Rector’s “Annual Address”

The 29th February 2020 sticks in my mind – as the date of our Parish’s last, organised Social Event.
That evening we gathered some of the Altar Servers and their families, for skittles and pizza, little knowing what sweeping changes were just around the corner.

Since then families, and individual households, across the UK and elsewhere, have been through the most enormous challenges:
the strain of financial uncertainty – whether through loss of jobs or loss of interest on savings;
the emotional strain of disrupted lives and separation from loved ones;
and, for many, the loss of loved ones in the most awful circumstances.
And I don’t believe that there is a single family, in the broadest sense, that has not been changed by the experiences of the past 15 months.

Faced with those pressures, some families have drawn closer together – helping each other out as best they could, keeping in touch more frequently, through whatever means was possible.
Other families have fallen apart – as individuals at breaking point have lashed out, and caused hurt that cannot easily be forgotten or forgiven.

And I think those same pressures have faced us, as the family of the church.

You’ve already heard the challenging financial situation we find ourselves in – and I don’t want either to overestimate or underestimate the seriousness of our situation.
What I do want to say, first of all, is thank you.
We have weathered the past year far better than many churches. And that’s due, at least in part, to those who responded to our pleas last year to join the Parish Giving Scheme, so that we have known that regular income was coming each month.
And, irrespective of how you gave, thank you for continuing to give – despite the worrying economic backdrop.

The life of our churches has been disrupted, just as significantly as our home life. None of us has been able to worship as before; weddings and funerals have been curtailed; patterns of prayer and the way we receive the sacraments have had to evolve – none of which has been without emotional cost.
So, once again – thank you.
Thank you for being bold, and coming to church even when you weren’t completely sure it was the right thing to do.
Again, we have managed to do far more than many neighbouring parishes: partly because of the size of the building here, we were able to keep at least two services going every week, at a time when many churches had their doors firmly shut.
And our celebrations of Confirmation, Christmas and Easter – here and at St Catherine’s – gave a much-needed lift to many of us, I know.

Like so many others, our family has lost some of its members – and we miss them and all that they brought to us. We have also gained new members; and fresh insight, as a result.
We are not, then, the same mix of people that we were 15 months ago.
And almost certainly, as individuals, we have been changed by our experiences – and we mustn’t forget what we’ve learned from that, as if it was all just a bad dream from which we’ve now woken.

We’ve learned over the past year that we can adapt what we do; that our services can be shorter, without losing the essence of our worship – and that has been crucial for some of those currently attending church.
It also opens various possibilities for outreach into our communities if we are confident enough to explore them.

It’s tempting to fall back on familiar ways, and the reassurance that provides – but we are entering new territory now, and we need to be aware, that anything which we now take up again means diverting time and energy away from both our current activities and any such future possibilities.
So we will need to think carefully about what it is we are really trying to do, and what will be most effective in helping us achieve it.

Much of this past year has been spent reacting to events – responding to each new development sometimes in hope, sometimes despairing as we seemed to lose ground again.
Now, at last, it feels as if we are entering more of a recovery phase, and can start to plan ahead with a little more confidence.

Now, we need to keep on being both generous and bold.
If we are going to flourish, as the church family of Wilton with Netherhampton and Fugglestone, we need to keep coming to worship as frequently as we can.
Simply by gathering in sufficient numbers to feel a part of something significant, we can support and encourage each other.
And if we want this family to grow, then we need to demonstrate by our actions that worshipping together is important to us – otherwise, why would anyone else want to join in?

One of the first tasks of the new PCC will be to review our worship, in the light of recent developments.
We’ll need to find a new pattern of services that will work for all of us, across the parish, including those who have not yet had any of their services restored.
That IS going to need generosity as we adapt to each other’s needs, and flexibility, over timing and content of services, as we work out what we can sensibly manage, and still offer the best that we can on each occasion.
There is still uncertainty about a number of things, and we really do need to pull together, in the months ahead, as one parish, to ensure no part of our family is overlooked, or taken for granted.

I began by looking back to our last “family gathering” on the 29th of February – which has been enshrined on the noticeboard to my left for the past year.
We have to wait until 2024 for the next 29th February – and I very much hope that by then we will have pulled though and bounced back, as a parish, stronger and more confident than ever.
But it IS going to be a long haul – and we will need to pace ourselves, and to be careful not to expect too much of any one member of the family.
Individuals, like families, can be broken and are not then easily fixed.

