The Rector’s Writes….

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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

February 2017
Wednesday 1st March will be a busy day for many Welsh Christians. Not only is it the day on which the life of David, patron saint of Wales, is celebrated; it is also Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

So what, you may ask? What possible relevance has either of these events for life in the 21st century?

There aren’t many facts about St David, but it is known that he really existed! As Archbishop of Wales he was at the heart of Welsh church life in the 6th century. He was one of the early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the Celtic tribes of Western Britain.

1st March is now a day on which all things Welsh are celebrated. As an Englishman who used to live and work in Wales it reminds me of some of the things I value about the Welsh and their country, such as strong community values and fantastic scenery.

However, St David’s Day also reminds me that along with the rest of the UK Wales has a wonderful Christian heritage. The challenge then is to do all we can to make that historic Christian faith relevant to this generation.

So what about Lent? Lent is not simply a time to give up the things we enjoy. It is a time for self-examination and preparation for marking Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter.

The central truth of the Christian good news is that Jesus died on a cross and rose again from the dead, so that everyone who believes in him might be forgiven for the things they have done wrong and experience everlasting life beyond the grave. St David was involved in spreading that good news throughout Wales in the sixth century, and it is still good news for us today.
With love in Christ, Andrew

January 2017
People who make New Year resolutions are often teased about how long their resolutions will last. And certainly there is plenty of evidence that many people join fitness clubs immediately after Christmas but never attend them during the year. But are we wrong to make fun of New Year resolutions? Surely they can be a good way of making sure we are making progress with our lives year by year.

And that is certainly something we should consider seriously as Christians. After all, the apostle Paul encouraged early followers of Christ to keep on striving towards the goal of being called heavenwards and to run the race with perseverance; in other words, to keep on progressing with the Christian faith.

Yes, we can make a commitment to follow Christ at our baptism, confirmation or when we first decided to follow Jesus, but the journey of faith does not stop there. Instead of coasting through life towards heaven, we are encouraged by the Bible to continue to grow in our faith; it is meant to be a lifelong process of learning.

So let’s resolve to take at least one area of the Christian life during 2017 and make progress with it, whether it is:

  • being more loving and forgiving to others
  • growing in our relationship with God through personal prayer and Bible study
  • serving God regularly within our church or community
  • or making progress in an area of the Christian faith we struggle with at the moment.

And as we do this let’s ask God to help us. As the poem by Minnie Louise Haskins puts it: ‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”’

With love and every blessing in Christ during 2017 from Andrew

December 2016
The battle of the Christmas ads seems to begin earlier and earlier every year. We used to be able to get through Remembrance Sunday before our TV screens were filled with adverts costing millions of pounds all designed to part us from our money in the run up to Christmas. But this year several of the biggest and most expensive ads hit our screens before Sunday 13 November.

Now don’t get me wrong: I know we all collude in this to some extent by seeking the best possible prices for our Christmas shopping.  And I have to say that many of the adverts showcase the wonderful creative talents God has given us. One of the early entrants in the battle of the ads features computer generated animals dancing on a trampoline (in the interests of fairness I won’t say who they are advertising) and had me chuckling the first time I saw it. But the accompanying song lyrics are actually pretty sober when they say ‘Why live life from dream to dream and dread the day when dreaming ends’. And that’s a shame, because for Christians Christmas is not only about dreaming that God wants to make this world a better place, but also seeing that become a reality in our lives as we celebrate the coming of his son Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

The world may still be a difficult place to live in sometimes, but the Christian faith does offer the present reality of God’s loving presence to cheer and to guide, and the future hope of life beyond death in heaven, where there is no more mourning, crying and pain. And as we get swept up in all the preparations for Christmas (including the shopping!) that is a reality worth celebrating and sharing with others.
With love in Christ, Andrew

I recently watched a TV programme which posed the question ‘Who’s spending Britain’s billions?’ One of the things it investigated was cost overruns on big projects, such as the building of two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. When completed they will have cost four times the original estimate!

Jesus encouraged his potential followers to estimate the cost of following him before they committed themselves, and at the beginning of November we acknowledge the commitment of those who followed Jesus before us as we mark All Saints and All Souls.

Later on in November we remember those who paid the ultimate cost of their own lives so we might have peace today as we mark Remembrance Sunday.

These occasions combine sadness and expectation, because while we remember those we have loved and lost we also look forward with expectation to life after death in heaven, where there will be no more mourning, crying or pain.

There is a significant cost involved in following Jesus today. And yet the rewards in this life and the next far outweigh the costs involved. What are those rewards?

  • forgiveness for the things we have done wrong
  • freedom from guilt about our sins, and a peace that lasts
  • life after death and a place in heaven
  • the unconditional love of our heavenly Father
  • a close relationship with Jesus, the Son of God
  • the help of the Holy Spirit to be more like Jesus
  • and power to live each day as God intended us to, putting him first and loving others as much as we love ourselves.

So as we remember those we have loved and lost, let’s give thanks to God for his faithfulness to them and for the hope of everlasting life beyond the grave. And as we seek to follow Christ, may we follow the example of the Christians who have gone before us as we count the cost of discipleship and seek to pass on the baton of faith to the next generation.

With love in Christ, Andrew

The season of harvest is upon us, and it is really good that at harvest we put so much emphasis on giving thanks to God. But giving thanks to God should not just happen once a year. Instead we should cultivate what might be called an ‘attitude of gratitude’ towards God. This is expressed not just in thanks but in giving generously to others.

So how can we cultivate and grow this attitude of gratitude towards God in our lives?

We could begin by accepting that everything comes from God, and so we should be thankful to him for it. As we say in our communion services once the offering has been taken, “All things come of thee, and of thine own do we give thee”.

Another thing we can do is build being thankful into our daily prayers. Why not give thanks each morning for a good night’s sleep, or if you have slept badly, give thanks for good health. If you are not in good health, give thanks for a roof over your head, a loving family, food, clothes and money when so many people throughout the world have none of these things.

Finally, as we give thanks for God’s generosity, let’s remember that the word thanksgiving is made up of two words, ‘thanks’ and ‘giving’. Jesus reminded us in the great commandment to not only love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but also to love our neighbour as ourselves.

As we reflect on God’s unconditional love for us we are able to love and value ourselves. As we do that, our appreciation of God’s love leads us to share that love with our neighbour.

So let’s give thanks again for the saving power of Jesus on the cross. And let’s resolve to share God’s goodness towards us with our family, friends and neighbours.
With love in Christ, Andrew

I am sure many of you will have enjoyed watching the coverage of the Olympics in Rio during August – after the shocking terrorist attacks and political upheaval of recent months it has been great to celebrate the achievements of competitors from around the world as well as rejoice in the success of British athletes. We may be facing an uncertain future as we negotiate Brexit but at least we can be inspired by the example of Team GB and the positive image projected to the rest of the world. The success of our athletes does have a lot to do with the large amount of Lottery money invested in UK sport; however it is also down to hard work and dedication on the part of the athletes, who put themselves and their families and friends through considerable sacrifices so they can perform at their best when the Olympics come round every four years. And I have certainly been challenged by the strong sense of calling these men and women have, and the many hours of training they put in. In Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy he writes, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’, and as Christians we are called not just to run the Christian race but also to train hard for it through prayer, Bible study and spending time with other Christians. Unlike the Olympic athletes we will not receive a gold, silver or bronze medal for this, but we will receive a prize that is everlasting, that is to spend eternity with God in heaven and to hear him say the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. So if like me you have been inspired and challenged by the calling and dedication of our Olympic athletes ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds’ (Hebrews 10:24) as we press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
With love in Christ, Andrew



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