Part of the mystery of our God is that God is a
God of variety, while also being a God of unity. We cannot fathom God: yet at
the same time, this holy mystery is something God wants us to explore, just as
we are to explore every aspect of this wondrous creation God has given to us.
We have a great advantage as Christians in God’s self-revelation through the
incarnation of Jesus Christ. The end of the road Jesus set out on sees an event
both terrible and joyous, appropriate emotions when considering the most
significant moment in the history of creation.
Approaching that moment requires some preparation, hence the season of Lent,
yet I would challenge that there is a need for such an attitude of exploration
in our regular Christian life. Jesus said that, if we were to enter the kingdom
of heaven, we would need to be like the children who were crowding around him.
He did not mean we are not supposed to grow and gain insight into our world,
retaining a childish and unthinking view of the world. Indeed, I know very few
children who are really satisfied with non-answers and evasions: if they trust
you they may take your word that all will be explained later, but eventually
they will want to know.
Rather Jesus was referring to a child’s innate need to ask questions: to
explore, to push boundaries, to discover new aspects of a world that is so full
of mystery and wonder; and as they explore, beginning to understand their world,
so they play, extrapolating from what they have learnt; and through play they
enter into that action that is so much at the centre of our God: creation.
Our God is a God of creation and life, and we best relate to that part of
God’s life in us when we ourselves are creative. So, our God encourages us to
ask difficult questions. Our God encourages us to grow and learn, because the
world God made for us is complex and wonderful and we should not ignore such a
gift. Our God encourages us to play, because in playing we are creative, like
our God, and so can come to understand the divine mystery of God a little
Finally, the glorious wonder of all this is that just as we are each created
in God’s image, the same yet infinitely different, so the nature of our
creativity and playfulness may be just as diverse. Praise be to God! Amen.
We offer our congratulations to Fr Michael Cozens, Rector of our North
Cheltenham Team Ministry, on his appointment as an Honorary Canon of Gloucester
The appointment of a canon is in recognition of ‘the valuable contribution
that the canon has made and is making to the life of the diocese and its witness
to the community.’ A canon is also called to be ‘a friend of the Cathedral and a
counsellor of the Bishop.’
Fr Michael will be installed as a member of the College of Canons during a
service in the Cathedral at 3pm on Sunday 2nd May, at which all are welcome.
Further details will be given nearer the time.
The Reverend David Eady
In December the Revd David Eady announced that he would be retiring from his
post as House for Duty Associate Priest in the North Cheltenham Team Ministry.
David’s last Sunday will be Sunday 28th February and there will be a
special farewell service in St Lawrence’s church at 3pm followed by tea in the
village hall in Swindon Village. Anyone is very welcome to attend!
David, with his wife Pat, came to Cheltenham ten years ago to serve as
Priest-in-Charge of both St Lawrence, Swindon Village, and St Mary Magdalene,
Elmstone Hardwicke with Uckington. He was appointed on a ‘house for duty basis’
having recently retired after many years of working in the social services
sector. Before moving to Cheltenham, David had helped in the Benefice of
Stratton, North Cerney, Baunton and Bagendon on a non-stipendiary basis.
Tony Jilbert and Mary Halliwell, Churchwardens of Swindon Village, have
written the following as part of their tribute to David for the Swindon Village
‘Once he had settled in David was soon actively involved in village life
and has served on the Village Hall committee as well as being on the Board of
Governors at the school. He will always be remembered for his cool, calm
approach for most instances that he has been presented with. These were never
more evident than when we had the badger problem in the churchyard. He had not
only to deal with the distressed families but also to deal with the press.
Indeed he had one phone call from Australia about the situation.
‘During his time of service David also had to oversee the major renovation
works of the church roof, which again involved many hours of administration
and worry. He had to deal with all these issues as well as carry out his
pastoral duties to both parishes, which again he will be remembered for.
Whilst David has been in our midst he has encouraged the church to grow within
our community and has been selfless in his duties. People tend to think of the
church as a building but it is the people who make the church, the building is
just the meeting place. David has shown on many occasions what it means to
live a Christian life and to be of service to others, as Jesus taught.’
We join in sending David and Pat our very best wishes and in praying for
God’s blessing on them as they begin their retirement.
New Archdeacon of Cheltenham
The next Archdeacon of Cheltenham is the Revd Canon
Robert Springett, who has been Rector of Wanstead in the Diocese of Chelmsford
since 2001 and is Area Dean of Redbridge. He will be commissioned as Archdeacon
at a service in Tewkesbury Abbey at 7.30pm on Friday 30th April and installed as
a member of the College of Canons in the Cathedral on Sunday 2nd May. Please
keep Robert, his wife and their two daughters in your prayers.
