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Astley Parish

St Mary's Church

Church services will be reinstated when circumstances permit.  We regret that the church remains closed until further notice while the current pandemic prevails.

 

From the Vicarage

Dear All,

Many of us are feeling bereft at not being able to go into our beloved church buildings at present. So are our bishops and our diocesan support staff colleagues in Lichfield as we are all part of one team. Many in wider society who are reflecting at present on the most prudent ways forward for public safety in this intensely difficult and disorientating time are feeling the same anxieties and yearnings too and they merit our support and patient understanding.

It is good to learn from a comment made publically by a bishop in another diocese that "The government have set up a group to look at how churches can be opened for private prayer and small services"- words chosen carefully, 'how' not 'whether'.  Several of you have sent me anguished emails or made strong personal comments sharing your individual pain at the sense of interruption to the comforts of regular routine or cherished shared worship. That is only human, natural and speaking the tentative language of personal vulnerability, just as Jesus himself did at times. Please do be assured that this national development is significant and better to be welcomed rather than viewed sceptically.  The Sunday after Ascension Day seems an appropriate period to reflect on waiting as a spiritual task. Indeed a much-loved former Canon of Chester, William Vanstone, wrote an entire book called 'The Stature of Waiting'.  Or as TS Eliot succinctly put it, "The faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting".  So let us wait with yearning for our buildings to properly re-open just as the disciples had to wait patiently and trustingly for their Lord to make good on his promise to come again in a fresh way after he had ascended.

Waiting: yearning, hoping, expectant, steadfast, prayerful. May we actually grow spiritually through this experience of involuntary anguish and loss, just as the disciples did as they awaited the Holy Spirit's coming at Pentecost.
Together in Christ's service.
Paul      

                                       ****************************************
Readings for the Sunday after Ascension:

Acts 1:6-14
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

 John 17:1-11
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.  For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

                          *************************

As church officers are already aware, thanks to a kind donor the vicarage office now has a more reliably working replacement refurbished computer, which is a big relief after my computer crashed several times trying to send a single work email last week (I'll keep it as a back-up rather than administering the last rites with a hammer!). This makes it possible to begin to plan for more virtual church gatherings now to keep our self-isolating elderly and vulnerable people as protected as they may wish.

The first thing is to check who is already ahead of the curve and connected to the exciting online world with Zoom. If you have this already, please would you send me an invitation to connect at paulcawthorne1966@gmail.com and we'll see how much can be initially linked up. It would beneficial to our benefice team if people can be proactive and action this now rather than waiting to see what others do, so that we can begin to see how many from each parish are already clustered and what additional fellowship is possible. If you aren't already on Zoom and would appreciate more fellowship and access to meet-ups, please consider downloading the Zoom app, which is very easy to do now devices connect so much more automatically.
                                                                                       
It is lovely to see how splendid all our churchyards are looking this spring. Many thanks indeed to all who look after the mowing, clip the hedges, tidy the hidden corners so assiduously and provide such beautifully welcoming and colourful flower displays to keep these sacred spaces honouring to God. It may be nice to make a little collage or feature pictures of one of our churches or the garden views in a village each week - what do you think?
                                              *********************************

Lichfield Cathedral eucharist livestream at 10.30am with choir accompaniment:

https://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/news/news/post/406-sunday-eucharist-live

 

On Thursday, 21 May 2020, 08:29:00 BST, Jayne Hill <gjjhill@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

Thank you

On Thursday, 21 May 2020, 08:05:59 BST, Paul Cawthorne <paulcawthorne@tiscali.co.uk> wrote:

A reflection from Mike Duckett of Shrewsbury Abbey, a retired local businessman and Shropshire lad:

2 Kings 19: 29-31

“This year you will eat what grows by itself,
    and the second year what springs from that.
But in the third year sow and reap,
    plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
    will take root below and bear fruit above.
For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
    and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this."

 

Acts 1:1-11

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “People of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

                                                                        ***********************************************************************

‘The surviving remnant of the house of Israel shall again take root downwards and bear fruit upwards’.

