Sunday reflection – Donkathon 2021

Reflection for the Donkathon

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s…..ox or donkey.” The Tenth Commandment, 
Exodus 20:17. 
“Go the village ahead of you and you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.” Jesus, in Matthew 21:1-11.
“We waved farewell to our friends and set off en route. Very soon we passed beautiful green pastures….we have experienced so much love, kindness, generosity and positive support.” Polly Vacher, driver. 
Today is the feast day of St James, when Santiago de Compostela will be the focus for many pilgrims journeying along the Camino, the Way, to the saint’s shrine there.

Making their way along their own Camino to the shrine here at Pennant Melangell are Wizard and Muffin, two donkeys who are travelling with their equine friend,  Nelson the poodle, owners, grooms and supporters in aid of Multiple Sclerosis research. This entire venture has been the culmination of much planning and had to be postponed last year due to the pandemic. Many differing things have been encountered along the way as can be seen on Donkathon.org – how good it will be to welcome them here today after a journey of such courage and achievement! 
Polly writes in her daily blog of green pastures but the idea came from a difficult time when unsuccessful eye surgery meant she could no longer fly. For a pilot who had flown solo twice around the world, including over the North Pole and the Antarctic, and raised over £500,000 for the charity ‘Flying scholarships for disabled people’, this was a severe blow. Her nephew also having MS, as Polly sought another challenge she received a card from St Melangell’s with the Bible verse “They shall rise on wings like eagles” – Donkathon evolved from this time and what a difference will be made to all involved and to MS research. 
Donkeys are mentioned many times in the Bible and their inclusion in the tenth commandment shows how much they were valued as work animals used for transport, agricultural purposes and as beasts of burden. To appease his brother Esau, Jacob sent him twenty female donkeys and ten donkey foals as part of a gift (Genesis 32:5) and his sons travelled with donkeys to Egypt to obtain grain during a great famine (Gen. 42:26). Moses uses a donkey to help his family to cross the desert (Exodus 4:20) and   Balaam’s ass actually speaks to him when he beats her for refusing to move three times due to the angel in her path that he can’t see (Numbers 22:23). Whatever you might think of a talking donkey (what would Wizard and Muffin say about their journey?!) at one point Balaam appropriately replies, “Nay!” 
In the New Testament, tradition suggests that a donkey was used by Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem and for the Flight into Egypt. Nativity scenes always feature a donkey and the Good Samaritan used a donkey to carry the injured but, knowing how much time – and ginger nuts! – have gone into training for the Donkathon, I now see the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday very differently. 
It was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in a lowly and peaceful manner (Zechariah 9:9) and this was in contrast to leaders who usually entered on a stallion, the symbol of power and wealth. On Palm Sunday, the crowds were cheering as Jesus entered and there would have been a lot of noise as they also jostled, pulled palm branches and laid cloaks down for the donkey and her foal to walk over. That would test an experienced donkey – but her untrained foal might have found that terrifying and shied away or bucked. Having never given that a thought before, perhaps it was a good indication of Jesus’ gentleness and reassuring care as well as the foal’s mother being with it and the courage of the animal itself that meant the entry was safely negotiated! 
What an amazing creature the donkey is and what service it’s given to humanity. Lives and thoughts changed by a Donkathon – thanks be to God!
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection for Rural Mission Sunday

Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place…. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…. So he began teaching them many things.  Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, NIV.

Saint Melangell’s Church has been a place of pilgrimage for well over a thousand years….. Visitors and pilgrims come from  throughout the Diocese of St Asaph, from the whole of Wales and from all over Britain and the world. From ‘A history and guide to St Melangell’s Church’ by John Hainsworth.

