Parish Priest’s Page
from THE BISHOP OF EBBSFLEET
Hill House, The Mount, Caversham READING RG4 7RE
We are delighted to announce that Fr Adam Burnham SSC currently Assistant Curate at Holy Trinity, Taunton in the diocese of Bath & Wells has been appointed to serve as Assistant Priest at Hanslope & Castlethorpe in the Diocese of Oxford. Adam is 36 and hails originally from Texas in the USA.
Fr Adam is joining the benefice as Assistant Parish Priest while Fr Gary Ecclestone, the incumbent, is being seconded by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet for a wider role across the See of Ebbsfleet as Healthy Churches Mentor.
Fr Adam will be joining an active and busy church to lead the church in its ongoing mission to, and service of, the two villages. He will be taking a lead in the day to day worshipping and pastoral ministry of the church across the community, and within that working actively in developing our ministry to children and young people and their families, and among young adults across the Benefice.
Fr Gary says “We were delighted to appoint Fr Adam from among a slate of impressively competent candidates at the interviews in February. Adam is very personable and is passionate about encouraging people of all ages to grow in their relationship with Christ and I am delighted that he has accepted our offer to join us here for the next four or five years of our life together.”
Fr Adam says, “It is my great pleasure and privilege to be called to minister in the benefice of Hanslope and Castlethorpe, which have been so creatively served by Fr Gary. While my time in the market town of Taunton, Somerset has been a true joy, I now look forward to embracing a more rural ministry and lifestyle. This is a vibrant and healthy benefice in which to develop my skills in priestly leadership, and I look forward to partnering with the congregations to use our gifts in loving and serving these beautiful villages for Christ and his Church.”
Bishop Jonathan says, “Pentecost is a wonderful moment to make this announcement. The field was strong, the discernment thorough, and everyone was agreed in calling Fr Adam to serve in Hanslope and Castlethorpe He is a fine and dedicated young priest, has found a real love of ministry in village communities, and has an evangelist’s love of bringing the mercy and joy of the Gospel to other people. I pray the Lord’s richest blessing on his pastoral leadership and his partnerships in the parish and wider deanery. I want also to express my gratitude to the PCCs for their ongoing support for the wider role that Fr Gary will exercise with the parish as his praying base, and to the bishops and dioceses of Coventry and Oxford, and especially Archdeacon Guy, for their vision and commitment.”
Breaking News 2
Appointment of a Healthy Churches Mentor for the parishes of the See of Ebbsfleet
On 5 March 2016 the Ebbsfleet Lay Congress at Coventry Cathedral was addressed by the then Archdeacon Missioner in the Diocese of Coventry, Morris Rodham, who talked about strategies for church growth and evangelization, and especially about the 8 Essential Qualities which underpinned a programme for Growing Healthy Churches that he had introduced, very successfully, across the Diocese of Coventry. That same day was also addressed by Bishop Rowan Williams, on the theme of ‘Growing the Catholic Community’.
Subsequently Archdeacon Morris proposed to make the programme available to parishes across the See of Ebbsfleet too. With Bishop Jonathan’s support the Diocese of Coventry included the See of Ebbsfleet in a funding bid to the Church of England’s Strategic Development Fund, which obtained funding for a full-time post to undertake the work of supporting Ebbsfleet parishes in the aspiration to grow the church using the Healthy Churches Programme.
At last the scheme can begin, and Bishop Jonathan is delighted to announce that The Reverend Canon Gary Ecclestone SSC has been appointed to this new role available to the parishes under his oversight.
