Parish Priest’s Page

From The Vicarage February 2017

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

Once again another month has flown by. Latterly it has been, dank, dreary and rather chilly. I love those cold, blue sky, bright sunshine types of wintry day but in common with many, I find dark mornings, dark early nights, and the cold gets me down after a while. As most of you know all I really want to see is some snow and at least we have managed that so something to cheer me! Last year was incredibly mild and we had some very sightings, such as forsythia and kingcups in January!

But in the midst of the dark and cold there are still signs of hope for the future. And amid nature’s emerging promise the Church celebrates the fulfilment of a promise too. Into the darkness has come the one who is the “Light to lighten the Gentiles”, the one recognised by Simeon and Anna as his parents brought him to the Temple forty days after his birth. We call this festival ‘Candlemas’ and each early February it brings to a conclusion the Christmas season, what we call the ‘Cycle of the Incarnation’, which began with hope and expectation on Advent Sunday and has taken in Christmas Day and the arrival of the Magi at the Epiphany twelve days later.

Our Epiphany celebration was another wonderful occasion. Given the fact it was a Friday and there were competing activities it was lovely to see people of all ages sharing a memorable act of worship. The social time after these events is always very enjoyable too, as were Libby’s cupcakes!

The Church Calendar points to this beautiful feast day of Candlemas to be seen as an important and fully integrated festival of the Christmas and Epiphany cycle. It is not some optional extra, but the natural climax, after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. Although the Church allows an approach that ends the annual celebration of the Incarnation after twelve days, she encourages an imaginative use of the weeks of January as an exploration of the Epiphany themes, and see Candlemas as a fitting end to it and an important turning point in the Christian year.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it — presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. The several names by which it has been known in Christian history illustrates also just how much it has to teach and to celebrate.

But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the ‘bitter-sweet’ nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the suffering of Jesus and then to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent sometimes very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, ‘One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!’ On such a reckoning, the liturgical colour changes after Candlemas from the white of Christmas and Epiphanytide, first to ‘ordinary’ green before the change to the more penitential purple as Lent begins. ‘Ordinary’ in this context means ordered rather than plain. With Easter later than last year we have the whole of February to catch our breath before Ash Wednesday, and time to prepare properly for the arrival of Lent and to reflect on how we might make best use of it.

This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st and our joint parish celebration will be at Castlethorpe at 7.30pm that evening. As usual there will be a number of opportunities to gather for worship and prayer and of course there will be groups to go along to also. Do look out for news of all our Lent activities which will be published in a couple of weeks’ time. The usual Lent leaflet will appear and you will find all the detail in the March edition of The Link, on noticeboards and on St James’ Facebook page and website too, www.stjameshanslope.org – it is four years now since we launched the website at St James and over 40,000 pages have been viewed in that time by 11,000 visitors! Advanced details of our Holy Week activities are to be found elsewhere in this edition of The Link.

With my prayers and every blessing for the month ahead,

Fr Gary

 

From The Vicarage – Advent & Christmas 2016

Tel 01908 337936   fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

And so it is Advent. Happy New Year! A new start. In our Sunday Bible readings (The Lectionary) We say goodbye to Year C, the Year of St Luke and hello to Year A, the Year of St Matthew. We are in a waiting and preparing mood. We light advent candles and, in both churches, the (knitted, you understand!) Holy Family start their journey through the village travelling from home to home. In each church they will be blessed on Advent Sunday before being sent out to bring something of the Christmas story to homes in our two parishes.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year. Whilst the secular world is in full seasonal swing we have the privilege of, in part at least, letting them get on with it whilst we wait for the real celebration yet to come. In the meantime we have some lovely seasonal hymns to sing, ‘Lo, he comes’, ‘Hills of the North Rejoice’, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ ‘Long ago, prophets knew’.

Christmas and Easter both have their seasons of Preparation and Celebration. For Christmas this takes us from Advent Sunday (This year November 27th being the earliest it possibly can be– it is always the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest St Andrew’s day) to the slightly lesser known feast of Candlemass (February 2nd) forty days and forty nights after Christmas, taking in the arrival of the three wise men at the Epiphany (Friday, January 6th). We shall be marking both of these occasions with a Sung Mass and Procession and no doubt some celebratory drinks and nibbles on the way– just one more mince pie, oh you will, you will, you will…

It is in Advent, as the world is on full throttle, that I am most aware of my need for that most precious of commodities, silence. Several points in our Sunday worship encourage us to share corporate silence – prior to the Confession, the Collect, after the Sermon, before and after we have received the Sacrament of Holy Communion. To this list I am keen that during these Sundays prior to Christmas we might all keep a few minutes prior to the service commencing so that we might pray both for our own needs as well as for our fellow worshippers. Each of us simply taking a brief moment to say to God that we are expectant as we prepare for worship, and alert to the wonderful and life transforming fact, that we are about to encounter the risen Christ in Word and in Sacrament. An old adage I once heard went along the lines of ‘Talk to God before worship, let Him talk to you during the worship and then talk to each other after the worship’, and I continue to commend this. After the success of this during Lent once again you are invited to spend 30 minutes with the Lord in silence on Fridays at 6.00pm. Come and read, pray, contemplate or simply sit and be still in the midst of the busyness of December. We shall be meeting to do this at Hanslope Church: Fridays 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd December.

Once again this Advent we are hoping to raise funds for Bishop Matthias and his people in Ho in Ghana, so do please take a “Ho Ho Ho” collection box to enable us to bring seasonal cheer to those far less well off than ourselves.

The New Year is always a very busy time for the MK Foodbank and your donations will be very much appreciated for this cause also. As we stack our shopping trolleys (or online basket) please add something for someone who is in real need and add it to the baskets in both churches.

Elsewhere, in this issue you will find all the details of our Christmas worship. We’ll be following the now well established pattern, so do encourage your friends, family and neighbours to join us. As you know, the more who come the better it is! Do note that there is also to be additional weekday services at 10.00am on the weekdays between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

In a world which seems beset by so many examples of brokenness, brought to us instantly by rolling TV news, the simple messages of Christmas seem ever more important

May the joy of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas.

With my prayers and every blessing,

Fr Gary

 

From The Vicarage

November 2016

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

 Dear Friends,

I have enjoyed my annual post-harvest October break, as I left there were still the last vestiges of Summer… Inevitably, as it must, Summer has well and truly given way to Autumn and the clocks have changed. Clear but crisp blue skies are illuminated by the brightest of light (unless it is throwing it down, of course…), conversely the evening gloom descends ever earlier. Not everyone adjusts well to the danker seasons.

