February 2020

On Sunday 12th January, the feast of the Baptist of Christ, we blessed and dedicated a new wooden cross, to replace the damaged and decayed one on the north elevation of the Abbey Church. Made of solid English oak by mastercraftsman Richard, from Burchmore Joinery, West Parley, it is an exact copy of its aged predecessor. Those of us who have seen it agree that it is an exceptional object. It was financed by Annie and Peter Melhuish, in memory of their daughter Helen. 

In church terms, the Christmas period officially comes to an end on Sunday 2nd February with the celebration of “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple”, commonly known as 'Candlemas'. It is a turning point in the Christian year. Forty days after Christmas, it looks back to the birth of Jesus and forward to the passion of Christ: now we start to count down to Lent and Easter. When the baby Jesus is presented in the Temple according to Jewish tradition by his parents, they meet the aged and faithful Simeon and Anna. Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he'd seen the Lord's Messiah. Many in Israel had been looking for the coming of the Messiah, but they were not looking for him in a vulnerable baby. Simeon recognised God in the baby born at Christmas, and foresaw the suffering of Good Friday, which would pierce Mary's soul. 

Did you know that 3rd February is St Blaise's Day? We don't know much about him. He was bishop in Armenia in the fourth century. It seems that he had been a physician, and miraculously cured a boy who nearly died when a fish bone lodged in his throat. As a result, near the martyr's feast day, the throats of the faithful were blessed, using two candles joined in the shape of a cross – unlit! 

“Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie, But is compos'd of passion”. That’s how George Herbert begins his poem ‘Lent’. Wednesday 26th February is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. We shall begin it in the traditional way, with Ashing. The previous year's palm crosses are burnt, and the ashes are used to trace the sign of the cross on our forehead, a traditional sign of penitence. Thus we enter the forty day period of Lent, reflecting on Our Lord's period in the wilderness; a period of opportunity, self-appraisal and self-reflection. It will lead us to Holy Week and beyond to the joys of Easter. As Canon Roger Spiller puts it, “It is the season not for gestures of self-denial that may feed our self-satisfaction but for abandoning ourselves in the self-sustaining love that God has for us”. Giving, Praying and Fasting are the traditional Lenten practices. The benefice Ash Wednesday Holy Communion service will be at 11am the Abbey Church; the choir will be present. Throughout Lent all the Wednesday morning Holy Communion services will also be at this slightly later time, and include a reflection for Lent. From 4th March each Wednesday service in Lent will be followed by a hot lunch, served in the Hall. You will find the menu for these lunches elsewhere in this edition; a vegetarian option is available on request. Please note these lunches will be for those attending the morning service. 

This is the first Benefice News of 2020, and I hope that you will enjoy reading it. Please remember that any edition is only as interesting and informative as the material that you send us. 

With my love and prayers.

Fr John