Today is Rural Mission Sunday, with its theme of pilgrimage. Here in this rural setting, for centuries pilgrims have been coming from far and wide to the Shrine Church of St Melangell and have found it to be a place of healing, peace and renewal. Who would ever have thought that the oldest Romanesque Shrine in Northern Europe would be found two miles down a single track lane in so a remote Welsh valley – yet here it is! 
A pilgrimage being a special journey to a sacred place or shrine, Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela were the main Christian places for those who had the money and time to travel to them. For those who did not, nearer centres such as Canterbury, Walsingham, Lindisfarne, St David’s, Bardsey Island, Holywell and St Melangell’s were some of the more accessible places that still attract pilgrims today and any pilgrimage involved not only time and money but will and effort too. John Bunyan’s great pilgrimage hymn, originally written in 1684 as part of The Pilgrim’s Progress, warns of possible frights and fights along the way but also the “right to be a pilgrim”. It’s still sung today, a reminder of the adventure and experience of pilgrims gone before us whose legacy and wisdom can still serve as a guide for pilgrims today. 
It’s clear from the ministry of Jesus that he travelled extensively with his disciples to be with those who would listen to him. As in today’s reading, Jesus seeks time and space for himself but is also pursued by crowds of people and responds to their needs though he later finds time to be on his own to pray (v46). Jesus needs peace and quiet to hear God’s voice and be renewed with so many demands being made of him – the same is still true for those who follow in his footsteps now.
Today, Covid 19 has meant that many people have found their journeys cancelled or curtailed, often at very short notice, with some having to walk very different paths from what they originally envisaged. Others have had to stay at home, but pilgrimage involves a journey of the heart as well as the body and it may be that God has been encountered in many different ways as the pandemic continues. 
Tomorrow has been called Freedom Day for England but with headlines about the chaos of what’s been called the Pingdemic and the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and Chancellor all having to self-isolate, as well as rising numbers of vaccinations, confirmed cases, hospital admissions and deaths, it’s clear that the way ahead still has many risks. Desert places, as well as green pastures, are part of many journeys but the pandemic presents uncharted territory as its variants continue to cause separation and desolation as well as give reason for hope and trust. This creates many demands on our time and compassion, as it did for Jesus, but just as he taught the crowds many things, there is much to be learned from what is happening now. So Bunyan’s words, written in exclusive language then but applicable to all, have an even greater resonance as we consider the pilgrimage of our lives, those we encounter along the way and the influence of social media:
“Who so beset him round with dismal stories do but themselves confound: his strength the more is….. Since, Lord, thou dost defend us with thy Spirit….I’ll fear not what they say, I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.” 
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

 

 

Reflection for Sea Sunday

“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord.” Psalm 107, v23, NRSV.
“Football’s coming home. It will have to quarantine and take two PCR tests.” 
Matt cartoon. 
When I served in three Welsh coastal churches, Sea Sunday was a day when services were held on the shore in support of the Mission to Seafarers and holiday makers would join us. I particularly remember one year when we were thinking about how many people and seafarers were involved in growing tea, shipping it and getting it into bags to enable the approximately 100 million cups of tea that are drunk in the UK every day – that’s about 36 billion cups a year! 
It’s easy to take for granted that tea and other provisions are readily available in shops but the human cost of this can be great – especially in the pandemic. One of the chaplains of the Mission to Seafarers has recently told the story of a merchant seaman whose wife was having a baby and the scan was emailed for him to see whilst he sent baby clothes home. When the baby was born, she sadly died just two days later and his captain and crew tried all they could to get him home for the funeral. However, the pandemic meant that quarantine would be necessary and, with the family in need of his wages too, it just wasn’t possible. This meant that he never met his baby and he and his family had to remain separated at so heartbreaking a time for them all.  
This story reminds us of the lives and cost behind everyday provisions such as tea and of how much we all owe to seafarers, whether based inland or along the coast. As an ark of salvation, any church also has a connection with the sea with congregations sitting in the nave, from the Latin word for a ship, navis. This may be a reminder of Noah and the ark travelling safely through stormy waters and the Bible has many other stories of the sea, from Moses and the crossing of the Reed Sea, Jonah and the whale, Jesus choosing fishermen for his first disciples, walking on water and stilling a storm or the missionary journeys of Paul. Here at St Melangell’s, as can be seen in the photo, there is a whale’s rib on the wall known as Asen y gawres (the giant’s rib) or Asen Melangell (Melangell’s rib) which may have been used as a harp – or may not! 
Today, many alcoholic beverages are likely to be consumed as well as hot drinks as the Wimbledon tennis and Euro 2020 finals take place. As England and Italy play after so difficult a time during the pandemic, football and the teamwork involved has provided a reason for joy and fresh hope after so much gloom. Whatever the result, both sides deserve their place in the final – this Sea Sunday, the outcome may not be plain sailing for the teams if they plumb the depths or crest the waves of emotion but a voyage of discovery will certainly result!
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity 

“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” Jesus, in Mark 6:1-13, NIV.

“The problem with the wife who has known you since way before you were king of the world is that she sees through your facade…… She  knows that, deep down inside, you are not the Master of the Universe you purport to be.” Journalist Sarah Vine, as she and Cabinet Minister Michael Gove announce their separation.

