The Revd Barry Downer is moving from the benefice to a new sphere of ministry.
Here Barry offers a powerful and timely reflection, based on a sermon he preached at St Peter’s Church, Seaview, in October.
Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matt. 22 vv 37-40)
These words are Jesus’ answer to a Pharisee, who had asked him which commandment in the law was the greatest.
It’s an answer the Pharisees could not possibly disagree with, since love of God, a commitment to doing God’s will, is what they claimed to live by.
But Our Lord’s inclusion of love of neighbour in addition to love of God, shows these commandments are intertwined: there can be no true love of God without love of neighbour, surely a dig at those who view dispassionately observing every legal point of the law as all that is involved in loving God.
‘Love’ can be a misused word, conveying everything from unselfish affection to mere lust, and even a liking for chocolate - or, in my case, a pint of beer after work.
But the love of which Jesus speaks is not the superficial kind but a deeper, all-encompassing love, a concern for the wellbeing of those to whom it is directed.
St Paul, in that familiar passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, speaks of this kind of love as patient, kind, never wanting its own way, never forcing itself on others, still there when all things come to an end.
What Paul and Our Lord are describing is the love of God.
God created us out of his love, and God’s love is there for all who wish to accept it, without condition.
Our calling through our faith is to reflect God’s love to the world, to love unconditionally, to truly desire the good of another and be willing to help that good come about.
We can put our faith and love into action by helping our neighbour, which does not mean just those we live next door to, but all of humanity – we are all each other’s neighbour.
We can be a listening ear, a volunteer, a donor to a charity.
Whatever we do for those around us we display God’s love, living out the commandment Jesus quoted.
And doesn’t the world need to be shown God’s love, particularly now, with the current situation in the Middle East.
It is easy to feel a sense of hopelessness, but God has been there before us, offering his love to his creation, culminating in his supreme act of love on the cross.
If we truly love God we shall love the men and women of his creation, indeed all of creation.
The way in which we treat others is a measure of the faith which we profess.
For that is our calling, to love God with all our hearts, our souls, and our minds.
And to love our neighbour as ourselves.
On Learning Lessons from Autumn...
With the surprising heat wave we have enjoyed this September it seems hard to believe that summer is over and autumn is here.
But it is, and I, for one, am determined to enjoy it.
September has always been one of my favourite months.
As the leaves change from green to the rich autumnal colours of yellow, gold, red and bronze, such beauty must surely be of God.
As if this is not enough, we can enjoy the gentle crunch of their crispness as we walk through them and find the shiny fresh conkers that have fallen as a gift at our feet - and, above, enjoy the brilliant blue September sky.
But autumn has more to teach us than the beauty of creation.
It is a lesson in slowing down.
We are not meant to be constantly busy and under pressure to do and achieve.
Just imagine shouting at a tree in winter to hurry up and bloom.
We wouldn’t: no, we respect the cycle of the tree and the need for it to rest and lie dormant for it to blossom at its very best by spring and summer.
We don’t accuse the tree of laziness because it has no leaves for a season.
It is still utterly majestic and vital.
How much more sensible nature is than humanity.
In today’s culture we applaud busyness and are lulled into a false sense that success is based on achieving, moving upwards, getting plaudits, gaining awards, more money, recognition, only ever saying ‘yes’ and helping everyone else at the expense of our own energy.
So many of us are guilty of this, but busyness is not a measure of our worth, and thinking it is needs to fade with the summer skies.
We are worthy, not for what we do but who we are, and we do not need to prove ourselves. As we go into the season of autumn, let’s look again at nature and take time to notice the leaves slowly falling off the trees, the colours on the plants fading, the skies getting duller, and take a breath.
Yes, we can start saying ‘no’ and resting more, so that in the fullness of time we will blossom and come into full bloom as the people we are meant to be.
No Ordinary Time?
Colour plays an important part in the life of the Church of England, with different times of the year symbolised by different colours.
