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Several years ago I began to study for an MPhil. My research was to examine how the church responds to the needs of those who suffer from chronic illness. The more I delved into this area, the more I began to appreciate the needs of those who suffer from chronic disease. Rather than being surrounded by glib, clever people with “the right thing to say”, they need people who are prepared to accompany them on their journey. During times when the future seems, at best, uncertain, and, at worst, positively frightening, it is important to be among people who don’t always have the answers, but are prepared to be alongside you facing the unknown. Illness, of any kind, is isolating and, more than anything else, precious human interactions help to alleviate that sense of loneliness.

The progression of my own chronic disease has meant an enforced pause in my studies. However, recent experiences have made me realise that I was not wrong in terms of recognising the things that are important, those things that help anyone with a chronic disease or illness.

As more and more people have become aware that I am suffering from end stage renal failure and will very soon be requiring a transplant, the family and I have been overwhelmed by the friendship, the generosity and the kindness of people's response to our situation. There has been support shown in all kinds of ways, and this has undoubtedly helped us all cope during the last few difficult months. One small, but very significant example, is the fact that, before I face surgery, I am required to lose some weight. This is not something I find easy, but it has been made immeasurably easier by the fact that family, colleagues and friends have agreed to diet with me, helping me to resist temptation when faced with cakes at clergy chapter meeting, or buffets at social events.

Further, the response to our children’s campaign to raise money for Kidney research has also been overwhelming and unexpected. It was incredible that folk turned out in large numbers for a cream tea on a less than promising afternoon (although the sun shone in the end) and raised over a thousand pounds. And, it not very often that you turn up to collect your car from the garage after a service, and the owner gives you a substantial cheque!

I am also acutely aware that so many people are accompanying us and supporting the family in their prayers. This, too, is a source of great strength.

The future remains uncertain, but I know that I am blessed by the care and kindness of those who are around me, and are prepared to accompany me on this strange and sometimes frightening journey. I also appreciate, immensely, the kindness and compassion and incredible professionalism of all the staff at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in Birmingham. It is an amazing place! And then, of course, there’s Bryony who, without any hesitation, is exploring the possibility of donating one of her kidneys in order to keep me well. It gives a whole new meaning to the marriage vows. “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.”

Matthew Baynes

July 2015

You can still sponsor Bronwen, Megan and David as they undertake the London Bridges 10K run on July 12th. www.justgiving.com/justgiveusakidney.

Matthew and Susan are doing a sponsored slim in order to raise money for Kidney Research. They have been weighed (with their spouses as witnesses!) and weights noted. They will be weighed again in 10 weeks’ time when hopefully the number on the scales will be less than it is now! Please do sponsor one of them as they seek to raise money for this worthy cause, ahead of Matthew’s transplant. Thank you.

From Eckington Village

It has been a very busy month or so, some of it good, some of it not-so-good, depending on your political persuasion!

First of all, at the end of April I was installed as an honorary Canon of Worcester Cathedral. It was a wonderful service and my thanks to all those who came along to support me and to everyone for their good wishes. I feel very humbled that the Bishop has honoured me in this way and I’m half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me they got the wrong person! I have senior colleagues who have been/are Canons and I never thought that one day I would join their exalted ranks.

The other big event was, of course, the General Election, the outcome of which was a bit of a surprise - no one expected to wake up on the morning of Friday 8th May to discover that the result was a Conservative majority! That outcome, I think, has been partly due to the fear people have of the alternative. Many people were worried about the possibility of Labour jumping into bed with the SNP. Sometimes we cast our vote not for the people we want, but to keep out the people we don’t want to get into power! And that’s an interesting word….power. Yesterday (10th May) I preached on the Gospel set for the day, which was John 15: 9-17, which includes the words, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ and in the same reading we are told to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. God’s love is undeserved, freely given, sacrificial, costly, powerful and life-giving. We are called to love like that. I was preaching about love and service and this took on new meaning at a time when we were commemorating 70 years since VE day, remembering that men and women have given their lives in love and service. I hope and pray that the government which is being formed as I write will want to serve the people they represent…ALL the people they represent and not just those who voted for them. There is a great deal of anxiety around about the future of the NHS, the future of schools, especially small village schools, the poor, disadvantaged and marginalized, people who are living close to, if not actually below, the poverty line.

Yes, I want the government to reduce the borrowing, improve the economy… but I don’t want that to happen at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society. We are back to what I believe is a Christian imperative….that those who have, should help those who have not. I’m not in favour of supporting those who can’t be bothered to work, but I am in favour of supporting those who are doing their very best but still can’t earn enough to pay the bills.

And so I pray that those who have been given the mandate to govern will remember what their calling is. It is to love and serve others. They – and we - are to show God’s love to the world and that love is undeserved, freely given, sacrificial, costly, powerful and life-giving.

Susan

June 2015

Election Fatigue

One of the joys of being out of the UK for a month visiting family in Australia was escape from the Election Campaign. It seems to have gone on for months only to be made worse by the insistence of the media that the Campaign actually began following the dissolution of Parliament just before Easter when all the time they have been whipping it up for months. It seems ‘nearly seven million people watched the Leaders Debate’ (how are these figures worked out?). This was presented as some sort of huge success while ignoring the fact that upwards of fifty million people decided not to watch it. I’ve definitely caught an illness called election fatigue which becomes worse as I’ve also discovered I’m allergic to particular commentators and party leaders and have to scramble for the mute button or off switch to lower my blood pressure. Please forgive my rant!

Nevertheless there is a choice to be made and it’s right we should give it proper attention. I find it sobering to remind myself that we are working with a God who will always have his way in the end either with our help or without it. We have a choice whether to be people he can work with or obstacles he can overcome. It occurs to me that in the end what matters are the qualities of our parliamentarians as office holders rather than the duties of the office however important. I was reminded of a monastic community where a monk was accused by others of a fault. The Abbott was called on to attend a meeting of the community to reprimand the monk but the Abbott refused to go. Eventually he was prevailed upon to attend. He took with him a leaking jug filled with water. When he arrived at the meeting his brethren enquired what the purpose of the leaking jug was. ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, but you expect me to judge the errors of another.’

We should always hold the leaders of our nation in our prayers and ask God for guidance and judgement at this time as we cast our votes.

Clive Parr

May 2015

Green Shoots???

I am not a great lover of winter. It’s not so much the cold and the wet, although I prefer heat and warmth, but the darkness. The sun dips down soon after three thirty each day not to rise until about eight the following day. However, as February slips into March we begin to see the first signs that things are on the turn. The first snowdrops bravely stick their white heads above the ground, and the daffodils begin to peak through the frosty earth reminding us that within a month they will be filling the countryside and gardens as the bold heralds of spring. And alongside natures regrowth we begin to notice the darkness lifting, the lighter mornings and evenings. Each year this fills me with a new hope.

I write this having just returned from General Synod, where, for the first time, we were not talking about ordaining woman Bishops. Indeed, to great applause, we greeted the first, Bishop Libby Lane, who had come to speak to the Synod. This time in Synod, we were discussing a number of reports which looked to address the challenges which we as a church face in the future. We discussed discipleship, training and resourcing, recognising that we are going to have to change radically if we are going to continue to serve the nation in these very rapidly changing times.

One particular aspect we looked at was how we can grow the Rural Church, an issue close the hearts of many of us who serve the rural community around Bredon Hill. We debated a very well researched document entitled ‘Released for Mission’ which was largely produced by Canon Jill Hopkinson, the Church of England Rural Officer, and a Canon of our own Cathedral in Worcester. Canon Hopkinson has done a huge amount of work identifying the difficulties we face, and although there are no easy answers I was greatly encouraged to realise that many of the ways identified in the report as being ways to promote growth we are already undertaking in the Bredon Hill Group. We have long moved beyond the mentality of a church in which the Vicar does everything, and for many years our church life has only been sustainable by a hugely committed team of lay people who keep the church communities in their villages vibrant and visible.

If we look purely at the statistics, we probably would not be able to go on. They do not make cheerful reading, ageing and diminishing congregations and difficulty in raising resources. However, Jesus was no great statistician, if he was he would not have suggested that five loaves and two fish could feed five thousand, but somehow they did. This causes me to hope that, although things will be very different, the church can survive.

Reports in themselves, of course achieve nothing, but the tone of the debate in this month’s synod felt different. There was a lightening, a sense of promise in the air, like the first snowdrops of spring, and the lengthening of the evening daylight. I don’t know where this will all lead, but I have hope that we can move forward into a sustainable and more positive future. Snowdrops herald the promise of summer; I hope and pray that this Synod’s debates herald a new and positive season in the life of our church.

Matthew Baynes

Mar 2015

Over again

‘Thank goodness it will all be over by next Saturday’. The ‘it’ on this occasion was Christmas – and the Saturday referred to was the one after Boxing Day. A number of people said this or something similar to me in the week before Christmas – and being pretty fraught and busy at the time – I was quite grateful for the encouragement and sympathy. It didn’t seem right or polite to say: ‘Well actually, Christmas begins on 25th of December and isn’t over until 6th January, the Feast of the Epiphany (and 12th Night)’. Also, just to confess, I did breathe a great sigh of relief when Christmas day was over; when we’d eaten Christmas Dinner and were all still speaking to each other – more or less happily!

The poet Ann Lewin uses the phrase ‘dual citizenship’ to describe Advent; a time of being ‘held in awkward tension’. Sometimes, as we prepare for Christmas it can seem as if we’re caught up in two separate systems or rhythms. On the one hand Advent is a time of waiting and prayer, a time to reflect together on the central ideas of our faith and how we live. On the other hand, we’re inevitably caught up in the excitement and busyness, in the early partying, in Carol Concerts and Nativity Plays – as if Christmas really does begin on 1st December and ends on 26th. But the two don’t have to compete with each other. ‘Awkward tension’ can be creative. Each is important. For, at the heart of the Christmas story is the birth of the child Jesus, the Son of God, given to the world which God loves – the whole world.

