LETTERS FROM THE MINISTRY TEAM
December 2017 and January 2018
Again Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
John chapter 8 verse 12
December is a very intense month, isn’t it? The very fact that it is the “end of the year” has always made it seem profound, connected with the passing of time. 2017 will soon be over, and we may well ask what we have valued or achieved, whether it has been a good year for the world in general, and look ahead to the next twelve-month period. The changing of the seasons is something that people have always connected with, as the solstice on the 21st means that we begin to move again from darkness to light. “From Darkness to Light” when we reflect on our need of God and quite often sing “O come, O come Emmanuel”, recognising that we and our world are so very imperfect and need the awareness of a loving and saving God to give us meaning and direction in life.
Among all the busy preparations for the festive season, Advent helps us to be aware of our human need and helps us to look forward to celebrating the joy of the coming of Christ. The whole of Advent is a time of spiritual preparation and despite the tinsel and presents in the shops, the nativity plays in schools, the adverts and even Carol Services we need to hold back a little and consider why we need the light of Christ and the presence of God in our lives. Advent and the coming of Christ means that we need to recognise that we are part of a fallen humanity, and we too bear responsibility for the way we fall short of the loving way which God calls us to. We see our own human failings in those who have governmental power, and for many of us the political developments of recent times give us cause for concern for our nation and our world. Jesus was born into a nation partly run by a tyrannical ruler, Herod, and by the Roman conquerors who were also capable of great things and appalling acts. Darkness and light, as ever, intertwined. Jesus’ birth is meaningful to the world today because he does bring light into the darkness of the world and of our lives within it. The image that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, which we often hear at the end of our Carol Service, means that there is hope for us all. Human foolishness and sinfulness has been given a chance of newness and redemption. We do not need to live in the “darkness” of the ignorance of God, but we can embrace through faith in Jesus, the new life of love and peace. God is made real for us in a living, human person who is born among us, who experiences all our human feelings – good and bad – and who lays down his life for us in showing the fullness of God’s love. Through faith in him, we can be sure that that eternal life is ours in this world and beyond.
I wish you all a happy and joyful Christmas, and I do hope that you will want to share with us in spiritual preparation and in joyful praise during December.
May 2018 and the freshness of a new-born baby lead us to a deeper faith and hope in God, aware that we can be agents of love and peace in this troubled world which Christ came to save.
Love and every blessing to you all
From the Rectory
I’ve been typing up your requests to add people to our All Souls list, where we remember those we’ve loved and lost. November is of course very much a time of remembrance, and the Autumnal mood of darkening days and falling leaves suits the mood well.
Recently I’ve undertaken a course to further improve my practice in supporting the dying and grieving. It’s given me a lot to think about. One thing it highlighted, was the paramount importance of being a ‘safe space’ for people to share what they are going through. This can sometimes be hard, when what other people are feeling and expressing can connect with our own past experiences of loss, make us feel inadequate in the face of their suffering, or remind us of our own mortality. But this course has reminded me of the importance of acknowledging the realities of life and allowing others to do the same.
When people are dying or grieving what they may long for most is someone to ‘be’ with them wherever they are, and to continue to walk with them on this painful journey. Although grief and loss are a universal part of life, since we are all unique, our journeys will all be slightly different. That means we cannot assume that what helped us will help someone else. We are all experts in our own lives, but can never be the final expert for someone else. So, letting people tell their stories and acknowledging the validity of whatever they are feeling is important. The stages of grief are not neat and sequential but often messy and mixed-up and that is fine. The person who is grieving does not need to be ‘fixed’, because grief and loss are part of living. Grief is the price we pay for love.
I pray that our church will continue to be a safe space, where we may share our griefs and sorrows and let each other cry, or get angry or laugh at a funny memory or whatever we need to do. We do well in our grieving and help each other to do well when we face things and let them out.
I was also reminded of a service I had come across before, but never led- “Blue Christmas’. With its emphasis on family and fun Christmas can be hard for those who lack close family, who have recently lost someone or who are not feeling like partying. Rather than telling each other to ‘Buck up’ it is good to bring those feelings to God together.
‘Blue Christmas’ often takes place on 21st December, the longest night of the year. So, this year I invite you to gather with me in church at 4pm just as the sun has set for a short service of ‘Blue Christmas’. If anyone would like to come but is worrying about being out in the dark please let me know and we will arrange a lift for you.
With my love and prayers,
My dearest Friends,
Do you find the news rather depressing? Wherever we look things seem to be going wrong in the world. The issues which face the world are very serious, they should never be underestimated. Wherever people’s lives and well-being are threatened, whenever people get to a situation where there seems to be no way out and they are trapped, then despair can take hold. These are serious issues, issues which need to be addressed, and I believe that the understanding of the world which comes through the Christian faith does address these things, dealing, as it does, with failure and success, despair and hope, hatred and love, death and resurrection.
But all the time that our focus is on the negative or dark side of life there is a part of me which wants to shout out: ‘But life is essentially good’. At the centre of so many faiths is the claim that life is God-given, it is a gift of God, and at its very core it is good. To be anything other than that would seem to indicate that God is not good, and that goes against all my instincts and beliefs.
The book of Genesis states that the world is made ‘good’ and that we humans are made in God’s image and likeness, and if the nature of God is goodness, then humans are also of a similar nature. However, Genesis tells us that human beings turned their backs on that goodness in pursuit of their own ends. So the world became spoiled, and it is that spoiled nature which is clearest and cries out to be noticed most of the time.
As we think of the constantly depressing news we are focusing on the spoiled nature of the world, which is very real. As that outlook dominates our lives we need to be reminded that there is another side or view of life. Life is good and should be celebrated in its natural form, in its relationships, in the possibilities of its ever changing newness and the unveiling of endless possibilities. If we cannot celebrate life then we do a great disservice to our Creator.