So at Christmas and Easter a priest would wear white – to represent ‘innocence, triumph, and glory’ – while at Pentecost and Palm Sunday they would wear red, symbolizing passion and fire.
Red is the colour for remembrance, and violet or purple for Advent and Lent.
The cloth covering the altar must also be the appropriate colour, and one of the duties of a churchwarden is to ensure the rules are followed.
At St Peter’s Seaview we also need to make sure the curtains behind the altar are the correct liturgical colours.
This is no easy task, and I often envy churches with a multi colour frontal.
However, the business of changing the colours every few weeks has inspired me to offer this reflection.
While, as I’ve said, the colours mostly have a real link to the church year and its festivals, during the rest of the year, which is known as ‘ordinary time’, the colour used is green.
Dull, boring green, with no big events to break it up. But what is this ‘ordinary time’?
And does it have to be boring?
I hope not, because it makes up much of our time.
The New Testament tells us that when Jesus was on earth ‘he went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38).
I wonder how often we are satisfied with just going about?
And yet the best of life is made up of ordinary people going about doing good – maybe not something heroic or lifesaving, but just a cheery word to someone lonely; a good deed for a neighbour; a telephone call orletter to someone bereaved.
These are the ordinary things we can do, which may turn out to be extraordinary.
The County Press carried an interesting feature in one of its issues in June.
Headed ‘Make exploring Island churches one of your summer activities’, it encouraged readers to visit some of the oldest churches on the Island, and enjoy what they had to offer in terms of history, architecture and tradition.
The author was Sarah Burdett of the IW Society (www.isleofwightsociety.org.uk), a body which promotes interest in the Island and helps to preserve and improve features of historic or public interest here.
Visiting historic Island churches is certainly a worthwhile activity, and one doesn’t have to go far to make a start.
All the churches in our benefice have much to offer the curious visitor, and will greatly repay the time and effort spent getting to them.
If you are physically able, it is possible to walk between them in a day, making a sor of pilgrimage on your own doorstep.*
The two oldest are St John the Baptist, Yaverland, and St Mary the Virgin, Brading
The former was originally built as a chapel for the Manor, and dates from c. 1150.
In the south entrance porch is the original Norman doorway.
St Mary’s, in Brading High Street, stands on a site which has been used for Christian worship since the 680s.
Its nave dates from the late 12th century, and other parts were added in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.
The tower is one of only four of its kind in England, being open on three sides at ground level from where wooden steps lead up to the bell chamber, which has a fine ring of eight bells.
Positively modern by comparison is St Helen’s in Eddington Road, halfway between Nettlestone and St Helens. Built to replace the ‘old church’ on the Duver, it was begun in 1717 and consecrated two years later.
And the old church itself – or what is left of it – is always worth a visit.
Its origins date to the early 8th century, and the tower we see today is what remains of a stone church built in the early 12th century.
The newest church in the benefice is St Peter's in Church Street, Seaview. Work
began on this in 1859, and it became the parish church for the town, by then a popular seaside destination, in 1907.
These churches can certainly help us reconnect with the past, and with the communities who worshipped and marked special occasions in them over many centuries.
Yet they are living buildings too, places where we can feel a sense of awe, of something beyond ourselves.
They are also great places to just get away from the madding crowd, to sit and think and pray, to light a candle in memory of a departed relative or friend.
Thanks to the people who have served them in the past, and continue to do so in the present, the churches in our benefice have not become relics or dusty museums.
They remain places where people still come together to meet, to celebrate, to socialise, and of course to worship
* Please note that, while St Mary’s, St Peter’s and St Helen’s churches are open every day, access to St John’s can only be guaranteed at weekends.
To be a Pilgrim
There’s an ambitious 5-day pilgrimage planned for the Island this month.
Called the ‘IOW Camino’ – after the famous pilgrim route across Europe known as the Camino de Santiago – it will see more than 50 people walk around the Island.
Each day will involve a 12-14 mile trek, although there’s the option to do less according to one’s ability.
With so many historic religious sites here, the Island is an ideal spot for people keen on pilgrimage.
