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Lockdown during the covid pandemic has been such a strange experience. As I write this from my study, in isolation because of being in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid -19, I remember the first lockdown and venturing out for essential supplies. The streets were empty, very little traffic and I remember thinking it felt like it does on Christmas day or like a Sunday used to be when I was young. People were at home with time to reflect or spend with those they lived with and along with the anxious effect of this, came the positive experience of space and rest, set apart from the busyness of life. Without realising it, we recovered some of what the principle of Sabbath keeping is all about.
The sabbath keeping principle is of course rooted in a biblical principle. We look as Christians to God’s character and actions throughout the bible as a blueprint of how we should conduct our own lives and we find at the beginning, in Genesis 2.1-3, there is the root cause of Sabbath keeping when God finished all his work by the end of the sixth day and on the seventh, he rested. Not only did he rest but he blessed the day and hallowed it. These three principles of sabbath keeping can continue to offer us a sustainable model for our lives: rest, blessing and hallowing of the seventh day of the week. Then further on in the book of Exodus (20.8) sabbath principles are enshrined in God’s commands. God first sets the example in Genesis and then commands it so in Exodus. Here are the same three principles, rest, blessing and hallowing, or making holy (in Exodus 20.11 the day is described as consecrated). For us Anglicans the Exodus commandments have found their way into Cranmer’s prayer book, and we have cause, therefore, to recite them at the beginning of the communion service. I think Cranmer encourages us here to be mindful of the Christian way of life and to remind us of when and where we have fallen short, so that later in the service we can thoughtfully repent. The commandments are for our wellbeing rather than being some sort of oppressive rule. Again, the three sabbath principles apply but couched this time in Cranmer’s more poetic language so that, “six days shalt thou labour and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.”
As we move into August, unlike any other year I can remember, and thinking more generally about rest and holidays, this might be a good time to reflect on the principle of sabbath keeping. First, I want to say that consistency is important. It is every seven days for a reason and that is that resting, blessing, and hallowing every seven days really has an
impact on the other six. We approach six days with energy, interest, motivation, and care if we approach them from a holy, rested, and blessed place. Second, this takes discipline and organisation. Six days are for work, commercial enterprise as well as household chores and projects. We need to commit ourselves to our work and to finishing what we need to finish in this space of time so that even food is already prepared and doesn’t cause us to work on the seventh day. Third, rest from work is important and there are all different types of work and so stopping what we do for work and doing other things that bless us forms the second principle of the sabbath. The seventh day should be a blessing to us. This is what Jesus offers to us when he says, “the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath”. So, if you are most blessed by a day of gardening or reading or sharing a meal with others and you find it restful, then that is a good way to spend the sabbath as a rest from normal activity. Finally, this is a holy day, a day of attention to God, a day for public worship together and private prayerful rest and activity. If we are active and blessed by our activities and in them our attention is on God, then we bring this to public worship and make holy the day that we spend. We might think too about extending the sabbath principle into our everyday lives and in doing so apply sabbath principles all the time rather than just on one day of the week. Moments of prayer and worship, peace-making, time to build relationships activities that bless you and moments of rest can all be embraced and recognised as sabbath moments. Sabbath in this way pervades our every day and becomes blended and integrated as a life principle. As we emerge from this pandemic and reflect on our learning through it, we can all say that we can and are open to living life differently, open that is to experiment and try different things. This is a chance for us to change and grasp new ways and thoughts and to recover the idea, principles, and practice of sabbath keeping. I believe it will make such a positive difference to us and the way we live. Yours in Christ Jeremy
Over recent months, several people among our church family have been unwell at home or in hospital and as the magazine is published monthly, there situation can change and it is difficult to be accurate with the information printed. It makes sense therefore, for all of us to keep in our thoughts and prayers all those who we personally know are unwell and also their families and friends who are caring for them. The power of prayer is so powerful and all those affected should know that our thoughts, best wishes and prayers are with them. In the same way, there are people we all know who are in residential and care homes and they too are in our thoughts and prayers along with their families and friends who care for them or visit them. We also remember all the staff of the numerous care homes who do such a valuable job supporting all the residents and whose task was made incredibly difficult during the worst days of the pandemic, hopefully their situation will improve in the coming months. Now that all legal restrictions have to come to an end, we look forward to our church services to returning to normal or as near normal as possible. However, we are aware that case numbers are still increasing and that we still need to be cautious and also to respect those who, for a variety of reasons may be more cautious than others. As the online services come to an end we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all those who took part and in particular, to Jeremy who for well over a year has been the person whose skill and expertise as pulled all these services together. While not being the same as being together in church it has meant that many of us have been able to see a church service each Wednesday and Sunday Brian Draper
The story is told in Matthew (17:1-9), Mark (9:1-9) and Luke (9:28-36). It was a time when Jesus’ ministry was popular, when people were seeking Him out.
