When my family or friends visit the Island Seaview and St Helen's are among the places we take them. I wonder where or what you take people to see.
Christmas and New Year is a time for visiting. We may visit others or perhaps have them come to us and whichever way round that happens some adjustment is always necessary. Accommodating other people is not just about providing a room or a meal, it is about giving them something of ourselves. If we are to visit then we think about our host, their life, their way of living. If we are to be the host then we think about the needs of our visitors and what they might like as they come into our home.
Hospitality comes in many shapes and sizes - we even speak of the 'hospitality industry' - but at its heart lies the importance of welcome.
I often wonder about the Inn Keeper in the nativity story. What kind of welcome did he make to the Holy Family? What were they like as guests? The thought of someone coming to stay and then giving birth certainly complicates hospitality but according to the story the welcome was minimal and there is no evidence that the Inn Keeper did more than provide a space to sleep.
The real hospitality came from the visitors - the shepherds and wise men. It was the visitors who made this young family feel at home. It was the visitors who welcomed God into the world.
However we imagine the circumstances of Christ's birth it is difficult to get beyond the poverty of the experience and the contrasting warmth and the generosity of those who welcome Jesus into the world.
So will you be visited or visiting in the coming weeks?
It is good to remember that God came into our world despite the poverty of the circumstances and we have so much to learn from the warm and generosity of those who went to visit.
May God bless you, your home, those you welcome and those you visit this Christmas and New Year.
REMEMBER, REMEMBER ......
Yes November is the month for remembering. Both good and bad memories alike seem to span the days of this month. Starting on the 1st we remember, not only the Saints of the Church but also those who have been close and dear to us personally, on All Saints and All Souls Day.
Closely followed on 5th we recall happy childhood memories of Guy Fawkes Day accompanied with its traditional bonfires and fireworks. The smell of smoke and taste of toasted marshmallows may well be a happy childhood memory for many of us, as we wrapped up with mittens, hats and scarves to hold the sparklers, and watch the fireworks explode with bright colours in the night sky.
Not so happy, of course, are the memories of Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday when we commemorate the loss of so many lives in two world wars and other more recent conflicts - conflicts which still continue today. These are sobering thoughts which help to motivate us to seek for peace in our world and community - peace which needs to begin with us.
But, where can we find that peace? I am reminded of the words of Jesus who said - "my peace I give unto you....". Maybe this is one of the most important roles of the church today to bring peace to those who are troubled, and comfort to those who are distressed. Each week congregations gather in our churches to share in Holy Communion as an act of remembrance of the Last Supper and find their peace in corporate worship. But the church is more than that. It is here to serve the whole community in times of joy, sadness, sickness and confusion; and is always open for private prayer.
This November, and all year....REMEMBER, REMEMBER your church is here for you, whatever your need.
Earlier today when I looked out of my windows I could have sung 'Oh, what a beautiful Morning, Oh what a beautiful day'. Now it is all rather miserable, leaves just hanging, no bright colours, and the words, 'change and decay' come to mind. We are into Autumn; the summer is gone. Dead leaves blow around.
Change, of season, children have changed their classes and schools. Some off to college and university somewhere across the water. Changes at church, changes to our future as our Parishes are in vacancy. But we are not alone, churches across the Island and on the mainland are, like us, playing a waiting game.
But let us be positive, it's Harvest Festival time. Churches to be decorated with shiny apples and pears, enormous marrows. Will our local gardeners bring any of their best produce to offer on our altars. Or will we be better focusing on tinned and packet foods which can replenish the store cupboards of them who depend upon the food banks. Could each one of us who are fortunate enough not to need the help, put extra contributions into the boxes for the foodbanks, as well as bringing our own gifts to the parish church?
Harvest is such an encouraging time in our church calendar, singing our favourite harvest hymns, opportunities to give thanks for the earth and all its riches. Fruits of the forest, the orchards and hedgerows. I have seen wonderful, fat juicy blackberries which I can't reach for myself, alas. It is our time to thank God for creation and all its bounty, to thank Him for those who plant and gather in the harvest, for those who work in the food processing industries and who buy and sell and deliver. So please join your parish church in their celebration of the harvest.
