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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 2016

Where will God be this Christmas and New-Year?

God,   will   of  course   be   available  anywhere  and everywhere  this Christmas.  There is no need of a pre-Christmas rush to buy-in stockpiles of God before the stores and superstores either 'run-out' or experience a temporary seasonal closure, a kind of 'breath' taken between frantic acts of consumerism.  God is an inexhaustible supply of all we ever truly need or could wish for - if only we would stop ignoring God's eternal and intimate presence.  Yet where will that presence be most discerned and gratefully received by otherwise distracted humans?

Here are my predictions:

God will be felt near,
By the single-mother who in fear mixed with inexplicable joy (that pierces through her pain) as she gives birth to her child regardless of the poverty and disgrace which surrounds them.

God will be felt near,
By the hospital bed of the dying man surrounded by care and family, and in the solitary unaccompanied death on a dark and silent street.

God will be felt near,
By the huddled victims as bombs drop and bullets fly.

God will be felt near,
By the shivering homeless in the city's shadow, or village byway.

God will be felt near,
By the fearful and powerless, the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the lonely. Just as God, in Jesus Christ, infant and adult, has always drawn close to those in need.

It isn't (as is sometimes suggested), that God really loves the poor and suffering more than those who are rich, powerful and well, but rather that God is so often more clearly known and wanted by those in distress.  We have to want God to be Immanuel for us - for Jesus to come to us, and we have to put aside all the impermanent glitter and shine which can blind our eyes to our own true need. Of course, one way to ensure that God is with us, is for us to be with God - as God goes out into the world to bring hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry, warmth to the lonely, and peace to the distressed.

Anthea, Luke and I, wish all of you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New-Year, and may God be with You always.

Rob Wynford-Harris

December 2016

Pilgrims

When the 'new' St Helen's church was dedicated in 1719, its location meant that it was at the heart of the parish which in those days included Seaview and parts of St John's Ryde. Present day footpaths and bridle ways attest to this central location in community geography.

Though St Peter's Seaview (born out of St Helens Parish a century or so later) is physically located in the heart of Seaview, nevertheless, many of its regular visitors and worshippers travel some distance to get to the church.

When we gather together at our parish churches - often from different directions and with varying means of transport, we become representatives or ambassadors of the homes and communities from which we have come. We become, if you like, Pilgrims who, when they return to their points of origin take with them God's word and God's blessing.

The physical location of our churches and our journeys to them are only important because our loving creator God has chosen to be located at the heart of our lives - whether we are aware of God's presence or not.

Whether you regularly travel to visit or worship in your parish church, do so only for life-events such as weddings or funerals, or have never done so yet: may you know God's presence with you in all your journeys, be they physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional.

Rob Wynford-Harris

November 2016

God Delights in You!

If I am ever occasionally successful through preaching or private conversation in persuading someone that GOD LOVES THEM (or persuading myself that GOD LOVES ME!), there is perhaps an even greater challenge in convincing human beings that GOD DELIGHTS IN THEM!

We may (just) come to accept that God loves us rather as a dutiful parent loves an errant child - think of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Yet the truth is even more wonderful than that. God, our divine creator, our father and mother in heaven, has an image of us - God's uniquely created individuals, which never falters.  An image which never wavers in God's eyes, despite what we as individuals may do through miss-deed, or miss-thought to mar our image in our own eyes.  Sometimes when we are content with ourselves we can grasp the wonder of who we are and say, like the psalmist of psalm 139: 'I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made' - Yet too-often we wallow in our mistakes and failings, or get caught up in worldly notions of what is beautiful or what is ugly.

Thankfully, there are some human events which can help to lift us out of such selfish self-condemnation.  The recent Olympics and Paralympics have championed diversity and endeavour and celebrated human joy in the achievements of others.  Beauty could be seen everywhere.

Amidst the nightmarish scenes of death and destruction in Aleppo and other fields of conflict, or emerging from apocalyptic areas of natural disaster, occasionally the camera dares to show a dust-covered rescue-worker cradling a child, who, despite everything shall live.

