Welcome to our Benefice

Our four churches: St. Mary’s, Standon, All Saints, Little Munden, St. Catherine’s, Sacombe and the Centre (our church plant in Puckeridge) are all part of the St. Alban’s Diocese within the Church of England. We are united in name and the desire to welcome every person, young and older, into our wonderful community minded church families. Our hope is to help everyone discover who Jesus is, and then to grow in understanding and faith. We have beautiful church buildings, a fantastic Benefice Choir, various styles of worship, partnerships with two excellent Church of England Schools, and a clear Bible based ministry. We believe that our Benefice is a great place to be and great fun to boot. We look forward to welcoming you into any of our activities some time very soon!

Online Services

There are a number of services recorded or streamed live in the Benefice during this time of COVID 19. Links to the YouTube and Facebook pages can be found on the right.

  • Sunday Holy Communion: there is a live-streamed service of Holy Communion each Sunday at 10.30. It can be found on the Benefice YouTube channel. The Live-stream video will appear on the page (it'll be under the heading "Upcoming Live Streams"). The stream will go live from just before 10:30. You can tune in earlier than that, allowing all congregation members to be involved in the worship as soon as it begins. The service itself will begin at 10.30am. You are welcome to have bread and wine with you if you wish.
  • Sunday Centre Community Church meets each Sunday at 4.30 with a recorded magazine programme of teaching and prayers (found on the Centre Community Church YouTube and Facebook pages) followed by a Zoom meeting of worship and discussion at 5.00. Details of the Zoom meeting are available on request and will be given at the end of the 4.30 service.
  • Sunday Evensong: news of an occasional Sunday Evensong will be given on the website.
  • Morning Prayer: there is a daily service of Morning Prayer which can be found on the Benefice YouTube channel.
  • Resurrection tales: there is a short daily reflection about the resurrection appearances of Jesus on the Centre YouTube and Facebook pages.

Benefice Activities

Dear Friends,

This is another of the occasional pastoral letters that I am sending out to the Benefice during our present lockdown.

The first piece of news is very sad. I know many of you will have heard by now of the death of our great friend Stephen Coley. As you will probably know Stephen had been ill for a long time but nevertheless his death was sudden and to that extent unexpected. Our deepest condolences go to Tracey. Details of the funeral will be announced in due course, but this will be mainly for prayer, as only the closest of relatives can be present at this time of lockdown.

Secondly it is worth mentioning all the things we have going on in the Benefice (and wider) through social media. All the below have (or will have shortly – have patience!) links or information on how to get them on the website. The website will be the one-stop shop for the two YouTube channels, Facebook and Zoom links that we are using.
We have our daily Morning Prayer, which is put online at about 9 o’clock each morning. This is based on the Anglican Morning Prayer and uses the reading of the day. We have already looked at 1 Corinthians 15 and the Letter to the Colossians. From next week we begin the Gospel of Luke. This goes on all the way to August (!) so if you want to get an in-depth grip of one of the gospels, this is the chance. The words of the Morning Prayer are available from Marion. She will send them to you if you email her, and you can either print them or have them simultaneously on another device.
Each day I am recording little devotionals (of about 5 minutes) called “resurrection tales”. They are meditations on the resurrection stories for this Easter period.
Each Sunday there is a service of Holy Communion live at 10.30. Everyone is welcome to have bread and wine with them at home to join in an “agape” meal. On Sunday afternoons the Centre Community Church worship has restarted. This is at 4.30 (the time we met at the Community Centre). We are still in the experimental phase but at present it comprises a pre-recorded “magazine” style menu of teaching, prayers and testimony, followed at 5 by song and discussion on Zoom for whoever wishes to join.
Finally we have various Zoom meetings going on for home groups, which will be listedon the website.
At this stage I want to give the greatest thanks to Rich Franks who is doing the lion’s share of the social media technician work. It is a great burden (alongside a full-time job). Please have patience if things go down occasionally. I can assure you that he will be working behind the scenes to sort it out! (By the way, the Communion service is down after Sunday for a little editing and then reappears.) Also, thanks need to be given to Jo Swanwick who is doing a great deal of the Centre social media.

We continue to be Christians in this time of crisis. Do try to find the time to pray, study the scriptures and continue to have fellowship as best you can through social media. This could easily be a time of renewal for us amidst the pain and inconvenience.

With much love

John

Services during Holy Week

Dear Friends,

As I write another week has started. Our Queen has evoked the war image of “we’ll meet again” which she uniquely can say. We thank God for her and for her faith. And our Prime Minister has had to go to hospital due to the virus. I trust we will pray for him as we pray for our whole government.

