Minister’s Letter (2024)
[2022 letters], [2023 letters]

It is still Epiphany-tide as I am writing this letter. The feast day of the Epiphany is on 6 January, but the ‘season’ carries on until 2nd February when we remember the day the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem. This day is sometimes called ‘Candlemas’ because in many churches, after the Communion has taken place, the people will process around the building with lighted candles rejoicing in the birth of Christ, ‘the light of the world’. Epiphany-tide is the time when the coming of Christ into the world is revealed as being for all people, all nations. The wise men from the east who visited the child Jesus were from outside Israel. The two old people who encountered Jesus when he was presented in the Temple, recognized him as the Messiah and, as St Luke’s Gospel expresses it, the one to bring salvation for all people “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel”.

There is a lovely custom associated with Epiphany. When the wide men followed the star they came to Bethlehem and crossed the threshold of his birthplace, where they found the blessing they were seeking. In remembrance of this some churches, or homes, use chalk to mark the main doorway with the following inscription: 20 + C + M + B + 24. The 20 and 24 represent the date of this year. The C + M + B represent the traditional names of the wise men - Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – but also the Latin phrase ‘Christus, mansionem benedicat’ which means ‘Christ bless the house’. [In Bavaria, Germany, people dressed as the wise men actually go round the houses and chalk the doors.] As we mark the threshold of our home or of our church in memory of the wise men’s journey we pray, at the threshold of the new year, that Christ will bless our homes and remain with us throughout the year.

door

You could do this for yourself, and then pray:
Visit, Lord, we pray, this home with the joy of your presence.
Bless all who live here with the gift of your love.
Help us share your care and compassion with one another,
to make this a place of welcome and strength,
of blessing and friendship,
that all who pass through this doorway
may find a hearth and home lit by the light of love.
May we grow with Christ in truth and wisdom,
as we learn to follow in his steps,
and take on his yoke,
that we may be blessed by his grace,
and find refreshment for ourselves, soul and body,
as we walk in his light into the adventure of this new year.
We make our prayer through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

And then, when Epiphany and Candlemas are past, we turn to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent (on 14 February this year), and the journey of preparation that brings us to the sadness of Passiontide and the joy of Easter Day. How shall we make the journey this year?

Penny Wood LLM


January

New Year Resolutions – or Re-Commitment?

newDuring my time in Waddesdon, Anglicans and Methodists held a joint Sunday service every so often. A particularly moving occasion for me was when we joined in worship for the Methodist Covenant Service. This service is often held on the first Sunday of the year.

The practice of holding a Covenant Service dates back to John Wesley, who wanted to provide an opportunity for Church members to make, or renew, their covenant with God. In the service Methodists joyfully celebrate God's gracious offer made to all people in Jesus Christ, that "I will be their God and they shall be my people."

relationshipThe emphasis of the whole service is on God’s readiness to enfold his people in generous love. It is not so much about coming into a relationship with God, more about remaining in it. It highlights the importance of living within the loving relationship that God has already offered, following the supreme example of Jesus who shows what it is to live in a relationship with God.

God's gracious offer is also a challenge, not just to individuals but to the whole congregation. If God is committed to his people, are they prepared to accept that as a reality and commit themselves to God in return? People are encouraged to continue to work out the implications for their lives of the fact that their relationship with God had been renewed in and through Christ.

Wesley’s first formal covenant service was held in 1755, and revisions have been made over the years, the latest being in 1999. The modern wording of the Covenant Prayer below, which is included in the Methodist Worship Book, makes it very clear that the affirmation is a serious one that embraces the whole of Christian life. The Covenant Prayer is preceded by prayers for forgiveness and an encouragement to trust in God’s promises and rely on his grace.

Understandably most people find the prayer tough to say and really mean it. The prayer does not imply that God sends troubles upon us, rather that in all circumstances of life we will continue to find God.

The Covenant Prayer is so central to the Christian life that other Churches have also adopted it. Should our Anglicans Churches do the same?

Liz Welters (Associate Minister)