Monthly Message from the Ministry Team

David Russell
David Russell

The Reverend Jenn Willis
Revd Jenn Willis

The Reverend Alan Telford
Revd Alan Telford

The Reverend Ralph Lawrence, Rector of All Saints Church, Ashover
Revd Ralph Lawrence
Rector till Sep 2020

Monthly Message

Here are some of the recent letters that have been written for Amber News.

June

Some years ago, Marjorie and I spent some time living in the Taize Community in France as a part of our three month sabbatical. The community draws people from all over the world, to worship together in an environment wider than their own different traditions. Its music has enriched Christians from many countries. It has been, and is, a place where many people have begun to find themselves, and also begun to find God. Or should that be the other way round? Really, I believe the two go together.

Brother Roger, the founder and leader of the community, began it during the Second World War as a centre for reconciliation. Discussing the many thousands of visitors each year, he was once asked, “What do you wish, above all, that they take back with them?”

He answered, “That they continue searching throughout their lives.”

It’s a wise comment. Sometimes, when we believe we’ve “found” God, we think the search is over. We think we’ve grasped the truth, and have all we need to know. We’ve arrived. Indeed we have — but we’ve arrived at the starting point of our journey, not at the destination.

The story of the pearl, from Matthew 14 vv 44-46, tells us that the kingdom is more valuable than anything we possess. But It’s a mistake to think that, once we’re part of the kingdom, we can sit back and admire it. We don’t possess it, it possesses us.

The time when we begin to grasp the reality of God-with-us, in Jesus, is a beginning, not an ending. It’s the beginning of an exploration that takes us ever further into God, ever deeper into ourselves.

The truth, which is God, and our relationship with him, is too rich to measure, too big to encompass, too profound to fathom. Indeed, when the search is over, it’s only just begun.

“Lord, living with you may not be comfortable, but the adventure, to say the least, is always interesting“

Alan Telford

May

Dear Friends,

I'm writing this on the morning of Prince Philip’s funeral, as her Majesty the Queen bids farewell to her husband of 73 years.

We, as individuals, as a church and nation, give thanks for his life and service to the nation and for his devotion and support to Her Majesty the Queen.

The Duke’s funeral service included, at his request, an adaptation of Psalm 104, which was set to music and sung by the choir.

This includes the words, (adapted by Sam Dyer)

‘You take your creatures’ breath and life is ended, your breath goes forth and life begins; your hand renews the face of the earth, your praise my whole life I will sing’

Life ends and new life begins. Creation is witness to this. In autumn leaves fall to make room for new growth, fruit-bearing growth. Spring time sees the gardens, fields and hedgerows blossoming again; blossom that will develop into fruit.

We are all now in the process of re-blossoming after the dark winter days of lockdown. Let us give thanks and praise to God that we are here to be part of this new life. We have left so many loved ones behind.

As I write we are still in the season of Easter, the season of new life, until 23 May, the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit of God breathed life into the infant Church.

Let us pray that we too will be blessed again by the gift of new life, a new kind of life after the darkness of covid, but also a life that will produce fruit, that will bring blessings to others and as witness to the love of God that is among us always.

‘Your praise my whole life I will sing’.

Celia

Celia Kelly is a Lay Reader and a member of the Amber Churches Ministry Team.

April - A Time to Hope

Even though we may be starting on a roadmap out of the current situation, if there was one word that every single one of us still needs at this present time it is HOPE.

For some, it is to meet again with friends or family, or to hug grandchildren, for children to see their friends, for others to return to the sport they love or to travel, or just to go to the hairdressers.

Thankfully, there are now signs of hope; the vaccine is yielding results, celandines and daffodils are bringing brightness and joy to our gardens and birds are singing. Maybe, then, this is the time to start to recover from the very real sickness that we have all suffered, though sadly for some it is too late.

So, how do we recover from this rollercoaster of emotions we have felt, from the fear, from the profound sadness of loss? We need to reflect on the positives, as well as the negatives, what we have learned through this experience. We need to recuperate and begin to look forward with hope to the things that will restore us and our community.

