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Drawing showing the extent of the Anglican Benefice of Seaview, St Helens, Brading & Yaverland on the Isle of Wight

Benefice Blog 2015

'Bookends'

Ask someone to draw or imagine a picture of Jesus, and the chances are that the image they come up with will be either a picture of baby Jesus or Jesus Christ on the Cross.  These two images 'bookend' our faith and are also how non-Christians view our faith. There are of course all sorts of other images of Jesus which are important to draw upon from his life between the events of his birth and death and also, vitally, images of his resurrection. But perhaps it is those two 'bookends' which most powerfully tell of God's love for humanity and why Christ Mass is good news for all the world.

The painting which Lynn New - (local artist and Licensed Lay Reader in these parishes} has designed for our parish Christmas cards, wonderfully incorporates these two 'bookend images'.

In the centre of a radiant golden star which, being cross-shaped, echoes Ihe crucifixion, there is a nativity scene - the vulnerable baby (fully human and fully divine), just visible as a tiny detail in the manger.  Cross and nativity-scene meet wilh a gathering of coloured human shapes who are drawn in need or curiosity to the miracle of Jesus' birth and the power of the cross. Above the cross/star, a host of Angels swirl in a dance which declares without words: 'Peace, goodwill to all humankind'.  If the human shapes in Lynn's painting remind you of hopes, dreams or burdens that you carry, - you will not be alone in seeing that. If they remind you of refugees seeking safety, peace and freedom, you will not be alone either.

Lynn's card reminds us that the miracle of Christmas is that Jesus Christ comes to meet us where we are, comes to the dark and suffering places in our world and in our personal lives, and shares our burdens, sufferings, hopes and dreams. Comes as one of us, and one who knows us and loves us. Loves us enough that when WE lead Him to the cross, Jesus does not exact vengeance, but returns instead Love, Mercy ond Forgiveness.

At Christmas we celebrate God made flesh, a Saviour who knows what it is like to be us.  Those two 'Bookends' - The Crib and the Cross are what enable us with all our personal struggles and global problems to nevertheless call out 'Happy Christmas'.

May God bless each of you this Christmas - and may you know Jesus' presence with you as your friend and Saviour. Anthea, Luke and I wish all who read this a very happy Christmas!

Rob Wynford-Harris

December 2015

Anticipation

November is not only a month of remembrance but also that of anticipation: the 'expectant waiting' which is so vital to the period of 'Advent' in the Church Calendar, which begins on the 29th November. In this period of 'waiting' we focus on the world's needs: it's sorrows and it's wrongdoing. We look at the suffering, the injustice, the oppression and violence still present in our world; and we recognise our need of a Messiah, a Saviour. And miraculously, God himself comes as our saviour, humbly and vulnerably as one of us, entering fully into the deepest of personal woes, the darkest of global crises. In the darkening month of November, we anticipate the light of hope which will shine 'In the bleak mid-winter'. I love the following poem by R.S. Thomas which is often read at Christmas, but is perhaps better read during Advent:

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

                     On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

May God bless us all, as we wait.

Rob Wynford-Harris

November 2015

Ministry

On Saturday 19th September this year, Lynn New along with four others from around the Diocese of Portsmouth, was Licensed as a Lay Reader. Lay Readers have a particularly valuable role in the leading of worship, in preaching and teaching, and in the work of pastoral care and sharing of the good news of God's love in our churches and communities. Each one of those Readers Licensed, is a uniquely created human being, and each one brings their own unique gifts and experience to their ministry.

It is not only Lay Readers who are called by God however. The Christian church is a place where everyone matters and where everyone can play a vital role in the life of the church and its care for God's people. Some ministries happen almost invisibly, flowers are placed and replaced, woodwork polished, garden and graveyard tended. The lost are befriended, the sick comforted, those seeking answers are given more questions and food for thought. Collectively and individually our broken world and its people are held in prayer before a loving God.

Sometimes these ministries seem like ineffectual drops of goodness in a world where there is such need and such sorrow, and yet again and again I have heard people tell how even the smallest of acts has brought healing and peace to their lives.

If you are feeling nudged to participate in this 'work of the Kingdom' - don't hesitate! No matter how big or small your act, you can make a difference, and as you do so, you will sense God's grace and love moving in your life too, and a deeper sense of belonging and peace.

And spare a thought for those particular ministries of Lay Readers in our diocese who have studied and worked so hard to draw closer to God and to God's people. They Bless us through who they are and what they do.

Thank You to our Readers: Lynn and Sylvia.