 
In today’s Gospel Jesus has returned to Nazareth, where he grew up, after healing a paralytic, Peter’s mother in law and the woman with a haemorrhage as well as restoring Jairus’ daughter to life. Perhaps Jesus had thought that the townsfolk would welcome him as he teaches in their synagogue but, despite acknowledging the wisdom in his words and the marvels that have happened, instead they insult him. “Isn’t this the carpenter…. Mary’s son?” they ask, mentioning his brothers and sisters but making no reference to Joseph and thereby intimating that Jesus is illegitimate. Mark tells his readers that Jesus could do no miracles there except lay hands on a few sick people and heal them – but even that must have made a huge difference to the lives of those who came to him. Jesus has not come to be honoured by his community but to do what God asks of him and so he goes to teach in the surrounding villages. His mission continues, regardless of what people think of him.
That has not been the case with some English Government officials recently, where public opinion has been a factor in whether or not they could continue in office. Having been called a hypocrite in some national newspaper headlines for not following the rules he introduced, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock now faces the possibility of deselection as an MP by local politicians. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been the target of negative comments from Dominic Cummings, who has himself admitted to having been untruthful at times…… Like all of us, politicians are fallible whereas Jesus is authentic and honours God’s authority, despite the disbelief of those who have known him since childhood. He finds a way to avoid confrontation and sends out the Twelve to preach and heal. They do, following the strict guidelines he gives them – and many sick people are healed.
Most of the people of Nazareth chose not to face the challenge that Jesus brought and find reasons not to respond to him. In being “amazed” by their lack of faith, it might have been hard for Jesus to experience this criticism and isolation from those he grew up with and with whom he was familiar, but he is able to press on without wasting further time. In doing so, regardless of his own ministry, others are empowered, lives changed and God’s word heard.
Perhaps there are times when those with whom we are familiar criticise or insult us and there may be occasions for all of us when we need time for wounds to heal and alternatives to be considered. Perhaps, too, we have caused that for others. Recently, it has been obvious that some communities are critical of the leadership of some of those in authority and divided in their responses to what is unfolding. This encounter between Jesus and his home crowd may remind us that we need to reconsider our response to those around us in our local settings and what they may expect from us or we from them. Reassessment may lead to new possibilities as pandemic restrictions are eased, consequences faced and as God’s call still sounds in our lives today. Will we heed it and, if a situation is causing criticism or rejection, what alternative could there be so that hope rather than negativity may result?
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

July services and Donkathon

July Services at the Shrine Church of St Melangell

July 25th will hopefully see the arrival at St Melangell’s of Wizard and Muffin, the two donkeys being driven by Polly Vacher from Oxfordshire in aid of Multiple Sclerosis research. Their month long journey has needed careful planning and training for such a long distance – ginger biscuits are apparently key to the co-operation of Wizard and Muffin and the success of the entire enterprise! A donkey was also key to the journey of Joseph and pregnant Mary to Bethlehem and the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, so this and poems or stories about donkeys will be part of the celebrations when Wizard and Muffin arrive. Their journey and the Donkathon song can be found on 

stmelangell.org

 or 

www.donkathon.org

 where there are further details.

                                       

The Centre and accommodation here will reopen on Monday 28th July, but for prior bookings only. The following church services will be held according to the Covid guidance in place at the time and anyone attending must book a place via 

01691 860408

 or 

admin@stmelangell.org

 as seating will be limited:

Thursdays 1st, 15th and 29th JulyHoly Eucharist at noon.
Thursdays 8th and 22nd: Zoom discussion group at 11am.
Sundays at 3pm: Service of reflection.
Sunday 25th: Donkathon celebration at 3pm – or whenever they arrive!
Meanwhile, as journeys begin to resume and the pandemic guidelines ease, what is your equivalent of ginger biscuits?!
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

Sunday reflection

Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
“Your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” 

Jesus, in Mark 5:21-43 – today’s Gospel, NRSV.

“Those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them.” Matt Hancock, former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England, in his resignation statement.

Grab a jab – NHS slogan encouraging walk in Covid vaccinations.

 
What a coincidence that, in light of Matt Hancock’s resignation over breaking the current social distancing rules whilst having an affair with his aide, today’s Gospel also involves the breaking of rules, although for very different reasons.

Jesus has been approached by Jairus, a man of religious rather than political authority, who is desperate for Jesus to heal his unnamed, dying daughter aged twelve. Despite his status, he humbles himself by falling at Jesus’ feet, pleading for him to make her well – without a word, Jesus goes with him. As crowds follow them, another desperate person approaches Jesus, a nameless woman who has been haemorrhaging blood for twelve years. She is unclean and makes him unclean too by contact. In asking whoever touched his cloak to come forward, some of the disciples are amazed at this with so many people around him and the woman who has been shunned for so long now becomes the centre of attention. She fearfully finds the courage to be truthful about what happened and Jesus praises her for it, telling her that her faith has made her well. The woman is healed but, being delayed by this happening, his daughter has died when they eventually arrive – how hard that must have been for Jairus.

As a leader of the synagogue, Jairus has shown his faith in Jesus as courageously as the healed woman, but this must have been a test for them both as, being dead, his daughter is now also unclean. Jesus is mocked when he tells the mourners that the child is not dead but sleeping, telling Jairus not to fear but to believe. Jesus then takes the child by the hand, breaking the rules of his day, and tells the child to arise. She does, after which he tells her parents to give her food – this is not a healer concerned just for the immediate but for longer term wellbeing too.