Fr Gary has been Vicar of Hanslope & Castlethorpe in the Diocese of Oxford since 2003 and is Area Dean of Newport. He is no stranger to the wider Ebbsfleet Area having been born and brought up in Lichfield diocese, came to faith as a student in Exeter diocese, completed a PGCE living in Truro diocese, trained for ordination in Oxford diocese, and served his title in Salisbury diocese: all dioceses in the area served by the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
Fr Gary’s role will include supporting and mentoring incumbents across the Ebbsfleet area, working with PCCs and key lay people to reflect on the wider life and health of their church communities, introducing the 8 Essential Qualities and supporting parishes in surveying their church life, identifying both things to celebrate as well as areas for future development, and helping implement the Society Bishops’ agenda of ‘Forming Missionary Disciples’. He will be part of a network with others in the Catholic movement who are engaged locally in similar roles
Fr Gary says, “I am hugely excited, albeit slightly trepidatious, at being called to this new post which will take me to a hugely diverse set of parishes from the Fal Estuary in Cornwall, to the very north of Derbyshire. I hope I can bring with me a genuine enthusiasm and passion for growing the church and I am really looking forward to working with priest colleagues and committed lay people, as together we look to take stock of where we are, and discern what the Spirit might be saying to the local Church in each context.”
Bishop Jonathan says, “I am delighted that the efforts and creativity of so many colleagues in the dioceses Coventry and Oxford and the Strategic Investment Board have made this role available to those under my oversight; and I encourage parishes and clergy to embrace it with joy. I’m even more pleased that Fr Gary, who is both a faithful and creative parish priest, is to be the colleague who will share this aspect of my own ministry for and with them. This appointment could not have come at a more opportune moment as the future opens up before us in an unexpected way. It is clear now, as we contemplate life beyond the pandemic, that whatever lies ahead in the design of God for his Church, she has to be herself, serving God, living out all the Gospel reveals. For that, Christians, and Christian communities, need to grow in confidence and holiness, as well as in number from every age group. I look forward to making the most of the time we have with Fr Gary in this role, and thank him for taking it on. May the Virgin Mary, ‘mother of the Church’, accompany with her prayers the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to the people of our time.”
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
‘Whit Monday’ 2020
From The Vicarage
And so May gives way to June. School half terms, the Castlethorpe Duck Race, Open Gardens, concerts and fundraising events, looking ahead to St James’ Open Weekend. All of that would normally have filled my Link Letter. But not this year…
Broadcasting from home has been a fascinating experience. As of writing, Saturday 23rd May, I have livestreamed 134 acts of worship from what used to be my Dining Room and is now the Domestic Chapel, which has involved a little upheaval as you can imagine and I am hugely grateful to Maria and Libby too, via www.facebook.com/StJamesHanslopeLiveStream/ and whilst not everyone has access, or chooses to access, the livestream, surprisingly large numbers of people are, including some of the oldest members of our churches too. Facebook Live has proved to be very reliable and with just one iPad, a fixed camera and Maria, means I have had to be very creative indeed, especially during Holy Week!
It’s also been good to note that those viewing include local residents who do not normally come to church and as we highlighted last month, some former worshippers who have moved away and we are regularly joined by people from Ayrshire, Dorset, Hampshire, North Staffordshire and even Crete. Friends and friends of friends join us too, with viewers from St George’s cathedral, Ho, Norfolk and Derbyshire as well as my former parishioners in Salisbury. Weekday worship is attracting roughly double the numbers it did when we were in church and in spite of the fact that there are those who aren’t able to join us online the Sunday numbers are also as high and often higher than the pre lockdown figures.
We are, of course, in a needs must, set of circumstances and whilst it is good to meet virtually, good to pray, good to hear Scripture being read, to hear sermons, there remains much which is absent. Not physically being together, not being able to sing together, not being able to receive Communion, not to meet socially after we worship in the same way. As the lockdown’s restrictions are lifted we will be left in a possibly uncomfortable limbo. There will be no overnight return to normal and it is difficult to know what the interim phase of the future new normal might be like.