Rob Wynford-Harris

October 2015

Companions in Communion

Looking at the two words bracketing the linking 'in' of the heading of this article, you can rightly assume that I am musing about (principally), two things: Companionship and Community. 

The word 'companion' derives from the Old French word: 'compaignon' - meaning 'One who breaks bread with another', and has its origin in the Latin words com, 'together with' and panis, 'bread'.  We might think that breaking-bread together is something which normally happens when people who are already established as friends or at least acquaintances come together to share food. Yet in many cultures and beliefs it is the act of sharing food (of which bread is often a staple), which initiates relationship. The word communion comes from the Latin communion 'sharing in common' and relates as much to the sharing of thoughts, feelings and beliefs as it does to holding material things 'in common'.

In the service of Holy Communion (sometimes called 'the Lord's Supper' or 'Eucharist') enacted and celebrated by Christians throughout the world, we share in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine as we remember God's great love for us and God's giving of Godself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

In  the Eucharist we say: 'though we are many, we are one-body, because we all share in one bread'

It is Jesus Christ 'the bread-of-life' who brings us together, despite differences of background culture, social status, gender or lifestyle. Jesus often brings together people who would in other circumstances be so aware and focussed upon their differences that they would hastily speed-off in opposite directions.

The church is not meant to be a group of homogenous individuals all talking the same way or liking the same things. True, those individuals will discover areas of 'communion' - of shared thinking and feeling, as they break-bread together. Yet a healthy church will demonstrate the diversity of God's creation and God's love for all people in all their variety, and then that church will celebrate that diversity as we recognise God's love for each of us and as we in turn share love for Jesus.

Idealistic? Delusional? I'll let you judge. Yet I am never so aware of God's love for people, all people, than when I take services of Holy Communion. I am so aware of God's love for people at these moments that it even blasts my own prejudices and preconceptions to smithereens and I feel, as Michael Ramsey once said: 'With God, with the people on my heart, and with the people with God on my heart'

Let's share the bread of life together!

Rob Wynford-Harris

September 2015

'Holidays'

Once, all 'holidays' were Holy Days (which is how we get the word), and represented the only days when ordinary folk could get some respite from what for most, were days of drudgery and hardship.

Setting some time aside for God, became not just a helpful thing for the soul, but a vital change and rest for the body. When I was at school, there was much talk of the need to be educated for leisure (sadly, I wasn't!) - the notion being that advances in technology and computing would liberate humanity from being 'slaves' to work and instead 'work' would become vocational, creative and fulfilling. This has only happened for a very few of the world's population, and even those pursuing careers of their choice, are now slaves to their smartphone, and the constant pressure to respond to email or text.

Holidays are to be recommended! But can I suggest that we make them 'Holy Days' too? Can I encourage you to spend time with, or searching for God, and to cast your burdens and your stress at your loving creator's feet?

Jesus said: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11. Verse 28).

Happy Holy Days!, May God bless you and those you love,

Rob Wynford-Harris

August 2015

Children of God

Whatever our actual age might be, we are all God's children - known, and loved by God.

Yet the records of Jesus' ministry in the first century show us how much value Jesus placed upon infants, children and young adults. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each* record how some of those following Jesus tried to prevent people bringing their children to see and hear him or to be healed by him. In those days children, along with women and some other sections of society were treated as not worthy of learning or participating in debates about life, politics, or religion. Jesus constantly raised the status of children and the underprivileged giving them a 'voice' and central role in their society.

It is in accordance with Jesus' own teaching and ministry that as a church family we endeavour to recognise that children are 'the church of today' and 'the community of today' just as they may become the church and community of tomorrow.

Our local communities at Nettlestone, Seaview and St Helens are truly blessed to have among them two wonderful Primary schools which enliven and enrich our local villages. Neither Nettlestone nor St Helens Schools are church schools, but they seek to be embedded in the life of the local community, including the church and I am delighted that St Peter's and St Helen's have many opportunities to engage with and support these schools and their staff and pupils.

As a parent, I know just how valuable my son's friendships at St Helens are to him — and to us as a family; (how much his friends and their parents have helped us over the past year, to settle here on the island).

As Priest-in-Charge of St Helens with Seaview I am energised and enthused by the conversations I have with pupils and staff at both schools. Our Sunday worship is enriched by members from both schools singing in the choir or being part of 'Children's Church'. It is all part of preserving and developing our local community. Our local schools are vital to village life and deserve our support especially in times of austerity.

I shall be inviting each of the schools to write for a 'Schools News' page in future editions of this magazine so 'Watch this Space!'

Rob Wynford-Harris

(* Matthew 18.3, Mark 10.14-16, Luke 18.16)

July 2015

'Who do you want to rule over your life?'