New Prestbury Ministry Team
We are pleased to announce that the new Ministry Team (formerly called the
Ministry Leadership Team or MLT) has now been formed. The Team is made up of the
* absent from photograph
Thank you to all those who submitted names for nomination (there were 49
names) and to all who have supported the calling out process with their prayers.
At the Christingle Service £306.85 was collected and has all been sent
to The Children’s Society.
At the special Christmas services (Nine Lessons, Crib services and Midnight
Masses) £1,156 was collected at St Mary’s and £213 at St Nicolas’.
£456 was given to each of Winston’s Wish and Christian Aid Big Sing.
The other third went to church funds.
In November the PCC agreed to give the Alice Glenister Foundation,
The Bethlehem Project, Let the Children Live! and the Kenya
Project £750 each.
Throughout the year other monies have been raised and reported in this
magazine from time to time. These include bucket collections, Children’s Society
boxes, CHADS and refreshment collections.
Thank you to all who have contributed.
‘Love for the Future’ –
A Team Lent Course
Love For The Future is a series of short films on DVD produced by the
Diocese of Bath and Wells for house-groups or individual study, using group
discussion materials, bible study notes and pointers to other resources.
This course and supporting study material tackles many of the issues that we
face as a society and as a planet, with particular emphasis on responding to the
ecological crisis, but these are not just more films about climate change. They
explore what we can find within ourselves to develop family and community life,
respond to the environmental crises and achieve a sustainable world.
Drawing on insights from the church community, Love for the Future
considers how different kinds of spirituality can help generate the approaches
we need in order to face and influence the future, by allowing God to develop
the values of respect, compassion, justice, simplicity, repentance and hope
By the time you read this, there should be a choice of daytime and evening
groups scheduled to take place weekly. Please support this Lent course by
joining one of the groups, as part of our learning and growing together in
Christ, as individuals, as parishes and as a Team.
On the Move!
A key part of PPY’s work is running alternative curriculum projects –
practical educational projects for those who do not connect so well with the
academic curriculum. It is great news that St George’s Centre have decided to
build on the pilot CORE project run with The Rock in November and December. The
engagement of the young people has been fantastic – demonstrated by an awesome
Christmas Dinner which they put on for staff from their centre.
Nothing seems to stay the same for long in youth work. The renovation of
Whaddon Youth Centre has forced both CORE and PYAG alternative curriculum
projects which we run to move temporarily to the church room at St Nicolas’. We
hope to move to The Rock by March (building work is ongoing to create a fabulous
youth venue in the hall at St Peter’s).
Sharon is starting her maternity leave on 1st February so Ryan Martin will be
stepping up to take over her responsibilities as Youth Inclusion Worker during
the maternity leave. Sharon’s commitment, organisation and consistent support of
the young people will be very much missed during this time. However, we are very
lucky to have such a natural youth worker in Ryan to cover the role. We are
currently in the process of recruiting to keep our complement of workers
dedicated to the projects at two. We hope that by the time you read this we will
have made an appointment.
A big ‘thank you’ is due to Tricia Wilson, Gill Wood and Jill Bradley for all
their work in sorting out so many practicalities in relation to these changes.
CORE stands for ‘character’, ‘opportunity’, ‘relationship’ and
‘employability’ – please do pray that in all of our alternative curriculum work
young people may develop in these areas.
You are invited to join the young people to worship together on Sunday 7th
February from 6.30pm at St Nicolas’. It will be very informal – with a focus
on worship rather than performance. For more information please contact Andy
Young People leading worship during Sidmouth Weekend last
A ‘good thing’
The Prestbury Parish Magazine started life in January 1885, with these
opening words from the editor: ‘Permit us to introduce our new Magazine to the
Prestbury Public. Why should not Prestbury have its own organ of Parochial
intelligence as well as neighbouring parishes? We are told that it has been
tried before and did not succeed. Perhaps that makes us more anxious to try
again. For if a thing is a good thing it ought to succeed.’ It obviously was a
‘good thing’ and is still thriving 125 years later. That first edition, of 150
copies, sold out quickly, and they had to print a second one, of fifty copies
‘to meet the wants of the public’.
The first magazine consisted of a cover and four pages of Prestbury
information, with the 32-page The Gospeller as its nucleus. The second
magazine, February 1885, whose cover is reproduced on the cover of this
magazine, had more pages of our own parish news, including questions from
readers and reports of parish events. In 1886, by popular request The
Gospeller was replaced by the apparently more interesting Banner of Faith,
and our own pages continued to bring news of what went on in the parish.
I do not know when illustrations were first added to the cover but there was
a line drawing in a 1942 copy of the magazine.
|I have quite a lot of magazines from the twenty
years when Norman Kent was vicar, 1953-1973. The main part of the magazine
was still a nationally available insert, The Sign, with our own outer
cover and a few pages of Prestbury information. By now photographs were
included, both in The Sign and on the cover. Many of you will
recognise the cover on the right, which was the same every month for many
years until the mid-sixties. This one is August 1955.