Household dress making has become something of a lost art. With the advent of cheap throw away clothes the necessity to tailor one’s own dresses or suits at home has gone. Kirstie Allsopp is doing a sterling one woman job in attempting to encourage us to get us back to our sewing machines but I fear she is preaching to deaf ears. I am old enough to remember my mother making my sister’s dresses and there was always a small amount of the material left over, a part one called the remnant.

That is what Isaiah was prophesying to King Hezekiah words given to him by the Lord recorded in 2 Kings. That there would be a remnant left. In this case a remnant not of material but of the house of Israel. Just a little left out of the great nation of unfaithful Jews. It was prophesised that when all might appear to be lost, there would still be some left who remained faithful to the Lord and rejecting the worship of idols. In 1 Kings 19 we are told that remnant would total 7000 in all.

This was prophesied at a period when the people of Israel were living through a torrid time. A time of attack and counter attack. A time led by a succession of bad and unfaithful kings. A time when the majority had turned to worshipping other gods .A time when man’s faithfulness to the true God had hit rock bottom.

I wonder if we can draw some parallels with life for us, the faithful remnant, living today. Do we feel that we too have gone through a torrid time as a church? We may not have faced opposing armies but here at the Abbey we have been faced with winds that tore at our roof, floods that threatened us at our doors and now a virus that has forced the closure of those very doors. Do we faithful few feel that we too are the last remnant living in a Godless age. Well if so let us take great encouragement from this portion of scripture:

– ‘The surviving remnant of the house of Israel shall again take root downwards and bear fruit upwards’.

I spoke recently to a lady who attends St. Peters Anglican church in Brighton. The church is known locally as Brighton’s Cathedral. It is an immense grade 1 listed building established as part of the 1818 Church building Act. But after 200 years of service it has become a money pit, draining the resources of its elderly and dwindling congregation. They, the remaining remnant of Brighton’s past glories, prayed hard for God’s intervention to provide a miracle. With no solution found they reluctantly closed the doors. But our faithful God responded to his faithful remnant and he intervened in the form of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton. They were Holy Spirit inspired to take over responsibility for the building and they set about undertaking the multi-million pound restoration project and re-opened the doors. But this time the doors were opened not only to the ‘churched’ of Brighton but also to the homeless, the lonely, those with addictions and money worries. They provided night accommodation, soup kitchen, financial advice. Within less than one year the church had 1000 on its electoral role and it is still growing.

As the prophesy foretold years ago to the faithful Jews, the church in Brighton had, like them, ‘again taken root downward and was bearing new fruit upwards’.

For many this period of lockdown has been a frightening and depressing period. But others have found it to be a truly spiritually and refreshing time. The dust has been blown off many home bibles, prayer life has become all the more alive and urgent. What exciting future does our Lord have in store for his church as we set our roots deep down in His word? What fruit will we see emerging from this unique experience we have all gone through? Those seeds that we have sown over the weeks with our acts of kindness and service to one another through our messages and our ‘phone calls. Those prayers we have earnestly offered up for others and our parish. What fruit might it produce, watered as it is by God’s own hand?

This week we celebrate the ascension of Christ. Little did the disciples realise on that day what an exciting adventure they were just embarking upon. Aided by the Holy Spirit they were to ‘bear new fruit upward ‘ in establishing God’s church on earth.

Just like St. Peters Brighton and just like those disciples, we too may find that once we re-open our doors we should not expect to find things just the same as they were before. Anticipate difference if we are to be led by the Holy Spirit. It might be with an enhanced social outreach programme. It might be to become a fountain of training and learning for the county or a beacon for worship, providing a wider range of worship options. Who knows what unique plan God has for this parish?

That remnant of Israel will always continue. Messianic Jews, we are told, will be there at the end. But also the remnant of the Gentiles will also be there, that is you and me. Let us together hold fast to the promises of our faithful God and wait with excitement, prepared to roll up our sleeves for action and to see what ‘new fruit will be born - ever bearing upwards’.