Of course, in the shops, Christmas begins sometime during August. As I write this a couple of days after 12th Night, Easter Eggs and Valentine’s Day cards and gifts are already adorning the supermarket shelves. At this point every bit of me wants to say, ‘Slow down.’ ‘Give us a break!’ The over commercialisation of Christmas and Easter is deeply challenged by the story of Christ’s birth in poverty, in a manger, and not amongst the rich and powerful.

Easter has its own time of preparation – the season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. During this time too we’re called to reflect and pray. Lent provides us with an opportunity to focus on God and his love for each of us and for the world. During this Lent Bredon Hill churches are offering a series of meetings when we can do exactly this. We’ve titled the series, See, Hear, Pray and under this theme we’ll use music, pictures and poetry to explore faith together. If you can’t make all the sessions that’s OK. All details are outlined below.

Lent is often described as a journey towards the new life and joy of Easter. Hope you can come and travel with us.

Christine Worsley

Feb 2015

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

At this time of year our thoughts turn to Harvest Festivals as we thank God for his goodness and celebrate bringing the harvest home.

A couple of days ago I watched a programme on BBC 2 - Alex Polizzi: the Fixer. In this programme Alex visits struggling small businesses and offers them the benefits of her extensive experience. This week she was at Heck Sausages in Yorkshire, owned by the Keebles, a family of farmers. They were losing money hand over fist and needed to make their products more viable whilst not compromising the quality of their sausages. One of the problems was that, although Tesco’s stock their products, they will only pay a certain amount for them. On the best sausages, 97% meat, they were making a huge loss. The solution turned out to be to make their own seasoning rather than buying it in. The family spent time working on seasonings until they came up with one which was every bit as good as, if not better than, the one they were buying….but cost almost £5 per kilo less! When Tesco’s renewed their contract they were thrilled and their brand is now in other supermarkets as well. A happy ending, then, for this Yorkshire farming family.

But there is a big issue here. The large supermarkets can dictate the prices they will pay farmers for their produce and we saw a backlash against this not too long ago when dairy farmers picketed depots in support of their demand to be paid a decent amount for the milk they produced. If the supermarkets offer less than it costs to produce not only milk, but any foodstuffs, how can farming survive in this country? If farmers are squeezed out of business by the large players we will have to rely on imports for our food and that doesn’t seem to me to be a sustainable solution. Living as we do in a rural area, amongst the farming community, I am sure that we all understand the problems our farmers face. But we are part of that problem. We want more and more for less and less. If we are to help support our farmers we have to be prepared to pay a fair price for British milk, fruit, meat and vegetables. We need to be prepared to pay extra for Welsh lamb, rather than the cheaper New Zealand imports….just one example. Our farmers deserve our support. Let’s make sure they have it! And I hope you will all give Heck sausages a try!

Susan

Oct 2014

A narrow line

I am quite used to making a fool of myself in a number of ways. Returning to parish life from working in a University setting has just increased my opportunities for this!! We often speak of making a fool of ourselves as getting egg on our face. The origin of this is obscure. It might refer to a social gaffe at a meal, or it might refer to actors who got pelted with eggs after a bad performance. Anyway …. I rather managed this a few days ago in a way I certainly had not expected!

I had been asked to conduct a service for Easter for the whole of Ashton School. (I then was to repeat this for Elmley Castle School, as an assembly, the next day.) The idea was to get the children thinking and talking about Easter eggs, and then real eggs. This they linked – surprisingly well, I thought – to the idea of new life, and hence of resurrection as new life. So far, no problem. But then I needed to tap into the idea of surprise, to look at the resurrection of Jesus as utterly astonishing to his immediate followers. I got the Head Teacher holding a frying pan, and the idea was to pick up an egg, talk about its strength and weakness, and then fail to crack it into the pan, but “accidentally” crush it in my hand. (At Elmley I struggled to get the egg to break, but it did at least make a predictable mess, at which point I threw a hard-boiled egg to Debbie Barker, who was assisting me. She screamed rather well I thought.)

IT: The church is an It in many ways. It can be an It when it is just the building in the village that we like but turn up to very occasionally. We may like It; we may even support It with events and giving. (That is great in itself, by the way.) However, the great thinker, Martin Buber, said that there are only two sorts of relationship in life: I-Thou and I-It. I-It relationships can be cold, even manipulative. I-Thou relationships are warm and open to change on both sides. Think how we relate to those we love. At best, it is I-Thou, but we can fall back into treating them like an It. The church can be (mis-)treated like an It, both from outside, and from inside. When the most committed treat it like an It, then work done for It becomes the main virtue. But hope, warmth, love are the main acts of faith, and work is a necessary consequence of these. Otherwise, heaven help the faithful disabled or elderly. Perhaps the prophetic ministry of those who cannot any longer do tasks is to remind the rest of us of the warm love at the heart of faith and church.

However, at Ashton, my thumb pierced the near side of the shell beautifully, and for a moment pressurised the contents of the egg. The yolk then shot out at high speed and hit me directly in the forehead. Surprise had been accomplished. I was astonished, Ashton’s carpet, which I thought I had moved far enough, had a yolk stain. And most amazingly the story reached Elmley School within twenty four hours. Sometimes one can be memorable for very dubious reasons. However, my flying egg – I couldn’t have done it deliberately if you had paid me! – turns out also to be a parable.

Sometimes there is a very narrow line between a success and a failure. (And so it was.) As this is published we will be roughly half way between Good Friday and Pentecost (Whit Sunday). The whole point of resurrection is that the astonishment is in the reversal of our expectation of what fails. Death and disgrace and abandonment were at the heart of what Jesus experienced as an ending to his ministry. This it is that is turned round. In the power of the Spirit and the gifts of Pentecost, God strengthens his followers more two millennia later. All of God’s people, particularly today, have to be very cautious about what they think fails!! Enjoy and reflect on the journey from Good Friday to Pentecost.

Richard

May 2014

...

If I had to find a title for my monthly letter – and I am glad I do not! – then this month’s would be: It – Them – Us – Beyond. It sounds an odd title, but it is about four ways of feeling about church. It applies to us all, whoever we are.

Christmas approaches and in villages like ours the church becomes a central part of it all, together with the village pub. (I thoroughly enjoy both!! Support both responsibly. Not too much of one or too little of the other.) Carol services, crib services, school services and assemblies, midnight communions and Christmas day communions all contribute to the outwardness of celebration. Great! But as we approach Christmas, in the season of Advent, how do we prepare ourselves? This is the inwardness of celebration. We need both or it grows hollow. So let’s use the four words of my title to think about ways of engaging with church and faith.

IT: The church is an It in many ways. It can be an It when it is just the building in the village that we like but turn up to very occasionally. We may like It; we may even support It with events and giving. (That is great in itself, by the way.) However, the great thinker, Martin Buber, said that there are only two sorts of relationship in life: I-Thou and I-It. I-It relationships can be cold, even manipulative. I-Thou relationships are warm and open to change on both sides. Think how we relate to those we love. At best, it is I-Thou, but we can fall back into treating them like an It. The church can be (mis-)treated like an It, both from outside, and from inside. When the most committed treat it like an It, then work done for It becomes the main virtue. But hope, warmth, love are the main acts of faith, and work is a necessary consequence of these. Otherwise, heaven help the faithful disabled or elderly. Perhaps the prophetic ministry of those who cannot any longer do tasks is to remind the rest of us of the warm love at the heart of faith and church.

THEM: At least Them is more personal, but is also distant. Them get classified. Maybe Them is good, like premier league footballers; maybe Them is bad, in the way that Us has in the past treated gay people or black people. But Them is a label to keep other people at a safe distance. How often do we encounter Them and feel that they are precious enough to help us grow in life?

And BEYOND? Is that which we call God. As the eternal ocean is beyond the land, so God is the eternal Beyond, who holds and sustains and stretches Us. And suffers with and for Us. The End and the Beginning. May the Eternal One bless and sustain you as you prepare this Advent.

Richard

December 2013

We Will remember Them...

It is often suggested that we are a nation better at looking to the past rather than the future; that we are obsessed with anniversaries and have a tendency to look back at history through rose-tinted glasses and in a haze of nostalgia. Just look at our enthusiasm for dramas like Downton Abbey which portray a bygone age of elegance and indulgence. Yet few of us, in reality, would want to return to those times when the vast majority of the population knew only hardship and drudgery and whose options in life were hugely restricted by the barriers of class and lack of money.

I write this the day after a large number of people gathered in the southern Welsh village of Senghenydd to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Britain’s worst mining disaster. Some people might ask what the point of such an event is, when all those who would have been able to recall that event are almost certainly now no longer with us. Does it serve any real purpose? Well, I suspect that the horror of those events a hundred years ago, and the desperate conditions under which those residents of that Welsh village lived, speak much more to the reality of life for most people a hundred years ago, than the fictional antics of Lady Mary Crawley.  Accurate recollections of how life used to be, are of vital importance to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of failing to distinguish between historical fact and fantasy.

Remembering is a vital part of our humanity, as we recall the events which shaped us for good and ill, and brought us to the point in history where we now are. We can only understand who we are when we look back at where we have come from. Understanding and honouring our past enables us to look with confidence to the future.

This month of November is a month of remembrance, beginning with the commemoration of ‘All Souls’, soon followed by Remembrance Sunday when we recall the loss of those who have died in conflict. These are two occasions when we acknowledge our huge debt to those who have gone before us: men and women who have at times had to pay the ultimate price for some of the things we now take for granted.  As we recall those people, we recommit our lives to live less selfishly and to continue to work for a more peaceful and just world.

We can take a proper pride in our history, not in a sentimental and unrealistic assessment of its realities but in the fact that, despite hardships and suffering, men and women have done remarkable and courageous things: putting the well-being and needs of others before their own. These are the examples we celebrate, and they are the foundations on which we can build a fairer and more just society.

