Sunday reflection

Dear all,

 “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves….. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there.” 

Jesus, in Luke 10:1-9, NIV.
”We have to protect the health of the nation but let’s do it as one nation and not make the North of England the sacrificial lamb.” Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor of Manchester.

Today is the feast day of St  Luke, the Evangelist and ‘beloved Physician’ (Col. 4: 14) who was probably a Gentile and the author of both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Without Luke’s Gospel, there would not be the detailed description of events surrounding the birth of Jesus nor the oldest Christian hymns, the Benedictus, Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son would be unknown without Luke’s writing and he’s often symbolised by an ox with wings holding the Gospel because that book begins with Zechariah sacrificing animals in the Temple, anticipating Jesus’ own later sacrifice. Luke also went with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys to Philippi and Jerusalem – his role as a doctor also means that many hospitals bear his name today as the work of healing goes on.
Healing, wellbeing and mental health are controversial matters at the moment, as the numbers of those developing Covid-19 or affected by it continue to rise the world over and opinions vary so much about how this should be handled. The individual, social and economic cost is also having a huge impact with the Manchester Evening News referring this week to the “melodrama, melancholy and madness” being caused by the divisions being created by it. How can healing and health prevail in these circumstances when so much has to be sacrificed by so many and resources may be scarce?
The reading from Luke’s Gospel today shows that this was so in the time of Jesus, too. Jesus says that “the harvest is great but the workers are few” and commissions 72 followers to go ahead of him without purse, bag or sandals. That may be controversial for us today when so much is costed but then, Pharisees and other religious people would take with them their own provisions and money so that their food could be ritually pure. Caring more for their own welfare than those around them created division, whereas Jesus suggests that his followers should bring peace with them and stay with those who offer them hospitality, eating and drinking the same things. They are not to move around but remain in the same house, so that they can heal the sick and tell them of God’s kingdom as well as worldly priorities. 
That’s amazing! The followers are to heal the sick themselves, not wait for Jesus or someone else to do it. In those days, leprosy and other infectious diseases would be feared as much as Covid-19 and those infected would have to be isolated from their families and friends just as today. Healing the sick is difficult and possibly dangerous work to do and Jesus recognises that when he tells them that he’s sending them out as lambs – not yet even fully grown sheep – amongst wolves. In the face of so much personal challenge, it’s perhaps surprising that 72 people can be found for this work – and yet, they go. 
Today, doing what we can ourselves to bring about healing may sound like folly when the risk and consequences of Coronavirus can be so severe and professional treatment of it is essential. But there’s much else being overlooked too and, in the face of so much criticism, division and expense, perhaps there are things we can safely do that might enable peace of mind, provide some mental health support or help to bring healing to those around us as well as ourselves. That may be something as simple as ringing someone up for a chat, writing a letter or fetching a prescription. It’s also said that laughter is the best medicine – why not share a joke, recommend a humourous film on TV or even sparkle with Strictly’s return! 
If we’ve a mind to, there’s a lot that could be done as well as much to concern us. Compared to those places in the world battling Covid-19 in situations where even food, clean water or medicines can’t be guaranteed, aren’t we more fortunate than we sometimes realise? If we can find the will, is there a safe way of showing that? 
With my prayers,
Guardian of St.Melangell’s Shrine Church
Diocesan prayer of the week 
Healing God, in these difficult times you have brought to the forefront of our minds and hearts all those who work in medicine and healthcare. May our praise and thanks to those on whom we depend not remain mere words and gestures, but inspire us to be generous in resourcing the protection of the frail, the loving care of the sick, the support of the distressed, and the advancement of life-saving knowledge; for all that builds up wholeness of mind and body, as well as spirit, is part of your work in the world. Amen. 

Canon Carol Wardman 

Sunday Reflection

Dear all,

“Many are invited but few are chosen.” Jesus, in St Matthew 22:1-14, NIV.

“The current regulations allow…….for Covid-19 safe wedding receptions to take place for up to 30 people………attendance must be by invitation only.” Welsh Government guidance.

