Mary, faith and holding on

When I was nine years old, I remember having a discussion with my friend, Cherry, at school about how babies were made. She thought boys had something to do with it. I asked my mum and dad about it after school that day and they sat me down in our dining room and told me the biological facts of human reproduction. I burst into tears. It was all a bit too much for me that day, even though, to this day, I remain grateful to my late parents for their courage, honesty and clarity in telling me the Facts of Life.

My mum, Jean, was told nothing at all on this subject by her parents. When she was nine years old and her younger sister, Margaret, was born, my mum looked in the dustbin for the eggshells from the eggs which she thought her mum must have laid when the baby was born!

After my parents’ honest chat with me, they gave me a Ladybird Book called The Human Body which contained the details they had explained to me (plus colour drawings!) and which also explained digestion, respiration etc. That book gave me a lifelong interest in how the human body works in sickness and in health.

Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was probably only 14 or 15 years old when Jesus was conceived within her by divine, not human, means. Initially fearful and confused as to how this promised baby could possibly be created without the help of a man, Mary then demonstrates an impressively open-minded, trusting and humble faith in the fulfilment of God’s promises to send a Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.

So, what does such a young girl as Mary do in this highly irregular, not to say potentially shameful situation, of being pregnant but not being married? Remember also that a standard human baby would have been enough of a worry, but her baby was nothing less than the Son of God.  A pretty tall order for one so young.

As many women have done before and since, Mary seeks female support and travels from the one-camel town which is Nazareth – it possibly only had around 150 inhabitants – for four days into the hill country of Judea to her much older relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Some scholars believe that Joseph may have accompanied Mary on this potentially dangerous and arduous trip at the start of a pregnancy which will also end with an arduous trip but that time to Bethlehem. We can only imagine the conversations between Zechariah, Elizabeth’s elderly husband and Joseph, if Joseph did go along to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home with Mary.

I wonder whether Mary was sure of the welcome she would receive from Elizabeth? Might Mary have feared criticism or rejection by Elizabeth? Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary was nervous about their meeting. I have no doubt that on her long journey, Mary would have prayed for a happy meeting. Her prayers are answered, if so, in spades.

As Luke describes it, what happens when Mary does eventually arrive at Elizabeth’s home is a wonderful scene, quite rare in the Bible, of a very pure, intimate, domestic demonstration of female bonding, unshakeable faith and mutual empowerment.  Though Mary’s pregnancy probably does not yet show physically, Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest, Zechariah, knows with eyes of faith that the child Mary carries within her is indeed Our Lord Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist, as an unborn baby, moves within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets Elizabeth. The Bible states that the unborn John ‘leapt for joy’, possibly a little bit of literary exaggeration but entirely appropriate for such a significant encounter with the divine Son of God.

Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because, she says, the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘my Lord’ and because Mary believed that she would conceive and bear a Son even though Mary had absolutely no idea how it would happen.

No idea how it would happen……. Do you currently have no idea how you are going to get through a particularly testing time in your life?   Do you have no idea where money is going to come from? Do you have no idea how a personal disagreement or problem is going to be solved?  Do you feel up against it, muddled, confused, with no idea about something you simply do not understand?

Try singing your prayers, as Mary did in her beautiful, praiseful, worshipful, well-known song called The Magnificat.  Singing may relax you enough so that you can start to see God opening a door you did not see before. Keep an open mind and stay humble, believing, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God but do also, as she did, seek support and advice from other trustworthy sources. Dig deep within yourself to find the child-like faith Mary had in God who puts to flight proud hearts and stubborn wills, who feeds the hungry with good things and lifts up the lowly. Believe with all your heart, that, as we sing in the hymn Tell Out My Soul, God’s promise to each and every one of us, is firm and his mercy from age to age is sure and unchanging. He will bring us through every time of testing. Tears will last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

From a sermon by Wendy Edwards, preached at St John’s on Sunday, December 22.

 

Picture: Waiting For The Word, Madonna – Mary & Jesus – artist Warner Sallman. Creative Commons.

Christmas – a story of hope and unity

This Christmas, come and join us at services at any of the three churches – St George’s in Badshot Lea, St John’s in Hale, St Mark’s in Upper Hale. For details of services, see here. For details of why you may want to, read on.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  It is something that defines us. We love stories, we define ourselves by our stories, in them we find identity. We even turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because everything needs a story for us to find it plausible; if there is no story then we don’t really register what we are hearing; lists of names or facts or equations generally bore us.

More than anything we need stories of hope and stories to unite us. These are the best stories and they are even better if we tell them from one generation to the next, including the children in the telling. I love the Jewish tradition of Passover, with the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs and the four glasses of wine representing hope, and the youngest child asks the question four times in different ways “Why is this night, of all nights, different?”

