Do you have a favourite number, or a combination of numbers that you consider to be lucky or unlucky? I was told recently that in Japan the number 4 is widely feared, as the word for 4 sounds much like the word for death. The 4th floor in high rise buildings and hospitals might not be labelled as such.

In this country it is the number 13 which is often regarded as unlucky. There were thirteen people at the Last Supper, including Judas, before he left to betray Jesus.

The Bible is full of significant numbers, for example, 40 and 12. There were 40 days of rain in the story of Noah and the flood. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus was tested in the desert for 40 days. There are 40 days between Easter Day and Ascension Day (which fell on 30th May this year). There were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples, 12 baskets of left-overs after the feeding of the 5000.

The Gospel reading for a Sunday in May was about Jesus meeting seven of the disciples by Lake Galilee, after his resurrection. These disciples had fished all night, but caught absolutely nothing. When Jesus told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat they trapped 153 fish in the net.

Bible commentators have argued that this number has deep significance, but they can’t agree on what it means. There are nearly as many explanations as were fish, often based on complicated mathematics. Some claim that by Jesus’ day 153 species of fish had been catalogued, and this represents the variety of people and nations to whom the good news would be preached in times to come.

Perhaps simplest solution is that, after fishing all night without success, the disciples excitedly counted each & every fish. St John, the Gospel writer, had been an eyewitness at this reckoning, and must have recalled the incident vividly. The disciples may have needed to share the catch fairly, after eating some of them at a barbecue breakfast on the shore with Jesus.

In the book of Revelation there is an intriguing number – 666, the number of the Beast. This has been another source of endless speculation. One interpretation is that this number refers to the first-century Roman Emperor, Nero Caesar. The first persecution of Christians took place under Nero in 64 AD, after the Great Fire of Rome.

In Hebrew every letter has a corresponding numerical value. Adding these numbers together gives a numeric value to a word or name. A less common form of the Emperor’s name, Neron Caesar, gives the number 666 when transliterated into Hebrew.

In my previous parish I never minded announcing, ‘We’ll sing hymn number 666’. Nothing to do with the number of the Beast! In the book we used this hymn was ‘The Spirit lives to set us free’, with the chorus ‘Walk in the light, walk in the light of the Lord.’

The Spirit lives to set us free, walk in the light of the Lord

When the disciples preached the Good News at Pentecost many people from various places were caught in the Gospel net. The Church celebrates Pentecost (Whitsun) on 9th June this year. At Pentecost we rejoice that the Holy Spirit can set us free from fears and superstitions, if we walk in the light of the risen Lord.

Liz Welters. Associate Minister

Why Change?

‘If something isn’t broken don’t fix it.’ We do not like change, we want things to stay the same. Or do we? When it comes to the house we like a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom. But before 1908 we couldn’t, since James Spangler only just invented it. Had it not been for the sales promotion of Mr Hoover it might never had made it to the commercial market-place. Before 1880 we would not have got stuck behind a caravan, and imagine before 1892 there was no such thing as a tractor. Imagine how fast we could travel then, except most of us were only able to walk as cars were a rarity, the first mass produced car the Model T Ford not being produced until 1908.

When it comes to church most of us are even more certain that we do not want change, things are all right as they are. Well, if we do not want change, the average preach in the seventeenth century was at least an hour and the congregations usually stood. Or if we go back even further services were in Latin or further still the early church services were in homes and hired rooms with no sense of a Church building then.

What we really mean is we like what we like and do not like anything else. We think back to the Golden Age when Sunday School was a must, two services a day were the norm and nothing else happened on a Sunday ever. As a youth I recall serving at a minimum of three services a morning every Sunday and then once on a Wednesday before school. So really we do not usually mean ‘we do not like the change that has taken place’, but we are concerned about where change might lead us, or what might happen to the bits we like now?

First I have to ask a question, ‘For whom does Church exist?’ Certainly not for those of us who are members!! The church is the body of Christ on earth here to do the work of Jesus, which as he said Himself, ‘is to preach good news….. and recovery of sight to the blind’. We exist for those who are not yet members, therefore our question should be what must we do to reach the others who do not come? Once we have the answer to that question the next stage is simple, do it!!

So before we next complain about change ask this question, ‘Is it having an effect’? Are new folk coming in? If not perhaps we try something else, or would you prefer the hour glass back in the pulpit?

K V Beaumont

March letter

“The Bells, the Bells!”

I have been lucky enough to be associated with the local Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Bell Ringers Guild for a number of years now. Not because I am a bell ringer myself, but because I enjoy their annual outings to visit churches elsewhere in the Diocese or beyond, to ring the bells at different towers, and have a good pub lunch!