But this week, of all weeks, has a greater meaning to it. This is Holy Week, where we remember the events from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday. These events will be remembered long after COVID 19 is forgotten, because they are the turning point of world history. Our Lord’s journey to the cross, through the dark night of Gethsemane to trial, crucifixion and resurrection is how God reconciled the world to himself. Ordinarily we would be meeting for various services in our churches to pray, remember and celebrate these great deeds. This year, as we know, we cannot. Instead all will have to be done virtually.

Our service pattern will be on the website with links through to You Tube. We plan to have Morning Prayer every morning this week except Friday (and Sunday). On Thursday at 7.30 pm in the evening there will be a Maundy Thursday Holy Communion service following a pattern I have devised. On Friday we will have both the service around the cross (as usually happens at Little Munden) at 10.30 am in the morning and an hour at the cross with four reflections at 2 pm in the afternoon. On Sunday at 10.30 am we will have our Easter Holy Communion.

Please pray for these services; pray especially for Rich who will spend a long time setting them up. Pray that they will be transmitted successfully! And also tell your friends and neighbours about them. Many are asking questions at this time and to have something both local and gospel-centred can be a great witness.

I have recently received a meditation on Psalm 91 from a friend of mine, Ruth Guinness, who works in a Bible College in Malawi. I think it may well be a great help to many in our present situation and I have asked Rich to put it on the website. Do have a look at it.

Finally, as ever, continue to pray for each other, phone one another and keep an eye open for your neighbours. Feel free to call me if there is anyone who is poorly or struggling in any other way.

With much love and prayers

John

Closure of church buildings

Dear Friends,

It is such a sad day with so much closing down and so many lives affected. I need to confirm that in line with government and Church of England expectations our three church buildings, All Saints, St Catherine’s and St Mary’s will remain closed. However it's only the buildings that are closed. The church itself is us - and as a people of prayer, worship, pastoral care, witness and (where possible) practical action – the life of our Benefice goes on.

The government has indicated that live-streaming of services can continue and so (unless there is other guidance) we will continue a live-stream Sunday morning service at 10.30am and a service of Morning Prayer is available each day on our YouTube channel. (search UBSMS YouTube). The Sunday live-streaming will always need to be from St. Mary’s as it is the only church with an internet connection that will allow live streaming. However I hope that we can move the recorded Morning Prayer videos around a little.

Please be assured of the prayers of our church community. Please continue to ask for and offer your prayers.

Please see our facebook and twitter pages or website for ways to keep in touch. Here we will post links to services, readings, prayers and information - and we will aim to keep these as up to date as possible.

f we church can help you in any way at this time, then please contact us. Details can be found on the contact page.

Do not forget, as we will be reminded in Morning Prayer next week, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever”. In the midst of our changing situation, he remains constant.

With much love,

John

Coronavirus Update

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you again about how we go forward as a benefice in both worship and pastoral care.

Pastoral Care

Firstly, on pastoral care. We are planning to try to set up a pastoral chain among the church family so that no-one is left out if there is any kind of need. Essentially everyone in the Benefice family (St Catherine’s, St. Mary’s, the Centre and All Saints) for whom we have details and can contact will have a person who will keep in touch and ensure that everyone is OK. They will also try to fix up help as it is necessary (not that they will do everything!). We will be contacting you shortly to say who you can contact and who will be contacting you. Needless to say, this will not preclude any other friendship contacts that you already have.

Also connected to the pastoral care is our responsibility in Christ for our neighbours and friends in the community. As Jesus says, “...Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? ’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

So, we want to encourage each one of us to reach out to those who are in isolation in their homes. How can I help? We suggest that each of us identifies those who are self-isolating in our part of the village and contact them with a friendly phone call or note now and then and helping them in whatever ways we can. We will be collating advice on how that might be done and sending it out a little later.

Worship

The second area in church life that we are working on is worship. On Sunday we will live- stream a Communion service from St. Mary’s. This will include readings and a talk but sadly will only be me in the church (and probably Rich Franks a suitable distance away!). However I will trust that the congregation will be real but just not visible! We hope to do this each Sunday for the foreseeable future. It will be streamed on our YouTube channel, which can be found here. If you wish to have bread and wine with you for an “Agape” meal at home during the service you are very welcome.

In addition, I plan to create a VLOG (video log) each morning from Monday to Saturday with the Anglican Morning Prayer. This will include readings, a short talk, a song and prayers. I hope that you will be able to join me each morning. Again, these will be on YouTube here.

Please keep in contact and please follow the government advice. It is essential for the safety of all but especially the vulnerable.

With every blessing in Christ
John

COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear friends,

We write firstly to assure you of our support, prayer and love. This is a time of great anxiety and uncertainty where many are worried for health, loved ones and finances. We are writing this as an initial letter to give you some information and will write more fully shortly.

