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Light at the end…

A letter from Revd Will Gibbs for the Redbourn Common Round


I wonder if you were one of those people who decided not to take your Christmas lights down this year but to keep them in place and lit-up during January. 

There were quite a few people around the village who thought this might give some cheer and encouragement through the period after Christmas which is always a bit gloomy and difficult, and especially so this year with Covid and the third national lockdown.

Normally, people tend to take their Christmas decorations down after Epiphany, on Twelfth Night.  We took the church Christmas trees down then which had looked so magnificent inside and outside the church through the festive period and, of course, we’re still sweeping up the pine needles now!  

But we always keep the crib up in church until the end of January or the beginning of February.  So, if you are someone who did keep their lights up, then you’re not wrong!  For actually the season of Christmas lasts for 40 days right through until the 2 February.  So, we can continue to enjoy the lights and the decorations, and even sending cards (if you missed the post!) until then. 

The shops would have us believe that Christmas starts in September and ends on 24 December as they close the shop doors and pull down the shutters, ready to open again on Boxing Day at dawn with the sales.  The Radio Times would have us believe that Christmas ends when their famous festive double issue finishes in early January and we drag ourselves off the sofa and away from the television repeats and back to school or work.  Folk tradition, and a famous carol, suggest that there are twelve days of celebrating and then we pack everything away in the loft and move on.

But actually, we keep celebrating Christmas, and then the Epiphany season, right through until early February when we reflect on an amazing passage of the Bible found in Luke chapter 2.  In this story the forty-day old baby Jesus is taken by Mary and Joseph to the Temple, in accordance with Jewish custom, and presented in thanksgiving and in prayer to God. 

And as they come into the Temple to do this, we’re told of two characters whom they encounter – Simeon and Anna.  Both are elderly and it seems both have been waiting patiently for a long time for this moment.  Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he set eyes on the long-awaited Messiah. 

And in this seemingly normal little baby, he recognises something far more – that this is the Light that the world has been waiting for.  Simeon and Anna had been waiting faithfully, patiently and prayerfully for this moment for such a long time and then they experience it and their joy is unbounded.

I think it is a wonderful story about waiting expectantly, praying fervently, of being open to recognise the presence of God in something surprising and seemingly ordinary, and then of responding with great joy and thankfulness.  It is such a helpful story for our times.

At this time of year, each day, the light is bit brighter and the lasts a little longer and we move ever so slowly through the month and towards the promise of Spring and warmer days. 

Each day, we hear of more people having the vaccinations and the hope that this brings.  Each day, it feels as if we’re just that tiny little bit closer to some light at the end of the tunnel. 

Sadly, the nature of something like a pandemic means that we’re never going to have a definitive moment when we can suddenly say it’s all over.  There’s never going to be a truce declared one day that marks the end of this war we’ve been waging against the virus. 

It won’t be possible to say that one day the virus was still here and then we awake the next day and it has gone.  But we can see a way forward and there is light ahead that brings hope, relief and joy.

Until then, inspired by Simeone and Anna’s example, I hope we will keep fixed on that, continuing to be faithful to all that is being asked of us, remaining patient, quietly longing and praying for that day to come.  

For when it does, our joy, like theirs, will be out of this world.

Yours in Christ,

Will

Current Restrictions and our Ministry at St Mary’s

A letter from The Vicar, Revd Will Gibbs

The latest Government restrictions and a third national lockdown bring with them many challenges and elicit a whole range of emotions, I’m sure.

For my part, I am relieved in three particular ways. I am relieved because the current numbers of Covid cases and infection rates are incredibly high, especially locally, and something needed to be done before things spiralled out of control.

I am also relieved because it means that the schools are closed until at least February Half Term. I had real concerns for Claire and for all teachers working in close proximity to lots of children from many
households with this new more infectious variant. (But I know this will be hard for parents working from home and juggling busy work pressures and home schooling and childcare.)

And, thirdly, I am relieved that this current lockdown still permits churches to be open – both for private prayer and for individuals to come and visit and pray, but also that public worship can continue to be offered.

This is a notable difference compared to the restrictions in the first national lockdown and bears testimony to the efforts and protocols that we and many churches have put in place to ensure that coming to a service is as safe as we can possibly make it.

