I am going to wish you all a Happy New Year, even though this communication comes to you at the beginning of a 3rd Lockdown. Perhaps a better sentiment might be ‘Hopeful New Year’. I say this because we can always have hope. And I don’t mean hope in the sense of ‘maybe’, but real hope – the hope that Jesus brings to us.
Today is the Feast of The Epiphany – which marks a really important point in the Christmas Story. It is the moment that the birth of Jesus is revealed to the wider world. It is at The Epiphany that we celebrate the journey of the Wise Men (Magi / 3 Kings) to visit the new born Christ child in Bethlehem. Theirs was a long journey, likely of a span of years, following the message of hope. That determination and faith carried them through dangerous lands and able to overcome great risk.
The Epiphany is a celebration of the revelation, or realisation, of the baby Jesus as Christ – as the Messiah – as the Light of the World. Over the coming weeks we will see that revelation unfold, through the recounting of the Baptism of Christ, The Wedding at Cana, and ultimately the Presentation of Christ at the Temple (Candlemas) – where Jesus is proclaimed as the Light of all nations.
Many people will have taken down their Christmas lights already. But I would ask that this year, why don’t you leave at least one up to shine in the darkness as a light of hope in these times?
Here is a poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins that speaks of the light of hope in the darkness:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Sadly we are in the opening days of a new Lockdown. The Pandemic statistics are grim reading and the numbers of people in hospital and with Covid-19 are at the highest at any point so far. Thankfully, a light that shines in the darkness is the roll out of the vaccines and we keep that process, all involved with it, and all receiving it, in our prayers. May it be speedy, safe, and effective.
Covid-19 is in our area, and not insignificantly. It is a very real threat to all of us. The core message of the new lockdown is clear – we must all stay at home if at all possible.
Unlike in previous lockdowns, the government has not chosen to close the church buildings. Instead, that decision has been left to churches themselves, to take in view of local context.
Yesterday I discussed and considered our response with Churchwardens and the Area Dean, taking into account our core congregation demographic, advice from the Diocese, and the tenet of the lockdown that has started. Here is a link to the letter recently sent from Bishop Ruth – https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/2021/01/take-worship-online-where-possible-as-lockdown-begins/
I have therefore agreed in principle that until further notice we are suspending all public worship in churches, which includes all Sunday services and midweek Holy Communions. I have also attended a Zoom meeting for the Archdeaconry this afternoon and can confirm that this is very much the position for the great majority of churches in the Diocese. I will be writing to PCC members tomorrow for their formal consent to the suspension.
However, we will endeavour to keep churches open once a week, as we have been doing, for private prayer. This time is only for people to be able to sit in the church building for their own devotions.
It is imperative that in these times we keep ourselves and each other as safe as possible.
Here is a summary of the general lockdown conditions that we must all observe except where specific exemptions apply (such as ‘bubbles’):
· Everyone must stay at home.
· If working, this should be from home only if possible.
· Exercise outside should start and finish from your home.
· We can only meet with one other person outside our homes.
· We cannot make home visits to others either inside or outside.
· We should not be travelling outside of our villages unless absolutely necessary.
Here is a link to the detailed wording:
With regards to visiting a church for private prayer, please follow instructions as published in the churches but taking particular care as to the following:
· Do not visit with anyone from outside your own household.
· Do not attend if you are unwell in any way
· There must be a 2m social distance between you and others at all times
· There must be no interaction with others.
Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals:
In line with the lockdown restrictions we will only offer weddings and baptisms on an emergency basis and with numbers limited to 6 attending.
Funerals are able to take place as more recently in the pandemic, and numbers allowed will be assessed on a church-by-church basis at 2m social distancing up to the maximum allowed ‘cap’ of 30.
Although we are not able to worship together in church, we can do so remotely. A Sunday service will be available each week online, alternating weekly as a live Zoom service and pre-recorded video service. There will also be our normal Thursday evening Zoom services during term-time.
Upcoming online worship is as follows:
Thursday Evening Zoom:
7:30pm on 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th January.
Meeting ID: 761 0841 9112
10 January – Live Zoom
17 January – Video
24 January – Live Zoom
31 January – Video
Sunday Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 759 1823 9934
Live Sunday services will also be recorded and uploaded as video for those not able to access Zoom.
All Service videos are available at:
Thank you to everyone for everything we were able to do in the Benefice over Advent and Christmas. It was a very different season, and I very much hope and pray that this year we will be able to be in the same places at the same times in ways that we couldn’t in 2020. That said, it was truly wonderful how all five churches worked hard to have nativity displays that people could access at all times, and with such variance, creativity and generosity. The weather undid two of the four planned outdoor carols events, but those that happened did so in good spirits and sang boldly. Thank you also to the merry band of helpers who helped us deliver bags of comfort and joy on Christmas Day across the villages.
All churches continue to be open during the week for an hour for private individual prayer. This will be kept under constant review in light of the Lockdown.
Wednesdays – Tatworth, Cricket Malherbie & Thorncombe at 11am
Thursdays – Chaffcombe & Winsham at 11am
· The schools as they move to remote learning, and for school children and students in these times.
· Those organizing and delivering vaccines.
· Those suffering with Covid or in isolation at this time.
We also pray for those we know who are sick, and those we don’t know, including those we are asked to pray by name for:
Bishop Peter Hancock; Hannah Knott; Rob Allen; Lynne and Bruce Applegarth; Phyllis Baker; Margaret Bandy; Sue Bennett; Sue Cheese; Terry Conway; Nick Frankau; David Goodwill; Mike Heywood; Joy Howard; Ann Jarvis; Frank Long; Peter McHugh; Diana Rowlands; Ann Ricketts; Jim Tucker; Rosemary Walley; Rosemary Walton; Vivien Wheaton; Alan Wills, Anna Woodward; Pamala Young; Milly granddaughter of Jane & Alan Rudkin; Gillian Muggeridge; Chris Gould; Brian Griffiths; Peter Hathway; Dorothy Down; Brian Turner; Max Woehrle; Michael Mutch; Kelvin Yendell; Winnie Barge.
SCRIPTURE FOR THE WEEK AHEAD:
Wed 6 Jan: Matthew 2:1-12 (The Epiphany)
Thur 7 Jan: 1 Jn 4.19–5.4; Ps 72.1, 17–end; Lk 4.14–22
Fri 8 Jan: 1 Jn 5.5–13; Ps 147.13–end; Lk 5.12–16
Sat 9 Jan: 1 Jn 5.14–end; Ps 149.1–5; Jn 3.22–30
Sun 10 Jan: Gen 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11
Mon 11 Jan: Heb 1.1–6; Ps 97.1–2, 6–10; Mk 1.14–20 1
Tue 12 Jan: Heb 2.5–12; Ps 8; Mk 1.21–28 1
Wed 13 Jan: Heb 2.14–end; Ps 105.1–9; Mk 1.29–39
Each week I will highlight one or two focal passages also:
The Epiphany – Matthew 2:9b-12:
…they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Baptism of Christ – Mark 1:4-11:
John the baptizer appeared[a] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
The Post Communion Prayer for Epiphany:
Lord God, the bright splendour whom the nations seek:
may we who with the wise men have been drawn by your light
discern the glory of your presence in your Son,
the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
With Every Blessing