In effect, this is the question all of us entitled and registered to vote were asked last month.

Who do we want to have the power to make decisions and order our lives for us? The general election provided us with a variety of ways to answer this conundrum, and each of us will now be reflecting on the result differently, depending upon our political allegiance or aspiration.

Supposing that instead of the usual plethora of pledges and promises, a political party had set out their manifesto in the form of a poem, this poem, for example, by R.S.Thomas:

The Kingdom

It's a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man is King and the consumptive is

Healed: mirrors in which the blind look

At themselves and love looks at them

Back: and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It's a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

On the Sunday after the election, as people left the church service, conversations revealed a variety of widely different reactions to the result. Yet all these people were advocates of a particular kind of Kingdom - on the lines of the above poem, and a particular kind of ruler to rule their lives.

VOTE JESUS!

Rob Wynford-Harris

June 2015

Reconciliation

Reconciliation - or the bringing back into harmonious and peaceful relationship, those who have been at-odds, estranged or opposed to one another - is one of the gifts given to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a tragedy of the Christian Church that in its chequered history it has not always modelled reconciliation and peace, and all too often it's institutions and leaders have abused power and status and oppressed those who should have been treated with gentleness and love.

The transformation of our church and our world into a place where difference is celebrated, and where people with differing backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, opinions, lifestyles and social or economic power, can join together joyfully to share in God's love for every uniquely created human being, is perhaps, still a long way away. Yet a celebration of the wonderful diversity of human life is something that every parish church should be modelling in the 21st Century.

Jesus prayed to God for his followers that; '...so that they may be one, just as you and I are one' and again, '...in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me' ( John 17. 22-23 Good News Bible)

So if we find ourselves on a bus, in a pub, in a church, at school, at home, ...or at any other gathering where there is someone to whom we need to be reconciled, let us hope and pray to have the courage to rejoice that we are each different, yet equally loved by God.

Rob Wynford-Harris

May 2015

Easter Message

The Easter Cards from our church family of St Peter (Seaview), and St Helena (St Helens), are being distributed as I write. The cards have been wonderfully Illustrated with a triptych painted by Lynn New. The left panel, filled with ominous dark clouds and the purple hues of penitence depicts the desolation of Good Friday and reminds us of Christ's suffering on the cross - when he, fully human yet fully divine, dies at human hands upon the cross. Amidst the horror and pain of his final hours, Jesus last words show us the depth of God's love even for the authors of such pain and suffering. 'Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing'

From the cross, Jesus restores and creates new relationships and brings healing to human lives: 'Here is your Mother', 'Woman, behold your son' Jesus brings new relationship to his friend John and his own grieving mother. On the cross also, Jesus declares that God's work to rescue humanity from itself is completed, 'It is finished'.

The story continues in the far-right panel. Here we see the brightness of the first Easter dawn, bursting from the empty tomb in the radiant light of Christ's resurrection. Golden light shines from within the tomb, and in contrast to the stark wood of the crosses in the first panel, this one displays a tree newly-leaved in green, whilst the impact of what has happened on earth sends shards of Gold healing light into the sky above the tomb.

Both these panels show the cosmological impact of the cross and resurrection - the entire created world is changed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Central Panel shows Mary Magdalene who has come to anoint Jesus' body, - she is distraught at finding the tomb empty, his body gone. She is shown, kneeling - collapsed under the weight of her grief, in front of her the jars of precious oils and ointments she had brought with her to prepare Jesus body for burial. Then; there is Jesus beside her, quietly, gently asking her why she weeps. She does not at first recognise Jesus, but it is when he calls her by name, 'Mary' that she suddenly knows who he is and that He is alive. He is alive for evermore, and evermore a loving presence with her.

As Lynn's painting shows, what Jesus has done for us through his death and resurrection affects creation on both a grand, 'cosmological' scale, and at an intimate personal level.

Whatever you personally are experiencing in your life as you read this, your life is bound-up in the Easter story. Whether you are more able to relate at the moment to the Joy of Easter morning, or the desolation of Good Friday, Jesus came for you, died for you, and rose again for YOU. He is alive for evermore, and evermore a loving presence with YOU.

Jesus, risen to eternal life, enables us through his Holy Spirit, to meet with him through prayer; through art, through music, through friend and stranger, through those we love and through everything which is loving and life-giving. Coming together in worship as a community is an important part of sharing as the body of Christ, and sharing in His story and our stories, our colours blending and enhancing one another like a marvellous painting or tapestry. And even those who are unable or do not wish to get to a church service are woven together in the tapestry of God's love. It is when our individual personal lives meet with the risen Lord Jesus, that not only are we healed and changed, but we are enabled and empowered to help bring healing and change to others.

