‘To be a Pilgrim’

In early September my daughter and son-in-law set off to walk the Camino, the Pilgrim Way to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. They hope to complete the 500 mile journey in around six weeks. According to tradition, the Apostle St. James (Santiago) travelled to Spain to spread the Gospel sometime after Jesus’ resurrection. On his return to Jerusalem he was martyred. His followers are said to have taken his body to the coast, where a ship was miraculously waiting for them. They took St. James’ body to north western Spain, the farthest place where he preached, and buried it in a tomb. The location was forgotten about for centuries.

In the first half of the ninth century a hermit is said to have seen lights or stars which lit up the site of an ancient tomb. The hermit told the Bishop, who identified the buried remains as those of St. James, and had a church built there. Compostela may come from the Latin campus stellae, ‘field of stars’ or from a Latin phrase meaning ‘burial ground’. The shrine began attracting pilgrims, and the numbers steadily increased. By the eleventh and twelfth centuries, half a million pilgrims were making their way to Santiago de Compostela each year. After reaching the cathedral at Santiago, many pilgrims travelled the additional 55 miles to Finisterre, which was believed to be the end of the earth. Here, pilgrims would collect scallop shells from the seashore as proof they had completed their pilgrimage.

The Camino slowly declined in popularity, but has become increasingly popular in modern times. Today many pilgrims tie scallop shells to their bags or clothing to show that they are walking the Camino. The scallop shell is used as a sign along the way to point pilgrims towards Santiago, and it assures pilgrims that they are on the right way.

Early Christians were known as followers of ‘the Way’, and this term is used widely in the Book of Acts. They were so called, not just because of the way they lived, but because of who they followed. Jesus called himself ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6) and his followers’ faith in him led to a distinctive way of life.

Today people tend to think of Christians as people who gather in a building, a static image. ‘Followers of the Way’ is a dynamic image which helps us to recognise that life is a journey, coming from God and returning to God. With Jesus at our side and as our guide we can seek to live distinctive lives of love and service.

A prayer by John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford:
Pilgrim God,
You are our origin and our destination.
Travel with us, we pray, in every pilgrimage of faith,
and every journey of the heart.
Give us the courage to set off,
the nourishment we need to travel well,
and the welcome we long for at our journey’s end.
So may we grow in grace and love of you
and in the service of others,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Liz Welters, Associate Minister

September letter

I am so glad that we moved to a rural benefice in time for Harvest. Growing up in Johannesburg miles away from any farms, I missed out on journeying through the seasons. The leaves fell off the trees in autumn, but if we went on holiday in autumn or winter, we still had warm-ish weather and we swam in the sea and sat on the beach. In spring the trees had blossoms but we got to swim on the 1st. September (the day the public swimming pools opened), even if the water was absolutely freezing!

Moving to the UK I got to really experience the seasons for the first time. My thrill at driving past freshly ploughed fields, watching the seeds sprout, grow and ripen ready for harvest has not diminished in the seventeen years we have lived here. I remember driving around one hot sunny day and experienced the most awful smell, so bad that even though I was boiling hot, I had to keep the windows shut. I asked our landlord what on earth the smell was, only to be told that the farmers were muck spraying – a smell that, I believe, cannot ever be explained, only experienced!

I swapped driving in traffic in the suburbs of Johannesburg for following tractors of all shapes, colours and sizes. I still get more excited than my son when we drive past the huge combine harvesters or tractors with wheels taller than my car. Unlike the previous Top Gear presenters, I learned that part of embracing living in the countryside was to relax when I got stuck behind a tractor en route to school, to slow down for a while because not every road allowed for overtaking, and to be thankful when the tractor driver pulled over to let the huge queue past him, and we could whizz past waving our thanks!