In 1966 the PCC set up a committee to review the magazine and in the June
issue made four recommendations:
- Not to bind in the Diocesan Gazette with the rest of the magazine;
- To continue using ‘The Sign’ as an inset;
- To adopt a new, variable cover design;
- To raise the price to sixpence.
The curate, the Revd R M Sweeney, writes ‘The last two recommendations will
take effect with the July issue. But we hope to give you a little more for your
money by encouraging parishioners to write articles.’ And you are still writing
articles in 2010!
In July 1966 the Magazine Committee presented the results of its ‘very
conservative revision of the magazine’, which included moving the list of church
officers and regular services to the back, and giving a more prominent position
to the monthly calendar, ‘to encourage you to use the daily intercessions in
your own prayers, even if you cannot be at any services in church on week-days.’
Fr Sweeney goes on to say: ‘A parish magazine should give news, and stimulate
thought and interest. Properly run, it is also a means of evangelism, and proper
running depends on everyone – editor, printer, contributors and distributors.’ That very much sums up how I feel
about our Parish Magazine today, and I hope that you, the reader, gain as much
pleasure from reading it as I do in producing it.
On the right is one of the five new photographs which appeared randomly on
the cover of the magazine over the following few years. Again, many of you will
remember both the magazine and the building: St Nicolas’ Church.
Frances Murton, Editor
Twelve people plus leaders experienced the Alpha Course at the end of last
year and it was appreciated by everyone. One person commented: ‘I felt it was
very worth while. It was good to meet other people and get to know them’, while
another said: ‘I enjoyed the company of fellow explorers on the path of life’.
The Alpha Celebration Supper – a chance for people to meet again and share their
experiences – will take place on Wednesday 10th February.
The next Alpha Course will start in September. If you would like to know more
about it please get in touch with Fr Daniel, Joanna McVeagh or Neil Jones
For very obvious reasons our Epiphany supper this year was cancelled, but I
felt I had to describe our very modest celebration, because I shall always
Incredibly, by lunchtime we had told everybody who had purchased a supper
ticket that the meal was postponed and the service would be a said Eucharist.
Even though we were fairly confident we had contacted all but one person my
husband and I waded down a snowed up Finchcroft Lane at 6.15pm and I felt like
singing ‘Good King Wenceslas’. Roger was clumping ahead, carrying a bag
of mulled wine bottles and our little mini induction hob. I followed in his
footsteps with my pressure cooker in one basket and a large bag of food in
another. On reaching Noverton Lane I had moved on to ‘Snow had fallen snow on
snow…’. We clumped on along the High Street and as we went up the passageway
by the King’s Arms I had definitely progressed to the Three Kings: ‘Field and
fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder Star’. The sky was clear and
the stars looked brilliant.
The church was unlocked and as we switched on the lights Noel and Father
Daniel appeared. I unpacked my bags, set the table with a Christmas cloth and a
couple of plates of cheese straws, shortbread and a Stollen cake. I emptied half
a bottle of wine into the pressure cooker and set up the little hob in the
kitchen. Father Daniel decided to hold the service in the choir since there were
only four of us. More people arrived, so I emptied the rest of the bottle of
wine into the pressure cooker, and then another half bottle…
Our tiny congregation of by now twelve people filled the choir stalls, we had
our priest and server, and the Wise Men had replaced the shepherds in the
stable. At such close quarters the Altar nativity looked so serene. The reading
described God’s great gift of Christ to mankind, the prayers thought of
travellers and those caught in that harsh night’s snow. Father Daniel’s sermon
explained the kind of king Herod was and the tense situation in Judea which made
it vital that he knew nothing of the Holy Family’s whereabouts, hence God’s
dream warning the Wise Men to avoid returning to Herod, who was not even a Jew
and had no legal right to the throne he had claimed. In the darkened church it
became one of those wonderfully timeless services. As we met in the aisle and
greeted each other at the Peace, the men looked as though they were booted and
breeched as trousers stayed tucked into Wellington boots; we ladies were muffled
and hatted. The old life of St Mary’s was there with us. So many hundreds of
Epiphany nights had been celebrated there before our little group clustered in
that chancel in the darkness; pray to God that there may be many hundreds more,
still to follow.
After the service we gathered round the table, ate all the cheese straws,
some of the Stollen and shortbread, and strangely, three bottles of steamy hot
mulled wine in plastic beakers! But please remember, the night was bitterly cold
and nobody had driven in by car. Anyway, as one of our gathering pointed out,
the wine had been heating so a lot of the alcohol had evaporated.
Rescheduled Epiphany Supper
The postponed Epiphany Supper will now take place on Saturday 13th
February at Prestbury Hall, Bouncers Lane. If you have a ticket and can no
longer attend, please contact Lynda Hodges, Margaret Compton or Phil
Dodd for a refund. Alternatively, if you would now like to buy a ticket – it
is now possible to accommodate more people – please see the same people.