When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, there was speculation for a long time beforehand about the guest list. As the ‘spare to the heir’, the constraints affecting Prince William’s invitations to his own nuptials due to his future role as king didn’t apply. So, the royal wedding invitations for Harry and Meghan saw Hollywood stars invited as well as members of the royal family and there was much speculation and excitement beforehand about The Dress and other wedding garments as well as the service and reception. At the time, it all seemed to herald a new beginning but, now, the Sussexes have left the UK to live abroad and there is much speculation about their future and place within the royal family. Weddings and receptions are complicated matters requiring careful planning and good organisation.

That’s the case in the story Jesus tells in the Gospel today of a much earlier royal wedding reception, where the invitations have been sent out and the guests are now summoned to the feast as all is ready. However, those invited are busy with other things and they mistreat and even kill the messengers sent to remind them. So angry is the king that, perhaps fearing a rebellion, he sends his army to kill their murderers and destroy their property – this is a king who takes action in the face of refusal. The king’s messengers are then sent out to invite those they find, good and bad, to the wedding feast and the banqueting hall is filled. The guests wear appropriate wedding garments to honour the king’s invitation – but one of the guests hasn’t made an effort and, although he calls him ‘Friend’, the king is clearly angry when he has no answer when asked why. He is then thrown out into the darkness with his hands and feet bound – the king judges him unworthy to be present, despite having been invited, as he seems not to appreciate the honour done to him.

This may seem harsh, but a wedding banquet is one of the ways of understanding the kingdom of heaven, of which Holy Eucharist is a foretaste. The story Jesus tells indicates that it’s Gentiles as well as Jews who are invited and that an invitation alone should not taken as sufficient. The parable reminds us that judgement as well as grace will be within the king’s gift and that guests need to remember that the invitation is not just about simply turning up at the banquet but also honouring his son as well as the king. Many are invited but not all will respond or be chosen to remain.

There’s an irony today in hearing these words of Jesus during the ongoing pandemic. The current Covid-19 restrictions mean that many family members and friends who would usually expect to be invited to the wedding receptions being organised may find that is not the case – only thirty people are able to be present and at a social distance. Some couples have decided to postpone the occasion until the restrictions are eased whilst others have gone ahead hoping to have a larger “do” later on, but making choices in these heightened circumstances is not easy. 

Whatever choices are before each of us, the words of Jesus remind us that this parable is about the invitation to be part of God’s kingdom and our response and accountability to his call. Not all of those invited will respond or be chosen, but when the call comes that all is ready, it’s now or never. Some of the guests let other things get in the way of their commitment to the king’s invitation – do we, too?

With my prayers, Christine.

Sunday reflection

Dear all,

“Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn yet God feeds them……. Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it….. Seek God’s kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus, from St Luke 12-30, NIV.

