To All Church of England Clergy

Letter to parishioners

17 March 2020

My dear friends

You will no doubt be aware that, because of the grave circumstances in which we find ourselves, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a pastoral letter, appended to this email, giving effect to their decision to suspend all church services and meetings.

This leaves us in unprecedented territory, and my hope and prayer is that we will discover ways of being the church together without meeting in our normal gatherings.   I believe that it will bring out the best in our communities, which have already shown remarkable examples of generosity and service, but it will doubtless also impose strains, and none of us is exempt from that.

I do think that we should all do our best to observe the restrictions being asked of us by the government, for the sake of our own health and well-being and for the common good.    

Please note that the archbishops are calling us all to observe this Sunday, 22 March (Mothering Sunday), as a Day of Prayer and Action.   We are all invited to put a lighted candle in our front windows at 7pm as a sign of solidarity and hope.

On Thursday of this week I will be visiting each of our churches and praying in it.  I will also be putting a notice up on the door inviting people to use the church and I will be leaving prayers for people to use.  I will also be arranging for prayers to be said in each church on Sunday and will arrange, if possible, for a bell to be rung. This will not be a public service.  I am asking the wardens to ensure that, as far as is practicable, churches remain open as usual.

As yet, I have no further information on funerals, weddings and banns of marriage. I imagine that we may be permitted to do burials and cremations and to hold memorial services at a later time, but this is pure speculation.    We have a number of weddings booked, including a few in the fairly near future.

Other matters:

In recent weeks some of you have been meeting in homes as part of the Travelling Together course, which has been part of our Lenten observance.   I know that some of these groups have discovered a real sense of fellowship and mutual support.   I hope that you will continue to connect by email, phone and text, and that the groups will resume when things are better. My thanks to the leaders and hosts.

It is fortunate that we were able to hold four of our Annual Parochial Church Meetings before the present arrangements were imposed.  However, those at Wendlebury, Weston and Hampton Gay have not yet taken place.  Under the current rules they should take place by 31 May, but I suspect these rules will be suspended, and I await guidance.

Many of you will be aware that Nick Ktorides, our new House for Duty priest, will be moving to Chesterton with his wife Shuba on 25 March.  Clearly it will be in very unusual circumstances and it may be some time before you get to meet them.  I can only assume that the service of licensing planned for 2 April is cancelled.   I am sure that Bishop Colin can license Nick privately, and we can have a service of welcome in due course.  We are arranging a welcome pack of groceries to be delivered to the house.   If any of you feel inclined to welcome them with a cake, bottle, or box of chocs I am sure that would be very much appreciated.  Please be aware that Shuba is currently unwell and is unlikely to be making a public appearance for the time being.

Warmest good wishes and prayers at this difficult time,
Gareth

PRAYERS and SUPPORT

PRAYERS and SUPPORT during the coronavirus crisis

Please click on this link to find a message from The Archbishop of Canterbury:

https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/speaking-writing/articles/message-archbishop-justin-welby-responding-coronavirus

Please click on this link to find prayers for use during the current crisis:

https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-liturgy-and-prayer-resources

If you have access to the internet you can find Daily Prayer here:

https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-service-daily-prayer

This is updated daily. Neighbours and family may care to print these off for those who do not have internet access. It is also available as an app.

Every day on Radio 4 Long Wave the BBC broadcasts the Daily Service at 9.45 am.
Also available on DAB:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006wzfs

Every Wednesday on Radio 3 the BBC broadcasts Choral Evensong at 3.30 pm
(repeated on Sundays at 3.00 pm).  Also available on DAB:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tp7r

The Scripture Union and Bible Reading Fellowship provide helpful booklets with daily readings. These can be bought online.

The Church of England https://www.churchofengland.org/

and

The Diocese of Oxford https://www.oxford.anglican.org/

publish regular updates on the coronavirus situation.

 

 

Please find overleaf a few prayers which may be of help to those spending time at home….