Simultaneously the Church has entered a period of reflection. As this Link hits the doormats of the parish November 2nd is All Souls’ Day upon which we recall those whose lives have impinged upon our own and whom we now no longer see, those whom, we pray, we number as amongst ‘the angels, the archangels and the whole company of heaven’ as the Eucharistic Prayer puts it. As usual we have invited the families of those who have died during the last year and whose funerals Fr Robin, Fr Robert and I, have been privileged to conduct.

Meanwhile Remembrance Sunday falls on the 13th this year and as usual we shall recall those from our two communities who gave their lives in active service of Queen and Country. At Castlethorpe we shall meet at the War Memorial by 9.15am and at the usual 11.00am at Hanslope.

Autumn is also a season of Patronal Festivals – that is those occasions when church communities gather to celebrate the feast day of the saint or saints to whom their church building is dedicated. Castlethorpe celebrated SS Simon & Jude on Sunday October 30th with a joint parishes service. Calverton and Fenny Stratford (the latter on November 10th at 7.30pm at which I have been invited to preach) have Patronal festivals at this time too, so please do remember these congregations in your prayers also. Patronal Festivals are, amongst other things, opportunities to look around and give thanks for all those who make our churches function, so many tasks are carried out quietly and unobtrusively behind the scenes, and it is through the pooling of our gifts and skills that we can work effectively, and all, not for our own glory, but, for the glory of Almighty God. Both Church Councils are busy addressing various key issues at present, not least our financial situation and the need to develop our buildings and keep them in good repair and I would encourage everyone to do their bit, prayerfully, to help us achieve what we need to.

Meanwhile our various learning groups and opportunities are fully under way now for the new academic year. We remain very grateful to those who make their homes available for these groups, and thank David Brooks, Glenn & Jan Shipton, John & Madeline Sorrell, Helen Pakes, Stewart & Janet Tate, Jackie & James Gommon, Maria Madeley and Graham & Lorraine Robinson who have hosted groups this last year. You are welcome to come along and join the groups at any stage.

Our next Service for Wholeness and Healing takes place this month also, on Wednesday 30th November at 8.00pm at St James. This has proven a very valuable addition to our range of worship and has been a source of encouragement to many who have attended. Please, again, do have a think as to whom you might be able to invite along.

And so to Advent. I love the season of Advent. It starts on Sunday 27th November this year and is a season of rich opportunities before the melée of Christmas. As Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the season is fully twenty-eight days long. The secular world is already getting into Christmas mode but Christian people are called to take the opportunity for proper quiet reflection over the four weeks of Advent before the forty-day celebration from Christmas to Candlemas. Once again there will be a short Advent Course on offer and the choir will be leading a special evening service, An Advent Meditation in Words and Music, on Advent Sunday at 6.00pm at St James.

Castlethorpe’s Church Council are organising another ‘Autumn Fayre’ following last year’s successful event. It will be on Saturday 19th November and held at the church. There will be craft stalls and the like, and no doubt some fine opportunities for Christmas gifts to be purchased.

And in the midst of all this activity we have just had a very successful parish pilgrimage to the Walsingham Bible Week and another smaller band of pilgrims will be off to the Walsingham Families Pilgrimage this month too as well as to Adoremus the pilgrimage for young adults.

With my prayers and every blessing,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – September 2016

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

And so it is September. As I write over the Bank Holiday weekend there is, as yet, no need to cave in and switch the heating on (I try and hold out until mid October!) and only reluctantly am I accepting that the presence of asters in flower means that autumn is inexorably taking hold. Season gives way to season, as indeed it must, and every phase of the year brings with it consolations too.

There has been much to reflect on after a busy few months. Our young people have headed off in good number (and great enthusiasm) to the annual Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage, followed a month later by a good number of us, of all ages, attending the Healing & Renewal Pilgrimage. Later in the autumn more of us will be attend the Bible Week in the October school half term looking at the Acts of the Apostles and further groups will no doubt be attending the weekends for families and for young adults, both in November.

The village of Little Walsingham lies in a very beautiful and relatively remote part of the North Norfolk coast and the sheer tranquillity of the area, as well as the welcome that the Shrine itself offers, has been a great bonus to pilgrims leaving busy lives behind. After eight years of Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS being the Shrine’s Administrator the Shrine have appointed Fr Kevin Smith to take up that role from the autumn. This is a very good appointment and you can read more about him elsewhere in this edition of The Link.

St James was hugely busy during the annual Holiday Club too, as you can read more fully elsewhere in this edition of The Link, all the hours of planning and preparation were very well worth it. I think the leaders, adult and junior, got as much out of it as the children themselves, and the feedback has been really upbeat. All concerned should be very proud of their achievements and the sixty-six children who attended, from both villages, clearly had a wonderful time.

September, is, of course, a month for new starts after the Summer break.

And once a month we invite you to forsake the TV and the Sunday papers and join us for a gentle ramble around the footpaths of the parish followed by tea and cake in St James Church. The next monthly walk will be on September 12th at 2.00pm. Do come whatever the weather! This initiative celebrates its second birthday this month and has emerged from Hanslope Church Council’s Health & Wellbeing Group who are also responsible for the monthly Carers’ Group. The Carers’ group, run alongside the Patient Participation Group of Hanslope Surgery, is clearly valued by those who can come along. If you know someone who cares for friend or relative, either at home, locally, or at a distance, then please let them know about the group. Likewise, the monthly Cancer Wellbeing & Support Group is fulfilling a very real need at its meeting on the third Monday evening of the month too. October sees the first birthday of the Teatime Treats sessions at Lincoln Court. This is open to the whole community and not just to residents of Lincoln Court, so do pop along.

Otherwise this month sees the start of our Harvest celebrations and once again we shall be raising funds for our link charity FARM-Africa. The Harvest Supper is on Saturday 24th September and it is Castlethorpe’s turn to host the event this year at Castlethorpe Village Hall. September also sees the re-start of our Learning and Teaching Groups for a three week series exploring prayer. Once into October there will be a full range of courses on offer aimed both at beginners, the more recently confirmed and the more experienced.

Bishop Jonathan thoroughly enjoyed his visit to us for Confirmation on July 25th and he extends a very warm welcome to us to join him for a special opportunity for worship and teaching in Oxford on September 17th. The Dean of Christchurch has made the cathedral available to us for a celebratory Mass in the morning and there’s an optional teaching session at Pusey House in the afternoon, or you might just want to enjoy Oxford at your leisure. We are hoping to take a coach, please sign up in church.

In addition, our thriving Little Angels and Little Lambs groups kick off for a new academic year, there is Sunday School in both churches, and our youth group Inspire! re-starts too, as well, of course as the monthly Community Lunches and there’s Castlethorpe’s monthly Coffee Morning too.

