Weekly Pastoral Letter - 26 March 2021

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and we’ll be looking at Mark’s account of that day in Mark 11: 1-11 as well as Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29.  You might like to take a look at these readings before Sunday, and see if you can find a palm cross from previous years or maybe draw a cross on your palm as aid for reflection during the service.  Liz and Mike Goddard have helped me to prepare our service this week.

And so, of course, next Week is Holy Week and we have a number of things planned to help us observe this special time.

Each evening during the early part of the week we will hold a short time of reflection at 7pm, these will be Circuit services and will be on Zoom.  

On Maundy Thursday at 6:45 for 7pm we are holding a Circuit Love Feast on Zoom.  The Love Feast, or Agape, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry. The service expresses the koinonia or sharing, belonging and fellowship enjoyed within the body of Christ. It includes prayer, praise, scripture, preaching and mutual fellowship, testimony and the sharing of love cake and the fellowship cup.  

The Love Feast was a feature of the Evangelical Revival, a regular part of Methodist society meetings in Great Britain and became an important feature of early of Primitive Methodism.

John Wesley wrote:

In order to increase in (the societies) a sense of all God’s mercies, I desired that we might together ‘eat bread’ as the ancient Christians did, ‘with gladness and singleness of heart’.  At these love-feasts (so we termed them, retaining the name as well as the thing which was in use from the beginning) our food is only a little plain cake and water.  But we seldom return from them without being fed not only with ‘the meat that perisheth’, but with ‘that which endureth to everlasting life’

John Wesley’s ‘Plain Account of the People called Methodists’ 1748

You can find more information about Methodist Love Feasts on the Methodist Church website.  Obviously, we won’t be able to share a love cake together, so you may wish to prepare something to eat and drink – a hot cross bun might be appropriate and a glass of water. 

To observe Good Friday, you can watch a video “No exceptions” which has been produced by Churches Together in Wokingham.  This will be available from 12 noon. 

The links for all these events can be found elsewhere in this mailing.

Don’t forget to make an Easter garden and to send a photo to Claire so that they can be displayed on our website.

And then on Easter Day we will be opening our church building for worship and our service will include Holy Communion.  Please book your place with Will in the office by noon on Thursday.  We can only fit 30 people in the main body of the church whilst observing social distancing.  If you are not one of the first 30 to book, you can either be top of the list for the following week, or have a place in the café area, where you will be able to hear but not see the people leading the service.  A similar service will be on our website on Easter morning.

And finally, I have 15 copies of a book of reflections on Mark’s gospel to give away.  These have been produced by the Learning Network and are linked to this year’s Bible month in June when we shall focus on Mark’s Gospel.  These devotional books have 50 daily studies and are ideal for the period between Easter and Pentecost – let me know if you would like a copy and I will get it to you.

I hope that you have a good week,

With every blessing,

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 19 March 2021

A reflection from Rosi MorganBarry

A few weeks ago our neighbour had a tree cut down.  It was neither old nor sick, but unfortunately its roots were in the way of the water supply pipes to the house.  This was not the fault of the tree; it was doing what trees do: putting out roots to maintain its life.  It had simply been planted in the wrong place.

Trees encompass the whole Bible: from Genesis 2:9  where we read that 'in the middle of the garden stood the Tree of Life' to Revelation 22: 2 where we read: 'on each side of the river was the Tree of Life, which bears fruit twelve times a year ... and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.’  Thomas Pakenham in his book ‘Meetings with remarkable trees’ talks of ancient trees:

'The giants of our native species – oak, ash, beech – are the biggest living things on these islands; heavier than any land animals, taller than most buildings, older than many ancient monuments.  A big oak or beech can weigh 30 tons, cover 2,000 square yards, include 10 miles of twigs and branches.  Each year it pumps several tons of water into the air, produces a new crop of 100,000 leaves and covers half an acre of trunk and branches with a new pelt of bark.  Yet the tree is alive.  There is no mass production, every tree is built to a different design. … they are the wonders we take for granted: shading the village green, crowding the park, dominating the landscape.'  And of course, doing what trees also do: helping to protect our planet from the disaster of global warming.