I sometimes wonder whether we in the Church champion that cause of the goodness of life sufficiently, or whether we tend to focus too much on the negative and the ‘Thou shalt not’ approach to life. Jesus in his ministry seemed to shock the authorities of his time by livening things up, going to parties, celebrating with people and in some eyes, not always the right people. Do we celebrate life enough?
Perhaps we need to remind ourselves to enjoy this experience of life, even with its considerable ‘down-sides’, because life is good, it is from God. The Jewish toast to life ‘L’Chaim’ captures that idea well. Let us raise our glasses, or our cups of tea, and in our minds or through our talking to each other, toast the goodness of life which God has given us.
Love and blessings to you all
A month or so ago we had our Vision Morning when we thought about the burdens we needed to lay down, the food we needed for our journey and what we could offer God of ourselves as we seek to discern what God has for our future as a church.
Thank you to all those who took part and gave such thoughtful responses to these questions. As a result, we produced a statement about who we understand God to be and therefore what response God calls for from us (see facing page) and identified three immediate priorities for our church family:
• To develop our ministry with families who bring children for baptism
• To offer a variety of groups within the church community which would be safe spaces to grow in our relationship with God and with one another
• To aim to offer an invitation to those at the very beginning of their journey with God to explore more with some kind of nurture course next year.
I am excited about these planned developments, but also very aware of the need to both continue the pattern of worship which so many people know and love and to reach out to those who do not yet know God’s love in ways that they can relate to. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.
At the heart of my ponderings is the importance of relationship. The bedrock of all our other relationships is the one we have with God, in which we come to know and trust more and more fully that to God we are always the beloved, and therefore we can fully trust in God’s love for us and God’s care for our lives.
But to see myself as a child of God means I have to see that others too are made in the image of God and to act accordingly. I don’t have to develop intimate friendship with every single member of the human race but I do have to recognise that God is present in the other and therefore I must be attentive to their needs as I am to my own.
Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, a metaphor that suggests that everything that affects a part of our church fellowship, affects all of us. So paradoxically perhaps, the deeper I go in my interior relationship with God the wider I am called to go in my relationships with those around me. The answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ becomes in fact a recognition of the interconnectedness of the whole of creation and our calling to mutual care of one another and of the earth itself. That recognition can seem overwhelming, but we can start by pondering how we can be even better neighbours to those who live around us in our own town and to one another as we seek to work together for God’s glory.
Wishing you every blessing,
Summer is here, with what we hope will be long, warm, sunny days. In the
Church’s calendar we are in that long season between Trinity Sunday and
Advent, when we are invited to think about how to live out our Christian faith
in our daily lives. Jesus’ teaching is revolutionary, turning the priorities of the
world upside down; so revolutionary that we might not even notice it! Rather
than intervening with armies of angels, he is born amongst us a little child.
Rather than solving the world’s problems, he was crucified. We celebrate the
Holy Spirit that Jesus sent in good stead, and use the gifts that the Holy Spirit
gives us in order to build each other up; families, friends and neighbours, the
church as a whole, and society as a whole.
The Christian message is often portrayed as negative – “Thou shalt not …”
But Jesus’ teaching is positive. For example, he took the negative traditional
Jewish teaching of his day: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your
fellow,” i.e. do not hurt your neighbour, and turned it into the positive: “Do to
others what you want them to do to you,” i.e. act with kindness to everyone. It
is known as the Golden Rule, and many scholars accept that Jesus was the
first to state it.
This puts the emphasis back on us, on the way we think about, and react to,
the world we live in. In the wider world we cannot “put our heads in the sand”.
It can certainly be depressing to watch the news these days. It seems that
every time we turn on the TV or the radio all we hear about is some awful
tragedy and feel that the terrorist attack in Manchester that changed the lives
of so many families, the victims of war in the Middle East, or the
Mediterranean migrants and our government’s efforts to find a solution
1are nothing to do with us. Clearly, Jesus’ golden rule is one that much of the
world has not taken to heart. A great way to counteract the “bad news” of the
world is to read about the “good news” of Jesus Christ – who came to save
the world, and who will one day judge both the quick and the dead.
The Psalms form an entire book full of the strengthening comfort of almighty
God. We should read them each day. We should sing hymns! These beautiful
poems of the Church lift our hearts and souls upwards to God and away from
the worries of the current moment.
The bottom line is, when we immerse ourselves in God, we emerge as
changed and better people with a more balanced and hopeful outlook on life.
If the news gets us down, let us lift up our hearts to God in prayer and praise!
Let us think about God. Philippians 4 verse 8 says: “Finally, beloved,
whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We may not, as individuals, be able to influence distant events but we can
encourage and support those who can. At the very least they, and those
seeking solutions, need our prayers. Nearer to home, if you ask “How do I
love my neighbour?” the answer is straight forward, “Treat them as you want
them to treat you.”
Blessings to you all
In Genesis, the first book of the bible, the very first thing we learn about God, is that God works. God goes to work making the world and all that is in it and then invites humankind to share in this work. Our work is the container and channel for God’s grace in the world. Work, if it does not involve exploitation, is God given and it is good; we know that those without work often feel that life is meaningless.
But in Genesis we also we read how on the seventh day, God rested from the work of creation and blessed that day as a day of rest for humankind.
The Jewish faith still keeps the seventh day set apart as a rest day, the Jewish Sabbath. Christianity moved the day of rest to the first day of the week to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, but kept the word Sabbath to refer to this day of rest.
The principle of Sabbath is an important one in our lives. We need rest each day, we need time for recreation and refreshment each week. If we can manage it, breaks away from our usual routines each year are good; and, if at all possible, longer breaks in our working lives. The word “Sabbatical” comes from the word Sabbath
We need this firstly because we need rest and relaxation for our physical, mental and spiritual health. If we keep working for too long we move from a place where we are creative and effective to a place where we are only just coping and surviving and if we stay there too long, burn out is not far away.