The autumn promises much! With every blessing,                Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – March 2016

Tel. 337936     fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

Last autumn nearly 800 bulbs were planted in my small orchard at the back of The Vicarage. And what a joy it has been to watch first the snowdrops, then the crocus and now the daffodils herald the onset of Spring. The days are lengthening, and it is from the Old English word lencten that the English speaking Church across the world gains the word Lent. Lengthening days that take us from the darker, colder days of Winter to the longer warmer days of Spring. Lenten days that take us from the darker ravages of desert wilderness temptation, to the brighter and joyous celebrations of the resurrection at Easter.

I am sat at my desk writing this on the Eve of Lent 3, seventeen days ago Ash from the previous year’s Palm Crosses was used, and being all too aware of our human imperfections, we each received in ash, the sign of the Cross made on our foreheads, and as we received that sign we not only recognised our failings but, of course, we expressed our desire for forgiveness and a fresh start.

I know many of us have been most heartened by the numbers who are supporting our various activities during this Season of Lent, not least the resord turnout for Ash Wednesday. Groups of various kinds, Lent Lunches and charitable activities are all offering opportunities for people to make an additional commitment for Lent – and large numbers of you have responded very positively to these various public activities in addition to all our varied personal and unseen objectives. More important even than the numbers, however, is that we should all be using every opportunity to deepen our faith and understanding. And that, surely, is what lies at the heart of our keeping of this solemn season of Lent. After the respite of Mothering Sunday we will then move towards the climax of Lent. First we enter ‘Passiontide’, passio is the Latin for suffering, and crosses and crucifixes will be veiled in preparation for our Good Friday worship. This brings us to the final days of Our Lord’s life and on Palm Sunday we enter with Jesus into Jerusalem waving our palms in joyful expectation.

On Thursday in Holy Week we reach what amounts to what I have always called  The Great Three Act Play of our Faith. To make real sense of Easter Day we all need to reflect on those days that precede it. The worship of the Church tries to capture the essence of those turbulent three days, known historically as The Triduum. If you haven’t experienced worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Holy Saturday before then see if you can make the extra effort to come along, I know that those who came along last year for the first time are looking forward to it and keen to encourage you to give it a go too.

Holy Week is quite a commitment but I know from my personal experience that the extra effort made to try and be a part of the Holy Week events will reap an enormously beneficial spiritual reward as we try and move from the palm waving exuberance of Palm Sunday, to the multi-layered events of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the shocking events of Calvary and then the joy of Easter.

Our special services on these days aim to capture something of the essence of the human emotions. Do try and go the extra mile and try and fit in an extra service (or three!!) if you can – If Ash Wednesday is anything to go by, you’ll be in very good company indeed!  In 2011 we introduced Stations of the Cross on Monday evening in Holy Week, and this prayerful journey through a series of visual images depicting the events from Maundy Thursday night to Holy Saturday has proven very profound for young and old alike.

Also in the midst of Holy Week, on Wednesday 23rd March, there is the special annual service, The Chrism Mass, at which Priests renew their sacred vows of ordination before their Bishop. In addition, holy oils for baptism, confirmation and the anointing of the sick are blessed and consecrated for use, and distributed to the parishes. This year’s service will be at Lichfield Cathedral. Fr Robin, Fr Robert and I will be there and and some thirty or so of us have signed up to come along. Those Holy Oils will be pressed into use immediately that evening at the Holy Week Mass for Wholeness & healing.

Keep a prayerful Lent and Holy Week and, when it comes, may the joy of the resurrection fill your hearts.

Every blessing,                        Fr Gary

From The Vicarage February 2016

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

Once again another month has flown by. Latterly it has been, wet, dank and very windy. I love those cold, blue sky, bright sunshine types of wintry day but in common with many, I find dark mornings, dark early nights, and the cold wind whistling in my ears all a bit too much at times. As most of you know all I really want to see is some snow and at least we have managed that so something to cheer me! The mild autumn and winter has also caused havoc to the flora and fauna body clock with all sort of rare sightings, such as forsythia and kingcups in January!

But in the midst of the damp and dreary there are still signs of hope for the future. And amid nature’s emerging promise the Church celebrates the fulfilment of a promise too. Into the darkness has come the one who is the “Light to lighten the Gentiles”, the one recognised by Simeon and Anna as his parents brought him to the Temple forty days after his birth. We call this festival ‘Candlemas’ and each early February it brings to a conclusion the Christmas season, what we call the ‘Cycle of the Incarnation’, which began with hope and expectation on Advent Sunday and has taken in Christmas Day and the arrival of the Magi at the Epiphany twelve days later.

Our Epiphany celebration was another wonderful occasion. Given that it was a weekday evening and, for many, just the second day of a new school term, it was lovely to see people of all ages sharing a memorable act of worship made all the more special by the efforts of our singers under Alex’s ever-upbeat direction. Peter Cornelius’ “The Three Kings” was once again a wonderful addition to the worship. They never cease to amaze me, and those who gather at our joint parish feasts and festival services have been richly blessed by their endeavours over recent years. The social time after these events is always very enjoyable too.

 

The Church Calendar points to this beautiful feast day of Candlemas to be seen as an important and fully integrated festival of the Christmas cycle. It is not some optional extra, but the natural climax, after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. Although the Church allows an approach that ends the annual celebration of the Incarnation after twelve days, she encourages an imaginative use of the weeks of January as an exploration of the Epiphany themes, and see Candlemas as a fitting end to it and an important turning point in the Christian year.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it — presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. The several names by which it has been known in Christian history illustrates also just how much it has to teach and to celebrate.

But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the ‘bitter-sweet’ nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the suffering of Jesus and then to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent nearly always very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, ‘One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!’ On such a reckoning, the liturgical colour soon changes after Candlemas from the white of Christmas and Epiphanytide, first to ‘ordinary’ green before the change to the more penitential purple as Lent begins. With Easter earlier than last year there are just eight days before Ash Wednesday, and time to prepare properly for the arrival of Lent.

This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 10th and our joint parish celebration will be at Castlethorpe at 7.30pm that evening. As usual there will a number of opportunities to gather for worship and prayer and of course there will be groups to go along to also. Do look out for news of all our Lent activities. The usual Lent leaflet has already been published and you will find all the detail in the is edition of The Link, on noticeboards and on St James’ Facebook page and website too, www.stjameshanslope.org – it is three years now since we launched the website at St James and over 30,000 pages have been viewed in that time! All that and Hanslope Entertainments Group is gearing up for yet another blockbuster panto production at Half-Term, if you have not been before, you are missing a real treat!

With my prayers and every blessing for the month ahead,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

And so it is September. As I write over the Bank Holiday weekend I am not yet putting the heating on (I try and hold out until mid October!) and only reluctantly accepting that the presence of asters in flower means that autumn is inexorably taking hold. Season gives way to season, as indeed it must, and every phase of the year brings with it consolations too.

