May 2018

I write having just returned from walking "Wesley" on the Estate cricket ground. On this particular occasion, and almost home, he caught sight of "Bailey" in a neighbour's garden and, like an exocet missle, launched himself through the brambles, over a stream, finally frustrated by a fence, preventing him from pairing up with his canine mate. Impelled, and oblivious to my pleading, Wesley was on a mission – determined to extend his adventure and do what dogs do. Bailey's owner appeared, laughing, having witnessed the performance from the window. We left the garden, waved off by my empathetic neighbour, Wesley straining at the leash; such was his energy and drive to do what he had to do....

All three Annual Meetings in the benefice have taken place: Peter Melhuish, Sally Brearley, Brian Hernaman, David Hughes, Dr Graham Stirling and Marigold Jordan were elected churchwardens. We are grateful to them for offering their time and energy, and also to those serving on the three PCCs for the next year. Of particular concern is the sustainability and viability of St Katharine's, Exbury. The co-opted PCC Secretary writes further in this edition about the two community meetings held in the church, and whilst ideas were shared, and a possible project introduced, given the very modest congregation numbers and the changed demographic of the village, the future is very uncertain. We continue to pray about this, and for the PCC who must make some difficult decisions; we need to recognise in all these deliberation that God may indeed be asking us to engage with different opportunities and priorities.

On Sunday 20th May we celebrate the feast of Pentecost - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Often colourful balloons and a cake feature, marking what Christians regard as the birthday of the Church. The disciples were a disparate group whom we have come to know quite well through the Gospel stories. Following Jesus' death, we see them meeting behind locked doors, perhaps fearful of repercussions. John's narrative tells us that the risen Lord appears to them "on the first day of the week"; reminiscent of that first day of the week in Genesis, where God the Creator begins to bring life out of chaos. In John’s Gospel, God the Redeemer comes to bring new life out of the chaos of grief and loss. Having shown the disciples his wounds, Jesus then breathes on them. In Genesis God breathes life into the creature he has made out of earth. In John’s Gospel, God's new life and hope are breathed into the fearful and uncertain disciples. The 'Acts of the Apostles', attempts to articulate the extradordinary Pentecost event: it's like a rushing mighty wind, and attendant tongues of fire. However it happened, from Pentecost onwards these people left their locked rooms and went out, preaching and teaching and embracing the danger they had previously feared. We are commissioned to go out and share what we have been given through them and after them; to call others into God’s new creation, free from fear, and empowered by the spirit.

To return to "Wesley" - he's impelled by testosterone at present – but we are fuelled by the power of God's spirit: in the spirit of Christ we are called to go and make disciples, to love others as he has loved us, to go to those places where we might not otherwise go, sharing his love and life, encouraging a spirit of oneness, hospitality and communion.

As I type Prime Minister Teresa May has called a special meeting of the Cabinet to discuss the parlous situation in Syria, and the possibility of backing military action by the US and its allies, following the suspected chemical attack in Eastern Gouta. We have become used to aweful news from the region, but we have been horrified by recent pictures of children apparently suffering the effects of chemical agents, though the Syrian leadership has dismissed it as false information. There are many layers to the narrative of the Middle East; these are unpredictable times, and there is the fear of excalation. We must pray for our Prime Minister and political leaders as they shoulder weighty responsibililtes and make difficult decisions, including the possibility of force; may they may be given the wisdom and insight to act for the common good. In the face of arguments, confusion, and apparently locked doors, may God's spirit direct us in the ways of truth and peace and trust.

We are looking forward to our benefice outing to Wells next month which John and Kathy Hughes have organised - they are well known for their thoroughness and ability to make a good day out. After stopping off at Wilton we shall make our way to the cathedral city on the edge of the Mendip Hills. Our visit culminates with Choral Evensong. It would be a perfect opportunity to invite a neighbour or friend along. We look forward to your company.

With my love and prayers - and licks from a spirited canine!

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. 

March 2018

The 4th Sunday in Lent, Sunday 11th March is Mothering Sunday. I am delighted that a member of staff from Beaulieu School will be our speaker at the 9.30am Abbey service. This year it will be a Holy Communion service, and suitable for families. There will be the usual 8.00am service at Buckler's Hard. Happily, and appropriately, the 11.15am service at St Katharine's Exbury on that day includes Holy Baptism, so very much a family service as well.

The last week of March is one of the most important and influential weeks in the Church’s calendar. Sunday 25th March is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We shall begin at 9.30am outside Beaulieu Village School, where palm crosses will be distributed and blessed, and we hear the Gospel recalling our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then we shall embark on a donkey-led procession through the village to the Abbey Church. Beaulieu Band will lead our singing. At the 10.30am benefice Holy Communion we resume our procession, waving our palms and singing "All glory, laud and honour to thee Redeemer, King". This service includes a dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel.

I always look forward to the walk whatever the weather! It is all the more poignant for its disorganised nature - capturing the spontaneity of our Lord’s entry into the city. Our procession is an opportunity to witness to the community, and is a powerful reminder to all of us of the significance of the week that is unfolding.

Thus Holy Week begins, which includes the sacred three days - the "Triduum" – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. On Maundy Thursday, the clergy and Licensed Readers of our diocese make their way to the cathedral, the "Mother" church, where they renew their ordination and ministerial vows. The Oils are blessed by the bishop, and brought back to the churches, to be used for anointing at Baptism and Confirmation, and to anoint the sick.

Maundy Thursday evening begins with all the joy of a usual sung Holy Communion, and ends with the altars stripped, the church bare; the reserved communion hosts reposing in a specially prepared garden in church – our Garden of Gethesmane, and a focus for silent prayer. We shall keep the Watch (Vigil) from 8-9pm, mindful of our Lord’s invitation to his disciples, "could you not watch with me one hour?"

