The Rector’s Writes….

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MARCH 2018
I have recently enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics. In particular I was struck by the perseverance of Lizzie Yarnold, who managed to come back four years after winning gold in the skeleton bob in Sochi to win gold again in PyeongChang. This was despite having a chest infection which made it difficult to breathe as she catapulted herself down the track!

It’s really important to set ourselves goals and have something to aim for, but it’s not always easy to achieve those goals. There are many things that could easily put us off. Often, we just need to keep going: we need a lot of perseverance.

The Bible story about Jesus being tempted in the desert that we heard at the beginning of the season of Lent reminds us that Jesus never gave up, even when he was tempted to do the wrong thing. His goal was to use the time in the desert to be close to God. Jesus continued with this goal even when temptations were placed in his way that could have distracted him. He persevered.

Most of us have been tempted to give up at some time, so what can we do when we feel this way?

Here are three ideas.

  • First, acknowledge that it is not easy to persevere and that everyone is tempted to give up.
  • Second, try to be strong and say ‘no’ to people or things that are tempting us to give up.
  • Third, remember to pray to God and ask him or other people to help us at any time.

So if you have set yourself some targets or goals for Lent, try to persevere with God’s help and the help of others, and maybe even keep going when Lent comes to an end. As Romans 12:12 puts it: ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.’

With love in Christ from Andrew

One of the criticisms people make about the church is that it is obsessed by sin. Many people were brought up in churches where a lot was said about God’s judgement on sinners, but very little was said about God’s love and forgiveness.

On Ash Wednesday (14 February this year) there is the opportunity to reflect on our sin, or wrongdoing, at the beginning of the season of Lent. In the evening there is an invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other churches for a service at St Patrick’s Catholic Church at 7.30pm.

The reason for this special emphasis on confession of sin is that during Lent we are preparing to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. And it is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can receive forgiveness for our sins.

So we take more time to reflect on our sins so the celebration of Easter becomes even more joyful and meaningful for us. God did not have to send Jesus to die on the cross, but because he loved us so much he was willing to let his son suffer and die so that we might be forgiven for our sins.

We are not perfect, but we are forgiven sinners. So we can go back to God again and again, asking for forgiveness and receiving it through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is why Good Friday is good news for Christians, and why Easter Sunday is an occasion for great rejoicing.

At the ecumenical service on Ash Wednesday there is the opportunity to receive the sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads. This is a visual reminder that we do sin, but that God chooses to forgive us through Jesus’ death on the cross.

So please join us if you are able to on Ash Wednesday, but also use the season of Lent to experience God’s love and forgiveness afresh and come to Easter Sunday full of joy in your heart.

With love in Christ from Andrew

As we near the end of 2017 we may well wonder where God was during a year in which we witnessed the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a rise in international terrorist threats, and ever-increasing numbers of refugees fleeing from conflict and persecution.

I am writing this a week before Christmas, and without wanting in any way to give a trivial or easy answer, I think Christmas provides us with the confidence to believe that God is with us, no matter what we have been through in the past year.

The Christmas story reminds us that God brings light into the darkest situations. When he saw that humans were walking in great darkness he sent his one and only Son Jesus into the world into the world for a purpose, and that was to bring salvation to all people.

Jesus came to die so that we might be forgiven for all the things we have done wrong and experience life in all its fullness. By rising to life again after three days Jesus enables us to have a relationship with him every day. He also provides a future hope of everlasting life when we die.

Lucy Winkett, the Rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, summed this up well in her Christmas message in the Radio Times, when she wrote that ‘the meaning of this principal Christian festival is that human beings are not abandoned or alone in the face of the huge challenges we face. God is with us, say Christians, full of grace and truth.’

So as we celebrate Christmas and prepare to begin a new year, my hope and prayer is that we can once again renew our hope and trust in the God who comes alongside us and shines light into the darkest situations.

And let’s put our hand into the hand of Jesus and allow the light of the world to remove darkness from our lives, show us the way ahead, and open our eyes to see what we can do to change the world he came to save.

With love in Christ and every blessing for 2018 from Andrew

While shopping earlier this year I happened to notice that the till screens in one store provided some prompts to encourage staff to be welcoming to customers. As we are now entering the season of Advent when we are encouraged to think of others and welcome visitors to church events and services I thought it was worth sharing these tips with you.