Of course it is right that we should be shocked by our own sinfulness or the broken-ness and evil we repeatedly see in our world, yet God's look of love does not waver from us for one moment.  God continues to delight in the truth of who we truly are, and the hope placed in our hearts that we can become more fully and truly ourselves.  Not less-human, but more human.  For every global human situation and every human individual, there is that hope - because of God's unwavering gaze of love, God's delight in who we truly are.

Earlier this year I presided at a wedding in St Helens church where the couple's  delight  in  one  another,  their unwavering look of  love for one-another, was matched by their delight in and care for their family and friends.  Their wedding day became not just a proclamation of their love, but a demonstration and proclamation of God's love for us all.  St Helens Church became one of those 'thin-places' where heaven breaks-through, and love is all-in-all.

There is in our world, much to grieve-over, much to repent, plenty of need for God's healing love.  There are also countless hints and reminders (if we have eyes to see them, hearts to receive them) of God' s love for and delight in us as, through Jesus Christ, God's children.

October is one of the months of Harvest, so may your personal harvest this-year, be the knowledge that God delights in YOU!

Rob Wynford-Harris

October 2016

'I believe in Angels'

As well as being a song by Swedish group from the seventies, ABBA; 'I believe in angels' is a phrase you are as likely to hear from non-Christians as Christians. This begins to seem highly ironic when some of those willing to confess believe in the existence of angels criticise Christians for their belief in, for example, the resurrection!

There is however, nothing wrong in believing in the existence of angels as spirit beings who are messengers and servants of God, there are many references to angels in both the old and new testaments, as well as in texts of other faiths. The sixteenth century theologian and protestant reformer John Calvin, whilst admitting the biblical evidence for angels, counselled Christians against too-strong a focus upon them for fear that this would distract from the more important study of and relationship with Jesus.

Yet, even in the 21st century, churches throughout the world, will celebrate the feast of 'St Michael & All Angels' (This year in our parishes on September 29th at our 10.30 Village Communion at St Peter's). The fact that we do so is a useful admission and reminder that our faith admits that there is more to life (and death!) than the physical, and that the God we worship is 'maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen'.

St Helens village joyfully abounds with angels in December when creative individuals and groups cause a wonderfully diverse range of angels to 'pop-up' around the village green and neighbouring areas.

I think that it is good for us as humans to recognise creatively in music, the arts, and our theology, that we don't have all the answers, and also that the acknowledgment of something 'other', something spiritual is not limited to Christians or Christian thinking.  And now an appeal: I would love to hear of the views of readers of this post   concerning angels so if you have an experience or a thought on this topic, please let me know by writing to me at The Vicarage .

Meanwhile, may God's holy angels guard, guide and protect you, and those you love.

Rob Wynford-Harris

September 2016

'Holi-days'

When Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary (as told in Luke's Gospel Chapter 10), Martha complains that Mary her sister has left her to do all the work of home-maker and hostess, whilst Mary sits at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus as he taught.

Jesus defends Mary, saying that she 'has chosen the better-part' - or done the right thing by choosing learning and listening to him over the routine drudgery.

In this, Jesus is not condoning laziness or idleness, but he is highlighting the value of setting time-aside for one's spiritual development (especially poignant in this example because in Jesus' day women were not normally counted as worthy of learning or spiritual development as men were.)

Holidays, or Holydays are opportunities for all of us fortunate enough to be able to take them, to gain spiritual refreshment and renewal; to set some time apart to 'listen' to God.  It is wonderful that we are able through the dedicated care of volunteers at St Peter's and St Helen's Churches as well as at St Catherine's Chapel to keep these special spaces open day by day so that people can drop-in to pray, to be still, or to listen in the silence for God's word to them, and to discover God's love for them.

In this holiday season - as we try to gain rest and peace if possible ourselves, let's thank God for the Marthas and pray for their refreshment and renewal - whilst also thanking God for those Marys who remind us of the wisdom of sitting-down with Jesus.

May God grant you peace and rest this summer wherever you go or whatever you do.

Rob Wynford-Harris

August 2016

Where do we belong?