We were all sorry to see our neighbour's tree go, just at the time when we should be looking forward to new leaves and new growth.  But two more small trees have been planted near by (well away from water pipes!) and we can watch the seasonal miracle of spring's arrival.

'While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall never cease.'

Rosi MorganBarry

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

Rosi is writing our reflection this week, so there are just a few updates from me.  It’s now a year since the first lockdown started.  It’s been a difficult time for each one of us, so it’s good that restrictions are starting to be eased and we can look forward to life resuming some sort of normality.

The Church Council met on Zoom this week and we have decided that we will reopen our church building for Sunday Worship on Easter Day (4th April).  We will use the same guidelines as we used in the autumn.  Our numbers will be restricted to 40 in the main worship area and there will still be no singing or mixing of households indoors.  Please read the guidelines on the Sunday Services page to remind yourself of the procedure.

We will continue with our on-line worship for a while.  Christine Morgan is leading our recorded worship this week for Passion Sunday.  The Gospel reading for the day is John 12: 20 -33 and she will be exploring the theme “We want to see Jesus”.

Don’t forget our evening of reflection on the pandemic on Tuesday 23rd March when David and Brian will be sharing their insights about the last year and answering questions.

Looking ahead to Holy Week, we’re planning a series of on-line worship opportunities.  For the early part of the week, we’re holding some Circuit services on Zoom, on Mon - Weds these will be short reflective services and on Maundy Thursday we’re planning a Love Feast:

Monday 29th March 7pm led by Revd Sharon Gardner
Tuesday 30th March 7pm led by Revd Soba Sinnathamby
Wednesday 31st March 7pm led by Revd Catherine Bowstead
Thursday 1st April 6:45 for 7pm, Love Feast led by Revd Sharon Gardener and Mary Elms
Good Friday, Churches Together in Wokingham presentation on YouTube.

Further details and links for joining will be available nearer the time.

I hope that you have a good week.

With every blessing,

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 12 March 2021

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

This Sunday is Mothering Sunday which can be a day of mixed emotions for many.  As we give thanks to God for the mothering that we have received and been able to give, we remember those whose family relationships are difficult and those who have lost mothers or children.  Above all we give thanks to God for the love that he gives to us and for the opportunities that we have within the church community to give and receive love and care.  In normal circumstances we would give out posies of daffodils in our morning worship; instead, Claire has found a card for everyone and some bookmarks and a poster to colour.

Siân Moore is helping me lead our recorded service for this Sunday and we’re using the lectionary passage from John 3: 1-21.  This is Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and includes the famous verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  You might like to take time to read through this passage before Sunday; see what new things you notice and reflect on what we can learn from this encounter.

I hope that you are appreciating using our Lent book “Live Lent”.  This week, we’ve been thinking about the different people that Jesus met and how he treated each of them according to their circumstances.  I’ve been struck by how often Jesus took time to listen to individuals.  He had a lot that he needed to tell people about God’s love and the Kingdom of Heaven, but he took time to listen carefully to individuals.  Perhaps that’s something that we will bear in mind as we come out of lockdown and begin to interact with people again, that as well as telling our story, we will take time to listen to other people’s stories too.

On Tuesday March 23rd at 7pm we’re holding an evening of reflection about the Pandemic.  David Morgan and Brian Gennery, who between them have a wide knowledge of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry will be leading the evening and sharing their observations and reflections from a Christian viewpoint.  They will help us to understand something of what God might be teaching us through this time.  It promises to be a very worthwhile evening.  The meeting will be held on Zoom and further details will be available soon.

Our Church Council meets next week and one of the things that we shall be discussing is when it might be safe and appropriate to begin worshipping in our building again.  I will let you know of our decision in the Pastoral letter next week.

Please be mindful of God’s love for you and look for opportunities to share that love with others.

