Returning from Exile
As I write this article in August, our return to a new normality, whatever that means, seems to have been suspended. People are going away on holiday, mainly in this country. Restaurants and cafes are busy in the early part for the week, with people taking advantage of the £10 per head discount on meals.
It will only be in September when schools return and then in the autumn when the furlough scheme ends that we will start to understand what our new normal will even begin to look like.
A fellow priest suggested that our current situation is similar to that facing the Israelites as they return to Jerusalem from exile in Persia. The Israelites had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken into exile (it is at this point that those of a certain generation may start humming the late 70’s disco hit ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ by Boney M). The Babylonians were in turn conquered by the Persians (539 BCE). The Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, allowed a degree of cultural and religious freedom.
The Israelites were allowed to return from exile to Jerusalem where they rebuilt the city and the temple. This work is documented in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which are found in the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament.
Returning from Exile
On Easter Day Jesus rose from the dead. Then the disciples met Jesus six times. In the garden, on the road to Emmaus, in a locked room, by the Sea of Galilee. Forty days after Easter Day Jesus ascended to heaven. The disciples then waited. A few hundred dedicated followers of a man who they now truly believed was the Son of God waited. Since Easter their lives had been uncertain. There had been some words of reassurance from Jesus. Yet they were still unsure of what was going to happen next. Then Jesus was gone. God the Son had returned to God the Father. They waited for another ten days. Jesus had said to them: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever.’ That Advocate came on the feast of Pentecost.
This is the last time I will write an article for the magazine as your Associate Priest prior to my retiring. Little did I know that coronavirus would take over our lives and disrupt all plans of farewell. My last service was to be May 24th when I would have celebrated my final Eucharist as your Priest this last 10 years having the privilege of serving you and covering two vacancies. I am required to retire as I reach a significant age the next day!! I will then be on leave from ministerial duties for a period of 6 months before requesting the Bishop to approve me for PTO Permission to Officiate as a retired priest and join my colleagues whom serve you now as retired priests in this Benefice.
I would have been inviting you all to celebrate with me for my last service and lunch afterwards. However, we are not sure when we’ll be together again. I am like many others in lockdown for at least three months as recommended for vulnerable groups. What a change in our lives. I will however continue to be part of the Minchinhampton congregation and will worship with you on a Sunday.
At 6:00am on Easter Day a small group of Christians will gather near Tom Long’s Post. In the half-light of dawn, as the sun rises, they will celebrate Easter. Around the world similar groups, large and small, will gather to celebrate Easter, some in comfort and some in fear. Fear because there may be a knock on the door as, in that particular country, Christian gatherings are forbidden, Bibles will be seized and the leaders dragged off to prison.
Fear was the same emotion that the early disciples felt in the half-light of dawn. It was the women from amongst the followers of Jesus who came to anoint his body. But, for Mary Magdalene, that fear turned to joy when she met Jesus in the garden by the empty tomb. Joy because all that Jesus had taught his disciples had come true.
New Year’s Resolution: Do Nothing to Change your Life!
As one year gives way to the next, I have been, not unexpectedly, reflecting on time. All through the bible we read of how people took the time to notice God speaking to them. For example, Moses was only aware the bush was not being consumed by fire because he took time to notice.
My first year as Rector in this benefice has been a highly pressured one. As well as my duties in the benefice I am a deliverance ministry advisor for the diocese, I am an Assistant Area Dean, and then we welcomed into our family Flo (the most chilled out puppy in the world!!). All of which means, like many of you, I am often too busy. I always seem to be in a hurry, living in the fast- lane, walking fast, eating fast, and when I’ve eaten it’s, “Excuse me, but I’ve got to run.” But here’s the rub, often we are so time-centred, that we don’t have time to be God-centred.
A New Zealand native of the Maori tribe once served as a speaker to the Zu- lu people of South Africa. After a series of problems en route, he arrived an hour late for a meeting, and when he arrived all the people were waiting as though nothing was wrong. The Maori missionary was told “Don’t worry about it. White people have clocks and watches, but our people have time.”
And the truth of the matter is that God is love, and love takes time. If we would truly fall head-over-heals in love with God and with his Son, Jesus Christ, then we wouldn’t have a problem sparing time for God. And thus, we should set aside time to “Be still and know that I am God.”
Now, we Christians do a great job of falling out with each other. Too often we struggle with understanding why someone else might think the way they do and, in many ways, it is a matter of time. Just like spending time with God, the more quality time we spend with each other, the more we will un- derstand each other. The bonus is, spending quality time with our brothers and sisters in Christ is in many ways the same thing as spending time with God – it’s called fellowship!
