What's the point? Where am I going? Is this it?

Dear Friends,

As I am writing, the summer is still upon us, but I am already beginning to think about the autumn. It is always a busy time for everyone: school is back and the holidays are over. It is just as busy in church life: we will be celebrating harvest, remembering those who died for their country and beginning to prepare for Christmas. The days of garden parties, barbecues and cream teas are drawing to an end and the nights will be drawing in.

However, this autumn we are preparing for something else as well: a major Alpha course for anyone in our area. Some of you may have heard of the Alpha course, no doubt for others it is an unknown quantity. The purpose is to be an introduction to the Christian faith. We will be holding it over 12 weeks, for children, youth and adults (and therefore families) on Sunday afternoons at 4.30 pm for 12 weeks beginning on 29 September in Standon and Puckeridge Community Centre. An important part of the course is the time to discuss: to agree, disagree, put your point of view, or simply eat the cake! Each Sunday will begin with afternoon tea and I am delighted to say I have already found that our churches are famous for their cakes! This will be free for anyone who would like to come.

Why should anyone wish to know more about the Christian faith? I have discovered in recent years that there has been an increasing desire to be spiritual; not to be bound by rules and dogma but explore what it means to be spiritual. As human beings we all have a spiritual side that needs to be developed, just as we have physical and mental sides. Without it we feel incomplete somehow. It might or might not include a belief in God, but there is a need to understand that not everything is understood by what we see touch, see, smell or taste.

The Christian faith is one great way to do this (I would say the greatest!). Of course, Christianity does have rules (e.g. the 10 Commandments) but rather than rules at its heart is a relationship with God, whom we know as a God of love. When that relationship begins the rules simply become the house rules of any family, rather than a new kind of slavery. Jesus said he came to set us free! It is a way to a new life in the Spirit of God.

So if you are interested in any of this, please feel free to join us. Look for the publicity in our villages. Contact our administrator, Marion, using the info on the contact us page so that you are booked in.

In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the summer.

John Chitham, Rector

Holidays

Dear Friends,

It that time of year when things tend to get relaxed, the days are long, the weather warm and there is time for socialising, garden parties, fairs and festivals. It is the time of the “lazy, hazy days of summer”, as the song puts it. It is a time, shortly, of school holidays and plans for summer holidays.

It was not always so. In our villages this was often the busiest time of year. The harvest was being brought in and all the village helped. Little Munden school has just celebrated its 200th year, a remarkable length of time. It was founded by the vicar at that time in the church and only later moved to the buildings we have today. Yet looking through the history of the first century of the school there is a constant difficulty for education in the summer term: the children were called upon to help with the harvest. Their education had to take second place to the need to provide food. The holiday came when the harvest was completed. Indeed, our present long school summer holiday was set to because of the need to work the land at that time. This link to the land is being rediscovered today, but in different ways. We know that the food produced needs to be done responsibly without damaging the environment, and we are increasingly aware of the need for the land to be “rested” to recover fertility.

As human beings, we too need our times of rest and relaxation. The Bible calls it the “Sabbath” and, in terms of Sunday being a day of rest for the whole country, very sadly it has been lost. However, there is a need for us all to have a sabbath mindset. We cannot just go on working all hours and all days. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”. (We get our word “holiday” from “holy day”.) If we cannot, for various reasons, always avoid work on a Sunday, we should at least aim to keep the spirit of the law, and schedule rest and downtime, to have “holy-days”. This is God’s plan for his whole creation. It is even better if, during these holy-days, we find time to reflect on him and his glory in nature all around us. The long days of summer are perfect for seeing him in the flash of a kingfisher, the bounding of a hare or the waves in a field of grain. I pray that we may all have some holy-days this summer.

John Chitham, Rector

Examination Season

Dear Friends,

At this time of year my heart always goes out to all those who are doing exams. I used to be a teacher (and teachers also suffer during, and after, exams) and saw close up how demanding and stressful examinations could be. The consolation that they would be over in due course and that a lovely, long, hot summer vacation loomed never seemed enough at the time. Nevertheless, we all know that they have to be done and even, some might just about admit, they could be useful for learning and the future. And, if we are talking about the examinations for those studying to become doctors or engineers, most of us would say that those examinations are not merely good but essential.

Examination season is a metaphor for life. Often, we wonder why we are going through trials and tribulations. We cannot see the point. And even when we can see the point, we would rather it wasn’t happening. No-one likes suffering and it is one of our duties as human beings to minimise sufferings. Many sufferings cannot be explained, let alone justified, and we weep in frustration when we see others suffer. And we may shout at God (or those nearest to us) and wonder what is going on.