Matthew Baynes

November 2013

A Good Start

As I write this I have just returned from a meeting of the Church of England General Synod in York. It felt a bit like 'the morning after the night before' following our contentious meeting in November when a motion to allow women to be ordained as Bishop was narrowly defeated. Many people felt very bruised after that defeat, not least because there is no doubt that the vast majority of Church of England members want this to happen. However the rules of General Synod mean that for important legislation to pass there needs to be a two-thirds majority in each of the sections of the Synod: the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity. Surprisingly it was among the laity that the necessary two-thirds majority was not achieved.

This summer's meeting of the Synod was Justin Welby's first as Archbishop of Canterbury and it is clear that he is determined to move things forward so that we can enable the ordination of women Bishops whilst at the same time allowing those who cannot accept this, to remain within the Church of England family. This not an easy thing to achieve and there was much talk of 'squaring circles' as we once more entered into discussion. I don't think that there is an easy solution to this problem, but I was encouraged by what seemed to be a real desire by most members to find a way forward. As I have said on a number of occasions in the past, I do believe that the Church of England's breadth of outlook is one of its great glories and we would be diminished if we became a much narrower grouping of like-minded believers. That doesn't mean that I don't at times find the whole process incredibly frustrating, but It is what keeps me at it on a beautiful day in July when everybody else was watching Andy Murray make history.

If you watched the news you may be under the impression that the topic of women Bishops is all we talked about at Synod. This is far from the truth. In York this July there were important discussions about welfare reform and the effects of the 'bedroom tax' - particularly on those with physical or mental disabilities. It was important for all to be made aware that the effects of the current economic crisis are felt most acutely in the poorer area of some of our largest conurbations and on those who are most vulnerable. We also had a very moving address from an Egyptian Coptic Bishop who gave us very up-to-date insights into the unfolding drama in his own land. We had a discussion about the way that the Church Commissioners do their very best to ensure that the money which they invest is invested ethically. As so often at General Synod the level of debate was extremely high and well informed.

I left York feeling much better than in November, greatly impressed by the new Archbishop and hopeful that under his leadership our church can move forward positively. I am under no illusion about the challenge of the task ahead, but believe it is one to which we can rise, if we work at it together and continue to pray very hard. If we can only do that we truly will be living out the scriptures.

'May they be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.' John 17. 21

Matthew Baynes

August 2013

New Beginnings

With our new Priest Richard Worsley and his wife Chris coming to the Bredon Hill Group at the end of July I found myself thinking about the words at the very beginning of the Bible and of St John’s Gospel.  The words are essentially a call, ‘God spoke, and it came into being.’  This ‘call’ is not, of course, aimed simply at clergy.  Each of us is confronted by a special divine call for service.  Our task is to listen and to discern the nature of that call for us as individuals and that may involve a period of patient reflection.

Each year we visit our son in Sydney; it’s famous for its beaches and surfers and it occurred to me we have a lot to learn about preparation and patience for our service as Christians from surfers.  Wandering down to one of the beaches fairly early in the morning you’ll find the surfers are hard at it, they’ve already been there for an hour or two – essentially an act of self-denial.  Their boards are treated like sacred objects, carefully waxed and polished and are usually carried on their heads as they walk silently into the solitary sea.  Even in Sydney the water is usually cold nevertheless they plunge in and then work their way out to the deep against the oncoming waves.  And then comes the key moment, they look, listen and watch the waves, patiently letting several go by.  Finally the big one arrives and they move into position, not to master the wave but to meet it and become one with it riding it back to the shore in utter delight.  It all reminds me of the psalmist’s advice to wait patiently for the Lord.

As they join us to look after Elmley Castle benefice, and Ashton under Hill,  and working in the wider Bredon Hill Group we ask for God’s blessing on Richard and Chris in their ministry amongst us and remind ourselves of the exhortation at the end of our services that we all ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’

Blessings,
Clive Parr.

July 2013

From the Reverend Richard Worsley

Yesterday, Chris and I attacked the garage. It was less painful than we thought, but it does mean that our moving is becoming more real. We both want to say a heart-felt thank you to those of you who welcomed us and to those in particular who appointed me to be your new parish priest in April. At this point in our lives, Chris and I want to serve God together (again!) in a community of Christian people. We are grateful for the opportunity.

So what do you say when you say hello? Most people start near the surface and then move inwards a bit later. So I could say that we have two adult offspring – Rachel and Jonathan – who are the wonders of our lives; that we enjoy good food and wine shared with friends; theatre and walking. In terms of what Chris and I have done so far, I have been a parish priest in three parishes, but then in 1996 moved to teach counselling in Further Ed. For the last eleven years I have been working with university staff and students as a therapist. Meanwhile I have been part of the life of two further parishes.

Chris, has also worked in parishes, been a hospice chaplain and has taught, firstly clergy in training in Birmingham, and then lay people in Cambridgeshire. We see ourselves as in some ways complementing each other’s skills. However, we are very aware that in moving to the Rectory in Elmley Castle we are going to be on steep learning curve. It feels as if we are both quite experienced and yet novices.

But all of that is on the surface. Underneath are currents that really matter to us, but which will need to be explored with you, our companions on the journey. The first strand is our belief that in days when the church’s survival cannot be taken for granted, God specially values and loves the fragile and small as much as the so-called “successful” churches. This we have learned in the Cambridge fenlands. The second strand is all about discipleship. In short, we are all disciples and we are all learning the whole time. So our church life needs to be alive with the joy and the challenge of learning together.

Chris and I look forward to coming to be with you. May our journey together be blessed!

Richard Worsley.

June 2013

New beginnings...........

I am writing this article two days before we interview candidates who have applied to serve as 'Priest in Charge of Elmley Castle Benefice, with responsibility for Ashton under Hill.' I am hopeful that by the time you read this we will be looking forward to a new member of the clergy joining us in the Bredon Hill Group. Susan and I will be delighted to have a new colleague to work alongside us.

However, whatever happens as part of that appointment process, I have come to recognise in the period since Terry Henderson retired, and especially since our curate Christine Turpin moved on, that we simply cannot go on as we are. Five years ago we had four stipendiary incumbents, and a curate. In the last six months Susan and I have been on our own and have only managed to keep things going with the heroic support of retired and voluntary colleagues both ordained and lay, as well as significant support from the wider Diocese. The recent crop of AGMs has emphasised this crisis even more. It is not just a lack of clerical personnel, but increasingly we are finding it very hard to appoint lay people to fill the various offices such as Church Wardens and Treasurers, and to serve on all the PCCs and other church bodies which service our fourteen churches. We are on the edge of a cliff in terms of personnel, and the situation with our finances is not any less challenging. The question which faces us is not where the church will be in twenty years time, but where will it be in three to five years time. As the older members of our congregations seek, very reasonably, to lay down the burden of responsibility which they have shouldered for many years, there are no younger members coming forward willing and able to take on these tasks. Up until now we have just about papered over the cracks, but we are now at a point where we are stretched beyond what we can sustain.

The only possible way forward is to pool our resources and try to establish a sustainable future together. This won’t help us avoid difficult decisions, but at least we will be drawing on each other’s strengths and wisdom. This is why Susan and I see the formal establishment of the Bredon Hill Group of Churches as so vital for our future.

During Holy Week we were very lucky to have Bishop David with us and for the opportunity to keep this important week together. We had some wonderful services in all our churches, but the attendance at some of them was extremely poor, and there remained reluctance for people to worship in churches other than their own. Susan and I still hear things like ‘there is nothing going on in our church!’ - when we know that in a neighbouring church just a couple of miles down the road there was a house group, or a Lent talk, or a service with the Bishop. Why is it that we will travel to Tewkesbury or Cheltenham to shop, but will not move two miles down the road to the neighbouring village to worship or join a house group?

I am not expressing these views in a tone of complaint, but simply to set before you the situation facing us. The appointment of a new member of our team will be very welcome, as I have said, but does not change the basic reality of what we are facing. Things will not return to ‘the good old days’ when we could have services on every Sunday in every village. The motto of my theological college was “he who calls is faithful” - a quotation from St. Paul. I still very much believe that. It is not a promise that things will always be the same or that they will always be easy, but it is a promise that whatever we may face we do not face it alone. We should see the reality of what we face as the prompting of God’s Spirit, the question is - are we prepared to listen or do we just put our head in the sand?

Matthew Baynes.

May 2013

The Patron Saint of Congregations?

The Bible contains numerous references to God speaking to people through dreams.

I’m writing this article while we are still in the period of Lent. One of the things I’ve been doing during Lent is reading short biographies each day about saints and other holy people. I came across a piece about Abba Poeman, one of the early Desert Fathers. Some monks came to see him and said they’d noticed others monks ‘dozing off’ during services and should they pinch them to wake them up? He replied that if he saw a brother sleeping he’d put his head on his lap and let him rest.

Perhaps the most famous incident of sleeping during a service is recorded in the Book of Acts. In Chapter 20 we’re told the local congregation was meeting on a Sunday to celebrate Holy Communion in Troas. St Paul was preaching the Sermon ‘and talked on way past midnight.’ A young man, Eutychus, was sitting in an open, third-floor window. As St Paul ‘went on and on’ Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out of the window. When they picked him up he was dead but miraculously brought back to life by St Paul who ‘then carried on until dawn.’ To the best of my knowledge Eutychus has never been made a saint and indeed I can find no reference to a Patron for congregations but surely if the new Pope decides to give it some thought his mind will rapidly turn to Eutychus!

These thoughts came to mind as a few weeks ago I was attending a meeting with other clergy, not I hasten add, clergy from the Bredon Group when the speaker again ‘went on and on.’ I spotted that the lady next to me had gone sound asleep. What do you do? Maybe follow Abba Poeman’s advice and leave her in peace? But then she started to whistle and make the odd grunt. What to do without embarrassing her? I had my large church diary with me and decided to drop it on her foot. She woke immediately and I apologised quietly for my carelessness.