Bells have been part of church life since the 5th century. It is said that St Patrick (whose Feast Day is this month, 17th March) would give each monk going on a missionary journey, a hand bell to carry on his journey and ring to summon the people to hear the word of God. And that is what bells have been doing ever since, calling people to the worship of God, marking important occasions – weddings and deaths, national celebrations or disasters. It is an important role, as prayers written for bell ringers attest:

“ Grant, O Lord, that these bells may sound your praises and the good news of your salvation; may they summon the faithful to worship and stir all who hear them to glorify your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Bells have sometimes been regarded as having mystical qualities, oaths were sworn on them, it was believed their ringing could banish storms …. To learn more of the history surrounding bells there is a very interesting video you can find via a ‘Search’ engine:

BBC Four - Still Ringing After All These Years: A Short History of Bells.

All of our Shelswell churches have at least one bell. Sadly, only one has a team of bell ringers and rings for services every week (Stratton Audley). Finmere and Stoke Lyne have ring-able bells but no regular bell ringers. Mixbury and Fringford need work to their bell installations to allow proper ringing, though their bells can be tolled. Ideally (in my personal view!) a bell should always be rung or tolled before the Sunday service. This custom seems to have fallen somewhat into abeyance, which is a shame as it is a way to let the community know that worship continues in the village, and all are invited to come and be welcome. It would be good to make sure in future that the bell is tolled before worship. It is not hard to learn how to do it. For instruction, or even to learn proper change ringing, volunteers would be welcome at Stratton’s Audley’s tower where Jeremy Adams, the Tower Captain, would teach them.

There have been times in the past when bell ringers were considered a rowdy, disreputable, bunch, disappearing up the tower with barrels of beer, and locking the vicar out! So, if anyone decides to give bell ringing a try, perhaps bear in mind this ancient inscription in Dunster ringing chamber:

'Who ringes his bell let him looke well - to hedde and honde and herte:
ye hedde for wytte, ye honde for werke, ye herte for worshyppe'

Penny Wood

February letter

Helping Hands

A mother, wishing to encourage her son's progress at the piano, bought tickets to a performance by the great Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. When the evening arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on the stage. Soon the mother found a friend to talk to, and the boy slipped away.

At eight o'clock, the lights in the auditorium began to dim, the spotlights came on, and only then did they notice the boy - up on the piano bench, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." His mother gasped in shock and embarrassment but, before she could retrieve her son, the master himself appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard.

He whispered gently to the boy, "Don't quit. Keep playing." Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in the bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side and improvised a delightful obligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized with their blended and beautiful music.

In all our lives, we receive helping hands - some we notice, some we don't. Equally we ourselves have countless opportunities to provide helping hands - sometimes we would like our assistance to be noticed, sometimes we don't. Little of what we all achieve is without learning from others and without support from others and what we receive we should hand out.

This article is reproduced with permission from the Parish Window

January letter

Looking Back with Nostalgia?
Looking Forward with Anticipation or Apprehension?

The month of January is named after a god Janus who was worshiped in ancient Rome. The Romans believed he watched over doors, passages, gates, walkways, and endings. He was often shown as having two faces, one looking forward; the other looking backwards.

Looking backwards may be a more comfortable option at the start of 2019, with a sentimental longing for some idealised past … when Christmas wasn’t fraught or commercialised, or when we managed to keep our New Year resolutions, or when we knew all our neighbours, or when we were not in the EU (…. or whatever you feel nostalgic about). However, it has been well said, ‘The memory, in short, is a sieve through which the pains, annoyances, and boredoms of the past slip easily away, while its pleasures are retained and glorified’.

Looking forward seems much more uncomfortable. As I write, the Prime Minister has survived a vote of no confidence, but who knows what will be happening by the time Shelswell News is published and distributed?

How do we find stability in a world that is constantly changing? People change; relationships change; families change; neighbourhoods change; politicians change, circumstances change; churches change, financial situations change; health changes.

The Good News is that God’s nature, character and love never change. Christians have faith in an unchangeable God, who can be relied upon and depended upon. If something changes in life that knocks us off balance, faith in God can help us maintain our equilibrium. David, King of Israel and composer of psalms, faced many changes and challenges in his life. Centuries ago he wrote:

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62.1,2,8)

The oft-quoted lines from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, published in 1908, also offer wisdom as the New Year dawns:

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.”

May these assurances hold true for us in the coming days, whatever is happening near to us or in the wider world.

Liz Welters - Associate Minister