In a pamphlet about hope, Roger Carswell has written: “There are moments in history that are so striking that the world stops and seems to stand still, such an event was the twin towers or the untimely death of Princess Diana.” (For us, 2020 will be remembered as the year the world was shaken by an invisible virus.) “At the funeral of Winston Churchill after the final prayer a bugler high in the dome of St Paul’s sounded Taps, the universal signal that says the day is over, but then another bugler, on the other side of the great dome, sounded Reveille signalling “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning”. We are now at that same moment of hope mingling with sadness.

To find reasons for hope, turn your gaze to the selfless kindness and ingenuity of thousands of our fellow human beings in hospitals, in science labs and on the streets; human kindness cannot be “locked down”!

When the time comes for us to be together again as a family, church, community and nation we need to set a special time to give thanks, to Remember and Reflect in order to help us to Recover and Restore. “I will restore the years the locust has eaten, says the Lord.” Joel 2v25.

Just as surely as we have the expectation of daffodils in Springtime bursting with colour in the face of uncertainty, despair and death, Easter comes with real HOPE.

Easter, the time of resurrection, Jesus rose from the dead and can be with us in the present, and walk through each step of our future into eternity. “You will restore my soul again; from the depths of the earth, you will bring me up.” Psalm 71 v20.

Marjorie Telford

March

Dear Friends,

Some years ago there was a television sit-com called “Bread”. It centred on a family in Liverpool, mother and grown-up children. Grandad lived in the house next door.

In one episode, Grandad was unhappy. He felt lonely, and showed it in bad temper when they called round to see him. The family responded by taking him little gifts, to show they loved him.

It didn’t satisfy Grandad. “I don’t want you to give me things,” he complained, “I just want you to stay awhile.”

In their busyness, it was hard for the family to realise that he didn’t want gifts, he just needed them. A little of their time.

It’s a perceptive parable. When someone’s in need, it’s usually easier to raise a collection for them than to find people with the time to go and be with them.

Love can be shown through gifts, but the best gift is often one’s time. Love is a relationship, reaching out across the gap between people, pulling them closer.

When someone’s lonely, it’s not presents they want, it’s presence. Someone to sit with, to talk to, someone to listen. Someone who values them enough not just to give their money but to give their time.

The important thing about the Good Samaritan, it seems to me, wasn’t the fact that he had money. It was his willingness to give time, take risks, and develop a relationship. If we are too busy for this, then we are too busy.

In these days and months of pandemic, we have not been able to meet, to talk face to face, to give our time to one another as we would have liked, but hope is on our horizon and the days are coming when, once again, we can give of our time to those we know and love, and to those we may not yet have met.

A Prayer for ourselves ....

Lord, there are moments when I hear your voice.
Soft, yet insistent. Your voice, coming not from some cloudy heaven above, beyond, but somehow centred in the people I ignore.
And when I take my courage in both hands - and doing that means putting down my diary first - and turn to them, I find I’ve turned to you.
Among the lonely.
You are the neighbour I ignored.
The injured on the Damascus road.
And when I walk by, on the other side, I sidestep love, and I’m the lonely one. Self-exiled by my busyness.
Lord, help me to try again.
Find time for others.
Find time for you. Amen.

Alan, Revd Alan Telford, Amber Churches Ministry Team

February

Dear Friends

In 1982 the Sir Galahad was destroyed in Bluff Cove on the Falkland Islands. On board was 20 year old Simon Weston, Welsh Guardsman, a name and face that was going to become well known for his struggle to overcome his injuries (46% burns) and redefine his role in life.

Some years ago I watched an intimate and very moving TV programme about his later progress through hospital. His face is very badly scarred, and, even after skilled plastic surgery, very disfigured. His hands and fingers are severely disabled.

The first thing that came through on the screen was the wonderful resilience of the human spirit. During his months in hospital and subsequent rehabilitation there were times of depression and times when he screamed with pain. Mostly, though, we saw Simon’s courage, his matter-of-fact acceptance of what had happened to him, and his strong determination to fight back to life.

But the most moving experience was to listen to his mother talking to him. Gentle but persistent, just chatting about home, food, birthdays, she brought him stability and simple encouragement. And it was brim-full with love. She saw the scarred face, the burnt body, but it was so apparent the she was looking through that, to the real person underneath, her son. Whatever had changed, his identity hadn’t. She knew the real Simon, and loved him. That’s the strength of human love, made in the image of God’s.