But we also need Sabbath as a way of making sure work keeps its proper place. Work brings many satisfactions; that of doing a good job, of being recognised and appreciated for what we do, and it can easily become addictive and an idol in our lives.
For me, during the period of Greg’s illness and the interregnum following his death, the work of ministry has been especially intense. It has been at times painful, although always richly rewarding. But I know that I need a longer break and with Cheryl’s generous agreement, I will be taking a Sabbatical from 1st March until 27th June this year.
I hope, in this time, to study the writing of Julian of Norwich in the Middle English, to undertake the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius as a two week retreat and to spend time with my husband Robin and in the garden. The house could also do with a spring clean but that may not happen!
I will miss you all in this time, but I will keep you in my prayers and ask you to keep me in yours. Also, to look after Cheryl and Maggie and make sure they take their Sabbath time.
December 2016 – January 2017
It sometimes seems strange to me that we begin a new church year at Advent and a new calendar year in January in the darkest of seasons. Yet there is wisdom in beginning at a time when the season encourages not rushing full steam ahead, but waiting, watching and hoping.
Advent is a time of both waiting and hoping. We wait to celebrate Christmas, the celebration of the first coming of Jesus, we wait (though I suspect with less certainty) for the second coming promised in scripture, we wait for signs of God’s presence in our world here and now. So Advent is a season in which we practice waiting.
We wait for the coming of God because we need God to come. We look around at the mess we’ve made and long for God to set things right. So we pray and watch for sings of God’s presence. We do all we can to help ourselves be open and ready for God’s coming. This can be a challenge in the busi-ness that the world around us dictates is the right preparation for Christmas. This can be a challenge when so much in our world, when events this year in our own country, in Europe, America and the Middle East leave us with unanswered questions anxieties and fears.
Waiting invites us to lay our burdens and anxieties at the feet of God, to accept that there may be little we can do to influence outside events, and yet to trust that God will come, indeed God is already present and active in our world. The signs are there, but they are often as small and fragile as the first green spears of snowdrops, as hard to detect as the point in which increasing darkness turns to light and we begin again the long, slow climb to the endless days of Summer.
God’s first coming among us involved the long, slow waiting of an expectant mother. While we encourage those who are expecting a baby to take care of themselves and pay attention to their bodies, still the miracle is a life within her, slowly taking shape and mysteriously growing of its own accord. The presence and work of the life of God in us is often like this. We can only discern its growth when we look back and see how far we have come.
For those who like me are childless, God has a promise of abundance. We can all share in the long, slow work of bringing the Word to birth where we are. In the Kingdom of God no one is barren. As we listen to the stories of Advent waiting in the next few weeks, as we celebrate the joy of God’s coming in the fragility and potential of a new baby, as we recognise the signs of God’s presence in the one who receives the acclamation of the three kings, the baptism of John calling all to turn their lives around and the unexpected joy of water into wine may we find birthed in us the seeds of faith and hope.
Faith and hope that God is acting in our world.
Faith and hope that God is present in our lives.
Faith and hope that God is calling us to bring to birth his Word here in Sudbury, here at St.Greg’s.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that we are beginning our work of listening to where God is calling you as a church in the middle of Advent with Bishop Mike. Maybe it is in this season that we need to wait with hope, listen with our whole concentration and watch for signs of God’s moving among us. I invite you to wait and hope, listen and watch, to pray and ponder with me as we look for the new future that God is calling us into, as we begin a new year in the church and the world.
Wishing you every blessing, now and in 2017.
The yellowing elms show yet some green,
The mellowing bells exultant sound:
Never have light and colour been
So prodigally thrown around;
And in the bells the promise tells
Of greater light where Love is found
I think I have been more aware this year than in many another of the beautiful colours of autumn which I see now in the beautiful sunlight. It is hard to grasp that such beauty heralds the death of another season. Soon the leaves will become the food of another generation as they return to the dust from which they came. The trees and shrubs silently prepare for a new resurrection when the days will lengthen and the light and warmth will bring them to life again. But now it is time to rest.
And it needs to be in this same spirit that we prepare for Advent, a season of hope and anticipation, because it too is based upon an understanding of the reality for society of our own drift away from God. It is the season of John the Baptist, preparing the way by holding up a mirror before the people, enabling them to realise what is happening, to turn around, or repent, and to prepare in their hearts for a new life.
So Advent is really a penitential season, one that is reflected in the mauve liturgical colour, but it is never a sombre one. For we know that the One has come to save, that his spirit can be born in us anew, that he cares passionately about his whole creation and that his redeeming work will never cease. If we want to appreciate the spirit and excitement of Advent, then I think it is to the children that we should look: the sense of anticipation in the advent calendar with a new window opened each day until on Christmas Eve the doors open onto the manger. We will be able to see Sudbury’s own advent calendar in the shop windows. Nativity plays, born out of the medieval Miracle or Mystery Plays, that not only teach the Christmas story but also convey its mystical joy; the sense of wonder on a child‘s face reflected in a Christmas tree bauble. Advent is a time to light new candles and to remember that the darkness has been overcome, and always will be.
Please join us for our Advent Service of Light on Sunday 27th November at 6.30pm as we wait, watch and wonder
Blessings to you all
Already the nights are drawing in and the swallows and martins are circling overhead ready to start the long flight back to Africa. It’s always a little sad to see them go, even though we know that they will be back next year
Our lives are full of goodbyes and they are always sad. The little good byes when we say farewell to a friend or family member for a few weeks or a few months or longer, the bigger good byes as when we say farewell to a much loved pet, and then the really big, the life shattering good-byes, the ones we have to say when some-one close to us dies, the ones that shake us to the core.