I want to end with a familiar tale of two sisters – Mary and Martha.
In Chapter ten of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is described visiting their home, where Martha scurries around preparing dishes, serving food and generally doing everything she can to make him welcome.
Mary, on the other hand, sits around, listening to Jesus – without lifting a finger to help.
And when Martha protests to Jesus, he takes Mary’s side!
She, it seems, has noticed that Jesus is worth paying attention to, whereas Martha effectively treats him like any other house guest – getting on with her familiar tasks as hostess.

We have been kept afloat, over the past year and a bit, by a number of Martha’s – who’ve beavered away tirelessly to keep things going as best we could, and without whose efforts we may well have fallen apart by now.
But they too need the chance to draw breath and reflect on all that’s happened – all of us need our “Mary moments” – otherwise we risk being so wrapped up in our own endless round of tasks that we too miss the point of it all, and fail to pay any attention to what Christ himself is saying.
The beginning of this period of recovery is both a call to action – for all of us to get involved and share the load, as Martha would have liked; and it’s also an invitation to watchfulness – making sure that we ourselves make time to stop and pay attention to what’s going on; but also looking out for other members of the family who may be wearing themselves ragged and encouraging them to slow down.
And if, along the way, we notice that certain things are not being done – then there is a choice: either to get involved and do them, or simply to accept that sometimes there will be more important things going on.
Our family can flourish again, if we commit to the welfare of all our members, and if we pay attention always to Christ as its head.
As we prepare ourselves for all that the year ahead will bring, then, perhaps we can adopt (as our family prayer) the word of Richard Gillard’s hymn:
Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

Walk this Way!

Address for Easter Morning 2021

John 20: 1 0- 18

One of the consequences of lockdown has been a huge increase in walking – more people going out on foot; and those who always did, walking more often.
That has been good for us, and our general health – if not always for the pathways: where too many walkers sometimes destroy crops or churn up mud.

And if you do go out walking, you will see a variety of styles among your fellow walkers – the seasoned and purposeful walkers in appropriate clothing, the dog-walkers programmed to familiar routes (and sometimes with the dog seemingly in charge).
You may see parents and children, or husband and wife – where one party is evidently more enthusiastic than the other – and the unvoiced question “whose idea was this?” hanging in the air.
And the way people walk – the body language they transmit – can tell us a lot about how they’re feeling.

When I was small, it was quite normal to see a mother heading off, on foot, to the local shops with her child trailing behind (almost walking in circles) and making it quite clear that this was not where they wished to go! Eventually there’d be an exasperated cry of “stop dawdling!”) and the child, head up, would suddenly put on a turn of speed for about a minute, before resorting to the same delaying tactics.

By the time he reached school age – if it was a “he” – said child would have perfected the art of “trudging” – hand in pockets – and mentally putting off the vision of the school gates, and all that lies beyond: very different from the way he headed home at the end of the day!

As a teenager, they’d probably adopted either the confident swagger of someone who wants to be noticed – OR the head-down “glide” of someone who would much rather be invisible, than in the spot light.
And pretty much all of those traits then translated into the joys and pressures of the adult world of interviews, work, parenthood, family gatherings and all the rest!

There’s a lot of moving around in story of Easter morning. And I wondered what we might draw out from this episode.

First, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb – we’re not told how. We might imagine her rather anxiously creeping through the garden, not sure who else might be around; or moving slowly, with the desolate trudge of someone who really doesn’t want to see the sight she has imagined there.
But when she reaches the tomb,
and sees the stone removed,
we’re told clearly that she ran to the 2 disciples. Perhaps she fled in terror or perhaps it was excitement – she just had to get them to come and see.

And the disciples, when they hear what she has to tell them, both begin running as well.
Clearly they did want to see for themselves whatever had happened there – but perhaps there’s more.

The disciple whom Jesus loved (we don’t know his name for sure) – he outruns Peter – desperate to get there. And I suspect that turn of speed betrays more than just his curiosity – he has to know what someone has done to his friend.

And, when they have both seen the empty tomb, they “went” back to where they were staying. Again we’re not told how they moved, but they were no longer running – perhaps they just thought the grave had been robbed and went with a dispirited trudge – or perhaps they couldn’t quite make sense of what they’d just seen, and wandered back in a daze.