“I will send peace ... as a river.” says the Lord, “as a mother comforts her son, so will I myself comfort you“ (Isaiah 66 v 12-13). Life scars us, we shout out in pain and anger, we scarcely look “made in God’s image”, yet he loves us. He sees beneath the surface to the real person, so much in need of comfort, strength and healing. And no matter what we look like, we are accepted, loved and cherished.

I offer you these few words and hope you can take them as your comfort ....

I thank you Lord, for all the evidence I see - not in abstract debate or routine sermon, three points, every Sunday, six feet above my head - but love at work.

Love in the tender eye, warm hand stretched out. The empathy and sweet sorrow of shared pain, as one stands with another.

Alan
Revd Alan Telford, Amber Churches Ministry Team

January

Dear friends,

Some of you will know that I love walking; relishing any opportunity to don my walking boots and set off into the countryside. As much as I still appreciate familiar scenery on paths I have trod many times before, I also delight in venturing on paths new to me. Poring over an Explorer map, working out the options for my next walk, creates a sense of anticipation of what the views and terrain will be like, plus the highlighting of the paths on my map when I get back home!

Variety adds interest to walking country paths – uphill, downhill, flat, grassy, rugged, by rivers, through woods, over fields, amid cows and sheep, muddy and dry, stepping stones, footbridges, country lanes, walking alone or with others and so much more!

At the beginning of a new year we contemplate what the coming months will hold for us, especially 2021 with an unprecedented pandemic still very much affecting our lives, our communities and church life in so many ways. Some of the paths of life in front of us we shall have no control over such as illness, disappointment, loss or sorrow. However there are paths we can choose.

Jesus calls to us as He did to his first disciples “Follow me.” His invitation is to all at whatever age in life we’ve reached. He offers forgiveness and fullness of life as we respond with commitment to our risen and reigning Lord. Who knows what fruitful path in life He may lead us on this year? We may find ourselves on a variety of paths through the year – ones which are familiar, new, unexpected, unwanted, exciting, challenging, risky, daunting, easy or hard work to name a few.

Our calling to a life of discipleship is not a path we walk alone, but with Jesus and others in this community of faith, also called the body of Christ, the Church and the family of God. We have our individual journeys but we also journey together. Our priority for the journey ahead this New Year needs to be MISSION, being the Church God wants us to be in our communities. Setting out on this path let us seek to:

PRAY together as without this foundation our efforts will be fruitless.
DARE together and be prepared to take risks and do things differently if necessary for the sake of the kingdom of God.
SHARE with others the Good News of Jesus.

Wishing you a fruitful and fulfilling New Year!
David

David Russell has been a member of the Ashover Ministry Team for many years; he has a special interest in leading home groups where people get together casually to learn, discuss, pray and chat together. At the moment the home group is meeting on zoom.

December

Dear Friends

As we get to this time of the year Christmas seems to crop up in the conversation fairly often. This year has certainly been an extraordinary year in all sorts of ways, to put it mildly – I think the first time I heard Christmas being discussed on the radio was actually during August!

I quite understand the problems of a Christmas under ‘pandemic rules’ for the retail and hospitality industries who have been hit so hard since March. I also appreciate the differences that are likely to affect families – no large gatherings around the dinner table, being unable to see grandchildren opening their gifts, playing ‘silly’ games, and all the other things that make up our own ‘traditional family Christmas’. It’s also going to be very different in church too. Although we don’t yet know precisely what we shall be able to do, or not do, we can be pretty certain there will be no big services so: no Carol Service; no Crib Service; no Midnight Communion. Where does that leave us?

Perhaps we need to think in terms of ‘back to basics’. What does Christmas really mean to us? What does it mean to you? To me? Because, be under no illusion, 25th December 2020 will be Christmas Day, whatever we do, however we choose to celebrate it, or not.

So, why should we want to celebrate Christmas? Many would say, because it is the day Jesus was born – well, maybe it was, but probably not, however, it is the day on which the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus, or to put it another way, the Incarnation of Christ, the time God took on our human nature in the form of Jesus. And that is certainly something to celebrate!