As you will have heard, all church services are suspended. Therefore there are no Sunday services, including The Centre, or midweek services in the Benefice. However, we’re looking into online services and other social media support.

Secondly, we are also looking into how we can give the maximum pastoral and spiritual support for those in any kind of need. Again, there’ll be more information coming out about this very shortly. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to be in contact with John or Marion if there is any urgent need of any kind.

John

Is belief in God dangerous?

As I go around speaking to people there are some who say to me that belief in God in dangerous. “Look at all the bad things religion has done in the world”, they say, “wars and bigotry and division. If that is what God is like, I prefer to have nothing to do with him.” And I have to say that I agree entirely, if that is what God is like. There is no doubt that some religious movements have done terrible things. This is certainly true of some kinds of Islam today, and indeed at times misguided Christianity. For example, Christians hang their heads in shame when recalling the Crusades. However, I do not believe it is that simple. In the last hundred years or so it has not been belief in God but non-religious movements that have caused the most trouble. Secular movements like Imperialism (think World War One), Fascism (World War Two), Communism (Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot) and tribalism (the Rwandan genocide) have led to the murder of millions and millions of people.

Well, someone might say, that is not my type of secularism. To which I can only say, the Crusades are not my type of Christianity, my type of religion. As a Christian I follow Jesus the Christ. His way to worship God was to sacrifice for others, to love and to die for them. He denounced injustice but also told us to turn the other cheek and to forgive others. He literally died for each one of us, to give us an example but also to win the spiritual war. The way of Christ is to resist evil through self-giving and love.

Belief in God as we see God in Jesus is not dangerous, except in one respect. If you begin to follow him with all your heart you will be completely changed. In that sense there is nothing more dangerous than believing in God, if by dangerous we mean having our lives turned upside-down. But that kind of danger is for our good and for the good of everyone around us. That kind of danger I can advocate whole heartedly!

John Chitham, Rector

All roads lead to God?

One thing that I hear quite often stated is that all roads lead to God. It doesn’t matter which religion you believe in as long as you are sincere and tolerant. God, who is loving, will accept you. This idea comes from eastern religions in the main and is often illustrated by the blind men and the elephant. One feels the trunk and says it is a snake. Another felt the tusk and said it was a spear. Another felt the tail and said it was a rope. And so on. But actually, it is all an elephant. So, it is with religion.

However, sadly, I cannot go along with the idea. Firstly, there is such a thing as objective truth. We accept this for science, but not, for some reason, for religion. Secondly, in our elephant, the different parts do not directly contradict each other. But they do in religion; for example Christianity and Islam disagree directly about Jesus. Christians say he died and rose again; Muslims say he didn’t. And thirdly, sincere belief can still be evil. Look at Isis for example. No-one can say they aren’t sincere.

Another argument I hear very often is due to experience. We all know of people of different religions (and of no religion) who are lovely people. Surely God would not be so horrible as to reject those who may be mistaken? This is a very emotional and often personal argument. All I can say as a Christian is that God is just and will punish no-one undeservedly; yet at the same time truth is extremely important.

So how do we know what is true? Again, as a Christian I can only quote the one I follow. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That is to say, if we wish to understand about these religious matters, he is the one to go to. To return to our blind men and the elephant, who is the one who can see if it is really an elephant or not? Only the one who opens the eyes of the blind.

John Chitham, Rector

New Year

Dear Friends

A happy New Year to you all!

New Year is traditionally a time for change. There is an old joke: how many vicars does it take to change a light bulb? To which the response is: CHANGE??? Nonetheless the church does change every now and again. Walk into any of our churches and you will see modern upgrades of kitchens and toilets, heating and doors, or plans to do something similar. Change is sometimes painfully slow but that is what happens in family life, as long as everyone is consulted so that we all stay together.

And so, after such consultation, there is a relatively small change in our benefice service pattern that begins from January. The service pattern was already working quite well but it needed a little tweaking. The most immediate, noticeable change is that our mid- morning services will all start at 10.30. This is easier to remember and less confusing than having different times. The second change on time is that the monthly choral evensong will be at 6.30, not 6.00. This is to make sure that there is no clash with the afternoon service, The Centre, which is at 4.30. The full list of our services can be found here.

Why make these changes? In essence it is to have a simpler pattern which can be remembered by those who go to church regularly, and also understood easily by those who come less frequently or are newcomers. The second reason is to ensure we have a spread of services in the Benefice. People find it easier to worship God in different ways; we are not all the same. So, the early morning service and the evensong are very traditional, the 10.30 services are in modern language but still using traditional hymns, and the afternoon service is very contemporary. Our main goal is to help everyone come to God, whatever their background. You are very welcome to try it out!

John Chitham, Rector

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