Gravestones - Humorous or Serious
In the last week of April, the Benefice marked ‘Love Your Burial Ground Week’. When I was a Team Vicar, only one of the three churchyards in my patch was open. It was in such a small village that, in seven years, I never did a burial there, only interment of ashes. The other two churchyards were closed, so the new burial grounds were in the care of the Parish Councils. This meant I did not have to grapple with the Diocese of Oxford’s Churchyard Regulations which state that inscriptions on gravestones must be simple, reverent, and theologically acceptable.
Things were not always so. In the past, headstones might be informative, amusing, moving or rather scary.
The most chilling epitaph I have seen is in the Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene, Upper Winchendon. It is on the headstone of John Page who departed this life on February 22nd 1829, aged 53 years.
You might not want a gravestone, but what would you choose as your epitaph – words which you feel sum you up? What words do you think other people would use?
A verse in the New Testament Book of Romans says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12.3) It is hard to have a realistic assessment of ourselves, not to think too highly - or too lowly.
Other people may well see us differently, but only God knows the whole
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Lizz Welters, Associate Minister
What do you think?
Since the beginning of 2023 I have turned up at at least two churches to take a service only to find, at the appointed ‘start’ time, that no more than one person has arrived. A couple of other times only 3 people arrived. I don’t think I need to take this personally because other members of the Ministry Team report similar experiences. Overall, numbers attending Sunday by Sunday are very small 6 – 8 – 10 …….
Few people today are committed to worship every Sunday. Maybe 20 over the whole of the Shelswell Benefice. Yet every Sunday in the Shelswell Benefice there are four or five services on offer for them to go to. As it’s unlikely the regular attenders will go to church more than once on a Sunday, it means each service is sparsely populated, even if a few of the irregular attenders turn up! Consequently, the worship is friendly but hardly uplifting. It’s inhibiting to have to sing when there are so few people; it can be difficult to find people to help with the preparation of the church, the readings etc., volunteers are few and Ministers feel rather like ‘pressgang masters’ trying to get people to come and participate. The congregation can feel disheartened – a sad ‘remnant’.
Why don’t we just have one service on a Sunday which everyone goes to? [Or at the most, two.] The committed worshippers would benefit from each other’s company, Ministers would benefit from being able to share leading the worship, there would be more chance of offering ‘live’ music and having the support of a choir; we would be strengthened by worshipping together. Any ‘new’ person who might risk putting a toe into the church would not feel so ‘exposed’ as they would do entering a church where there are only 4 or 5 people. Each Sunday the service could be in a different church so that ‘hosting’ responsibilities are shared.
Is this such a mad suggestion? Well, experience over many years highlights a particular emotional difficulty - the reluctance of many people to worship in any church other than their ‘own’ church. People are willing to drive to hospital appointments, the supermarket, the gym, take their dogs for walks, visit friends, go to the theatre, etc. etc. but going to another church appears to be a step too far. Or is this just a convenient excuse for not worshipping? In which case, these will almost certainly be the people who won’t regularly turn up anyway even to services in their ‘own’ church. So, for the benefit of supporting and building up the committed, and to enable deeper, richer worship, let’s try worshipping together.
Keep the World on its Toes! Geoffrey Lowson is the author of this article from The Sign
Easter Day is on April 9th this year. The earliest it can be is March 22nd and the latest is April 25th. If you want to know how to calculate when Easter will be, there are some tables in the front of the Book of Common Prayer which are used to work it out, but be prepared to end up with a serious headache.
Jesus rose from the dead on the day after the Jewish feast of the Passover. At a meeting of Christian leaders in Nicaea in AD 325 (the ‘Council of Nicaea’) it was decided to keep the link between Easter Day and Passover. But the date of the Jewish Passover is governed by the moon hence, because Passover moves, then Easter moves.