Remember the poor when you look into your barn, at the abundance of your harvest.
Remember the poor when the wind howls and the rain falls, 
As you sit warm and dry in your house.
Remember the poor when you eat fine meat and drink fine ale at your fine carved table.
The cows have grass to eat; the rabbits have burrows for shelter, 
The birds have warm nests;
But the poor have no food except what you feed them…….
Author unknown
The words of Jesus in the Gospel reading for today may sound simplistic in the face of the ongoing concerns as Covid-19 continues to spread amongst so many families, communities and nations. Of course folk are going to be anxious about what they can eat and drink if they’re not able easily to get out shopping and the empty shelves of some supermarkets bear testimony to the renewed anxiety being experienced as lockdown becomes necessary once more in some areas. Yet, ironically, stockpiling can bring about the very thing being feared and deprive the vulnerable and those at work of what they need too, when there is sufficient for all if it’s shared fairly.
In the time of Jesus, his words would have an even greater significance: many of those who flocked to him would probably have only just enough to live on or perhaps one change of clothing, unlike many who have so much today. Then, if the family breadwinner experienced illness or injury, it could lead to destitution – and, as the furlough scheme ends and loss of jobs may result as well as the consequences for the economy, some may hear these words of Jesus and think them strange when there is now so much to be worried about.
But that is part of the difficulty – we can make our lives so complicated with the amount of belongings we have and the standard of living we’ve come to expect. The first Advent calendars are already in the shops, Christmas food and hampers are being ordered early so that people can be sure of getting them and some charity shops can’t cope with the amount of goods now being donated with so many folk having a clear out during lockdown. Others, though, are leading lives of loneliness and worry, with the unanticipated loss of income and security through lockdown during the pandemic having profound consequences. One recent visitor to St Melangell’s, a photographer, said that he had lost the anticipated fees from 22 weddings which had been cancelled and that it had affected his whole family. The effect of sudden adversity on the breadwinner can still be as profound today as in the time of Jesus – whether or not we remember the original use of that word, for “There is no such thing as ‘my’ bread. All bread is ours and is given to me, to others through me, and to me through others. For not only bread, but all things necessary for sustenance in this life, are given on loan to us with others, and because of others and for others, and to others through us. Meister Eckhart (1290-1329)
At Harvest Festival today, along with many others, we’ll be giving donations to the local Food Bank to support the increasing numbers of those who need its help at this challenging time. Those who want to will also be asked to take an acorn to plant in a suitable place as a sign of future hope. It will take a long time to grow, if it does, but it will provide a reminder that creation will live on long after we and our current concerns are gone. And, if the squirrels get it, food will have been provided not just by God’s creation, as Jesus suggests, but by the bounty entrusted to us all. 
So, if concern about the pandemic seems overwhelming and with many other issues being overlooked because of it, why not find an acorn or sapling and plant it as a sign of future hope in a suitable place where it may grow? Hope springs eternal – but we have to make it happen too!
With my prayers,

We can now received donations through Gift Direct

Dear all,

I am happy to announce that it is now possible to make donations to ‘the Shrine Church of Saint Melangell’, through the Church in Wales Gift Direct scheme. 

These payments can be made by Direct Debit and Gift aid can be claimed if you so wish, (it is also possible to join the scheme if you are not a UK taxpayer, you simply instruct us not to claim the tax back).

More information and links to the scheme are available on our Donations page.

Sunday reflection

Dear all,

“I will also ask you one question; if you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. Jesus, in St Matthew 21:23-32, NIV.

“The truth is the responsibility for defeating Coronavirus cannot be held by government alone. It is a collective responsibility, shared by all……we must learn to live with it and live without fear.” Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Winter Economy Plan speech, 24.9.20 

One of the challenges about Coronavirus is the issue of authority, with the national and devolved governments having sometimes differing approaches to the handling of the pandemic. People living in Wales and working in England – and vice versa –  have had different restrictions imposed at times and some confusion has resulted. National and local variations mean that those in authority have been subject to much criticism at times and it’s right that scrutiny and accountability are applied – but this virus and the pandemic is a situation new to us all, whether or not we hold authority or responsibility during it. The impact has been profound and as Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli go into local lockdowns tonight, almost half the people in Wales, as well as others in various places throughout the UK, will be subject to this loss of liberty, necessary because some have not used that liberty wisely. 

The impact on individuals, communities, nations and the economy is clear as Covid-19 continues to take its toll in ways both anticipated and unexpected. It seems that even the death of Sergeant Matt Ratana at Croydon Police Station may be a consequence of it as awareness of  governmental guidance to keep a distance may have meant that the suspect had not initially been very closely checked while an arrest was being made. As enquiries and statements continue, there is much to consider – for us all.

