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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 2022

A Tribute to The Revd Alison

In July our Vicar, Revd Alison Morley, resigned from the benefice. Sylvia Beardsmore, local minister for St Peter’s Church, Seaview, offers a reflection on Ali’s ministry

When the Revd Alison Morley arrived in our benefice in 2018 we had no idea what to expect or what we were letting ourselves in for - but we soon found out! Ali, as she soon became known, was a woman with incredible energy and endless ideas, which often left us behind gasping for breath. It was apparent from the onset that there were two main passions in her ministry. One was the person of Jesus - his life and teaching; the other, fairness in farming and food production.

Across the benefice, new projects were started: a book group and theology group in St Peter’s, Eco Church in St Helens, contemplative prayer in St Catherine’s Chapel. They were not attended by vast numbers, but those who came were inspired and stimulated by Ali’s leadership. Likewise, our Sunday worship was transformed by new services and liturgies written or adapted by Ali, together with her passionate and eloquent preaching - always with a challenge and inspired by the life of Jesus. (Who can forget the challenge from the pulpit never to buy a £3 chicken again? Or the description of the unwashed filling our buildings and meeting with Christ Himself?)

And then COVID struck and, in his wisdom, the Archbishop of Canterbury closed all our churches. Ali joined many other clergy in protesting, but to no avail. However, she used this time to develop the market at Brading, selling fresh produce, ethically sourced products, and pre-loved items. It was a project which raised over £5,000 and helped to make up for the income lost from not being able to rent out the church hall during the pandemic. The amount of time and energy Ali and her family put into this was astonishing, at a time when her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

With COVID over (or nearly) the direction of Ali’s ministry changed again, responding to the need of the national church to save money. Having bought sheep in the first lockdown she extended her farm to include goats and pigs, providing a therapeutic outlet for those who needed it. Families and teen-agers worked on the farm, learning how to care for the livestock and seeing them as God’s creatures ‘great and small’. The national payback team took on the heavier work, and throughout Ali was making relationships with those who needed it the most. Not those in our pews on Sunday, but those on the margins of the church, who do not fit into our conventional church structure.

It was Ali’s vision that the Bishop would enable her to combine her two passions in a pioneer ministry based in this benefice. Sadly it was not to be so, and thus followed her resignation from stipendiary ministry. It is our and the Church of England’s loss, for as so often happens with visionaries, Ali was a woman ahead of her time. We wish her well for the future and know that God will be leading her in pastures new.

Sylvia Beardsmore

August 2022

Troubles Everywhere

This is a continuing time of uncertainty and troubles for many people; fear about job and home security and rising prices culminate in a deeply uncertain future. What difference does ‘having a faith’ make when we are troubled, ill, hurting, and afraid? Does belief in God make these troubles go away? Does adherence to a spiritual path make them easier to bear? Does a life viewed as sacred make everything ‘just lovely’? These are questions for each of us to personally explore, but in this last ‘View from the Vicarage’ that I will write - and as these troubles are mine as well as yours - I can speak from my own experience and belief.

First, I do not believe that there is a power called God that will manipulate the material world and take these troubles away. If such a supernatural being turned up to make my life more comfortable I would send them off to Mozambique to protect the families whose lives are being ripped from them. I can't believe in a God who lets their children die while I am helped with the niceties of my privileged life. Even the thought that I might ask God for help reminds me first that others are so much more in need than I am. A good first step in putting things into perspective!

Second, I think that for me a spiritual path does make things easier to bear. However hard things get, there is the glimmer of a practice that reminds me to stop, and look, and wait, and breathe. To take a moment to be in the moment, and as the worries fly around my head, with practice, I can find a calm space. This is of course the practice of meditation and mindfulness, but for me there is the added voice of a man called Jesus who insisted that we ‘consider the lilies of the field’, that we ‘don't judge’ and that we live ‘life in all its fullness’, even in the storms.

