From the Rectory Advent 2021


Fortunately, no bones were broken. Even though it was just before 6am, I had decided there was no need for a torch, as 'Wesley' and I set off down the Rectory path for our early morning walk. Having kept to the right in order to avoid falling into the pond, my progress was suddenly and painfully arrested as my knees struck the closed gate in the darkness.

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity. For us living in the northern hemisphere, the weeks of Advent come at the darkest time of the year. Consisting of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the season shares with Lent a spirit of restraint, preparation and penitence. The altar frontals and vestments are purple. Traditionally, the Gloria is omitted - not sung again until the Midnight Eucharist - and there is an air of solemnity in the services. There are no flowers in church, the Advent Wreath providing us with a prominent visual aid, each of its candles reminding us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ: patriarchs and prophets, John the Baptist and of course Mary. Finally, on Christmas Day, the central white candle is lit; all five candles being lit throughout the festive period.

Advent has also been a time for Christians to meditate on the ultimate issues of death, judgement, hell and heaven. It looks forward to the coming of Christ, not only as Judge, but also as Saviour. Candles and lights speak of the Church's hope in the coming of Christ to banish sin and darkness. Down the centuries the great 'O' Antiphons have been sung, originally as Antiphons to the Magnificat at the Evening Office from 17th to 23rd December - 'O Sapientia', 'O Radix Jesse', 'O Emmanuel' among them. The readings from the Old Testament were seen as pointing to the fulfilment of God's purposes in Jesus.

At 6pm on Sunday 28th November we shall be holding the benefice Advent Carol service at the Abbey Church. It begins in near darkness, symbolising the dominion of darkness from which we have been delivered through Jesus, the Light of the World. The 'O' Antiphons will be sung, calling upon God to deliver his people. NB The only other service on that Sunday will be the 11.15am Holy Communion at Exbury.

The last months have been a period of waiting and anticipation regarding music at the Abbey Church. Following Director of Music George Richford's presentations to the PCC and congregation, we are now in a position to start implementing the plans approved by the PCC. You will find details of these in this edition. I am filled with enthusiasm as we move to this exciting phase in our church life, and as we emerge from the effects of the pandemic. As I always say at the Annual Meetings, we are all invited to use our talents in the building up of the life and worship of the church community, called to serve joyfully and selflessly the One who serves us. At its recent meeting, the PCC recorded its thanks to the former members of the Abbey choir, recognising the service and commitment given over the years.

I am delighted that the Reverend Fr Ovidiu Semerean and the Romanian Orthodox Church congregation are sharing St Katharine's Church, Exbury. This arrangement was agreed with the PCC and approved by the bishop. They will be worshipping there on 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays of the month. We shall no longer be there on the 2nd Sunday, but we will continue our service of Holy Communion on the 4th Sunday. Please consult the weekly bulletin for the latest information.

Following the result of the congregation questionnaire, and subsequent approval of the PCC, we shall be changing the time of Holy Communion at the Abbey Church on the 2nd Sunday of the month. From February, 2022, on the 2nd Sunday only, the service will be at the later time of 10.30am. Furthermore, Evensong will now always be at 4.30pm, and not vary according to the season.

As I write, final preparations are being made for COP 26 - the UN Climate conference in Glasgow. Pope Francis in his Encyclical, 'Laudato Si', ('May you be praised') reflected on what it means to regard the earth as our home and invites us to pay heed to a groaning, mistreated earth; urging each and every one – individuals, families, local communities, nations and the international community – to an “ecological conversion”. Speaking on the BBC prior to the Conference the pontiff quoted the joint appeal made on 4th October by faith leaders and scientists to work responsibly towards a “culture of care” for our common home, but also for ourselves, and the need to work tirelessly to eliminate “the seeds of conflicts: greed, indifference, ignorance, fear, injustice, insecurity and violence.”

In June of this year, our diocese launched its Net Zero Strategy with a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2030. Many of our churches are part of the A Rocha Eco Church scheme, working towards their bronze, silver or even gold awards. As plans and strategies are debated we pray that we may listen to each other and recognise the urgent and pressing needs of our fragile earth that is God's gift to us, and of which we are custodians. World peace must begin with us, as individuals, in our thoughts and lives. In the same way, care and respect for our planet begins closer to home, responding as we can, even in the small, modest ways; doing what we can, not what we can't.

I am grateful to Jaki and John at TLC for printing this edition. They are particularly busy in the weeks before Christmas, which necessitated the early preparation of this News. The next publication will be a Lent/Easter edition.

As we approach Advent and prepare to celebrate Christmas I commend to you this prayer by MJ Kramer:

'God of gods, whom saints and angels worship and adore, as we prepare our hearts for your Son's coming, renew our spirits with the joy of your hope, that reaching out to you in our waiting, and praising you in our worship, we may come to know more deeply the mystery of Christ and the fullness of your divine compassion on our world, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'

I look forward to seeing you at one of our benefice services during Advent and the festive period. With my love and prayers for Christmas and the New Year.

Fr John