Dear Friends

Here at St Mary’s the calendar year usually starts, on the first Sunday of January, with a celebration of Epiphany (mostly this has to be transferred, since 6 January only occasionally coincides with that first Sunday). We are all, I am sure, praying that 2021 will prove to be a kinder year than 2020 - the pandemic has dominated our lives and, even if we have been fortunate enough to escape the virus itself, there have been many disappointments and difficulties, including the disruption of plans for get-togethers with family and friends, and the anxieties connected with actual or potential job losses.

New phrases like ‘social distancing’ have crept into our vocabulary, and, in church, this has meant, among other things, that we have been unable to share the peace — such a sign of our fellowship in Christ - or to catch up with each other socially at the beginning or end of services. We are, of course, aware that all these restrictions have been for our own good and protection -‘stay safe’ has during the last year become an alternative to ‘goodbye. I heard the other day that some of these restrictions and preventative measures may be with us for some time, despite the very welcome news about the roll-out of effective vaccines, which could be depressing and frustrating.

We Brits are, however, stoical on the whole — there have been many allusions to the Second World War and all the privations endured then - and Captain Sir Tom Moore has notably personified that spirit. In fact, nearly every news bulletin has carried stories of ordinary people, some of them quite young children, doing extraordinary things, going the ‘extra mile’, to use a Biblical phrase, to help others through this bad patch. We give thanks for them, and for the light which they have brought to others during a dark time.

Have a happier new year.

Stephen
Dear Friends

I am hoping, as we all must be, that by the beginning of December either the worse of the pandemic will be over, or that an effective vaccine can begin to be rolled out to protect the population, and that we can return to some semblance of normality - this is my prayer, and, I am sure, that of many of you.

Meanwhile we can perhaps dare to dream of a ‘traditional’ Christmas, if not, necessarily, of a white one (we rarely get snow for Christmas here in the south of England), with the possibility of singing, or at least listening to, seasonal carols, as well as sending and receiving cards and gifts and even (possibly) meeting up once more with friends and families to celebrate.

My favourite Christmas cards are those that depict biblical scenes of the stable, the shepherds and the Holy Family, most of which take their inspiration from the early chapters of St Luke’s Gospel, which may, in turn, have been inspired by the text from lsaiah l:3 — ‘the ox knows its owner and the donkey its crib.’ Such scenes are reproduced countless times in paintings such as The Nativity of circa 1520 from the workshop of Bemadino Luini (see elsewhere in this issue, under ‘Notable of the Month’, for a little more information about him). It shows Mary and Joseph admiring, perhaps worshipping, the new-born Christ child, as the animals, situated behind them, poke their heads out of the stable. Less traditional in this painting is the group of cherubs in the top left-hand corner. Also, in the middle distance a couple of shepherds can be seen, one of whom is bearing a lamb on his shoulders, pointing to the role ofthe Christ-child as lamb of God. This detail is reminiscent, also, of the earliest depictions of Jesus in the catacombs, in which he is shown as the Good Shepherd, likewise carrying a lamb on his shoulders.

However Christmas may be for you and your loved ones this year, l pray that it will be a merry and joyful one, as we give thanks, once again, for the greatest gift of all, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Stephen

The Sidlesham War Memorial is a grade II listed structure. It is located within the churchyard and consists of a squat obelisk on a square plinth. It is set within a small kerbed enclosure. It was originally constructed in the 1920s to commemorate the 20 Sidlesham people who lost their lives in the First World War. There is an addition, dedicated in 1948, to the 20 who lost their lives in the Second World War.

On the Sunday nearest the 11 November we meet at the war memorial at 11am to remember the fallen. This year because of government restrictions it is not possible.

On the scroll tablet it says:

  • SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THIS PARISH WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 - 1918
  • THEY DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE

On the tablet, in front it says:

  • AND TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THIS PARISH WHO MADE THE GREAT SACRIFICE 1939 - 1945
  • AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING/ WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
Dear Friends

The pandemic has derailed and played havoc with many cherished annual festivities, not least this month, when we would normally be celebrating harvest thanksgiving. We shall still have a harvest-themed service on the first Sunday in October at 10.00am, but, sadly, we shall have to forgo our annual harvest supper with entertainments and communal singing!

As I write during September, we have just enjoyed a low-key, but still very meaningful patronal festival for the Birth of Mary, our patron saint. Sunday School leader and Churchwarden, Chris Field, gave a most interesting talk on the definition of the word ‘patron’, and, of course, we had our ‘blue set’ of hangings and vestments on display since blue is traditionally the colour associated with Mary.

