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Sarah Richardson’s article in the January Diary December 24, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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As 2020 rolls to a close and we look to a new year, I imagine that few of us are sorry to see the back of what has been a truly extraordinary year. Usually, the new year brings with it a yearning for change and a desire to bring about new things, but perhaps this time round some of us are actually wishing we could bring back the old things. This time last year, few of us would think twice about being able to meet friends for lunch or sing together in church, and we probably didn’t notice when our children hugged their grandparents or how often we were in close proximity to others. But we’re still living with the ‘new normal’, albeit with the hope of an end to the worst of the pandemic in the near future.

So we might be feeling a little stuck between the old and the new, with things we are longing to be able to do again but also with things we’d like to keep from our ‘year like no other’. Communities across the UK, including our own, have found innovative and compassionate ways of caring for one another and patterns of living have changed, giving some people more flexibility in the shape of their week. The possibility of spending less time on the train and having more time for families or hobbies has certainly made a positive difference in my family. People who had been unable to attend groups and clubs previously have been able to join in online. And I think we’ve all been spending more time outside, which is surely good for us all, even if it just means mulled wine around a fire. I read an article recently about the boom in sales of thermal clothing, outdoor furniture and cycling gear, so some businesses have had a good year. And ‘shopping local’ seems to have come into its own, with many of us recognising the value of having a shop or pub near our homes, many of whom have gone above and beyond to serve and support their communities.

The God who came to earth as Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, is with us in our old and in our new. Throughout the Bible, and throughout our lives, God’s steadfastness gives people the firm hope needed to strike out for new things but also to cling on to the things that are important in our lives, even when the going is tough. God is present in all these things, in whatever we choose to include in the pick and mix of the old and the new this year.

With my best wishes for the start of 2021.

Rev Sarah Richardson

Ruth’s article in the December Diary November 28, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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Carols sung by those wrapped up against the winter air; or choirs in churches by candlelight. This may not be possible this year and it may only be recorded carols that we hear. The pandemic has stopped singing in our churches, it has been months since we sang together and those favourite carols may remain unsung. 

As we reflect on this year we remember so much sorrow and sadness – lives lost, hospitals and medical staff under crippling pressure, families parted for months at a time, weddings, celebrations and social events put on hold. Internationally we hear of the terrible plight of those in countries torn by war, famine and natural disaster and of extreme poverty in our own nation. The economy is struggling, many are unemployed. It has been a lonely year for many, and the future remains uncertain even though the news of a vaccine becomes ever more hopeful.

The Church of England has chosen a line from a carol as its focus for this Christmas. A line which reminds us that Jesus came into this world to bring good news – news of comfort and joy. Comfort is what we so long for – the comfort of hugs and kisses, the comfort of family and friends visiting and sharing around our tables, the comfort of the battle won against coronavirus, the comfort of gathering together and the comfort of feeling safe after so much anxiety and fear.

We long for the joy of Christmas to return, to us and to those places where poverty, famine and war still rage, at home and abroad. Like our own, the world of first-century Israel was far from well. The people of Bethlehem also longed for comfort and joy and it was into this world that God in Jesus came.

We may not be able to sing in our churches but we can still sing in our homes; our carol service will be on YouTube and we can sing along then. Singing can bring us great comfort and it can bring us great joy. It doesn’t matter what we sound like – even less when only our family or the cat can hear us! If this year has brought you great sadness and anxiety, may you find comfort. If you have been blessed by good news, may you be joyful and may the peace of Christ bring both comfort and joy to you, those you love and to the world.

Sonia’s Article in the November Diary October 26, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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Trick or Treat turns Track ‘n Trace

Along with so much, traditional Autumnal events like Halloween, bonfire night and Remembrance Sunday are having to be re-configured to abide by Covid-19 rules. The fact that doubts have been sown over what, if any, Christmas celebrations will be allowed has cast a pall of gloom over the nation’s spirits. We are all at sixes, but not at sevens. Social isolation, unstructured time and financial insecurity can corrode the soul.

Theatres, Pubs and restaurants are teetering on the edge. Entire cinema chains have been closed, due to uneconomic social distancing requirements and deferred releases, the most high-profile being James Bond’s, Die Another Day, whose title could be considered either prophetic, or merely tactless.