Clearly once we can, legally, meet in Church there will be significant risk assessment to be done, and not everyone will be able to leave their homes straightaway either. We will take very seriously our responsibility to ensure as far as we can, that people are as safe as they can be in our church buildings. This will necessitate careful work behind the scenes and some difficult decisions. It may be one of our church building is easier to open safely than the other, it may be we have to restrict numbers, it may even be worshipping outdoors when the weather permits may be easier initially over the High Summer than using the building. It may be we are required to introduce forms of deep cleaning between services, which may, or may not actually be realistic or indeed affordable. All of these issues and much else will have to be carefully thought through, and by people who cannot yet meet physically with one another! And of course we will need to continue to offer worship online for those who cannot yet attend in person, either because they are in the shielding category or because they do not yet feel safe to come, there will no pressure on people to join in things and we will continue both online and in regular mailings to ensure people feel connected and supported in praying alone at home. And I am very grateful to our two teams of deliverers across the benefice who regularly ensure that all 175 households on my mailing list are kept up-to-date.
Having mastered Facebook Live more and more people have been installing Zoom on their PCs and smart phones and tablets. Our Rosary Group were the first to pray via Zoom and this was followed by Zoom Coffee Mornings which have seen as many as 32 households gather, and on May 17th we were joined by Bishop Jonathan and Sarah his wife too, my screen was so full of boxes it looked like the closing credits of The Muppet Show. This last week some of our youth met up for the first Youth Zoom, on Pentecost Sunday the Sunday Schools are meeting virtually and during June and July there will be a new House Group looking at works of art through the eyes of faith, this group can be joined weekly via Zoom, or for those not able to access Zoom, via an email or phone chat group (details elsewhere in the magazine). Zoom is really quite easy to master so do give it a go!
In the midst of it all there have been good things to celebrate too. The two villages have been very resilient and the level of mutual support has been wonderful, as I expected it would be. Our Pastoral Team members and Corona Friends have plugged the gaps and provided some very much needed support in some quarters with shopping and prescription collection and that work is ongoing. We have worked very successfully with the local Surgery and we have sent large quantities of food to the MK Foodbank from the two villages. St James’ website has been very busy too. The page set up with Corona advice and resources has been visited, rather remarkably, in excess of 2000 times in the last seven weeks and in the first three days of its existence the Emotional Wellbeing page was read nearly 60 times and there will be further news on support for emotional wellbeing during this month.
Christians are Easter People and perhaps more so than ever people of faith have been able to step up and live that out in countless quiet ways in service of our fellow men and women. As the months go by there will much to reflect on and I hope the lessons learned by many will bring about some changes in how we lead lives that personally and globally had become unsustainable in so many ways, and I hope the church can be at the forefront of calling folk back to some first principles in the way we treat one another and the natural world which we inhabit.
Maria joins me in sending our love and the assurance of our prayers,
Holy Week & Easter from The Vicarage
My great-grandparents, Jack & Sarah, were married during the Spanish Flu epidemic 100 years ago and set up home in a newly built, if isolated, semi-detached cottage on the Staffordshire/Shropshire borders in a hamlet in the Parish of Gnosall. My great-grandmother whom I am blessed to remember well and with affection was the last member of my family to be confirmed, 75 years or so before me! My Mother adored her as did I, and my great-grandfather was a gentle soul, a gardener by profession who worked at the local ‘big house’ as head gardener (where his brother in law was Gamekeeper) before he moved to work at the renowned (and sadly much missed) nurseries Bakers of Wolverhampton where he was actively involved in trialling new strains of ‘Russell’ Lupin.
He also ran a small nursery from home with my great uncle and taught me how to manage raspberry canes. He had a particular love for yellow, or amber, raspberries, which only relatively recently have appeared again in some of the UK supermarkets. He, as I, loved cottage garden plants.