God allows this world its freedom and we are blessed and burdened with our share in that freedom, which is an essential part of our humanity. It involves us in a continual pattern of hellos and goodbyes, some of which will cause us great pain because we are human and we have also been created to be capable of great love. The suffering of loss is part of the human condition. Blessing and suffering are tied so firmly together and it is love and loss that binds them.
Every year, on the Sunday nearest to All Saints day, the church commemorates All Souls, the day when we remember all those who have died. It is usually the first Sunday in November, but this year it will be at the end of this month on 30th October.
Every year we invite those who have been bereaved in the past year to come together in worship and to hear the name of their loved one read aloud and, if they wish, to light a candle in their memory.It is a hugely comforting service and is open to all who have been bereaved, however long ago that may have been. It is so good to hear that beloved name, which is still always in our hearts, read aloud. Do come if you can to experience this, and do invite others to come, even those who do not usually come to church can find this service very moving and helpful.
It helps us to acknowledge before God the love we feel for these our dear ones, re-affirming that they still hold a treasured place in our lives and to bring also our loss and our sorrow, so it may be honoured in God’s presence. It helps us to know that our God is a God who does not leave us to suffer alone but has promised to be with us through the dark valley of grief.
And God has promised that good-bye is not the end of the story. In the resurrection of Jesus, we have a promise that God will make all things new; and that we and the loved ones whom we have entrusted into God’s hands, will together be part of that new creation.
With love and my prayers for you,
Dear Friends to be,
By the time you read this my licensing will be upon us at last. I am so looking forward to beginning my work with you and among you, and to getting to know you all.
I have a meeting with Helen arranged for the morning after my licensing when I know she is looking forward to handing over the extra responsibilities she has taken on since Greg’s illness. I want to take this opportunity to thank her and all the other members of the ministry team and congregation who have borne ‘the heat of the day’ and kept things running so well in this ‘in-between’ time. I know I come to a church in good heart and ready for what God will bring to us in the future. My hope for all of those who have taken on extra duties and responsibilities is that they can take what they need to refresh themselves as I begin to share responsibilities with them. I am delighted to find such a rich variety of gifts and talents within the church, and look forward to learning from you all.
In my first letter, I told you that my first focus at St. Gregory’s would be to listen, learn and build relationships. I hope that you will help me in that. To be most effective I need to learn and understand all I can about St.Greg’s as a church, and also about our Sudbury context. I would really welcome your ideas and thoughts about who I should be meeting in the town, what places I should visit to help me understand Sudbury and what organizations within the town I should make contact with. By this I don’t just mean those who have specific positions of responsibility but those who are natural ‘hubs’ of knowledge and it might be a school dinner lady as well as a headteacher, a road sweeper as well as the leader of the town council, a pensioner as well as a school child. You are the people who know and not only don’t I know, but as yet I’m not even sure what it is that I don’t know!
You can get in touch by email, by telephone either at Berry Terrace for the time being or on my home phone number of 01284 850843 or of course in person. I’m also hoping that you’ll give me your “Secret Sudbury’ tips, what are those lovely places to walk the dog, to buy useful things, to find out about…? I am longing to know Sudbury and its residents, so please share whatever you can; it may seem trivial to you but each piece of information will make the jigsaw more complete. This brings me to the less than ideal part of this new beginning. As some of you will already know, unfortunately the Rectory is rented out until mid-August so I cannot move in until early September. Obviously this will make my first weeks a little more complex as I commute and try to ensure that my dog is not shut up here alone for too long every day. I hope that you will bear with me through this, it will be unsettling for me as I am someone who likes to feel well settled in their home environment, but we must make the best of it.
Helen has very graciously offered me the use of Berry Terrace when I need it and I also particularly welcome invitations to visit those who don’t mind meeting a rather bouncy poodle too. I’ve cut short my annual holiday to come back and paint the house and pack up my stuff. If any of you are able to help in the week beginning 29th August either by wielding a paintbrush, showing off your electric drill skills and or bringing the workers a flapjack to help keep us going I would be so grateful.
All this means that there will be a break while I go on holiday and move house between 18th August and 11th September. After that I look forward to being finally settled among you and beginning the Friday evening Bring and Shares I promised, as I believe that hospitality is an important part of my calling.
Let’s begin with a bang, I’d like to invite you all to a Rectory Warming on Friday 16th September. Please feel free to drop in any time between 2pm and 10pm. If you are able to bring any sweet nibbles that would be great, I will provide tea/coffee/soft drinks/glass of wine. Please put the date in your diary and I look forward to welcoming you.
In the mean time please pray for me as I will pray for you as we prepare to discover all the good things that God has in store for us.
With every blessing,
Edward Lorenz was a leading expert on climate in the 1960s. He was especially frustrated at the difficulty in predicting the weather. His research suggested that small changes in the atmosphere can sometimes trigger huge and unexpected results. In 1972 he published his research under the title, “Predictability: does the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” People thought that this idea was crazy, but more research confirmed this extraordinary theory was, in fact, true. Nowadays, “The Butterfly Effect” is widely accepted, that a small change in one place can have a really dramatic effect somewhere else.
Jesus said a similar thing when he spoke about the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, growing into a huge plant (Matthew 13:31). Our actions and words can seem very insignificant, but they can start a chain of reactions with results way beyond anything we could have imagined. Rosa Parks was an ordinary young black woman, living in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person as required by law. She was arrested. Her case was then taken up by a young, unknown church minister Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. and the Civil Rights Movement took off, and the world was changed. One small act of defiance, a flap of a butterfly’s wing, started a process that transformed the world.