Yet it is the Christian belief that this time of trial can be a preparation to make us ready for the life to come after death. The model is Jesus, who suffered willingly for others so that there can be new life. Just as the exam student finds it difficult to focus on the holidays in the midst of exams, so we often find it difficult to think about the life to come in the midst of suffering. Nevertheless, we can have hope because Jesus himself rose from the dead and shows that there is new life. The summer holidays will come in the end and by the time you read this the exams may well be over. The summer, with long days, warmth, BBQs, holidays and no more school: I cannot think of a better picture for the life to come in God.

The key to this new life is Jesus himself who offers the gift of new life. When I took up that offer myself, the trials and difficulties did not go away. But they were put in perspective and a new hope was born: the summer holidays are coming!

John Chitham, Rector

Settling in

Although we have only been here a short time it already seems like this is “home”. The common question is “how are you settling in?” and I have to say, as far as we are concerned, wonderfully. It is such a lovely place to be with such friendly people. It always helps to arrive in spring to wonderful weather (although, of course, we need more rain…), to see the blossom everywhere, hare in the fields, bluebells appearing in the woods and the Martins returning. One particular surprise is the sheer quantity of deer. I managed to count a herd of 150 Fallow deer on one occasion, as well as regular Muntjac.

Meanwhile people have been so welcoming. There is patience over procedures I take time to learn and many names to remember. There is an overwhelming kindliness and generosity in so many areas that it is difficult pick one out. At the same time there is a spiritual appetite which is stimulating and challenging. All in all, it is like a refreshment to the soul, and Basma and I are grateful to everyone and to God.

Of course, it is the “day job” that counts and I have already seen the consolation that a church funeral can bring in the countryside and the joy in preparing for a church wedding. However, the highlight in church life so far has been Easter. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday were all special in different ways. The Maundy Thursday service in Sacombe was enchanting with a large congregation, a full choir and going out in silence into the dusk just as Jesus and the disciples did long ago in Jerusalem as they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Similarly, the two services for Good Friday were very moving. The service at Little Munden, with the dramatic rendition of the crucifixion, brought home to me yet again the horror and wonder of the crucifixion, of how Jesus was prepared to die for me personally. And then on Easter Sunday St. Mary’s Standon was packed as we sang about and read about the wonders of the resurrection. The Easter story is truly amazing and something that can bring hope to us all.

As we go on and get more established, I hope that I can meet more and more of you. The Vicarage door is always open. I hope that we can start courses soon for anyone interested in exploring the Christian faith. Please feel free to ask if you are interested. In the meantime, if you see me at the school gate or walking the dog, please feel free to say hello.

John Chitham, Rector

An Introduction

Dear Friends,

it is a great delight to be able to write to you to introduce ourselves. We are looking forward greatly to being with you.

A little about ourselves. I became a Christian as a teenager and have found that being with Jesus has been the sure guide for the whole of my life. After university I worked as a teacher in York and then went to Jordan as a teacher for 5 years as part of the Church Mission Society. There I met and married Basma who is a Jordanian Christian.

Basma was brought up as a Christian from a Christian family. Although Greek Orthodox by birth she has been influenced by a number of different churches and came afresh to Jesus in her twenties. She worked as a Child Psychologist and now as an interpreter.

I was called to ordained ministry and we spent time in Syria and Lebanon, where I was vicar of Beirut. After coming to England from the Middle East we spent 18 years in churches in Worthing, where I was vicar, and for the last two and a half years in Blackburn where I have been the Chaplain to the Diocesan Bishop. We have one son, Jack, who is now 28 and who often works overseas.

But what makes us tick? For Basma it is all about relationships. She comes from a “tribe” in Jordan with many offshoots and this is how she sees the church as a big family with its strengths and weaknesses. She loves entertaining and being with people and is excited to be living n a vicarage in a village exactly like Miss Marple in St Mary Mead. For myself, I have various hobbies: watching rugby, motor-cycling, birding and scuba-diving being the chief. We both love the Middle East, have a deep interest in the politics and spiritual life there. And, of course, we both love Jesus and desire, as much as possible, to be like him to those around us.

