This beautiful church has been the home to a worshipping Christian community nearly a 1,000 years and has welcomed newcomers and visitors for all that time. We try to be a warm, inclusive church where we love God and love others as ourselves.
I’m just old enough to remember the serials that used to be shown at the cinema, before the main feature film. Occasionally as a treat my sister and I were allowed to go to the Town Hall, which doubled as a cinema, on a Saturday afternoon. Because we didn’t go very often we would be left with the cliff hanger at the end of the serial, never to know how the hero or heroine was rescued the following week. It was, I recall, often literally a cliff hanger, with someone left dangling by their finger tips from a cliff edge, when only a few moments before they had been walking on solid ground. The device of a cliff hanger is still used frequently in our TV soaps – although with more jeopardy involved for the central characters. It might be a cynical way of attracting more viewers, or keeping them loyal, but in many ways it also mirrors what happens in our lives so often.
Just as the hero in the old western serials would walk over the ground, oblivious to its presence, until something slipped or he was pushed, and left clutching at the very ground he took for granted only moments before, so we go through much of our lives. We too take for granted so much that is in our lives until a piece of news or a sudden illness brings us up short and we clutch at the very things we hardly noticed around us. The last year of lockdowns and restrictions made us realise how precious the time with family and friends was. We were aware of them in our lives but only when we couldn’t spend time with them were we reminded of their importance to us.
We often treat God in the same way. We are dimly aware of his presence, as we might be the air we breathe or the ground we walk on. Acknowledging him at Christmas or Easter as we recall the stories of Jesus birth, death and resurrection. Then we are faced with a crisis that is beyond our control and we clutch desperately at the God we know only slightly, feeling that our grip on him is slipping as we ask ‘why me’ or get angry on behalf of another. I remember the year in which both my sister and my mother died. It felt that I slipped over the edge of the abyss. Worry, anxiety and uncertainty left me floundering.
But although it felt as if I was only holding on with my finger tips I was in reality being held very firmly in God’s grasp. I may have slipped off one firm place but I found that God had put something even more solid under my feet. Life might have been very different but it was no less secure.
Just as we were able to be confident that the hero or heroine of the old serial would not be left in jeopardy for too long so we can truly trust that God will not leave us dangling from the cliff edge.
He promises that: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’ and it is a promise that we can rely on.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus says to those who were on the mountain with him and to us today: ‘and surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’
You may not know the person of Jesus well; he may only be a character from of story most of the time, and God may only be a distant memory but God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, can be trusted. So when you feel that you are walking on the edge of the abyss and the ground is crumbling beneath your feet, turn to him and trust him. He will be with you and bring you to a safe place.
A lovely fund raising event for St. Mary’s – we held a pop up sale along the church wall with cakes, books, plants and bric-a-brac. All safe and in the fresh air.
St. Mary’s PCC is very grateful to everyone who helped and supported the event. Like most churches at present we are desperately in need of money and this not only helped raise fund but meant people could enjoy being out and about with each other.
Recently I was asked if it was wrong to imagine God, during prayer, as a mature man – something like Michelangelo’s depiction of God on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel at the Vatican.
I said that it’s not wrong but while it is useful to have an image as we pray we mustn’t limit God to one stereotype. We are made in God’s image so it can be helpful to use that image in prayer. Through out the bible we are told that God loves us like a father loves his children. Through Jesus’ use of the word ‘Abba’ for God we not only get the sense of God as a father but one who is loving and approachable. Who welcomes us and guides us. We are also told that God loves us as a mother – whether a hen gathering her chicks under her wings or a mother nursing her child at the breast. As long as our own experience of being parented was a good one, visualising God in human form helps us to draw nearer in prayer and to trust both the love and the discipline.
However, if we allow our imaginations to limit God to human form we run the risk of creating God in our likeness and not worshipping God at all, Instead, we try to have him as a puppet to do our bidding or we make him completely irrelevant.
Many different metaphors are used for God in the bible to convey that he is far more than an imagined person. One of the most powerful is that of fire. Fire is both positive and negative – creating and life sustaining but also destroying and cleansing. This, too, is the God we approach in prayer. We pray for the life giving power of fire to burn in others and in our world, to sustain with heat and passion both ourselves and those we pray for, but we also know that he will burn away the dross in our lives – a necessary but painful experience.
