It may have slipped your notice, but the church calendar season we have passed through recently is Rogationtide. Er, what? you might respond. Rogation Sunday was traditionally the time when people, predominantly in rural areas, would walk around the parish (“beating the bounds” as they did so) to inspect and pray God’s blessing on the crops. The old word “Rogation” goes back to a Latin word that means “to ask”, since people knew, from intimate experience in a pre-NHS era, the fragility of life and their dependence on God’s mercy and provision. So they would ask his blessing at this season on what was very much their lifeline: their crops.
In recent weeks we too have been reminded and daily become acutely aware of human fragility and fallibility. But do we turn naturally to rogation to give us courage and inner health: not just to avoid infection but to tap into something deeper, more meaningful, more enriching of our heart and soul than ease, comfort and prosperity? Not just life, but “life in all its fullness” (John 10: 10).
So if you’re feeling a bit de-energised, deflated and frustrated at this new normal, here’s a suggestion as to how you might “beat the bounds” and examine how and what is growing well or flagging in your spiritual life. Just as the crops need good root systems, nourishment and monitoring for threats that might weaken or kill them, so our spiritual life needs active inputs to flourish. So perhaps look up and read the readings set for this Sunday (above), and include Ezekiel 36: 24-28. You will find a theme of promised action, restoration, strength, renewal, literal “inspiration”. God is going to act. Perhaps not by our ideal timetable, but next Sunday, Pentecost, shows God did make good on his promise. Unheard of life in all its fullness is poured out, energising, invigorating, transforming. So keep on asking, and you will receive. The Lord’s Prayer, like Psalm 68, reminds us it is God who has the ultimate power. Can we trust that by looking to him, asking him, his good will will be done on earth?
David Frith, Reader
Lead by the Spirit
This month, had we not been in lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we would have received a visit from Nicci Maxwell, our CMS Mission partner. Nicci works in a small medical centre in Kisoro, Uganda, delivering paediatric and neonatal care to the community. She also trains, mentors and supports the local healthcare workers. Kisoro is a very poor area, struggling with the challenges of AIDS, malaria, and refugees from DR Congo and Rwanda, so this area of medicine is very much needed. It’s been two years since Nicci headed out to Africa and was due to be back on home leave, when she would have taken the opportunity to update us on her vital work.
What drives someone of faith to uproot from family and friends, from the comfort of 1st world civilisation and the prospect of an NHS pension? You have only to read Nicci’s blog, or one of her link letters to know that in her case, it’s clear that the Holy Spirit drives her very being, as she uses her medical skills to show the love of God to the people of Kisoro.
In our Gospel reading this week Jesus prepares to leave his disciples and promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with them in his place. As Jesus’ followers today, the Spirit continues to give us God’s love in our hearts. And we too are called to live out our faith in action as we are led by the Spirit who dwells within us. This need not be in such a dramatic way as casting everything aside to travel to a remote and impoverished area in a third world country. We are God’s people wherever we are and our actions and our attitude towards others have the capacity to reflect God’s love into any situation we find ourselves in, as we are seeing in the many examples of care and kindness within our community in these unprecedented times.
To watch a short video about Nicci’s work and mission in Uganda, click on the following link:
We’ll meet again!
This weekend sees the 75th anniversary of VE Day and TV programmes have featured ‘Dame Vera Lynn’ and the war time rallying song of ‘We’ll meet again’. In our current situation of ‘lockdown’ the words have taken on a new meaning and I couldn’t help but think of this song when reading the Bible passage from John 14. We hear Jesus explaining to his disciples that he is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them, but they are not to worry, because, and I am paraphrasing, ‘We’ll meet again!’.
Good old Thomas asks what perhaps the others are all thinking ‘don’t know where...’ and doesn’t quite ask the ‘don’t know when’ but Christians ever since have being asking that question for him.
The response Jesus gives to Thomas would have been every bit as ‘mind-blowing’ for the disciples then as it might be for us today; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. God revealed through Jesus meant that their ‘teacher’ wasn’t just going to show them or tell them the way, or just point out the truth of how to live a good life in order to lead them to God, but he was and is the actual route; ‘The Way’. He was and is ‘truth in a body’ ‘The Truth’. He was and is the ultimate life giver; The Life, lived for us, and then ended for us, a sacrificial gift of love so that we can get back to the relationship with God we are made for.