What are the plans and aspirations for the Benefice? I can honestly say that there is no pre-conceived or fixed plan. We need to get to know people first, to see what gifts there are, and to see where God is leading us all. Nonetheless, some things remain constant: the need to be like Jesus, to worship him, love him and follow him in what he says, to build a community of faith that loves one another and is attractive to those outside the faith, and to be witness to all he has done. In short, it is to build the Kingdom of God in Standon, the Mundens and Sacombe, based on the foundation of his birth, death and resurrection. We look forward to sharing this great adventure with you!

With much love and anticipation

John and Basma

God is Love

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

February 14th sees St. Valentine's Day come around again...love is in the air!

You will probably have your own views on this particular celebration. Some of you will see it simply as commercial, till-ringing nonsense. Others of you will value it as an opportunity to re-affirm your love for someone...or to declare your love for someone for the very first time.

St Valentine was not, as some may think, an invention of the greeting card, floristry and confectionery industries but was a Roman priest martyred for secretly marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted by the Emperor Claudius.

Since Rebecca and I first became a couple as teenagers at school we have always celebrated Valentine's Day, exchanging cards and sharing a special meal together. For us it's an opportunity (hopefully not the only one of the year!) to remind each other of the love we share and to reaffirm the special place we hold in each other’s life.

Love is a major theme in the Bible too. Whilst in English we muddle through with just one word for love, the bible uses several Hebrew and Greek words for the different types of love. These include ‘eros’ for sensual, romantic love and ‘phileo’ for the deep friendship type of love.

But God's love for us in the New Testament is expressed using the word ‘agape’. This describes love that is far more than emotions or feelings. It is the unconditional love God has for every one of us, love that doesn’t depend on how ‘good’ we are or start only when we come to church. Agape is the same love that led Jesus to die for you and me on the cross, so that our relationship with God that had been broken by our sinfulness could be restored.

God never stops loving you and me, whatever is in our pasts...but as with the Valentine’s card, it's a love that deserves to be given in return.

David Wells, Acting leader, St. Mary's at the School

A New Year

I find myself, appropriately enough, writing this on New Year’s Eve. It’s a time for remembering 2018 but also for looking forward to new challenges in 2019. It is thought by many that January is so named after the Roman god of doorways, Janus, who is usually depicted with two faces - one looking backwards and one facing forwards. If that is correct (some think the month is named after Juno) then it is entirely appropriate. We’ve had the celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ, which often involves heroic consumption and for many this needs to be atoned for by a quiet January. Cancer Research is even mounting a fund-raising campaign (Dryathlon) based on drinking no alcohol in January. Steady on is all I can say! Others will diet or take out gym membership as the short days and dank climate seem to make us rather remorseful.

If we look back at 2018 everyone will have different memories - some happy and some very sad. England got to the semi-finals of the football world cup, Alan and Jill Comfort moved on, Brexit probably didn’t, and the sun shone mightily all summer. It was daunting to get cover for the variety of services that our three churches host, but it happened thanks to huge amounts of time and effort from many inside and outside the Church. We are very grateful to all the visiting clergy who have helped us out over the last six months and we will continue to need their help until John arrives, and of course Caroline’s exceptional hard work. There are many others too, far too many to name but you know who they are!

You will probably have heard that we have appointed a new Rector, John Chitham, who with his wife Basma will be moving to the area and taking up the reins towards the end of March. He has a great deal of experience and a very easy manner about him. We are all looking forward to their arrival. One of the biggest challenges any one taking up the post will face, is the wide spectrum of worship provided - from BCP Communion, which is pretty much unchanged since the Reformation, to St Mary’s at the School where the emphasis is on much more charismatic and informal worship; and we have most other things in between as well.

For those who are ambivalent or even just plain agnostic and the gym doesn’t appeal, why not decide to try one of our services at Standon or Little Munden or Sacombe, you might surprise yourselves - and we don’t bite.

