Epiphany reflection

”They offered him gifts….and left for their own country by another road.” 
From Matthew 2:1-12.

“When are we going to be out of this? It’s not going to be an event, it’ll be a process.”
Prof. Neil Ferguson, Epidemiologist, speaking of the process of national vaccination.

Today is Epiphany, the time of the visit of the Magi to the Christchild and the revelation that the child is born for all people, Gentiles as well as Jews. Matthew’s Gospel simply refers to wise men from the East and, because three gifts are given, it’s been assumed that there were three of them although they would have had servants too. Probably from the Zoroastrian faith, men of great learning and stargazers who worshipped Mazda the god of light, they later became the three Kings of the carol, given the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Traditionally, one is older, one younger and one dark skinned and they are often depicted on camels although wealthy travellers in the time of Christ would probably use horses which were speedier and more comfortable.
Matthew states that they saw the rising of a star, a significant astronomical event, and travelled to Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the child born king of the Jews. In doing so, they alerted insecure Herod to what had happened which, when they returned by another way rather than report back to him, lead to the massacre of the innocents. But, in offering Jesus precious gifts from their treasure chests, the child was given gold for the King of Kings, frankincense used in worship and myrrh to anoint dead bodies, indicating the suffering and death that lies ahead. The gifts are symbolic as these men of great wealth and influence who had travelled such a long way are able to recognise that the child is the King they are seeking. They humble themselves before him whereas King Herod asserts his authority in so terrible a way that many other children are killed. By going home by a different way, the magi take another route as their lives and understanding are changed by what they had witnessed and who they had encountered. That is so for us, too, when we find Jesus and worship him, being changed by the encounter with Love incarnate.
The wise men were attentive to God’s purposes as they gazed at the heavens and discerned the star’s rising – we too need to attend to what God is showing us and respond, as did they. In setting out on their journey they were willing to take action without knowing where they were going, which must have been costly as TS Eliot describes in his poem ‘Journey of the Magi’:
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey.
The ways deep and the weather sharp
The very dead of winter.” 

Like the magi, we find ourselves on a difficult journey in the very dead of winter, as our family and travel plans have unexpectedly changed and none of us can be sure what lies ahead or how long it will all take. Waiting for the vaccine is a hard process and, sometimes, the going is so hard for us that it’s tempting to give up and stop travelling spiritually or to be taken in by those with other agendas. The challenges have been so great that many of us have been forced to stop and question where we’re going in life or what we seek and need on life’s way. Our lives now are very different, changed as we are by the mutating virus and what the process of national vaccination is demanding of us. But still the example of the magi can inspire us: they found what they were seeking through perseverance and showed their love through worship and the offering of precious gifts, being willing also to change their future because of their encounter with the Christchild. 

As our futures have also suddenly changed, what is being revealed to us this Epiphany? Where can we find God’s love and what precious gifts can we give the Christchild in the time, treasures and talent we can offer him and those around us? Giving of ourselves can be costly and we’re not always willing to persevere at those times when the journey may be too deep or sharp. But, as Eliot also reminds us, “….were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” 

As we honour the example of those shadowy figures worshipping the Christchild and offering gifts, where do we go from here and who are the wise ones whose voices and advice we should heed today as they guide us step by step on this strange journey and the process we’re all having to undertake?

With my prayers, Christine

Sunday reflection

Reflection for the Second Sunday after Christmas.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…full of grace and truth.” 