The story of Christmas is part of the greatest story ever told, and for me it is the most shocking part, that 2000 years ago a baby was born who united heaven and earth, united God and humankind, and this baby was born in humble circumstances. This baby was worshipped by angels in heaven, poor shepherds who lived locally, and rich magi who had travelled from afar. The baby gets a name “Emmanuel” which means “God with us”, and in that name is our hope and our unity, God is with us… Wow…

We remember this each year, we act it out at our crib services, we involve our children, so that we all know the story. We know that Herod was horrible, we know that there was no room at the inn, we know that Mary was a virgin (even if some of us don’t yet know that word means!) and that she travelled a long way on a donkey whilst heavily pregnant. During the rendition of this story some of the women who have given birth smile at the depictions of Mary’s labour, there are usually a few costume malfunctions, sometimes we struggle to find a Joseph (understandable really), and we all sing carols. The story doesn’t get old or tired.

We also remember this story each year at the “First mass of Christmas” – Midnight Mass – when the church is lit with candles and the organ plays the carols we know so well. Everything is more magical at night time, we wait up past our bedtimes with expectation and with joy, joining together as a rather disparate community, all with one intention, to see in this special day where we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. There are some who come to church only once a year to this service, there are some who have come from afar who are staying with friends or relatives, there are some who have just come from the pub; last year we had some who were Muslims and who had never been to a service in their lives before, and there are some who are regulars at that church. This is the magic of Christmas – the ability for this story to bring us all together in hope.

I love the poem “Christmas” by John Betjeman that we hear each year at the carol service at St John’s. It ends with a question:

And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

 

And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

 

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare –

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.

 

And is it true? Why is this night of all nights different?

I pray that your Christmas will be joyful and give you hope, I pray that you will find unity and community in your travels this Christmastide and I pray that this will bless you throughout 2019.

Lesley Crawley

 

Support when Christmas hurts

Tonight at St John’s, Hale, we are holding a service especially for people for whom Christmas is a time of pain and grieving.

The Longest Night – when Christmas hurts will take place at 7.30pm, and is a service of prayers, music, readings and lighting candles, for people who want to reconnect with the love of God from the depths of their own pain.

Lesley Crawley explains the thinking behind this: “Christmas is a particularly difficult time to be grieving or feeling pain. Jesus came into our broken world as a helpless baby and through this simple service we pray that you will find hope and comfort in knowing that you are not alone.”

Anyone who would like pastoral support or to talk to someone in the parish about any difficulty is invited to contact Lesley or Alan Crawley on revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org or revd.alan@badshotleaandhale.org or 01252 820537.

 

Come and sing carols!

Come and sing carols for Christmas!

As we approach Christmas, there are plenty of opportunities to join in singing carols in celebration, starting with Informal Carols by Candlelight at St Mark’s on Friday (14th) at 6pm.

Then on Sunday (16th) both St George’s and St John’s are holding carol services.

At St George’s at 11.30am come and join the Worship for All Carol Service, and later that day there is a Candlelit Carol Service at 6pm.

Meanwhile at St John’s at 4pm, join in the beautiful traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight.

On Monday (17th) at 6pm, there will be carols under the lit tree at St George’s (inside if wet).

And on Tuesday (18th), come and sing carols at the Hale Institute from 6-8pm.

Come and celebrate with us! Everyone is welcome.

A Christmas carol extravaganza!

Come and join our Christmas Carol Extravaganza on Saturday (December 8) at St Mark’s, any time from 10.30am.

The day starts with coffee at 10.30am followed by carols from 11am and a light lunch at 12.30pm.

There are plenty of favourite carols to join in with – O come, O come Emmanuel; Silent Night; Hark! the herald-angels sing; Good King Wenceslas; The Holly and the ivy; O come, all ye faithful, and many, many more. There will also be ‘Christmas Rhythm’, a piece by Geoff Willis with eight Christmas carols hidden within.  The audience can have some fun identifying them.

All the pieces and carols will be played  on ‘Emily’, our treasured Edwardian organ, with other instruments sometimes to help her out.  Bob Shatwell is MC, and he’s leading ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ at the end, so anything could happen!  Donations welcome in aid of Emily. There will also be a raffle.

Emily is 106, and has a few tricks! You’ll hear surprising sounds you wouldn’t expect. A short demo will reveal her eccentricities, and the need to raise funds.

Global crisis – local solutions

“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”

How can we reduce our impact on the environment? Are there are any steps we can take locally? Wendy Edwards has some suggestions:

The advice: “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time”  is possibly from 1950s America. The members of the Baltimore Grotto Caving Club were concerned to avoid harming the underground caves which they explored so the quotation was a helpful reminder for them.