God sent his son, Jesus, to be the image of the invisible God – to enable us to approach him with confidence and trust. But for prayer and a life of faith to be truly joyous and powerful we must acknowledge that our God is beyond our imagination. He can be trusted but not tamed. He calls us to grow into his image not shrink him into ours. As we come to know more of God and let him be beyond us he enables us to be more than we ever thought we could be, too.
23rd March 2021
As you will undoubtedly know, today we remember that it is a year since we were put into the first lock down, to slow the spread of corona virus.
It is also the day when we were told to lock our churches – they could no longer remain open even from private prayer. This last year has been a year of pain, of grief and of some joys too.
We have learnt that stock piling toilet paper is a very niche hobby and not to be copied, that things we took for granted – particularly time with family and friends – are never to be dismissed as the back ground of our lives and that we, blessed by living in our rural part of Suffolk, have had our gardens and the countryside to lift our spirits when things seem oppressive.
We have lost family and friends and not been able to grieve with the wider circle of others through this time, we’ve watched as people we care for have struggled with loneliness or grief on their own and we have felt helpless as others have had to work and put themselves at risk while we have had to stay home.
We have volunteered, phoned and supported others as much as we can and we have laughed at every joke on social media (and every email sent out by Lynn Hannant)
We have known that God is with us – through every difficult and challenging minute of lock down – and that his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us has been tested and found trustworthy.
While All Saints Church has had to remain closed for the short term, for a number of reasons, St. Mary’s church was able to open as soon as the first lock down was eased – thanks to the people who have gone in tirelessly to clean it every day – and today there will be candles available for those who want to go and light one – to remember, to give thanks, to grieve.
At midday there will be a national minute of silence and we will mark this in St. Mary’s with both the silence and with prayer.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
the lord look kindly upon you and give you peace.
Sunday 8th November
There will be a brief service of Remembrance
at the War Memorial
starting at 10:55 am
with the laying of wreaths
and an Act of Remembrance.
Wednesday 11th November
A brief Act of Remembrance
will take place
at the War Memorial
for 11 on the 11th of the 11th.
St. Mary’s Church will host a short and light hearted look of the life of actors during lock down on
Sunday 18th October at 3:00 pm
Tickets from Rev. Ruth
Yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister that far from allowing new activities and freedoms to take place some would need to be postponed – such as wedding receptions – and other new and tighter ones introduced – such as the compulsory wearing for face coverings in church from the 8th August (for those not exempt) didn’t come as a surprise. It underlined the continual threat of the virus and that life will have restrictions for months to come. We are about to start Sunday worship in St. Mary’s church (All Saints, Drinkstone, has to remain closed until the window project is completed) and suddenly there is the feeling that we need to make the most of gathering in church as this too may go again, if the virus spread continues.
Other events of the last week or so also have made me feel helpless.
All this has drawn me back to one of my favourite prayers – the Methodist Covenant Prayer. We used to use it at New Year in the churches but I think it is perhaps even more relevant in our current times. It is a challenging prayer to pray and really mean but one that we need to be praying at this time.
‘I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
When I gave my life to Christ I surrendered my control and asked him to be Lord of everything. However, I have a very bad habit of trying to wrest control back from the Lord and take over myself. So I want to control what happens to the people I love and in the churches that mean so much to me. I want answers to be ‘yes’ and people to be healed and the freedom to worship in the way I want, where I want. Then I come back to this prayer. It is no longer my life but God’s and if, for a time, he doesn’t want to use me as I want to be used or he says ‘no’ to my prayer I must accept it. I have given him my life so I know and trust that, with him in control, it will be his will that is done, not mine, and it will be his kingdom that comes – not the petty, selfish kingdom of Ruth.
This prayer is an aspiration. It is how I want to live my live with God. I won’t get it right all the time, or even much of the time, but if I keep aiming to allow God control of every part of my life, and keep handing back those things that I grab onto then I will see his glory at work – in me and in his creation.
Services in St. Mary’s:
We have now received some guidance from the Church of England and our bishops. Basically, it is as I had suggested in my last letter – social distancing of 2 meters, no singing and advice to keep our services as short as possible.
While a few people would like Sunday church services to resume the majority of you who responded said you would prefer to keep the Sunday Zoom service at present, with many agreeing that a Wednesday service would be a suitable addition.
Consequently the decision is:
We will keep our current pattern of Sunday Holy Communion at 10:30 am and an Evening Service at 5:00 pm on Zoom.
From Wednesday 8th July we will start a service of Holy Communion in St. Mary’s at 11:00 am – receiving in one kind only and with careful social distancing and hand sanitising in place. I won’t be putting tape on the floor – out of respect to our Victorian Webb tiles – but please do make sure you maintain distance when coming in and going out – just as you would do within the church. Hand sanitiser will be used before we come in and as we go out.
