Bishop Gregory’s advent message

Today is Advent Sunday, so we are sending a message from Bishop Gregory, which you can find on the Church in Wales website via the following link: 

https://dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/bishopgregory/advent-message/

. This year, the message is available in video form; and as an audio message in both Welsh and English; as well as the usual letter.

Following the storms on Friday night, the St. Melangell Centre, lost power for 24 hours and still has no internet access. Sorry if you have been trying to telephone or email during this time. We are told it should be back to normal within 48 hours.
Today’s service will be running as usual at 3pm.
With prayers from all at St. Melangell’s.

Sunday reflection

Reflection for Stir Up Sunday.

“My kingdom is not from this world.” Jesus, in today’s Gospel John 18:33-37.
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect, 1549 Book of Common Prayer.
It’s Stir Up Sunday today, the last Sunday before Advent and the end of Year B in the lectionary of readings before Year C begins next week. The day takes its title from the original collect and its opening words in preparation for Advent meant that it also became the traditional time for the making of Christmas puddings and for a silent wish to be made by those stirring the mixture. 
As it’s approaching the penitential season of Advent at a wintry time of endings as well as beginnings, this Sunday can stir up many mixed emotions in us and we may find our wishes and hopes negated despite good intent. More recently, this Sunday has also become the feast of Christ the King who, in appearing before Pilate after his arrest, said that his kingdom is not of this world. Nevertheless, Jesus subjected himself to the worldly demands being made of him as he was enthroned on the wood of the cross with a crown of thorns. The servant king confronted earthly power and called his followers to  serve others too – two thousand years later, the struggle between power and authority, peace and service continues. 
Brochwel, Prince of Powys, was very much part of a kingly family when he encountered Melangell as she gave shelter to a hare being chased by his hounds. In refusing to hand over the scared creature, Melangell was clearly unwilling to accept his authority as was customary in those days and put herself in a position of possible danger when she refused. Brochwel, however, did not exercise his customary rights and power and, generously, gave her part of the valley for an abbey to be built, of which she became abbess. Their encounter enabled them both to bring out the best in each other and, as we continue to face the many consequences being stirred up by confrontations and power struggles in so many places, may their example hearten us. 
Wesley’s hymn, O thou who camest from above, asks Jesus to ‘still stir up the gift in me’  and this Stir Up Sunday, if we’re feeling a bit mixed up about the way the world is, that may be appropriate. In following the footsteps of the Servant King, if we truly are to stir up the fruits of the Spirit as well as the pudding this Stir Up Sunday, what would your silent but prayerful wish be today?
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Remembrance Sunday reflection

Reflection on Remembrance

“When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed… for nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom….” Jesus, in Mark 13:1-8.

“I remember going in the first night we ever went to the trenches, and one fellow…said to another chap, “Good God, the MO’s come up with us – that makes you feel better, chum, doesn’t it?” Then I realised I was doing some good by being there. Medically, I felt I was doing no good at all.” Captain M. Esler, Royal Army Medical Corps, 1915.
Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel seem rather fatalistic, foretelling terrible things to come at what may seem like the end of the world but which may actually refer to the fall of Jerusalem, as would happen when the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. So many years later, Captain Esler found himself in the midst of terrible destruction but realised that some good happened simply by being there although his medical skills could be of little use in the trenches. 106 years on, warfare is ongoing and many battles are still being waged, with casualties and devastation arising as a result. Being there and part of it may bring about some good, but may also mean that our usual skills and gifts can’t be utilised, as Esler found in World War One.
During the same war, another MO, the Canadian Gunner John McCrae, experienced warfare as a nightmare. Fighting in the second battle of Ypres, he wrote in a letter to his mother that, “For seventeen days and nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds…. Behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.” When his friend Alexis Helmer was killed during the battle on May 2nd 1915, McCrae took his funeral service himself and noticed how quickly poppies had regrown around nearby graves. As a result, he penned the poem In Flanders Fields whilst sitting in the back of an ambulance near the dressing station, writing words he sensed from the dead and their urge to the living to press on. 
McCrae himself was dead by the end of January 1918, succumbing to pneumonia and meningitis whilst still in command of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital in France, and his final poem The anxious dead refers to his own situation: “These fought their fight in time of bitter fear, And died not knowing how the day had gone.” In this poem, the living answer the dead: “Tell them, O dead, that we have heard their call, that we have sworn, and will not turn aside, That we will onward till we win or fall, That we will keep the faith for which they died.” McCrae writes that, eventually, the dead, “shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep…. And in content may turn them to their sleep.” 
The hope is that peace will eventually prevail but, meanwhile, the reality of the turmoil of which Jesus spoke over two thousand years ago continues and the challenge in McCrae’s previous poem is to us as well as his generation as we continue the struggles facing us in our day:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields, the poppies growBetween the crosses, row on row,     That mark our place; and in the sky    The larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,        In Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throw    The torch; be yours to hold it high.    If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow        In Flanders fields.