It does mean that St Mary’s will continue to be open each day from 9.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Saturday, and from 7.30 am until 5 pm on Sundays. Permission for churches to stay open means that each of us has a choice about whether to come to St Mary’s or not, rather than that choice being taken from us.

I realise that there will be a considerable number who won’t feel able to attend services at the moment and that is fully understood and appreciated. Please know that you are missed and are being thought of and prayed for.

We will be continuing to offer our online services each Sunday morning and from the kind messages we have received I know that many people have taken great comfort from these. The fact that these are broadcast at 9.30 am with almost identical words and music to our service in church also at 9.30 am gives us an added sense that we are very much together, even if apart for now.

For those who don’t feel able to attend services in church at the
moment, do consider calling in to St Mary’s quietly under your own steam, so that you can sit and pray for a while during the week. I know that many have found great peace and solace by being able to still come in and enjoy the sense of God’s presence and peace in this place. And it is warm!

You can also light a candle on the votive candle stand if you wish, and that is being used and appreciated by many since we acquired it. It is lovely to come in to church and see a number of candles burning as a
sign that others have been there before us and have been praying also.

And for those who do feel able to come to services, we continue to offer 9.30 am Morning Prayer and 5 pm Evening Prayer each weekday, our 7.30 pm Wednesday Eucharist and weekend communion services at 5 pm on Saturdays and 8 am and 9.30 am on Sundays.

Last weekend, we had almost identical numbers attending at each
of these so our desire ‘to spread the load’ is working well and it means that we can space out more than the required 2 metres and feel very secure and comforted by that.

We will wait to see what the next Government review brings and what this means for us but, in the meantime, if you are aware of anyone who is struggling or who needs support or pastoral care then please do let me know so that we can respond appropriately.

Whatever life throws at us at the moment, I am determined that we stay together as a church, even if apart to an extent, and that our prayer, worship and pastoral care of each other continues and is extended, as we make our way at the start of 2021.

Will

Travelling on, but on a different path

A letter from Will for the Redbourn Common Round


I wonder what your favourite Christmas present was this year?  I was hoping for a jab which, in my mind, would have been the best present any of us could receive at the moment.  But I’m way down the list so perhaps that will be an Easter present for me instead.

But my favourite present this year was actually an ice cream machine.  The fact that the weather is cold and miserable and we’re in December makes it seem such a frivolous choice.  But after all we’ve been going through in the pandemic, somehow the incongruity has made it all the more fun.  Another gift to go with it, wrapped separately but from the same people, provided an ice cream recipe book from a famous ice cream duo in Vermont, USA (you may know who I’m talking about).

It will be really fun to try the recipes and different combinations but it is also, somehow, such a hopeful present.  It is a gift that looks forward to warmer weather and better times – which, quite frankly, is all we can do at the moment.  We long for life to become less restricted, scary and stressful and for us to be able to enjoy things with fun and laughter and other people.  It will happen but it feels a long way off at the moment.

And as I think about gifts and of things that are a long way off, I’m reminded of the Epiphany story and the magi and their long journey bearing gifts to bring to Jesus.  Theirs was not an easy path either, but a long and dangerous trek experiencing vulnerability in the face of power, and insecurity and thinly veiled threat, which, in this story, is represented in the person of Herod.  And yet the magi, these mystical Kingly astronomers and seekers, persisted and were rewarded with great joy as they finally reached what they had been searching for and came to an encounter with the infant Jesus.  They brought with them odd gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh that each said something about who Jesus was and what his life will come to be about.  And then the magi depart, and head for home but in a different direction and on another path, symbolising the way their lives have changed course through this encounter.

Like everybody, I long achingly for the end of the pandemic and for the risks to subside and for us to be able to hug and laugh and enjoy the company of others without having to count to see if the group is too big.  And my new ice cream maker symbolises something of that joy and longing.  But like the magi, I also don’t want us to settle back into the old, well worn pathways of our lives.  We can’t go back to where we were, we must travel on, yes, but on a changed tack with a renewed sense of what matters most in life, and with changed horizons and perspectives.

The pandemic has painfully taught us and starkly reminded us of the things that matter most in life – health, family and friends, human contact, prayer, truth, trust, peace and kindness towards others.  These are true gifts to cherish now and everyday as we seek to take our lives and I hope, the life of our whole nation, in a different direction.

May 2021 be for you, and your loved ones, a year of blessing, health and more freedom as we journey on a different path together.

Yours

Will