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 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