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection on racism

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Mark 1:16-20

“It’s been a shambles.” Phil Walker, editor of Wisden’s cricket magazine.
How appropriate it was that Phil Walker used the word shambles to describe the handling of the row about racism at Headingley, the home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club in Leeds. Shambles is one of the most famous streets in York, originally an open-air slaughterhouse where animals were butchered and waste, blood and bones were thrown into a channel running down the middle of the street. Nowadays, Shambles is a much more pleasant place with shops and buildings overhanging the cobbled street but the hooks and shelves of its history can still be seen and the word has now come to mean anything messy, chaotic or destructive. How appropriate, then, that it should be used of the unaddressed racism row that has now caused such chaos in its county cricket and led to the withdrawal of both matches and sponsors from the club.
Nor is this specific to Yorkshire as other clubs are also facing similar allegations and the England and Wales Cricket Board itself faces criticism of being too slow to take action. It also involves the women’s game and appropriate language with Salma Bi saying, “I was twelfth man in so many games.” As the first British Muslim woman to play at county level cricket, the irony of her still being described as male reminded me of my days as one of the first women to be ordained when I was called Fr. Christopher by those who struggled to come to terms with change in the Church of England!
Change can be hard to accept or promote, which is why the words of Jesus have such astounding consequences in the Gospel today. When he tells Simon and Andrew to follow him, they leave their nets ‘at once’ (v18) and so do James and John, who even abandon their father Zebedee in a boat with hired men to follow Jesus. Perhaps they had all got to know one another beforehand but all four fishermen immediately leave their nets, families and livelihoods although Jesus tells them that they will now fish for
people. Their experience will be useful – but what did their relatives make of them dropping everything to follow him? Was this a surprise or agreed? How did they manage without them? Mark doesn’t tell his readers but it’s clear that the ministry of Jesus is not something he chooses to do on his own and for which he needs the involvement of others. ”Follow me,” he says to the disciples then and to us today. 
Amidst the complexity of life today, there are many other voices also calling us to follow their example, leadership or actions. In situations that become shambolic, chaos may seem to prevail and it can be a bloody business, wounding hearts and minds as well as bodies. But if change is to be effective, hopeful and not just tokenistic, the challenge and call is to respond together and as individuals to make a difference for good where we can. Whose voice will we hear and follow?
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection on No!

November is a month of remembrance, heralded by Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve when the dead are traditionally remembered on the day also known as All Souls’ Day. That is followed by All Saints on 1st November and the remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament on 5th, now often commemorated as Bonfire Night. With the Saints of Wales on 8th, Remembrance Day on 11th and Remembrance Sunday on 14th November, as well as various other saints’ days and Prisoners’ Week, there is a lot to remember this month as the clocks go back and winter draws on. 
However, Thomas Hood’s poem No! takes a dim view of the month of “no warmth, no cheerfulness, no shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, November!” As COP 26 gathered, this was echoed on the placard of a demonstrator complaining about lack of planning, the slogan reading No Planet B and the President of COP26 recognising that we have, “… no choice but to deliver”. It can actually be helpful to have seasonal or political contrasts but, with the isolation of the pandemic, the problems with the supply chain and concerns about climate change, some folk may agree with Hood’s negativity as mental health concerns and anxiety issues increase.
The singer Adele has just released a single, Easy on me, which recalls some of her experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks and divorce. As a singer of such  repute, Adele’s honesty about painful memories is already encouraging others to face their own issues and to remember that good experiences can be reclaimed. Chris Martin of Coldplay has said of Adele that, “She is very connected to her normal-ness and she sings about it with her extraordinary-ness so she’s an amazing combination of the terrestrial and the celestial.” 
Perhaps November is a good time to remember that we’re all able to be a mixture of the terrestrial and celestial if we so choose but that the choices we each make impinge on the needs and lives of others. Hellish, mundane and heavenly memories or experiences are all part of life for us today just as they were for those we commemorate this month – but there are ways in which we could make a positive difference for others, the environment and ourselves. No! could become Yes! – will it?

