Sleaford Parish Church
|Posted on March 3, 2022 at 6:25 AM|
Quarantine. Isolation. A bed, a chair, a writing table and a window. Three meals a day, an hour’s exercise in the yard, and periodic testing by lateral flow or PCR. Access to the internet is poor and phone signals are not good either – unless you are in the exercise yard – actually two rugby pitches, and an all-weather football pitch. The regime might seem to be very similar to prison life – long hours locked up with precious little to do. There are about 130 people here although apart from the few brave souls who I can see from my window exercising in the rain I only see the 16 quarantiners on my landing (sorry slipping into prison terminology here) who I am allowed to eat with each day… and the staff (it is tempting to call them warders) who escort us from the barrack to the food hall.
But as I sit looking out of my window I am thinking as much about the monastic life… the simply furnished small cell, the communal meals often in silence, the freedoms from many of the distractions of modern life.
A few months ago I listened to a talk by Bob, a Tornado navigator, who was captured when his plane came down in Afghanistan. Bob, a committed Christian, talked to the officer cadets at Cranwell about how he took control of the few bits of his life that were not controlled by his captors. He created structure to each day. He made plans for the future, organised dinner parties in his head, plotted a future career, constructed his perfect motorbike from a multitude of variables, set times for prayer and re-calling hymns, psalms, and Bible passages, and had a daily conversation with his family… well the call did not happen but he though about what he would say in the imaginary conversation every day.
As I sit in my cell, remembering Bob, I think now, as I did then, about the monastic life – a life of structure. The daily life of the monastery is founded upon set times for prayer – the daily offices. The rest of the day consists of eating, resting, working (in the kitchens etc) and thinking (study and reflection), but it is the daily offices that are central and everything else fits around that.
In the modern world there can be so many demands on our time, so much imposed upon us that any sense of structure can be lost. A period of retreat has long been recognised as an important spiritual discipline… to step back from the pressures of the world to find space for prayer and reflection. Quarantine is, for me at least, an opportunity for retreat between the parish and what lies ahead in the Falklands; an opportunity to find a structure to fill the long empty hours and to choose what takes priority. For many Lent is an important part of their spiritual life… an opportunity for some re-structuring to make prayer, Bible study, and spiritual reading more dominant. As we begin Lent, I would like to encourage you to find some time to think about how you might create more space in the structure of your day for prayer.
|Posted on February 4, 2022 at 12:45 AM|
Back in December a place in Cumbria I know well was hit by Storm Arwen. A lot of snow was dumped on the hills in a very short space of time. The high winds brought down trees and power lines. Some places were without electricity for nearly two weeks. Those without power could report the problem and get updates via an app on their mobile phone. But with the power lines down there was no wifi, no possibility of charging your phone and, to make matters worse, in some areas the electricity supply to the phone masts was also out so you could not even get a phone signal. As I spoke with people in the area that I know I realised how dependant we have become on modern technology and when that is disrupted how much inconvenience we experience. Technology has made life more comfortable, but it comes at a cost we barely realise until it is taken away. What heartened me most were the human stories of the elderly and vulnerable being cared for and provided with food and provisions.
After Storm Arwen had blown itself out, I began reading a book – a diary to be precise – written by a Falkland Islander who lived in Port Stanley through the Argentinian occupation. Once again, so much that was taken for granted was compromised and basic human survival in extreme circumstances kicked in. It is a story of courage, defiance, and resilience, but ultimately it is a story of humanity. Time and again I read of acts of kindness by the Islanders towards the young Argentinian conscripts who were hungry, wet and cold. It is hard to believe that occupation was forty years ago.
You may think that this book was an unusual choice, but it was essential preparatory reading for my sabbatical which will be spent in the Falkland Islands. I leave (d.v.) before the end of the month and will be spending the Lent and Easter seasons in St Cuthbert’s Church, Mount Pleasant. The next few months will be odd. I will be separated from both my family and my church family – everything that is comfortable and familiar will be different. And things will be different in Sleaford too. Things that we have got used to, and taken for granted, will be different this year as services are led by a variety of priests from across the deanery and diocese.