Perhaps we could all take this prayer by Sharon Jaynes to heart this Christmas:

“Dear God, Sometimes I get too caught up in the Christmas commercialism. OK, a lot of times. Today, I’m going to refocus my heart and remember why I’m celebrating this wonderful day in the first place. I’m celebrating Jesus today and every day because ……...! In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

May I take this opportunity to wish you all an extra-ordinary and blessed Christmas,

Jenn

Revd Jenn Willis joined the Amber Churches Ministry Team in 2016. Jenn had previously fulfilled many roles at Wingerworth Church finally becoming a locally ordained minister. In 2015 Jenn walked from Wingerworth to Canterbury to raise money for the church.)

November

Dear friends,

Behind the carved oak pulpit in the old church, there was a mark on the worn wall. At first glance it looked like it was just a random roughness, a shadow on the stone. Then it became clear that it was the outline of a cross. It must have hung there for years and, when it was taken down, it left the mark on the wall.

As individuals we all leave a mark. Most of us lead unremarkable lives. Actually, I’m not so sure of that. When you get to know people you find few who are “ordinary“.

No-one is exactly like another. Each is remarkable in individual experience. Each of us has something of value to give. But we lead unspectacular lives, rarely producing headlines in newspapers. Yet our presence in the world, our faithful performance of the little acts of daily living, makes its mark.

There are times when we feel useless. We can’t stop the steamroller of world events without getting flattened. No-one listens to the thin sound of our protest. But, as the song puts it “your living shall not be in vain”.

We make our mark and, however small it is, it’s our mark, and the world will never be quite the same again.

God grant the mark we leave is the mark of the Cross,

Alan

Revd Alan Telford has been a member of the Amber Churches Ministry Team since his retirement to this area 10 years ago. Alan, along with other members of the Ministry Team, is caring for our churches during the period until a new Rector is appointed.

September

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago Sue and I were going through some old stuff, what to keep and what to throw away. It wasn’t a job either of us enjoyed but it was necessary, so as not to clutter our new home with bits and pieces that we no longer require. When the job was done we both let out a sigh of relief.

Later and content in the knowledge that a job that needed doing was complete I spied upon a white butterfly, regarded by many a gardener as a nuisance, on account that as a caterpillar it has a penchant for cabbage leaves. But, at that moment, and since I cannot claim to be a gardener, I could only see a creature of beauty perching effortlessly on a plant which swayed in the breeze.

The sight of that delicate creature was quite a contrast to the dreary interior of the rectory loft. There seemed to be nothing in common. But then I thought perhaps there is.

The butterfly hadn’t always been a creature of beauty. It had begun life as a caterpillar, turned into a chrysalis and emerged from that latent state to become a new creature. In a word that insect had metamorphosed. It had undergone an irreversible change.

Change for the butterfly had been a choreographed affair, nature having meticulously orchestrated the event with precision timing. A miracle of the natural world, and one we often take for granted. But it is not only insects that change, people change too.

As you probably already know I shall be retiring at the end of September. “Time flies when you are having fun” and our time in Ashover has certainly flown by. Ministry provides many opportunities and one has been the people we have met. Together we have changed. To put it bluntly we have all grown older, if not wiser. But there is more to change than the obvious signs.

St. Paul also had something to say about change. In his letter to the Christians in Corinth he spoke about people becoming new creatures. He said: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has gone; the new has come!” What he meant by this is that as we become creatures with faith a change begins to occur in us. And that change grows the more we trust God for his reconciling love wrought through his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sue and I will be leaving the benefice in October.