From John 1:10-18, NIV.
“Wreck the halls with boughs of baggage, Fa la la la la, la la la la.” 
Part of the parody of the Carol ‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly’.
At the turn of the year, it’s traditionally been common to make a resolution to enable a fresh and hopeful start to the unknown that lies ahead. This year, with the uncertainty facing us all due to the pandemic, many people have said that they’re not going to bother as the unpredictable situation has changed so much in their lives that the Christmas and New Year festivities have not had the same meaning and the way ahead is too fearful.
However, some families are isolated from each other and others have to spend so much time together that conflict, abusive relationships and increasing mental health issues are resulting. It can be tempting to try to reinforce our lives with possessions and to cling on to what seems safe and familiar to reassure ourselves in the face of so uncertain a future. In time, the resulting boughs of baggage and mounds of clutter may prove to be destructive if we don’t deal with them because it’s sometimes tempting to hide behind them when faced with uncertainty. The many seasonal messages, financial statements and reviews of the past year remind us that, just as they address what happened during it and the consequences for the future, so it’s important also to take stock of where we are spiritually. 
The following Covenant prayer from the Methodist tradition may enable us to do this. It’s a very hard prayer to pray as we face up to the stark uncertainty ahead and ask ourselves what needs to be kept and what should be removed in our spiritual lives while the Christmas decorations are taken down and the New Year unfolds. Today’s Gospel reminds us that God came to the world at a time of great uncertainty and the Christmas story is so familiar that sometimes we forget how astounding it must have been for Mary and Joseph to cope with the astonishing things that were happening and then have to flee from all that was familiar and go to live in Egypt for two years. Jesus’ human family has much to teach us, both then and now.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that God came to the world and yet the world did not recognise him, even though Jesus was ‘full of grace and truth’. If we find the courage to face its challenges and ask ourselves some searching questions about the changing circumstances of our lives, then our eyes may be open to where grace and truth is still to be found today – often, in circumstances even more unlikely than a cattle shed!
With my prayers, Christine.
The Methodist Covenant Prayer.
I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessèd God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

© 1999 Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. Used with permission.

With my prayers,

New Year, new hope?

New Year, new hope?

2020 has been been so hard and no-one knows quite what lies ahead in 2021 as the coming of the vaccines and signing into law of the Brexit trade agreement bring light at the end of the tunnel amidst the ongoing challenges. Where does the path lead now? Who knows – but “the true light that gives light” (John 1:9, NIV) can be our guide if we seek it. As 2021 unfolds, despite the weariness, sadness and reassessment of what has been, perhaps one of the greatest challenges for each of us is to want to renew our hope and keep looking for where the Light is to be found. For, despite the isolation and restrictions upon us, we still have life where others have not, and to live life hopefully is to honour that if we choose to.
There can’t be the usual celebrations as the New Year begins but perhaps the words of the old traditional Scottish song The parting glass may find an echo in our hearts as 2021 dawns more quietly and perhaps more significantly amongst us:
 “But since it has so ordered been
  By a time to rise and a time to fall
  Come fill to me the parting glass 
  Good night and joy be with you all.”

God bless us all at the turning of the year – in the many mixed emotions being felt by so many, amidst the darkness and uncertainty may there be moments of joy as well as hope as the New Year dawns and the Light guides wherever the way may lead us. 

With my prayers, Christine. 