Jesus faces an attack on his authority in the Gospel reading for today, the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. Having driven out the money changers in the Temple and then healed those who came to him, the chief priests and elders try to trick him with a question about authority but Jesus answers with a clever response about John the Baptist – instead of talking about himself, he probes his questioners and catches them out. He also tells them a story about two brothers and the exercise of their responsibility in carrying out their father’s instructions – one refuses and then changes his mind, the other agrees but doesn’t do so. We may face the same choice in the months ahead as we are asked to follow the restrictions imposed by those in authority over us and to show responsibility for others as well as ourselves. Will that happen and what will be the consequences if we do or don’t? Who is in control in our lives and on what authority do we base our decisions as hard choices are faced?

This leaves us with much to ponder as we consider our individual and collective responsibility when we are told that we must share it and learn to live with it without fear. How can that be done in the face of such criticism and change, with anxiety as well as care being shown at a time when such mixed emotions and responsibilities are being experienced by so many? 

Perhaps the example of Jesus when under attack by people in authority in his day will give some guidance. He faces the situation head on and engages in a debate with them about authority, but also asks a question of those who challenge him – did any of them later change their minds, like the two sons in the story? It’s clear from what he says that Jesus is acting on God’s authority and each of us must decide for ourselves whether or not we want that to be a part of our daily lives today. But if you were questioned, like Jesus, about your own authority to do and be who you are today, what one question would you ask of those who challenge you?

With my prayers,

Christine, priest Guardian of St Melangell’s Shrine Church.

Sunday reflection

Dear all,
“Are you envious of my generosity? So the last will be first and the first will be last.” 
from Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, St Matthew 20:1-16, NIV.
“Who is wealthy? One who is happy with what they’ve got. Is your glass half empty or half full?……I think I’m happy to have a glass. Be grateful for the glass we have.”
from Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ Thought for the Day, Radio 4, 18th September.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard was one that sometimes came up in discussions when I was a chaplain with the Black Country Industrial Mission. In an area so much associated with the industrial revolution, whole families had sometimes been involved in making nails or other items, often vying with their neighbours for the work. That could then create an atmosphere of rivalry and competition that is still not entirely eclipsed in some areas. Today, the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath are annually lauded for successfully going on strike for fairer wages compared to what male workers received and all this is why this parable is still sometimes hard to hear in that and other similar locations.
In the story Jesus tells, workers have been set on for the day and have agreed the wage they’ll receive. Throughout the day, more workers are taken on and this is presumably because there is plenty of work to be done. Perhaps the vineyard owner is considerate of those first workers and sending them more help; were they glad of the further help at the time? Did they chat as they worked or perhaps shared their food, getting to know one another as they did, or were they already well known to one another as they vied in the marketplace for the work available? Whatever the circumstances, at the end of the day all the workers are paid the same wage whenever they started – but those who had first accepted the rate are now unhappy because they have worked for so much longer. 
Perhaps that’s understandable, given that so much less effort and labour was required from those who began later. But the first workers got what they had bargained for originally and accepted. Now they’re resentful, because of the good fortune of the others – who have also received what they bargained for, due to the generosity of the owner. Rather than being thankful that they all have money to take home to their families, that the work is done and the owner kind, there is grumbling and a sense of grievance from some, although not all. There’s a risk for the owner too: in the face of the disgruntlement, it may be that it will in future be difficult to find workers for the whole day if they think that others can work for fewer hours and receive the same amount. The owner seems willing to take the risk – but how does he feel in the face of the grumbling? There’s a touch of exasperation in his final comment that the last shall be first and the first last. 
A parable being an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, Jesus is talking here of the kingdom of God, its inverse values and the generosity we sometimes take for granted. It’s a complex matter applying that today, in the midst of the economic circumstances created by lockdown, the furlough scheme and the severe unemployment expected as the pandemic continues.
My granny used to remind us that not all our riches are in the bank and, as Rabbi Mirvis suggests, wealth is to do with being happy with what we have. That’s not easy as the  Covid-19 figures increase again and uncertainty grows once more. But that’s why this parable is so important to these challenging times: mercy, generosity and grace are hallmarks of God’s kingdom even if that is sometimes confusing when it seems not to be deserved. For that, we can be grateful – but are we? As we consider the awful circumstances we’re facing now, on this Battle of Britain Sunday perhaps we should remember the price paid in adversity during World War Two by the Few on behalf of the many and appreciate the true cost of the freedom and work it’s so easy sometimes to  take for granted.
With my prayers, as I ask for yours,
Guardian of the Shrine Church of St Melangell

Sunday reflection

Reflection for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Jesus, in St Matthew 18:21-35: “Forgive your brother from your heart.”