Under the heading Friendly staff were encouraged to make eye contact, smile and say hello: simple advice perhaps, but it is so important that when people come into our church buildings the first contact they have is with a friendly person.

Under the heading Interested staff were encouraged to be listening and asking. People often come to church wanting to be listened to and engaged with, and it is good to develop the practice of listening and asking open questions that enable people to share something of their lives if they wish to.

Finally, under the heading Willing there was a prompt to be helpful and enthusiastic. If visitors come into our buildings and feel that no-one helps them to feel at home and that people are unenthusiastic about them being in church they may go away and never come back again.

These are very simple tips for being welcoming to the many visitors we receive in our churches at this special time of year, and we need to seize the wonderful and rare opportunity we have in Advent and at Christmas to engage in a welcoming and positive way with the wider community.

However, providing a friendly, interested and willing welcome is of course something that should happen throughout the year and is the job of all church members and not just those who are sidespeople or ministers involved in greeting people at the door.

Mary and Joseph struggled to find a warm welcome in Bethlehem before Jesus was born, but as his followers we are called not just to welcome Jesus into our hearts afresh this Christmas but also to share his love by welcoming others into our midst.

With love and every blessing for Advent and Christmas, Andrew

One of the books I read on my sabbatical was about the challenges of ministering to multiple churches. It encouraged leaders in such contexts to be a ‘non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious systems’, recognising that the stresses and strains experienced in teams of churches such as ours can be substantial. I don’t know whether I manage to be a ‘non-anxious presence’ as your Team Rector, but whatever calmness I may communicate on the surface, I am often paddling furiously under the water! So when we are told not to worry about anything in Paul’s letter to the Philippians I don’t find it easy to take this advice to heart.

My own experience is that I find it very difficult to surrender control to God when I am worried about something. This is usually because I think I am able to take care of the situation myself. Even if I have brought something to God in prayer I still find myself carrying my troubles around with me and considering different strategies for dealing with the outcome of a worrying situation. If things turn out alright I wonder why I wasted time worrying about them and usually forget to thank God for a satisfactory result. However, if things go wrong after I have handed them over to God I am tempted to blame him for the outcome and forget that he has been there to comfort and support me in the midst of it all.

How about you? If you also struggle with giving your worries to God in prayer, perhaps we can agree to make the effort to focus on all that we have to thank God for, to trust him to be near when we need him, and above all to offer up our prayers and requests to him. May we be able to say that we have experienced that peace which the world cannot give as we hand over our worries and concerns to God during the coming month.

With love in Christ, Andrew

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who worked so hard to cover my absence from the Team during my recent sabbatical, and also to thank you for your prayers for me and the family during that time.  So what did I do during my three months away from the Team? Well, a sabbatical is meant to be a 3 month period devoted to sustained re-creation and reflection about one or more aspects of ministry.

Sustained re-creation was achieved through the absence of email, telephone calls and face-to-face contact with people about work, and spending quality time with the family. Reflection consisted of three strands:

  • Reviewing my calling to follow God, with an emphasis on developing a practice of silent contemplative prayer – this came out of reading a book by Ian Cowley entitled The contemplative minister: learning to lead from the still centre, where he says this: ‘the heart of priestly ministry is, first, the call to an ever deepening relationship of love for God, and, second, to lead others into that relationship and to enable them to respond to God in loving service and mission. The heart of our vocation is to know God and to teach our people to pray and to respond to God’s call’. This review was carried out through reading several books, attending a day course led by Ian Cowley, and visiting a parish in the Diocese of Salisbury which has a regular monthly silent prayer group.
  • Reviewing my calling to ordained ministry in general after twelve years in ordained ministry – this was accomplished through further reading and attendance at a guided retreat.
  • Reviewing my calling to serve in multi-parish benefices and in particular to leadership in the Greater Corsham and Lacock Team – this was achieved through reading and reflection on my experience of multi-congregation ministry throughout my time as an ordained Anglican minister.

I am starting to share some of the fruit of these reflections with the Team as I get back into a rhythm with work, but in the meantime would appreciate your continuing prayers for wisdom as I ease my way back into ministry and plan where to direct my energies in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

Once again, thank you for the gift and privilege of time away from the Benefice, and for the many expressions of support and encouragement I have received since my return.