Gold Cup Week 16-19 March 2010
There aren’t many churches which enjoy a massive influx of people – and most
of those men – on a yearly basis. Although St Nicolas’ may not always seem to be
in a good position geographically, it has pole position when it comes to the
Gold Cup. In the past we have offered car parking, toilet facilities and an
informal café and always see a jolly crowd of race-goers, some of whom come back
every year. It has been that rare phenomenon, an effective fundraiser that also
harbours a lot of goodwill.
Using it as a vehicle for some gentle faith-sharing, especially through
listening, is a new venture. The aim this year is to provide not only a friendly
welcome but also a listening ear to those who come to us, and to this end
several of the clergy are giving their mornings to chat to race-goers. It is a
ministry that requires a good deal of patience and sensitivity. Our ‘customers’
are not fundamentally seeking religious input: they have come for a break and to
enjoy some racing. However, people are often more open when away from home,
especially when on holiday, and it is a good opportunity for us to share
something of Christ in a friendly, positive way.
So do keep our visitors and ‘chaplains’ in your prayers. Who knows? Perhaps
some of them will put their money on the real winner, ‘who for the sake of the
joy that was set before him endured the cross…’.
Gold Cup Parking
We are looking for volunteers to manage the car park at St Nicolas’ for the
National Hunt Festival – a good fund-raising event as well as an opportunity for
outreach to the racegoers. This year we are missing several of our regular
helpers, have a rookie organiser and would welcome further volunteers, not just
from St Nicolas’ congregation. We need about six people each morning from
10.00am to 1.30pm, no experience necessary, full training will be given. From
1.30 to 4.30pm we need a couple of ‘stewards’ just to patrol the car park
periodically to deter undesirable elements. In previous years we have also
patrolled for a while after 4.30, but as I live the wrong end of the parish we
may have to abandon that if there are not enough volunteers. Luminous jackets
provided! If you can give a hand please contact me.
I Need Help!
In March every year Prestbury life, particularly at St Nicolas’, is affected
in some way by the Gold Cup week. While the intrepid ‘car-parkers’ brave the
weather and make a lot of money a small band of others serve coffee, tea and
biscuits to race-goers, coach drivers, Police and anyone else who feels the
need. For about ten years I have been involved and for the past seven have
organised this small but vital service. Last year I decided five mornings plus
the buying and organising was too much and cut it down to four. This year I
really must cut down further. PLEASE, I NEED SOMEONE TO HELP.
Friends of St Mary’s Bridge
As a result of the snow, the icy pavements and a viral attack on the event’s
organiser Jim Mackie, this event in January was in jeopardy up to the final
moment. However, thanks to the efforts and determination of Jim and Diana, a
very enjoyable evening of bridge took place. Thanks must go the catering team
led by Lynda Hodges, who provided the usual high standard of supper, and also to
Cyril Beer for standing in at the last minute to act as MC for the card playing
and for preparing a warm and welcoming Prestbury Hall. Many thanks to everyone
who helped with and supported this event.
Some thoughts for Epiphany
In the Collect for Epiphany 2 we called upon Almighty God to ‘transform
the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our
lives make known your heavenly glory’.
As a Jungian Analyst with a longstanding interest in the inter-relationship
between depth psychology and religious belief, I found myself reflecting upon a
‘group’ letter in the January Magazine from All Saints’ in which the signatories
explain their difficulties with accepting women’s priestly ministry. I presume
the letter was prompted both by the current wider debate about the scope of the
authority of women Bishops and by the fact that All Saints’ – and therefore the
North Cheltenham Team – has a new woman Deacon and a woman who is in her final
year of preparation for Ordination to the Priesthood.
It is an act of courage to open up one’s heartfelt beliefs to the scrutiny of
others and as such should be applauded. It is only through such honest
revelations that a wider discussion can take place and, in my view, that is the
place where real change can take place. In other words, the energy, ‘the life’ –
our lives, the life of the Church – is in the debate. Here is the place where we
can consider, for ourselves, what the prospect of change brings up for us. And
importantly, what this might mean for others. So in the same spirit I offer some
other thoughts, both professional and then personal.
My view is that depth psychology can be very helpful in extending the
template of our thinking into the entirety of our being. For example – what are
the feelings aroused by the prospect of change: whether anger, sadness,
repulsion, exclusion, elation and so forth? What memories and associations are
triggered: from our past, our family histories, significant others?
Giving space to consider such things can help us identify the often hitherto
hidden factors behind our responses to external or internal stimuli and, by
bringing them into consciousness, take us further into becoming whoever we are
called to be. There can often be parts of us which we repress or would prefer
not to know about. For example, some of our feelings and thoughts may not be
acceptable to us in other frames of mind. Perhaps our usual ‘stance’ was
fashioned in times and conditions which are no longer relevant.