So, in 2020, let us commit to a bit more “doing nothing” with God, and a bit more “doing nothing” together!
Yours in Christ,
Revd Canon Howard Gilbert (Rector)
Christmas is just for Kids?!
“Christmas is just for kids!” said I, as I began my first sermon whilst training for ministry. I went on to explain, to the congregation I was on placement with, why this was not true, and exactly why Christmas is just as much for grown-ups, as for our children.
I don’t have a copy of that sermon any more, but I imagine explaining that the message of Christmas, the message of Incarnation, is of profound importance for all of humanity, and for all of time. We learn that God took on our humanity, that we might take on his divinity. It is this pivotal moment in salvation history that sets us free, free to receive eternal life, life in all its fullness. Here, then, is not a festival just for children but a festival that points forward, in a very serious way, to Easter and to Pentecost.
As I shook hands at the door at the end of that service, one of the lovely ladies who had made me feel very welcome in her church, said, “You’re so right, vicar, Christmas is just for kids.” At which I was flabbergasted – had she not listened to anything I had said in my 10-minute sermon?
On reflection, however, many years later and now a father of two, I understand. The lady who hadn’t listened to a word I had said in my sermon nonetheless had a point. Christmas is special for children, in a way that it simply isn’t special for grown-ups. Sharing Christmas with children makes Christmas special once again, in a way we struggle to achieve without them.
Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” What Jesus is trying to tell us is that we need to learn from how children see the world if we are to understand our faith and engage with our God. Or to put it another way, Christmas is for those who have not forgotten what it means to be a child of God.
So, as you prepare for the festive celebrations once again this year, give yourself permission to engage with Christmas as a child does: with eager anticipation, in awe and wonder, and with excitement and joy. And in all these things, may you experience His birth afresh, receiving all the blessings of our God, who shared in our humanity, that we might share in his divinity.
Yours in Christ,
Revd Canon Howard Gilbert.
As you read this letter preparations for Harvest Festival services will be taking place in churches across the country. Celebrations of Harvest in churches had their origins in Victorian times. Whilst Holy Trinity Amberley and Minchinhampton will be decorated with fruit and flowers our offerings of produce will be non-perishable. We will no longer be left with the conundrum of what to do with oversized courgettes and limp runner beans. Instead Stroud Foodbank and MARAH, the charity for homeless people in Stroud will benefit.
This year, though, I write in an unseasonably autumnal early September. Our summer has seen a very wet June, July and August interspersed by a few sweltering days of hot sunshine. Hurricane Dorian stalled over the Bahamas. The glaciers in Greenland are grey with pollution and melting at an unprecedented rate. Blue Planet has highlighted the extent of pollution in our oceans caused by plastic waste. Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old schoolgirl, are trying to raise awareness of the need to reduce our impact on the environment.
They are right to be concerned. Changing how we impact upon our environment seems a slow process. There was research on wind turbines in the 1970’s. Only now is wind power a significant source of electricity. It is ten years since I heard a talk saying that Christians should be vegetarians because raising animals for meat has a considerable impact on the environment.
If we, as individuals, do nothing, what will harvest be like as the children of Amberley, Minchinhampton and Beaudesert schools grow into adulthood? What will harvest be like for their children?
First we need to reflect on the story of the little boy and the starfish.
One day, after a storm, a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish washed up on the beach in the storm? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said...” I made a difference for that one.”
For future harvests to be as bountiful as they are today we all can make a difference if we wish, by making many little changes to how we live.
There is also a need to consider a more radical approach. In the Old Testament times there was a Sabbath (seventh) year over and above the weekly Sabbath. In this year the land was left fallow; nothing was sown or harvested (Leviticus 25). This was a dramatic approach to allowing the land to be fruitful for the next six years. As well as making small adjustments to how we live, are there one or two things that we can do radically differently that would have a significant impact on our world.
I hope that many of you will join us in celebrating Harvest and use this Festival to reflect on how we can ensure that future generations can enjoy bountiful Harvest Festivals
Reverend John Spiers
Time: Be still and know that I am God…
The Coronavirus lockdown has affected people in spectacularly disparate ways. Some with not children have been furloughed and are finding they have too much time on their hands. Others, also stuck at home, have been enjoying having the time for DIY and gardening. And still others are working flat out (including NHS workers, carers and many key workers) and will feel like time has left them behind when they eventually find time to “just be.”
So, many people are reflecting on time at the moment. All through the bible we read of how people took the time to notice God speaking to them. For example, Moses was only aware that the bush was not being consumed by fire, because he took time to notice.