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection on Bible Sunday and marriage registration.
Jesus said to (the blind beggar), “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. St. Mark 10:46-52.

“We must come together…..and be the light that refuses to be cowed by the darkness.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, preaching after the murder of Sir David Amess. 
 
In today’s Gospel, Jesus stops to answer the call of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting by the roadside. At first, those with Bartimaeus urge him to be quiet, but when Jesus calls him, they then change their minds and tell him to get to his feet. When Jesus asks him what he wants, the blind man requests his sight – and Jesus tells him that his faith has healed him. Bartimaeus finds his sight restored but, instead of returning to his usual way of life, then follows Jesus on the way. Perhaps there are events or people we meet today about which we also need to change our minds or lifestyles, although we don’t always notice them: “There are many people sitting at the side of the road, shouting to us to have pity on them, but they often shout in strange ways: by behaving badly in the classroom; by taking drugs and alcohol; by sulking, remaining silent or locked up in their rooms; sometimes by insisting that they are happy to be at the side of the road while others pass by. Like Jesus, we need to stop…..so that we can hear them express their deep longing to have their sight restored to them.” – Theologian Michel de Verteuil.
However, it’s not just a matter of seeing and hearing but taking action, too. For some years now, various changes have been asked for in the registration of marriages, not least because the name and occupation of the father was noted but not the mother of those getting married. Those changes have now been enacted and, at a wedding here yesterday, history was made at St Melangell’s when the names and occupations of both fathers and mothers were recorded on the new marriage document that is being used. This was also the first time that, due to the changes ongoing in the Church in Wales, a Special Licence was needed from the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to be married at St Melangell’s – a Special Licence for a special couple and a special place. 
The change from a paper based system of registration by the clergy – who were termed Clerks in Holy Orders because of this – to an electronic system registered by the Local Registration Office is a profound one. As I completed the marriage document for the first time, having used the previous system for 31 years, there were a couple of points to be checked with the Archdeacon for clarity. However, it is now clear that the previous system is no longer appropriate in light of the changes that are needed for life today when it is expected that women as well as men will be made visible in the records that had previously excluded them. As was said yesterday, “How on earth has it taken so long for this to happen?”
As we look back on the traditions and systems that have brought us to this turning point, Psalm 119:105 reminds us this Bible Sunday that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path. In reflecting on the Gospel today, perhaps we have been literally or inwardly blind to some of the things that need to change or are unable to see, like Bartimaeus, until faith brings healing. If Jesus asked you today what you want him to do for you, what would you ask for?
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Bishop Gregory’s Pastoral Letter

THE BANQUET AT THE END OF TIME  

A Pastoral Letter for the Teulu Asaph from the bishop: October 2021  

One of my very favourite poems is by George Herbert, the seventeenth century Anglican theologian and minister. Entitled “Love (III)”, it is for me an interpretation of the very heart of the Gospel – the Good News that we as Christians are called upon to proclaim.

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

Jesus himself spoke about the Kingdom of God as a banquet, a great party, which God would hold at the end of this world, and which would inaugurate the next. In Herbert’s poem, Love (God himself) invites us to this heavenly feast.

However, as set out in Scripture, there is a problem, what theologians name our inherent “sinfulness”. In other words, a flaw at the heart of our being makes every single one of us less than perfect, unqualified for heaven. The subject of the poem – the “I” – knows the problem: he has marred the divine image in his life and he is “guilty of dust and sin”, so that shame (what we might call repentance) will not let him enter the feast.