My favourite dream story involves a French saint, St Martin of Tours. He recalls meeting a beggar one freezing night and deciding to give him half his cloak to keep warm. That night St Martin had a dream during which he had a vision of Jesus being asked by an angel why he was wearing half a cloak. Jesus replies ‘My servant Martin gave it to me’ and that dream changed St Martin’s life.

All this leads me to conclude we should keep dreaming as you never know what God might want to say to us.

Easter is here, Alleluia, He is risen indeed.

Clive.

April 2013

Journeying together...

The bible is full of stories about journeys, from the first story of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden, to the accounts of St. Paul’s voyages around the Mediterranean. A few of those journey’s are made by people on their own, not least of course Our Lord’s own journey into the wilderness; but most of them are made in company, if not companionship. It was two travelling companions who were among the first to encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus and came to recognise the risen Saviour.

The Lent we shall be travelling together’ with our sisters and brothers from the wider Bredon Hill Group. First we will be sharing in the Lent course led by Ron Hesketh (details further on in the magazine) and then in Holy Week we shall be welcoming Bishop David, the Bishop of Dudley, who will be leading services all around Bredon Hill. Our keeping of Holy Week together will culminate in a service of Confirmation which will take place as part of the Easter Liturgy on the evening of Holy Saturday at St. Giles. In this service three young people will be confirmed amidst the great celebration of Our Lord’s resurrection. Lent was traditionally a time of preparation for baptism and confirmation so it is entirely appropriate to have confirmation as part of this Easter Vigil service. There will also be an opportunity for all who come to renew their own Christian promises made at their baptism.

Journeys made with companions are very often more fruitful than those which we make alone. We are able to support, learn from, and encourage one another. I hope that this will be very much the case when we come together from around Bredon Hill. We face many challenges as Christians in rural communities, and can become overwhelmed by the task we face with a large number of churches often with very small congregations. When we come together we realise that we are not alone and that we can find strength in being with friends from other churches. This lesson of course is one not just for Lent, and we move to formalise our relationship as a group of churches around Bredon Hill, it is one that gives us all hope for the future.

Matthew Baynes.
Matthew is Rector of Bredon, Priest in Charge, Beckford Parish, and a member of the Bredon Hill Group Clergy Team

March 2013

You've heard it all before...

At a recent conference at Holland House the Bishop of Worcester related a story of an incident when he was approached by a fellow Bishop (who remained nameless) who was waving a computer memory stick at him. "All the sermons I have ever preached are on this stick’" he explained, marveling at the wonder of the technology. Bishop John, who is often very quick with his one-line responses, replied: "That's amazing, but if I am being honest all my good ideas I could write on the back of a postcard!"

This story came to mind as I looked back over past years’ magazine editorials in which I talked about Lent. In one way or another I realized that I pretty much said the same thing: that Lent isn’t just a time when we give things up, although that can be a useful discipline, but it is a time when we try to set aside a bit more time to reflect on how we live out our lives, and in particular, how our faith informs how we do that.

However, just because I’ve said this before doesn’t make it any less valid, and there is no doubt that the season of Lent provides a useful opportunity for us to pause and take stock. As the pace of 21st Century life becomes ever more frenetic this is even more vital, as we can so easily lose perspective and forget what is really important. This year’s Lent course which will be led by by the Venerable Ron Hesketh CB who is a former Chaplain-in-Chief of the RAF, will provide some very useful food for thought as we embark on the process. Ron is a person of great experience and wisdom who is able to combine a very down-to-earth approach to life and faith, with a great sense of humour. Details of the course which will be offered in the Bredon Hill Group are below. You can attend just the talks if you wish, or in addition, join one of the local groups that will meet in between to discuss what Ron has spoken about.

It’s very easy to dismiss Lent as a time ‘to be endured’ rather than an opportunity to do something different. May I encourage you to do something different this Lent, something that gives you a chance to think and take stock? You never know, it might just change your life.

Matthew Baynes.
Matthew is Rector of Bredon, Priest in Charge, Beckford Parish, and a member of the Bredon Hill Group Clergy Team

February 2013

From Bredon Rectory Better together...

No! I am not beginning the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, (although if you were to ask me I would say that I strongly hold that view), but I’m reflecting on an important event which will be taking place later this month, affecting the life of the Church of England.

Towards the end of November I will be gathering with all the other members of the General Synod at Church House, Westminster, for the final debate and vote on whether or not in the Church of England, we should ordain women as Bishops.  General Synod is a bit like the Church's parliament where issues concerning the Church of England are debated and voted upon. Whilst the issue of ordaining women as Bishops is in my view a long overdue change, it is by no means certain that it will be agreed. General Synod is made up of three ‘houses’: Bishops, Clergy and Laity. In order for something as important as this to be passed, it must achieve a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses. Interestingly, the debate does not hang so much on whether or not women should be ordained as bishops; even those who are opposed to the change recognise that it is the majority viewpoint, and needs to happen. The main issue concerns the provision which the church will make for those who cannot accept the change. The provision has to be robust enough for those who cannot accept this change to feel that they will continue to have a secure place within the Church of England, but not so robust that it could undermine the authority of women Bishops before they even get started.

After months of discussion (and indeed argument) we have, I believe, got a form of words that is as close as we can get to accommodating both points of view, and it is my deepest desire that when we meet in November we will vote in favour of moving forward on this issue. Furthermore, I believe that much of the credibility of our church depends on it.  If we do pass this piece of legislation we will demonstrate two very important things: firstly, that we believe that women should be able to enrich the life of the church at all levels and - my goodness - we do need women in the House of Bishops. Equally importantly, we need to show that, as a church, we are able to accommodate people with different understandings of the Christian faith - and yet remain in one fellowship!

I have always rejoiced that I belong to a church which has members with widely divergent views. Whilst many see this as a great weakness, I see it as one of our greatest strengths and also a lesson for wider society. The old Book of Common Prayer has a wonderful phrase in the Communion Service which speaks of being ‘in love and charity with your neighbours’.  It doesn’t speak of being ‘in agreement’ with one’s neighbours. My hope and prayer for this November is that we can move forward ‘in love and charity’, and that the Church of England, remaining together in one fellowship, can be a prophetic voice in a world where too often disagreement leads to fragmentation and violence.

Matthew Baynes.
Matthew is Rector of Bredon, Priest in Charge, Beckford Parish, and a member of the Bredon Hill Group Clergy Team

November 2012

From Eckington Vicarage...

Autumn...season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…my favourite season. And as well as enjoying the magnificent display of colours, I love the smell of wood-smoke coming from chimneys. When my sons were younger this was the time of year to have a clear out, in order to make room for the Christmas presents… time to end the games and toys they had tired of to the school Christmas Fayre. We’ve also made a start on de-cluttering our garage, prompted by recent heavy rainfall, which always means that our garage gets wet! So we need to clear it, throw away the things which are ruined and get other things off the floor.

De-cluttering is always a good exercise to do. It certainly freed up space in my sons’ bedrooms. But as well as de-cluttering our bedrooms or garages, we would probably all benefit from doing the same exercise in our lives. Many of us are so busy that we don’t seem to have a spare minute. And there is some truth in the saying, ‘if you want a job doing, ask a busy person’ because busy people get things done.

However, there are times in our lives when we need to take a long, hard look at what we do and why we do it. If we are asked to do something we really would like to do but haven’t time for, maybe it’s time to de-clutter our diaries. Might it be possible for us to STOP doing something, maybe something that we used to get pleasure and satisfaction from but which no longer gives us a buzz?

It is not possible to take on more and more without increasing our stress levels. We need to look at what we do, decide which of those things are no longer beneficial and stop doing them. In church we are notoriously bad at stopping things, often seeing that as failure, but sometimes things need to come to an end, having run their course. The wisdom is in knowing what and when.

Every blessing, Susan.
Susan is Vicar of Eckington and a member of the Bredon Hill Group Clergy Team

October 2012

I have a dream

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, .... your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.   Acts 2. 17

As I write this I am sitting, somewhat jet lagged, having returned less than twenty-four hours ago from a three week break in Colorado Springs. The eight-hour time difference is playing havoc with my internal clock which doesn’t seem to know whether it is breakfast or supper time. I therefore apologise in advance if my reflections are even more rambling than usual.

One of the many interesting things about ‘The Springs’ is that it is one of the highest cities in the world, located well over six thousand feet. Within a few miles there is also the mountain Pikes Peak which is over fourteen thousand feet, with the highest paved road in the world. It is an interesting and somewhat scary experience driving to the top, and by the time you have driven down you might have been able to do some very serious cooking on your brake disks!

For most healthy people the issue of altitude is not a problem in terms of breathing, although I did feel a bit strange and dizzy on the top of Pikes Peak. However, one of the effects of living in slightly thinner air is that for many people, whilst adjusting to the altitude, it may lead to an intensification of your dreaming. I am sure that there is a physiological explanation for this, relating to levels of oxygen in the bloodstream; it is, however, a very strange phenomenon. As with most dreams, mine were a collection of memories, anxieties, fantasies and hopes. There were dreams featuring my parents, from which I awakened feeling somewhat melancholy, realising that they are no longer around. It was, however, with great relief that I woke up from the dream in which I was re-sitting my university finals, and couldn’t understand any of the questions on the paper!

Dreaming is a very important element in being human, (although I think animals do it too) and is an essential part of a healthy sleep pattern. Some people think that they do not dream, but it is more likely that they just don’t remember.

In our English language ’to dream’ can also mean to have a hope and expectation. Martin Luther King very famously ’had a dream’ of a world where there was racial harmony - a world where a person’s future was not determined by the colour of their skin. We are not entirely there yet, but there is no doubt that nearly fifty years on, and with an African-American in the White House, things have changed unimaginably. It is not coincidental that the writer of Acts, whom I quoted above, draws an association between dreams, prophecies and visions. All contain this element of hope and expectation, which is also of course deeply ingrained in our Christian spirituality.