Sunday reflection

Reflection for John – Apostle and Evangelist

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.  From John 21: 19b-25, NIV.
Millions to receive Oxford jab from Jan 4 – Sunday Telegraph.
It may seem strange that, just two days after Christmas, today’s reading features the last verses of St John’s Gospel to do with the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry at a time when his birth is still being celebrated. That’s because the Church honours today the person whose Gospel has inspired so many, whether or not John the Apostle and John the Evangelist are one and the same. John was one of the sons of Zebedee who followed Jesus and was present at the Transfiguration, the last supper, the agony in Gethsemane and stood at the foot of the cross with Mary. Called the beloved disciple, he was a witness to the resurrection and was later exiled to Patmos, probably because of his writing – particularly in Revelation where mention of the beast was thought by many to be referring to the Roman Emperor. From the earliest days, the Roman Empire tried to suppress Christianity and, at a time when so many are still facing persecution and exile, John’s exile may hearten those experiencing it today. 
John’s Gospel refers to the many other things Jesus did that are not actually written down and which are now unknown. As the mammoth task begins to carry out Covid vaccinations for so many millions of people and implement the Brexit trade agreement with Europe, amidst the publicity and known documentation there are many other things which have also been done to facilitate this, of which we may also not be aware. It’s not only the scientists and politicians but also the suppliers providing not just the vaccine but the personnel, needles, phials, cotton wool, plasters, cartons, PPE, fridges, transport, storage……… so many requisites and lives that are entwined and involved, knowingly or unknowingly. Many unseen personnel have been involved in the Brexit negotiations too and the costly complexity was quickly shown in the queues that recently speedily built up near Dover, with so many drivers being stranded and kept away from their own families whilst bringing or taking to others the goods and items that it can be so easy to take for granted. 
There must have been unseen people and shadowy figures helping or hindering Mary and Joseph too at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Did the unknown innkeeper supply food as well as accommodation? Was there a midwife who assisted at the birth? Did the kinsfolk who must also have been in their home town help or stay away through social embarrassment – why could no room be found even for a relative about to give birth? Who helped the family as they fled to exile in Egypt when Herod had so many innocent children massacred and how did the parents and soldiers cope afterwards when forced to live with such terrible memories? 
If every one of these things was written down, writes John, there would not be enough room in all the world and yet, would it make any difference to our response today as massacres still continue, innocents are killed, vaccines are developed and help is both needed and supplied by the unknown people whose actions affect our lives with or without us being aware of it? Each of us will also affect countless lives by what we say, do or buy and, as the Brexit trade agreement with 1,200 pages is published so late in the process, spare a thought for those who, unseen by so many, had to redraft it and then put it online or suddenly supply the paper and folders, print and circulate it. Perhaps one of the things to be thankful for as we continue to seek meaning in this complex world of ours is that we don’t all have to read it!
With my prayers,

Christmas Reflection

Reflection for Christmas Day
“Do not be afraid; I bring you good news” – from St Luke 2:1-14.
Cymru, sicrhewch eich bod yn cael eich cyfrif

Wales, make sure you are counted – envelope of the 2021 census documentation.

It was one of those lovely coincidences that the envelope bearing the above words should arrive here on Christmas Eve, a reminder of the census two thousand years ago that was the reason for Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted. Coinciding also with the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, the planetary event which some have likened to the Star of Bethlehem, there are resonances of the Gospel accounts in the events of today as Christmas is celebrated in the challenging circumstances facing us all. 
Then, there was no room to be found in Bethlehem, but many stranded lorry drivers recently found there was no room for them in Dover either and that they wouldn’t get home for Christmas. Threats of food and other shortages seem to have faded now that a trade agreement has been reached with Europe but, with many families’ plans suddenly disrupted, the daily drip of doom and complaint seems to have rocketed recently. Yet, into this uncertain situation, still the angelic voice which spoke to the terrified shepherds speaks to us today as the birth of Jesus is celebrated once more. Then, as now, the good news is proclaimed that a Saviour has been born in Bethlehem – and it was announced to those who were able to hear the message through being out on the hillsides looking after the sheep rather than mingling with others. 
This year, the pandemic means that many are alone or forced to have a quieter Christmas than usual and that some families are mourning the loss of loved ones or anxious about the future. However, it may be that the sudden curtailing of the usual festivities might make us all reconsider what is important in our lives and what we so often take for granted. Into our confusion, fear and isolation comes the voice of hope once more telling us that God is with us, Emmanuel, and that there is good news amidst all the woes. Where might that good news be for each one of us – what makes you rejoice this Christmas? 
We have a choice, like those shepherds, who could have refused the invitation to see for themselves – amongst the unexpected developments we are all facing, this quieter Christmas, we may be confronted with the silence that forces us to face up to what we may usually be able to drown out with noise and socialising. If we choose to, we may find the courage not to be afraid but to look for where the good news and hope might be in the quieter joys facing us. That may enable us not only to hear the song of the angels in our hearts but also to join in the ancient hymn of praise:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace.”
With my prayers,

Covid Update: Church closed during Lockdown

Dear all,

After careful consideration of everyone’s safety and examination of the new guidelines from the Church in Wales and Welsh Government, the difficult decision to close our doors during the lockdown has been made. Online services will be available for those who wish to join us, so please get in touch if you would benefit from this.

We look forward to welcoming you back when it is safer to do so.