Over the centuries, Mary has been depicted in many different ways, and most art galleries have a crop of ‘Madonna’ pictures, in which she is usually shown wearing a blue overmantle. Sometimes her husband, Joseph, is also included, although he is olten shown as elderly and trail, perhaps as a subtle indication that he would have been too old to sire children, and therefore highlighting the miraculous nature ofthe incarnation ofthe child, Jesus.

One exception to this tradition is to be found in the National Gallery of Scotland; it is The I10/y Family with a Palm Tree by Raphael, dated c1507. ln this instance, a youngish Joseph (perhaps in his 30s) is tenderly supporting the boy Jesus, who is looking interestedly towards his guardian. Mary looks as if she is not quite sure whether to relinquish her normal, protective hold on her child in favour of Joseph. Commentators often remark on the number of Madonnas which Raphael undertook. This was doubtless mainly because many of his works were commissioned by churches, but there may, also, have been a personal reason, since Raphael lost his own mother while she was still young, so perhaps his continual reversion to this subject was, in part, compensation for his own sense of loss.

Whatever the case, Mary, as our patron saint, continues to inspire us by her example. As Chris Field suggested in her talk, although biblical references to her are not numerous, her faith, in times of adversity as well as in joy, shines through, and gives us hope that we too, with God’s help, can liilfil his purposes for us, even during the most challenging times.

Stephen

Dear Friends

In an article in The Times recently (10th August edition), entitled beware the march towards a Zoom dystopia', the journalist Clare Foges begins with an amusing lead-in, too long to quote here, but which describes the typical staccatos start of a zoom chat'. What has been, during lockdown, a sensible alternative to commuting to the office, which carries all the attendant risks of Covid infection, is now, in her view. risking another social danger - the making permanent of remote meetings, consultations watts medical practitioners and even judicial trials, which could be conduced without judges or juries being able to assess (lives the body language of suspects. lt is possible that, with regard to the latter zoom teals' may become accepted praline, just as online lending within universities, even once the worst of the pandemic has passed, may replace face-to-face lectures and tutorials. Of course, there are advantages with these arrangements - working from home may mean that businesses no longer have to invest in costly bricks and mortar, since the kitchen table will replace the office desk.

However, there are disadvantages, too, and Clare Foges in her article points out that 'enthusiasts for technology miss the vital human need for face-to-face contact, which has a pratical and social purpose'. Where such contact is lacking, there is evidence of an increase in loneliness and depression - students on their laptops in university hostels, for example, especially those of a quieter, more introspective type. and experiencing their first time away from home, can come a prey to mental health issues which, sadly, are already prevalent among that age group. All too easily, this situation can turn into a suicide scenario.

The article closes with a quotation from E M Forster's The Machine Stops (published 1909) in which, with remarkable prescience, Forster imagines a future in which people are condemned to living in individual cells underground, isolated from each other and communicating only through blue screens. One man yearns for authentic contact with his mother: 'I want to see you not through the Machine . . . I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine'. One has sympathy with the final plea of this thoughtful piece, 'please let techdistancing be for the pandemic, not for life', although we may have to accept that some aspect of our lives may be changed for ever.

'What has all this to do with church?', you may ask. Here at St Mary's, while we continue to adhere to current guidelines concerning social distancing and take all necessary precautions? We recognise the importance of meeting together regularly as the body of Christ. Even though we are not permitted to sing at present, we can still worship together and receive Communion - a sign instrument and foretaste, surely. of the fact that we are not 'distanced' either technically or spiritually, but are members of each other, with Christ as our head. Do join us if you can for our 10:00 am services. 

Stephen

Dear Friends

A cautious lifting of the lockdown is welcome as we slowly resume life in a more normal way. And, of course, we have already been able to resume worship in church, albeit under fairly strict guidelines (details of which can be seen on the website, as well as on the church noticeboard).

One of the most distressing phenomena reported during the lockdown period has been the apparent increase in domestic violence, as couples were forced to spend too much time together, and ‘fault lines’ in their relationships became apparent. Recently, too, even The Times has been full of news about the libel trial currently under way at the Old Bailey, in which Johnny Depp is suing The Sun about allegations made by his former wife, Amber Heard, for having categorized him as a ‘wife beater’. What has emerged appears to be a pattern of unseemly mutual violence between the couple, with vodka and champagne bottles being thrown, and blood spilt ~ although Depp is in his 50s, and Heard in her 30s, one cannot escape the conclusion that both at times have behaved like ‘naughty children’.