In these two stories, both a pillar of the establishment and a social outcast come to Jesus and find healing through him, but not all the disciples are involved in this as only Peter, James and John are allowed to be present with her parents as Jairus’ daughter is healed. Was this linked to some of the disciples questioning him earlier? How did those left out feel about this? Being a disciple also requires humility and faith.

Both women are unnamed – as is Jairus’ wife – and their words are unrecorded but they are also linked by being restored to health after being unclean. The first is now able to return to public life after twelve years of isolation – perhaps caused by gynaecological problems of childbirth – and the other is restored to the threshold of womanhood in those days at the age of twelve. This happens because, for their sakes, Jesus is willing to be in contact with what has been deemed to be unclean so that healing will result, faith is answered and hope renewed.

These two stories tell of rules being broken and barriers being overcome for health to be restored but today, with the necessary procedures regarding the Delta Covid variant, complicated judgements and decisions have to be made for fear of negative outcome. In the midst of it all, contact with Jesus is still possible in asking for spiritual healing through prayer as well as physically being able to grab a jab from the NHS, that health may be fully regained, fear overcome and faith in a more hopeful future may prevail. 
Both Jairus and the unnamed woman came to Jesus seeking their hearts’ desires through healing. As changes happen at the heart of government, families affected by the pandemic come to terms with the outcome and some heartbroken fans mourn Wales crashing out of Euro 2020, what do you ask of him in your heart’s desire for healing and a hopeful future?
With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.

June 2021 Pastoral Letter (English)

FACE TO FACE

To the members of the Family of St Asaph

A Pastoral Letter for June 2021 from Bishop Gregory

It is exciting to have started the process of meeting up with people face to face once again. People who have been familiar only on the screen, and often not even that, are suddenly able to meet with me once again. I have been to see my parents at their home in south Wales, even if hugging was still not permissible at the time. It is so much richer to be in one another’s presence, to be able to take in the responses of gesture, body language and expression as well as the spoken word, unmediated by a screen.

 

Zoom – something of which I had barely heard at the beginning of 2020 – has served us well, particularly for business meetings, and I suspect that we’ll be keeping the format. However, our meetings have become more formal, there is little or no side talk, certainly not the opportunity to catch up with items that are not strictly business, but about enjoying friendship and support, or at least only in a very diminished way. The time is fast approaching for friendship to resume.

 

So too, there should be excitement in our faith. The Christian faith speaks of an intimate face to face encounter with God, which is distinctive in the world of faith. “Now we may see through a glass darkly”, wrote the apostle Paul, “but soon we shall see him face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13.12). He is speaking of our appearance before God at the end of time, and the journey towards God in faith, but this final encounter is not the only intimate meeting with God that is described in the New Testament. “In many and various ways God spoke to our forefathers,” wrote the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Hb 1.2), and you can feel the excitement in the First Letter from John, “That One who was from the beginning, to whom we actually listened, whom we have seen with our own eyes, and touched with our own hands – he is the Word of Life.” (1 John 1.1). Christians believe that in Jesus, God came among us, to be touched and to touch, to heal and to set free, to redeem and to bear witness to love. I do believe that, by God’s grace alone, I shall see God face to face one day, but even now, I know that I am called into an intimate meeting with him in my heart – when God may minister to me, and I may lay the burdens of my heart before him. I am called to be a friend of Jesus – and you are as well.

 

In fact, if Jesus spoke true, we may find ourselves meeting him all over the place. “In as much as you did this for the least of one of my brethren” said Jesus of the service of generous love, “you did it as to me.” (Matthew 25.40). If we rejoice over the resumption of face to face encounters, so too we should rejoice over the promise of friendship with God, that begins now, even if it will come to fruition in its fullness only in eternity.

 

Actually, it looks as if even the unlocking of our national lockdown may take some time yet. As I speak, the Prime Minister has dialled up his uncertainty: June 21st may not be the day after all, and the delta variant may cause further delays. Even then, I suspect that our diaries will not fill in the old way – I find my colleagues expressing caution still about the return to worship, the organisation of in person gatherings, and the cycle of committee meetings. The ending of lockdown will come not with the throwing of a switch: “Hey presto, we are back to normality”, but with a slow testing out, of courage and caution in equal measure.

 

Like neighbours after a long and bitter dispute, we shall have to feel our way back to an equilibrium of contact with which we feel comfortable. Let us pray then for the organisers of meetings and events, and for the gift of wisdom. Let us pray that God will help us to go not too slowly, nor too fast; let us pray that medical knowledge and the science of immunisation may keep pace with the mutating virus, and let us pray that at each step, the relationships that we rebuild will be suffused with a deepened sense of faith, hope and love that enables us to see the face of Christ in friend and foe, in neighbour and in colleague, in stranger and in outsider.

Sunday reflection