I’m still getting to know the roads around the Benefice. Last week after morning prayers in Mixbury, I took a different route home – a beautiful road that led me through field after field of golden crops. Some fields in the distance were being harvested and some had bales in them. As I drove towards Finmere I saw sheep that were bigger than any sheep I have ever seen – big healthy sheep munching in the fields. My journey turned into a journey of praise and thanks as I marvelled at all I saw!

Our celebration of Harvest is probably the closest thing we have to a day of Thanksgiving. In the UK the Harvest Festival, also known as the harvest home, is traditionally celebrated on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox, which is often between 21-23 September.

In the past everyone would be involved in bringing in the harvest, everyone including children, would work right up until the end, because a successful harvest was important for everyone. A prosperous harvest ensured that a community would be fed throughout the potentially barren winter months. As soon as the harvest had been completed and the final cartload returned to the farm, a Harvest Supper would take place. The final harvest task was to glean any leftover crops in the fields which was done by the farm women. This had to be done by St Michael’s Mass – the 29 September, the signifier of the end of harvest.

The Bible is full of harvest imagery. It’s a theme that would have been central to the societies in both Old and New Testament times. Jesus himself used this harvest imagery (Matthew 9:38) when talking about reaching out to people. The Israelites celebrated the feast of first fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14), where they brought a portion of their first harvest as an offering – an annual reminder that everything ultimately belonged to the Lord. It taught the Israelites about their absolute dependence on God’s provision. It taught them to cherish and celebrate what came from the soil.

Living in the Shelswell Benefice we are fortunate to see some of the food we eat being grown and harvested. Each of us also has the opportunity to celebrate Harvest in our local church. A Harvest Festival or Harvest Service is our opportunity to show our gratitude to God for all that we have and to give to thosein need. It is also an opportunity for fellowship and fun. Whether we take part in decorating the church, take home grown produce to the church, buy supplies for the local food bank, or make a donation towards the South Sudan Ox Plough project, may each of us give generously, giving thanks to God.

Yvonne

Harvest Prayer by Gideon Heugh

Lord of the Harvest,
We thank you for your creation,
For its beauty and fruitfulness,
We thank you for blessing us
With our daily bread.

Lord of Mercy,
We confess to you our failure
To be wise stewards of this world,
We confess to you our selfishness
In not sharing the earth’s bounty fairly.

Lord of Justice,
We pray for those living in poverty
And cry out for an end to inequality,
We pray that you help us to help others,
That all might live a life of plenty.

Amen


August letter

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind

So at 02.56 GMT on 20th July 1969, American Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. He was joined by Buzz Aldrin twenty minutes later, and the two collected data and performed various exercises - including jumping across the landscape - before planting the Stars and Stripes flag at 0341 GMT. I remember seeing some of the footage on the classroom TV. I attended Preston Bisset primary school at the time, and I am guessing it must have been shown the next day.

Even today, and despite far too many episodes of Star Trek, I still think it is fairly amazing. And yet, the moon is just one tiny corner of our universe, just a small hop away from the earth. To look up into the night sky and wonder about all those galaxies is mind boggling. Or to look down and wonder at the Fibonacci sequence in a sunflower, or the details of one of the metabolic pathways that churn away without our even realising it inside our bodies. We are amazing creatures and we live in an amazing universe! I find words from the psalms leaping into my head: ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful’ or ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’

It is perhaps no wonder that many of the astronauts reported that travelling in space was a powerful spiritual experience. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in 1962 said ‘To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.’ The crew of Apollo 8, the first space crew to travel beyond the Earth's orbit, radioed back a message on Christmas eve 1968, quoting Genesis chapter one: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (although this did lead to NASA being sued). Frank Borman, commander of the crew, later spoke of his awareness that ‘there had to be a power greater than any of us - that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning’. James Irwin, who walked on the moon in 1971, said "I felt the power of God as I'd never felt it before." And Buzz Aldrin, between the lunar module’s landing on the moon on 20 July 1969 and Neil Armstrong’s taking his first steps on the lunar surface several hours later, privately observed Holy Communion using consecrated elements he had brought with him to the moon: it was important to him as a way of giving thanks and remembering, in the words of John 15:5 that we can do nothing without God.