Whether we are in Sleaford or elsewhere we will walk together, with all Christians that journey through Lent to the Cross. It is a painful and unsettling journey, for each year it challenges who we think we are and brings us face to face with the agony of the cross. But in that painful place the love of God breaks through and transforms our fallen humanity so that we can be more Christ like and reach out to those in pain and need.
|Posted on December 9, 2021 at 4:20 AM|
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Happy New Year! You may think this is a little premature, especially as we haven’t yet celebrated Christmas, but this is the beginning of my year. Not everyone follows the same year. We might mark January 1st as the beginning of the new year but for teachers and others in education the ‘new year’ begins in September; for those in agriculture the ‘new year’ begins with ploughing and drilling. The church calendar, however, begins with Advent Sunday. The penitential season of Advent prepares us for Christmas… and the Christmas season moves seamlessly into the Epiphany Season which technically comes to a conclusion with the Feast of Candlemas – The Presentation of Christ in the temple – forty days after Christmas day. There follow a few Sundays (it varies from year to year) before we reach Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the prelude to Easter Day. The Easter Season lasts for 50 days and brings us to Pentecost (or Whitsun as we used to call it). And that’s it: roughly half of the year has passed already and we finally enter ordinary time – the part of the liturgical that is Green – twenty-five weeks roughly speaking (it depends how early or late Easter is) that bring us back to Advent Sunday and the New Year. It is a pattern that I have followed for many years and marked out by the colours of the vestments: purple – white/gold – ((possibly a few green weeks) – purple – white/gold – green. There are the occasional ‘Red’ days thrown in mark certain saints, but that is the basic pattern. It sets a rhythm to the year that provides structure to our lives… and is fairly closely aligned with the agricultural year. I suspect that in antiquity the changing colours of the priest’s vestments where as much a marker for ploughing, sowing, and harvesting as the phases of the moon and the length of the day.
But the church year is more important than what I have outlined so far, for this pattern embeds our life in a story. That story is of course the story of Jesus: his birth, baptism, presentation in the temple… the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the arrest, trial and crucifixion… the resurrection, ascension and the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. The story is told in two parts and each part is preceded by a penitential season (purple), a time of preparation of ourselves to hear again the story of what God has done for us.
At the beginning of the new year we prepare ourselves to hear again the story of Christ’s birth – God with us! It is a phrase that can trip off the lips so easily that we sometimes need to stop and reflect on the significance of that fact – the light of Christ is with us now and shines in the darkness to bring into the light things that are hidden. We need the penitential season of Advent to examine ourselves and consider those things that we have kept hidden… for it is only when we are prepared to open ourselves up to God that we can truly celebrate Christmas and be joyful that God is with us.
|Posted on December 9, 2021 at 4:20 AM|
As we move into November we begin a season of Remembrance. The centrepiece of the month is, of course, Remembrance Sunday, and I have said much about that on other occasions. This autumn has also had a Remembrance focus for me. Two events have been significant. First, I was invited (wearing my RAF hat) to dedicate a memorial in Spalding. In September 1953 Pilot Officer George Furniss, an Auxiliary Pilot with 616 Squadron was flying his Gloster Meteor near Spalding when it caught fire. He lost power but rather than ejecting and saving his own life he stayed with the aircraft gliding it away from the built up area of the town. It crashed in a field near Vernatt’s Drain and George Furniss did not survive. He left a wife and twin daughters who were only 12 months old. George’s daughters, who have been researching their father story, were present at the ceremony to unveil the new memorial to their father who sacrificed his live to save the lives of many. The second event was closer to home. Charles Penson had been a pupil at the William Alvey School. He had originally joined the Royal Navy but transferred to the RAF. He was part of the crew performing test flights on the R38 airship over the Humber in 1921 when the airship folded and collapsed, descending in ball of flames into the Humber. Charles Penson’s funeral service took place in our Parish Church, and he was buried in the town cemetery 100 years ago. Children from the Alvey School have been learning about his story in their history lessons and we held a memorial service in the church to mark the centenary of his death. Both of these deaths occurred in peace time and are not normally remembered on Remembrance Sunday when we tend to focus on those who died time of war, but these two stories have caused me to reflect on who we remember and why we remember.