God has a dream that one day this world will be put right, and His will, at last, will be done. Jesus called this vision “The Kingdom of God”. If we pay attention we can hear Jesus asking us to join Him in bringing this about, by small acts of kindness and compassion. A smile here, an encouraging word there, a helping hand, a small gift, just finding the time for someone who is lonely; there are so many ways we can make a big difference with a small decision. Every small act of kindness is like that flap of a butterfly’s wings- we never know what good it might bring about! In life it is often the little things that matter. A small act of kindness can change someone’s life, and that can change the world, one person at a time. We can all make small choices that can in some way change the world for the better, choosing Jesus’ way of love and reconciliation rather than anger, indifference and selfishness.
We are all about to experience a “Butterfly Effect” of our own here at St Greg’s with the licensing of our new Priest in Charge Cheryl Collins on 5th July.
It will be a change for us all and the smallest acts of kindness, not only to Cheryl but to each other, will I’m sure enable her and us to settle in quickly. No words can express our thanks to Helen as her “Butterfly Effect” has constantly lighted on the shoulders of all of us during our interregnum. As Jesus says in Matthew chapter 13- may we grow from a mustard seed into trees, so that birds of the air can come and make their nests in the branches. May the butterflies also drift and flap among those branches in the coming years.
Much love and blessings to you all.
“As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer”
May is my favourite month of the whole year. You are probably familiar with the book written by H.E. Bates and produced as a television series back in the 1990s, The Darling Buds of May. No doubt Bates chose the title, borrowed from a Shakespeare sonnet, because Pop and Ma Larkin and their many children took great delight living an idyllic and pastoral life, surrounded by nature. As we move from spring into early summer, the green shoots – yes, the ‘darling buds’ – are bursting from the cool earth, vigorously growing and filling the hedgerows and meadows with an abundance of colour and heady aromas. The garden is awake, and keeping on top of the weeds will now become a regular activity. I love to watch the birds flit in and out of their nests, and for the first time this year I have a pond full of frogspawn – each black dot with hopefully turning one day into a frog!
Do you, like me, find it hard to fully comprehend the perfect design of each and every part of creation? That inside those small black dots of frogspawn in my garden pond, there is a whole complete life growing? Or to know, when you look up at the myriad of stars, that God has His hand on all of this? Everything is intricately and perfectly designed and fine-tuned, and nothing is by chance. To take this example, if the electromagnetic force in atoms were to be weakened by just 4%, then the sun would explode! And at the other end of the scale, a cuttlefish in the sea is designed to avoid predation by blending into its surroundings – even mimicking fronds of seaweed!
Our God is an awesome God, whose hands shape and create all around us – and of course that includes us too! The psalmist captures this conception with words from Psalm 139 (13a – 16):
“You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
I know that very well.
None of my bones was hidden from you
when you made me inside my mother’s body.
That place was as dark as the deepest parts of the earth.
When you were putting me together there,
your eyes saw my body even before it was formed.
You planned how many days I would live.
You wrote down the number of them in your book
before I had lived through even one of them.”
Whilst scientists and atheists will try and tell us it’s all part of natural selection, I believe that God has his fingerprints on everything we see, hear or touch, and that through all this, God speaks to us loud and clear, if we will only take time to listen.
St. Ignatius of Loyola grounded his spirituality in the knowledge that we “find God in all things”, meaning that God’s presence can be found in everything around us. When we witness the waves crashing on the seashore, the thunder and lightning of a raging storm or a ladybird landing on our shoulder, we can see and sense the genius and grandeur that makes our special world, if only we will stop to notice. The psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and if we pay some attention to this, then we will truly experience God ever more deeply.
“Oh to be in England now that April’s there!”
Well, as I write this, it isn’t quite here, but we have had such an early spring, that it seems as if it is: daffodils everywhere and all the birds singing their little hearts out. In my garden I have some daffodils, very delicate and pretty, which rejoice in the name “February Gold”. Well, in spite of their name, I have never seen them out before March in previous years, but this year they came out at the end of January and have indeed been rejoicing my heart all through February and they are still in bloom.
The Spring-time never fails to lift my spirits after the winter gloom and I hope that that is true of you also. It is a real sign of God’s faithful care of us and should move us to a deep thankfulness and joyful praise.
And of course we have so much to be really thankful for at St Gregory’s.
We are rejoicing in the appointment of our new Priest in Charge, Revd. Canon Cheryl Collins and looking forward very much to welcoming her here to minister at St Gregory’s.
There is a profile of Cheryl for you to read later on in this magazine.
We are so thankful, firstly to Cheryl for being prepared to take on what is an extremely demanding post, and secondly to the appointment team of our Rural Dean, Simon Gill and Lay Chair, David Lamming, our own Church wardens, Barbara Tyler and Colin Deeks, and of course to Bishop Martin, for their hard work on our behalf, in the thorough and prayer-led process of selection. But above all we are thankful to God, for calling Cheryl to us and working through the process.
I am quite sure that St Gregory’s will give Cheryl a warm welcome as she settles in and the continuing loving care and support for which it is famous.
Please keep Cheryl in your prayers, praying that God will continue to support and uphold her as she prepares to take up this new appointment and move to Sudbury. Please also remember to pray for the parishes who are losing her ministry and are now facing an interregnum.
And as you give thanks for the Spring-time, give thanks also for this new chapter in the life of St Gregory’s, and pray that, strengthened in ministry, we may reach out afresh into our community with the good news of the love of God in Jesus Christ.
With love and my prayers for you,
Revd. Helen Mitchell, Asst. Priest
Let God Draw You Close this Lent!
By the time you read this letter hopefully we will be looking forward to the interviews for our new Priest in Charge on the 8th and 9th March. Please pray that God will send us the right person.