With love in Christ, Andrew

During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill, provides some thoughts this month:
In my job I get to meet (and share tea and biscuits!), with a lot of different people each week. Unsurprisingly, the weather is a favourite topic of conversation; it is often the starting point from which a bigger or more significant discussion may develop. Given the rather cool temperatures that we had this August, the state of the weather certainly shot right to the top of the small-talk charts list. But whilst we bemoan a soggy summer, it remains a fact that the world’s average temperature has hit the highest level on record for the last three years in a row. The frequency of extreme weather events is also increasing. As I write this, more than a third of Bangladesh is currently underwater, with flooding there resulting in the worst humanitarian crisis in years.

Addressing a crowd, Jesus squints at the sky and says to them, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens… You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’ (Luke 12:54,56). As global warming nudges the mercury ever higher we peer up into an uncertain sky, wondering where it will all end. The question is not so much what should we say about the weather, but what does the weather say about us?

During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill,  provides some thoughts this month:
Arrow prayers. A name for quick prayers said, or thought, at a moment’s notice. No more than a couple of sentences long and sometimes as short as one word (“Help!” is a good one).  Arrow prayers are a way of keeping in touch with God in the midst of a busy day, things to do, places to go, people to see etc. They don’t replace ‘proper’ prayers, any more than a passing “Hello” replaces a proper conversation with a friend, but they do help us to include God in the normal stuff of life.

The bible reminds us that we should pray for our leaders and St. Paul often asks his readers to pray for him (see Colossians 4:3-4). We have just passed the half way point of our Team Rector’s Extended Ministerial Development Leave (or, to decode the church speak, his sabbatical), so I thought I’d share one of my own regular arrow prayers with you.  Living where he does, I pass The Rectory regularly, often several times a day. It has become my habit to use the sight of Andrew’s home as a reminder to pray for him, particularly during this period away from parish ministry. So as I negotiate the mini roundabout on my way to St. Bart’s I send up an arrow prayer: Dear Lord, please give Andrew clarity and refreshment (think glacier mints!). Amen.

JULY 2017
During the Rector’s sabbatical our curate, Revd Phill, provides some thoughts this month:
I recently received a note from someone who’d visited one of our churches whilst it was open during the week. They felt that they hadn’t received the warm welcome they were expecting from whoever was in the church at the time, and wanted to know what I thought about this. The argument ran along these lines: Jesus always had time for people, we’re Jesus’ followers, so we should always have time for people too (even if we think we might be busy doing something else). On the face of it this is a perfectly reasonable argument, but it does fail to recognise that whilst we ARE the people of God, we are also the fallen, imperfect people of God. Each one of us is a work in progress, a stage on the way. As Jesus’ followers we would like to be like him, but we aren’t there just yet.

When we identify ourselves as Christians we put our heads above the proverbial parapet and we invite others to judge us against a standard that we cannot possibly measure up to. But we must do it nonetheless; and be honest about our brokenness (apologise when necessary!) and point people towards the One who loves us despite our failings.

JUNE 2017
Following my biannual Ministerial Development Review last year by the Diocese of Bristol, I was strongly advised to apply for a three month period of Extended Ministerial Development Leave (otherwise known as EMDL or sabbatical) as I qualify through having served more than ten years in ordained ministry. Some of you may remember Revd Roger Clifton having a similar sabbatical when he was Rector before me.

I applied early last year and heard over the summer that my application had been granted by the Diocese. I shall therefore be taking EMDL from Saturday 10 June to Monday 11 September inclusive, returning to work on Tuesday 12 September.

This will be an opportunity not only to recharge my spiritual batteries and as usual spend some time with my family during the summer holidays, but also to carry out some research into how ministers can best sustain themselves spiritually at a time when the pressures and expectations placed upon church leaders, both lay and ordained, are growing all the time.

During my absence our Team Vicar Revd Adam Beaumont will have overall responsibility for the Benefice, ably assisted by our Team Curate Revd Phill Harrison, retired clergy, Licensed Lay Ministers, Churchwardens and members of the five churches. I have however agreed with Adam and Phill that Adam will have particular pastoral responsibility for Lacock and Bowden Hill and Gastard alongside his half-time post as Deanery Missioner, and Phill will have pastoral responsibility for Corsham and Neston. This arrangement will obviously need to be flexible to allow for days off and periods of holiday over the summer, but I hope it provides some clarity and continuity of contact both for Adam and Phill and the four parishes.