Harvest over and it will be time to look forward to All Saints Sunday, All souls, Remembrance and Poppies. Then, before you know it, Advent will be upon us. The church year is full of change but also opportunities to be part of what we do together as disciples and loving neighbours. Each of us brings our gifts, all different according to our skills and talents.
What will you bring? I can bring my gifts as a priest, not a priest-in-charge, but out of my experience and because as a retired priest I have time and the know-how, as well as the Bishop's permission to Officiate. Let us all work together harmoniously in the loving arms of the God who created us all in love.
To everything there is a season
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: Ecclesiastes CH3 - vs1.
Our Priest in Charge, Rob with his family, Anthea and Luke have now left us for pastures new. Our best wishes go with them as they enter a new phase of their lives on the mainland. They have decided to take their lives in a new direction. A new venture which I am sure will create new challenges and changes in their lives. Their leaving our community will of course ultimately affect changes within the parish of St Helens and Seaview, both within the Churches and within the Communities of St Helens and Seaview.
We live in a world of constant change and there is no escape. There are some people who are always ready to embrace change, enthusiastically confronting and taking up new challenges, whereas others find change difficult to handle and would prefer that things stay just as they are, sticking with what we know and not wanting, or even seeing the need to move forward and step out of our comfort zone.
Change is inevitable, especially if we are going to move forward, developing our communities, our churches and of course our own lifestyles. So when we are confronted by change let us hope that we will be able to take up the challenge positively, seeing change, not as a stumbling block, but as an opportunity to enhance our communities, our churches, and our own lives.
Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly... A quote from a book by Cecelia Ahern
Earlier this year my family and I took the difficult decision that the 'stretch of water' between us and elderly family members and others who had health problems, was becoming too difficult to manage, and that we needed to move back to the mainland. This move happens at the end of August, and will of course be quite a wrench for us as a family after all that we have been blessed with on the Isle of Wight and in these two parishes.
Perhaps a fixed-link to the mainland would have solved the problem of worry and the sense of separation that we have felt in this last year?
There is a way in which we can think of Jesus as a 'fixed-link'- A bridge who reconciles and connects heaven to earth, and who links people eternally together with one-another and with God; A saviour who takes our worries and burdens and provides us with direction and purpose. "I am the way and the truth and the life" Jesus says in John 14 chapter six.
Yet Jesus is so much more than a bridge or route to the kingdom of heaven (which of course is a kingdom of here and now, as well as a kingdom of the future) - Jesus is also our travelling companion, our friend and guide as we travel the journey of becoming more fully the people God wants us to be. Jesus heals and restores us along the way, lifts us up when we fall, and provides food that sustains us.
Human life and circumstance may throw many changes, obstacles and challenges in our path - as well as joys and wonders. In all of these Jesus is our constant companion whose love for us never falters, come what may.
So as my family and I look ahead with mixed emotions, it is comforting to remember that in Jesus Christ, nothing is lost, no-one is an island, and that we are all one in God's love.
Anthea Luke and I would like to thank the people of St Helens and Seaview, and all on this island who have made our time here so special:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields - and until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
For those with school-age children the summer holiday season begins towards the end of this month. Living on the 'year-round holiday isle' of the Isle of Wight, however, most of us are aware of a steady stream of visitors to this destination who come, young and old, seeking sun, relaxation, peace and beauty. Being a 'holiday island' is vital to the Isle of Wight's social and economic welfare. Other island destinations around the world may specialise in more obvious 'escapism' through exotic landscapes, conspicuous luxury and perhaps a more general use of 'recreational' drugs and excessive alcohol. On the whole, we do things more gently here...escapism is less the point for visitors here, than is a sense of 'slowing down', finding peace and a restoration of harmony.
Perhaps, as much as sand, sea, sunshine and rural landscapes, what makes the Isle of Wight such a haven of peace and restoration, may be it's centuries of Christian faith and worship. Certainly we get holiday visitors to our churches who rarely if ever go to church when 'at home'. Perhaps the Isle of Wight is still a land that is Holy, and perhaps this enhances holidays.
