A Rich Journey

‘A cold coming we had of it 
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey…’
T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’

How many of us are making journeys over the turning of this new year? Perhaps it has been an opportunity to catch up with family or friends we haven’t seen for a while. Perhaps for some of us, it’s been about fun and relaxation, (although skiing doesn’t appeal for either, for me!)

Perhaps some of those journeys have been disrupted by weather or illness. Or perhaps they’ve been punctuated by the plaintive cry, ‘Are we there yet?’ During winter months we are often seeing the journey as a ‘means to an end’ rather than something of value in itself. However travelling with others or meeting people on the way can make journeys so much richer.

On my windowsill at home sits a wooden cross with a shell attached. It’s made from the stick my son used to walk the Camino de Santiago, one of the most popular of pilgrim paths in Europe. I’m not sure I have the legs to do it! Two of my sons have walked it from France to the coast of Spain, each on their own, but meeting strangers along the way who have become friends.

2020 is being marked by our Cathedrals as a year of pilgrimage. You will be hearing more from our Cathedral here in Wells as they invite us to share in pilgrimage with them. Journeying together gives opportunity for us to discover something new as we share in others’ perspectives and experiences, not just our own. At this time of Epiphany we remember the journey of the wise men who travelled together to seek out something new. A star had appeared which indicated to them there was new learning to be had. And so they left the familiar and went to explore what was new.

So… what new thing might you wish to explore this year? Who might you travel with? And what might you do once you find it?

Wishing you a very special new year!

The Right Revd Ruth Worsley
Bishop of Taunton

Election Thoughts from Bishop Peter

So it has been decided. There is to be a General Election on 12 December and much has been made of the fact that this is the first December election since 1923. Things could be worse however, as the 1885 General Election took place over three weeks from 24 November to 18 December 1885. It was nonetheless an important milestone in social history, as it extended voting rights so that for the first time a majority of adult males could vote and most constituencies returned only a single member to Parliament. These were quite radical developments and at that election large numbers of men voted for the first time. It saw the Liberals, led by Gladstone win the most seats, but not an overall majority, with the Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power and the Unionist MPs having a significant voice. The 1885 election also saw the first socialist party, the Social Democratic Freedom participate.

So significant was this election that my predecessor, Bishop Arthur Hervey, wrote an open letter on 2 October 1885 suggesting that ‘all Christian subjects of the Queen had a duty of special prayer to Almighty God that He will be pleased to guide the minds of the Electors to make such a choice of representatives as shall tend most to the glory of God, the honour and welfare of our Sovereign, and the happiness of the people.’ In His view Parliament was responsible for establishing ‘peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety’ and the ‘welfare of all people.’ In asking people to pray, as well as to vote, he made it clear that whilst people would have different ‘political leanings’ that they needed to come together to pray for the ‘peace and happiness of the nation at large’.

I think we all know that this General Election before us now will similarly be critical in helping to determine the future of the United Kingdom – at least for the immediate future. In writing this article I am therefore seeking to follow Bishop Arthur Hervey by reminding us all of the responsibility we have to pray for our country and to work with all people for the welfare and the well-being of everyone.

With my prayers and very best wishes,

The Right Revd Peter Hancock

Treasure the Earth

As I write this parish letter, we are in the midst of two weeks of action by Extinction Rebellion drawing our attention to the concerns of climate change. Following Greta Thunberg’s rousing speech to the UN and the various climate strikes undertaken by young people around the world, we are becoming more aware of the dangers of neglecting such an important matter. Whether we are young and passionate about this issue or one of Boris’s so-called ‘crusties’ and equally passionate, it seems to me that we are all called to be passionate about caring for the world God has made, and which He has entrusted to our care.

The fifth Mark of Mission calls for us to ‘Treasure the Earth’ or, to ‘safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. Here in Bath and Wells we focus on placing mission and evangelism at the heart of all we do. This often means we highlight the story of Jesus and the opportunity for us to know God’s grace and forgiveness in personal ways. All really important for us to know how much we are loved. However, mission and evangelism isn’t just limited to those people we live amongst in the present day. St Paul speaks about how our salvation and that of the world or creation are bound up together….

‘The created universe is waiting with eager expectation for God’s children to be revealed. It was made subject to frustration, not of its own choice but by the will of him who subjected it, yet with the hope that the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and is to enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ Romans 8: 19-21

Sometimes I hear people dismiss concerns for the world and its future as being insignificant in the light of the eternal hope we have in Christ. I think this misguided and often selfish. It’s a bit like the attitude which says, ‘well as long as it sees me out!…’

This month you have the opportunity to get involved yourself. On Monday 18th November at Wells Cathedral and in Christ Church, Weston-Super-Mare on Saturday November 9th, there are opportunities for you to find out more. Look on the diocesan website.

