I’ve been given three pages (in the Haslemere Link magazine) this month, which is just as well as there is rather a lot to catch up on and tell you about. First of all, and perhaps most important personally, this is my first “dear friends” from the new rectory. You can recognise it not only by the number but by the old Rectory sign, liberated from Derby Road, currently propped up in the front garden but due to be screwed to the wall very soon. I’m writing this from my desk in my new study, which is big enough to accommodate the said desk, all my books, and still leave sitting space for about six people. The cats are particularly taken with the study as they have a splendid view of all the birds in the garden from its windows and can keep an eye on me and them at the same time.
The new Rectory is warm and comfortable and is large enough to accommodate a family really well, should your next rector have such a thing. But don’t take that as indicating my imminent departure – after the trials of moving I have no plans to do so again for some years to come! Especially as when I do I’m unlikely to have such a magnificent group of helpers to unpack and organise my whole kitchen and also all the books in my study, as well as screwing things to walls, assembling things and generally making sure I didn’t flag in the business of making this house a home. I am truly grateful to everyone who helped, who brought plants and flowers and cards and food and for all the good wishes I’ve received for life in my new home. At some point I plan to hold an open afternoon for people who haven’t already had the opportunity to come and see the new Rectory and admire the work that the diocese and the parish have done.
Apart from my domestic upheaval, October and November were remarkably busy months. September had ended with a magnificent harvest lunch after harvest festivals in both churches, and in October our new website went live. We are so grateful to members of the parish and others who have worked tirelessly to make it beautiful and useful, and that work is continuing so please keep visiting to enjoy what’s been done, use it to keep you informed and see how it develops in the future. As November began we were delighted to welcome five of our primary school age children to receive communion for the first time on the feast of All Saints – many thanks to Sandy in particular for preparing them for this. The following Sunday was Remembrance and whilst St Christopher’s held a parish Eucharist, St Barts was filled with representatives of the town and the uniformed groups as well as the regular congregation for a service whose timing was so precise that we actually arrived at the town War Memorial too early, which meant that the stroke of 11 ended the silence rather than beginning it. The mayor and I noted, and told the deputy mayor, that next year we would need to leave five minutes later to achieve the kind of precision they manage in Whitehall, but I’m pleased to say that on Armistice Day itself we managed to begin the silence exactly on the first stroke of 11, so honour has been satisfied for 2015.
And then there was the third Parish Weekend at Home, from 13 – 15 November, marking the end of our Season of Reflection and with the theme of Hidden Treasures, based on Psalm 139. This year our Saturday morning activities ranged further afield than before – the Rectory played host to a psalm writing workshop, a dozen people went to the museum to find hidden treasures in our parish history (watch out for more of what they discovered in later issues), treasure in the form of daffodil bulbs was hidden on Church Green so that there will be gold in the spring and a number of hardy souls explored part of the parish boundary, between St Christopher’s and Gibbet Hill, despite pouring rain and thick mud, returning to the Link for a soup lunch and to impress us with their determination and soddenness. The hidden treasure theme also lent itself irresistibly to a pirate story, with a special song, and there was much flourishing of cutlasses and wearing of headscarves and eye patches, not only amongst the younger generation! Singing proved to be an important part of the weekend – after supper on the Saturday we were all invited by the museum researchers to join in an 18th-century election song written when Haslemere was a rotten borough, to the tune of Hearts of Oak; and this so inspired some naval parishioners that they led us in singing the “proper” words with such enthusiasm that we nearly raised the roof of St Christopher’s. Another feature of the weekend was the gospel style Gloria, written for us by Stella Cousell, which featured in our celebration Eucharist on the Sunday morning, along with the Hymn for Haslemere written at the first PWAH.
We had a lot of fun, but there was a serious purpose underlying the weekend. We have been reflecting since September on what God is calling us to be and to do, as individuals and especially as the Parish of Haslemere. As I wrote in my last letter, all our decisions, everything we do, as individuals and as the church, need to be shaped by our faith, our experience and our understanding of who God is in our lives, of what Jesus is calling us to be and to do. And its now time to think about how we express our vision: to look for some words, a sentence, perhaps just a phrase, that will express that understanding and experience and provide a touchstone for our thinking and decision-making in the years ahead. There are “graffiti boards” in both churches where you can write your thoughts about what might go into our vision statement, or you are welcome to email me or write or speak to me or Chuks or one of the wardens with your ideas. You may have some words in mind already, or you may have an idea which you haven’t quite formulated yet. Whatever it is, we’d like to hear it as soon as possible so that we can bring everyone’s ideas together in a process of prayer, discernment and drafting, and then share the result and ask for your views.
More seriously still: this is my last letter of 2015 and none of us can doubt that it’s been a year in which the world has become an increasingly troubled place. Acts of terrorism and violence and the resulting instability not only in the Middle East but in Africa and beyond have created a refugee crisis on a scale we haven’t seen since the Second World War. In October we raised £1500 in the parish to send to Christian Aid and the Barnabas Fund, and FROG is sponsoring a benefit concert for Hand in Hand for Syria, a charity with local support which works directly with Syrian refugees. We need to consider as a parish what our further response should be to a crisis which is going to last for years to come – whether we simply continue to give, individually and collectively, or whether there is any practical action we can take. Above all, and whatever we do, we must pray daily for all the people across the world who have been driven from their homes, whose lives have been changed forever by terrorism and violence. It’s a sombre message to offer you as we approach Advent and Christmas, but this year we should be more conscious than ever before that Jesus was born not in his own home but in a temporary, makeshift shelter, and that soon after his birth he and his parents were on the road, heading for a foreign country to escape from the threat of violence and death.
As we plan for our own Christmases, let’s not forget those for whom it brings hardship and painful reminders of how life used to be.
With my prayers and my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,