Part of our vision as a benefice is to become a entre for pilgrimage on the Island, developing routes which visit historic churches and other sites of religious or spiritual significance.
It’s amazing how popular pilgrimage has become in recent decades.
There’s been the series of TV programmes called simply Pilgrimage – with participants travelling to Rome, Istanbul, the Scottish Isles and Santiago – and the British Pilgrimage Trust organises dozens of events every year which, like the one I went on recently, are well supported.
A pilgrimage isn’t just a glorified adventure holiday, or some other form of tourism.
Often it will involve walking to a special or sacred place, although the important thing is to travel with a spiritual intention.
A working definition of pilgrimage could be ‘meaningful journey’.
The idea of pilgrimage has inspired some of our best literature, including Chaucer’s classic The Canterbury Tales, and John Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The core idea for Bunyan is that the whole of life might be understood as a pilgrimage.
His central character, ‘Christian’, has experiences which all of us can relate to, including encounters with people who both help and hinder our progress, and frequent temptations to take an easier path or give up altogether.
Bunyan’s hero is inspired to stay on course by a desire to lose the burden on his back, the knowledge of all his failures, and to reach his final destination, the ‘Celestial City’.
But even if our take is different, the idea of seeing oneself as a pilgrim, travelling through life with an ‘intention’ and a commitment to reach a set goal, could be an inspiring one.
As the nation continues to come to terms with the loss of Queen Elizabeth II after her record-breaking reign, it is time to look forward to the reign of her son Charles.
He has already broken records of his own as the longest serving heir apparent, and the oldest person to become a monarch, at the age of 73.
It is self-evident that Charles lll will not have a long reign, and he has already shown his intention, in the words of his late father, to ‘Just get on with it’ and hit the ground running!
Within twenty four hours of the Queen’s death at Balmoral he was among the crowds outside Buckingham Palace.
That same evening he took to the airwaves with an address which caught the mood of the nation.
Here was a monarch already in command and taking control of events, rather than responding to them.
In that first speech as monarch he had echoed what everyone felt about his mother, while also pledging to follow her example ‘throughout the remaining time God grants me’.
King Charles then embarked on a tour of the home nations at a pace which took the country by surprise, and within months had made his first overseas official visit to Germany.
He may have inherited an ancient role, but King Charles lll has already begun to put his own mark on it.
And nowhere will this be more apparent than in his Coronation ceremony.
While some parts will date back to the Old Testament, other elements will be clearly 21st-century.
Westminster Abbey will never have seen a coronation featuring representatives from so many faiths – nor so few members of the old aristocracy.
In as much as coronations reflect the personalities of monarchs, and the time in which the live, this will be no exception.
This one has already shown us glimpses into the character of the new king and something of the tone of the reign that lies ahead.
It will be a time of challenge.
He has inherited a United Kingdom less united than at any time since the battle for Irish independence.
Across some of his fourteen other realms, republican rumblings grow louder in line with national aspirations.
And his family presents him with the challenge of the very public unhappiness of his younger son, and the seemingly insoluble problem of the elder of his two brothers.
It appears that the aspiration of a slimmed down monarchy has happened by default, leaving a very stretched operational unit.
We might have expected these problems to weigh heavily on the mind of that sensitive, deep thinking, Prince Charles.
But no, this is not a man trying to find his way as King.
This is someone who has a clear idea of what it entails and who has hit the ground running.
Having worked closely with his mother for so many years, he brings to his new role plenty of experience, dedication and passion for the task ahead.
His special interest in sustainability, the environment, and creating a brighter future for our younger generations will inevitably be crucial to how he approaches his new role.
In that first public address, so clearly influenced by his late mother, he said this: ’Wherever you may live in the United Kingdom, or in the realms and territories across the world, and whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty respect and love as I have throughout my life.’
May God help and bless him in this task.
An Easter Reflection
It is April, and nature is coming to life from its winter dormancy.
The trees are bursting into bud, and birds are pairing up to nest and raise this year’s brood of chicks.