As we move forward in the Bredon Hill Group ‘I have a dream’. My dream is that despite the challenges and difficulties which we are facing, we will come together as a Christian fellowship which rejoices in its task to share the good news of the Christian faith and of Christ’s Kingdom to the communities which we are called to serve. I dream that we will learn to delight in each other’s company, coming to recognise that together we can draw great strength, which will allow us to overcome any obstacles that we may be facing. Of course it will not always be easy, and we will have to learn also how to ‘bear with one another.’ However, now is not the time for hand-wringing and despair when we just bemoan a brighter past; it is a time to join hands and to move forward with hope and expectation.

On Saturday 22nd September members of all the churches around Bredon Hill, will be coming together for a day led by Bishop Michael Hooper to plan for the future. There is an open invitation for people to come and share their hopes and dreams, as well as their anxieties. Hopefully there will not be too many ‘Prophets of doom’ around! For details of how to be a part of this exercise email or ‘phone me - my contact details are below. I look forward to hearing from you, and hearing about your dreams about what the church in our area might look like in the future.

Matthew Baynes

September 2012


Dear Friends

This will be my last letter to you. Priscilla and I can’t believe where the ten years have gone but they have been very happy years and it has been a privilege to share the journey with you. We have been very fortunate indeed to have worked with some truly wonderful people in the Bredon Hill Group Parishes. From the bottom of our hearts we wish you well and pray that God will bless you richly in the coming years.

I would like to leave you with a gospel message; as for me it still has the power to both challenge and change people’s lives. I have seen lives changed and given new direction through coming into an understanding of the Truth that sets people free. In Johns Gospel Chapter 10 verse 10 Jesus says “ I have come that you may have life and may have that life in all its fullness.” Truth and Life are like two sides of a coin in this gospel message seen in the life of Jesus.

For the Christian, Jesus embodies this Gospel of Truth and Life and he becomes the means of an ever-deepening spiritual encounter with the God we meet in his life and teaching. As the Churches year unfolds in the Anglican Church it seeks to teach the gospel message contained in Jesus over a year and it does this in the hymns, readings, teaching, and the colours of vestment material. We use a lot of visual aids in proclaiming this Gospel message of Truth and Life. It has been my experience over the years, to have entered a little more deeply into this life giving Truth proclaimed by the Church, but only when for example I use times like Advent and Lent to enable me to grow in my relationship with the God I meet in Jesus. We need to enter more deeply into the truths proclaimed in the Churches year by using all that the Church gives us to help in our seeking to be Followers of the Way of Jesus.

On a practical note, services may not be in your village church on a Sunday or at Christmas and Easter etc. We will need in the future to move around the parish on a Sunday. So may I encourage you to do this so we continue to become a strong Eucharistic community of those who seek to follow the Way of Jesus. Do offer lifts to those people who could not get to another Church in the Parish.

We leave with so many memories of wonderful times spent with you all and look forward to meeting up in the future. My final service with you will be on the 29th July at 10am in St Mary’s Church, Elmley Castle.

Yours in Christ Terry Henderson

(Terry is Rector of Elmley Castle, and a member of the Bredon Hill Group Clergy team)

July 2012


Blowing your own trumpet!

As a child I was always taught by my parents that blowing your own trumpet was something to be discouraged - that it was, I suppose, tantamount to boasting and was not what 'nice' people did but, worst of all, certainly wasn't very 'English'. That sense of diffidence is I think sometimes applied to matters of the church. We are not always very good at getting our message across and celebrating the positive aspects of our local church and its life. When people in the wider community talk about the Church of England it is very often because it appears to be split over some of the issues which we all face in modern life, or that it has no money left to sustain its buildings and ministry.

I am a realist and cannot deny that we do face some very real challenges, but I also believe that we are doing some really exciting things which we should celebrate and maybe allow ourselves to 'blow our trumpet' just a little bit. You should not believe everything you read in the papers about the church being on its 'last legs’. Let me share just a few of our activities. Every month or so members of the St. Giles congregation go into Bredon Hancock's, our church school, and share a story from the bible in a dramatised form. This is part of a national project called 'Open the Book.' Broomsticks become camels, pieces of cardboard King's crowns, and in a new and exciting way the ancient stories of the bible come to life to the delight of the young people.

Our monthly family service (usually on the second Sunday of the month) continues to offer a short and interactive introduction to worship. Those with children will find an especially warm welcome at these services which are always followed by the opportunity to stay for a chat over tea, coffee or squash and biscuits.

We also have our monthly 'Drop in Cafe' (second Friday of every month from 9 - 11.30 am at St. Giles) which is a great opportunity to enjoy very high quality tea and coffee and home made cakes in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Toys and other activities are available for those who bring smaller children not yet in school or nursery. So why not drop in after you have left the older children at school and enjoy a convivial time among friends?

In the past eighteen months we have improved our preparation for those who are coming to us for baptisms and weddings - not to make things more difficult for them, but to ensure that they can get the very best out of these important milestones in their lives, and understand better the commitments that they are making. Initial response has been very positive with couples and families feeding back to us that they have felt both welcomed and cared for.

This year we also have a couple of one-off events which will be great fun and which will allow us to be where we want to be: at the very centre of our community life. On 3rd June at our 10am service we will be having a special celebration of our Queen's Jubilee, to be followed (weather permitting) with a 'Bring and Share' picnic lunch on the grass outside the church. We'll be inside the church if it is wet. Then on 8th September we'll be having our Church Fete on the Old Rectory meadow, featuring once again the hotly contested 'Bell Boat regatta.' Will the Bredon Playgroup keep its crown, or will the fiercely competitive Severn Sailing Club snatch it from them? You will have to be there to find out. We will be registering teams from next month, so do look in the magazine for details.

It is all too easy to focus on the negative and forget that we have things to celebrate. Why not come and join us for one of the activities or events to which I have referred, or any of the others which you may find listed elsewhere in the magazine. You will find a community that will be delighted to welcome and involve you.

Matthew Baynes

June 2012


NOT From Eckington Vicarage

As I write this I am at our cottage in Wales. Our next door neighbour moved out a couple of weeks ago and yesterday we went to see her in her bungalow. She has had quite a lot of work done on it and when we arrived they were only just putting the furniture into the house. She is downsizing, which means that it was not easy to fit the furniture in, especially as she has a piano. As soon as I went into the lounge, I thought the piano was in the wrong place. I suggested it went against a different wall and three of us duly moved the piano, not without a little difficulty! We also had a discussion about how the suite should be arranged to make the most of the space in the room. When we had finished, the room didn’t look overcrowded and we were all satisfied with the result. We left at that point, before we started rearranging the bedroom! But I felt that putting our heads together had come up with a better result. ‘Together we are better.’ I felt this very strongly over Lent, Holy Week and Easter, when there were several occasions for the people of the Bredon Hill Group of Parishes to come together…eg Ash Wednesday, Lent groups, Good Friday, Easter Eve. The result of the co-operation of singers from around the Hill was fabulous.

One of the characteristics of rural church services is that there are small numbers present, which doesn’t make them any less viable or important than services in churches in towns. There is something wonderful about a small group of people worshipping in an ancient building. BUT…..it can be very uplifting for those small numbers to come together on occasions to form a larger group, to experience worship in a full church, to experience the ways things are done in other churches, which may or may not be of our own tradition. Most of us are used to moving from church to church within our own parishes, but don’t often travel any further afield. There are exceptions to this and Good Friday was one of those. People from around the Hill sang in the choir, did a reading and came to be in the congregation. It was a very good example of what being part of a larger group can mean.

When the Revd. Jan Moore left Beckford four years ago it became necessary for the clergy to work more closely together. I would say, and I think my colleagues would agree with me, that this has been helpful to all of us. We have come to know each other better and by taking services around the Hill, we have also come to know each other’s congregations. What we hope now is that the congregations will get to know each other. And this is beginning to happen as we join together in worship.

Terry will be retiring at the end of July and it will not be long before Christine is ready to move on to her own parish. I hope that it is as clear to you as it is to the clergy that Matthew and I, even with Clive’s help, cannot do all that five people have been doing. We will have another priest joining us but that may take some time. However, I see this time as an opportunity….to get to know each other, to worship together, to pool our resources, to encourage people to share their gifts, maybe to offer for authorised lay ministry.

Susan Renshaw

May 2012


This is our God the servant king...

Several weeks ago I was in the rather grand surroundings of Windsor Castle listening to a lecture given by the eminent academic Professor Amin Rajan, on integrity in leadership, and different leadership styles. He talked about ‘servant leadership’ and how this had been pioneered by the great Mahatma Ghandi during the course of the Indian struggle for independence. It was all I could do to contain myself from standing up and saying “Hold on Professor, but I think you will find ‘servant leadership’ was pioneered by someone even greater than the great Mahatma, and almost 1900 years earlier.”

The account of Jesus at the Last Supper and the events of that first Maundy Thursday contain, for me, some of the most poignant images of the whole of Holy Week. A man, fully aware of the horrors which lay before him, shared a final meal with the friends he loved, and demonstrated in his own actions the model for ministry which they were to follow. The washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus was the most powerful way that Jesus could convey to his followers the nature of God’s care for them - a God who would sacrifice everything even himself out of love. From that moment, the pattern of God’s love was to be lived out in the service of others. “ Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus told them.

Over the past few weeks, during Bryony’s time in plaster, the Baynes family have benefitted greatly from this love in action. Meals provided, lifts offered, wheelchairs supplied (thanks to Bredon Community Care) as well as a whole host of other kindnesses which made a difficult and frustrating situation more bearable. For me, this was most powerfully expressed in what in our family we have come to call ’the great mystery of the fish and shepherd's pies,’ which appeared in our kitchen with no note or explanation or opportunity for thanks. One morning after the children and I had left and before Bryony made her single daily descent from our bedroom, an unknown “saint” let themselves in and left these offerings on the kitchen counter. We tried to track down where they had come from, but to no avail. For the children and Bryony they were truly ‘ manna in the wilderness’ of my inexpert cooking. It was a demonstration of God’s love in action, no explanation, no seeking of thanks, just there, unconditional practical love.