With every good wish,

Ralph

August

Dear Friends,

During the months of lockdown I was sent two pictures of Ashover church. The first is drawn from memory, the second is a hand coloured postcard of All Saints. I intend to keep both of them together with the sepia coloured photograph of a group of men standing outside the Bassett Rooms. Not so long ago men would gather outside the Bassett Rooms in the hope that local entrepreneurs would come and hire them for a day. We are talking about the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Centuries before photography was possible Jesus told a story which resonates with that relatively modern practice. The parable Jesus told was about a landowner who went early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard, having first agreed with them their wages for the day. Jesus said, that throughout the day the landowner continued to hire men well into the afternoon. By early evening he told his foreman to pay the men their wages beginning with those he had hired last. The twist in the story comes when the landowner decided to pay every man the same amount, irrespective of how long they had worked; much to the annoyance of those people who had worked from dawn to dusk. It turns out that the parable is about God’s generosity, which humanly speaking is reckless and undeserved. It seems that God does not calculate how much he will give us based on our performance. Instead he gives out of the goodness of his heart. We cannot earn what God gives us. What God gives is not pay, but a gift; not a reward, but a grace. Grace is undeserved favour which with our perennial obsession with fairness is hard to grasp. Because it subverts any puny ideas we may have about entitlement, rights and merit.

This rather long preamble serves only to introduce the real purpose of this letter which is about the role of the Bassett Rooms and how they will serve the community in the future.

During our enforced incarceration the work to refurbish the Bassett Rooms has not stopped. Thanks to the generosity and vision of folk the redevelopment is now complete. The WI has recently replanted the beds at the front of the building and the garden at the back is patiently waiting for people to enjoy it. It all looks glorious without people, but it will be a delight to see people sitting eating, talking and laughing together again.

I cannot express my thanks enough for those who caught the vision and turned it into a reality so that others can enjoy their generosity. On behalf of everyone who will enjoy it now and in the future I just want to say, thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Ralph

July

Dear Friends,

It has been said that “the Church is radically provisional”. In essence it is about people and not places, but people have always built places and spaces for particular things and activities, we should not despise them.

Over the last few months our special places and spaces, our churches, cathedrals, mosques and other holy buildings have been different. I cannot remember a time when the doors of the church have been locked in an effort to reduce the spread of infection. Some institutions have challenged this decision, others have ignored it, and sadly there have been some negative consequences as a result of not adhering to the restrictions. But in its way the right thing, locking the doors in this case, was the responsible social action needed. But the churches are beginning to re-open for private prayer and by the time you get to read this letter things may be back to normal, I pray so.

In previous times there have been other actions and reactions needed to address some of the great social issues of the day. To name just a few: nuclear disarmament, peace, justice, apartheid, urban deprivation, unemployment and more recently the debates about the changing landscape of human relationships.

Real religion is about life, not just part of it. The psalmist affirms that the world belongs to God and all that is in it. God remains committed to it – all of it!

The Christian faith is of course concerned with the spiritual but as is often the case the spiritual is seen and understood through the material. Doing the right thing because it is the right thing is always the best way to demonstrate our faith.

Yours sincerely,

Ralph

June 2020

Dear Friends,

There have been several important themes throughout the period of lockdown forced upon us by coronavirus. Among them is the impact the pandemic is having on people’s mental health. Generally people are gregarious by nature so being confined to our homes has been very challenging. This has been particularly acute for some who live alone.

There have been several high profile public figures advocating the need to talk about one’s wellbeing, fears, anxieties and the stress caused by the separation from friends and family. Then there is the concern about the return to more normal modes of life, especially if the familiar contours of life have changed. Will the job we had before lockdown still be there when it is all over? Let’s hope and pray that life after the pandemic will be brighter for us all and not as some are pessimistically predicting.

I sometimes feel that life is a bit ‘smudged’. It is often messy and a bit ‘grubby’. Yes, goodness abounds and often goes unreported. So too do many untold acts of kindness and generosity. But alongside such commendable behaviour the world almost groans under the weight of pain and suffering. At least St. Paul seemed to think so.

Amid the enigma of life there is also the perennial flame of hope that is never quite extinguished, despite many attempts to snuff it out. Human beings are incredibly resilient and it is hope that gives us the confidence and courage to keep us going when we are tempted to give up.

When the world emerges from the pandemic many questions will be asked as to how this sort of thing can be avoided in the future. There is a belief that although the world may be ‘smudged’, it is necessary to resist those things that threaten to overwhelm us, in the hope that things can be improved, again and again and always.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

May 2020

Dear Friends,

It has been several weeks since the doors of our churches have been open, either for weekly worship, occasional services or for the visitor out for a stroll. At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Matthew Hancock, I think it was him, said in the House of Commons that it was with a “heavy heart” that the government was asking places of worship to close their doors, until such time that the lockdown can be lifted. By the time you read this letter the lockdown may still be in force or just beginning to show signs of lifting. Until it is, we need to remember to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

During this unprecedented time people have devised ingenious methods of remaining in contact with each other. Social media platforms are by definition tools whereby people communicate with each other at a distance. Thanks to those who have employed their talents and expertise by utilising the benefits of the internet.