Derek, Churchwarden

Advent

Advent can easily be overlooked, but it’s an important season in the Church calendar. It’s a time of looking forward, not just to the holiday season, but beyond.
700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah looked forward to a time when God would send a special King, who would ‘redeem’ God’s people. That’s a very churchy word, and we hear it a lot at Christmas time – Jesus, our Redeemer.
To redeem something or someone means to buy back something held or claimed by someone else, to recover something that has been pledged, to free a captive, by paying the amount due, the ransom price.
Even in Isaiah’s day, people felt pulled to act in ways they knew were wrong. Human nature, peer pressure, the busyness of life got in the way of them living as they knew God would want. They couldn’t seem to help themselves, and things kept going wrong for them. God promised to put that right, one day. God’s great King would come, and he would release us from the things that pull us in the wrong direction; he would pay the price of our freedom from all that separates us from God.
People looked forward to that time. Sometimes it seemed it would never come, but God keeps his promises, and at Christmas we remember the birth of the baby who is that King.
When Christmas comes, our churches will be busy with services. We’ll remember that baby, but that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus did come; he is the King, but still people act in ways that are wrong. The job of the King is not finished yet. And so, in Advent, we look forward to Christmas, but we also look forward to the time when the work will be done, God’s rule will prevail, and God will live with us, in peace and harmony. Many think that’s not going to happen now, after all this time, but God has kept the first part of his promise, and we can be sure that the second part is on its way, one day.
As we celebrate Christmas, let’s thank God for the baby who was born King, and let’s look forward to the day when he rules the whole world and God’s perfect kingdom comes.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Caroline Franks, Reader (Licensed Lay Minister)

Lest we forget...

How do you try to remember significant times and events? Perhaps you put photographs into albums, or create scrapbooks of memories to look back on. For some, this offers comfort in times of bereavement or it can remind us of happy times. Recently I’ve been transferring old family videos to DVDs so that future generations of my family will be able to look back to see what their ancestors looked like and how they lived.

In this year of 2018, we will be looking back 100 years to the end of the Great War, as it was then innocently called. Specifically, back to the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and on the eleventh hour, when fifty-two months of bloody conflict came to an end as Allied and German leaders signed the Armistice which brought an end to the fighting on the Western Front.
Thousands of people will keep silence to bring to mind the countless thousands that have lost their lives in many wars, and especially this year, in World War 1, as it was known when it became clear that this wasn’t the war to end all wars.

I believe that it is important to remember the sacrifice made by ordinary men and women to ensure a free future for us all. Remembrance Sunday this year happens to fall on 11th November, making it especially significant. Do join us at one of the Remembrance services in our Benefice.

At this time of remembrance, we often hear the words in the Bible that Jesus spoke: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus also said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

That is how God shows His great love for all of us; He came to us in human form, as Jesus, and gave His life so that those who believe in Him would not die, but would rise to eternal life: a life with Him in heaven, where ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ (From the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 4)

Marion Smith, Benefice Administrator

Churchwardens

A postcard from St Mary’s:

Dear All,
Having a great time, weather has been great, and the scenery and architecture is lovely, and the people I’ve met have all been very friendly.
Best wishes
Angie

I hope you don’t mind my sharing what I’ve been learning over the last few months about the role of a churchwarden. It has made me in awe of all the experienced churchwardens in the benefice and those who have undertaken the role in the past (and who are still providing support and encouragement to others).

Did you know the office of a churchwarden is a very old one and since the thirteenth century has been legally recognised?

A churchwarden is also a bishop’s officer and is accountable to the bishop. There are several things which must occur to become a churchwarden. Not least, being nominated by the congregation at the annual parochial church meeting (APCM), the person then attends the archdeacon’s visitation. All diocesan churchwardens attend this at the beginning of their first year of service and are required to sign a document and make a public declaration to faithfully and diligently perform the duties of a churchwarden.
As a member of the congregation I always came into to church having confidence that the service would help me feel close to God through spoken words and worship. I had never thought about how it happens. With the grace of God, the rector, lay readers, members of the PCC, finance committee, treasurers, church secretaries, benefice administrator, churchwardens, director of music and other unnamed people make this happen. A churchwarden represents the congregation and works with the rector on items which include how the Benefice is run, ensuring that worship happens and that the church building and churchyard are maintained, repaired and insured. Items such as the Inventory, terriers, registers, logbooks, quinquennial reports, fabric reports, insurance and risk assessments are all completed to try and ensure the safety and comfort of those who come into the church.

Why, you might ask, am I writing this?

Because I had no idea and thought you might like to know.
Through prayer and guidance of our previous rector, Alan, I felt I was being called to serve God in a different way. It was suggested this might be as a churchwarden. I had attended some churchwarden meetings last year, listening to discussions about the last pieces of the building work we had done last year, but did I know what to do if the lights failed in the bell tower and the switch was fifteen feet up, or the new toilet door showed empty when it was busy (could be an embarrassment)- NO. However, I am learning very slowly.
But most importantly I have learnt that our church buildings need to be welcoming and there for everyone in the community, and to be a signpost of what accepting God’s love can do for each person who enters through the doors.

Angie, Churchwarden

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