February saw the beginning of Lent, the time when we were invited to remember Christ’s journey into the wilderness and join him in it. Yes, the wilderness is a place of hardship and desolation but it is also a place with few if any distractions. It was a place where Christ was released from the normal pressures of work and everyday life, and from the clamouring of the crowds. It was a place where nothing could come between him and his Father in heaven. A relationship that enabled him to establish a really good and firm foundation for his future ministry here on earth
We are not a Church made up of perfect people, and Lent reminds us precisely of this. As we heed the Word of God and prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal vows, we are called to remember that we are indebted to God for his mercy, and therefore, we too need to be welcomed. Our life history is marked by so many moments in which we felt loved by God. This love encourages us to proceed on our journey, even during those difficult moments when we have to bear our cross, moments in which we are sometimes unable to feel God’s presence in our lives, or we do not feel it as much as we would like to.
The 6th March brings us Mothering Sunday. It is a time to thank our mothers, especially, for their love and care which has had such an influence in making us the people we are today. As a parent myself, it is also a reminder of the importance of that role. Parenting is much in the news. Everyone agrees how important it is for children to grow up in a happy, secure and loving home environment. Our words can have such an influence – a power to crush or to build up. In today’s busy world, it is quite easy to get into the habit of being negative and critical, especially if we are feeling stressed and inadequate ourselves.
Mothering Sunday is a reminder of how much we owe to our parents, especially for their love. And love is often expressed in words, and words have a power, for good or bad. What we say to our children, and indeed partners and friends, is likely to stick in their memory and affect the way they see themselves.
God is the “ultimate parent” who shows us the way, affirming His Son Jesus, and through Him, us His children – with those famous words:
“You are my son the beloved with you I am well pleased!” Luke chapter 3 v 22
What a difference a few words of appreciation can make!
Lent is all about letting ourselves be loved by God, reconciled with God. Since God never stops loving us, never stops trying to draw close to us, never abandons us, we are the ones who must change. Lent is daring to believe once again that we can let ourselves be close to God, that the goodness of God will not overshadow us but empower us. God’s goodness will enrich our lives and help us believe in what we can accomplish.As we complete our journey through Lent may we find peace and harmony in all our dealings as we journey towards the cross
Blessings to you all
Lent is already just around the corner with the keeping of Holy Week and the Celebrations of Easter to look forward to. This is a spiritual journey that can bring us closer to God and to each other.
We will be holding our Ashing Service on Ash Wednesday, 10th February, and we will also be having another quiet service of prayer for healing on 14th February, the first Sunday of Lent. Both of these will give time for reflection and a turning again to Jesus Christ at the beginning of Lent. Our 10.00 a.m. Eucharist services in Lent will again have a quieter more reflective feel in keeping with the season.
Deeper study of the scriptures is one of the best ways of keeping the season of Lent, and this year we will be holding home Study Groups as usual. There is an article on this from Lynda in this magazine and I do urge you to consider joining one of these groups, especially if you have not tried them before. They are really not at all frightening or intimidating, in fact they are usually fun! And they are such a good way of growing our faith and fellowship. Do talk to me or any of the Ministry Team if you want to know more.
There will be some changes to our pattern this year, due to not having a Priest-in-Charge. We will not be holding Lent Lunches, although there will again be an opportunity for a quiet hour in church from midday on Fridays.
However that brings me to some good news, that things are moving with regard to the appointment of a new Priest-in-Charge for St Gregory’s.
By the time you read this, the post will have been advertised in the Church Times and please will you pray that the Holy Spirit will be moving to inspire the right candidate to read the advertisement and respond to God’s call.
When preaching on the Sunday of the Baptism of Christ, I was reflecting on the importance of threshold experiences in our lives and that, however unchosen and traumatic they may be, we can be assured that God has promised to be with us in and through them and that we can trust that he will bring new life on the other side.
St Gregory’s Church has gone through a traumatic threshold during 2015, with the death of Greg, our most beloved priest. But we can look back and know that God has been with us through this dark valley and so we can also trust that he will be with us to bring us new hope and new life as we go forward into the future.
As Jackie prayed with us on that Sunday, God says to us:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; …… Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you,”
With love and my prayers for you,
Revd. Helen Mitchell, Asst. Priest.
December 2015 – January 2016
A SEASON OF HOPE
When you turn the pages of this excellent parish magazine, it will be less than four weeks to Christmas and we will be into the period of Advent. For many, Christmas shopping and preparations are well under way, cards are being written, there are queues at the post office to catch the last post to Australia or somewhere in the world (and what on earth can we buy for great aunt Maud who has everything?) Probably by now you will already be fed up with the Christmas TV adverts, the pretty Christmas lights in the town will have been switched on, and yes – everyone will be getting ready and waiting….!
While as Christians we are not immune to the build up of Christmas as it sweeps us along with the tide, Christians are preparing for more than just the hedonistic celebrations that retailers would love us to buy into. Advent is certainly a period of ‘waiting’ – that’s where the word comes from. According to my Bible dictionary, Advent means “the arrival of something important or someone important, especially meaning the coming of Christ.” This period of Advent lasts for four Sundays before Christmas, finishing on Christmas Eve – after which we move into the period of Christmas, which ends 12 days later in Epiphany. The season focuses on expectation and waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah, of whom the Old Testament prophets foretold:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7.14)
Yet that’s not the only reason we are waiting, because although we are preparing to celebrate his first coming, we are also waiting for Christ’s second coming – a double blessing! The Bible foretells Christ’s birth, but it also foretells his coming again, when Christ will return in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. And we therefore need to prepare ourselves for that second coming.
Advent is a season of hope, and this Christ-given hope enables us to be positive and have joy in our hearts, even when faced with all the terrible situations of this world, and despite the difficulties in our own lives. We can be assured that God’s kingdom is near, and that God will not fail us.