In a busy world, it is so easy to find ‘other ways’ to fill that ‘Jesus-shaped’ gap we have in our lives, easy to find ‘other or different truths’ in a world of fake news. It is easy for us sometimes to ‘cover our ears’ from the truth of Jesus, as the people did in the Acts passage. In this slightly less busy world I find myself in, I am trying to remind myself not to get distracted by other ‘ways’ and ‘truths’ but to keep turning to the ultimate ‘life’ by ‘meeting with God in prayer’.
As we wait to ‘meet again’ with each other in the benefice, let us ‘meet again and again’ with God praying in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sherri Taylor – reader.
The importance of Place
How do you feel about being locked out of our church, for the first time in 800 years? Some people feel that this can be a positive experience, taking us back to the earliest days of the Christian Church that we hear about in today’s reading from Acts, where the Apostles were “breaking bread in private houses”. They were Christian gatherings in houses, whereas we cannot gather, but the principle that Christian worship started in people’s homes and can take place there today, is correct. Our word “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklesia” meaning a gathering of Christian people. The Church is a body of Christian people, not a building. And yet…
It is not wrong to long deeply for worship to resume in our parish church. The idea of a sacred space is important. Even though we no longer believe that God lives just in churches, most of us do feel that there is an especially clear channel for our prayers when we are in a church. Part of this is a feeling for the continuity of prayer and worship in the same place, over many centuries, by our ancestors. But also important, in what makes our church buildings a special place, is that they are sacramental signs of Christ’s presence in our communities. It makes the fact of our worship visible to the community and accessible to everyone. Indeed, it may be that one reason for setting aside special non-residential places for worship, as the young church grew, was to overcome the exclusivity of home worship. Place is important.
So, we quite properly look forward to a time when we can worship, together again, in St Mary’s, All Saints’, and St Michael’s. As we look forward, we also need to consider how we can make our worship more visible and accessible to everyone, as that is the reason for our church buildings.
Steve Chandler, Reader
Back to normal?
Where do we go from here? What happens next? When can we get back to normal? In some shape or form I imagine we are all asking these and many other questions about our current crisis. A familiar reality has become dislocated, sadly severely so in some cases, and we can feel disorientated, uncertain as to how to move forward. This is also the background to the Gospel reading (Luke 24. 13-35) where two dejected disciples of Jesus are practising social distancing by walking back to their home in the village of Emmaus. Like the disciples still in Jerusalem, they are in lockdown to fear and uncertainty.
But going back to their old ways and modes of thinking and living is not going to be an option for them. Should it be for us? Back to normal, the familiar, what we know and are used to is, not unnaturally, what we and the disciples yearn for.
But God’s unimaginably better future comes to the surface and is revealed in and through adversity, not security. Have we not all caught glimpses of this in the examples of so many heroes, from NHS and other workers to people, in some cases severely disabled, working to support, love and care for others?
Supremely, in the Gospel, God in Jesus comes alongside, unnoticed, unrecognised, gently pointing out the bigger picture. Jesus, the unknown stranger on the road “opens the Scriptures” to the disciples. They realise later how this stranger has been expanding and lifting their vision from their inward-looking and dejected self-absorbed state to something joyous. It is life-giving and inspiring, a sort of inward experience of resurrection to new life and hope. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they ask. This gentle process of nurturing is an essential prelude to the moment of final revelation at supper when they realise (“their eyes were opened”) that Jesus is alive, as they had heard rumoured. Can we also be open to, seek and imagine something richer, deeper, more life-giving than back to normal in the times ahead? David Frith.
A Prayer for John
We pray for our vicar John as he comes to the end of his ministry here in Berkeley, and give thanks for all he has done to help us in our path of understanding, we pray that when he departs he will take with him the knowledge that we in the Berkeley benefice have shared a wonderful year together and grown stronger in our faith through his teaching.
May God's blessing follow you as you find new journeys to travel.
May you walk safely along the pathways of your dreams.