This leads us to the deeper question of why people fall out in this way. Even the most ancient Scriptural texts attest to the fact that this is a problem which has always been with us. We all know about Cain and Abel, but the Scriptures are full of stories of unscrupulous and blameworthy behaviour, as well as of the constant call from the Lord to ‘do better’. For example, there is the saga of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who “landgrabs’ the vineyard of their neighbour, Naboth, because it is adjacent to the palace. The upshot is that Naboth is unfairly convicted on a trumped-up charge and is stoned to death. This unseemly episode forms part of the ‘Elijah cycle’ of narratives and, of course, the prophet roundly condemns Jezebel, who then threatens to retaliate. Elijah decides that, in this instance, discretion is the better pan of valour and decides to flee to the wilderness, where he hides in a cave. There God appears to him, not through an earthquake, mighty wind or fire, but through the ‘still small voice’ which speaks a word of rebuke, but also of guidance.
Perhaps this is at least one answer to the endemic problems of violence and aggression which continue to be encountered in our own times? We need to make time to still ourselves, like Elijah, and listen for the ‘still small voice’ of the Lord, who sometimes challenges us but also lovingly puts us back on the right track.

However you may be spending this summer, now that it is here, I hope and pray it is a happy time for you and your families and, as is said so often at the moment, ‘keep well and stay sate’.

Stephen


‘THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK’ FROM THE REVEREND STEPHEN GUISE, PRIEST IN CHARGE – FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 5 JULY





Rembrandt (1606-1669), ‘Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law’, 1659, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Dear Friends (Click for audio)

Last Sunday, the ‘thought for the week’ focused upon St John the Baptist, who features in the Gospel narrative for this Sunday.  So this time I shall be taking a look at another reading set for today, taken not from the principal service but from what the Common Worship lectionary describes as the ‘3rd service’ (i.e. the readings set for Mattins).

It is Deuteronomy 24:10-22 and it is an interesting passage because it confounds some of our preconceptions concerning the ‘Old Testament’, or ‘Hebrew Scriptures’.  ‘Humane’ is perhaps not a word which immediately springs to mind in this context, since so many narratives within these books of the bible seem to be concerned with ‘divine wrath and punishment’.  Nevertheless, this passage is just that, humane, a fact which might at first glance seem remarkable in that it comes from the Torah, or the Jewish Law.

The text makes it clear that if you make a loan to a neighbour and take a pledge in exchange, perhaps a cloak, for example, then you should not keep it overnight, for your neighbour may get cold – so you return it to him for the night.  That way, you will receive a blessing rather than resentment.
Likewise, one is not to withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether Israelites or aliens.  This runs very much counter to the practices of some employers today – especially as we hear lately that the wages of furloughed staff are being kept back and unscrupulous companies are keeping the Government money for themselves.

Similarly, provision is made for those who glean the edges of harvest fields, ie those who were usually the most marginalised groups of society such as widows, aliens and orphans – landowners are to ensure that, as the crops are harvested, the stubble around the edges should be allowed to remain, and that grapes are to be left on the vine, and olives on the trees, so that these vulnerable groups have something to take away with them.  The purpose is to keep reminding the people of Israel that they too were once an enslaved and vulnerable people in Egypt, prior to the Exodus.

Most of us at times in our lives have experienced hardship of various kinds, and this passage in Deuteronomy is a salutary reminder to us to respond with compassion to the needs of our neighbours.  Although now part of the Law, Deuteronomy was a later addition to the four books which had previously made up the Torah – the compilers were clearly coming to that greatest of realisations that ‘love is the fulfilling of the Law’.

Finally, it has been good to receive, within the last few days, not only the latest Government advice concerning the resumption of public worship, but also Bishop Martin’s very helpful Ad Clerum which gives practical and detailed suggestions for the ways in which our services can be conducted in as safe a way as possible over the next weeks and months.  I shall be meeting with our Churchwardens to discuss things during the course of next week and, once we have come to a common mind on these matters, we shall, of course, let you know the outcome as soon as possible.  There is much to think about to ensure that the arrangements are right for St Mary’s, so please bear with us in the meantime!

Fr Stephen


Collect for the Fourth Sunday (Click for audio)after Trinity

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Romans 7.15-25a (Click for audio)

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate.

Now if I do what I do not want,
I agree that the law is good.

But in fact it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me.

For I know that nothing good dwells within me,
that is, in my flesh.
I can will what is right,
but I cannot do it.

For I do not do the good I want,
but the evil I do not want is what I do.

Now if I do what I do not want,
it is no longer I that do it,
but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good,
evil lies close at hand.

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,

but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind,
making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am!
Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Gospel  Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30 (Click for audio)

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

At that time Jesus said,

"But to what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces
and calling to one another,

"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

For John came neither eating nor drinking,
and they say, "He has a demon';

the Son of Man came eating and drinking,
and they say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

"I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and the intelligent
and have revealed them to infants;

yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father;
and no one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

"Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."