Lockdown is of course a cause for reminiscence, and my reflections on Jack & Sarah are wholly due to the impact of the restrictions under which we are all currently living. St Patrick’s Day, March 17th was the last time public worship was offered in the Church of England and that night I celebrated Mass at Castlethorpe as usual, for a few days after that it was possible to celebrate at church with no congregation save for one assistant which I did until Lent 4, March 22nd and then even that became impracticable. And so it was that I set up at home and transformed my Dining Room into a Domestic Chapel. My Dining Room is largely filled with my great-grandparents’ Victorian and Edwardian furniture as well as two prints depicting the Guardian Angels, and their photographs, and, not insignificantly, their sideboard, a gift to them from my maternal great-great-grandparents William and (another) Sarah, which has for the duration become my new altar. What would they make of it I wonder, as another pandemic sweeps the nation, just as one did a century ago when they set up home, that their not especially remarkable furniture, might become a focal point of two churches’ life and worship under the care of their great-great-grandson?
It was obvious that Lock down was coming and there was frenetic activity at the Vicarage to ensure that 250 adult church members would receive packs containing all sorts of resources to help them pray at home and maintain the Christian life. Two such mailings have been collated and sent out, more than 350 envelopes have been stuffed and delivered and the Vicarage printer has managed to produce over 8000 pages of material without once jamming, in spite of the heightened stress levels of the operator. A huge thank you to our delivery teams in the two villages. Simultaneously there was a need for mutual support networks, largely for the church community at Castlethorpe and for the wider community too at Hanslope and so the Corona Friends were born and nearly thirty people have volunteered to offer support. We are blessed to live in communities where mutual support comes naturally and where many folk have good neighbours and good networks, but I am delighted that we have the ability to offer practical support to anyone who might need it.
But the very real need of church members was for a pattern of worship to sustain us through the enforced Eucharistic fast which hit at the very worst possible moment, just before Holy Week. Once materials in paper form had gone out I could tur my attention to broadcasting from home. Armed with just an iPad and my imagination, I set about developing a pattern of worship for Holy Week. Many much loved aspects of our Holy Week journey would be impossible, no Healing Mass, no Chrism Mass, no trip to Lichfield, no Easter Fire etc. But losses created space for new opportunities too. I especially enjoyed compiling a Holy Week in Poetry devotion for Holy Wednesday evening and the Drop in Three Hour Devotion on Good Friday. Again modern technology allowed Alex, Anne and Peter Adams to deliver, memorably, the Passion Gospel in Three Voice parts both on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday.
The late evening office of Compline and devotions such as The Rosary and Stations of Cross were opened up to a wider audience and many people had the opportunity try new things, and do so from home. And of course you could watch on catch up too, so if you missed something you could watch it after the event, and may have done so. The first Sunday Mass saw around 50 people tune in, Palm Sunday 100 and Easter Day nearer 150, and even weekday Eucharists have regularly clocked up 25 people joining in from home. Maria has been alongside me for the duration and how wonderful for me to have a congregation, even if only of one, she, very aware of her role representing the members of both churches and speaking on their behalf, although it has all entailed a modicum of household upheaval!!
Facebook proved a huge bonus to proceedings as though the very easy to use Facebook Live it has been possible with just an iPad to broadcast several times a day. Not only have people been tuning in via their phones and iPads, and PCs, others have streamed the worship via their TVs. Sue Collet sent me a slightly unnerving image of me on her TV and Mike and Rhian Parsons even added incense to their Easter Day Mass watching at their home in Old Stratford!!
And one great joy was that it was not just the regulars who were tuning in. It was those who come to church less often, or never, it was friends of church members whose own churches weren’t livestreaming, it was former members of our congregations joining us from places including, Dorset, Staffordshire and Hampshire Ayrshire, and even Crete! It was members of my former parish in Salisbury, friends from Norfolk, Yorkshire and Lancashire, and even people who found us by chance, like a student from Lesotho who joined our Rosary Group on April 4th! And it wasn’t just Facebook either, we tried the video-conferencing app Zoom too for Rosary and for an Easter Day Coffee Morning which well over 30 people came to, some of whom are pictured here.
It was so good not only to hear people but to see them too, of all ages from Finnian to David Brooks and from all over the country too, at least six counties in fact represented!