Yet, where the Bible identifies the problem, the Bible also reveals a solution: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3.16). In the poem, Love takes on the sin and shame of the world: “Who bore the blame?” It is a reference to God’s sacrifice of himself in Jesus upon the cross, where God takes on himself all the pain, fault and cost of human failure (Colossians 2.13,14), and pays the price of salvation, the price of entry into the feast. To pray this poem, and make it our own, is to be a Christian.

The Church’s central purpose is to live into this promise, and to invite others to live into it as well. God longs for us to attend an eternal feast that none of us are qualified to enter, but by his love and grace, by his sacrifice, the way is made open, if we will but accept that the price is paid. It is this exchange which is at the heart of the Gospel, the good news of salvation: it is what salvation means, and it is reflected throughout the New Testament as a description of God’s action in Jesus. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4.10) “If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31). What greater invitation could there be?

As we come out of lockdown, and enter again into our mission, which is the purpose for which God sends us into the world, let us remember that the proclamation of reconciliation through the Cross is the heart of everything we believe and do. This is the Gospel of the Lord, and throwing the doors of our hearts wide open to Jesus is the one action, above all else, to which we are called.

Bishop Gregory

Sunday reflection

Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity.

”Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Jesus, in Mark 10:17-31.

”Daisies are our silver, buttercups our gold

This is all the treasure we can have or hold.” Children’s hymn by Jan Struther.

It’s timely that, as energy and fuel prices escalate, the £20 uplift is removed from universal credit and the cost of living is becoming a concern for many, this week’s Gospel concerns a rich man asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. The unnamed man calls Jesus the Good Teacher and is told off by him as practising Jews name only God as good. At this stage, the man has not divulged that he is wealthy but perhaps his clothing or manner made this obvious because Jesus then reminds him of the commandments that deal with other people and instead of You shall not covet substitutes You shall not defraud (10:19). A rich man might not need actually to covet because he already has so much but could perhaps be tempted to increase his wealth by robbing in other ways as the actions of many scammers and loan sharks today show.
In the time of Jesus, wealth was seen as a sign of God’s favour and the prosperity Gospel is still based on this, especially in America. To some extent it’s true – for example, Quakers were known for their hard work and could be trusted, which made people want to do business with them. Living simply, Quakers then became wealthy and so banks such as Lloyd’s and Barclay’s or manufacturers like Rowntree, Fry, Cadbury and Clark shoes prospered. Nor is there anything wrong with money in itself: one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible suggests that money is the root of all evil, whereas actually it’s The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Tim. 6:10.) Money can do a great deal of good when it is used to help others and, as currently it’s being suggested that some of the poorest people may not be able to afford both food and fuel this winter, industry is also paying the price with some energy suppliers, factories and businesses already closing down. All this in a country which is so wealthy compared to many others. 
However, the rich man’s question is not about lifestyle. He asks what he must do to 
inherit eternal life and, for anyone to be able to inherit, usually a death has occurred. Inheritance often involves a family and Jesus’ uncompromising reply to the man makes it clear that he is inviting him to have spiritual treasure in heaven through redistributing what he has to the poor and following him. The man would be joining a different family, the household of God, through Jesus and his teaching, but it’s too much for him: “He was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (10:22) Significantly, Jesus did not go after him, but gave him freedom to live by the choice he made. What the rich man did is in contrast to the heritage here, where the wealthy Prince Brochwel so generously gave this part of the valley freely to Melangell and an abbey was established, leading to the tradition of sanctuary, healing and hospitality which still flourishes today. 
All this is a costly business both spiritually and practically and there is no such thing as cheap grace, as the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. But as the economics of life today become more complex in addition to issues such as the pandemic, pollution and climate change, before all of us are stark choices about lifestyle and the consequences of it now for those who will inherit the stewardship of creation long after we are gone. If, as Jan Struther suggests, creation is to be treasured then pray for COP26 – all previous targets the leaders of the nations set themselves have not been met. Will future ones?
Those leaders – and each of us, no matter what our circumstances – will have chances to make a difference to the lives of other people as well as ourselves. That matters as, like the rich man, we also have freedom to live by the choices we make and the possibility of a change of heart. For now. 
Did the rich man change his mind later? Were the words of Jesus mulled over for a delayed response? Mark tells us that, nevertheless, Jesus loved him and it may be that we find ourselves, for all sorts of reasons, also unable to respond to something being asked of us. It’s never too late but it’s so easy to keep God and our neighbour waiting or at a distance rather than respond now to that love that is richer than gold………. better than splendour and wealth.” Estelle White.
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Harvest festival reflection

Reflection for Harvest Festival
”Do not worry about your life….. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Jesus in today’s Gospel Mark 6:25-33.