Of course, peace, slowing down and a restoration of harmony are not things we should ration or only seek when on holiday. There are many horrors and troubles in our world which we might seek to escape through hedonism or denial, but such an escape is only temporary.
What human beings need is a more permanent sense of peace which comes from knowing that there is a God and that God loves them. A sense of peace which comes from a knowledge of, and trust in God's love for all people.
At a certain point in history - just before Jesus was arrested and then Crucified, he met with his disciples, and despite the political and religious danger and friction of the times, and the sadness of saying 'farewell' spoke words of peace to his friends. Jesus said: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (John 14:27)
Jesus doesn't give us escapism, nor is Christianity 'the opium of the people'. Instead, Jesus enters into the reality of our daily lives with all our joys and sorrows, and proves God's love for us. Constantly, consistently, faithfully, loving us. Love wins.
I pray that whenever you holiday, and whenever you don't, you will know the reality of God's love for you, and the peace which Jesus brings.
June this year is a particularly significant month for many individuals and nations. There are for example, presidential or general elections taking place in the following countries: Lesotho East Timor Mongolia France Albania The United Kingdom We should of course pray that in each of these cases the elections will be peaceful, democratic and Just. Whatever the results of each election, some folk will rejoice, and some will be sorrowful.Lives will be affected by the results so, hopefully all who have a vote in such elections will use it. June will bring change. We should pray for all who stand for public or political office, and not allow our own cynicism or fears to hide the fact such leaders are human beings loved by God, and we should not be too-fearful of change.
June is also the month in which Pentecost falls this year. Pentecost recalls the wonderful giving, 'outpouring' of the Holy Spirit from God, when 'tongues of flame' appeared to rest on Jesus' disciples. The disciples were empowered to share with people from all nations the good news of Jesus resurrection and of his life and teachings and of God's love for all people.
The Holy Spirit is sent for all of us of course, and in the Letter to the Galatians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, we are reminded of some of the ways that the Holy Spirit transforms human lives and behaviour. Galatians chapter five lists the 'Fruits' of the Spirit as; LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS, and SELF CONTROL.
We should pray that we, and all who lead our nation, will bear these fruits, and face whatever changes may come in June or at any other time, trusting in God and God's transforming love.
I pray that whatever change may come into your own lives this June (or at any other time), you will know the depth and power of God's love for YOU.
Living as Easter People
Why write about Easter so long after Easter Day?
Well, for Christians, Easter lasts for a season (till 28th May, this year). It is not simply the day in which we remember Christ's resurrection on a date coinciding with an older festival which also focuses on 'new-life', it is the beginning of New-life which can carry on for all time.
To live as Easter people is to go beyond the indulgence (which this Vicar also enjoys), of Chocolate feasts and roasted lamb, of family gatherings and holidays. To live as Easter People means to recognise both the promise and the responsibility of being offered new-life, eternal life. It means (to borrow a comment from a colleague), creating a society which God will bless and approve.
What kind of society is that?
Left to our own devices we would all come up with very different ideas! However, in Jesus, God has given us not just a model (perfect) King, but a model for citizenship in his Kingdom:
A citizen who values the lost, the lonely and the overlooked. A King who serves his subjects and raises the status of women, children and those whom society scorns. A citizen who welcomes the foreigner as friend, and who cares for the sick and the suffering, who restores relationships and builds peace.
We can all be a part of building a world more like the one which God intends. Through our day to day choices and relationships, through our welcome and care for others and through the choices we make in who we listen to, who we follow, and which leaders we choose for our world.
Let us pray that we make wise choices, that we live and love well, and that our Lord of Easter, the risen Lord Jesus lives in our hearts always.
This April (of the year 2017), Easter Day falls almost exactly in the middle of the month. There are fifteen April days before Easter, and fourteen April days afterwards. Easter Day is, this year, the hinge or lynch-pin of the whole month of April. The 'before and after' effect of the Resurrection seem somehow brought into focus by this 'accident' of the calendar, and April this-year mirrors the distinction between pre-resurrection history and post-resurrection future.