Over the past 18 months many people from this church and town have died. Some of Covid, some with Covid, and others unrelated to Covid. In the early days of the pandemic I took many funerals with only one or two people present. Many had the hope that the pandemic would soon be over and they could have a memorial service for their loved one. But the months have rolled by and they are probably at a different place in the bereavement journey that they were at the time of death. The pandemic forced us to be creative in how we marked the loss of a loved one and how we remember them. That task is far from being completed as the pandemic is not yet over.
At every funeral I commend the soul of the person who has died to the love of God … that happens whether the church is full or whether it is just me and the undertakers … but the way remember is very personal and they way we do it can change over time. The stories of Charles Penson and George Furniss remind us that memories can be very long and that it is important to remember because our history is our story.
|Posted on October 15, 2021 at 5:05 AM|
The season of Harvest Festivals has crept up on me rather unexpectedly this year! During July and August I watched the combine harvesters at work in the fields. Many of those harvested fields have already been ploughed and sown. All is safely gathered in (for this year) and we can begin to think about next year. But as I sit down to write the news is about shortages of haulage drivers, not only in this country but across Europe. There have been fuel shortages… I have found petrol stations without fuel and on one occasion I was limited to £25 worth of petrol. There is the threat of food shortages on supermarket shelves.
All of this is a salutary reminder that in our modern world the distance between farm and fork is very great. To get the grain from the grain store to the mill requires HGV drivers and lorries with fuel in their tanks. If we travel through the stages of production, wholesale and distribution before the product hits the supermarket shelves the road mileage is substantial.
Very often, at harvest time out focus is the farm… we thank God that the harvest has been gathered in. And it is right that we should do this. But in a world where so many live their lives in towns and cities the farm is something that is often viewed through rose-tinted spectacles and the window of a car. So long as there is food in the supermarket, what more do we need to know? The TV series Clarkson’s Farm has highlighted how difficult farming can be but that is only the first stage in feeding a nation. When food is in short supply we become more aware of the basic necessities and our reliance on God. The passage from Matthew’s gospel may be spoken to people who indulge with plentiful feasting but it reminds us all of our dependence on God.
|Posted on October 15, 2021 at 5:00 AM|
This year’s summer excursion to the Lakeland fells brought its fair share of excitement. We decided to make an ascent of Blencathra (also known as Saddleback). Beneath the summit is a small glacial lake known as Scales Tarn. It had been our intention to cross the Bannerdale Craggs and reach the tarn before ascending the notorious Sharp Edge to the summit. Well, at one point we lost the path in bracken! We crossed the Craggs and continued our ascent looking out for the tarn to get us back on our path. We reached the summit quite easily, but we had missed Sharp Edge; and we never managed to catch even a glimpse of the tarn. We knew we were close to it but could not see it! After a satisfying lunch on the summit, we began our descent, and before too long we saw the tarn and the path that we should have taken. As Sharp Edge was meant to have been the highlight of the day, we did an extra circuit in order to make that notorious ascent. After seven hours on the hill, we arrived back at the car, tired, but elated.
In the days that followed I thought more about that ascent and the tarn we couldn’t see. We knew we were close to it. We knew (roughly) where it was, but it was hidden from our view. This was to be our waypoint to identify Sharp Edge but we hadn’t appreciated how critical our approach to the tarn needed to be. We were so close yet so far off because our sight was obscured.