And it’s not just for individual action, we as a diocese want to encourage churches to look at how they might become Eco churches in the way in which they respond in worship, theological reflection, make practical changes to their carbon footprint, and in bringing about that freedom for the whole universe to be sustained and renewed.

What might you get passionate about and do?

The Right Revd Ruth Worsley, Bishop of Taunton

Message from Preb Alison

This is a letter I’ve been meaning to write for over a month now… but finding the computer has been a problem!

A huge thank you to you all for my wonderful send off at the end of July and your generous gifts. The whole weekend was more than I could have dared hope for and I was overwhelmed by the sense of love and friendship. As the saying goes “Missing you already!”

It has been an odd transitional time – packing to leave one home and community where most people know you (or have at least heard of you) and move into a new house where no one knows you. So far we’ve managed to keep our previous identities a secret!

Unpacking has kept us very busy and we still have no curtains! Andrew has already embarked on some hobbies, but I am taking things slowly and waiting to see where God leads me next.

My time with you in Deane Vale was very special and I continue to thank God for you, praying too that the right person to be your next incumbent is just waiting for that advert in the Church Times!

Go well, be kind to each other and give thanks to our amazing God daily!
With love and thanks,
Alison of Bath and Wells

A time for grace and patience

September is the month when schools go back, harvest services are being planned, and the College of Bishops takes place. Yippee! Actually I’m not being sarcastic. Of course there’s always a sense of this is a month when many of us feel ‘back at work’. It can seem a busy month with lots to challenge us. However we do have some agency in how we approach the tasks of daily living, don’t we?

So, for instance, at the College of Bishops this month, we shall do more work on ‘Living in Love and Faith’, the theology, social anthropology, biblical scholarship and scientific knowledge being considered as the Church reflects on issues of human identity, sexuality and marriage. I’m looking forward to it. And that’s not being sarcastic either. You see it is not that this will be an easy topic, something which we can just all agree to but rather it will be an opportunity to meet together with one another in the presence of God. We will no doubt have some difficult conversations, grapple over imponderables, find ourselves feeling vulnerable but this is the stuff of life, and seeking to find God’s way in a world which has little time for religious faith anymore. The College meets in an Oxford college over a few days and it can sometimes seem rather distant from the everyday world in which we live. However we always celebrate Holy Cross day while we are there. The Collect for that day reminds us that “the passion of thy blessed Son hast made an instrument of painful death to be for us the means of life and peace”. That surely means that life and peace can be found even through the experience of pain and death. In fact sometimes it’s the only way to find them. Dealing with complex issues, tackling challenging tasks is not about finding the easiest and quickest route to an answer. Sometimes it requires much more from us and we need the grace and patience of the Christ who made Himself a sacrifice for us.

The following is the prayer we use on Holy Cross Day after we receive bread and wine together, perhaps we need to use it more as we face the challenge of seeking to live as men and women of God in His world today. 

“O faithful God, whose Son bore our sins in his body on the tree and gave us this sacrament to show forth his death until he come: give us grace to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our hope.”

The Right Revd Ruth Worsley, Bishop of Taunton

Always with us

On 20th July 1969 the world watched something extraordinary. This was when the Eagle lunar module landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. This was the very first time that anyone had been to the moon. But astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to do something hard. After years of preparation and their long and hazardous flight they had to wait. They were about to open the door of their lunar lander and step onto the unknown surface of a completely different world. But for now, their mission ordered them to take a pause, to wait and prepare for that ‘First step’. That hour-long downtime period was designed to let the astronauts recover from their space flight and prepare for their moon walk.

It is now well known that Buzz Aldrin spent his time praying, reading the Bible and taking Holy Communion. Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church, and before he headed into space in 1969, he got special permission to take bread and wine with him into space and to give himself communion. As the men prepared for the next phase of their mission, Aldrin spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said. “I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in their own individual way.”

He then reached for the wine and bread he’d brought to space—the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon. “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he later wrote. The words he read were those of Jesus: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in you, will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.’

After the resurrection, as Jesus ascended back to heaven, he gave a promise to his disciples that he would be with them always, wherever they were and wherever they went. As Buzz Aldrin took communion on the Moon he too was aware of that promise. It is a promise that is also true for us today and so whatever each day may bring let us remember to ‘wait’ before we step out into the day and ask that Jesus may indeed be with us. As we say in Communion:
‘The Lord is here.’ ‘His Spirit is with us.’