And then Mary is left alone to encounter the risen Christ – the beloved Jesus whom she’d expected to find IN the tomb. And, when she has finally recognised him, it’s clear that she moves to him, because he tells her not to hold him: he IS the person she’s looking for, he confirms, but he’s no longer the man he was. Something has changed in this new life beyond the grave.
And then she goes again to the disciples and tells them boldly “I have seen the Lord”. And perhaps we imagine her moving now with confident stride – determined to share with them what she has found.

From all of that moving around, we can sense a mixture of emotions:
grief; anxiety; longing; hope; amazement.
And in more ways than one, the story of Easter Morning seems to resonate with the place in which we now find ourselves.

During the past year, it seems to me, all of those emotions have taken hold of us at various points –
grief at what has been lost; anxiety at what might be coming next; longing for those people and those places we’re not able to see;
hope with each new beginning
and amazement at the speed of progress.

And now it feels as if there is new life ahead of us –
as restrictions on us are gradually lifted
and more things become available to us.
Perhaps we might be eagerly anticipating a change of scene; or some proper retail therapy, as most shops open again, or maybe just a decent haircut!

In any case, there are new opportunities ahead, provided we don’t mess things up.

Progress is not inevitable, sadly.
Along with new freedoms this week – we’ve seen some of the worst aspects of human nature:
the selfishness that led some to think it’s OK to litter parks and beaches they’ve enjoyed, with rubbish as far as the eye can see.

And there IS always the danger that selfishness becomes recklessness, which could cause infection rates start to rise again – and threatening our precious new life.

And there is the final thread of the Easter story – we have to choose to embrace that new life and to use it well.
To walk in the light of Christ means rejecting what we recognise to be selfish and evil and defending all that what we see is good, and loving and life-giving.
And that may mean exercising restraint, when our actions might harm someone else. And it means being bold in challenging others, when we see the danger signs.

And so, perhaps we should approach the future with neither a headlong charge nor an anxious trudge, but with a confident stride – taking note of the changing landscape around us.

We can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the hardships of the past year –
as if standing, weeping at the tomb.

We can no longer hold on to the way things were,
any more than Mary could hold onto the old Jesus.

Christ calls us onwards –
to learn from what we’ve been through,
to recognise what was not good in the things that we used to call “normal”, and to do things better now.

He invites us to be an Easter People – filled with the joy and hope and strength of his new life.

Let us celebrate all the signs of new life around us.

And as we stride out into each new day,
let’s commit ourselves again and again,
to safeguarding that precious life
for all our neighbours.

Holy Week and Easter 2021

Services (in church)

Palm Sunday  (28 March) – 10.45  Morning Prayer, with Shorter Holy Communion

No service on Wednesday.

Maundy Thursday  –  6.30pm Eucharist with the stripping of the Altars.

Good Friday  – 2 – 3pm Liturgy of the Cross.

Holy Saturdayno services.

Easter Day6.30am – Liturgy and First Eucharist                                                                                

We will gather in front of church, around the brazier for the opening reading and responses, before blessing the new Paschal Candle and proceeding into church for the Eucharist.

                        –  9.30 Easter Communion at St Catherine’s,                                                                             

                        –  10.45 Easter Celebration at the Parish Church.  


If you hope to attend the 10.45 service, please email Christine Matthews on (or drop a note to The Parish Office, West Street, Wilton, SP2 0DL) with numbers in your household/bubble who will be attending.

And for the 9.30 service at Netherhampton, please contact Katie Ray on 01722 335701

Online resources

Recordings of some services will be available in the usual way, on our Facebook page and Website.

Stations of the Cross – with reflections by Fr Timothy Radcliffe – are available on the Website (under “Praying at Home” or “Recent Posts”

Daily meditations – from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday – a listed under “Holy Week 2021”

Bishop Richard’s reflections continue – listed under “Countdown to Easter”. 

You will also find some of last year’s resources on both the Website and Facebook Page.

Not Crowded Out

Reflection for Palm Sunday

It’s been a quite while since most of us have been part of any crowd. Certainly the largest gatherings that I’ve been part of, in the past year, would be the congregations here at All Saints’ and on Christmas Day – with around 100 people. Not exactly huge then!