As we reflect this Holy Week once again on the nature of Christ’s love for us, and our calling to reflect it to the world, we might do well to ponder on some words of Mother Theresa, which Christine drew to my attention earlier this week. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate sign of God’s commitment and love. Thank God most of us will not be called to make that sacrifice, but we are called to make the world a better place with our love, and we could do far worse that starting off with something simple, like a fish or shepherd’s pie. You’ll be amazed at just how transformational that can be.

Matthew Baynes

April 2012


And now for the good news...

I have had a bit more contact with the NHS over the past few weeks than I would have preferred. As well as my regular visits to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where my strange kidneys are carefully monitored, circumstances and accidents have enabled me to see, at first hand, how this great national institution works. More often than not, when you hear about the NHS on the news, it is in a negative light, with people complaining about its many shortcomings. I am well aware that people have had bad experiences and I would not wish in any way to diminish how awful these may be, but I do think that for the sake of a bit of balance, I should record that my recent experience has been rather different. Earlier this month, Bryony fell whilst out walking our dog and broke her ankle. It has been a frustrating experience for her but made much easier by the kindness and professionalism we have encountered in the various NHS staff, from the first paramedic that arrived on the scene, to all the staff at Cheltenham, from the consultant orthopaedic surgeon, to the student nurse who was being instructed on how to plaster a leg. When we went to have Bryony's cast changed, I paid for three hours parking on the 'pay and display' meter, expecting to have to dig in for the morning! In fact, we were in and out in just under an hour, having had original cast and stitches removed, a consultation with the registrar, and a new cast put on. I thought that pretty impressive.

Last week, I was in London at General Synod having a few days off from my role as carer. I was hoping not to have to deal with too many things medical, yet fate once again took hold as I was walking in to Church House with my brother, who is also a member of General Synod. Just as we went up the steps, he lost his footing and careened into a concrete wall, splitting his forehead wide open. Within minutes we were in an ambulance crossing Westminster Bridge on our way to St. Thomas' Hospital. As you can imagine, the A & E at London Hospital is incredibly busy, but once again the system seemed to work, and in just over an hour this time my brother emerged, 'battered but unbowed', with six very neat stitches vertical between his eyes.

These experiences have made me realise once again how incredibly lucky we are to live in a country where there is a national health service. As I remarked to Bryony, if we lived in America, it would be about now that the first of the bills would begin to plop through the letter box, itemising every puff of gas and air delivered at the scene of her accident, to the ambulance ride, the cost of the operation and all subsequent care. There is no doubt that, for Bryony, her accident has been a great cause of personal frustration, but at least we do not now have the added anxiety of how we will pay for it all.

It is often said that the NHS is not what it was. Indeed, I have said it myself, and there are times when I feel frustrated that nurses seem to spend more time looking at computer screens than patients, and seem to forget that listening to somebody's concerns can be as powerful a medicine as the most advanced of modern treatments. However, my recent experience has shown that there are still many working within the health serves who understand the value of a smile and a cup of tea, and, by doing so, humanise what can be an extremely frightening and stressful experience. For them I thank God, and make a note to remind myself, that it is important not always to believe everything you read in the papers.

To all those who are carers I offer this prayer by St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582):

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

March 2012


God's Search For Us

Sister Mary from Mucknell Abbey is giving three talks to our Bredon Hill Group Lent Course this year starting with a reflection on Job. The Book of Job is essentially the story of one man who held on to a faith that survived the torments of utter loss and expanded into new realms of wonder and delight.

Throughout all his difficulties Job is able to hang on. He has formed a relationship with God. If we are to do this it involves listening; listening to God’s call. And that call is not just for the select few – ordained clergy or maybe the person in the next pew. God’s call is for all who are part of the church.

And so when we hear that small voice within us, as we surely will if we make time to listen, then let us resolve to listen with an open mind and heart. Where is God calling us as a church community? How can we serve God best? Where is the new life and energy which will enable us to do our part in building the kingdom of God? God sees within each of us a very special person with unique gifts who can serve in a very special way. Fortunately God’s not looking for perfect people, just those who are open to the Holy Spirit and willing to follow.

When confronted with such questions as ‘why am I here?’ and ‘what am I for?’ the text book answers are ‘to seek God.’ But I think it helps if we turn this notion on its head and instead think about God coming to find us, for after all it’s we who are lost and it’s God who is looking for us. I’m sure our Lent Course will help us with some of these problems.

Clive (Assistant priest in the Bredon Hill Group)

February 2012


Here comes 2012!

Even if you did not go to see the Hollywood blockbuster 2012, you are probably aware that for some time the advent of this coming year has been surrounded by some pretty dark predictions. However, although you may like me, dismiss the veracity of the so-called ‘Mayan prophecy’ that the world is going to come to an end in the next twelve months, there is no doubt that 2012 is going to be by anybody’s measure quite a year. We will have the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic Games, and Euro 2012, to note but three significant events in the secular calendar.

 

In the Church of England also there are some pretty major decisions to be made, ranging from  whether or not to ordain women as Bishops to a discussion about what is called the ‘Anglican Covenant’ - a document which could re-define the relationships between the provinces of the Anglican Communion world wide. I realize that these two issues may not seem to be of any great significance for many, but how we as a church address them could have a profound effect on the way in which the Church of England develops in the future and on its place within our society.

 

These events are those already noted in the nation’s and church’s calendar.  Yet the situation of economic and political uncertainty with which we end 2011 and begin 2012, means that few of us would be surprised if unknown events did not unfold, dwarfing those already in the diary in terms of significance and the impact on our lives. Will the Euro survive as a currency and, if not, what will be the consequences for Europe and the rest of the world? Will our current coalition government survive all the turbulence, or will competing demands and pressures open up huge fissures? As we look around the wider world we see that there are many nations whose political stability is teetering on the brink, and we are left wondering about the prospect of further conflict and unrest.  None of us knows the answer to these or many other questions.  So as well as the anticipation that surrounds a new year, there is more than the usual element of trepidation and even without the wizardry of Hollywood filmmaking, it is not difficult to imagine a future that seems positively apocalyptic.

 

I would be the last person to minimize the difficulties and challenges which we face, but I cannot but help wonder if part of our heightened sense of anxiety stems from the incessant use of hyperbolic language employed by the 24-hour news media.  Essentially, in order to maintain an interest in the news, the media has resorted to a ‘language inflation’ that has led, not only to a devaluing of the currency of language in the news, but also ensured that it is increasingly difficult to maintain any kind of perspective. For example the important conference of EU leaders which is taking place as I write this, has become ‘ the most important conference ever in the history of the Community that will completely re-define its future, and could make the difference between its survival and catastrophe.’  Well by the time you read this you will know if that is the case, but at the time of writing I seriously doubt it. We are facing not just a financial crisis, but ‘the worst financial crisis this country and indeed the world has ever known.’ I wonder if you were able to have a conversation with one of the Jarrow marchers of 1936, who walked 300 miles to highlight the grinding poverty of the north east, you’d really find that to be the case? I believe that this ‘language inflation’ has now moved beyond the media only and has entered into the collective consciousness, with the result that all of us now feel as though we are constantly on the edge of the abyss. This state of mind, far from galvanizing us into action, leads only to depths of despair. We do nothing, because we believe that whatever we do, we can make no difference. 

 

As we look to the future in 2012 I suggest we take a deep breath and try to regain a sense of perspective. Yes, there are massive challenges to be faced, some yet unknown - and yes,  there are many within our society who are suffering greatly, but we are not powerless. Each one of us can make a difference. At the beginning of the year the church celebrates the feast of the Epiphany - the time when we remember the bright star in the dark sky that led the wise men to the very source of hope.  If we resolve nothing else for the new year let us commit ourselves, in however a small way, to be sources of light, making the world a better place. If we all did that the year 2012 really would be a year to remember.

Matthew Baynes

January 2012


From Eckington Vicarage

It gets earlier and earlier and if you can’t beat them, join them! It’s not yet the middle of November and our family Christmas letter is done so I hope nothing much happens between now and the cards going out or else I shall have to do it again!

The season of Advent begins on 27th November – Advent Sunday. This season tends to get a little lost as it becomes swallowed up in the excitement of getting ready for Christmas, but it is an important part of our preparation for what is the greatest day in the Christian calendar, the celebration of the birth of our Saviour, Jesus. In our society we are not very good at waiting. At the beginning of October I was given a parcel and told that it was for my birthday and I mustn’t open it until the 23rd. I didn’t – but I was tempted to! And on my birthday I was pleased that I had waited, because the anticipation of what might be in the parcel was as wonderful as discovering what it actually contained.

But we are not encouraged to wait. Our grand-parents and maybe even parents, did not buy things they did not have the money for. They saved and waited. Our credit-driven society says, ‘Why wait? Buy now and pay later!’ Many of us use emails – and people who send emails expect a quick reply. Gone is the eager anticipation of a letter dropping through the door; we send instant messages and texts and expect instant answers. So we are not very good at waiting. Not very long ago, the ritual of Christmas Eve was going to buy a tree and put it up and decorate it. Now we have them in the house at the beginning of December. In days gone by, Advent was Advent and Christmas was Christmas and we weren’t all sick of Christmas carols long before we got to 25th December!

What seems to have happened is that, by encouraging us to be ready and to anticipate Christmas, we seem to want to bring it forward and start the celebrations early. For many of us Advent is such a busy time that we have no time to stop and ‘wait’. We need to get on with the next thing to be done, buying presents, writing cards, baking mince pies. After all this busy-ness, Christmas can almost be an anti-climax. Advent offers us an opportunity to re-learn the skill of waiting; to acknowledge that sometimes the meaning is in the waiting and not in the fulfilment. In Advent we are invited into a deeper encounter with ourselves, with the world and with God. I pray that this year your Advent waiting may be meaningful and your experience of Christmas, deep and profound.