In early Christian history it was even more complicated. The Celtic Church had developed a way of calculating the date of Easter which was different from that decided at Nicaea. King Oswy of Northumbria followed the Celtic tradition but his wife, Eanfleda, followed the Roman rule, and as a consequence it is recorded (rather amusingly) that in AD 661, the Queen was fasting and keeping Palm Sunday in one part of the palace whilst the King was celebrating Easter in another part. This resulted in Oswy setting up what has become known as the Synod of Whitby in AD 664, presided over by Hilda (the founding abbess of the monastery at Whitby). The outcome was that the Roman method was adopted for the whole of the country.
It could be argued that in 2023 this is all a bit of a nonsense. Why not just pick a date for Easter each year - say the second Sunday of April? Well, that may well happen one day, but there are some sound arguments for hanging on to the variable date.
First, the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are so very closely linked with the Passover; the whole trial and execution were rushed to get them over with before the Feast of the Passover.
Second, one of the ways the Anglican Church operates is by holding three things in a creative tension; a sort of three-legged stool - the three legs are Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Tradition on its own could mean, ‘we’ve always done it that way’ but with the other two legs there, Tradition it always under scrutiny. Certainly ‘we’ve always done it that way’ would not be my approach, but on big issues which are deeply rooted in the life of the church we do need to think carefully before changing them.
Third, because it moves, there is a different feel to Easter as compared with Christmas. I know we have eggs and cards etc., but I wonder if we had a fixed date, then would all the razzamatazz we associate with Christmas descend upon Easter too?
Easter is our greatest Christian Festival. Let’s rejoice in it and keep the rest of the world on its toes by moving it about a bit!!
Resurrection Light by Annabel Shilson-Thomas (CAFOD)
Risen Christ, when darkness overwhelms us, may your dawn beckon.
When fear paralyses us, may your touch release us.
When grief torments us, may your peace enfold us.
When memories haunt us, may your presence heal us.
When justice fails us, may your anger ignite us.
When apathy stagnates us, may your challenge renew us.
When courage leaves us, may your spirit inspire us.
When despair grips us, may your hope restore us.
And when death threatens us, may your resurrection light lead us.
This Lent I think I’ll focus on
The image of the small baby pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building in north-west Syria following the earthquake. The stories of men and women using their bare hands to try and find survivors. People opening their homes to offer a respite from the bitter cold. The UK firefighters with their specialist equipment and their search and rescue dogs assisting with the international aid effort. In the midst of the appalling news of tens of thousands who have lost their lives and the utter devastation wrought by the earthquake, these stories are good news.
There is just so much awfulness around in the world. I guess there always has been and I suspect there always will be until kingdom come. And it is so easy to be dragged down by it all, to end up focussing on the negatives, to feel without hope. Yet amidst it all, there is always good news.
I fondly remember visiting
In the last couple of weeks, I have spoken with
The list could go on and on, as I remember the very many people who give time to help with church and village activities, clean the church, mow the churchyard, look after the clock, serve on the Parish Council, coach others in sport, drive neighbours to hospital appointments, and so on and so on.
And many of these do this whilst holding down difficult and demanding jobs, working many more hours than they get paid for, doing their absolute best with very good grace, and going above and beyond to support colleagues.
I wonder who has been ‘good news’ for you in the last few weeks? And I wonder for whom you have been ‘good news’?
Let’s give thanks for all that is good news! And maybe focussing on the way that God is blessing us through one another during this season of Lent may help us to be more open to the ultimate Good News, the good news we celebrate at Eastertime.Alice
Traditionally, the 40 days of Lent have been a time when Christians fasted, spent time in prayer, studied the Bible or other spiritual books, didn’t eat meat, and examined their consciences with a view to coming closer to God, or perhaps it would be truer to say ‘letting God come closer to them’. But nowadays people give up chocolate, or alcohol, or take up some exercise programme, the aim being, I suppose, to improve personal well-being, or just lose weight.