All this is producing a collective listlessness, lassitude and heaviness of heart. Solitary medieval monks were prone to it. They named it accidie, though this phenomenon had been recognised for a millennium. The Ancient Greek philosophers, known as the Stoics, recommended as an antidote to set one’s personal troubles into an historical context, thereby gaining a sense of proportion regarding their relative severity.

An attitude of gratitude, rather than grievance, can sooth the soul. Various psychological studies have associated thankfulness, the daily counting of one’s blessings, with an increased sense of well-being, an enhanced immune system, better sleep patterns, and a greater ability to be kind to others. When medical and religious advice coincide, it is worth taking notice.

Jesus urged his followers not to worry about their material needs, offering the perspective that worrying could add neither a day to their life nor an inch to their height. He assured them that God loved them unconditionally and would be with them eternally.

St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, exhorted, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Many blessings

Sonia 07747 844265

Sarah Richardson’s article in the October Diary September 25, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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When our third son was born, we were given a pear tree. It is rather an unusual new baby gift, and as my husband and I are neither skilled nor enthusiastic gardeners, it immediately posed a challenge to us as to where and how we’d plant it, and how we might keep it alive and fruitful. It is a Williams’ Bon Chretien Pear (we had named our son William), and this year appears to be the most productive we have had so far, of the six years we’ve had it. We really are not good gardeners; I try to remember to water it if it’s a particularly dry summer, and we prop it up with a stick every now and then. It’s fairly amazing that it produces anything. But as we begin to pick the fruit, and its leaves start to fall, we will once again be left with a rather unremarkable looking, and slightly crooked tree on our front lawn. The small bare bones of the tree will remain throughout the winter, and it will seem as if nothing is happening; there will be no buds and no leaves, and no signs of growth or life. But I am confident that come next spring, the leaves will return, and the flimsy looking branches will bear fruit again.

We live in a society that does not often appreciate these times of ‘unfruitfulness’, the times when it looks like nothing is happening, but I don’t believe that our pear tree is about to have a lazy winter. It will be restoring its roots and trunk, allowing the branches to prepare for another season of growth. We do a disservice to ourselves and others if we expect continuing fruitfulness with no time for our leaves to fall, and our branches to rest without the burden of heavy fruit. Some people have had exceptionally fruitful times this year, using the unexpected enforced time at home to learn Hebrew, whittle spoons, take up running, or nurture sourdough starters (this is a selection of some of my friends’ new skills).

Yet for some of us, this year has brought a time of empty branches and lost leaves. In the Bible there are several examples of rest being encouraged, even commanded. Yet God is unchanging in his faithfulness throughout the seasons and we can always be assured of his presence with us, whether we feel as though we are fully fruitful, just beginning to produce buds, or as if the last of our leaves are falling. Even in the worst of the winter, the trees are still rooted in the soil, taking what they need. And so we too can stand rooted in God, even in the bleakest of times. God delights in us in every season, and sees the beauty of our empty, fragile branches as well as that of our leaves and our fruit.

Sarah

Ruth’s article in the September Diary August 20, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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This year is a strange year and no mistake. It has brought grief and trauma, changed plans and disappointments. And it has brought us beautiful sunshine, a warm spring and a hot summer, more time at home and for some, the chance to discover new things. Many have been frantically busy working from home but have also expressed their thankfulness that we live in such a beautiful area where we can enjoy the wonders of nature around us. Others have enjoyed time to be more creative and discovered new skills and old.

Thankfulness is the focus of this month as we remember the majestic combines harvesting the fields back in August; as we enjoy the glut of vegetables and fruit produced in our gardens, the apples and plums, tomatoes and beans.

But it is good to remember the other harvests too – the ocean and its yield of fish and shellfish, the harvest of the flocks and the wool they produce.

The practice of thankfulness is widely recognised as beneficial to our health and wellbeing, and has a central place in both the Christian and Jewish traditions. Both faiths – as well as others – celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. Thankfulness features in many Jewish blessings and is central to the Communion service where the great prayer of thanksgiving is at the heart of the service.

This year, as well as the agricultural harvest, what will each of us give thanks for? New babies safely born, something we have made with our hands, a conversation had with friends, a beautiful sunrise, pets, music we have heard, a work project carefully completed.