Jung cautions us that what may have been essential for our survival in one
phase of life might become the very thing that holds us back later in life. This
is perhaps analogous to the teaching of St Paul, who informs us in Corinthians
13:11-12 that ‘now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face…’
and so on. Here we are reminded to pay continuing attention to our spiritual
journeys as well as to how our attitudes affect our perceptions.
Part of what interests me in the discussions about the authority of women
Bishops is the interplay between our individual desires, the norms of our
culture and those of the collective or wider community. For example, there are
times to be ‘joiners’ and times to be ‘loners’; at certain stages on our own
journey either ‘pole’ may be essential as we work out where we are in relation
to these external factors which may affect us deeply.
Perhaps the important thing is to question what is behind our attitude or
stance at any particular time and to think about what that says about ourselves.
Often it is being ‘stuck’ or feeling unable to move that is painfully
Whilst we may see this more easily in others, for example, in those who might
still grip to the pain of the loss of long departed loved ones rather than
grieve, it may not be so easy to identify such things in ourselves. But often,
whenever we find ourselves wanting to say ‘no – I don’t want that’ and find
ourselves very out of step with others, at a cultural or collective level, we
owe it to ourselves and others to scrutinise our inner motives. It is important
to recognise that all positions are valid, but the vital aspect for our personal
growth is that we have truly engaged in our self examination. This is never easy
in isolation and is where being part of a church family can be helpful. On the
collective or community level, we also have a responsibility to not get in the
way of what could be an important growing point for others.
Concerning the letter from the All Saints’ ‘group’, I have two personal
worries. Firstly, the claim that the Anglican Church, lacking the authority of
Rome, has no power to decide differently on the ordination of women Bishops; and
secondly, that the current debate is an issue of equality. On the first I have
difficulty in separating the concepts of authority and ministry in the context
of ‘Church’. The Anglican Church has differed from Rome in many issues over our
history but the Spirit continues to move. If this is not the case, then what are
we all doing every Sunday, or when we renew our baptismal vows, celebrate our
wedding anniversaries or daily in our own devotions?
Authority and authenticity have a common root, and so who is the ‘author’ if
we are not Christ’s Church? Furthermore, it has now been seventeen years since
the General Synod voted in favour of the ordination of women, and the importance
and relevance of women’s ministry has gathered widespread support and validation
from those who have experienced it. The current debates are part of the Church’s
own process of discernment, which is part of that ‘authority’.
Secondly, it seems a pity to reduce the extensive theological debates over
many years to one of ‘equality’. I am sure that many in our midst are well
qualified to summarise this but I wonder, at a psychological level, what has
been avoided all this time to make this necessary at this stage? Understanding
this could be essential to finding a way to enable a useful and productive
discussion to take place in the present.
In summary I wish to encourage debate about the wider issues of women’s
ministry in the Church because they are absolutely relevant to the issues facing
us as a team ministry. But equally, these same issues may be enlightening, if
not imperative, to where we are in our own spiritual and personal journeys and
this needs to be acknowledged and worked with. It is an opportunity. Given that
we are all at different places it is unrealistic to assume that absolute
consensus would ever be reached on any issue. And importantly, if we are all to
continue to grow in whatever way then ‘one size fits all’ could never be the
So my hope is to find a way forward that allows for and facilitates growth in
us all. But, in so far as we have a responsibility towards each other, we should
think very carefully before either preventing change that may lead to growth in
others or by leaving in the hope of avoiding a challenge that might actually be
a spur to the growth that we truly need. It is the season of Epiphany, of
Christ’s revelation to us all; maybe we could put this time to good use.
An Experience of a Short Retreat
Diane and I spent a four-night retreat at Lee Abbey in Devon during November.
The house is set in a verdant bowl approached through a stony barren valley out
of Lynton. It looks west down to a beach and high cliff headlands beyond,
on the inland side by a wooded escarpment, and shouldered from the sea by a
short landscaped ridge topped by three crosses in a clear saddle. It is a
beautiful area to walk, so I took some of the thoughts from the retreat sessions
with me as I walked one day into Lynmouth, and a second day down the coast
westwards. I would like to take you on that second walk which I took after
morning coffee, returning for afternoon tea before the evening candlelit supper.
The session in the morning had looked at four passages in John’s gospel. For
my walk I took an OS map so I would not get lost, plus a bible in the same
pocket, not something I have done before. As the weather was blowing hard
against me I decided on a triangular walk, up a wooded valley diagonally inland
away from the house, along a ridge running to the coast, and back to the Abbey.