May his gentle hand guide the decisions you will make and the passions that you follow.
May your heart and life always reflect his love and truth,
And may hope be a light within you that you carry into each new day.
FINAL THOUGHT FROM THE VICAR
As I take my leave of you, I would like to share a word of thanks and offer you one final challenge!
The thanks goes to the vast majority of you who have been so supportive. I know that my time as your Vicar has not been universally welcomed and that there are those who wish I had done things differently. However, the overwhelming feeling has been one of support and encouragement, perhaps summed up in the kind person who left two bags of ‘goodies’ on the Vicarage doorstep to enable Andrew and I to celebrate Easter in some style. We would very much like to know who you are so that we can thank you in person!
As to the challenge - when reading the service of Morning Prayer today, I was particularly struck by the words of Paul which talked about the ‘unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ as an analogy to share and celebrate the real joy of Easter.
Many of the ‘issues’ that I have encountered in my twelve months with you seem to have centred around people not being entirely truthful regarding the recent history of the benefice. This leads to ‘muttering’ and an undercurrent of negativity which destroys the very ‘kingdom values’ for which Christ died and rose again and which we are meant to embody in this particular season.
I would therefore urge you, as the benefice once more returns to vacancy, to take this opportunity in a spirit of charity and genuine openness to speak to each other truthfully about the hurts and misunderstandings that have arisen between you. Only then can you truly discern a sustainable way forward and avoid history repeating itself.
My prayers will be with you as you start on this quest and I ask for yours in return as I discern the next stage of my earthly pilgrimage.
Yours in Christ,
Good Friday 2020
Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances we are unable to gather in our ‘normal’ ways for Good Friday.
However, if you would like to use the readings and reflections below, please do. They come from Barbara & Steve Fellowes who are Readers in the Forest Edge Benefice, for which many thanks.
We are all part of the rhythm of life, we are born, we give birth, we live in relationships, we search for meaning, we make choices, we face endings. We suffer the loss of those we love.
First reading: Jesus is condemned to death
Mark 15: 1-5 & 12-15
Early in the morning the chief priests met hurriedly with the elders, the teachers of the Law, and the whole Council, and made their plans. They put Jesus in chains, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “So you say.”
The chief priests were accusing Jesus of many things, so Pilate questioned him again, “Aren't you going to answer? Listen to all their accusations!”
Again Jesus refused to say a word, and Pilate was amazed.
Pilate spoke to the crowd, “What, do you want me to do with the one you call the king of the Jews?”
They shouted back, “Crucify him!”. “But what crime has he committed?” Pilate asked. They shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he set Barabbas free for them. Then he had Jesus whipped and handed him over to be crucified.
Pilate asked what crime Jesus had committed. It was a good question. Jesus had annoyed the religious leaders, of that there was no doubt. He had been critical of social and religious structures. He had healed the villagers, he had told stories to the crowds; he was probably a threat to public law and order; but was that enough to condemn him, to end his life?
But he would not defend himself – the storyteller was silent now and the crowd was noisy, and Pilate handed him over to be crucified.
For those on trial this week and for those appointed to judge them:
God in your mercy - Hear our prayer.
Second reading: Jesus takes up the cross
The soldiers took Jesus inside to the courtyard of the governor's palace and called together the rest of the company. They put a purple robe on Jesus, made a crown out of thorny branches, and put it on his head. Then they began to salute him: “Long live the King of the Jews!” They beat him over the head with a stick, spat on him, fell on their knees, and bowed down to him. When they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Taking the chance for a bit of fun.
They had a heavy day ahead of them.
Soon they would have to put on their public face –
Disciplined, controlled, efficient.
But for now a bit of a lark with the lads
With no risk of recrimination,
Dead men tell no tales, and Jesus was going to his death.
For those appointed to keep public order, and for those tempted to abuse their power:
God in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Third reading: Jesus falls the first time
“Who would have believed what we now report?
Who could have seen the Lord's hand in this?
Jesus was exhausted.
He was in pain.
He was going to his death,
The Cross was heavy and he fell.
He was flesh and blood like us,
He was struggling.
For those who are tired or in pain
God in your Mercy, Hear our prayer.