If you have been watching the morning Sunday Service during the pandemic you will have noticed the different styles, personalities and places that have been employed in order to facilitate worship. If you have tuned into the BBC’s Songs of Praise, or been absorbed by the contribution You Tube videos have made to worship, you will be aware of the sheer variety available. If there is a single obvious common denominator in all this activity it is that worship is a gregarious activity, but not solely so. So why do people do it, and to whom is it directed?

I think one of the difficulties is the word worship itself and what we believe it to mean. In the Old Testament worship sometimes translates into prostrating oneself as a servant before ‘almighty’ God – the powerless encountering the powerful. But there is a difficulty with this kind of interpretation because it can be seen as an inappropriate relationship not nearing anything we understand to be love.

Maybe there is another way of thinking about worship. The word worship comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Weorthscipe which means to honour. It recognises inherent worth, it prompts respect not out of duty but out of love, and it fosters admiration and reverence. It is these words that point to the essence of worship.

To worship God is to honour Him. It is to offer praise for his grace and glory. How we honour God for his grace and glory is a matter of tradition, temperament, choice and style. But what is important in all this diversity is that our worship should reflect the best that we can offer – liturgically, musically, intellectually and spiritually.

When Jesus met a Samaritan woman he told her that those who worship God should worship Him in spirit and in truth. Whatever we offer in worship must represent our utmost for the highest.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

April 2020

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister Boris Johnson flanked by Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific officer, gave a press conference, the first of many. When you read this letter things may have improved, but it is possible that the worse of the coronavirus pandemic is still not over. After the press conference members of the media remarked that the Prime Minster had acted like a statesman. What was also said was that whatever advice was given by the people on the podium their message wasn’t going to soothe everyone’s concerns. There has been much praise for the government’s strategy in combating the coronavirus and much criticism. This is not entirely unexpected. Sometimes we can feel between a rock and a hard place when faced with differing opinions. John Lydgate a monk and poet described it like this: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” What do we do when we find ourselves in such places? When burying our head in the sand is not an option. There are many stories in the Bible where leadership demanded decisive action. The leader I have in mind is Moses.

As a baby Moses was put in a basket and hidden in the bulrushes in the hope he would avoid the excesses of Egypt’s Pharaoh; a statesman who used his power to quench his own fear. Moses escaped Pharaoh’s clutches and ironically was brought up in his household. But Moses rebelled against his privileged background and went on the run. Eventually God told Moses to return to Egypt with strict instructions for Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. A battle of wills ensued with Pharaoh losing everything, even his life. This was to be the start of the Israelites’ “long journey to freedom.” But along the way they grew tired and thirsty and complained that Moses was not acting like a ‘statesman’, because he could not provide for their needs.

Moses found himself between a ‘rock and a hard place’. The fledgling nation of Israel were a very disagreeable people, hard to lead and difficult to please. Yet, into this unenviable trial, God offered a solution. He told Moses to strike a rock with his staff. Moses simply obeyed, and water gushed out of the stone. It is a story best taken on face value. While we are not expected to suspend our critical faculties we can reflect on its ability to say something important, particularly in difficult times.

Moses was literally between a rock and a hard place. As the leader of a restive people it was not obvious how he was going to soothe their mounting anxiety. As their leader he stood between them, the hard place and a rock in the distance. But things got better.

At times of uncertainty we need to hold on. Faith can play its part. It is defined as …”the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”

By the time you read this letter the coronavirus pandemic may be showing signs of defeat. Let’s hope so. In the meantime we need to hold on with hope and courage, co-operation and compassion. We have seen a lot of these lately. There is no reason to stop now.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

March 2020

Dear Friends,

Visiting the sick is a responsibility laid on every priest, pastor and minister; it can be a trying and testing experience. I still remember the sense of helplessness when I first met someone who was terminally ill. At the time I was a hospital chaplain. Each week I visited the wards of the local community hospital and was often moved by the severity of suffering, and the dedication of the health professionals who sought to heal. The image remains, as does my sense of failure, because of my inexperience of life and an abysmal lack of pastoral training I received at theological college. And yet there was too the blessing that came from contact with people who were acutely ill. It made such ministry, as it was, a privilege and an honour.