At home I have seen a pair of sparrows darting in and out of our hedge, looking for a safe place to build a nest.
In the garden, also, it is time to prepare for the growing season with seed sowing time.
I have already planted out broad beans sown in the greenhouse - just after Christmas.
The tomato seed has germinated and the runner bean seed has been sown, also in the greenhouse.
Spring horticultural shows have begun with exhibits of spring flowers.
All this leads us to think about Easter, which this year falls on 9th April, when the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus to give us new life with him.
So during the spring season, when you see a new bud or flower opening, think of what Jesus did for us, by dying and being raised to new life, so that we, humanity and all of creation, can have new life in him.
That is the message of Easter.
A very happy Easter to you all.
What are you taking up for Lent?
There’s something counter-cultural about Lent, the season of the Christian year the church is observing right now.
In a society which places great emphasis on consuming and satisfying needs, the idea of giving up stuff through choice for a while seems rather surprising and off-beat.
Yet that is what millions of people across the world will do this Lent, following a tradition that is almost as old as Christianity itself.
Usually people give up something they particularly enjoy – chocolate, alcohol, coffee, cakes, maybe even watching television or using social media.
Since Lent lasts for forty days, the period from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, this can be quite a tough ask.
But most will take their sacrifice very seriously – rather more so than some of us take our new year’s resolutions!
The reason Lent is so important to many is because it is about preparing oneself for Easter, when Christ’s own sacrificial giving of his life is particularly remembered.
Indeed, the idea of ‘going without’ for forty days is taken from the example of Christ, who himself fasted in the desert for that period before beginning his public ministry.
So Lent is about attending to one’s own spiritual development.
In addition to fasting, some will want to spend time seeking forgiveness - from God and from others - and in meditation, prayer and reflection, particularly on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Again, at a time when life seems to get ever busier and more frenetic, this decision to slow down for a while can seem a radically ‘alternative’ way to behave!
Lent can do us a lot of good.
Testing our self-discipline, giving up things we like but don’t really need, can have benefits, not just for our soul, but for our health, our wellbeing and of course the planet.
But might it not also seem a little insensitive to voluntarily abstain from certain luxuries and pleasures at a time when so many are going without even the basics, because they have no choice?
This is why some people see Lent as a time, not just for examining one’s soul, but for resolving to do more for others – an opportunity to take up something as well as give up something.
After all, if it’s about following the example of Christ, this will involve ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’.
And we have many neighbours who could benefit from a visit, or a donation to the foodbank, or a bit of help in their garden, or maybe just a friendly greeting or word of encouragement.
If that also sounds counter-cultural, then Lent should inspire us to set about changing the culture!
A Happy New Year?
Yes it is all over for another year! Only the church Christmas trees remain, and by the time you read this even they will have been put away at Candlemas, until next December.
And how was Christmas for you?
Were you relieved when it was all over and life returned to some kind of routine and normality; or did the excesses of the season leave you with the desire to reform and make resolutions to live a healthier 2023?
For many of us, Christmas is so often a time of false expectations.
We spend the best part of two months planning, partying and spending, only to leave us anxious and poor as we go into the next year.
Happy New Year – is it? With the threat of recession, the ongoing war in Ukraine, the country heading for a general strike, the NHS broken beyond repair, the education system under threat, and the in-fighting of politicians destroying our confidence in democracy - is this the start of a happy New Year?
And for some of you I know there has also been personal sadness - illness, personal loss and tragedy.
The reality is that life is a mixture of ups and downs for all of us, and no one is exempt.
But as someone said to me today, ‘it is all bad news’, and so what hope can I bring you for the beginning of 2023?
Only that this life is transient and there is better to follow.
As the apostle John writes in his Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away...
And I heard a loud voice saying, ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women!
They are his people, and he’s their God.
He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.
I am making everything new.’
I don’t understand how this will happen and do not pretend to, but it is enough for me to know that God lives with us and promises to make all things new.
In the chaos of our present world, this is enough to give me some hope for 2023.