 

Prayers in time of need

 

A prayer for help

O Lord my God, you are my refuge and my strength. You are my ever-present help in times of trouble. When it seems like the world is crumbling around me and I am thrown around by the storms of life, take away my fear. When I am weak, you are my strength. When I am vulnerable, you are my refuge. When I cry for help, you will answer. Remind me, Lord, that you are always with me and will never leave or forsake me. I ask this through Christ my Lord. Amen.

A prayer for calm

Eternal Father, you know my past, present and future; nothing is unknown to you. When I worry about what is ahead of me, please calm my fears with the knowledge that you go before me. I will never be alone because you will always be with me. You have promised that you will not fail me or forsake me and you are faithful to keep all your promises. Take away my fear and replace it with faith in your unending love, shown to me in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for those who are ill

Lord God, whose Son, Jesus Christ, understood people’s fear and pain before they spoke of them; we pray for those who are unwell at home or in hospital; surround the frightened with your tenderness; give strength to those in pain; hold the weak in your arms of love, and give hope and patience to those who are recovering; we ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A morning prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you that you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day; keep us from falling into sin or running into danger, and guide us to do always what is right in your eyes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

An evening prayer

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may repose upon your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer of St Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – April 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear parishioners;

I vividly recall studying at primary school the story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire during the plague year of 1665.   If I were to go up in the loft I could probably find the exercise book with my drawings and written account of it.

As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, The Reverend William Mompesson. He, together with the Puritan minister, Thomas Stanley, introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness, the best-known of which was to quarantine the entire village.

Later, when I was studying French for A level, one of our set texts was La Peste by Albert Camus. It’s set in 194., in the town of Oran, in French Algeria, and catalogues in poignant and dramatic detail the agonies of the townsfolk and the moral dilemmas facing the principal protagonists as they cope with a 20th century plague.

As I write, in mid-March, it is not clear how the coronavirus will develop, but it seems inevitable that it will become widespread over the coming weeks and months. I guess I will not have to make the kind of choices faced by Mompesson, not least because decisions to regulate our behaviour will be taken by the government. Nor will I be tempted to behave like Père Paneloux in La Peste, who suggested to his congregation that the plague was a divine visitation, a punishment for their sins (though he later shifted his position when confronted with the death of a child). There will, however, be hard decisions facing us all.

We live in a universe of opposing forces. Nature, as Darwin discovered, has a way of ensuring the survival of the fittest.  Sentient humans, on the other hand, have the capacity for moral choice, which is often complex and confusing, and is a faculty we must exercise with thoughtfulness and care. Sometimes, sadly, we make selfish choices, and we have already witnessed disturbing behaviour on the part of some. The instinct that urges us to work for the common good rather than our individual interests is, I hope, stronger.   Rabbi Lord Sacks, in a powerful contribution to Radio 4’s Start the Week (11 March) highlighted moral character as an attribute we have rather lost sight of, but perhaps we will find the grace to rediscover it in the days to come.

However things develop in the weeks and months ahead, I pray that all of us in these villages will exemplify the best and noblest aspects of our character – respect, tolerance, generosity and mutual care.

Your sincere friend and Rector,
Gareth

akemanbenefice@gmail.com

01869 350224

NEW PRIEST

We are delighted to announce the appointment of The Reverend Nick Ktorides as Assistant Priest (House for Duty) in the Akeman Benefice. Nick, together with his wife Shuba, comes to us from the Diocese of Norwich. (Ktorides is pronounced TerEEdez  – ie silent K and stress on second syllable).

The House for Duty post means that he is unpaid, but receives accommodation in lieu of a salary.
He will work two days per week in addition to Sunday duty.

We look forward to getting to know Nick in the months to come.

The Service of Licensing will be conducted by The Bishop and The Archdeacon of Dorchester on Thursday 2 April at 7.30pm at St Mary’s Church, Weston on the Green.  Please do come along and give Nick a warm welcome.