But on this day, He made time to take Peter, James and John, His closest disciples, up a high mountain. In the fourth century, Cyrillic of Jerusalem identified it as Mount Tabor (and there is a great church up there today), but others believe it more likely to have been one of the three spurs of Mount Hermon, which rise to about 9,000 feet, and overlook Caesarea Philippi.
High up on the mountain, Jesus was suddenly transfigured before His friends. His face began to shine as the sun, His garments became white and dazzling. Elijah and Moses, of all people, suddenly appeared, and talked with Him. A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples.
Peter was staggered, but, enthusiast that he was – immediately suggested building three tabernacles on that holy place, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But God’s ‘tabernacling’, God’s dwelling with mankind, does not any longer depend upon building a shrine. It depends on the presence of Jesus, instead. And so, a cloud covered them, and a Voice spoke out of the cloud, saying that Jesus was His beloved Son, whom the disciple should ‘hear’. God’s dwelling with mankind depends upon our listening to Jesus.
Then, just as suddenly, it is all over. What did it mean? Why Moses and Elijah? Well, these two men represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, or Old Testament. But now they are handing on the baton, if you like: for both the Law and the Prophets found their true and final fulfilment in Jesus, the Messiah.
Why on top of a mountain? In Exodus we read that Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the sacred covenant from Yahweh in the form of the Ten Commandments. Now Jesus goes up and is told about the ‘sealing’ of the New Covenant, or New Testament of God with man, which will be accomplished by His coming death in Jerusalem.
31st August is the feast of St Aidan, who brought Christianity to northern England. He is a strong contender for the title of the first English bishop. Not that honours meant a great deal to this austere but captivating character.
In 635 he came to Northumbria at the invitation of the local ruler, Oswald. Oswald had spent several years of his childhood on Iona, and when he succeeded to the throne of his northern kingdom he was shrewd enough to realise that the Christian faith would be an ideal unifying force to pacify rival tribes of warlords.
Oswald’s invitation was not immediately successful. The first missionary from Iona returned in despair, claiming that the barbarity of the Northumbrians made them unconvertible. But as Aidan listened, he felt the unmistakable call of God to try again.
“Perhaps you were too harsh on them,” he found himself suggesting to the travel-stained missionary. Shortly afterwards, Aidan found himself at the head of a party of brothers heading for Northumbria. He was never to see his beloved Iona again.
The monks made the long journey to Northumbria on foot, singing psalms as they went. Their need to ward off the powers of evil with prayer was genuine, for these were dangerous times to travel through remote country unarmed. They arrived safely at Oswald’s castle in Bamburgh, where he offered them lavish hospitality and assumed that they would ‘found’ their community there.
However, the brothers realised that to live under the king’s protection would make it difficult to avoid the world’s temptations and establish a rapport with the local people. They saw the tidal island of Lindisfarne on the horizon and chose it as their base. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Aidan was much loved as a teacher and evangelist; though stern in his own self-discipline, he was prepared to travel to the most inaccessible villages, where he cared for the local people with compassion and gentleness. In time, his influence grew, and noble people joined the stream of visitors to Lindisfarne.
After Oswald’s death in 642, his brother Oswin succeeded him as king. Oswin was concerned about Aidan’s habit of walking everywhere. The saint was ageing rapidly, his body weakened by years of harsh fasting and exposure to the elements. Oswin wondered what would happen to him one day on the road, and also he felt that such a lowly means of travel was not appropriate for a bishop. So, he gave Aidan one of his finest horses, complete with a beautifully worked saddle and bridle. Aidan did not feel able to risk offending the king by spurning his generosity, but he rode out of the palace with a heavy heart. He knew that people would relate to him differently now that he had the trappings of affluence, and that it would be dangerous to stop and rest with such valuable belongings beside him. The king had intended to give him comfort, but his gesture had had the opposite effect. Aidan had learnt that possessions, and the need to protect them, make it more difficult to follow God with an undivided heart. The story goes that he gave the horse, complete with saddle, to the first beggar he met outside the palace gates. A more pragmatic Christian might have reasoned that keeping on the right side of Oswin would lead to opportunities that were too valuable to risk. Indeed, the king was angry when he heard what Aidan had done. “That horse was fit for a king, not for some vagabond,” he protested. “I could have found you an old nag if you wanted to give it away.” Aidan’s reply was simply, “What do you think, O King? Is the son of a mare worth more in your eyes than that the Son of God?” There was an awkward silence; then the King removed his sword, knelt at Aidan’s feet and asked his forgiveness. When he returned to the banqueting table, it was with a beaming smile. Sadly, he too was to perish in battle shortly afterwards; these were violent times. Yet Oswin, whose culture demanded that he should appear all-powerful in the eyes of his followers, had been publicly humbled by the integrity of a simple monk who had challenged his values.