With our prayers,

Christine and all at St Melangell’s Church and Centre

Sunday Reflection

Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent
“She was much perplexed by his words… The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid……. Then Mary said, “…Let it be with me according to your word.” From Luke 1:26-38, NRSV

“Christmas plans cancelled….. the announcement prompted a rush to the train stations with thousands attempting to leave before the restrictions came into force.” 
News Announcer
“Just a couple of days before Christmas they’re doing this? This is crazy!” Pedestrian.
Today’s Gospel focuses on a young woman hearing the sudden announcement of perplexing news from an unexpected messenger in an intervention that disrupts not only her life but that of her immediate family too. Consternation at first results but then Mary is able to find the strength to accept what is happening to her and, as a result, enables hope eventually to be fulfilled in the birth of the Christchild. Perhaps her example may hearten us as we face the unexpected announcement that lockdown is now being implemented in Wales once more and at very short notice. 
It may seem to us, hearing the story once more in these straightened circumstances, that acceptance was easy for Mary as a person of faith living in simpler times without the technology that now communicates announcements instantly to so many. Yet Mary’s pregnancy before marriage would have brought shame to her household which was one of the reasons why she went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman also coping with an unexpected pregnancy. Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, was so perplexed at her story of the angel’s visit that he thought she was mentally ill and wanted to shut her away until he, too, had an unexpected change of heart following an astounding announcement in a dream. This was after Zechariah, an older priest, was struck dumb in the temple when he understandably struggled to accept that, at his age and with a barren wife, conceiving a child could be possible. And yet, it was so! Their eventual acceptance of such an unexpected intervention led to the birth of John the Baptist and the restoration of Zechariah’s speech as he and Elizabeth came to terms with such astounding events. Perhaps their example may give us food for thought, too, as we try to come to terms with governmental interventions and unexpected announcements in our lives. 
Governmental intervention also affected Joseph and Mary who, in the later stages of pregnancy, had to travel to Bethlehem when Governor Quirinius was implementing the registration for the census required by Emperor Augustus. Bethlehem Ephratha means not only little Bethlehem but insignificant Bethlehem, about four days’ journey away – who would have thought that the Messiah would be born there rather than in some more splendid setting? How did Mary and Joseph manage whilst travelling, where did they stay en route and how did they cope with a birth away from home? None of this is known, but the irony is that, although there was no room when they arrived and a manger served as the infant’s cot, today there is plenty of space for travellers as Bethlehem is also affected by the worldwide spread of Covid-19. Spare a thought, too, for those people frantically trying to get home before the restrictions began and who may find themselves stranded later on or leave others isolated at short notice due to the unexpected announcement from the government. 
Today, our plans may have been disrupted by governmental decrees but these sudden announcements come in the midst of renewed perplexity as, despite preventative measures, the virus not only multiplies but mutates. It’s a costly, painful business and, having only seen my mother once since March and not being able to be with my family over Christmas, I write these words to myself too. Yet, as plans and services are disrupted and so many are sad, once again the carol that the American priest Phillips Brooks wrote after a visit to Bethlehem rings out with words of hope for us all as the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid,” speak to our hearts today as well as Mary’s then. If we, too, can find the courage to accept these changing circumstances and to look for where the good and hope may be in it all, then there will also be unexpected blessings spreading amongst us this quieter Christmas, despite the perplexity of unanticipated events due to the pandemic:
“Yet in thy dark streets shine the the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight….
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.”
With my prayers,
Shrine Guardian.
Prayer for the week
God in heaven, may the flame of an Advent candle remind us of Mary, Mother of our Lord, who quietly accepted her role in the story of salvation. As we look forward to the birth of Jesus, may we learn to be humble and kind and to trust you at all times, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Canon Robert Townsend

Advent Prayer For Wales:The Bishops are inviting everyone to join them in prayer every evening at 6pm until Christmas Day. Heavenly Father, in the midst of a troubled world, you are light and life. Send us your healing for those who are ill, your strength for those who are suffering, your compassion for those who grieve, and your courage for those who work for the healing and service of others. Bless our nation of Wales with the life-giving spirit of your love, and grant us your mercy, [revealed in the person of Christ your Son]. Amen.