‘Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home!

All is safely gathered in ‘ere the winter storms begin.’ Henry Alford’s harvest hymn.
There’s an irony in singing some of the traditional hymns this year as Harvest Festival is celebrated today. Although the weather has often been helpful and the yields are mainly good, all is not safely gathered in due to a lack of labour, supply or drivers. As has been evident this week, there are empty shelves in the supermarkets and many garages still haven’t had deliveries of fuel although there is plenty of it. Brexit, Covid-19 and changes in work practices have had a marked effect worldwide as well as in the UK, causing Chancellor Rishi Sunak to suggest that the food shortages could be in place for many months yet. It’s still only autumn and already the storm clouds are gathering as suggestions of a winter of discontent begin to circulate, regardless of the winter storms of which Alford writes.
That’s why it’s important to hear again Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. He reminds his followers that life is about much more than food and clothing and that worry will not help matters. What’s been clear this week is that anxieties about food and fuel supplies have been ratcheted up by suggestions of panic buying, thus bringing about the very thing that is feared. Jesus’ words are in stark contrast to this – seek first the kingdom of God, he says, and all these things will be given to you. 
Today, the harvest gifts at St Melangell’s will go to the local food bank to be shared with the growing numbers who need this support so that, in conjunction with other agencies, food and resources can be shared with those in need rather than stockpiled by those who have much. In that is hope for the future as well as practical support now, in contrast to the challenges of recent times when it’s understandable that some people have become worried and fearful. Whatever the situation, each of us can respond to the need around us now and the final verse of Alford’s hymn reminds us that the future hope is that, in the end, “all (WILL) be safely gathered in, free from sorrow, free from sin’. 

Meanwhile, in the words of Lance Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army, “Don’t panic!” 

With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. From Mark 9:38-50, today’s Gospel.
“You know full well that death and evil are what I hate. And whether you like it or not, we are together in the fight against them.” From The Plague by Albert Camus.

The disciple John was the brother of James and both were known as the Sons of Thunder, a revealing nickname suggesting stormy personalities. John certainly sounds tempestuous in the way he orders the unnamed person to stop healing in the name of Jesus but his complaint is because he’s not one of ‘us’. He probably expects that Jesus will be pleased about what he’s done but that’s not the case. Jesus always asked people to “Follow me”, not us, and he tells John not to forbid the exorcist because he is doing a mighty work, in the name of Jesus. 

John’s attitude may stem from the earlier failure of the disciples to exorcise a boy (9:14-29) and this must have been a confusing time for the disciples as they try to come to terms with all that’s happening and the contrast with what Jesus is teaching them. Just as John tries to exclude, Jesus includes and shows this in his lifestyle too as he mingles with tax collectors, lepers, children and those with whom a practising Jew would normally not mix. In telling John, “Whoever is not against us is on our side,” Jesus recognises the importance of tolerance and acceptance – qualities which are much needed today, too. 
With the consequences of Brexit and the pandemic, it’s easy to see the cost and benefit of separation and division as well as the cooperation and sharing that has developed. Having had to leave the UK, temporary visas are now to be issued to up to 10,500 European lorry drivers and poultry workers to overcome the problems with petrol delivery and food supplies –  but will they want to return?
The above words from Camus’ The Plague are said by Dr Rieux, an atheist, to the priest Fr Paneloux, after both had seen a young child die terribly. Rieux recognises that, although they hold different beliefs, both are united in the challenge facing them and the battle that lies ahead. So it is for us with our differing circumstances and beliefs as we face the worldwide, national and personal struggle against sickness, death and evil. Perhaps, Iike John, there are people we may have tried to exclude – or have been excluded by – who could and should be included in the ongoing plans and hopes? 
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.