For those of us who believe that God loves us so much that he became one of us, took into the heart of God the worst that human beings can inflict upon themselves or God, and in return showered love, mercy and forgiveness from the cross; then Easter Day is the vindication of that love and the flowering of that love.
Early on Easter morning, Mary carries despair and sorrow with her when she goes to the garden tomb to anoint the corpse of her saviour-friend. So great is her grief that it blinds her to a new-reality and she mistakes Jesus for a gardener. Her despair and sorrow is transformed when Jesus, risen from that tomb, calls her name and calls her to new-life.
Perhaps it is less puzzling that human beings should believe in God, than that God should believe in human beings! Yet there God is undaunted, risen, glorious and loving us just as much as ever despite the horror and cruelty of which we are capable.
Somehow, mysteriously, God has not given up on us - not even now, centuries later even in our mixed up, cynical and war-torn world, God still speaks to us, - gentle as a friend, as earthbound and creative as a gardener, and calls our name, and calls us to new life, and new hope.
Whatever the lead-up to Easter is like for you, whatever worries, burdens or delights come your way, my prayer is that you and those you love will hear the call of God's love to you, and that you will be filled with Easter joy and Easter hope.........Happy Easter!
Location, Location, Location!
'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'. Matthew 6.v21.
Jesus' advice to his followers clearly points to the value of non-material things - such as human relationships and the relationship between humanity and God. These two categories are designed to be rooted in God's love for all people, but too-often, worldly notions and values have pointed in an altogether different, destructive and unholy area.
It is not simply material goods and wealth which may (in some cases they might not), interfere with 'loving our neighbour as oneself'. Our opinions can do so also. We live in a world where political, religious and social views are ever more polarised and debate between those of difference is increasingly vitriolic and painful.
Yet this is not how Christ wants us to be, and perhaps when we grasp just how much each one of us is loved by God (despite our innate prejudices and opinions), then we will be better able to converse lovingly with those with whom we differ. How do we do this? Well, by locating ourselves not in the argument itself, or upon one side of it or another, but in God; in the source of love who relishes diversity and difference.
In March, we enter into Lent - a time of repenting for the sins we have committed personally and as corporate members of the global village. As part of our repentance can we try to move (counter-culturally) away from the triumphal declaration of personal life choice or political/ religious opinion? Can we try to move away from the 'Me-first' movement which equates nationhood with isolationism? And which turns 'belonging' into 'behating'?
Let our starting point for all debate and interaction be God's great love for all God's Children and let us locate ourselves in that place of love.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding be with you all, evermore.
The Information Age
Turning on my computer each day always brings something unexpected - either via email, or by news-feeds from media organisations. By these means I am provided with all sorts of information, most of which is of little use or interest, (it is entirely irrelevant to me, that one of the games likely to be released in February through PlayStation Plus will be called 'Salt and Sanctuary'!), and some by which I am disturbed.
We are now, (apparently), in a 'Post-Truth Era' or an age of 'False News' - so who do I turn to, to be informed and enlightened about the world, and equipped to live and love as well as I can in this onslaught of opinion and information?
Well, if I am at home or in the car at the right time, then I'll be listening to 'Woman's Hour' which has been like a third-parent to me since my childhood, and should probably be compulsory listening for every male as soon as they have learnt to speak! It is wonderful in its diversity, and Godly in its compassion for all people and creatures great and small.
I listen to those whom I can trust to be truthful; my wife, my son, colleagues and friends. Most importantly I try to listen to God; to hear God's voice through reading the scriptures and commentaries on them, and through prayer. In particular I hold before myself the life and words of Jesus, who declares the truth that God loves us all, right or wrong, good or bad.
Jesus words, spoken during his lifetime 2000, years ago still bring 'Salt' (value and wisdom), and 'Sanctuary' to us today. Try reading Matthew 5 1 -15 (in a contemporary translation such as the NRSV, rather than the King James version), and you will find reassurance and peace for these confusing times.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
Whatever news or information comes to you this February, I pray that God will grant you his peace and his Joy.