During this Advent season, why not take the gift of God’s hope to those who are in distress or trouble? Perhaps a novel and practical way to do this would be to write an alternative list of Christmas wishes. It could be something you would like to do for, or give to, a person who you may or may not know, as a sign of Christ’s hope. Pray for God’s blessing on that gift, in the knowledge that your gift will enable them to know something more of the selfless love of Christ.
A prayer for Advent:
Loving Lord, you came to us as the Christ child
and you promised you will return.
During this time of Advent,
as we wait for your kingdom to come,
enable us to use our time wisely
to share the Good News with others,
to help them and ourselves prepare for that day
when your glorious Kingdom is revealed
and we see you face to face.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
I think November can be a difficult month. The days are getting shorter and darker, the weather is often awful and our mood can plummet.
I think this short poem by Thomas Hood sums up all the negatives very well:
“No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
It doesn’t help perhaps, that November is often a time for remembering. On Remembrance Sunday we bring to mind all those who have given their lives in war time and at the beginning of the month we have our All Souls Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for those we have loved. This is always a very moving and touching service as we remember our loved ones by name and light candles in their memory. But it is also sad, and this year it will be particularly sad for St Gregory’s.
But in the midst of all the sadness, we also have great sources of comfort and hope.
Firstly in the rhythms of the Church year. We are coming to the end of the Church’s year, but that means that right that at the end of the month, on Advent Sunday, we reach a new beginning, the beginning of the new church year, a time of hope and expectancy.
The Godly Play story of the church year puts it like this:
“Now the days are really short. It gets dark really early. It looks as if the light is about to go out. Right at that time when the light seems to be coming to an end, we reach Advent. The year ends and it begins again. It is time to get ready to enter the mystery of Christmas.”
Our faith is a resurrection faith and our God is a God of new beginnings, who promises us that for every ending, there is always a new beginning.
The seeds of that new beginning for St Gregory’s Church have already been sown in the strength of the Lay Ministry that has been one of Greg’s gifts to us. As I write this we are preparing to re-commission seven of our Lay Elders and to commission two new Lay Elders, Samantha Hobson and Ingrid Morelli. It will be wonderful to welcome them to join this team which is such an important part of the pastoral care of the church to our community.
The Archdeacon will also talk to us about beginning the process for appointing a new incumbent. To prepare for this it we will need to think hard about just what it is that is special to us about St Gregory’s, perhaps how the church has changed and what has been accomplished over the last seven years, and most importantly, where we hope the focus of the Church’s mission will lie over the next few years.
Advent is also of course the time when we look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaims at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, “The Kingdom of God has come near, repent, that is, turn, and believe in the Good News”.
It is time for us to turn, turn towards a new beginning for St Gregory’s and to hope and believe in the Good News.
With love and my prayers for you,
Revd. Helen Mitchell, Associate Priest.
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”
John Keats 1820
By the time you read this letter, the days will definitely be getting shorter and the evenings will be drawing in. Some of us love this time of year and others hate it. I love the autumn colours and the frosts and mists of the early morning. The sun begins to rise and as the mist disappears, the cobwebs shine in the sunlight and we can watch the spiders scurrying about their day. The world is waking up and the clock is ticking. What a wonderful thing God’s creation is and what a wonderful and amazing world we live in.
In Ecclesiastes chapter 3, Solomon tells us that life is really a matter of timing, for timing is everything. This should be evident to us. You and I probably have a dozen clocks and four or five calendars in our homes. Many of us carry a watch attached to our wrist, and time indicators are built into our mobile phones and computer screens. Time and timing is everything. If timing is everything, how should we live?
Verse1 says: “For everything there is a season, and a time to every matter under the heaven”
You see we serve a God of seasons. We see it in creation. God created the four seasons that are based upon the rotation of the Earth as it orbits the Sun. The seasons change as the earth moves, but the sun in our planetary system remains constant, and everything revolves around it. In many ways we see the signature of the same artist in our lives. Much like the earth, our lives should revolve around the Son, Jesus Christ. Our lives will change, and we will enter and exit many seasons, but the Son remains constant yesterday, today and forever.
As was written earlier, we serve a God of seasons. But God doesn’t measure seasons with clocks and calendars, but through truth and revelation. Whenever God gives us a fresh Word, we’ve just stepped into a new season.
But just like our Bible verse says, to everything there is a season. Every aspect of our lives is as to a season. And there is a purpose for those seasons. There is a reason for the season. There is a purpose for the process. There are seasons you didn’t want to go through. But through those seasons we learned some things. And we wouldn’t have learnt them if we hadn’t gone through some them.
There are seasons we’ve gone through, that we don’t know why we had to. But there is a reason for that season. And just because we are going through a difficult time, with the loss of our beloved priest Greg, it doesn’t mean God is finished with us.
Philippians chapter 1 says, “The one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Change is inevitable. It’s going to happen. We look outside at the world around us and notice things are different today even more than they were ten years ago, last year or even yesterday. But remember we serve a God of seasons.Even in His creation, He created the seasons. And each season is different than the others.
But God gives us revelations and truths to propel us into new and different seasons. Let us hold on to that as we enter into another season here at St Greg’s
Blessings to you all
First of all, such a big thank you!
Thank you to everyone for the way in which everybody contributed to Prayer 48. Whether you delivered cards, or moved chairs, or welcomed visitors, or served refreshments, or prayed on the rota, or came to the services, thank you. Thank you for being part of Prayer 48, 2015; it could not have happened without you.
And what a weekend it was. We sent out thousands of prayer request cards, each one a witness to our concern and to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We received hundreds of prayer requests, and every request was faithfully prayed at least once. We prayed continuously for Sudbury and its people over that 48 hours.