How about going back to the ‘old ways’ this Lent? Could we risk engaging in one of the old traditions? Could we plan, and commit, to a prayer time, or a Bible reading time (accompanied by some helpful notes which anyone in the Ministry Team could get for you), or follow the Diocese’s ‘Come and See’ programme. What does that last involve? Here’s what the Diocese says:
“ We send you a short email each day, Monday to Saturday. And on Sundays during Lent you receive a short video from Bishop Steven exploring the theme for Come and See that year in a bit more detail. Each email begins with a short passage of text from the Bible. If you've never opened a Bible before, please don't worry, just go with the flow as you settle in to the journey.
There is a separate weekly email for children and families, and separate materials for teachers, and children, youth and family leaders too. Children and schools materials include films from our school chaplains, and access to some of the contemplative practices from our Space Makers toolkit.”
All you need to do is go onto the website: https://www.oxford.anglican.org/come-and-see/ and register.
If, however, you would rather do some activity together with other people, you might like to join me in the current ‘Big Church Read’ which is a novel Lydia by Paula Gooder [Canon Chancellor at St Paul's Cathedral, London, and New Testament scholar]. You can find out about the Big Church Read on https://thebigchurchread.co.uk But here’s what they say about Lydia.
“Journey with Paula Gooder as she tells Lydia’s story – who she was, the life she lived and her first-century faith – and in doing so opens up Paul’s letter to the Philippians, giving a sense of the cultural and historical pressures that shaped Paul’s thinking, and the faith of the early church.
Written in the gripping style of Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean, and similarly rigorously researched, this is a book for everyone and anyone who wants to engage more deeply and imaginatively with Paul’s theology – from one of the UK’s foremost New Testament scholars.”
We would meet in a group to do this. Perhaps on a weekday evening, but dates and venue to be discussed. Unfortunately, the book is not in paperback until October. It can be bought for £12-99, or even cheaper if one searches for second hand copies. If you would like to be part of a group reading and discussing Lydia get in touch with me as soon as possible, so I can see who is interested and we can plan dates and a venue.
We are also offering a series of Lent lectures which will be on four Thursday evenings in Lent starting on Thursday 2nd March. See page 9 for more information. We will have the details of the speakers in next month’s magazine but perhaps you might like to put the dates in your calendar now. Those that have come along to the Lent Lectures previously will know that they have been really interesting and inspirational, and the opportunity to meet and chat with others over supper beforehand is always very good too!
Don’t miss out on the opportunities that Lent brings us.Penny Wood
THE PRAYING HANDS
Albrecht Durer was born in the fifteenth century, near Nuremberg one of eighteen children. Albrecht’s father, a goldsmith by profession, worked long hours and took any other odd jobs he could find in his neighbourhood merely to keep food on the table for his family.
Two of the children, Albrecht and Albert were talented artists. They both dreamt of pursuing their talent further, but they knew that their father would never be able to afford to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.
So, the two boys worked out a plan. One would work in the nearby mines and support his brother with his earnings whilst the other would attend the academy. When that bother had finished his studies in four years they would swap. Albrecht won the toss of the coin and attended the academy whilst Albert went down into the mines and supported his brother during his studies with his earnings. Albrecht planned to swap in four years, either using income from sales of his artwork to support Albert, or by labouring in the mines.
Albert went down into the mines for the next four years and financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate success. Albrecht's etchings, woodcuts, and his oils were often far better than those of most of his professors. By the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.
After four years the young artist Albrecht returned to his village, ready to pay for his brother’s time at the academy. The Durer family held a festive dinner to celebrate Albrecht's return. After the meal, Albrecht rose to drink a toast to his beloved brother thanking him for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you."
No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! No, brother ... for me it is too late." The bones in every finger had been smashed at least once, and were now suffering from arthritis, the thumbs were bent and twisted. It was difficult even to hold the glass toasting his brother, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush.
Albrecht paid homage to his brother for all he had sacrificed and painstakingly sketched his brother's hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward simply calling the drawing “Hands”. The picture shows the crooked thumb and the gnarled hands that could not close due to the abuse the mines had wrought.
The world renamed his tribute of love “The Praying Hands”. This story is an example of unconditional love and grace, and a reminder to us all that no one ever makes it alone, we all need