In the Old Testament reading for the feast of St Michael & All Angels Jacob declares, ‘surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not know it’. How often do we look for a sign from God and yet fail to see or trust our instincts. God is with us, but like the elusive Scales Tarn, it can sometimes seem hard to trust that God is there. The purpose of Christian pilgrimage is to find something more about ourselves and about God. It is a hard struggle, not a walk in the park. Very often the knowledge of God’s presence with us requires trust and faith. It was so easy to doubt that we weren’t (roughly) where I thought we were. Rather than doubt I needed faith and harder searching… a good metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage.
|Posted on July 1, 2021 at 12:30 AM|
I have been looking back over past editions of the Coronacle. This is the 22nd edition! In the 7th edition I wrote (just as we were preparing to return to public worship) that this wasn’t the end of restrictions but probably the beginning of the end. How wrong one can be! I never expected that we would still be living under restrictions 12 months later. The June date for the easing of restrictions has passed and (at the time of writing) I do not know what will happen when we reach the July date.
The feast of St James always makes me think of summer holidays. The great pilgrimage to the shrine of St James (Santiago Compostela) conjures up images of walking through Europe: food, travel, hospitality… in fact everything that will be nigh on impossible this year. But it is not simply the infringements on travel depriving me of the hot Mediterranean sun. The culmination of the
pilgrimage to Santiago is the Mass in the basilica - a large gathering of people to worship God. Now we are all aware that some large gatherings are allowed. The football tournament Euro2020 seems to have been made exempt from nearly every restriction. (As an aside, if this is Euro2020 does that mean I can take a year off my age?). The fact that you can sing in a football stadium as part of a crowd of thousands but are still not allowed to sing in church has made many people very angry. The more exceptions that are made for special events – football, Wimbledon, music festivals, etc – the harder it becomes to justify restrictions on weddings, funerals, and ordinary church services.
This virus is not going away. We will have to learn to live with the disease, in much the same way that we live with influenza, pneumonia, meningitis, and a whole host of other infectious diseases. With most of the congregation
vaccinated (doubly) it can only be a matter of time before singing is restored. We are planning a Songs of Praise – all your favourite hymns – for that day when we all can sing our Praises to God.
|Posted on June 3, 2021 at 4:10 AM|
Ordinary Time! The Sundays after Trinity that lead us from Pentecost to Advent – almost half of the church year. I love the phrase ‘ordinary time’, it carries with it a sense of relief – relaxation – after all the festivals. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘ordinary’ as having no distinctive features, normal, not interesting or exceptional. In ecclesiastical usage ‘ordinary’ is the normal state from which we can either dip below in the penitential season (advent & lent) or rise above in the festal seasons (Christmas, epiphany & easter). So, having been through the rollercoaster of the seasons from advent to Pentecost we finally return to normality – no more ups and downs for another six months!
After a year of pandemic there have been many questions about what ‘normal’ means. There is much talk of a ‘new normality’. What seemed strange to us 15 months ago now (wearing facemasks, for example) now seems ordinary. We talk of things returning to normal after the pandemic is over and restrictions are lifted but some things will have changed for ever. We have learned news ways of living and working. Some of what we have learned we will not want to discard for we have discovered the benefits of doing things differently. There are other things which we long to restore because our lives feel diminished without them.
In order think about the new normality post-pandemic it might be worthwhile reflecting a little bit more on ecclesiastical ordinary time. I have included in this edition one of the collects for Trinity Sunday together with the Old Testament reading for that day which marks the beginning of ordinary time. The prophet Isaiah reminds us on Trinity Sunday that the whole earth is full of the glory of God, and we are encouraged to join with the whole host of heaven in singing Holy, Holy, Holy! Our prayer is that through this ‘ordinary time’ we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of God’s love. But as we are drawn more deeply into that mystery become aware of our own unworthiness and so we enter once again into the penitential season of advent and the whole cycle begins again. Because of this learning cycle every ordinary time is different. Year by year we continue to grow in our knowledge and love of God… more aware of the glory of God that fills the whole earth.