With warm greetings,
The Right Revd Peter Hancock
Bishop of Bath and Wells

Preb Alison writes…

I thought this was going to be a really difficult letter to write, and then as I sorted through my boxes of memories, I came across a prayer written by Bishop George Appleton; it was the prayer I felt moved to use on the eve of my ordination as deaconess on 4th July 1982. After the most wonderful, exciting, fulfilling and yes, at times frustrating 37 years, this prayer which was at the beginning is what I want to share at the end of ministry.

So, thank you for the privilege of sharing your lives and thank you for
sharing mine – to God be the glory!

Lord, as I look back on the journey so far,
I see how thy love and goodness have been with me,
through many failings and dangers,
in many joys and adventures.
I have received much love from friends,
enjoyed so many good and lovely things,
been guided and inspired
by the wisdom and encouragement of many teachers and writers.
Often I have felt thy presence near,
and often I have had to walk by faith.
Forgive my slowness,
my failures in faith,
the smallness of my love,
my poor use of thy grace.
Accept my heart’s thanks
for growing knowledge of thee,
for increasing assurance of thy purposes of love
and deepening knowledge of the things that are eternal.
As I turn again to the journey ahead,
it is bright with thy mercies of the past,
dear God and Saviour.

Message from Alison

As I write, we’ve just experienced the most wonderful Easter. The weather was perfect – the trees in bud and blossom, the birds in song and our hearts were raised with Christ. Thursday 30th May sees the next important day in the Christian calendar – Ascension Day – when Jesus is taken away from this earth to be in the kingdom of heaven with his father. As with Good Friday, this day can be seen as a day of grief and sadness – a day of loss -but it also marks a time of waiting for God’s gift of the Spirit which came with power on
the disciples at Pentecost.

Over the last few years, our Archbishops have invited us to keep these 10 days as days of prayer and meditation. Because the Holy week meditations were so successful in the numbers that attended, I’ve decided this year that we should keep the 10 days from Ascension to Pentecost as a time of prayer and waiting for the Holy Spirit, and as a time to strengthen your lives as you begin to get ready for an interregnum. Each short service will begin at 8pm (look out for which church is hosting!) and we shall begin as has been customary at Hillfarrance with a service of holy communion; and this too will be at 8pm.

I do hope you will join me in at 8pm from 30th May to 9th June.


Preb Alison Writes…

As I was writing my Rector’s report for Oake, I indulged myself and looked back over the 17 years I’ve been Rector in the benefice. I listed my highlights and realised just how many things had changed over that time; the old village hall was demolished and a new one sprang up, the school kept its old building but added a new one, the church took out pews in the south aisle to create a bright and flexible space, the cedar tree fell in the storm and a beautiful sculpture was created, the altar was stolen and a marvellously crafted altar now stands in St Bartholomew’s. From the old, from the tired, from the broken and the hopeless, something marvellous and maybe even better, can come. I’m sure as I write the reports for the other parishes I will discover the same….the old gives way to new, as we move with the times, and, in Christian terms, as we try to listen to God and are prepared to trust the next part of the journey to a God who says “Behold I make all things new!” 

The message of Easter is like that – from death comes life, from despair comes hope, from hopelessness comes miracle, from betrayal comes forgiveness. Just when we think we would like to give up or cannot see a way forward, we can be surprised by joy.

I have found that the best way to really experience the full message of Easter is to immerse yourself in the lead up to it – to come to the Holy week meditations, the Passover Supper, the walk of witness and Easter day itself. Of course there might be reasons why you can’t do everything, but there’s a wealth of opportunity to dip in and out. By experiencing Holy week – you go from high to low, from low to high: from Hosanna to Crucify! From the cross to the empty tomb. 

May you have the chance to experience Easter in its fullness so that however you are feeling, that message of Christ’s triumph over death will be real for you.

A message from the Bishop of Taunton – Living Well in God’s world – join the Bishops’ Lent Challenge

This year, Bishop Peter and I are focusing on care for the environment for our Lent Challenge to parishes. With almost daily news of the damage that humankind is inflicting on the natural world, it seems timely to remind ourselves that as Christians we are called to be good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us. Our lives should reflect the Good News of Jesus to all of creation, as summed up in the 5th Mark of Mission ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’ Although, there is much ‘green’ advice available, many churchgoers are not aware of how much our faith has to say about caring for creation. This Lent we hope to help people make those connections, and to be encouraged to take small steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

To help people get involved, we are creating a suite of resources which will be available on the diocesan website at: www.bathandwells.org.uk/Living-Well-Lent-2019. These will include the opportunity to sign up for regular emails for a small dose of inspiration direct to your inbox – a short reflection, prayer and ideas for practical action. 

We look forward to joining with you to explore how we can live well in God’s world in Lent and beyond.