I hope this will be a good opportunity for others to grow and develop their leadership gifts while I am away, and that the Benefice will benefit practically and spiritually from the lessons I learn during my sabbatical. I shall be praying for the growth of our Team during this period and would appreciate your prayers for me, Natalie and Hannah as I prepare for this significant time away from parish ministry.
With love in Christ, Andrew

MAY 2017
Imagine that you receive a pledge card through your front door in the run up to the general election in June. On one side it has five pledges:

  • to preach good news to the poor
  • to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • to recover the sight of the blind
  • to release the oppressed
  • and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

If you have not already thrown the card in the bin, you turn it over to find out whether this is the latest offering from the Monster Raving Loony Party. Instead you see the logo of a cross and the words ‘Jesus Party’. The five pledges above are taken from the so-called Nazarene Manifesto from Isaiah that Jesus applied to himself.

As far as I am aware there is no Jesus Party fielding candidates at the general election, yet I think there are at least two good reasons why we should vote as Christians:

  • The first is that Jesus encouraged those around him to be responsible citizens. He told them to continue to pay taxes to Caesar, for example, when paying tax was even more unpopular than it is today
  • The second reason we should vote is a simple matter of justice. What right do we have to withhold our vote, when many people throughout the world long to have the democratic right to vote in elections?

So it is important that we ‘make our cross count’ by exercising our right to vote as Christians. But it is even more important that we ‘make the cross count’. No matter how good our political leaders are, they are never going to completely remove poverty and suffering from society. But through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to everlasting life we do have the hope of life beyond death, where all sorrow and sighing will cease and every tear will be wiped from our eyes.

So please join me in both exercising your right to vote on Thursday 8 June but also seeking to share the Christian hope of new life with the communities we serve.
With love in Christ, Andrew

APRIL 2017
The first Sunday after Easter is often called Low Sunday by Christians. The origin of the name is uncertain. It may indicate the contrast between this Sunday and the great festival of Easter.

Certainly many Christians suffer from a spiritual hangover after Easter. In many churches Low Sunday is marked by a much smaller attendance than normal as people recover from the Easter celebrations.

In many ways this reflects the experience of the first followers of Jesus. Their joy at discovering that Jesus was alive was short-lived; before long he was leaving them to return to heaven.

And yet Jesus did not leave them without making a promise. He told them that his Father in heaven would give them a helper or comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with them.

These days we tend to be cynical about promises made by public figures. However, in sending his only son Jesus to die on the cross God has shown that he delivers on his promises, no matter what the cost to himself. And he also delivers on his promise to send the Holy Spirit.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is what Christians celebrate at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit turned those demoralized followers of Christ into people who were willing to be killed for telling the world about Jesus.

And we too can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes a relationship with Jesus possible. Easter may come and go on Sunday 16 April 2017, but there is no need for a spiritual hangover. God’s Holy Spirit is available throughout the year to all who put their trust in Jesus, so why not receive that gift today?
With love in Christ, Andrew

March 2017
At the last Team Service in February we considered what the aims of discipleship or following Jesus might be, and I thought I would share some of the insights gained from our discussion and the book ‘Holy Habits’ by Andrew Roberts that we are using. I commend the book to you as a good one to read during the season of Lent starting on Wednesday 1 March, as this is traditionally a time to reflect on how we are doing in our discipleship of Jesus. Some of the aims or distinctive features of Christian discipleship are:

  • Kingdom transformation – helping to make the values of God’s kingdom a reality on earth
  • Transformed character – allowing God to mould and reshape us like a potter with his clay.
  • Holy humanity and struggle – seeking to be distinctive in the way we live our lives as Christians in a largely secular world, even where this leads to struggles and pain.
  • Whole life and full life disciples – seeing all of our lives as something we offer to God and not dividing our activities into spiritual and non-spiritual categories, and discovering what it means to experience the life in all its fullness that Jesus offers.
  • Communities of transformation – aiming to be salt and light in our communities, so that they know that we are followers of Jesus by the love that we have for each other and for those who do not yet know Jesus.
  • Heavenly destination – living our lives with half an eye on the heaven that awaits us beyond the grave and aiming to finish the Christian race well and hear God say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

These are things we need to work at and strive towards, but we should not be doing this in our own strength but relying on God’s Holy Spirit to help us. So why not reflect on these aims as we seek to grow in God, in love for each other and in engagement with our communities during Lent?
With love in Christ, Andrew

Previous months of “The Rector Writes” are available in Church News or from the archive by emailing