There has been much to reflect on after a busy few months. Our young people have headed off in good number (and great enthusiasm) to the annual Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage, followed a month later by a good number of us, of all ages, attending the Healing & Renewal Pilgrimage. Later in the autumn two dozen of us will be attend the Bible Week in the October school half term and further groups will attend the weekends for families and for young adults, both in November.

The village of Little Walsingham lies in a very beautiful and relatively remote part of the North Norfolk coast and the sheer tranquillity of the area, as well as the welcome that the Shrine itself offers, has been a great bonus to pilgrims leaving busy lives behind. These last eight years Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS has been the Shrine’s Administrator and it has been under his tenure that many more pilgrims have been drawn to make their pilgrimage to the Shrine from H&C. +Lindsay’s gift for preaching and communication with young and old alike and his strong pastoral gifts have had a huge impact on the faith journey of many church members in our two churches. As he returns to his native Melbourne this month, after 40 years in the UK, please do pray in thanksgiving for all he has brought to the wider life of the Church of England both at the Shrine, and before that as Bishop of Horsham and in other roles.

St James was hugely busy during the Polar Explorers Holiday Club too, as you can read more fully elsewhere in this edition of The Link, all the hours of planning and preparation were very well worth it.  I think the leaders, adult and junior, got as much out of it as the children themselves, and the feedback has been really upbeat. All concerned should be very proud of their achievements and the children who attended, from both villages, clearly had a wonderful time.

September, is, of course, a month for new starts after the Summer break.

And once a month we invite you to forsake the TV and the Sunday papers and join us for a gentle ramble around the footpaths of the parish followed by tea and cake in St James Church. The next monthly walk will be on September 13th at 2.30pm. Do come whatever the weather! This initiative celebrates its first birthday this month and has emerged from Hanslope Church Council’s Health & Wellbeing Group who are also responsible for the monthly Carers’ Group. The Carers’ group, run alongside the Patient Participation Group of Hanslope Surgery, is clearly valued by those who can come along. If you know someone who cares for friend or relative, either at home, locally, or at a distance, then please let them know about the group. Likewise the monthly Cancer Wellbeing & Support Group is fulfilling a very real need at its meeting on the third Monday evening of the month too. Next month is launching a Monday afternoon monthly tea party at Lincoln Court. This is open to the whole community and not just to residents of Lincoln Court, so do pop along.

Otherwise this month sees the start of our Harvest celebrations and once again we shall be raising funds for our link charity FARM-Africa. The Harvest Supper is on Friday 25th September and it is Hanslope’s turn to host the event this year.

We are also celebrating our links with Bishop Matthias and the Diocese of Ho and our friends at Agbozume with a special concert with Adrian Boynton and the New English Singers on Saturday 12th September at 5.00pm. Adrina is Director of Music at Christ the Cornerstone and grew up in the parish where +Matthias was curate! The churchyard will be open for picnics from 3.00pm. More information elsewhere in this edition of the Link.

September also sees the re-start of our Learning and Teaching Groups for a four week series exploring what it means to “be” Church, these groups will run in the evenings in both villages and there will be a daytime group too in Hanslope. This autumn both churches will be celebrating achievements and looking ahead to the future and there will be social events organised too to celebrate our two churches, their life, and aspirations for the future. Look out for more information shortly.

In addition our thriving Little Angels groups kicks off for a new academic year, there is Sunday School in both churches, and our youth group Inspire! re-starts too, as well, of course as the monthly  Community Lunches. And that weren’t enough Fr Robin celebrates 40 years as a Priest this month and we shall be marking that on Sunday 20th September, although in a relatively low key way at Fr Robin’s request.

The autumn promises much! With every blessing,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – June 2015

fr.gary@btinternet.com   Tel 337936

 Dear Friends,

 Not sure where May went. But here we are, it is June and five twelfths of the year has vanished already. The French Open, The Derby, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, strawberries and cream, the longest day, baby moorhen on the village pond (or in the mouth of a local black and white cat who looks forwards to moorhen season in the way I look forward to local asparagus, nature can be so cruel…).

 May has been another very busy month, VE Day was remembered in a lovely day of events at Castlethorpe, pilgrimage to Walsingham, Plants & Pimms for Ho, a new Cancer Support Group has launched, Ascension Day and Pentecost were kept, newly elected Church Councils have met for the first time (and vibrantly too) and the swearing in of churchwardens at the Archdeacon’s annual Visitation services, being just some of the public activity. We assure Luke Stacey & Stewart Tate and Glyn Hollinshead & Janet Shipton of our prayers as they begin another year of service as Churchwardens of the two churches. Somewhere in the midst of it all I clocked up my twelfth anniversary here too and another birthday, where does the time go?

 More sadly recent months have seen a significant number of funerals. Indeed we have taken more funerals this year so far than during the whole of 2014. Please do remember to include this in your prayers, hardly anyone in our villages hasn’t been touched by bereavement in some form in recent months and they need our love, care and support.

 By the time you read this we shall have already made the first of six visits as a Parish to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. This year the preacher at Whit Monday’s National Pilgrimage was The Very Revd John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey. We shall back there again for the Summer Youth Pilgrimage and on the August Bank Holiday for their pilgrimage of Healing and Renewal as well the Bible Week, the Families Weekend and Adoremus (for 18-thrirtysomethings) in November. Once again we are looking to take a coach to the August Bank Holiday Pilgrimage so please do add your names to the sign up lists in church for that nearer the time – Shrine Administrator Bishop Lindsay is returning to his native Melbourne after the Healing Pilgrimage and so this will be our chance to say thank you to him for all he has done for us and God Speed. It is also good to note how Stuart Grout has found a very happy home living and working at the Shrine, he is well and truly part of the furniture there and now and much loved and valued.

 Once again it has been good to offer a warm welcome to quite a number of new names to the two churches’ membership lists. In addition to the dozen or so new names on the two rolls this year further new worshippers have joined us recently as well. We welcome all those who are new and pray that that they quickly feel at home amongst us and very much part of our extending church family. This growth is mirrored in our need for another Confirmation Service as this edition of The Link is at the printers. Bishop Jonathan will have confirmed twelve members of the two churches on June 2nd at a service at St James, the third Confirmation Service in two years, in fact.

 Looking ahead, June promises much. Thursday 4th June is Corpus Christi and as ever we shall have joined SS Mary & Giles at Stony Stratford for their service and then have retired to The Crown on the Market Square for a late supper which as always attracted a crowd of twenty of more. Elsewhere there’s Open Gardens in Castlethorpe on June 220th and 21st and another Strawberry Cream Tea raising funds for our links with the Diocese of Ho and Bishop Matthias on June 28th.