Every blessing during the festive season
Susan

December 2011


Letter from the Revd. Terry Henderson

Dear Friends,

November is a month when we gather together to remember our loved ones who have moved onto the next stage of their life’s journey. We often in our Christian services of worship take time to remember people who have made a contribution to our lives and the life of our community in all sorts of ways.

So much of the really great music that we enjoy, the hymns and songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the wonderful buildings that give us such great pleasure come down to us as a gift of others labours. Many men and women laid down their lives serving their country in a time of war so we could enjoy these things in peace. So we find that have so much to be thankful for to those we remember but now do not see any longer.

Many of us light a candle in a cathedral or church to remember our loved ones who are departed or some use flowers or poetry. What is important is to remember – each of us needs to find our own way of doing so. Sometimes we may need to express what was not expressed when someone was alive, and we may need some help with this from a priest or a counsellor. Guilt over something said or not said, done or not done, can cause so much suffering.

Acts of Remembrance are very important to so many people. In November many Christians will celebrate a special Eucharist to remember the departed. We shall also gather with others for the Remembrance Day Services on the 13th of November.

I want to share a prayer by David Adam that I have found helpful in remembering my own loved ones:

Prayer for the Departed

You shared life with us: God give eternal life to you.
You gave your love to us: God give his deep love to you.
You gave your time to us: God give eternity to you.
Your gave your light to us: God give everlasting light to you.
Go upon your journey, dear soul: To love, light, and life eternal. Amen

Yours in Christ, Terry

November 2011


Bredon Hill to Iona

The 500 mile journey from Bredon Hill to Iona is a fairly well-worn pilgrimage route, and it is by no means the first time that the Beckford Group minibus has had to cope with the rigours of a single track Hebridean road. Yet, for 11 out of the 14 people from the Bredon Hill Group, this was the first time that they had been to stay on this very special island. For many people, when they think about Iona, they think about the music, like the hymn above or the Celtic liturgy which we use from time to time as an alternative worship. Although this is a very significant aspect of the Iona Community, it is  not the most important part of the  Iona pilgrimage experience.

George Macleod, the redoubtable Church of Scotland Minister and founder of the modern Iona Community, described Iona as "a ‘thin place’ - only a tissue paper separating the material from the spiritual”.  It is as though the distance between earth and heaven seems somehow reduced when you are staying on the island. There is no doubt that this sense is enhanced by the beauty of Iona which is utterly captivating, especially when the sun shines and the waters of the sea turn a deep blue. And yet I think it is more than that:  it is the almost overpowering feeling one has of being in a place which has been a focus for the Christian faith and devotion for nearly 1500 years. It is a history which began on that day in 563 when St Columba first stepped onto Iona’s shores and established the island as a place from where the gospel would be proclaimed. Little did he know then that this would have an influence well beyond its own boundaries and for centuries into the future. As one walks around this beautiful spot it is as though Christian faith has been imprinted into the very granite itself.

Those who stay in the Abbey when on pilgrimage to Iona do not go as observers, but for the time that they are there become members of the Iona Community, taking part in all aspects of the community life. The abbey can welcome around 40 guest members each week, and those who come very often represent many different nations and Christian backgrounds. During our week we enjoyed the company of Norwegian, American and German pastors, as well as people from Scotland, Holland and South Africa.  There were even guest members from that most exotic of locations The Forest of Dean! The opportunity to talk, pray and worship with so diverse a group is both a privilege and a life-changing experience. Such a dialogue offers refreshing new insights and allows us to set aside many false preconceptions that we may have about those who come from other countries and have grown up in different Christian traditions. It also helps us to look at our faith in new and exciting ways.

Those of us who returned from Iona did so with our eyes opened and with treasured memories, some quite amazing (seeing leaping dolphins on the trip to Staffa), some a bit more challenging (Susan and Christine's experience of being chased by a bull). We also returned with a very real sense of having grown in fellowship with one another and of having had a real opportunity to deepen our faith. Susan and I are considering leading another group in 2013. Make a note in your diary and ask yourself -  is God calling you to an experience that will leave you changed and enriched?

Matthew Baynes

October 2011


Celebrating an important birthday....in the Bredon Hill Group

An Exhibition to celebrate 400 years since the first publication of the King James Bible.

St. Giles, Bredon Saturday 10th September  10 am-6pm and Sunday 11th September 2.30 pm—5.00pm


The King James Bible has been described as “The noblest monument to English Prose” - but why is this marked out as being so significant, why are we celebrating the 400th anniversary of its publication, and what makes the text so special  that it is deserving of all the praise heaped upon it? Winston Churchill described it as a ‘masterpiece of the English language and even the actor Charlton Heston who read it from cover to cover in preparation for his famous role as Moses, described it as ‘an enormous force in the development of the English language.’

Although the KJV is not the translation of the bible which we use most often these days in our churches, it remains one of the biblical translations ‘authorised for use’ in Church of England services. More importantly though, we have to acknowledge that its influence has had a profound effect on our church, nation and language.

In 1604 King James summoned the greatest churchmen of that era and set them the task of producing a new translation of the bible that would help to unite the church, as well as reinforce his own position of "divinely appointed monarch". The scholars set to work and during the course of the next seven years and while using much of the scholarship from previous translations, produced what we now call the KJV. Their words are ingrained in our collective mind. The linguist David Crystal has recently assessed the text and found that 257 phrases come to us from the KJV and are used in our speech, including such phrases such as: "to set one's teeth on edge", "by the skin of one's teeth", "the land of the living" and "from strength to strength". For three hundred years this was the only bible that was heard in our churches and for many people it was the only book kept in their home.

So what are we celebrating? We are celebrating a body of writing which has been moulded and shaped through history to speak to different audiences and situations. The KJV has stood the test of time; it is the translation which was spread across the globe and which has become ingrained in our mindset. It is still the translation used in a large number of churches and many of its passages have been set to music by composers ranging from Handel to John Rutter. It is, as one person described it, a "translation that speaks to us all, even when we least expect it."

So the King James Bible is not just a monument, not just a piece of prose, but a living and breathing organism, which continues to speak to us even as we listen some 400 years after the very first drop of ink was imprinted on the very first page.

Our exhibition in Bredon will, we hope will also be a ‘living thing’ and one that you will join us in creating. Bredon extends and invitation to all the churches around Bredon Hill to join in this celebration. As well as the information boards which we will be borrowing from our Cathedral’s own exhibition we invite you to bring along a bible, of any translation, which has in some way, or for some reason been an influence on you. We hope to see old family bibles, children’s versions, pocket versions or what ever you have on your shelves that you may think could be of interest. We would also like you to write a couple of hundred words about the bible, and if you wish, why it is special to you.  In this way we hope to show that not only is the bible something which we have on our shelves but a text which helps shape and guide our lives.

If you would like more information about how you might take part have a word with me, or email me (mailto:mbaynes@toucansurf.com) or Helen (helen.parishoffice@toucansurf.com) and we will give you more details. Let us make this a real opportunity to celebrate the bible and all means to us.

The celebration will conclude with a Book of Common Prayer Choral evensong at St. Giles at 6pm on the Sunday evening. If you would like to sing in the augmented choir contact Viv Ebbage (01684 773549).

Matthew Baynes

August 2011


Imagine

I find that one of the reasons Christianity is not a soft option is that it requires me to put effort into it. Discipline would be another word and I don’t pretend for one minute that I’m all that successful. My last personal retreat was at a monastery and I found taking part in the rhythm and prayer life of the monastic day, with set times for prayer, meditation and recreation very beneficial.

It’s more difficult at home but nevertheless essential that just like a monk or nun I have structure in my life. That structure will, of necessity, be different from the pattern operating in a monastery but if I’m to make any progress in my spiritual journey then discipline is required. This includes regular time for prayer, Bible study and spiritual reading to underpin and challenge the way I’m living. I can only encourage others to follow Jesus if I’m daily being taught by Jesus himself.

Unlike monks and nuns most of us living in villages or towns can make a choice about the way we live although I suspect we don’t see it that way because we’re on the go from dawn to dusk usually at someone else’s behest.

But imagine for a moment what our parishes or indeed our country would look like; imagine the degree of serenity we’d have if we had something of the cloistered life – scheduled times for prayer, spiritual reading, reflection, work and recreation each day – imagine.

Blessings, Clive

(Clive is an Associate Priest in the Bredon Hill Group of Parishes)


June 2011

It's that time of year again

A few days ago a ballot paper dropped on to the door mat signifying that elections are in the offing. In our part of the world we will have the opportunity to vote for three different things, the Wychavon District Council, our local Parish Council, and perhaps most significant of all the Referendum on the voting system.

It is easy to get weary and cynical about politics and to wonder if taking part is really worth the effort. For Christians the duty is very clear, they have a responsibility to contribute to the community in which they live, and one of the ways that responsibility is expressed is by thinking carefully and prayerfully how they cast their vote. There is not always an obvious ‘Christian answer’ as to where we should put our cross but in our reflection and decision making we are required to call upon the Christian principles by which we try to live.

Our daughter Megan has just begun an AS level course in politics and has a real interest particularly in the debate over AV. Her conclusions and mine, as to its merits, are not the same, but she is right to give something which could mean a profound change in our political system careful thought. I commend her article to you, not for its conclusion, but because perhaps her thoughts will help you in the process of deciding what your own view is on this matter.

May we all think carefully and prayerfully and not take lightly the huge privilege that we have to in shaping our own future and that of generations to come.

