

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Rector’s Letter, July 2023

Rural village churches need your help! Behind that truth lies a lot of complexity. For nearly 1000 years, village churches have been at the heart of their communities. There are now a lot of pressures challenging that. I want in this editorial to look at them and put another side – even while agreeing with a lot of the criticisms that have led to that pressure:

  1. “The church is increasingly irrelevant”. Certainly, some of the issues it seems to get wound up about seem ridiculous to many. But deeper than that outside skin, Christians and the church are at the forefront of issues such as looking after our planet and caring for those most vulnerable. A village church is there for everyone – in their strengths and their needs. A central tenet is loving our neighbour and what could be more about community building and caring than that? A good village church should have in mind the care and needs of all who live around it – and that is why I am called to pray for everyone who lives here – which I try to do – those of faith, those of other faiths, those of no faith, and even those who think it is ridiculous to be praying! Simple prayer -thinking about people before God – is a cement in the building blocks of a church trying to care.
  • “It doesn’t live up to its message”. And that, sadly, is often true. In addition to awful stories of abuse, which is a complete denial of what it proclaims, all too often it behaves like any other human institution. That should not surprise us, because it is a human institution – and, like anything else to do with humans, it is fallible and gets things wrong – as I and you do! Strangely though, this gets to the heart of why we need the church. It does not proclaim a message that we are all wonderful. It proclaims, whilst we can all be very loving, we can also be very selfish – which is why saying sorry is a part of most services. I am aware that is counter-cultural in this age: but, I do believe it is much more accurate than the righteousness of so much of our present, judgemental age. We can only become more loving if we know and acknowledge we also get things wrong – but do so in the context of God’s love and desire to enable new starts.
  • “All that belief stuff has been rendered obsolete by science”. Again, the church has asked for trouble here: whether it be denying Galileo’s discovery through his telescope that the earth is not the centre of the solar system, through to mocking evolutionary theory in the C19th. But my Christian faith, as that of the great majority of believers, has no problem at all with scientific discovery. If there is a force we call God behind the universe, how can science be a threat? How does evolution theory pose a threat? However, we can also make a false God of science: nuclear fission produced much good – but also the nuclear bomb; AI can transform our world – or destroy it. Open-ended and questioning religion and science should, and can, walk hand in hand, trying to make our world practically and spiritually a better place.
  • “We are all too busy to go to church”.  Indeed we are! Frantically busy and Sundays in our manically busy world are precious. But also, if what I read in a wide variety of media is true, we are under more mental health pressure than ever before, with so many negative side effects. Meditation and mindfulness of course can help, but they still largely look for self-improvement. A service can take us outside ourselves, reflecting on the love of God, new starts, God’s love with us, a community round about us. Even if the sermon is REALLY boring, does that matter? It gives time just to sit and not be a prisoner to social media or the myriad of demands made upon us daily. If I knew what everyone is actually thinking about during my sermons………!  But that’s fine.

I have hesitated in writing this article because a book could be written about each of these four points, (both the justifiable criticisms and the responses). Justice cannot be done in one short article.

But your church does need your help! And traditionally village churches have worked on multiple levels. For many, of course, faith: but also, for many others, liking to come together as a community, the regularity of a pattern to the week, liking singing, or just wanting some piece and quiet. Our churches here, have a wide variety of patterns of worship – from ancient, time-tested language, to great informality and easily accessible modern language. Everyone who comes to them says they are friendly and inclusive.

And a final thought, if you move onto the Rambling Rector below, though local churches and vicars are also human with their foibles, you will see much going on to build up both community: but also trying to care for and love one another and nature around us, in our busy and often chaotic world.

With my best wishes

Peter

Rector’s Letter, June 2023

I get by with a little help from my friends – so goes a line from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album. (I will leave aside speculation of the meaning of the first letters of the song title).

I always think it is a good song for Pentecost/Whitsun which this year is the very last Sunday in May (28th). The combination of Niki our editor’s efficiency with the timing of our kind magazine distributors means many of us our likely to get our June mag before that Sunday. (Thank you to all concerned!)

Pentecost is about us getting a little help. Indeed, on the first Pentecost when the disciples were sitting around fearful, dazed and confused, what the Holy Sprit seems to have done is give them help to get out there, live as Jesus’ had told them and pass on the good news.

I sometimes wish I had the language to pass on the good news. The Christian faith is not about believing 101 very odd things before breakfast. It believes the world and universe is not here by chance – the force and energy behind it, which we call God, is one of love. Jesus shows that not only in word, but in how he lives and dies. And we are to show that love in our lives.

Which is where, if you are anything like me, a little bit of help is needed! Because actually, and in truth, I am often not very good at it. I have a natural inclination to put myself, my views, my needs first. That is true of almost all of us. And it explains a lot why society seems so challenging and difficult – because all our individual wanting our needs met, means we are always fighting over the resources available. I have a wry smile on my face often when around my intergenerational and large family: those who are wealthy tend to decry the level of tax they pay; those who are not, feel the wealthy should pay more tax. It is very rarely the other way round – and when those two views meet, all is not peace and tranquility!

So, I need help in trying to put others first, to be loving, forgiving, gracious and charitable. And in my experience that is what the Holy Spirit can be about – helping me to grow in those things. This is not claiming a magic box of tricks and part of the journey is getting it wrong and trying again. But I do feel reflecting on the love Jesus shows, and with the Spirit helping me know about God’s love and forgiveness and challenging me in the right sense, then at least I can try and go in the right direction.

Early June has my favourite saint’s day, who can help with this: St Barnabas is remembered on 11th June. He is known as the son of encouragement – because when the early church was struggling and sometimes arguing, he was usually to be found, brining people back to listen to one another and just working hard and loyally for the faith. And I too need encouragement – as we all do, trying to live good, decent lives and keep body and soul together. And as I get older and bits seem to fall off, I need more encouragement. The church should always be a place where people find understanding and encouragement in the trials of life, (and I am always deeply shocked when the church falls short of that). And I hope that is people’s experience – encouragement, care, support and love –  in our churches here.

Peter

Feb
25
Sun
Family Communion @ St Mary Magdalene Madehurst
Feb 25 @ 9:45 am – 10:45 am
Parish Communion @ St Mary's Slindon
Feb 25 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Feb
28
Wed
1662 Holy Communion @ St Mary's Slindon
Feb 28 @ 10:30 am – 11:15 am
Mar
1
Fri
World Day of Prayer (Churches Together) @ St Mary's Slindon
Mar 1 @ 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Mar
3
Sun
Holy Communion @ St Margaret's Eartham
Mar 3 @ 9:30 am – 10:15 am