 And May, of course saw another General Election on a date fixed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act rather than a date chosen to suit the sitting Government. Single party government has returned. By instinct I am in favour of the moderating influences of coalition government. I also worry about legitimacy, any party that wins an overall majority with 36.9% of the vote, will need to display and exercise a degree of humility in the face of the reality that 63.1% of those who voted, did not vote for them, and of course no single party enjoys a majority in the Upper Chamber. I find myself profoundly concerned for the ongoing unity of this nation too, and not just in terms of the specifics of Scotland. Whilst I often worry about economics when the left prevails, and the poor and the marginalised when the right prevails, my greatest fear is that more might prove to have been lost as a result of the election than gained. On a personal note, and not with any particular party allegiance, I was inspired to an active interest in things political as a ten year old when, improbably (for 1983), a twenty-three year old romped to a shock win in Ross, Cromarty and Skye. Thirty-two years later, that then twenty-three year old lost his seat on the back of the SNP landslide. And so I pray: For the party political system and the election of new party leaders; for a greater understanding at Westminster of the weakened status of politicians and our political structures in the eyes of the electorate and the need to rebuild trust and integrity; for the gracious, generous and inclusive leadership that we shall need in a seemingly inexorably fragmenting world.

 With my prayers and every blessing,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – February 2015

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com   @FrGary1

 Dear Friends,

Once again another month has flown by. Latterly it has been cold, wet, dank and largely grey. I love those cold, blue sky, bright sunshine types of wintry day which were so prevalent in 2013, but in common with many, I find dark mornings, dark early nights, and constant rain all a bit too much at times. As you most of you know all I really want to see is some snow and so it is that I write this on the last day of January with large flakes of the stuff falling!

But in the midst of the damp and dreary there are still signs of hope for the future. The first tightly wrapped buds can be seen, the first sign of bulbs emerging from the damp earth and the first snowdrop I saw was in Castlethorpe’s churchyard on January 11th. And amid nature’s emerging promise the Church celebrates the fulfilment of a promise too. Into the darkness has come the one who is the “Light to lighten the Gentiles”, the one recognised by Simeon and Anna as his parents brought him to the Temple forty days after his birth. We call this festival ‘Candlemas’ and each early February it brings to a conclusion the Christmas season, what we call the ‘Cycle of the Incarnation’, which began with hope and expectation on Advent Sunday and has taken in Christmas Day and the arrival of the Magi at the Epiphany twelve days later.

Our Epiphany celebration was another wonderful occasion. Given that it was a Tuesday evening and, for many, the first day of a new school term, it was lovely to see people of all ages sharing a memorable act of worship made all the more special by the efforts of our singers under Alex’s ever-upbeat direction. Peter Cornelius’ “The Three Kings” was once again a wonderful addition to the worship. They never cease to amaze me, and those who gather at our joint parish feasts and festival services have been richly blessed by their endeavours over recent years. The social time after these events is always very enjoyable too.

The Church Calendar points to this beautiful feast day of Candlemas to be seen as an important and fully integrated festival of the Christmas cycle. It is not some optional extra, but the natural climax, after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. Although the Church allows an approach that ends the annual celebration of the Incarnation after twelve days, she encourages an imaginative use of the weeks of January as an exploration of the Epiphany themes, and see Candlemas as a fitting end to it and an important turning point in the Christian year.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it — presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. The several names by which it has been known in Christian history illustrates also just how much it has to teach and to celebrate.

But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the ‘bitter-sweet’ nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the suffering of Jesus and then to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent nearly always very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, ‘One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!’ On such a reckoning, the liturgical colour soon changes after Candlemas from the white of Christmas and Epiphanytide, first to ‘ordinary’ green before the change to the more penitential purple as Lent begins. With Easter earlier than last year there are just sixteen days before Ash Wednesday, and time to prepare properly for the arrival of Lent.

This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 18th and our joint parish celebration will be at Castlethorpe at 7.30pm that evening. As usual there will a number of opportunities to gather for worship and prayer and of course there will be groups to go along to also. Our Lent Course, ‘Journeying with Jesus’ will run morning and evening and there’s another Explorer Course running too this Spring.

Elsewhere Parish Life continues to have much to offer including a visit from our much loved friend, Bishop Matthias, Bishop of Ho. Last Spring I was somewhat taken aback when it was announced I had been appointed as an Honorary Canon of Ho’s Cathedral Church of St George. Bishop Matthias will install me at a special service at St James on Friday 13th February at 8.00pm to which everyone is welcome. The following day is Bishop Matthias’ birthday so we shall sure to mark that occasion after the service too!

Do look out for news of all our Lent activities. The usual Lent leaflet will be published during this month and you will find all the detail in the is edition of The Link, on noticeboards and on St James’ website too, www.stjameshanslope.org – it is two years now since we launched the website at St James and well over 20,000 pages have been viewed in that time! All that and Hanslope Entertainments Group is gearing up for yet another blockbuster panto production at Half-Term, if you have not been before you are missing a real treat!

With my prayers and every blessing for the month ahead,             Fr Gary

From The Vicarage  December 2014

Tel 337936  fr.gary@btinternet.com  @FrGary1

 Dear Friends,

And so it is Advent. Happy New Year! A new start. In our Sunday Bible readings (The Lectionary) We say goodbye to Year A, the Year of St Matthew and hello to Year B, the Year of St Mark. We are in a waiting and preparing mood. We light advent candles and, at Castlethorpe, the knitted  Holy Family once again start their journey through the village travelling from home to home – twenty-four homes in fact!

Advent is one of my favourite times of year. Whilst the secular world is in full seasonal swing we have the privilege of, in part at least, letting them get on with it whilst we wait for the real celebration yet to come. In the meantime we have some lovely seasonal hymns to sing, ‘Lo, he comes’, ‘Hills of the North Rejoice’, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ ‘Long ago, prophets knew’, and the choir have much to offer us also.

Christmas and Easter both have their seasons of Preparation and Celebration. For Christmas this takes us from Advent Sunday (This year November 30th, November 27th being the earliest it possibly can be– it is always the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest St Andrew’s day) to the slightly lesser known feast of Candlemass (February 2nd) forty days and forty nights later, taking in the arrival of the three wise men at  the Epiphany (Tuesday, January 6th). We shall marking both of these occasions with a Sung Mass and Procession, and no doubt some celebratory drinks and nibbles on the way– just one more mince pie, oh you will, you will, you will…

It is in Advent, as the world is on full throttle, that I am most aware of my need for that most precious of commodities, silence. Several points in our Sunday worship encourage us to corporate silence – prior to the Confession, the Collect, after the Sermon, before and after we have received the Sacrament of Holy Communion. To this list I am keen we might be also add a few minutes prior to the service commencing so that we might pray both for our own needs as well as for our fellow worshippers. Each of us simply taking a brief moment to say to God that we are expectant as we prepare for worship, and alert to the wonderful and life transforming fact, that we are about to encounter the risen Christ in Word and in Sacrament. An old adage I once heard went along the lines of ‘Talk to God before worship, let Him talk to you during the worship and then talk to each other after the worship’, and I continue to commend this. Those in need of some extended silence will enjoy the thrity minutes af shared silent prayer on offer on the Fridays in Advent at 6.00pm at St James.