Warming the passata sauce made from home grown tomatoes in the middle of winter releases the lovely aromas of freshly mown grass, hot sunshine and long summer days. Unfortunately, we tend to run out of the home grown produce around the year end, and the commercial alternatives lack the flavour, so I’ve been looking at ways to increase the productivity of the tomato plants, given the space available allows around 12 to 14 plants. One possibility is to try an outdoor variety and take over one of the vegetable beds. Another is to grow more vigorous and productive plants in the greenhouse, and one way of doing this is to graft the tomato plant onto a more vigorous root stock, so I’m informed.
The rootstocks generally available are F1 Aegis, Submarine F1 and Estamino F1, which are very vigorous and disease resistant. For grafting, the seedling stems should be of similar size, about 4mm dia, typically with 2 to 4 true leaves, and before the stem becomes woody. The scion stem is cut into a wedge and this is inserted into a slit in the rootstock stem, and held in place with a clip. Humidity is maintained with a clear plastic bag and the plant is kept out of direct sunlight at about 17°C. It should be checked daily to ensure it is moist but not too wet, and after a couple of weeks, when it is growing strongly, the cover and clip can be removed. Growing two plants of the same variety in the same conditions, one naturally and one on a rootstock would be a good way to determine how effective this technique is.
Whilst on the subject of growing tomatoes, mine often suffer from cracking, which is due to variable water supply and/or fluctuating temperatures; and blossom end rot which is due to a lack of calcium, generally caused by a variable water supply. I grow the plants in pots, which should be maintained at a consistent moisture level, so perhaps an automatic watering system may be in order, together with the application of shade and better ventilation during the hottest weeks, (and possibly a bigger freezer.)
The grass is looking better for some attention during April. After the first cut, mainly to tidy it up, much of the moss was removed by hand raking. This material was added to the compost heap, but forked over with clippings and cardboard to ensure it was well mixed. The piece of carpet over the heap seems to have made a big difference to the temperature, and hopefully eliminated the weed seeds. A chemical weedkiller for lawns, Weedol, was then applied specifically to the weeds, rather than everywhere, and finally a simple lawn feed was watered on. I’ll top dress with some sharp sand over the next few weeks.
The displays of buttercups across the Park, and cowslips along Besbury bank were excellent in early May.
There will be 2 eclipses during June, and both will not be visible from the UK. The first, on 5th June is a penumbral lunar eclipse, and the second is an annular solar eclipse on 21st, the day after the summer solstice. In around 200BC the ancient Greek astronomer Eratrosthenes used the information generated by the solstice to determine the radius of the earth, and was well aware that the earth was spherical and how big it was, long before it had been circumnavigated.
PS: I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but do newcomers to the town refer to it as Minch’, whilst the locals call it ‘Hampton?
It has felt like a continual battering of fundamental changes to our way of life over the last few weeks. It is tough for us, social creatures that most of us are, to be isolated. Nonetheless, many of us are enjoying our gardening, our dog walks, our DIY, and the like. For others, however, they find themselves stuck in small flats in cities, with no private outdoor space. So, let us give thanks for quite how lucky we are here in Minchinhampton. I already thought I had moved to the most perfect place in the world, but now even more so!
At times like these, if we are not careful, it is easy to be hard on our neighbour and hard on ourselves. Remember, “How you make others feel about themselves, says a lot about you.” So, please, make every effort to be kind – kind to others, and kind to yourself. Faith does not always mean that God changes your situation, sometimes it means God uses a situation to change you. I pray that this present situation will change us individually, and as a community, to be more kind.
And finally, here is a prayer for our times:
God of love and hope, our world feels strange right now. We are worried for our family and friends; be with us as we try to find peace.
We pray for the doctors, nurses and scientists, and all who are working to respond to this crisis.
Thank you that even in these anxious times you are with us; and help us to put our trust in you.
Yours in Christ, and wishing you every blessing at this very difficult time,
Enemy of Apathy?
As I begin to plan our retreat this year, and as the school governors think about how we develop our children’s spirituality, I am reminded of the Holman Hunt painting – “The Light of the World”. Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts, and there is no door handle on the outside of the door. If we are to meet Jesus, we must first open the door of our hearts and let him in.
Now, here’s the rub, lots of us don’t really understand what’s in our hearts and lots of us don’t really know where the door of our heart is, to open and let Jesus in. Now, Jesus wants to be our friend, but he doesn’t want to love the person we pretend to be, he wants to love the person God made.