I am a not a great photographer, so I am more likely to take away memories from any experience rather than photos.

I was brought up never to drop litter and to take my rubbish home with me. It seems that many would do well to adopt this habit. I find it scandalous that motorway litter-picking workers place their lives at risk on motorway verges, collecting litter thrown from cars near motorway service stations.  ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ seems to be the mentality of thoughtless car occupants when they lob their coffee cup or sandwich wrapper out of the car window.

I do my level best to recycle properly at home and at the dump and to be careful about what I put in my recycling bin and non-recycling (land waste) bin each week.

I am also a vegan.  I have enjoyed a healthy, varied plant-strong diet for five years now. As a vegan who wishes to further reduce her impact on the environment, I was delighted to discover the tiny but perfectly formed vegan café called Okomoko at 18 Downing Street, Farnham.

It has a Facebook page which you can find here, and it is open some evenings for themed evenings.

Upstairs there is a zero waste zone, run by the very helpful Annabel and Sarah. Here, at Keep (as in Keep Old Containers) you can take your own containers in to collect some of your weekly shop. For example, you can fill an airtight jar or biscuit tin from home with some beetroot/ mixed vegetable or potato crisps. In the UK, we munch our way through six billion packets of crisps a year and throw the non-recyclable plastic packets into our non-recyclable bins, so they end up in landfill and can take more than 30 years to decompose, sometimes much longer.

Walkers, our biggest crisp manufacturer, has pledged to make crisp packaging 100 per cent recyclable by 2025, but if you want to do your bit now, then do consider buying your crisps at Keep. They also try to help animals and the environment and prevent excess packaging by having various products e.g. fabric conditioner, washing-up liquid, floor cleaner and multi-surface cleaners in huge pump-action containers so you can fill up and re-use your existing containers.

When my Ecover washing up liquid at home runs out, I will keep the container ( I usually throw it away in my recycling bin and buy a new one but re-using it is much more sensible) and I will refill it with their environmentally friendly, vegan, washing-up liquid which is certified as not tested on or harmful to animals.

Some popular brands are harmful to fish. For reasons unknown to me, young fish never seem to have the popular appeal of puppies, lambs, piglets or kittens, but neither they nor their parents or siblings deserve to die because we humans wish to wash our dishes in a liquid which is but poisonous to fish or because we do not bother to look at the back label on the bottle. There is a warning on the back of many bottles – “harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects”.

The cost for the all-surface cleaner on sale in Keep, above Okomoko, is 30 pence per 100 ml (so just £1.50 for a 500 ml bottle I supply myself; not a bad price at all) and Annabel says that the Environment Agency was very impressed with the speed with which it killed bacteria as tested in the Okomoko café kitchen downstairs. The café has the maximum hygiene rating of 5. So, these products are effective at killing germs while saving the lives of the fish we may not give a second thought to as we plod on with our housework or washing up.

For Keep, visit the Facebook page here or follow the shop on Twitter (@keepzerowaste) and they do pop-up shops in various locations too, and are happy to give talks.

It may not cost you as much as you think to start buying environmentally friendly, animal friendly, effective cleaning products from a local supplier, while also reusing your old containers. Sounds like a win-win situation for humans, animals and our beautiful planet, and that gets my vote every time.

 

Wendy Edwards

 

Pictured are Annabel (left) and Sarah in Keep.

 

St John’s receives Eco Church award

St John’s Church has received a Bronze Eco Church award in recognition of both its commitment to reducing its carbon emissions and of its encouragement of local wildlife.

The church uses renewable gas and electricity and has installed swift boxes on the side of the church to encourage swifts to nest. Swifts have suffered a dramatic decline of 50 per cent in the last 20 years, in large part because of a lack of nesting places, and boxes such as those at St John’s and St George’s in Badshot Lea, are being used to encourage the birds to breed.

Lesley Crawley said: “We are delighted to have received this award for St John’s which means that all three churches in the parish now have the bronze award. The world is in environmental crisis as global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and species numbers decline. Only this week the Met Office has warned that summers could be five degrees hotter in the UK by 2070, with summer rainfall decreasing and sea levels rising. It is up to all of us to do something if we are to save our planet.”

Eco Church is run by A Rocha UK (ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/), a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world. The Eco Church award scheme encourages churches in England and Wales to look at how they express their care for the world in worship and teaching; in looking after buildings and land; in engaging in both the local community and global campaigns, and in the personal lifestyles of the congregation.

There are three levels of award – bronze, silver and gold – and all three churches in the parish are now working towards a silver one.