On Good Friday there will be a Walk of Witness from St Paul's, East Boldre, to Hatchet Pond. In the afternoon, from 2-3pm, there will be a devotion at St Katharine's, Exbury. The Revd Lynda Mead will be leading "Tenebrae" (Latin "darkness"), a service of meditation on the "shadows" of Good Friday, and consisting of Bible Reading, singing and reflection. A feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, a symbol of our Lord, remains.

In the evening, as part of the Music at Beaulieu programme, "Sarum Consort"will be treating us to 'Music for Holy Week'. The singers, who are drawn from various cathedral choirs, will sing Lenten music from the 11th - 20th century; their programme "built round Tallis's impassioned settings of 'Lamentations of Jeremiah'".

So there is much to look forward to and participate in as we continue to make our spiritual journey to Easter.

With the love and prayers of your Rector.

February 2018

A Happy New Year to all our readers. Christmas is now a distant memory as we resume our routines and begin to work our way through the early months of 2018. We talk about the twelve days of Christmas, ending with the feast of the Epiphany. In fact the Church observes a much longer period - forty days - culminating in the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple on 2nd February. We recall how Jesus' parents brought him to the Temple to do for their first born son what was required by the Law of Moses. It is at the time of that event and rite of passage that the aged and faithful Anna and Simeon arrive on the stage and recognise their Lord. The Presentation is a pivotal feast day: both looking back to Christmas and the joy of Jesus' birth; and looking forward to the coming days of his passion. Thus the crib remains in place until February, its wooden structure a poignant pointer to the wood of the cross. As we observe during the Good Friday Liturgy as a simple cross is brought into our midst, “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world. Come, let us worship”.

Among the Christmas presents that arrived at the Rectory was one for “Wesley”; beautifully wrapped, it came with best wishes “from the dogs of Dock Lane”. It was a scented Parisien Pomander; the Rectory has never smelled so sweet! The Abbey Church is about to smell as sweet.....

Incense has been offered in worship for centuries. Frankincense was among the mysterious and valuable gifts offered to the infant Jesus by the Magi – “Incense owns a deity nigh”. Good Liturgy is constructed to engage our whole self, to stimulate all our senses, and feed our imagination. One of the elements of good liturgy is, for example, the use of colour. Every Sunday we feast our eyes on magnificent flower dispays, beautiful and colourful altar hangings and vestments. Movement is also important, as the opening procession draws us into the unfolding drama of the Eucharist. Singing and chanting stimulate the sense of hearing. Sweet smelling incense encourages more participation. I still remember the first time I experienced “Rosa Mystica” at St Thomas', Lymington. Made exclusively at Alton Abbey, the smell captivated this young lad as the thurible swung, its chains tinkling as clouds rose to the rafters of the church. In the Book of Revelation, the burning of incense is an important part of the worship of heaven. The Sunday Eucharist is nothing less than a foretaste of life in heaven.

Of course the use of incense is nothing new at the Abbey Church. As from February, we shall be using it on the 2nd Sunday of the month.

Wednesday 14th February is both St Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent. The forty days of Lent encourage us to grow in faith and devotion to our Lord. As well as the usual 10.30am service, there will be a 7pm Eucharist at the Abbey with ashing.

Jane Barnicoat-Chongwe and I will be running the Lent groups on the Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Lent. Using a course on Prayer by Robert Warren and Kate Bruce, we shall be considering the themes: Prayer as relationship, as enjoying God, as listening, as worship, as care. For all of us, prayer can seem like hard work or a bit of a mystery. Wherever we are on our faith journey, this course encourages joy and delight in prayer. The sessions include Bible Study and discussion. If you have never experienced a Lent group, do please consider it.

The Tuesday group will meet at the Rectory from 7pm-8.15pm. Our first session will be Tuesday 20th February. The Wednesday group will meet in the Abbey Room at 11.30am, following the morning service. A light lunch will be available at 12.30am, and we shall be away promptly by 1.30pm. I hope you will be able to join us for one of these sessions. The material will be the same for both morning and evening, so feel free to mix and match. NB There will be no Tuesday meeting on 20th March, but a combined session at lunchtime on Wednesday 21st March.

Each year the Trustees of the East Boldre Educational Charity disperse funds in accordance with the Trust's Deed. It's objectives are reviewed annually, but the purpose of the Charity is “to promote the education, including the social and physical training, of Church of England children resident in East Boldre”. Applications for grants may be made to me, as Chairman of the Trustees, or addressed to Mrs Jan Saunders c/o Beaulieu Abbey Church Office. The Trustees will be meeting on Thursday 1st March.

As I type this, January 2018 marks the centenary of the loss of submarine G8 in the 1st World War. It left for a patrol in the North Sea but failed to return and it is believed fell victim to a mine on or around 14th January. It has never been found. Sub-Lieutenant Philip Armstrong of Oxleys, Beaulieu, was a member of the crew and in his memory the wooden Calvary which stood at the south end was erected by Sir Frank and Lady Armstrong. It was the only memorial to the loss of G8. Over the years the wooden parts of the memorial have been damaged by wind and rain and in 2007 a new stone cross took its place. Some of the wooden cross was used to produce the red cross which now stands behind the High Altar. The figures now stand beside the altar in the Gallery Chapel.

On Thursday 15th March, 7.15pm-9pm, we shall be holding a FORUM at the Abbey Church. Based on the format of BBC's “Question Time”, an invited panel will respond to questions from the floor. The subject for the evening will be “NHS – crisis or opportunity.” Tickets will be £10. Further details to follow via the Benefice News, Beaulieu Churches website, and weekly newsheets.

With the love and prayers of your parish priest.