Once again this Advent we are hoping to raise funds for Bishop Matthias and his people in Ho in Ghana, so do please take a “Ho Ho Ho” collection box to enable us to bring seasonal cheer to those far less well off than ourselves. Please pray too for Fr Denis as he takes over from Fr Prosper as Parosh priest at Agbozume.

Talking of bishops, Bishop Jonathan is undertaking an important series of parish visits and in addition to taking services he is meeting Church Council members and others, in order to gain a deeper understanding of his patch and in order to pray and care with and for us more effectively. The Bishop will be in Hanslope and Castlethorpe on December 6th and 7th and on the Saturday he has invited the youth of the two churches to a special gathering and in the evening he will be meeting PCC members and others.  On the Sunday he has asked all four Sunday congregations (8.00am, 9.30am, 11.00am and 6.00pm) to gather with him for one special combined service for the two churches. As he has already been to Castlethorpe twice in 2014 (don’t tell the other parishes that!) it falls to  Hanslope to host on this occasion.  The bishop has set aside plenty of time to meet people after the service before a late lunch with the clergy and churchwardens. The churchwardens join with me in encouraging you please to make every effort to come along to St James at 11.00am, and all ages are very welcome.

Elsewhere, in this issue you will find all the details of our Christmas worship.. Do encourage your friends, family and neighbours to join us. As you know, the more who come the better it is! Do note that there

May the joy of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas.  With my prayers and every blessing,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – September 2014

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com

Dear Friends,

And so it is September. As I write over the Bank Holiday weekend I have been refusing to put the heating on and only reluctantly accepting that the presence of asters in flower means that autumn is inexorably taking hold. Season gives way to season, as indeed it must, and every phase of the year brings with it consolations too.

There has been much to reflect on after a busy few months. Our young people have headed off in good number (and great enthusiasm) to the annual Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage, followed a month later by a good number of us, of all ages, attending the Healing & Renewal Pilgrimage. St James was hugely busy during the MegaMakers! Holiday Club too, little did I know quite what we had taken on for ourselves, but as you can read more fully elsewhere in this month’s edition of The Link, all the hours of planning and preparation were very well worth it.  I think the leaders, adult and junior got as much out of as the children themselves, and the feedback has been really upbeat. All concerned should be very proud of their achievements.

In the Midst of it all we also marked the beginning of the First World War. At Castlethorpe a Three Hour Vigil at SS Simon & Jude was very well attended as a not insignificant number of people felt moved to drop in to church to honour the fallen, to light a candle, or simply to recollect themselves. Jan Bance and Jackie Gommon created a striking display as the focus for that event. No doubt there will be further commemorations over the months and years ahead, do look out for further publicity. Hanslope and St James has a number of projects planned for later in the year (and later during the four year period of the commemorations too).

September, is, of course, a month for new starts after the Summer break.

And once a month we invite you to forsake the TV and the Sunday papers and join us for a gentle ramble around the footpaths of the parish followed by tea and cake in St James Church. The first monthly walk will be on September 14th at 2.30pm and will be a walk of 3-5 miles led by Ann Ellis. Do come whatever the weather! This new initiative has emerged from Hanslope Church Council’s Health & Wellbeing Group who are also responsible for the monthly Coffee Mornings for Carers. The Carers’ group has got off to a good start and is clearly valued by those who can come along. If you know someone who cares for friend or relative, either at home, locally, or at a distance, then please let them know about the group.

And you might need that new healthy walk initiative to walk off the cake and cava from the previous night’s Confirmation Service. The additional Explorer Course we slotted into the Summer Term has yielded a couple of extra candidates for Confirmation and Bishop Jonathan has kindly offered to slot in an extra Confirmation rather than make them wait until next May or June! The service will be at Castlethorpe Church at 5.30pm on Saturday 13th September followed by a bring and share buffet. More information will be circulated. The next Explorer Course will run during Lent and Eastertide, do let me know if you, or someone you know might be interested in being prepared for Confirmation.

Otherwise this month sees the restart of Learning and Teaching Groups as well as Little Angels, Sunday School in both churches, Inspire! and the Community Lunches. The autumn promises much and it has been good to welcome new faces to our congregations over recent months too. I pray that all those who have joined us recently feel at home quickly.

With every blessing,               Fr Gary

From The Vicarage – July & August 2014

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com      @FrGary1

 Dear Friends,

 So with the yellow plastic ducks safely packed away again and the Duckmeister with his feet up somewhere sunny; with the Open Gardens now closed again; with our footballers back home (already) and with the roars from Henman Hill audible from SW19, it is now July. Again. The year is vanishing at a rate of knots. And the sun has been shining.

As I sit and write I am looking forward to another Strawberry Cream Tea heralding the next fundraiser for our friends in Ghana, Chuff & Wake Adams kindly opened up their home and garden at Chantry Farm, Pindon End and the forecast says we shall be OK (outside it rains like April…). St Paul’s Agbozume’s Youth Band have received their new musical instruments as a result of the last concert we held and Fr Prosper and the congregation are really delighted. Thank you to everyone for their support.

Hanslope’s Patronal Festival [the celebration of the saint after whom a church is named] is heading rapidly towards us, it falls over the weekend of July 19th and 20th. Once again the tower will be open each afternoon and much else going on besides. Mark Edwards is heading up the team this year and there will be plenty on offer to suit all ages. Both churches will come together for a joint service for all ages  at 11.00am on that Sunday morning. It is always a good occasion when the two congregations join forces so I am looking forward to it immensely once again.

Another sign of Summer is the annual Adult Learning and Teaching Barbecue at The Vicarage on Friday 11th July. Anyone who has participated in one of our courses in the past or who is interested in finding out more about them in the future, is welcome to come along.  You will find full details elsewhere in the magazine.

The Spring term saw a group in Castlethorpe Road working with Fr Robert on the final stage of the Foundations of Faith. This has been a very fruitful course operating at a little more depth than the more basic courses we offer and it has proven challenging and stimulating. This last term has seen the start of another in depth study, this time around the film ‘The King’s Speech’ facilitated by John Sorrell. Meanwhile, round the corner in Kitelee Close and Western Drive working their way through the final stages of the Essential Jesus Course whilst at the Vicarage another Explorer Course has been running.