 

Gareth Miller

Rector of The Akeman Benefice

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – March 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends;

I was pleased to learn that the South Korean film, ‘Parasite’, had won the best picture award at the Oscars. I haven’t seen it yet, but was pleased because it’s the first foreign language film to win such an accolade.

The British (perhaps especially the English) are notoriously bad at other languages. We expect everyone to speak our own – a problem that is not helped by the fact that many of them do, in a lot of cases better than native speakers. My father-in-law believed that the best way to make a foreigner understand him was to repeat his English sentence over and over again but louder each time!

Whenever I go abroad I make a point to watching the TV news in the local language, whether I know it or not. I find it gives me a feel for the people, and a sense of how the language works and sounds. After a while, even if it’s a completely unfamiliar language, you begin to pick up clues and perhaps even understand a little. With films, of course, it’s easier, as there are usually subtitles.

Reading subtitles when they’re on the screen is pretty easy. But how good are we at reading each other’s subtitles? After all, we are all foreigners to one another. What’s my friend, neighbour, partner, child, parent really saying to me? Am I reading the signals well? Tone, body language, nuance? To do this requires practice, just as learning a foreign language does. It means listening carefully, asking for clarification, making sure I haven’t misunderstood or misinterpreted, not jumping to conclusions, putting two and two together and making five… It means responding rather than reacting – and there’s an important difference. As someone once said, it’s not a mistake that we’re born with one mouth but two ears!

Gareth
akemanbenefice@gmail.com

01869 350224

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – February 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends;

We have just heard the sad news of the death of The Reverend Mike Stokes, who was Vicar of Chesterton with Middleton Stoney and Wendlebury from 1989-95, and also a predecessor of mine as Rural Dean of Bicester and Islip. Mike was widely held in high regard, as was his wife Pat, and we send our condolences to his sons Andrew and Jonathan. The funeral will be in St Mary’s, Chesterton, on Monday 9 March at 12 noon.

Thinking about Mike has made me wonder what makes a good vicar. We have recently been advertising for a House for Duty priest, and it was an interesting challenge to be involved in framing the advert. Of course, we all tend to want a saint – good with the elderly, good with the young, a good preacher, a good visitor, a good listener, dynamic, a nice manner, etc etc! It’s quite a tall order for those of us called to this ministry. Surprisingly enough we, like you, have our individual faults and idiosyncrasies!

The Church of England has been criticised in some quarters, with some justification in my view, for being too managerial and too much focussed on outcomes and results. What, after all, is the measure of a ‘successful’ church? Most of our village churches are supported by a relatively small group of faithful Christians, who do their very best to live out the life that God calls us to. Having said that, it is important that clergy are accountable, and they should make to time to think about the way they spend their time, where they put their energy and focus, and what their priorities are. To this end I found it helpful yesterday to have my Ministry Development Review.

Here are some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer which I have found helpful: ‘No one builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on his way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess – he builds. We must proclaim – he builds. We must pray to him – he builds. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of building. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are when it is pulled down. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his Church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Church, do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.’

Gareth
akemanbenefice@gmail.com

01869 350224

Journey of the Magi

A Christmas entertainment based on the poem by T. S. Eliot, performed by the Springs Dance Company in St Mary’s Church, Kirtlington, on Friday 29th November 2019

Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ has always struck me as a somewhat sombre poem, with none of the expected rejoicing at finding the right place at the end of their journey and bearing witness to a miraculous birth, but the quiet conclusion that ‘it was (you may say) satisfactory’. And then the birth itself could not be simply celebrated, containing as it did knowledge of the cruel death to follow. How could such a work be transformed into an engaging, witty, hugely inventive, and energetic dance? The work was first devised in 1997 and has been through various adaptations since as it is performed in churches around the country in the run-up to Christmas. The primary leap of the creators’ imagination was to see it as possible to weave Eliot’s poem in and out of more familiar modern experiences of the festive season: starting with an evocation of the magic of snow, then shopping, partying, an interlude of pure pantomime at the beginning of the second half, decorations and present-giving on Christmas morning. Each small element of the whole was accompanied by appropriate and wonderfully varied music, from Chopin to Gershwin and Cole Porter, Saint-Saens, John Williams and the glorious twelfth-century Hildegard Von Bingen, interspersed with pure pop. It was all performed with gusto by the cast of four dancers, who changed outfits and character deftly through their facial expressions and body language. One of my own favourite moments was when the three women dancers appeared ‘riding’ hobby-horse camels, with their faces capturing the haughty expressions we associate with these creatures. It was all lively, infectiously entertaining, accessible to both children and those who knew nothing of Eliot, although the poem was helpfully printed in the programme. For me, the great achievement of the whole was that, for all its light-hearted fun, it never lost sight of the underlying mood of Eliot’s poem. There were two moments in particular that drew a gasp from the audience as they were so unexpected: the Christmas presents unwrapped and distributed looked both ordinary and not particularly welcome to their recipients: a doll for the central couple’s daughter, a hockey stick, a comic soft toy sheep. Then suddenly they appeared arranged as a tableau of the nativity scene, with the doll in a cradle, the stick now a shepherd’s crook and the sheep beside the manger. The other moment came at the end when a fine piece of dancing ended with the dancer emulating a figure on a cross, arms outstretched, head bowed. But, while this essential thread of the Christian story was woven through the whole piece, it was presented with the lightest touch. The essential message of the work seemed to me to be that life should be celebrated and enjoyed to the full, especially in the company of others, in multiple ways, including art, music and dance, but awareness of darker aspects of the human experience, deprivation, pain and suffering, should never be forgotten but serve to enhance all that is most valuable in human interaction. That said, what characterised the whole was its sense of fun and we all left with smiles on our faces and feet that twitched to join the dance.

 

Celia Hawkesworth

 

Bible Study and prayer with Creche

This bible study group is for people living in the benefice who are at home during the week (this is mainly mums but is not exclusive!).

My hope is that we can have some time once a week to read the bible, learn a bit from each other and pray together.

We meet in Kirtlington Church at 1330 on Thursdays for an hour with tea and snacks.

Please feel free to turn up or email in advance to confirm kirstydurley@hotmail.com.

Hope to see you soon!

Gareth Miller

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – October 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

 

What do you think of John Bercow? He’s a bit of a Marmite character – you either love him or you loathe him! Well, by the time you read this he may well not be Speaker any more. (I could of course ask the same question about Johnson, or Corbyn, or any politician or celebrity.)

Robert Mugabe died recently. I found myself at a Middleton Stoney Cream Tea chatting to someone who had been in his cabinet for many years. As one might expect, I discovered that the real Mugabe was a more nuanced character than some have suggested. But mostly bad!

In the Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety and nine virtuous people who have no need of repentance.”

Of course, Mugabe did not repent (and that doubtless explains the poor turn-out at his funeral). Unlike David Cameron, who, from all accounts, has been very repentant in his autobiography about his mistakes and the division the referendum has caused.

Divisions, polarisation, oppositional attitudes – these seem to be the norm these days. But has it not always been thus?

Jesus himself was a sign of division. The infant Christ signifies to Simeon both salvation and schism. The Magnificat says the mighty will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. Jesus warns that his words will divide families. Those he encounters tend to fall into two camps: the religious people, the scribes and the Pharisees, who by and large oppose him; while those who respond to his message are the tax collectors and sinners.

So polarisation is not a new thing. But what’s the antidote? The answer is repentance. When we turn from self and turn to God change begins. (When we stop being directed by self-interest and self-absorption and put God and his kingdom at the heart of our lives we start seeing things differently). When we resist the temptation to trust our own ideas, our own theology, our own politics, and ask for the gifts of humility and discernment, then we come to experience truth in the realities of our world – in the poor, the dispossessed, the fragile and the doubting. Then and only then does the possibility of a new world emerge.

Gareth
akemanbenefice@gmail.com

01869 350224