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

Christmas

Dear Friends

Christmas is coming: the election will be over; the school holidays will begin and the focus will shift to merry making.

And yet Christmas can be the hardest time of year. It can be a time when overstretched households get deeper into debt; a time when there are disputes within families; a time when loved ones are missed; and for many, a time of loneliness. Yet in our villages, where community is stronger than many other places, we still have the opportunity to go beyond this depressing scenario.

Christmas does indeed need to be about our communities. It is a time to visit neighbours, to go out to restaurants and pubs, to invite people around. It is a time when a little simple hospitality and care can set us up for the year to come. The original Christmas story, if read carefully, is actually not about “no room at the inn” but Mary and Joseph being given shelter at a time when there was no space for anyone.

Christmas still needs to be a time for families. Despite all the stresses that families can bring, if we work at it a bit, and do all we can to build bridges, family life can be renewed as we come together. Presents thoughtfully chosen, sacrificial visits and putting up with some irritations can go a very long way. The first Christmas was not easy for the family either. In all probability Joseph was visiting his family in Bethlehem who suddenly had to put up him and a very pregnant Mary when there was overcrowding for the census. Yet the reward was astonishing: the birth of the Christ-child himself.

And yes, Christmas should be a time of spiritual renewal. There is something magical about dark winter nights, the lights on in the church, the choir singing and songs of something beyond ourselves. That magic is intensely spiritual, a sense of wonder and other. The story of Christmas is of a birth. New birth is a miracle for all parents; this is a miracle in that it goes beyond the norms of nature. This is the story of God come to earth with a purpose, a purpose so important that angels sing, and wise men come running. God has come to live among us, not as a majestic king but as a small baby. It is good for us to spend a little time considering the baby: who he is, what he came to do, and what transpired. If we do, Christmas can be transformed into the most wonderful time of year.

May you have a very happy Christmas!

John Chitham, Rector

We live in interesting times

An ancient Chinese curse is reported to be, “May you live in interesting times”. Well, there can be no doubt that we live in interesting times! There is division in our country unlike anything since, at least, the miners’ strikes in the 1980s. We see turmoil overseas as well, in Yemen, Congo, Libya and Iraq. The recent Turkish invasion has turned attention back to Syria and the civilian suffering there. (An ironic positive consequence is the long overdue US recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turks a century ago, which was the model for Hitler for the Jewish holocaust. But I digress.) These nations are being ripped apart by disunity, with a loss of respect for government, and a loss of responsibility by government. Such political turmoil is described in the Bible as “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20). It is an image of shadow, darkness and conflict. Our country is not as disunited as those in civil war, but nonetheless we face great political and civil challenges. How should we, in our country and in our villages, respond to the coming days?

The answer, I believe, is as people of goodwill should always respond. In times of disagreement it is necessary to see the best of your opponent, and not the worst. It is a time, in particular, for kindliness and respect. It is a time to moderate speech and action, whilst holding fast to the principles in which we believe. We need to recognise that the loss of social cohesion is worse than any election result or any Brexit outcome. As a Christian, I see the attitude we need in the face of Christ, who “took the nature of a servant…and humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus humbled himself so much that he came down from heaven to be our saviour (the Christmas story). And whether we believe this or not, the example is surely challenging. We need our politicians to serve us, not use us. And we need to serve others in our community, not just be self-seeking. In this way we begin to rebuild trust and that ultimate communal objective, love.

And so, may we, in our village communities, continue to do all we can to build up the values of service and love in our midst.

John Chitham, Rector

Jesus will return!

Dear Friends,

Will Brexit ever happen? Will the day dawn when we leave the EU? Or will there be some kind of half-way house, or even that we remain in the EU? At the time of writing, we have no idea. There may be an election, a referendum, a deal, no deal or a delay. We are left waiting, watching the events unfold before us.

In a way it reminds me of one of the great Christian beliefs, the return of Jesus. Christians have been waiting for his return, which he promised, ever since he first left us when he ascended into heaven. When will it be? We do not know. (Anyone who says they do are disregarding what he himself said, which is that he will come “like a thief in the night” and that only the Father knows the time.) Do we know how he will return? In this we know a little more: it will be in glory. Do we know the effect of his return? Here we know much more, and much more than the effects of Brexit. His return will herald final judgment: all that is evil will be destroyed, and all that is good magnified. This is a belief that brings great hope. We still need to work for justice in the world but ultimately God will have the last word. We still need to work for the restoration of creation but ultimately God will restore it. We still need to bring the message of the good news of Jesus but in the end every eye will see him.

The return of Jesus is marked by the season of Advent in the Christian calendar. This begins on the first Sunday of December and is marked in the benefice by a beautiful Advent carol service, one of my favourite services of the year. The rest of Advent is often overtaken by the services for Christmas, but we also get a flavour of it in the Remembrance service and in the Service of Memories for those who are bereaved, this year taking place in St Mary’s on Saturday 2nd November at 3pm.

These two services happen around All Saints; and All Saints time includes Halloween. Which brings us back to the advertised date for Brexit. Will it happen then? Who knows! What I do know is that one day Jesus will return. I may not know the date, but I do have his promise. And that is the most trustworthy promise I know.

John Chitham, Rector

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

Subscribe to