Fourth Reading: Mark 15:21
Simon helps Jesus to carry his cross
On the way they met a man named Simon, who was coming into the city from the country, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus' cross.
Simon from Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus.
What a tale you had to tell your children!
You helped Jesus.
You gave him your strength, there on the streets of Jerusalem.
Willing or unwilling
You, Simon, have become part of his story, and he part of yours,
For you helped him, and he needed you.
What would we give to be Simon?
For a willingness to serve you, in friends and in strangers
God in your mercy, Hear our prayer,
Fifth Reading: Jesus falls the second time
He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly;
he never said a word.
Like a lamb about to be slaughtered,
like a sheep about to be sheared,
he never said a word.
I am finding it hard to watch you, Jesus.
To see you struggling,
To see you on the ground.
Into your silence I want to shout:
‘Why do they keep on hurting you?
What have you done wrong?’
For those who today will struggle and fall.
God in your mercy Hear our prayer.
Sixth Reading: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
A large crowd of people followed him; among them were some women who were weeping and wailing for him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Women of Jerusalem! Don't cry for me, but for yourselves and your children.
Weep for the mothers and children of Jerusalem.
For Israeli and Palestinian
For Jew and Moslem and Christian,
For the strangers in their midst,
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
Pray that her people can live together in peace.
Pray that all people may live together in peace.
For those who live in places of conflict and danger;
For peacemakers and peacekeepers in every land
God in your mercy. Hear our prayer
Seventh Reading: Jesus falls for the third time
Isaiah 53: 4-5
He endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
I am not sure if I can watch this much longer.
In his pain I see my pain,
In his falling I feel myself falling,
In his cross…… in his cross
I am included.
He carried it for me –
For me, and my enemies, and my Friends.
For those deserted by friends,
For those who are alone and venerable:
God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Eighth Reading: Jesus is stripped of his clothes
They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha, which means “The Place of the Skull.” There they tried to give him wine mixed with a drug called myrrh, but Jesus would not drink it. Then they crucified him and divided his clothes among themselves, throwing dice to see who would get which piece of clothing.
Stripped now –
Naked and venerable,
With nothing to protect you from the pain to come.
For all those deserted by friends,
For those left alone and vulnerable:
God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Ninth Reading: Jesus is nailed to the cross
Luke 23: 35,49
The people stood there watching while the Jewish leaders made fun of him: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah whom God has chosen!”
When the people who had gathered there to watch the spectacle saw what happened, they all went back home, beating their breasts in sorrow. All those who knew Jesus personally, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance to watch.
We look on from a distance:
A distance of time and pace and culture,
A distance of a Friday morning in Gloucestershire in Lent
And for us it hurts to watch Jesus dying,
Even at a distance.
It hurts to know that we are being rescued
It hurts to know how much we are valued and loved.
For the depth of your love for us, we thank you
God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
Final Reading: Jesus dies on the cross
It was now about noon, and the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three in the afternoon, And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father in your hands I place my spirit.’
He said this and died.
In your hands he placed himself:
All that he was,
All that he had ever been,
All his beauty,
All his obedience
All his loving
In Gods hands he placed himself
He was returning to his father,
He was going home.
For all those who have died today,
For all who love them and will miss them
God in your mercy, Hear our prayer
The Lords prayer.
May God go with us today
Christ Jesus walk alongside us as we journey
And the Holy Spirit be a cloud of grace.
And the blessing of the father the son and the holy spirit be with us
And all whom we love and care for.
This day and always Amen
St Mary’s is bringing together a small team to help support the local community and those that need to self-isolate. If you need support with everyday tasks like essential shopping, prescription collection, posting mail or just someone to talk to please get in contact with Jan Belton: 01453 810 752.
There is also a food box at the back of the church, please contribute or take if needed.
ST MARY’S CHURCH BERKELEY - Coronavirus Update
We are living through challenging times and this church, along with many others, is doing all it can to reassure and help those of all faiths and none as we face whatever lies ahead. With that in mind, please note the following:
A prayer for all those affected by coronavirus
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious,
be with those who care for the sick,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may find comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Revd. John McHale
Vicar of the Berkeley Benefice
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