This piece is being written in the week before our country's referendum on our future in Europe, and will be published and distributed after we know the result.  Safe in this form of time-travel, I can declare here what I ought not to do before the event - that it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will have voted to remain 'in' Europe.  It may be that the recent political debate has raised other important existential and spiritual questions around to whom and to what we should belong.

As human beings we all belong primarily to God, and then, to one-another.  A true understanding of this fact makes a nonsense of borders and boundaries, and a true understanding of this ought to bring the realisation that every human-life is precious.  Grasping how much God loves each and every one of us is the enlightenment that leads to peace.  When the Pharisees and Herodians tried to cause division and political turmoil around Jesus in the first century, by using a question over to whom his followers should pay taxes, Jesus' response was to place the value on the human rather than the fiscal.  He took a coin and asked his challengers whose image appeared upon it. "Ceasar's" they replied.  Then, said Jesus, "Give to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and give to God the things that are God's" (See Mark 12:1 3-17, or Matthew 22: 20-22).

Whatever has happened with the referendum, let us give ourselves and one another to God.  Let us value our own lives and the lives of others more highly than material goods or political notions, and let us bring peace wherever we can.

We are all God's Children, we belong to God - and no referendum can ever change that!

Rob Wynford-Harris

July 2016

God and Monarch

This year - and this June in particular, our nation and the Commonwealth celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's ninetieth birthday. For two thirds of her life, this remarkable Christian woman has been our Queen - making her the longest reigning Monarch in British history thus-far!

Even more remarkable than Her Majesty's length of reign, has been the manner of her service - which calls to my mind the words of Graham Kendrick's wonderful worship-song; 'From Heaven You Came' in which the extraordinary self-giving of Jesus - who is the Servant-King - is described. It seems likely that Her Majesty's own Christian faith and understanding of King Jesus' rule as 'Servant' has been a key element of her own selfless devotion to her duty and responsibilities as our Monarch, which she has exercised with such grace and wisdom. I hope that her faith has brought, and will continue to bring strength, comfort and joy to Her Majesty in both her public and private roles.

There can be few roles as daunting or potentially complicated as to be the Monarch of this Nation. However, all of us have responsibilities of one sort or another which we can execute with greater grace and wisdom when we are in relationship with Jesus whose life was poured out for us on the cross. Now, Jesus lives and reigns; He is the King of Heaven who shows us new ways of living, new ways of loving, new ways of caring for all people as His subjects. Jesus says to us: 'A new commandment I give you: that you love one-another, as I have loved you' (John 13: 33-34).

As well as participating in the village celebrations in St Helen's and Seaview on the weekend of 11th/12th June, - why not join us at 10.00am at St Helen's Church for a special service (Sung Communion) which will celebrate Her Majesty's Birthday and give thanks for her life and Reign.

May God Bless You, and may God Save the Queen!

Rob Wynford-Harris

June 2016

God: Our Father and Mother in Heaven

Have you ever used 'Mother' or 'Mummy' as a way to speak or pray to God?  It is not so outlandish as you might think.  After all, God is the author, the creator of gender, and not the subject of it.  When Jesus' disciples asked him how they should pray, he answered that they (and therefore 'we') should begin with 'Our Daddy in Heaven' ('Daddy' is much closer to the Aramaic word which Jesus uses than is 'Father').  It is an intimate warm term which speaks of a loving God who is close to us and our needs, and neither distant nor stern.  In his actions and teachings Jesus illustrated that God is merciful and forgiving, gentle and protective (see the parable of the prodigal son, or Jesus' reference to himself as like a mother-hen in Matthew 23: 37).  There was certainly an understanding in the Jewish faith that the feminine was a part of the Divine - as we can see from the 'Wisdom literature' of the Old Testament and other texts - for example God as 'midwife' in Psalm 22:9-10, and Isaiah 66:9).

Does it matter whether we use 'Father' or 'Daddy' or the feminine equivalents? - well, perhaps not, so long as we do not lose sight of the loving God who is at the heart of our prayers.  The trouble is, if we exclusively use masculine images and terms for God, our understanding of God can become polluted by poor male role-models, and a human history which is sadly over-exampled with patriarchal oppression and abuse.  Exclusively using female terms might eventually lead to similar distortions, but generally in our world it has been, and is still, women who have been the oppressed rather than the oppressors.