Guardian to recycler: “Do you take the hard plastic cases from cassette tapes?”

Youngish recycler: “I’m sorry, my dear, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

As one who, at the time, found it challenging this week to put into practice the words of Jesus due to being both patronised and treated like a dinosaur in an encounter with the generation gap, forgiveness is not easy! 

One person who showed forgiveness in a quite remarkable way was Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who, with her family, took into their home and hid Jews being persecuted during the Second World War. In February 1944, an informant betrayed them and all ten family members were arrested – though not the six Jews and resistance workers who had been successfully hidden behind a false wall. In prison, where she was held in solitary confinement for three months, Corrie received a letter saying, “All the watches in your cabinet are safe” and so knew that all had escaped. She and her sister Betsie ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp where Betsie died just fifteen days before Corrie was released on 16th December. Later, she was told that a clerical error had brought her freedom and all the women in Corrie’s age group (52) were sent to the gas chambers a week afterwards. What if she had not survived, like so many others?

After the war, Corrie set up a rehabilitation centre in Holland for survivors of the Holocaust and Dutch collaborators, returning to Germany in 1946 where she met and forgave two workers at Ravensbrück, one of whom had been particularly cruel to Betsie. She who had every reason to hate was able, due to her lively faith, whole-heartedly to live out Jesus’ guidance to forgive – even in such heart-rending circumstances. Corrie wrote many books about her experiences and, in doing so, liberated others to be freed by forgiveness too. 

I first experienced the power of these following words of hers when I was a prison chaplain. One man wept with hatred of his father, not wanting to forgive him for the abuse experienced in his childhood and saying that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to to show his own future children love if he hadn’t known it himself. Eventually, in being willing to at least explore those feelings, he was able to realise that his father had been abused himself, to forgive him and to begin to overcome the hurt. That cycle of abuse was broken by time, will and courage – I often think of him and hope that he did find love in the end. So many don’t.

With such mixed emotions being created and great suffering being experienced due to the ongoing pandemic today, the words and actions of Corrie ten Boom, based on the example of Jesus, are still relevant:

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” 

May it be so – and may we find the will for it to be so.

With my prayers,


Sunday reflection

 Dear all,
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” 

Jesus in St Matthew 18:15-20.

“In 1665 , there was living in this cottage with her two young sons a woman…named Mary Cooper…and she had taken in a lodger called George Viccars, a travelling tailor…” Eyam Plague 1665-1666, pamphlet by John Clifford.
Conflict and its resolution is the emphasis in today’s Gospel reading and Jesus gives guidance on what to do when people can’t agree, procedures that are still relevant today given the amount of conflict and disagreement currently being generated by the opinions and responses to Coronavirus. Despite all this, there’s so much for which to be thankful, too, as we face this with the experience of those gone before us and the drugs, discoveries and treatment they developed in their lifetimes. Think how many lives the discovery of penicillin has saved as the search for a vaccine for Covid-19 goes on.
Events in 1665 in Eyam, the Derbyshire plague village, also had long-term consequences for the handling of disease. It’s thought that the plague may have arrived via infected fleas in cloth sent to the tailor from London and, as the cloth was damp, George Viccars spread it out to dry. He died soon afterwards, and the disease spread quickly, killing at least 260 villagers from 76 different families out of a population of 350. Mary Cooper had given hospitality to more than she realised, as so often do we. 
What was significant was the response of the villagers who, at the suggestion of Rector William Mompesson, voluntarily went into quarantine to stop the plague spreading. They were asked to bury their own dead in their back gardens, to worship outside and to have food and goods brought to boundaries where money was left in vinegar to disinfect it. Today, there is much confusion and many grumbles about having to quarantine at short notice but at least we have never had to bury our own dead – the villagers united in their response and the infection was contained. 
However, this was not without its cost and the Rector’s wife was one of those who died. As the current vicar wrote of his predecessor: “When you read Mompesson’s letters….in one he writes ‘I am a dying man’. He was scared but he did it all the same. I suspect fear stalked them every day of their lives at the time.” Mompesson, who was only 28 at the time, survived but when he moved afterwards was at first made to live in a hut in Rufford Park for fear of the plague being brought with him. Where two or three are gathered…..
The shrine church here bears testimony to this too. A few people gathering though Melangell’s arrival, her encounter with the prince and the small community that then began here eventually grew into the church of today where the work and legacy of so many down the years bears silent witness to the faith underpinning it. There may have been conflict at times, too, but its restoration must have required vision, will and co-operation, which are much needed today in our generation. 
I was reminded of this when Enid Shaw and her daughter recently arrived. Enid is now 94 and was much involved with bringing groups to the church as well as stitching one of the pew runners which continue to provide colour, warmth and comfort today. She was delighted to find her runner and both are shown in the photo beneath. Talking with her enabled me to understand more about the origins of what is here today and the importance of each generation in shaping what we sometimes take for granted.