Last|y, I think that viewing the world as sacred, even Holy, means that I can paint my life on a much bigger canvas. I think that my small life and struggle is part of something bigger, something more. I can't really explain this, as it is a feeling, a half-glimpsed reality that defies language. All I know is that once when I was in the pit of despair this awareness of the sacredness of everything surrounded and transformed my grief and fear, and I knew, totally irrationally, that ‘All would be well’, even if the worst happened.

So does having a faith make a difference? Well for me it does, and if you want to explore this path, please talk to others in the churches or stay in touch with me.

God Bless,

All

July 2022

Called out of the Church and back to the Community

Many of you will have heard that I am resigning as Priest-in-charge for the Haven Benefice, and I wanted to explain why by way of a brief biography.

I was raised in Ryde, went to Ryde High School and, after volunteering with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers in Newtown, went to Leeds to study Ecology, coming back some years later with a husband and two small children to live at the family home in Ashey. While enioying the quiet of early morning tomato picking at Wight Salads, I had a profound experience of the presence of the Divine in the form of Jesus and returned to the Methodist Church in Garfield Road I had attended as a child, eventually training to be a local preacher. Many happy years followed of preaching and raising our three children, home educating, forming the loW Learning Zone, and working as a community artist after an apprenticeship with the first incarnation of Ryde carnival.

The church describes a vocation to ministry in terms of a ‘Calling', and this opportunity opened for me. I found myself training for 3 years, then being posted and ordained as a Minister in 2008. There followed 10 years of ministry, both in the Methodist and Anglican Church, all in the lovely county of Wiltshire. As part of this ministry I studied for an MA, with a dissertation on Tolstoy's influence on the peace movement, and helped to develop ecological awareness within the church. When the opportunity arose to return home to the Island and be near the family we were excited to accept, and it has been an absolute joy to serve the parishes that we have grown to love.

The Church of England describes itself as a ‘broad church‘ which encompasses many different expressions of faith and very diverse opinions about the nature of God. I am categorised as a Liberal Theologian, someone who respects the integrity of many paths to the Divine, views the Bible as a collection of inspirational stories, and who is inclusive in a view of Divine unconditional love for all people and all life. As I have matured, so this search for ways to experience, witness to and speak about our spiritual lives has been enriched in so many ways through the Eco Church movement and sharing with other seekers. All this is well within the breadth of the C of E, but is becoming more of a minority position.

So why am l leaving my paid role in the church, as the vicar for these parishes? Because I am being Called out of the church and back into the community, this time not to the arts, but through our work in food justice and growing environmentally sustainable communities.

Because I love my family and have seen too little of them over the last I5 years. Because there are many new ways that I can serve people spiritually, both in and out of the church, as I continue to be a follower of Jesus and an Ordained priest on the Island.

God Bless,

Ali

May 2022

Announcement

The Rev Alison Morley will be leaving stipendiary ministry and resigning her post as Priest in Charge in the Haven Benefice.

She will be continuing to follow Jesus through her work as a director of the community company Level Land Farms and will be working in the community to support sustainability and Green initiatives on the Island.

Alison's final day will be Sunday 3rd July.

3 April 2022

(It's not) The View from the Vicarage (this time)

This month we will celebrate the Christian festival of Easter. But what does Easter mean these days? Chocolate eggs and fluffy chicks; spring flowers and warm sunshine; the end of Lent and flowers back in church; or just o four-day bank holiday?

Traditionally Easter is a season of joy and, hopefully, the beginning of summer. For the Christian, the religious significance is that the crucified Jesus of Good Friday has become the Risen Christ of Easter Sunday, that Jesus is alive!

But what does that mean in a world where 10 million refugees flee the shells and bombs inflicted on Ukraine by the Russians? What does it mean where innocent people die as a result of residential areas, schools and hospitals being bombed and flattened as a show of military might and power? What does it mean where inflation hits 10% and more families join the queues at food banks and have to make the choice between food or fuel? What does it mean when 800 workers can be sacked without notice by video and replaced with cheap labour?

Christ is alive?