I hope that you have a good week,

With every blessing,

Weekly Pastoral Letter - 5 March 2021

A reflection from Rosi MorganBarry

The Temple Trader: a story from 'Tales of the Unremembered'

Then Jesus entered the Temple and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the Temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those who sold doves …

I've been at this job for  nearly forty years.  How much coinage has passed through my hands in that time?  Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Syrian, Phrygian – I've handled them all and changed them into shekels for the Temple tax.  Many traders charge a fee for changing money: the qolbon, or quarter-shekel, with another quarter if the coin given exceeds the tax, and this would often slip into the traders' own purse.  I've seen it happen.  Sometimes visitors would give a donation to the Temple treasury, which was supposed to go towards the upkeep of the Temple, but again this would disappear.  But my father brought me up to respect the Law.  He was in this job fifty years and never once, as far as I know, over-charged.  Neither do I.

I've seen all kinds of people come and go, visiting the Temple: some for the first time when lads come up for their Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies, with proud fathers and mothers and shy sisters; visitors from all over the world; folk bringing in their animals for sacrifices, which were always rejected as unsuitable, so that only those sold here would be accepted.  And cost twice as much.  I've also seen all kinds of scamp traders come and go, those who had no more respect for the Law and the Prophets than the doves and lambs and calves they sold at vastly inflated prices.  Probably less.

I've witnessed all kinds of strange events in and around the Temple precincts.  One particular day stands out, although it began like any other.  It was the day the prophet came: the one they called Jesus-bar-Joseph, the same chap who met a sticky end later that week.  I'd heard of him: who hadn't?  Made a name for himself  around the country with all kinds of miracles of healing and unorthodox teaching.  Upset the authorities more than somewhat and got himself a price on his head so they say.

Well, I didn't think he would have the pluck to show his face here in Jerusalem, but wouldn't you know it?  He turned up actually here – not only in the city, but here in the Court of the Gentiles!  Came in and looked all around, and didn't look too impressed either.  Most folk come in and gasp and gawk and say how great it all is.  Which it is.  In some ways.

Next day, he was back.  Looking determined.  But what came next I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.  He marched past my small table near the entrance and went straight to old Elias' table – and turned it over!  Piles of coins rolled everywhere and Elias went screaming and scrabbling after them.  He went on to other tables and did the same; he drove out the lambs and calves penned up for the sacrifices: knocked over the barriers and with a shove on their behinds sent them all stumbling and pushing their way out into the street; he flung open the cages of the doves, who all went fluttering up and out as fast as wings could take them.  What a to-do!  Shouts and curses; sheep bleating, cattle mooing, feet clattering as stall holders tried to grab their goods.  And over it all his voice: a great voice like thunder: 'This my Father's House, not a market place!  A place for prayer, not a place for thieves!'

He strode out.  The place looked like a war zone.  Elias, Habib and the others were still grabbing what coins they could find, and the animal traders were out in the street trying to round up their sheep and cattle.  I went to lend a hand, and it was only then I realised something.  Jesus-bar-Joseph had passed me by.  My table, with its stacks of small coins was just as it had been.  Had I imagined it or had he paused by my table, and put his hand briefly on my shoulder?

And his words: 'my Father's house' – where had I heard them before?

It was much later, telling the story to my wife, that it came back to me.  It was the boy – all those years ago, who had said: 'Didn't you know I would be in my Father's House?'

Rosi MorganBarry

From Revd Catherine Bowstead

Dear Friends,

Rosi is writing our reflection this week so here is just a short letter from me.

I hope that you are enjoying our Lent Book “God’s Story Our Story”.  I’m finding that the short reflections each day are helpfully positive.  I’m looking forward to putting some of the things that I’m learning into practice when we can meet with others again and I hope that sharing our faith might be more natural for us when we are able to gather once more.

The Preacher for our recorded service this week is the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Carolyn Lawrence.  Carolyn was due to visit our Methodist District this weekend and in normal times would have visited several churches and projects around the District and led worship in one of our churches.  This weekend, the visit will take place over Zoom, but she has recorded a sermon to be shared throughout the South East District.  So, by the wonders of modern technology we have the unexpected pleasure of a “visit” by the Vice-President!  Carolyn has based her sermon on the Gospel reading for the day – John 2: 13-22 – Jesus clears money lenders out of the Temple, we will also hear the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20: 1-17.

I am very much looking forward to seeing you before too much longer.  Don’t forget about our weekly coffee mornings on Zoom and please do get in contact with me if you want a chat.  In the meantime, I hope that you have a good week.

With every blessing,