We cannot tell how our prayers may be answered, but we believe that God will have heard those prayers and will answer; that our time of prayer will be a real blessing to this town. We had a steady stream of visitors to the church who engaged with the different prayer activities. Our visitors were of all ages. 120 children from St Gregory’s and Tudor primary schools visited over the course of Friday and many more sent in their prayer requests. The labyrinth was a particular favourite with visitors of every age; some visitors spent a long time at the different stations and some came back over and over again.The various different services were also well attended and it was an opportunity for many to experience ways of worship which they had not encountered before. Many found the quiet healing service on Saturday to be very moving and we hope we may be able to repeat this on another occasion.The Thanksgiving Service on Sunday was a lovely end with St Gregory’s School Choir singing their hearts out for us. Many thanks to them and to Tom for all the hard work that went into that.
Greg and Jackie sent a delicious cake to help with our celebration.
We did of course miss them both very much over the course of the weekend, especially as we learnt just beforehand that Greg would now be receiving only palliative treatment for his cancer.
But it did mean that the weekend gave us the opportunity to be together to pray for him and for Jackie, for the love and peace of God to surround them both. It was a great comfort to be together over this time and lift them both to God. The weeks and months ahead will be very difficult for Greg and Jackie and their family, but I know that they can count on your prayers and support. It will also be a difficult time for St Gregory’s. Greg’s wonderful ministry has touched so many people, all of whom will be grieving. But I am quite sure that this time of real affliction will bring out all the strengths of our loving church family, and will produce real, hard won spiritual growth.
As so often, the apostle Paul has been there before us.
“Our suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit he has given us” Romans 5 3-5
With all my love and prayers for you,
From St. Gregory’s Rectory December 2014
“Endings and beginnings…”
The end of November will mark the end of the building work for the Centenary Project! It has been a very exciting time watching the work unfold. At first the initial “destructive” work saw cupboards, memorials etc taken down, trenches dug, and the tower floor lowered, and the church really resembling a building site with dust in abundance. Then the work moved on and we saw the first signs of how things would be… steel girders were fitted, new flooring was added, memorials reappeared, and then the screen began to be erected, the vestry was refurbished and the servery arrived. The painters moved in and the final bits and pieces began to be added.
It will be very sad to say goodbye to the builders, F A Valiants, who have been excellent throughout. (as have all those who have worked on the Project, including the electrician Jerry Maynard, and the architect, Philip Orchard of Whitworth Co-Partnership.) They have been so helpful, enabling services to continue all through the work, often at considerable trouble to them as they had to tidy up for midweek funeral services as well as each Friday, both for the Friday morning communion service and for each weekend. They have even welcomed visitors to the church and shown them Simon’s Head! It has been a joy to speak with them each day and to share the trials and tribulations and joys they have gone through as well.
So we will say goodbye to the builders with sadness, but also of course with joy because the work will be finished – the end will have come! It was a long time in the planning, but it should be well worth the wait. St Gregory’s Church should be so much better equipped for the future – the end of the work means a beginning for the next stage in the life of St. Gregory’s. So we can rejoice and celebrate an ending and we can also rejoice and celebrate a new beginning.
Coincidentally (?) the work ends at the end of the church year which seems so appropriate. So as we begin the new church year on Advent Sunday we can mark two endings and two beginnings! How wonderful.
We will formally celebrate at the Dedication Service on Sunday 18th January at 10.30am – don’t miss it. (Details are elsewhere in the magazine.) However we will already have seen some of the benefits of the work over Christmas and begun to see how we might make use of the church building in different ways in the future.
As we have said many times over the last few years, the building work is not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of the whole parish community. It is a key part in the mission of the church. What will be possible now? We will begin to pray about this in the coming months as we have time to explore and reflect on the new facilities. What ideas do you have? This “beginning” really is a time for us all to work together and look to a shared vision for 2015 and beyond.
Let me know your thoughts and ideas and vision!!!
With Christmas greetings, and prayers for a new beginning,
Yours in Christ,
Revd Gregory J Webb
The Rectory November 2014
“No man is an island entire of itself….”
One of the joys of living in Sudbury is that nearly all that most of us need is in the town. We can live without the necessity of leaving the town at all – no doubt that is one reason so many choose to live here, and it is a particular attraction for those who are retired.
However we are of course aware that Sudbury is not “self-sufficient” – the town is still very dependent on others, and the “others” are world-wide. Whether it is food, cars, clothes, or almost anything we buy, it comes from outside Sudbury. As John Donne said, “No man (town) is an island entire of itself.”
It is with that in mind that we should all be concerned about the growing move towards independence that is evident across the world. In September there was the Scottish referendum, and the rise of UKIP seems to be at least in part based on the apparent desire to “get out” of Europe and to limit immigration (and sadly some very crude and racist comments are frequently made about those who are not “British.”) Our concern about this should be that the arguments used are mainly based on self-interest – what is best for me, or for us. Yet surely our concern should be what is best for all!
As Christians there are 3 key ideas that relate to this:
• As John Donne noted we are interdependent – we need each other. Images such as church as the “body of Christ” remind us that everyone counts – we are all need one another and everyone contributes to the “body” or community. All are also equally valuable. There are no divisions between young and old, male and female, black and white, earners and pensioners, shirkers and strivers, able-bodied and disabled, and so on.
• Secondly we are all equal in God’s sight. There are no “foreigners” or “others.” There are no nationalities or boundaries between nations in God’s eyes. Wherever we come from in the world, whether it is the west or the east, the north or the south, we are all equally important to God.
• Thirdly we are called to “love our neighbour” – and also to “love our enemies!” So no-one is to be excluded from our love, and non-one is to be favoured by love.
These are all crucial ideas that are fundamental to the ways of God and therefore to the ways we should live. They give us much cause and pause for thought when we are faced by the ideas of “independence” of “going our own way” and of making sure we get the best for ourselves…
The full text of the part of John Donne’s poem from which the best known quote is taken is as follows:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Much food for thought!!
Yours in Christ,
Revd Gregory J Webb