I’m involved in a project rooted in the Church of England’s St Albans diocese, north of London. We bring together people from a range of backgrounds and faiths to address the question ‘Where is Truth now?’ A vital issue for us from recent months has been ‘How has truth fared during the pandemic? Here are five key points. Truth can save your life. Knowing the truth about the Covid-19 virus and vaccines gave vital protection during the pandemic. The advice of scientists, health professionals and researchers has been widely sought out and debated. But we’ve also seen a rise in conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination campaigns and growing confusion as people challenge the extent of the pandemic, and whether Covid-19 is really a threat. Social media algorithms stand accused of spreading misinformation faster than reliable facts and corrections. Truth comes from trust. Knowing who to trust is one of the fastest growing challenges facing anyone wanting to know more about the pandemic and its causes. While faith in doctors and scientists is generally good, trust in politicians has remained low, and scepticism and confusion are growing. Truth can be found on your doorstep – but not always. Local information has become more important, especially during lockdowns. But with local newspapers and radio in decline, neighbourhood social media networks have been taking their place, spreading information – not all of it verifiable and sometimes incorrect. Often, it’s fear that drives our response to the stories we read. We eagerly consume stories highlighting a new ‘threat’ from Covid or scapegoating people not keeping to the lockdown rules. We respond emotionally, ‘with our gut’ – rather than our brain or intellect.
Truth has to be valued and protected. Reliable, trusted journalism has been at a premium. ITV News journalist Julie Etchingham defended the role of the media during Covid-19. The news presenter, a practising Roman Catholic, explained: “Many in our front-line services and the wider public are demanding answers. We are there on their behalf.” In December 2020, Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson, published his response to a reader who believed social media posts over his newspaper’s reports. The open letter, headlined ‘Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night’ sets out the contrast between verified public interest journalism and disinformation posted online. Truth can be complicated – and that’s ok. Throughout the pandemic, politicians have spoken about ‘following the science.’ This, they have said, has guided their decision making. Yet scientists can have a range of views, based on similar research findings. It’s in the discussion and debate that scientific truth arises. People accept that the ‘scientific evidence’ is not always straightforward. We know that truth can be complicated, from our own daily lives. So politicians who level with their electors about the complexity of the decisions are often received with more credibility. In continuing to ask the question “Where is Truth Now?” our modest project is helping to keep the conversation going – and encouraging others to do the same.
MARY SUMMER- FOUNDER OF THE WOMEN’S UNION The Mothers’ Union is now nearly 145 years old. It has accomplished a staggering amount in that time, and nowadays numbers more than four million members, doing good work in 83 countries. That is a far cry from the modest circle of prayer for mothers who cared about family life, which is how it all began with a rector’s wife, Mary Sumner. Mary was born in late 1828 in Swinton, near Manchester. When she was four, her family moved to Herefordshire. Mary’s father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker and historian. Her mother has been described as a woman of “faith, charm and sympathy” – qualities which Mary certainly inherited. Mrs Heywood also held informal ‘mothers’ meetings’ at her home, to encourage local women. Those meetings may well have inspired Mary’s later work. Mary was educated at home, spoke three foreign languages, and sang well. While in her late teens, on a visit to Rome she met George Sumner, a son of the Bishop of Winchester. It was a well-connected family: George’s uncle became Archbishop of Canterbury, and his second cousin was William Wilberforce. Mary and George married in July 1848, soon after his ordination. They moved to Old Alresford in 1851 and had three children: Margaret, Louise and George. Mary dedicated herself to raising her children and supporting her husband’s ministry by providing music and Bible classes. When in 1876 Mary’s eldest daughter Margaret, gave birth, Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood. Soon she decided to hold a meeting to which she invited the local women not only of her own class, but also all the village mothers. Her aim was to find out if women could be brought together to offer each other prayer and mutual support in their roles as wives and mothers. That meeting at Old Alresford Rectory was the inaugural meeting of the Mothers’ Union. For 11 years, the Mothers’ Union was limited to Old Alresford. Then in 1885 the Bishop of Newcastle invited Mary to address the women churchgoers of the Portsmouth Church Congress, some 20 miles away.
THE QUEEN ON YORK MINSTER York Minster is to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year with a statue of the monarch, placed in a niche high on its medieval west front. The figure of the queen will be slightly larger than life, and she will be holding the historic symbols of monarchy: the orb and sceptre. She will be the first British monarch to have reigned for 70 years. The statue will be the centre point of a makeover of the open space in front of the Minster, where a new Queen Elizabeth Square is to be created. More details are expected in the autumn.