Like many, I am confused and perplexed. l have no easy answers, but in faith I do believe in a living Lord. And what the Easter story affirms is that God, in human form, experienced fully the suffering that humans can inflict on one another. As many have testified, Christ is present in places of the most horrific pain and torment, showing solidarity and bringing hope.

The hymn writer, Brian Wren, says it so much better than I can:

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift and war,
where colour, scorn or wealth divide
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more
and lives, where even hope has died.

Sylvia Beardsmore

April 2022

A View from the Pew

The parish has been part of the fabric of English life for centuries.

Whether we consider ourselves religious or not, ‘the church’ is there for us. If we want to marry, or have our children christened, or arrange a funeral for a departed relative or friend, the church and its vicar are available.

Anyone can drop into their church to pray, light a candle, or just get some peace. Any parishioner can contact their vicar if they feel the need. Churches are often centres of the community. They fill gaps in social service provision by running food banks or drop-ins. Their church-yards are becoming more ecologically friendly.

The system works well here, in the parishes of Seaview (served by St Peter's Church); Brading {St Mary's); Yaverland (St John the Baptist); and St Helen's. People regularly use our churches during the week - for example, in the three months before St Helen's closed for refurbishment in 2020, an average of 17 people were popping in every day {we know that ‘cos there's a clicker on the doorl!) Many people have connections with churches going back generations. Their relatives are buried in the churchyard. A few are even commemorated on the walls.

The system has stood the test of time - a thousand years at least - but its days may be numbered. And not because of ‘creeping secularisation’ - the main threat is from the Church of England itself!

For some time, the C of E has been trying to save money by grouping more parishes under one priest, then selling off unused vicarages. Parishes don’t benefit from this, and are also expected to pay money each year to their diocese.

More recently there have been moves to close churches as well. It used to be a lengthy process to close a church, but the C of E wants legislation to make it easier. Closer to home, there are plans to restructure parishes in North East Wight which may reduce the number of churches kept open.

Coupled with a strategy only to replace vicars in exceptional circumstances, and allocate money instead to new church ‘plants’ which will attract new people but have a less strong attachment to ‘place’, the future of the parish and parish churches looks very uncertain.

Is this only a worry for regular worshippers? Would you miss your church and vicar if, one day, neither was around?

Andrew Bradstock

March 2022

Joy

Happy new year everyone… yes I know it is February, but as I write the church is still ‘doing’ its Christmas season and it feels like we are all just beginning to emerge.

I know that in these pieces I don’t usually quote the Bible, but this week the reading was just so lovely, and filled us all with hope, that I thought it would be good to share.

It is a story from the Gospel of John, and the writer tells us that this is the first thing that Jesus does as He begins His teaching life. Jesus is at a wedding, and He turns water in to wine! I love it because it is such a joyous thing to do.

He will of course go on to talk passionately about justice, and He will heal the broken and insist that we love our enemies. He will take on the full force of institutional corruption and will die and will forgive His killers as He dies. But right here at the beginning He will live out one of his most beautiful of sayings, ‘I have come that you may have Life and Life in all its fullness’.

Because the heart of Jesus’ message to the world is Joy, not fleeting Happiness, not a brief hit from our chosen stimulant or self-seeking fragile comfort. This is a deep belly laugh of Joy; the Joy that fills us when we experience love or give ourselves in love. It is the Joy of  service and giving to others, and the Joy of caring for the vulnerable and weak.

In a world of sleaze and shoddy power games, of competition and false fame, this is the Joy that we experience when we see all that for the sham that it is, and turn, and take a walk, and breathe the salt air, and smile at a child and stroke a dog… and let it all go into the Joy of the present moment.

Yes there is much to do; there is a planet to save, families to build and so many things in society to put right, and who knows together this year we may begin to turn the tide, BUT… there is also life to be lived in all its fullness, and beauty to be experienced and the love and laughter like that of a wedding feast.

So lets make this year one that is full of Joy.

God Bless,

Ali

February 2022

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