The various space missions have expanded the world’s horizons, given us a different perspective. Even though most of us will remain earthbound, they have given us a glimpse of something beyond. Just as in a way Jesus gives us a glimpse of something that is otherwise beyond us, a glimpse of God in a form that we can relate to. The Bible tells us that in Jesus we can see the fullness of God – that means that Jesus isn’t just a little bit like God, but is God in human form. In Jesus, we see God’s character shining through: a God who cares passionately about each and every person, particularly about those that society tends to rubbish; a God who wants a society that values each and every person; a God that is prepared to go through hell for us, who will do whatever it takes to woe us back to Godself.

Over this summer, whether you are travelling to distant corners of the globe, or staying at home here in Shelswell, I hope you will find time to wonder at the wonderful world we live in, to take pleasure at the sights and sounds around you, and to ponder God the creator, shown to us in Jesus.

Have a lovely summer!

Alice

July letter

Aunt Martha replies to letters received from clergy and members of the congregation

Dear Curate,

Yes I do sympathise, maybe your church warden is being a little heavy handed but you must remember he is of an earlier generation and I must admit that having a house warming party in the church is a little unusual. Re the matter of the communion wine - I can quite understand the difficulty of getting to the off licence when you ran out of drink, but you should have made sure there was enough left for communion next day instead of substituting blackcurrant squash.
Now, that little matter of the church bells, this is where I think the parishioners are being a bit hard on you. I really do think they should have believed you when you said that you thought you were locked in and needed to summon help, though I can also understand how they felt being woken at three o'clock on Sunday morning. I think the best angle you can take with the Bishop is that it was the best attendance at church for nearly twenty years and it was a pity the vicar didn't get up and take an early service.

Dear Miss K

I know how you must feel arriving at church and finding somebody else sitting in your pew, especially after having sat there for the last twelve years, but do you think attacking the poor woman with your umbrella was really the right thing to do? Now I know the Archdeacon's wife shouldn't be given special privileges when her husband is invited to preach at your church but I'm sure she didn't purposely break one of the ten commandments by, as you put it, 'coveting your seat'. And you dear, should also remember that another commandment is 'Thou shalt not kill'. I do believe you came very close to breaking that one yourself, and if it wasn't for the vicar, you possibly would have done.
By the way, how is his eye now? Tell him I am praying that he'll make a quick recovery and won't need surgery. I don't believe this situation will ever arise again but can I suggest that if in future, should someone inadvertently sit in your seat, you do as it says in the bible, 'turn the other cheek' and find somewhere else to sit. You can then pride yourself and glow with pleasure at your calm and giving nature.

Dear Mr. W

I'm sorry, but I really have to agree with the vicar about this one. You may have been an usher at your church for twenty five years and the church may have been crowded for such an important occasion as the Bishop coming to preach, but to cram up to twelve people into a pew intended to hold eight is going a little over the top even if your motive was good, i.e. being nearer the front and able to see that much better. I also know that the incident provided a suitable practical example to go with the Bishop's sermon on the raising of Lazarus, but when two people of the congregation need resuscitation at the same time, it must be considered an exaggeration, don't you agree? And then to say Fire Brigade on the telephone when you meant ambulance was unforgivable even if as you say the timing was perfect. Well let's face it, the vicar couldn't help knocking the altar candle over in his haste to help could he? Not with his bad eye anyway.
Nevertheless, I'm glad it all turned out okay and the bell ringers were rescued before the bell tower burnt down and I do consider the vicar was more than a little uncharitable when he suggested that you should try another religion far removed from the Church of England. Please keep me informed as to when the church will be re-consecrated.

Taken, with permission, from The Parish Window (www.parishwindow.co.uk)

June letter

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


April letter

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