Anthea, Luke and I wish you all, and those you love a very HAPPY EASTER!

Rob Wynford-Harris

April 2015

Repent for the Kingdom of God is near!

God loves us. God's love for each one of us is infinitely greater than our capacity to love ourselves, one another, or God.

Like a loving parent, God still loves us even when we have done or said things that are wrong and unloving, (towards others, ourselves, or God).

God wants to shower us with God's love and forgiveness. In order for us to receive that cleansing and healing 'shower' of love and forgiveness, we need to cast off the mantle or burden of guilt which so often acts as a barrier between us and God.

It is not that God needs us to repent (or say 'Sorry'), but rather that unless we say sorry, we are still clinging to our clothing of guilt.

To repent, sincerely and honestly is not a mournful thing, or a 'putting-down' of oneself, (though we do so in humility). Repentance is an affirmation of self-worth, because we lay down our guilt in the knowledge of God's love for us, and that through Jesus we are forgiven, healed and restored.

In this 'Penitential Season of Lent' let us joyfully say sorry to God and one-another, and joyfully forgive and be forgiven.

Rob Wynford-Harris

March 2015

Time to close church buildings, or time to cherish them?

It was Saint Valentine's day (almost a year ago as I write), that I came to visit the parishes of St Helens and Seaview and as part of a mutual process, to meet with and get to know the people and the buildings of each parish church.

St Valentine's day is often associated with the idea of 'falling-in-love' and on Valentine's day last year, I rounded a corner of a path and got my first proper sight of St Helen's Church. I gasped and got a deep sense of being called to this place and a sense of belonging. It was, if you like, a case of 'love at first-sight' and the feeling deepened when I stepped into the church, and it continues to deepen. Later that day I was at St Peter's, and similar feelings came to me as I participated in Evening Prayer in the Lady Chapel, and spoke with people from the community in St Peter's Hall. I know too, from my conversations over the past year, how widely St Helen's and St Peter's Churches are loved. Many people with family links in the parishes choose to marry at St Peter's or St Helen's, or have children baptised there, even though they themselves live elsewhere. Many returning visitors and second-home owners value St Peter's and St Helen's as their 'home-church'.

These buildings hold and trigger people's memories of life's 'big occasions' and along with the Churchyard are places where people come to remember loved ones or to sit and think, or to pray quietly by themselves. We are fortunate to be able to keep the buildings open during daylight hours, for anyone to visit. The buildings themselves seem to enable a sense of peace and comfort. I'd love to learn from more people, what St Helen's or St Peter's Churches or what St Catherine's Chapel mean for them.

Yet 'The Church' is a body of people not a building. The church is made up of people learning about God's love for them, and learning to share that love with others. It is the people God loves. The buildings are part of God's provision for us but the people who go in and out of the doors matter most.

All over Britain, Anglican Dioceses and individual parishes are asking whether their Church buildings can best serve the Gospel and Community by remaining open, or whether their demands upon human and financial sources are just too-great and the Church Commissioners would do better to 'sell-off' expensive-to-maintain buildings and use the money for other forms of mission.

We're not yet at that point in Saint Helen's or Seaview and my vision for the future sees both churches being increasingly used by individuals and groups from our community not just for weddings, funerals, Baptisms and Sunday/Weekday Worship. Yet if that vision is to become a reality we need the help of everyone who wishes the buildings to remain as places which serve the local Community - Christians and those of other faiths or no-faith, alike. The Church buildings, as Parish Churches are for everyone.

This year will see the start of major capital campaigns at both churches. St Peter's Seaview needs to raise something in the order of £100,000 for repairs to walls, the undercroft, and for windows, and St Helen's church is looking for something in the region of £280,000 for repairs, and for the addition of toilet facilities and space for children and other groups.

Alongside this we need to find more people who want to help us meet the needs of our communities by being part of our Parochial Church Council at each church. I'd also really value hearing the thoughts and feelings of people from Nettlestone, Seaview, and St Helens about how the churches (Buildings and People) can best serve both present and future communities in our villages.

Jesus, of course spent at least as much of his time preaching and teaching and healing outside the religious buildings of his community (Synagogue and Temple) as he did inside them, and the future for our parish churches must include what we do outside them.

I shall be spending a lot of time in thought, prayer and discussion on these matters over the coming weeks, and months. I welcome anyone, residents or visitors, young or old joining me in this process. I wish you and those you love every blessing and God's strength for the challenges you also may be facing this year.

Rob Wynford-Harris

February 2015

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