The wide track was easy and rose gently into the wood where I sat on a bench
looking down over the bay and looked again at the first reading (John 3:1-13). I
could look back at the security of the wonderful family home I had left with the
three crosses dramatically in relief with a grey sea beyond. I went off the
track onto a muddier path which was nevertheless clear and after crossing one
stream I passed under the zip wire where groups test their team support.
side steam ran below me as I went deeper into the wood and up the narrowing
valley, finding an abandoned stone hut where I stopped for my second reading
(John 6:35-42). I soon met a larger track which led up to a solid farm and stone
barns nestled near the top of the valley, where I sat on closed summer cream-tea
tables to read John 9:1-7, before striking up the hillside into exposed paddocks
to find a turning off the path. On my map were just red dotted lines but my
experience of map interpretation gave me faith that there would be an obvious
point to decide on my next step. The path ran up the windward side of a wall so
I was buffeted to the side but happily there was no rain. Gates and signposts
gave me encouragement until I reached a stile with a sign on to an ancient track
to my left. I sat on the top rail, hunkered into the hedge, to read my last
reference (John 14:1-10).
I turned straight into the gale and could not see the way out of the field. I
had a wall to my left with slippery mud and tufty tripping grass underfoot, but
could not look up for long as the wind whipped my hood away. Very easily I was
spun off course, until I noticed a clear narrow track through the grass going
straight ahead. By focussing on the guiding pattern I could forget the
obstacles, and soon saw the gate ahead of me. At that point the wheel track
turned away and I had to make the last bit on my own. The gate led me into a
sunken road where I could lie on my back, have some refreshments and watch the
clouds rushing by with their changing shapes. It was strange looking at an even
higher layer which was so still. Life does rush by if you let it.
The last field of the outward leg was a slight hollow like the palm of a
hand, and although I was still going into wind it was strangely calm as the wind
was shot over me. There was an abrupt turn to the right as I headed to the
coast. The path ran on the leeward side of a row of bent stunted trees offering
shelter from the whistling wind, which broke through the gaps blowing the grass
flat into a soft carpet. As I reached a brow I could see the field of Lee Abbey
far away and the crosses tiny but definite in their silhouettes. I knew I was on
a Roman road leading to a fort on the coast which
would first take me passed a cluster of prehistoric burial mounds. It always
fascinates me to think about those people who have gone before, finding
inspiration from the same landscapes, and no doubt wondering why we are here and
what life is about. I was just starting to hum ‘How great thou art’ when
I was pulled up by a deer staring back at me from the edge of the hedgerow. We
looked at each other for several minutes, until I detoured into the field past
all the barrows, checking back on the subtle figure which blended so well but
was distinct once searched for. Briefly on the modern road I passed a
700-year-old church where by family tradition I searched out a gravestone naming
Mary Ann, before the last half mile of high walled track leading to the high
headland fort. It had a commanding view of the surrounding land but had a
critical flaw, no near permanent water unlike Lee Abbey visible below. I
clambered down the seaward walls touching stones laid two thousand years ago
which made me wonder if any of the soldiers had served in Palestine, or even
been early Christians, merging into the local scene like their encampment.
A scramble down through heather and gorse brought me onto a firm broad
contour path leading back to base. I bowled along dipping into gullies to cross
tumbling rivulets or rounding corners to pick up a fresh glimpse of the
coastline. I sensed I was nearly home when a small path led off the road with a
sign: ‘Enter his Gates with Praise: Coastal Path’. I paused, wondering whether
to keep to the obvious road or strike off, down hill and back on myself. I took
the unknown, which wound round and down nearly to
sea level before climbing back to the road as it entered the pasture with the
welcoming house above. In a short while I was at the main door but before
resting I threw my coat with its heavy book and map onto a chair, feeling
enlightened to climb up to the crosses where I leaned against the wind with arms
out stretched. A wonderful end, before a cup of tea with friends.
No Way Out
"Blessed are you, merciful God! Let all your
works praise you for ever. And now, Lord, I turn my face to you. Command that
I be released from the earth, and not listen to such reproaches any more. You
know, O Master, that I am innocent… and that I have not disgraced my name or
the name of my father in the land of my exile… Why should I still live? But if
it is not pleasing to you, O Lord, to take my life, hear me in my disgrace."
Tobit 3:11b-15 (abridged), NRSV
We are looking at a prayer, the words of someone in great distress. We would
probably guess that this is a character in the Old Testament, one of the
patriarchs perhaps, or a king, or a prophet. In fact we are dealing with a story
from the Apocrypha, in the book of Tobit, and the speaker is a young woman.
Sarah is truly in an unhappy position. Her family want to see her happily
married and have found good matches for her: seven times she has gone through a
marriage ceremony, and seven times her bridegroom has mysteriously died on the
wedding night. Nobody is to know that this is the work of the wicked demon
Asmodeus. People are talking, and now Sarah’s own maid has begun to taunt her as
a worthless killer of husbands. Sarah is driven to the point of despair, and
goes to her father’s upper room to hang herself; at the last moment, the thought
of her father’s grief and shame holds her back, and she turns instead to prayer.
