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

Posted by nicholastufton in Uncategorized.
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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

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

Posted by nicholastufton in Uncategorized.
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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 sermon on Children and Communion July 23, 2019

Posted by nicholastufton in Sermons, Uncategorized.
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We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

The Christian church began with inclusivity. Quoting from the prophet Joel on the morning of Pentecost, Peter recognised that this extraordinary phenomenon of wind, fire and language was the promised Spirit of God which was meant for everyone- young and old, men and women, slaves and freemen, of every culture and nation.

However, church doctrine has worked itself out, with whatever divisions that have torn it apart in its 2000 year history, it began with inclusivity. All are welcome.

As a benefice we are looking at ways in which this welcome is worked out- through the use of our buildings and the provision that they make for comfort and hospitality; through communication keeping those on the edge included in our news; through invitation to special events.

And this year particularly we are looking at including our children in Communion. Much research has been done into the theology and history of children receiving communion – certainly in the early church whole households were baptised together – the jailer in Acts and also Cornelius’ household. It would seem unlikely that they were excluded from the earliest agape, meals when the early church met to break bread. In some earliest frescoes in the catacombs in Rome there are clear pictures of adults and children gathered around the table sharing in bread and wine. One shows a child reaching out for their share of the food. The first Christians were Jews and children had played a central part in the celebration of Passover and other festivals.

John’s gospel, along with texts from Corinthians and Acts all show how important the breaking of bread and sharing in the Eucharist was, both to bind the church together as well as to incorporate it into Christ’s very body- which is the church.

A family gathered around a meal together both expresses their unity as a family and further strengthens it. The food shared expresses their culture and provides nourishment appropriate for health and growth. As they gather around the table, they learn language, conversation, values and their place in the family.

Indeed, by the 3rd Century Cyprian described infants receiving bread and wine from birth, and Saint Augustine wrote, “They are infants, but they receive His sacraments. They are infants, but they share in His table, in order to have life in themselves. The Apostolic Constitutions of the 4th. century instructed that children should receive communion after the various orders of clergy and before the adults.

Which is where the Eastern Orthodox church remains. Children still receive- in age appropriate ways. From the moment of their baptism wine is administered on a spoon. Their need for Communion and their right to communion is unquestioned.  Their baptism makes them full members of the church.

But as the church divided into East and West the western church began to see baptism, confirmation and communion as separate events. The scarcity and distance of bishops to confirm was a factor along with the Reformation emphasis on understanding and instruction which further divided those who were considered suitable for communion and those who weren’t. The Book of Common Prayer declared that, “ There shall be none admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed or ready and desirous to be confirmed”. This allows anyone wanting to be confirmed to receive before confirmation but it also linked confirmation and communion firmly together- which of course is still important.

By the 19th century confirmation had become the entry point for communion after a period of instruction and understanding and Anglicans accepted this as the norm.

But think back to the Eastern Orthodox and baptism as the beginning of full membership and actually we are the same- baptism admits us to full membership of the church.

Immediately before baptism those present affirm with the infant the faith of the church- it is into the church that we are baptised. Immediately after baptism this prayer is used:

May God, who has received you by baptism

into his Church,

pour upon you the riches of his grace,

that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people

you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,

and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.

The moment when we share the peace and welcome the newly baptised reminds us of our reading  from Romans which started this sermon, 

We welcome you into the fellowship of faith;

we are children of the same heavenly Father;

we welcome you.

We are all one in Christ Jesus.

We belong to him through faith,

heirs of the promise of the Spirit of peace

And what of the church today in the 21st century. It has always held true to its core beliefs, but it has also changed and adapted as society has changed.

Pentecost was all about change and renewal. It still is. Wind, fire, and language all effect change and enable change- whether we are talking about physics or theology.

The spirit of God living in us enables us to change and renew, to look at the world around us and see families increasingly doing things together, families which are less divided along traditional age and gender roles, places where learning develops through experience.

As a church we have the chance to reflect this year on what it means to be the family of God in this place, what sort of family we are- how we learn, how we encourage others, how we share together. I’m sure you will have many questions – please do ask them either over coffee or at any other time. Write them down or phone me or ask me to visit.

Discuss it with others in your congregations and with your PCC members. There is more to say about the process by which we eventually make the decision whether or not to apply to the Bishop for permission to admit children to communion before confirmation. There is more to be said about the nature of Communion but this is for another occasion.

This year gives us a chance to explore baptism, confirmation and communion. It gives us opportunity to explore what it means to be children of God, heirs of a kingdom where we can find peace and confidence.

Ruth Pyke