And so what next?
We all want this to be over soon. But equally we want it to be over at the right time when it is safe to do so. I am writing this on April 16th and it seems clear to me that the current Lockdown is clearly going to last for at least a further three or four weeks and even then restrictions will last well into the Summer and at least until the return to school in September, if not even longer than that. Restrictions will be lifted slowly, and gatherings of people will clearly need to be curtailed for quite some time. That means pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas as well as churches will be closed for quite some time yet, I suspect, and events over the Summer will need to be cancelled or postponed too as a result.
In the meantime, there is much to do to support friends and neighbours. The page on St James’ church website devoted to the Corona Pandemic, www.stjameshanslope.org/corona-info has been visited more than 1,500 times at the time of writing. It includes how to contact our pastoral team and Corona Friend, a wealth of information about prayer and worship, local shops and businesses, home-schooling resources, mental health resources, the emergency local bus timetable and rather more besides…
Nothing will ever be quite the same again after this. Within the church community we have been forced to find new ways of praying and worshipping, both alone and together. These opportunities, for it is what they are, will do us ultimately no harm. And when the fast from receiving the Eucharist finally comes to an end we will never again take for granted that wonderful opportunity of encountering Christ in the sacrament of his body and blood, as well as the opportunity for being together physically as the body of Christ. We have always known that the church was not merely the building but the people within it, and critically, how those people live out their faith when they are not in the building, But also, we have been reminded just how valuable sacred space and places are to us, and to the wider communities in which we live. Our spires and towers simultaneously lift our eyes up to things beyond us, whilst also reminding us of how small we are, and keeping us in some measure humble too, they are visible reminders of things heavenly and of truths that are eternal.
With the assurance of my prayers for us all as we journey on, “I shall be with you always” says the Lord, “even to the end of time”.
As we prepare to worship tomorrow on the second Sunday of Lent it is necessary that I write to you about Corona Virus.
In reflecting on my response to what is happening I was very much struck by a very informed commentator I saw quoted online earlier:
“I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.
Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.
Our children will thank us for it.”
I am keen not to get caught up in any media frenzy, whilst equally responding proportionately in a way that respects those who are most vulnerable so that we can sustain our shared worshipping life. I am mindful that the vulnerable in this instance includes your Parish Priest as a chronic asthmatic, and of course both my colleagues Fr Robert and Fr Robin are out of action currently too, so you all have a vested interest in my wellbeing in particular!
In church there will be a number of things that will be different and that we ask you to follow, for your good and for us all:
- At home do of course wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, do drink fluids, little and often is recommended
- If you are not 100% well please ask yourself if it is wise to come to Church. If you do and have any kind of minor cough etc then it is essential you use tissues, cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin – some people are carrying a plastic bag with them to store used tissues for disposal at home.
- On arrival at church for services or events there will be sanitiser gel available, please use it
- We won’t be sharing the peace, at least not physically. At the weekday Masses this week we have been putting our hands together and bowing at the person we have been sharing the peace with, it’s a little odd at first, but becomes quite natural quite quickly I have found!
- After careful thought I have decided we will not be sharing the chalice. As on Good Friday, Communion will be shared in one kind only, the consecrated bread. The Church teaches that the fullness of Christ is received in receiving either Christ’s body or his precious blood, (the doctrine of Concomitance) so do not worry that you are being short changed!
In addition to these things rest assured that your Church Officers supported by advice from the national church and diocese, and by the two retired GPs we have in our congregations, have been working with me to ensure that a number of simple changes are happening behind the scenes to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing. Those who are involved in setting up for worship, welcoming and catering, for instance, will be briefed appropriately about anything you need to be aware of.
Whilst the vast majority of church members locally receive my emails, if you are aware of a friend or neighbour who doesn’t, then please could I ask you to share this with them please?
And finally do not forget to pray. And most especially for those in Government and within the NHS who are at the front line of handling this situation.