Thursday, 1 August 2019
Dear Friends,

Now that the significant anniversaries of the end of the First World War and of D-Day in the Second World War have passed, I've noticed that several Cold War dramas and documentaries have been screened recently on television. This, together with the Korean War and the Suez crisis, I remember very well, and most of my childhood seemed to have been lived under the 'shadow of the Bomb'.

My mother who, it has to be said, was a worrier, was under the impression that my father would be called up again as he had been in 1939, serving throughout that war in some of the most challenging of the campaigns and battles. My mother was anxious, too, that, once we were older, both my brother and I would also be called up. As with most Cold War scares, nothing came of these concerns. However, other anxieties about fall-out from nuclear missiles and preparations for that were real enough, and there was much discussion as to whether we lived sufficiently far away from central London, the presumed target for Russian attacks. I remember once seeing a chap on the London underground openly reading a Russian grammar book and thinking to myself that he was taking a risk - it was the age of 'Reds under the bed'!

Similarly, the Cuban missile crisis, which was a very dangerous moment during the Cold War in the 1960s, nevertheless marked the beginning of a cooling-off (if that is the right term to use in this context!) of tension - although East / West relations continued to be strained until the 1980s. By then, a gradual relaxation of mutual suspicion was observable, especially through the production of films such as From Russia with Love and Dr Strangelove, which seemed to give us permission to laugh about this topic - humour very often defuses a situation, as we know, and I have often found that this helps on occasion during meetings!

The question remains, however, whether, having experienced these and similar crises and events, we have learned anything, or grown in understanding or maturity? Certainly, one of the blessings of older age is that we are enabled to 'take the long view' and see such issues in perspective - and, above all, against the horizon of God's unending faithfulness and mercy. There are many times when the dire predictions of the more strident media voices have been proved wrong - for instance, the Royal Family, which was the subject of much scathing attack and criticism during the 1960s and subsequently, is currently more popular than ever, thanks, in large part, to the unswerving dedication and Christian witness, in good times and bad, of Her Majesty the Queen, now so ably supported by the younger members of her family. Who knows, perhaps the Church, too, of which she is Supreme Governor, will one day regain its place at the heart of our nation?

In the meantime, may God continue to bless this parish and all who live and work here.

Stephen

Monday, 1 July 2019
Dear Friends

The coverage in the media of the 75th anniversary of D-Day has been full, not to say extensive, so I hesitate to add my halfpenny-worth; also, unlike the theatres of war in Dunkirk, North Africa, the Far East and Italy I have no relatives who were at D-Day whose anecdotes I could relate. But one aspect that has not, to my knowledge, been explored relates to the practices and dry runs, so to speak, carried out prior to the invasion.

The 'brass hats', as senior officers were called, scouted out beaches in Great Britain which were similar to those of Normandy, and one such was Slapton Ley, near Salcombe, in south Devon. When we visited the spot some years ago we noticed a monument to an unfortunate incident which took place in the run-up to D-Day. Apparently, this was a 'live fire' exercise in which mostly American troops were landed on Slapton sands - but somebody blundered by setting the elevation on a machine gun wrongly, so, instead of the live ammunition going over the heads of our allies, many, perhaps hundreds, were killed. This event, largely forgotten now, coincided with a naval action off shore which also resulted in casualties, although not as many as was the case on shore. As far as I know, no one was brought to book for the shooting, although the private who was operating the machine gun was rapidly relieved by his officer.

I expect that, sadly, this was not the only such case, and, of course, our debt of gratitude must extend as much to those who died in what might appear to be such futile circumstances as to those who lost their lives on D-Day itself - all were involved in the fight for freedom, and their sacrifice has enabled us to enjoy so many decades of peace and security. As we give thanks, on this special anniversary" for their courage, it behoves us not to take that freedom for granted, and to continue to pray that those in authority over us will be given grace and wisdom in their decisionmaking, for the sake of generations to come.

Stephen

Wednesday, 1 May 2019
Dear Friends

May Day has come to be associated with Communism, and large military parades in Red Square, Moscow. To counteract this the Roman Catholic Church inserted a new feast, 'St Joseph the Workman', into the calendar, but it has never really caught on, especially within the Anglican Communion, which has retained its prior loyalty to the feast of St Philip and St James.

However, just as Mothering Sunday celebrates not only Mary as the mother of Jesus, but also the Church as our spiritual mother, and motherhood generally, so there's no reason why these two saints, affectionately known as 'Pip and Jim', cannot remind us of the dignity of labour - and especially the work of evangelism. Philip was born in Bethsaida and was originally a disciple of John the Baptist but we learn, from John I :44-45, that he was so enthused by the call of Jesus to follow him, that he rapidly became the first evangelist, persuading Nathaniel that Jesus was the one 'of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote.' In response to Nathaniel's dismissal of the idea that anything good could come from Nazareth, Philip invites him to meet Jesus with the memorable words, 'Come and see'. Subsequently, Philip is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:26-40) as the apostle who explains the meaning of the Scriptures to the Ethiopian who had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and baptizes him. It is believed that Philip later preached in present-day Turkey and was buried in Hierapolis, currently known as Pammukkale.

It is hard to distinguish between the various references in the New Testament to James, but it is usually understood that James 'the Less', or 'the Younger', was the son of Alphaeus, and tradition often identifies him with James 'the Lord's brother' who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was also traditionally assumed to be the author of the epistle of James, and to have been martyred in Jerusalem in AD62. These two saints are commemorated together because their relics were taken to Rome and enshrined together in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. The following is the Collect which is used on their feast day:

'Almighty Father, whom truly to know is eternal life, teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life, that we may follow the steps of your holy apostles Philip and James, and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.'

A very happy Eastertide to you all.

Stephen
Saturday, 23 March 2019
No other issue in the Church has been as contentious as the date of Easter. It was one of the main reasons for the Great Schism of the 11 century, when the Church in the East (Orthodox) and the Church in the West (Latin) went their separate ways.

A few years ago there was a proposal to 'secularize' the issue, and to plump for a fixed date for Easter, but that has been dropped for the time being. Looking at my copy of Common Worship, there is, on page 17, a run-down of dates for Easter (and other variable dates, all of which are governed by the date for Easter), from 2001 to 2030, and here I read that the earliest date for Easter is 23 March (this occurred back in 2008) and the latest is 24 April (which occurred in 2011). You have to turn to the early pages of the Book of Common Prayer to view the Byzantine set of calculations to do with the phases of the moon, which are intended to help us arrive at the 'golden numbers', and hence at the date for Easter.

I'm sure the Risen Lord would be impatient with such goings-on, but then the Church is made up of fallible human beings, who try to fathom the divine will.
Whatever the date in any given year (this year on 21 April) on which it falls, Easter is the 'festival offestivals', to be celebrated with great joy and rejoicing.

Stephen