The church will be kept locked on a Wednesday until 10:30 am then cleaned and shut again after the service until Thursday, to ensure it is as clean and safe as possible.
It will feel very strange coming back together and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or queries.
I will still be taking home communion to people, in their gardens, for those who will feel safer that way.
We will be reviewing what we are doing very regularly and I will, of course, keep you informed.
Both my tablet and my mobile phone are Apple products and they have a very useful feature, which is ‘find my device’.
When I mislay one or the other I can activate the app and it immediately gives me a rough location for the missing device – enough of a guide for me to know that I’ve left my ipad in someone’s house or my phone in the car. It saves a lot of fruitless searching or, at least, directs my search in the right places.
Perhaps it is just as well these apps weren’t around in Jesus’ day or we might not have the three wonderful parables of searching for the lost that come in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. Jesus told three stories of loss and recovery which have become some of our favourite parables. The first two, beloved of Sunday School teachers in the past and of any of us work with children now, used simple, everyday situations – a lost sheep and a lost coin – to speak of God’s willingness to go to any lengths to find those who had strayed or were lost. At the time he told them Jesus’ audiences would have felt reassured and loved by the God who would not let them be lost forever. After all, those listening to the stories, the first time they were told, were Israelites who knew that they were God’s people. Although under Roman rule they may have felt that they were lost or abandoned Jesus’ stories reassured them that they were never out of God’s searching care and He would stop at nothing to bring them home safely.
However, the final story of the trilogy was not as easy or comfortable. We often call it the parable of the prodigal son, and focus mainly on the story of the younger son, but Jesus deliberately told a story of two sons – and two different ways of being lost. The parable also showed an image of God whose behaviour was shocking and forgiveness outrageous.
In asking for his inheritance early the younger son was telling his father he wished he was dead – and taking all his money and going far away from home he behaved as if his father had already died. For such behaviour the Jewish law in Leviticus said that a child could be stoned to death. But instead of exacting punishment or at least crossing the son’s name out of the family tree the father waited and watched for him. That was shocking enough to those listening to the story but then Jesus said that when the son appeared in the distance the father ran to him – losing all dignity, all respect. Jesus’ audience must have asked themselves, ‘what sort of God did Jesus believe in?’
The story continued to shock as Jesus told of the older brother – in every way someone who was righteous in the eyes of the law – who wasn’t the recipient of the father’s outrageous and lavish love. I suspect that many listening to the parable, and later thinking it over, were at the very least puzzled and perhaps some, particularly the Pharisees and rigorously law abiding people, alienated by Jesus – unable to comprehend the idea of a God who loved beyond bounds, forgave appalling sins yet didn’t appreciate those who worked hard for his favour. Yet there would have been some – at the fringes of the crowd – who took hope from the story. They were the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the shepherds and all those who had been forced to make lifestyle or work choices that left them outside the Jewish law and excluded from Jewish worship. For them this parable must have brought profound hope. God could and would never stop seeking them and would welcome them into His home with extravagant forgiveness and love.
To Luke these three parables were important. He wanted Gentiles to know that Jesus knew their inclusion into the kingdom of God was part of God’s plan. He wanted them to understand that God had sent his Son as the shepherd, the woman, to seek the lost, and that they were too would be the recipients of God’s overwhelming love and grace. No-one was or is outside God’s love – all they have to do is turn to him and accept him as their God and Lord.
What does that mean to us, today? First, that we are precious to God and He sent His son to show us how much. Also, that we don’t have to earn His love – all we have to do is turn to Him and He is there, holding out His arms to us. Finally, that although we may think that there are some people who, due to their actions, their life style or their race, could never be acceptable to God, it isn’t for us to judge. God knows the secrets of everyone’s hearts and He knows who has or may returned to Him.
After all, He is the father who watched for us to turn to Him and Jesus tells us He will never stop watching, reach out and running towards each of His children – whoever they are.
From Monday 15th June 2020, St. Mary’s Church will be open for private prayer daily from 9:00 – 5:00 pm. We ask that all visitors respect strict social distancing and maintain good hand hygiene.
We rejoice that St. Mary’s can again welcome those who come to seek the Lord or just want a quiet place to be still and reflect.
Prayer sheets will be available and we ask that people take these home or dispose of them in the bin provided. They must not be put back in the pile.