Matthew Baynes

The Truth about the Alternative Vote

The fact that I am just a few months too young to vote in next month’s referendum is one that deeply frustrates me, especially because the outcome of the referendum is one that will affect how I vote in the next election, because by then I will be 18. What also aggravates me about Referendums is that they rarely promote quality debate: instead, they reduce complex issues to mere sound bites. They play on the lack of knowledge most voters will have on the subject, and are able to use this to get away with misleading arguments, that are often simply not true. The debate for a changed voting system is a complex one, with no real right answer. There are good arguments for a ‘Yes’ Vote and for a ‘No’ vote, and voters must decide which matters more to them.

Both the No and Yes camps are making big claims about the effects that the ‘alternative vote’ (AV) system would have on the future, with the No camp predicting a bleak future of unfairness, extremist parties, and unaccountable power. Meanwhile the Yeses foresee a bright new world in which politicians can no longer get away with mischief, such as was seen in the expenses scandal. The trouble is that much of what both sides say is based on half-truths and outright misrepresentations. This is a great worry, for there are truly important issues at stake.

The biggest half truth, it must be said comes from the ‘No’ Campaign. They are claiming that AV gives voters for minorities (they always helpfully add “such as the BNP”) multiple votes, whilst the mainstream voters get just the one. This is completely untrue- under AV every voter gets one vote and no one’s vote carries more weight than anyone else’s. Instead, they are exploiting the confusion over AV’s system of vote transfers. Candidates who win few first preferences are eliminated, and their second choice votes are reallocated to the surviving candidates who achieved more first time vote. So it may seem that someone who voted for the BNP, or the Greens is given a second vote when the candidate is eliminated, but it is untrue to say that they have two or more votes - they get one vote, the same as everyone else.

A simple way to think of AV is if you look at the multi-round versions of AV used in competitions such as The X Factor. Here, just as in AV, one candidate (or contestant) is eliminated in each round. That candidate’s supporters then have to transfer their support to someone else. So, using the logic presented by the ‘No’ team, do we say that Matt Cardle’s supporters had only one vote, while those who initially supported, (for example) Tracy Cohen and then transferred to someone else had multiple votes? No, of course not. Their votes were counted up in each round in just the same way as everyone else’s. So the scare story about multiple votes for extremists is plain wrong. The No camp is misrepresenting reality to suit their own purposes.

However, the ‘Yes’ camp is not entirely guilt free of airbrushing of facts. Ever since the expenses scandal, the Electoral Reform Lobby has been pushing the argument that changing the voting system to get rid of safe seats would prevent such abuses in the future. Yet, they seem to be forgetting that there is actually no evidence to say that MPs in safe seats were more likely to abuse the system anymore than those in other constituencies. Regardless of that, the worst offending MPs could be removed anyway, whether or not they were in a safe seat. That said, safe seats have undesirable effects, so reducing their number is no bad thing.

Now although I am excited to vote when I am 18, I am fully aware that in my constituency, unless I vote Conservative my vote will not count. I live in a “safe-seat” constituency, which means my vote (if I vote for another party) will be what’s known as a ‘wasted vote’. However, under the system of AV, if my first choice does not get enough votes, then my second preference will be allocated to the surviving candidates. This seems fairer than the current system, because even if you live in a safe seat, your vote will still carry some weight, and not become one of hundreds of thousands of wasted votes.

However, that said, AV would not significantly change the number of safe seats. The claim made that “AV would end safe seats” is just untrue. In many seats, the winning candidate would still get more than 50% of the vote under AV and the seats would remain just as safe as they are today. Even the claim that AV would make a significant dent in the number of safe seats appears to be little more than wishful thinking. Although it would be reduced, the overall number of safe seats would not be severely reduced enough to spark a significant change at Westminster.

The No campaigners like to talk up the threat from the BNP. But the BNP’s chances are actually higher under FPTP, as local council elections show. It can win sometimes on less than 20 per cent of the vote because the moderate majority is divided among the mainstream parties. Under AV, those moderate voters could come together to keep the BNP out. It also tends to favour the centre parties, and those which are usually second choice - such as the Liberal Democrats. Under the current system, the Liberal Democrats could get the most votes overall in the country however, come second in every seat, meaning that they wouldn’t actually win a single seat in parliament? Does it seem fair that they should be penalised because their support is spread out across the country, rather than concentrated in specific areas?

So, if neither side’s argument really holds up under the microscope, then there is there really any good reason to vote either way in the referendum? Yes there is. There are reasonable arguments for both sides, which are sometimes neglected by the campaigners. And ultimately it is up to the voter to decide. However, the most important thing is that people go out and vote in the Referendum. Turnout usually remains about as low as 60% and this is for two reasons: people don’t care, or people don’t know. Yet there really is no excuse - voting is a vital part of democracy. As my father always reminds me, people have thought voting so important that they have died trying to win the right to do so. Therefore it is not a right that should be squandered. Whether you were planning to vote or not, I hope I may have convinced you to take a small time out of your busy life next month and go out and voice your views. I’m unfortunately not able to do so, so I hope you don’t waste a right that I desperately want to have.

Megan Baynes

May 2011


From the Vicarage...at Eckington!

As I write there is a definite feeling of spring in the air. The bulbs are beginning to flower and our gardens and roadsides are decorated with daffodils and crocuses. The buds on the trees are beginning to open out and soon our world will be green again, after the drabness of the winter. It’s wonderful that Easter comes in this season of Spring, nature mirroring in creation the new life which we celebrate in Christ. Spring and Easter...both promises of something new, of hope, of warmth after the cold, of celebration after a penitential Lent, of life after death. We are moved into a new cycle of growth, a new beginning.

As Easter approaches, we look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection. Easter is indeed a joyous time, even more so when we have kept a holy Lent. The liturgy of Holy Week is some of the most profound and moving that Christians experience. On Palm Sunday we celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the crowds cheering him on, waving their palm branches, but the services on following days are not quite so upbeat, though no less meaningful. On Maundy Thursday at the Cathedral, there is the Chrism Mass, where the oils, to be used in the coming year for baptism, confirmation, ordination and healing, are blessed. This is also the service at which priests renew their ordination vows…reminding them once again of who it is they serve….a very humbling experience. In the evening we have a Eucharist which often involves the priest washing the feet of some members of the congregation, once again reminding us that Jesus came to serve and not to be served. During this service all the altar cloths and decorations in the church are removed as we remember that this was the day that our Lord was betrayed. A bare church reminds us of the solemn-ness of the season. On Good Friday we climb Bredon Hill with three crosses, symbolising the scene on Calvary. On Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil service (this year to be held at St. Giles’, Bredon) we hear the story of God’s redemptive work; stories from the Old Testament when God rescued his people. We light the Easter candle from a fire outside and bring the light into church, proclaiming that Christ is the light of the world. A priest or deacon sings the Exultet, the great hymn of praise to God and we proclaim that Christ is risen! Finally, on Easter Sunday morning, we celebrate the empty tomb, Christ having risen from the dead. We celebrate God’s power to conquer death. We rejoice in God’s love for us. And we go out to pass that love on to other people. I do hope that some of you will be able to join us for our services throughout Holy Week. Details are elsewhere in the magazine. It is only when we have walked the road with Christ in his Passion that we can truly celebrate his Resurrection.

I wish you all a very happy and blessed Easter.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Every blessing
Susan

April 2011


Swallows in January

swallows

Many of you will know that I was very privileged to enjoy two weeks in South Africa at the end of January and beginning of February. It was wonderful to go from the cold of an English winter to enjoy the sunny cloudless days of the South African summer, to see swallows in January and trees in full leaf. The main purpose of my trip though was to enable me to visit the ‘Catch Project’ a charity which Beckford Group Parish has supported for a number of years. ‘Catch’ is a project based near East London, in which those living in the township of Mzamomhle are offered help to face the huge issues generated by grinding poverty and a lack of education. Among the most acute issues is a 50 % HIV/AIDS infection rate leaving many young children with nobody to care for them. The work of Sue Davies, the project’s founder and her team is quite inspirational and although some might dismiss it as being just a pointless ‘drop in the ocean’ I think it can better be described as ‘a little beacon of light.’ As Isaiah so beautifully put it: “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” We all know that if it is pitch dark, you start by striking one match and lighting one candle. I will be sharing more about the ‘Catch Project’ and what it is trying to achieve in later issues.

As well as visiting ‘Catch’ my trip also allowed me the opportunity to see a small part of South Africa, a country of breathtaking beauty and huge potential, but a nation which still very much lives under the shadow of its apartheid history. The plan for our journey was to begin in Cape Town and then work our way east towards the Eastern Cape and the Transkei. Instead of following the more well worn tourist path the ’Garden route’ which hugs the southern coast we decided to drive up into the country and cut through the Karoo a vast desert area. Deserts for me are places of great beauty but I am also intimidated by their vastness and the bleakness of the landscape. I find strange thoughts going through my head. “What will happen if we break down, or run out of water?” There is always a huge sense of relief when the next sign of human habitation emerges on the horizon.

As we begin the season of Lent we reflect on Jesus forty days in the wilderness, time which he set apart to prepare for the rigours of ministry and to be alone with God. It must have been a testing time in every sense, physically and mentally, a time when he could do no other than rely on God for strength. It was no doubt also a test of commitment and perseverance.

Following Jesus example Christians are encouraged to set time apart during Lent to pray and to reflect on how they are living out the faith to which they have been called. Fortunately we do not have to survive the deprivation of the desert, or live on ‘locusts and wild honey,’ but we are nevertheless asked to take on some small act of self discipline which may help to focus our thoughts. This Lent in the Bredon Hill Group we have a great opportunity to come on a Wednesday evening and listen to the Bishop and other senior clergy of our Diocese reflect on prayer. I am sure that it will be a hugely enriching experience and it will be well worth setting the time aside and making the commitment. Full details of this course, including times and venues are available on request. If you need a lift to get to the different venues please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

May I wish you a holy and fruitful keeping of Lent.

Matthew Baynes

March 2011