Sunday 20th December Service changed to online service

Dear all,

Following the emergency lockdown for the whole of Wales last night, we have decided it is wise to change today’s service from a Sunday service in the Church to a online service via zoom. Access will be via the usual Sunday service link.

We will provide a further update soon regarding changes during the lockdown period.

With our prayers,

Christine and all at St Melangells

Advent Resources and Christmas card from St Asaph Diocese

Below you will find links to Bishop Gregory’s pastoral letter for this week and the Advent resources from St Asaph Diocese, including the 2020 Christmas Card and advent calendar.

11 Dec: The Light Still Shines: A Pastoral Letter for December from the Bishop of St Asaph to all the faithful of the Teulu Asaph.

Advent and Christmas

11 Rhagfyr: Mae’r Goleuni’n Dal i Dywynny: Llythyr Bugeiliol ar gyfer mis Rhagfyr oddi wrth Esgob Llanelwy at holl ffyddloniaid Teulu Asaph.



December and January Services

Will there be Zoom at the Inn?

No-one knows how things will be by Christmas or January and it may be feasible to hold church activities online – but what if there’s so much demand that the technology can’t cope and there’s no Zoom anywhere, never mind room at the Inn? It’s a strange time for us all – and so it was the first Christmas. “Glory to God in the highest” was the song of the angels – but it was heard by the lowest, shepherds who were isolated. Christmas is a time of hope – but the first involved huge loss of life when so many children were killed. This year, if families can gather, many will be mourning the loss or absence of their loved ones due to Covid-19. Carol singing won’t be possible in church so We three Kings of Orient aren’t – how can there be hope in these circumstances?
It’s because, at the birth of Jesus, the divine comes to us without any social distancing. Born as a helpless baby needing care, Jesus was put into human hands – just as we sometimes have to put ourselves or loved ones into the hands of the NHS or other key workers, giving or receiving a helping hand ourselves at times too. That first Christmas, unexpected things were happening as a new way of living began while people were perplexed, isolated and sad. So it is today and, still, there can be hope. If we look for it!
May Advent bring hope, Christmas its blessings and 2021 a fresh start for us all,
Pob bendith, Christine, Jampa and all at St Melangell’s.
December and January Services
Thurs. Dec. 2nd, 11am: Online Advent group – the unexpected event

Second Sunday of Advent, 6th, 3pm: Online Service of reflection – unexpected news
Thurs. 10th, 11am: Online Advent group – the unexpected visitor

Third Sun. of Advent, 13th, 3pm: Church Service of reflection – the unexpected child 
Thurs. 17th, 11am: Online Advent group – the unexpected town
Fourth Sun. of Advent, 20th, 3pm: Christmas readings and music – unexpectedly!
Christmas Eve, 24th, 3pm: Crib Service – If you’d like to come as a character or animal in the Nativity story, please do – bringing a torch with you!

Christmas Day, 25th, 9.15am: Christ Mass

First Sunday of Christmas, 27th, 3pm: Online service – can New Year be a fresh start?

Second Sunday of Christmas, 3rd January, 3pm: Online service – Jesus the refugee

Wednesday 6th, 11am: The Epiphany – Church service

The Baptism of Christ, 1Oth, 3pm: Church service and renewal of baptismal vows
Thursday 14th, 11am: Online discussion group – Name and identity

Second Sunday of Epiphany, 17th, 3pmChristian Unity – online service
Thursday 21st, 11am: Week of prayers for Christian Unity – online discussion group

Third Sunday of Epiphany, 24th: Online service – Do miracles still happen?
Wednesday 27th, 11am: Holocaust Memorial Day – online discussion group
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, 31st, 3pm: Church Service marking Candlemas

These services are provisional and will be held according to the relevant Government and Church in Wales guidance at the time. For confirmation, please ring 01691 860408, check at stmelangell.org or contact guardian@stmelangell.org 
Thank you – diolch!