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Dear Friends

The question might often arise, "When is Easter this year, (or perhaps next year)?" A tricky one, unless you have a calendar handy! Linking us with the Church’s early days, Easter Day is calculated, l believe, as the Sunday after the full moon on or after a (notional) Vernal Equinox! Understandably, there is always pressure for a more ‘convenient’ fixed date! But the service of God is demanding, and needs discipline, and to start focusing on our convenience is not, surely, an appropriate priority. To make the effort, and the sacrifice, to keep church festivals on the right day, conscious of our unity with Christians in many other places, is a healthy discipline. Our Church is more than our parish! There was the bizarre case ofa certain St John the Evangelist’s parish. St John’s Day, for them, was inconveniently right near Christmas, on 27th December. (lt was doubtless placed there as a special honour for St John!) That feckless parish thought it convenient to celebrate their parish patronal festival on St John’s day, 24th June. They did not care that that June date is for St John the Baptist - not their man at all!

But the calendar takes us only so far. lf celebrating Easter is anything properly real to us, it can happen every day, helping us to be focused on more than the usual pressures and demands of life - money, career, family, and the rest. At his crucifixion, Jesus cried, “lt is finishedl”. He didn’t mean, “l’m finished,” but, triumphantly, "My life and work are completed!"

That life was tackled by attending to his Father, and helping others, in love. This involved effort, discipline, sacrifice, encountering opposition, and finally meeting death. As St John’s Gospel tells it, Jesus did not have his life taken away from him, but voluntarily gave it up. And he told us to take up our own crosses and follow him, and to leave self behind, and lose our life to save it. Life ~ in our secure and prosperous pan of the world — can oten be lived for long periods dodging serious threats and stresses ~ completely ignoring the fact that eventually we will lose our possessions, our strength, and our life itself. As Graham Norton once wrote, so delicately, “all of our lives end up in the skip”. A frail old person once said to me, sadly, of their life, “I have set store by the wrong things”. The pandemic may have brought home to us — very usefully — that, even in our society, this life is fragile and finite. But Easter says that a way of life which is looking to God and, having a vision of life as challenging but hugely hopeful and eternal, can transform every day.

We watch quiz shows and sometimes realise that many in the community have no real idea at all of the Easter story. So, we may think that they need information, and indeed they do. But the key thing is that they need to encounter Easter people, - those who are not just well-informed, but who have something special about them —~ a quiet living relationship with God, a sense of the sacred, and the stability and strength that gives them. A real and attractive and humble humanity, willing to be open and vulnerable, not focused on self, status and control.

Finally, two quotes:

"Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us." -  [Desmond Tutu (apparently referring to Easter)]
"Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." - [St Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1]
Roger

 Dear Friends

It is with great sadness that I must let you know that, in all probability, this will be my last pastoral letter to you as Priest in Charge. You may have noticed over the past year or so that I have become increasingly unsteady, not only ‘on my pins’, but also in conducting public worship, and, approximately two months ago, I was diagnosed as suffering from vascular dementia. This is still in early stages but it is affecting my cognitive and physical capabilities, as well as my mobility, and I have therefore tendered my resignation to the Bishop as I feel I can no longer fulfil my duties here in the way which would be expected.

I’m very sorry to have to do this during such an unsettling time for us all, but I feel sure that the Bishop will not allow you to be left without help and leadership, and will find a replacement for me in due course, who can lead you into the next phase of ministry here. Meanwhile, Fr Roger will be on hand for advice and pastoral care, and I would like to record here my sincere thanks to him for all his support during my twelve-year tenure, especially lately when I have been obliged to ‘shield’ from the virus.

Now would be the time. too. to express my most grateful thanks to Chris and Janet. who. for so many years. have proved to be the very best of Churchwardens. constantly going above and beyond the call of duty, ably supported b) their spouses — as I have been by Margaret. I could not have continued in ministry. or served here for so long, without her unstinting support, and I do thank her. and Chris and Janet, from the bottom of my heart for all they have done. and continue to do.

Finally, I would like to thank each and every one of you for all your generosity, kindness and friendship over the years. It has truly been a privilege, delight and joy to serve in this beautiful parish, and Margaret and l shall miss you all very much indeed, but will be taking many happy memories with us into retirement. As of the time of writing, we are not sure whether it might be possible to hold a socially distanced service for Easter Sunday (please see a note on this elsewhere in this issue), which would be my last Sunday in the parish, but, should this not prove to be the case, please be assured of my prayers and the very best of wishes for the future.

Stephen
Dear Friends

I started this year full of hope that we had seen the worst that Covid had to throw at us. How wrong l was, as a new, virulent strain seems to be making matters worse, not helped by the cavalier attitude exhibited by a minority, who are flouting the restrictions by congregating in ever greater numbers, refusing to wear facema"ks, etc. lt seems that 2021 may prove to be yet another year to "write off” as far as normality is concerned.

In this parish we have had to take the step of foregoing church services as both l and Fr Roger are over 70 and, in addition, l am obliged to "shield" due to a range of underlying conditions. For both of us, this goes against the grain, but it seems that we must be patient and wait to be vaccinated, and then for the vaccinations to take effect, which may mean we shall not be able to resume public worship before Easter. I am, as ever, deeply grateful to our Churchwardens and PCC for their support in this matter, and the church remains open daily for private prayer.

By mid-February, we shall be in Lent (Ash Wednesday falls on 17 February) and I am reminded of the words of St Benedict who, in his Rule for religious communities, suggests that "the life of the monk should be a continuous Lent" - "few . . . have the strength for this". For many of us, it may seem that our lives recently have consisted of a "continuous Lent", subject to deprivations of various sorts, and it’s hard not to become discouraged and gloomy. Some have likened our current situation with the early part of the Second World War ~ but at least we do not have bombers overhead!

At Christmas, I was given an interesting book, written by Robert Matzen, on Audrey llepburn’s wartime experiences (Audrey Hepburn and World War II: Dutch Girl). lt recounts how Audrey’s Dutch mother, initially a supporter of Hitler, soon changed her mind once neutral Holland was invaded, and a relative, Uncle Otto, was taken into a wood with four others and shot in reprisal for a bombing in Rotterdam by the Resistance. Being half-English and half-Dutch, Audrey was removed from her school in Kent and taken to Arnhem which, at the time, was thought to be safer - apparently, prior to the War, it had been a beautiful town, but, by the time of the Arnhem parachute offensive by the Allies, it was practically flattened. Audrey was only a teenager during this period but she played her part in the fight against Nazism by helping British airmen evade capture and sharing her own meagre rations with them — actions which foreshadowed her future humanitarian work, when she used the fame and fortune she later acquired through film acting to help others, and especially children.

Such examples help us, perhaps, to take heart at this time, and to make whatever small offering we can (even if this consists simply in ‘staying at home’ and doing our part to protect our NHS) in the current fight against an invisible, but deadly, enemy.

Stephen
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