Our young people in the two churches are also beginning to become excited, for our tenth annual visit to the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage is all but upon us. Once again we shall be away Monday – Friday from July 28th. Please do pray for us all! Once back we shall all have the opportunity to honour Mary, the mother of Our Lord at our joint parishes Sung Mass & Procession on Friday 15th August. This service at Castlethorpe will be at 7.30pm and followed by a glass of something celebratory. This year we shall be joined by friends from SS Mary & Giles Church in Stony Stratford and All Saints, Calverton, making it a four church event. At the end of August there will be a further opportunity for pilgrimage to Walsingham as we journey once again on the Bank Holiday Monday, the 25th, to the Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal. As previously we are intending to organise a coach and sign up lists will be appearing in church very soon.

Also during the Summer months we shall be offering regular weekly Tuesday afternoon activities at St James for children of primary and pre-school age. There is no charge for these sessions and church is open from 2.00pm each Tuesday from July 29th (not August 19th). Anyone is welcome – please note that children should be supervised by a parent or carer. This years we are also running the  MegaMakers Holiday Club each morning at St James from Monday-Friday in the week of Monday 18th August. More information elsewhere in this issue, please return your registration forms as soon as possible.

A Warm welcome to Fr Benjamin Drury & Fr Joseph Loveday I am pleased to say Fr Ben Drury is being ordained Deacon and will be serving in the Stony Stratford & Calverton Parish as of July 6th. Fr Ross has extended a warm invitation to join his parishes in welcoming Fr Ben at a special service of Evensong and Benediction at All Saints’ Calverton on Sunday 6th July at 6.00pm.  We had a very enjoyable visit to SS Mary and Giles, Stony Stratford for the feast of Corpus Christi on June 19th. On that occasion Fr Joseph Loveday was the celebrant. Fr Joseph, formerly a Chaplain to HM Armed Forces, has retired to Towcester and will be assisting at Stony Stratford We shall no doubt see Fr Ben and Fr Joseph from time to time here in our two churches as well as at special regional services too, and we look forward to welcoming them. Please pray for Fr Ben in particular at the beginning of his new ministry.

And whilst all of that is happening in the real world, the Church of England’s governing body, The General Synod, will be talking about women bishops. Again. This time a final (yes, very final) vote will be taken and unlike last time the legislation will be passed. Unlike last time, a wholesale reappraisal of the legislation has meant the new package takes many more steps to fulfil a resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference (of all the Anglican bishops around the world) in 1998 “that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans”. If enacted the previous legislation would have forced people out, the new legislation is just about enough to hold the Church of England together. At least, that is, until the next crisis comes along. The most important thing is that whatever happens in the national church, locally we continue to serve God by reaching out in love to serve our communities in Hanslope and Castlethorpe.

With my prayers and every blessing,

Fr Gary

From The Vicarage June 2014

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com      @FrGary1

 Dear Friends,

Not sure where May went. But here we are, it is June and five twelfths of the year has vanished already. The French Open, The Derby, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, strawberries and cream, the longest day, baby moorhen on the village pond (or flattened on the road, nature can be so cruel…).

May has been another very busy month, and that, in spite of my being on holiday for half of it!! Baptisms and weddings, funerals, pilgrimage to Walsingham and the swearing in of churchwardens at the Archdeacon’s annual Visitation services being just some of the activity. We assure Luke Stacey & Stewart Tate and Glyn Hollinshead & Janet Shipton of our prayers as they begin another year of service as Churchwardens of the two churches. Somewhere in the midst of it all I clocked up my eleventh anniversary here too, where does the time go?

By the time you read this we shall have already made the first of six visits as a Parish to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. As this Link went to press a coach load of us was spening the Spring Bank Holiday Monday in Norfolk. This year the preacher was Mother Mary Luke, Reverend Mother of Holy Cross Convent near Loughborough, a venue for private retreats known to a number of H&C folk. We shall back there again for the Summer Youth Pilgrimage and on the August Bank Holiday for their pilgrimage of healing and renewal as well the Bible Week, the Families Weekend and Adoremus in November. Once again we are looking to take a coach to the August Bank Holiday Pilgrimage so please do add your names to the sign up lists in church for that nearer the time. It is always good to note how Stuart Grout has found a very happy home living and working at the Shrine.

Once again it has been good to offer a warm welcome to quite a number of new names to the two churches’ membership lists. In addition to the fifteen or so new names on the two rolls this year further new worshippers have joined us recently too. We welcome all those who are new and pray that that they quickly feel at home amongst us and very much part of our ever-extending church family.

Looking ahead, June promises much. Thursday 19th June is Corpus Christi and as ever we shall join SS Mary & Giles at Stony Stratford for their service and then retire to The Crown on the Market Square for a late supper which often attracts a crowd of twenty of more. You will find details of how to sign up elsewhere in this edition of The Link. Elsewhere there’s a Generation Y? Mass, Open Gardens in Hanslope in aid of church funds and another Strawberry Cream Tea raising funds for our links with the Diocese of Ho and Bishop Matthias.

The Castlethorpe Duck Race,is SS Simon & Jude’s major fundraising event, and this year it is to be held on Sunday 8th June. After the dire weather which marred the 2008 event and the good fortune that saw 2012’s just about escape from the weather, we need the weather to be kind and the event to be a success. It is never too late to offer your support with the practicalities of the event – committee chairman Julian Presant-Collins will be delighted to hear from you (511664),

We are also now into the wedding season, and May saw the marriage at St James of the much missed late Audrey & Roy Geary’s, grandson Matthew Hopkins to his bride Emma Le Roi-Smith, earlier in Eastertide church member Natashe Ward married her fiancé James Corr. Holy marriage is a sacred and divine union ordained by God. It is an exclusive union between one man and one woman, publicly acknowledged and permanently sealed. It is a holy vocation, an exalted and a noble calling to be honoured by all. Commitment and permanency are not at the top of society’s agenda. Christian marriage is therefore counter-cultural. In my view it therefore acts as a witness to something very significant and those entering into it now need to be assured of our prayerful support for them. Perhaps you could add those being married in our two churches to your prayers?

With my prayers and every blessing,

 Fr Gary

From The Vicarage March 2014

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com      @FrGary1

 Dear Friends,

 And so the appearance of snowdrops is followed by the emergence of crocus. The early daffodils are in bud and the winter jasmine blooms, such small flowers but such an intense yellow. The days are lengthening, and it is from the Old English word lencten that the English speaking Church across the world gains the word Lent. Lengthening days that take us from the darker, colder days of Winter to the longer warmer days of Spring. Lenten days that take us from the darker ravages of desert wilderness temptation, to the brighter and joyous celebrations of the resurrection at Easter.