As we think of the words of Jesus, consider the actions of the Eyam villagers, ponder the pandemic or realise what has been entrusted to us, what conflict needs to be reconciled in our lives? What will successive generations say about our response to the challenges before us and what we entrust to them?
With my prayers,
Diocesan prayer for the week
Sovereign God, our world is fractured and divided by differences of belief, opinion, custom, and allegiance. Open our hearts to be reconciled to one another in love; may we not, for the sake of our own ease, be reconciled to what wrong or uncharitable but work in your strength for the good of all. For the sake of Jesus, whose costly work of reconciliation brings us close to you, Amen.

Canon Carol Wardman

Sunday Reflection

Dear all,
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men…. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” 

From St Matthew 16: 21-end, NIV.

The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
From Chapter 6, Alice through the Looking Glass.
Today’s Gospel reading continues from last week’s, where Simon Peter had called Jesus the Messiah and had been blessed for doing so, given a new name and told that he would be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Using the term Messiah was perhaps a dawning realisation for Peter rather than the acceptance of all that it would involve so it’s perhaps unsurprising that, when Jesus later tells his followers that he will suffer, die and rise again, Peter rebukes him, saying that this must never happen. It must have been bewildering for Peter to hear himself now called Satan and a stumbling block but perhaps the strength of Jesus’ response shows how hard it was for him, too. Reading the accounts so many years later, it may be easy for us to assume that Jesus naturally chose what God was asking of him but the Gospels suggest that he had to make his choice for God every day. This may be of comfort to us in the bewildering times in which we now live, when there are daily choices to reflect upon, whether about faith, major life decisions, using a mask or even going out. However, by losing the habits and expectations that were so familiar, it may be that lives will be saved and blessings found amidst what now seems disruptive, whether or not it all seems back to front. Those are the values, not only of the kingdom of heaven as Jesus’ words remind us, but of Carroll’s Looking Glass world, too. As we wrestle with the many changes faced today, it’s not only Peter who is bewildered or Humpty Dumpty who is pondering which is in charge.
So, this weekend’s Bank Holiday is timely as an opportunity for enjoyment, relaxation and re-creation before the schools return, autumn draws nigh and the worst wheat harvest for 40 years begins to push up food prices. Holidays were originally Holy Days and, when we seek the holy each day (perhaps beginning by praying the following prayer daily) then we will find ourselves being renewed, refreshed and re-created. That can be reflected even when, like Peter, what we’re looking at seems back to front or topsy-turvy and when, like the White Queen Alice met through the Looking Glass, it seems as if we also sometimes have to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast!
With my prayers,

Diocesan  Collect for the week

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.