There are a whole host of ways in which we might better get to know who we are, deep down inside. One of those ways I explored was in a “Rule of Life” workshop, where we were encouraged to consider our core and unchanging values, and then try to marry that up with how much of our time and energy we give to those values. It’s about translating that which is on our heart, into that about which we are passionate and committed.
Here was a really valuable exercise, for I believe that the better we understand ourselves, and the better we understand what God made us for, the more we play our part in God’s breath-taking coming Kingdom. In other words, the truth shall set us free, free to enjoy eternal life – the abundant gift of life in all its fullness, that begins now. I have no doubt the future for us will be challenging but, if God is involved, it will also be Joyful!
If, on the other hand, we buy into the, oh so fashionable, cynicism of our generation, if we fail to be passionate about the core values that God places in our hearts, and if we fail to strive together for the coming Kingdom of God, then in our lonely apathy, we can look forward to a bleak future…
I was once asked if some sins were worse than others. I responded no, all sin was wrong. It is just that the consequences of some sins are worse than others. A quick glance at the Ten Commandments confirms this. The consequences of murder (commandment no.6) are far more devastating than those of covetousness (commandment no 10).
Jesus was much less specific when it came to commandments than the ten with which Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carved by God on tablets of stone. Jesus was more straightforward. He simply said ‘You shall love the Lord your God. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-40). With the first command Jesus is drawing upon his knowledge of the Old Testament by quoting Moses.
But what does this mean in the context of sin? Quite simply, Jesus is setting boundaries for us. The old version of the Lord’s Prayer uses the word trespass rather than sin. When we trespass we are crossing a boundary.
This letter is being read in January, the celebrations of Christmas are over. Many of us will have thought about New Year’s resolutions. Some of us will have made some. Apparently 80% of us will fail to keep them. This may be because we think of these resolutions as trying to put right things that are wrong in our lives.
But what if we think of New Year’s resolutions as trying not to cross boundaries which are set by love? Surely this would be a more positive way of trying to do things differently in our lives. Our priority might be the boundaries that we have in our lives when we try to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind.
Then, having thought about this first set of boundaries, we think about what it would take to love our neighbour as we love ourselves? New Year’s resolutions are made because we recognise that there are things in our lives that we need to do differently. Yet they are made at an arbitrary point at the start of the New Year.
If we see our lives in the context of love, for God, for our neighbour, (whoever that might be) and for ourselves, then we are on a path of gradual improvement rather than trying to make a significant and, at times difficult, change to our lives once a year. Henry Moore, the sculptor, is quoted as saying ‘I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not of the year’s.
If we accept that God created everything that we are and we have, including this amazing bounteous but finite Planet Earth then loving God says that we should gradually try and make a difference to what we consume. Rather than say I will drive less so generating less CO2, could we not say how can I walk more, thus loving God, my neighbour and myself. Then, at the end of each day, before we fall asleep, we can reflect upon how loving we have been, not why do we make New Year’s resolutions that we almost always fail to keep.
Reverend John Spiers
I am sitting here thinking to myself that I can’t believe we are in November already. Where has the year gone? We’ve had summer with its lush green growth and now we are entering again a season that is beginning to put itself to bed as our plants begin their dormant time in response to a lack of light and the change in temperature, leading into the impending winter months. The thoughts of hot lazy days of summer have disappeared from my memory.
However, the month of November is about remembering and it begins with All Saints when we remember with praise and gratitude all those who have gone before us on the pilgrimage of faith. Nowadays in many churches the season also includes 'All Souls' Day' or 'the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed', when we recall those we have known and loved but see no longer. This we will commemorate at our Memorial Service on Sunday 3rd November at 5.30pm in the Parish church at Minchinhampton. This is a very moving reflective service where the names of our loved ones whom have died are read out and then the opportunity is given to place a lighted candle for each of our loved ones in the shape of a cross. Very poignant in remembering. Please come along to the service where all are welcomed.
Then the following week is Remembrance Sunday when we remember the conflicts of our two World Wars and also the conflicts since then and the dreadful hostilities going on around us now. We remember those who lost their lives, those who suffered in the dreadful conditions of war and those who go on suffering today in the outbreaks of war and violence still present. It is our responsibility to remember them, to grieve and to acknowledge that they laid down their lives so that we might live in peace. God and we, will remember them. Please join the Parish Church and the Baptist Church for an Act of Remembrance at the War Memorial in the town centre on Sunday morning at 10.50am on the 10th November.
So, whatever the month of November holds for you, remember we should never forget the immense debt that we owe to the witnesses down the ages and may you find this month of remembrance a stepping stone into the Presence of God.
With love and best wishes