Sarah’s prayer, from perhaps two hundred years before Christ, is still a
model for today. Even in this extremity, her first words are praise. Adoration
is an important part of prayer; in turning our attention to the God who is
listening we are saved from being immersed in a bog of self-pity. Then, like
someone approaching a doctor or an advisor, she names her need: she is still
looking for death. Long before Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father,
Sarah has total confidence in the compassion of an all-seeing God. Once she has
begun, all her sense of injustice, her concern for her father, the impossibility
of living like this, pour out – only part of her prayer is printed here.
Finally, we can almost hear her draw breath; she says again she has no reason to
live, but nevertheless gives the decision back to God, asking only for
compassion and understanding.
Meanwhile, in far-away Nineveh, an old man is praying too. In exile from
Jerusalem, Tobit still obeys the Law in letter and spirit, at great cost to
himself; he is poor, blind, mocked by society. Like Sarah, his prayer begins
with the praise of God, he holds nothing back of his grief and bitterness, he
asks for the release of death. But the book of Tobit is a story of answered
prayer: ‘at that very moment, the prayers of both of them were heard in the
glorious presence of God’ (chapter 3 verse 16). As the story unfolds, we shall
see that their two stories are one, and both Sarah and Tobit receive a happier
outcome to all their troubles than they could ever have dared to hope.
Take half an hour to read the whole book of Tobit. Beneath the Arabian Nights
style flourishes of the plot you will find a heart-warming story of courage and
loyalty, and of the God who cares for his people.
|Friends of St Mary’s Inaugural AGM
The inaugural Annual General Meeting of the Friends of St Mary’s is to take
place in St Mary’s Church, Prestbury, at 7.30 pm on Thursday 11th February.
The AGM will be held in the context of a social evening where members will be
able to meet with each other prior to the more formal aspects of the meeting.
The agenda will include reports by the membership secretary and treasurer.
Election of members to the committee will also take place.
Cathedral Quiet Day – Tuesday 16th February 2010
Everyone is very welcome to attend the Shrove Tuesday Quiet Day in the
Cathedral. Please speak to one of the clergy or a Churchwarden if you would like
Join Bishop David Jennings in a special day of prayer and reflection in the
calm of Gloucester Cathedral.
10am Morning Prayer
3.30pm Evening Prayer
Bishop David will be giving three addresses and there will be plenty of
opportunities for quiet prayer and reflection in preparation for Lent.
All are welcome and there is no need to book. Coffee will be available but
please bring your own lunch or buy it in the Cathedral Coffee Shop.
For more information,
contact Aidan Platten
on 01452 835513, or
Ash Wednesday – 17th February
There are various opportunities for you to begin Lent properly by attending
one of the Ash Wednesday Eucharists. There will be a Said Eucharist in St
Nicolas’ at 10am which will include the Imposition of Ashes. In St Mary’s at
7.30pm there will be a Sung Eucharist with Imposition of Ashes which is a
combined service for members of both St Mary’s and St Nicolas’. Members from
both church choirs are invited to join together to sing at this service.
St Mary’s Bakestall
The N-Z team are invited to provide for the bakestall on Sunday
21st February. If you would like to find out more about the ‘teams’ and
would like to join, please speak to one of us at the next bakestall.
Margaret Waker & Linda Matthews
Our February meeting will take place on Tuesday 23rd February, at St
Nicolas’ Church at 7.30pm. It will be our AGM when a new branch leader will be
appointed. The AGM will precede a Eucharist, officiated over by Father David.
Please join us if you can.
Lent at Glenfall House
The Diocesan Retreat House is very close to us being in Mill Lane Charlton
Kings, just outside the North Cheltenham Team area. They are offering a quiet
Day of Reflection on Ash Wednesday (17th February) to begin Lent. Then on
each Tuesday evening during Lent different speakers will share their own
passions and insights in a series of talks entitled ‘Lent through the Arts’.
- Tuesday 23rd February Canon Neil Heavisides on Music
- Tuesday 2nd March Canon Jonathan Mackechnie-Jarvis on Architecture
- Tuesday 9th March Canon David Hoyle on Art
- Tuesday 16th March Canon Mike Parsons on Film
- Tuesday 23rd March Revd Susan Bailey on Poetry
Each talk begins at 7.30pm and they are free although Glenfall House would
like people to book. For £14.50 you could book to have dinner at 6.30pm before
the talk and for £25 per person you could stay overnight for bed and breakfast!
There are some leaflets about this available in church, but please contact
Glenfall House direct on 01242 583654 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org or
see the website www.glenfallhouse.org
There will also be a day of reflection towards the end of Lent (Monday 22nd
March) led by our own Fr Paul Iles!
Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra
Unusually, our first three concerts this year are all in Cheltenham! The
programme on Saturday 27th February at 7.30pm in Pate’s Grammar School
includes Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor with soloist Jonathan McNaught
(Gloucestershire Young Musician 2009 and a pupil at the school), Vaughan
Williams’ Concerto Grosso for Strings (members of the school orchestra
will join us for this piece) and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the
Orchestra. Tickets at £12 (students £6) are available from the Pate’s school
office on 01242 523169 and at the door.
Our programme on Sunday 21st March at 3.30pm in the Town Hall will include
Walton’s Viola Concerto with soloist Philip Dukes, while on Saturday 8th
May we join forces with All Saints’ Church to raise funds for their ongoing
organ refurbishment. The programme will include Poulenc’s Organ Concerto
with soloist Cameron Luke and Saint-Saens’ ‘Organ’ Symphony.
Used postage stamps
Do you throw away your used postage stamps? Please don’t. Let me have them
(foreign and commemoratives only please), particularly any you received during
the Christmas period. The Scout Holiday Homes Trust has specially adapted
caravans in various seaside locations available to handicapped Scouts and others
and their families. Used stamps and post cards can be sold to provide much
needed money for the upkeep of this greatly appreciated facility. Many Thanks.
The Christmas Quiz raised the excellent sum of £113 for Let the
Children Live!. The winners of the book token with the first correct entry
selected were Daniel and Sarah Papworth. Congratulations to them and to all who
bought, puzzled over and entered. If you would like a copy of the answers,
please contact me.
The Children’s Society at St Nicolas’
The two box openings during 2009 totalled £467.26, so very many thanks
to box holders. If anyone else would like a box to start collecting, do let me
Cycle Ride – Final Total
grand total raised for Prestbury and Pittville Youth by Stephen Murton’s cycle
ride from John o’ Groats to Land’s End
in the autumn was £2,448. This includes money reclaimed through Gift Aid
and CAF. Thank you on behalf of Stephen and PPY to all who sponsored him.
Thursday Morning Eucharist at 10.30am
At the Thursday Eucharist at St Mary’s last year we raised £400 for
the Church Heating Fund, which is a wonderful result. After the service we meet
socially for a cup of coffee and biscuits. Our numbers have increased during the
year and we hope more will attend this short half-hour service, a time to set
aside for worship and fellowship during midweek, away from the hustle and bustle
of our busy lives. You will be sure of a warm welcome. See you there.
Book Review: A Hero of Our Time
by Mikhail Yur’evich Lermontov
An intriguing story of a young man, Pechorin, whose bafflement of others is
only exceeded by his confusion with himself. He is a deeply equivocal figure,
gifted and yet strangely (self-)destructive. I use parentheses in recognition
that his destructiveness is manifest in the way he damages others, culminating
in an act of callousness that even his seared conscience rebels at (although his
spirit is so dead that he never reaches true awareness of it).
Lermontov was attempting to expose the way he believed Russian society wasted
the gifts of such individuals in his day, and displays considerable creative
genius in doing so. Consider, for example, the ironic use of the title; the way
he makes use of multiple perspectives and views events from a shifting time
frame; the fact that so much of the book is in the first person whilst
preserving the reader’s confusion about the hero’s motives. Consider also that
Lermontov wrote this book – a masterpiece of the postmodern style – around 1840:
clearly an author ahead of his time.
Is it a cynical novel? The author refuses to make it easy for us (and for his
detractors), taking a line of ‘others may say so’. It certainly comes across as
such, but I think it really expresses a deep and genuine desperation, one that
many people experience today. As Lermontov says in his preface, there is a world
of difference between diagnosis and cure, and he has very few answers. As such
it has much to say to our time and place, in which so many of us reject or avoid
fundamental realities, claiming all the while to be ‘spiritual’, and wonder why
we feel so unfulfilled and at odds with ourselves.
Ultimately the ‘hero’ is, like all of us, trapped in a world of his own
making. He acts selfishly, as do those around him. He goes into long eloquent
speeches about how he wishes he could understand himself (speeches that imply he
has nothing to learn), essentially a victim mentality. He has every opportunity
to be truly creative with his life but in the end only manages to stare into his
own inner emptiness. But rather than enter into it, and so encounter the one who
has entered into it for his sake, he stands at the edge and distracts himself.
Perhaps it is no random occurrence that his chosen diversion is hunting (wild
animals and women), although this too is unfulfilling because he will not live
in the hunt. Some part of him remains detached, a choice that manifests
itself at many levels, and so he could be called a coward. To pity him, however,
would be to distance ourselves, to do exactly what he does. Perhaps Lermontov’s
real challenge – whether he knew it or not – is not to the society but to the
individual, to enter into our emptiness with the trusting of faith and to
discover the mystery at the heart of every human being: that there is hope,
compassion, joy – that the fundamental reality is both a barren desert and a
creation full of grace.