Yet perhaps there is an evolutionary (or even revolutionary) advantage in our using 'Father' or 'Daddy' because by using these terms in prayer, we bring into God's healing presence, our imperfect fatherhood, and the fallen-ness of patriarchal systems.  In addition to his heavenly father, Jesus had a wonderful example of a tolerant, patient, protective loving human father - whose role at the very start of Jesus' earthly life is so subtle and gentle, yet so strong in his determination to stick-by his family.

Whatever our gender, and whether or not we have children of our own, we are all called to 'parent' our fellow human beings after the manner of our 'Parent in Heaven.'

When we pray 'Daddy' or 'Mummy', 'Father' or 'Mother' we offer to God our own parent-nature, for its healing and equipping.  When we come before God with all our child-nature and  its need and vulnerability, the distortions in our images and knowledge of God can be cleared away like mist clearing in a new dawn.

May our ever-loving Father/Mother in Heaven bring you and our world, healing, peace and joy.

Rob Wynford-Harris

May 2016

'What on Earth has happened ...?'

It's a common refrain, and often used as a lament rather than out of mere puzzlement, for example; "What on Earth has happened to our country ... (world / town-centre / Island / children / politicians / church ... add your own!)" If we use it more literally - we are usually in some sort of shock - perhaps after someone arrives at our doorstep looking pale and anxious, or we hear a sudden loud noise or shout.

Well, in terms of what has just happened, the answer is that we have all just experienced Easter. For some it will have been a tenuous connection to an ancient festival celebrated through the eating of (less ancient one hopes) chocolate eggs and the once seasonal Hot Cross Buns.

Christians - (who generally are good at celebrating) will also have had their share of gastronomic goodies. However, many Christians still ask 'What on Earth has happened?' in a real attempt to grasp the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this, they re-embody the questions, doubts and fears of the first Christians - nearly two thousand years ago. They grappled with the horrific death of Jesus upon the cross, and his miraculous resurrection witnessed not by just a few but by hundreds in and around Jerusalem.

On the cross, Jesus met with and absorbed the most cruel and dehumanising aspects of human nature - aspects which still haunt the world today. Yet on the cross Jesus broadcast a different kind of revenge for atrocity. His 'revenge' is love, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, becomes the antidote to our inhumanity.

Appearing to his disciples and other witnesses (eating with them, sharing fellowship again) Jesus called them and continues to call others into the process of Salvation, the process of a recreated-world, and a recreated humanity.

What on Earth has just happened is the re-birth of HOPE.
Go tell it on the mountains - Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed! 

No matter what concerns or worries you today in your own life or globally, may the season of Easter which has now begun, be a time of new hope and new Joy for each of you, and for our world.

Rob Wynford-Harris

April 2016

Diversity

It is to the shame of the Christian church (of all denominations) that its history is peppered with examples of violence, extremism, and the oppression and abuse of those who should have been cared for and protected by the church. Yet at it's inception, when God came to us in Jesus - fully human, fully divine, - the followers of 'The Way' (as Jesus disciples and followers were sometimes called) practiced a faith which was radically inclusive of women, children, and those from other racial, political, social and religious backgrounds. The reason for this radical inclusivity is found in Jesus himself, who, constantly in his ministry defended the oppressed, the weak, the underprivileged. Even one's feared enemy could, according to Jesus teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, be the source of rescue and salvation. It is the 'foreign' Samaritan and not his own countryfolk who save the man who is robbed and beaten by thieves on the road to Jericho.

My hope and prayer is that the 21st century church can become more true to its origins in Jesus 1st century teaching and ministry and be joyfully diverse and welcoming. When we welcome people into church, we are not so much welcoming them into a 'building' or 'club of like-minded, like-voting people' - though sadly the church has sometimes given this impression; rather, we are inviting people into relationship with God and the knowledge of God's love for them - just as they are, where they are.

Christ unites us, but he does not homogenise us!

If your local church isn't diverse enough, join it and change it!

May God richly bless you this month and lead you into a deeper knowledge of how much He loves you.

Rob Wynford-Harris

February 2016

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