Harvest is a great opportunity to give thanks for all that is good, all that brings us hope.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever  (Psalm 136.3)

Ruth

 

Sonia’s article in the August Diary July 28, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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Time is out of joint; but we can help and that’s the point.

Well so much for the summer holidays. Instead of a welcome break in routine, with maybe foreign travel, guaranteed sunshine and change from work and studying to enjoying focused family-time, many of us will have the same routines as during the last four months. Stuck at home with fewer distractions, increasing irritation with our nearest and, hopefully, dearest along with limited opportunities for a change of scene. At least the hospitality sector has opened up. Health and money worries, along with social distancing, continue to affect many.

So where is God in all of this?

God is found in random acts of kindness. In the forming of neighbourhood hubs, coordinating help for the housebound and those in lockdown shielding. In health and care workers straining to keep people safe, and get them well, often at great personal cost. In posting silly jokes and cute animal videos on social media to help us smile. In contacting those we can’t meet and giving them virtual hugs. Even in the Government giving grants to cushion businesses from catastrophic shut-downs. God mainly operates through us.

St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

The Lord’s prayer starts:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

Caring for our communities, smiling at passers-by, reaching out to those in need, all these are doing God’s will here on earth. God operates through individuals and communities during these times of disjointed living. It is through us that God is in all of this.

Many blessings

Sonia   07747 844265

 

Our new curate, Sarah Richardson, writes in the July Diary June 23, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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As I write this sitting by my window, the clouds are moving slowly but surely across the sky, and I can see a few patches of blue sky appearing. I am hopeful there will be sunshine this afternoon. Eleven weeks into lockdown and I feel like the blue sky of limitations being lifted is beginning to appear. I have been looking forward to joining you at Barley, Barkway, Reed and Buckland for months now, and not being able to be present with you in person was not how I had envisaged joining. But I am looking forward to being able to meet as many of you as possible via Zoom, phone calls and online.

I will continue to live in Steeple Morden, where I grew up, and where I returned seven years ago with my husband Sam. We have three boys, Daniel (9), Thomas (7) and William (6), and a lively golden retriever. I am looking forward to bringing Rusty on some walks around the parishes in the next few months. We enjoy cycling together (one of our best lockdown moments has been our youngest finally learning to ride independently), being outside as a family, and usually spend our holidays in a tent somewhere.

Sam and I met at university, and he has worked in publishing since then, commuting to London from wherever we have been living. I originally worked as an accountant and auditor, before taking some time at home to be with the children, and then starting ordination training three years ago.

I found faith as a teenager, and sensed some kind of call to ministry when I left university, but decided that I’d just ignore it and see if it went away. But God is both patient and persistent, and just before William arrived a curate told me that they thought God was asking me not to forget his calling on my life even though I was about to have a baby. Although the timing felt all wrong, I began to pursue what this might look like with my vicar, and that led to my training at St Mellitus College.

It turns out the timing was perfect; God has a wonderful way of weaving together the strings in our lives when we let him. I am very much looking forward to joining you at the end of June, and to being part of your villages and churches.

Sarah

Ruth’s article in June Diary May 28, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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A LETTER FROM THE REVEREND CANON RUTH PYKE

Summer fêtes, strawberries, bunting, Pimms and maypole dancing: what is more characteristic of an English village? Our churches host similar events in our villages each year, praying for warm weather and blue skies. This year they are cancelled and we will miss meeting and relaxing together. Sadly, we will also miss the income that these generate.

The consequences of COVID-19 in our country and the wider world will be very serious indeed. Economically there will be significant hardship, and our village charities are working hard to offer support to individuals. Our churches are considering practical ways in which we might be able to support those facing  material hardship. We long to show the generosity and hospitality of God to all.

Our churches also face significant hardship losing income from cash collections and from the cancellation of these summer events. Each church pays around £18,000 annually to support the ministry that the Church of England provides across the country. Primarily it provides for clergy as well as pensions for the retired. Some clergy support themselves, yet their training still has to be funded. Alongside others they offer support and pastoral care to any in need, whether active church members or not. At present this is done through phone calls, email, and our online services. It still costs about £85 a day to keep our churches open, even in lockdown.

