April 2018

My labrador, “Wesley”, has thoroughly enjoyed eavesdropping on the recent Rectory Lent group, and has learned to be discreet sitting in earshot of Benefice meetings, as well as providing a non-critical audience for his master's sermons. As I write this, he is fast asleep under my feet, snoring contentedly.

You may be reading this edition when it comes out on Palm Sunday, the day we recall Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our donkey-led procession through Beaulieu village with the village band is both a local re-enactment of it – the Abbey Church becomes our Jerusalem - and a witness to our community of the significance of the “holy week” that is unfolding.

Flavia Webb and the staff of St Paul’s Pre-School recently underwent their first OFSTED inspection since the change of ownership. Lasting about six hours, the inspection included: the interaction between staff and children, communication between the staff and parents, how child development is supported, feedback from the parents, and the setting itself. The fantastic news is that they have been rated GOOD, with every indication that an 'outstanding' grade is within their grasp. This is a significant milestone for Flavia and her devoted team, and official recognition of their hard work and commitment to the children in their care. Congratulations to them. In voicing her delight at the result, Flavia kindly remarked that this achievement has been helped by the support and goodwill of both St Paul's Church and the community.

At a recent diocesan panel, the Bishop of Winchester's selectors affirmed our Reader-in-training Jane Barnicoat-Chongwe's gifts and progress. We have seen her commitment to ministry; I have enjoyed having her as a colleague, and we look forward to seeing her take on further responsibilities as befits her role. She will be licensed next year. Please continue to pray for Jane and husband Reuben.

We are fortunate to have a faithful team of Servers at the Abbey Church, who function most Sundays. I am keen to recruit a further team, which will take the pressure off those already doing it, and even allow for the occasional Sunday off! This is a really worthwhile and important opportunity to serve God and play a part in the running of the Sunday Holy Communion. It was as a member of a young unrobed team that I came to experience the liturgy more intimately, enabling me to watch close-up how clergy lead worship. If you would like to consider serving at the altar, do let me know, and we can arrange some little rehearsals.

I am very conscious of those who have worshipped in our churches before us, and in the recent months we have lost several more dear souls. I am wanting to put together a benefice “Year's Mind”, by which I mean a diary containing the names of departed loved ones, so that they can be remembered during our services. For convenience sake I will start with those who have died during my time here,  whose names, and dates of death, I know. Each week a list will be read out at services. If you wish to include the name of a loved one please do not feel constrained by recent years; by all means pass the name to Elizabeth in the parish office. For consistency,  please only include name and date of death, and she will enter it in the diary for you.

I want to thank the Estate team for spending two days at the Abbey Church replacing light bulbs, re-hanging the bell rope, and assisting with several other important manual tasks. The men gave so generously of their time and nothing was too much trouble for them – I am most grateful to them. The LEDs, being more efficient and cheaper to run, happily means a reduction in the need to import scaffolding...

The 1st day of April is Easter Sunday. It is also, of course, “All Fools Day”, the day for practical jokes, hoaxes and false news. It was St Paul who said in his letter to the Corinthians, “we are fools because of the Messiah, but you are wise in the Messiah”. (1 Cor 4.10). It appeared to all the world that the powers of darkness had had the last laugh, that God made flesh had been defeated on a jibbet on Calvary's hill. But the events of that first Easter morn would prove otherwise. As the women who had followed Jesus during his life go to pay their last respects to his body, they are met by an angel and an empty tomb. As Peter and the beloved disciple run to the empty tomb to see for themselves, so they come to believe Mary Magdalene's words.

Thus the Church embarks on the joyful Easter season with its wonderful Easter hymns resounding with alleluias; appropriately the altar frontals and vestments changed to gold for Easter Day - white for the Easter season. The Church observes 40 days of Easter, during which Sundays we shall hear of the risen Christ's appearance to the disciples - of Thomas' initial refusal to believe; of the 'stranger' joining those  dispirited travellers on the Emmaus Road and breaking bread with them; we shall read John's account referring to Jesus as the ultimate Good Shepherd and offering his very self for the safety and salvation of his flock; and be encouraged by Jesus' words that when we are in communion with Christ and each other, we can achieve anything in His name.

With my love and prayers.