I am sat at my desk writing this on the Eve of Sexagesima Sunday, that is, the Sunday that is sixty days before Easter. If nothing else it serves as a reminder that Lent is getting near and preparations for the Holy Season of Preparation are very much on the go! Lent’s forty days and forty nights begins, of course, with Ash Wednesday on March 5th and our joint parishes service will be at Castlethorpe at 7.30pm that evening. Ash Wednesday is one of those very few occasions of the year when the Church prays all her members to be present and I do hope that you will make a note of the date in your diary and make a special effort to come along. Ash from last year’s Palm Crosses is used and being all too aware of our human imperfections we each receive in ash, the sign of the Cross made on our foreheads, and as we receive that sign we not only recognise our failings but, of course, we express our desire for forgiveness and a fresh start.

Full details of our varied Lenten activities can be found in this Link and once again the aim is to provide a whole variety of ways which, I hope, will make Lent a time for spiritual growth and renewal for us all, both as individuals and together as worshipping communities. Each Church member should also receive a copy of Thoughts for Lent booklet intended for you to use at home and of our Lent Leaflets which highlights all the things that are on offer. I do hope everyone can do at least something. The secular world often talks in terms of what can be given up, but it is often more helpful to think about what you can take on, something of value that might make a difference to your spiritual life, for instance, or be of benefit to other people. Spiritual opportunities include opportunities for prayer, worship and study whilst our Lent Lunches and collection boxes help support others, at home and overseas, who do not enjoy the many benefits of our own lives.

Learning is always a key theme in Lent and I would really encourage you to sign up for one of the Lent Groups. This year we are offering two things to choose from. Firstly, on Thursday evenings, we shall be re-running Paula Gooder’s Lentwise which was a big success three years ago and is aimed at a more basic level. In addition there will be a group on Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings, entitled From the Ram to the Lamb. The Thursday sessions are intended to be the more accessible of the two options, so if you feel that you need something quite straightforward, then this is the one to sign up for. Further information to be found elsewhere in this edition of the Link too.

I continue to be grateful to those who make the monthly Community Lunches a success. They began as weekly Lent Lunches and have certainly been hugely enjoyed by the growing numbers who have attended. These are clearly very popular and especially (although not exclusively) so with retired members of the two villages. February’s lunch fell in half-term and there were in excess of sixty people present to enjoy Andrea Kingston’s homemade minestrone, sadly I had to leave before the pudding… During Lent we shall once again be raising funds for FARM-Africa at the Lent Lunches.

Lent also encourages us to look beyond ourselves and to the needs of others. To that end you are encouraged to bring along something each week to put in the MK Foodbank basket. We can also recycle your plastic carrier bags which would be gratefully received by the MK Play Association for re-use in their shop. The Additional Curates Society remain very grateful for our ongoing support and I hope your loose change might find its way into one of their collection boxes. Fairtrade ‘Real’ Easter Eggs are available to order too and the Fairtrade stall will be open at the Lent Lunches as well as after the 11.00am Mass.

May Lent be a source of blessing to us all,

Fr Gary

  From The Vicarage – February 2014

Tel 337936      fr.gary@btinternet.com       @FrGary1

Dear Friends,

Once again another month has flown by. It has been wet, dank and largely grey. I love those cold, blue sky, bright sunshine types of wintry day which were so prevalent last year, but in common with many, I find the dark mornings, dark early nights, and constant rain all a bit too much at times. As you most of you know all I really want to see is some snow!

But in the midst of the damp and dreary there are still signs of hope for the future. The first tightly wrapped buds can be seen, the first sign of bulbs beginning to emerge from the sodden earth. And amid nature’s emerging promise the Church celebrates the fulfilment of a promise too. Into the darkness has come the one who is the “Light to lighten the Gentiles”, the one recognised by Simeon and Anna as his parents brought him to the Temple forty days after his birth. We call this festival ‘Candlemas’ and each early February it brings to a conclusion the Christmas season, what we call the ‘Cycle of the Incarnation’, which began with hope and expectation on Advent Sunday and has taken in Christmas Day and the arrival of the Magi at the Epiphany twelve days later.

Our Epiphany celebration was another wonderful occasion. Given that it was a Monday evening and the eve of a new school term it was lovely to see people of all ages sharing a memorable act of worship made all the more special by the efforts of our singers under Alex’s ever-upbeat direction. Peter Cornelius’ “The Three Kings” was a wonderful addition to the worship. They never cease to amaze me, and those who gather at our joint parish feasts and festival services have been richly blessed by their endeavours.

The Church Calendar points to this beautiful feast day of Candlemas to be seen as an important and fully integrated festival of the Christmas cycle. It is not some optional extra, but the natural climax, after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. Although the Church allows an approach that ends the annual celebration of the Incarnation after twelve days, she encourages an imaginative use of the weeks of January as an exploration of the Epiphany themes, and see Candlemas as a fitting end to it and an important turning point in the Christian year.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it — presentation, purification, meeting, light for the world. The several names by which it has been known in Christian history illustrates also just how much it has to teach and to celebrate.

But the strongest attraction of Candlemas is the ‘bitter-sweet’ nature of what it celebrates. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the suffering of Jesus and then to Easter. The scriptures and the liturgy of the Christmas season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming as they do at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent nearly always very close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It is as if we say, on 2 February, ‘One last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!’ On such a reckoning, the liturgical colour soon changes after Candlemas from the white of Christmas and Epiphanytide, first to ‘ordinary’ green before the change to the more penitential purple as Lent begins. With Easter so late in 2014 there is actually more than four weeks before Ash Wednesday, and time to prepare properly for the arrival of Lent. This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 5th and our joint parish celebration will be at Castlethorpe at 7.30pm that evening.

Elsewhere Parish Life continues to have much to offer. The Essential Jesus course is continuing on Wednesdays and Fridays until Lent and a new course, Start! designed for those wanting to find out more about what Christianity is all about sees a one-off taster evening on February 5th. If you or anyone you know would like to know more then please do contact me and ask. The Start! course is not for those who have attended our other courses or have been coming to church for a longer period.

Otherwise both the Men’s’ & Ladies’ Groups have much to offer and Hanslope Entertainments Group is gearing up for yet another blockbuster panto production at Half-Term, if you have not been before you are missing a real treat!

Do look out for news of all our Lent activities. The usual Lent leaflet will be published during this month and you will find all the detail on St James’ website too, www.stjameshanslope.org – it is a year since we launched the website at St James and well over 10,000 pages have been viewed in that time!

With my prayers and every blessing for the month ahead.

Fr Gary

 

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