So if you would have enjoyed one of our village fêtes – and maybe bought yourself some lunch there, or a tea, a few secondhand books and a Pimms – please would you add up what you might have spent and consider donating directly to your village church? I know that last year I spent at least £30 on one fête, with lunch and teas and books and plants. Please send a cheque or make an online payment (details on opposite page) tagged with your surname and donation. Or drop cash off to the treasurer in an envelope marked ‘Donation’ for your village church. We would be so very grateful.

Let’s copy the early Christians in the church at Corinth: “during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means”.

CANCELLED: Barkway fête (6th June), Barley fête (13th June), Reed summer fair (20th June).

So please note the Bank details and treasurers:

Barley PCC: Sort code: 20-73-26: A/c no: 50152501; louisealexandrashaw@gmail.com

Barkway PCC: Sort code: 20-73-26: A/c no: 20147532; jasonmarple@procam.co.uk

Reed Church Council: Sort code: 30-97-16: A/c no: 00435385; harrisonpp@btinternet.com

 

 

Sonia’s article in the May Diary April 17, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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Lockdown leading to Revelation

Further weeks of lockdown. We’re all experiencing them differently. In our villages, we are at least surrounded by beautiful countryside and have had remarkably good weather. Some will delight in being continuously together as a family – if you’re a dog, for instance, though even dogs may be puzzled by their walking frequency. All sorts of things may be revealed to us during our enforced home stay. The rapid learning curve we’re encountering in mastering video conferencing for work, socialising and schooling, leading to competition for Wi-Fi bandwidth. Unusual food combinations and competitive Instagram recipes depending on what was in stock, apart from disinfectant and loo roll. Some will experience loneliness, others a crying need for their own space and time. After too many structureless days in ‘athleisurewear’, we may revert to routine and ‘proper’ clothes (a least for work conference calls).

Throughout all of this, most of us are experiencing varying levels of anxiety. Disappointment for education disrupted, weddings and parties postponed, visits forgone. Fear of the unknown. How long will the lockdown last? How will it be lifted? Fear of debt. Concern for our absent relatives and friends. Worry that we might sicken and infect others. Fear of death.

Churches have all been shut. Easter celebrations were muted, remotely relayed with individual declarations of, “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”. Home-based Easter egg hunts. The early revelations of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead were also experienced in lockdown. His disciples were locked in for fear of arrest. Suddenly, Jesus was standing among them. Solid but different. His first words were, “Peace be with you”. He urged them not to be afraid. It happened again, still in lockdown, this time with Thomas, who had missed the first time, and insisted on touching Jesus’ wounds to check he was real, even if he could walk through walls. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you”. Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. I will be with you to the very end of the age”

Wishing you many blessings and relief from fear.

Sonia  07747 844265

Ruth’s article in the April Diary March 26, 2020

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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Jules Verne, the imaginative travel writer, wrote that “solitude and isolation are painful things and beyond human endurance”. The coronavirus crisis has brought with it increased isolation from each other and withdrawal from much of our social contact.

At church we are also following strict guidelines to keep us safe – we are no longer sharing wine, we are encouraged to receive standing in order not to touch the altar rail, we have been advised not to offer refreshments, and we will require each person to wash or sanitise their hands on arrival in church. We no longer share the peace with a handshake but are exploring waving to each other, sign language and with elbow bumping! (https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches)

The film The Greatest Showman shows a circus drawing in those who had previously been isolated and marginalised because of difference. Gradually they gain confidence and become a family, a community strengthening and encouraging each other. But the church is more than the building in our villages, it is the community of people who care for each other, encourage each other and support each other. There are many parallels with the film. We care not just for each other but for all. Where people are increasingly isolated and events cancelled, we will offer the sort of care, companionship and prayer which the church has always given, within the health guidelines.

If you need help with shopping or a chat, a visit from someone who will take health precautions seriously or medical prescriptions collected, then contact or message Ruth or one of the churchwardens. We are blessed with communications technology which will allow us to stay in touch with each other, through Facebook, WhatsApp or simple phone calls. Novels, paintings and films may lift our spirits.

April brings Holy Week – the week when Jesus embraced the isolation of exclusion and loneliness and death – but it also brings Easter, when he rose from the dead to new life and hope, and the Christian community began to grow. May we grow as a community and find ways to reach through the isolation and solitude that may be forced upon us for a time, and pray especially for those in need.

Ruth