As we enter this second ‘ordinary time’ in pandemic lockdown let us not lose sight of the glory of God that fill the earth and surrounds us with his love all our days.
|Posted on May 6, 2021 at 4:50 AM|
The month of May is framed by bank-holidays – May day and Whitsun (the old name for Pentecost). The actual bank-holidays may have become a little disconnected with the historic celebrations in terms of both the dates and traditional customs, secular and religious. This year, dancing around a maypole will be impossible even in those villages that do still have a maypole. With our traditional celebrations of May Day and Whitsun the feast of the Ascension can get a little lost. It is always celebrated on a Thursday so not an ideal day for a bank-holiday, that is unless you live, for example, in France, where it is a public holiday. In France it is not uncommon to take the Friday off also, making for a long weekend. The consequence of this is that Ascension has a much higher profile in France than in Britain.
Ascension Day is important – it is one of the most significant days in the Christian year. It marks the fact that Jesus’ work on earth is completed. He returns to the throne of heaven and the disciples – the church – awaits the gift of the Holy Spirit that will mark the beginning of our work. But that earthly work of Christ framed by a common theme (much as the month of May is framed by bank-holidays). Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with John the Baptist preaching about sin and offering baptism as a sign of repentance… his ministry on earth ends by telling the church that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations’. Then after blessing the disciples he ascends to heaven. John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus did his work of atonement, and we have received the task of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness throughout the world.
So, what does that mean? It can be so easy to say sorry without meaning it, or to focus on institutional or structural sin and neglect the personal aspect. The word ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, to fall short in following the way of the cross. If we are to proclaim repentance it must begin with us, seeking daily to follow Christ more closely and walking the way of the cross.
|Posted on March 31, 2021 at 4:55 AM|
The past twelve months may have felt like the longest Lent ever. If we think of Lent in terms of giving something up, then how do we begin to enumerate everything that has been given up over the past year? With the festival of Easter we are beginning to see (once again) a lessening of the restrictions placed on our lives by the pandemic. Yet we know that the national, not to mention global situation, is still fragile. Many of us have now received the first dose of a vaccine and hopes of a return to normality are beginning to grow, but we are aware of new variants emerging and fresh outbreaks in some European countries. Last year I celebrated the Easter Eucharist in my domestic chapel (also known as the corner of the sitting room!) and a pheasant wandering through the garden stole the show. More people commented on the pheasant than on anything else in the service. This year we will be in church: socially distanced bell-ringers will be ringing some of our bells to herald the feast; the choir will be able to sing for the first time since Christmas. One of the joys of Easter is being able to sing the Gloria again, as it is never sung (or said) in Lent…congregational singing might still not be permitted but there is some greater freedom in what we can do.
At the heart of the Easter message is the idea of new life and new hope rising for the depths of pain, sorrow, and suffering. But that new life was not the same as it had been. A transformation has taken place. Although Jesus appeared to the disciples on a few occasions before his ascension their life was radically different. When I teach curates about funeral ministry and bereavement, I always say that the cliché ‘You’ll get over it’ is fundamentally flawed. We don’t get over a loss or bereavement, we come to terms with it, we learn to live with it. We might well have a rich and fulfilling life after a loss or bereavement, but we do so because of this transformation that takes place – new life and hope rising from the depths of pain and sorrow. There has been much that has been lost over the past twelve months. For many it has been painful and difficult. Life cannot, and will not, be the same – a transformation has occurred. The psalm for Easter Day reminds to ‘give thanks to the Lord for he is good’… that God made this day for us to be glad in. It is a psalm that refocuses our attention on to all that God has done for us. We might read it as encouraging us to think about the positive things in our lives rather than the negative, and that is a good way to read it. But I would want to go a bit further… when we are laid low with grief and sorrow… feeling isolated, lonely, unloved… we can take comfort from the knowledge that God loves us so much that he gave us his son, who endured the pain of crucifixion that we might have hope in the power of his transforming love through the joy of the resurrection. This is what he has done for us and this is why we give thanks and rejoice. Fr Philip