There is nothing attractive about illness: it is to be avoided where humanly possible. But there are examples where people have ‘gained’ something from their experience of illness. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung suffered a ‘breakdown’, an illness he admitted he learned so much from.

It is not easy to sense the benefits of pain when each day of life brings a heavy quota of it. One of the benefits of full recovery is the ability to find some blessing in what has been a miserable experience. God does not ‘send’ suffering, but it ‘seems’ that the divine way is to so order affairs that good can come out of evil; a blessing out of the burden of illness. Perhaps it leads to a positive change in lifestyle, a transformation in attitude; a corpus of experience that will enable us to be more compassionate and a deeper empathy with those who are in pain.

Illness too reminds us that we are only human; we don’t have the power to control life, but can be victims of its stresses and strains. And it may lead us to a healthy dependence on others and even a greater dependence on grace.

None of us wants painful experiences, but if and when they come it may help a little to feel there is the possibility of learning something through it. If so, then there is validity in the idea that it may be or could become a ‘creative experience’.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

February 2020

Dear Friends,

While parts of the United Kingdom have experienced significant amounts of winter rain other parts of the world have experienced devastating drought. We live in a world of change, at times even the ground under our feet gives way, and when it does we struggle to keep our balance.

The euphoria felt at the start of the twenty-first century – that everything was going to be better, has been replaced with the sobering truth that the world continues to groan as it waits for new life. Like Humpty Dumpty it seems that all the king’s horses – symbols of enterprise and wealth, and all the king’s men – human ingenuity and political power, will not in themselves be able to put Mother Earth back together again. But there are signs of hope.

A while ago I was enthralled by the BBC’s natural history programme about the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of eastern Australia. Presented by David Attenborough the credentials of the programme were not in question, but some of its conclusions were surprising, uplifting and hopeful; all things the presenter was quick to point out. Apparently the Great Barrier Reef, although a delicate eco-system, has and does rejuvenate and repair itself when damaged or destroyed by the freak behaviour or some might say, the malevolent forces of Mother Nature.

But as the presenter was quick to point out the destructive capacity of the region’s weather is only part of the story. Human ignorance, weakness and wilful destruction are a major hazard for the reef. But there are signs of hope.

The nations of the world having been stirred from their slumber of indifference and apathy are beginning to listen to the voice of science whose battle cry is: we need to combat the negative impact of global warming on the planet by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. All agree that this will not be easy and all agree that to do nothing is not an option.

Shrinking the global carbon footprint is imperative and not just to protect fragile eco-systems like the Great Barrier Reef. It is in all our interests if we are to avoid the negative excesses of climate change and to go forth into the world, as St. Paul puts it, in peace.

One of the problems is that we all have different ideas about how to make society better, if we didn’t we wouldn’t have the spectrum of ideas we do have. Life would be simpler if we could all agree on what would be best and then act upon it. But it seems unlikely we will achieve this any time soon.

Yours sincerely, Ralph

January 2020

Dear Friends,

The New Year will see many beginnings. For children and young people it will mean a return to school and college, with the opportunity to learn and discover new things. For the business minded it may provide the opportunity to expand into a new area, although nothing is certain in the present economic climate. For some it will bring new life, while for others it will be a time to adjust to life without a loved one. For all of us it will mean change.

Further afield we should hope and pray that this New Year will bring peace and stability to countries like Syria, and economic security to the global economy.

Perhaps one problem we shall all face is unrealistic expectations, sometimes of ourselves, often of others and more especially, from those in high office whose special position gives them greater responsibility and influence.

However, one important thing we can all do is to recognise our own and others' fallibility, our common humanity. We are all fairly frail, we make mistakes. But we can all call upon the grace of God to be at work within us – to begin again.

In this New Year may you know the new beginning that can be God’s gift to you, in your life.

Yours sincerely, Ralph