But we’ve been reminded recently of the power, and unpredictability, of ‘the crowd’.
The recent vigil on Clapham Common, in response to the murder of Sarah Everard was described as “initially sombre with most people speaking in hushed tones or quietly reflecting.”
But then, first some speakers hijacked the event for their own agenda and, after dark, the sheer numbers present gave to many of those gathered a sense of strength and a determination not to be shepherded by the police or local councillors urging them to disperse. There IS strength in numbers, and sometimes a general feeling of dissatisfaction can gain powerful momentum and focus.

That’s been very evident in the protests in Bristol over the past week – demanding the right to protest, and causing a significant amount of damage in the process.
I don’t want to get into the rights or wrongs of either protests – what I’m interested in is the way that gathering in large numbers can somehow heighten the emotions of all those present, and the way that the mood of the whole crowd can be swayed – very powerfully and very quickly – by even a small number of determined voices.

It only takes one determined heckler in the room, to give any stand-up comedian a seriously bad day.

The crowds who welcomed Jesus were quite a mixture.
There were those who’d been following him – drawn by the things he’d been saying and doing; or by the stories told about this man who appeared, only recently, to have raised Lazarus from the dead.
There were also, no doubt, those who were drawn by the crowd itself – who just wanted to know what was going on: caught up in the excitement without really knowing what it’s about.
And there were those who knew plenty – who saw in Jesus a man whose claims were quite possibly blasphemous, and who very likely represented a threat to their own authority. They were there to see for themselves just what that threat looked like, in person.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd welcomes him – full of anticipation and rejoicing. They had no red carpet to roll out for him – but the cloaks that some laid down were expensive things: an extravagant gesture –echoed by those who laid down the leafy palm branches to soften the way.
And the shouts of welcome were for a king – who comes in the name of God.

Clearly, that was too much for the Pharisees, keeping careful watch from within the crowd.

And, in Matthew’s version of this event, they demand that Jesus should “order his disciples to stop”. Jesus refuses, claiming that even if the crowd were silenced, the stones around them would cry out instead. The power of this moment cannot be stopped.

But, as with any demonstration or gathering, the mood can change very quickly. And within a matter of days, those scheming for Jesus’ downfall will have sown enough doubt in the hearts and minds of those around them, to turn the cheering crowds into the baying mob – demanding Jesus’ execution.
Again, the shifting emotions are somehow intensified by the sheer numbers in the crowds; and no pleading for calm or reason, even from the Roman Governor himself, will be heard by them.
And with that shift of mood, Jesus’s fate is sealed.

Interesting to note then, how Jesus handles all this.
By now surely Jesus IS aware what his role must be – he has already been preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them: reluctant though THEY may have been to hear what he was telling them.

Jesus neither hide as away from the crowds,
nor seeks to change them –
he makes no attempt to silence the excited shouts of welcome, nor to counter the savage demands for his death.

Instead, it seems, he works with the crowds – accepting, and even encouraging, the intensity of their emotions – but subtly reinterpreting those things.
Yes he IS a king – but not quite in the sense that they had imagined. Yes he MUST die, but not because he claimed to be God, but because he IS God – determined to reveal the depth of his love for those same crowds, and for all people.
I wonder if there’s something in that for us to take on board, as we react to the people around us,
and the crowds who gather around the causes of today.

When Paul urges the Philippians, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” – it is a call for obedience, for control over their own emotions.

Not much is new in any generation – but old emotions can still run high. And perhaps the example of Jesus should encourage us not to try to shut down the voices of today’s crowds, as the Pharisees did –
not to seek to change the story, as Pontius Pilate did,
but to try and sense the mood of the people – what is driving people to gather and protest – and to reinterpret those things:
to help give meaning to the today’s events within the context of God’s unfolding story across the ages.

All humanity and all eternity is held in tension within the mysterious figure who rides into Jerusalem – to be welcomed, rejected, crucified and to rise again.
We have quite a week ahead of us – go with the crowds, but keep your eyes on him.

Give thanks for your vaccines!

Wilton Parish Church has partnered with Christian Aid, to support the charity’s attempts to combat Covid 19 in some of the world’s poorest nations. In celebration of Christian Aid’s 75th Anniversary, we would like to raise £750!

As you or a family member are protected,
please consider giving what you can –
to help protect those who don’t have access to vaccines.
There is a link below, or a QR Code in the images.
Thank you in advance!
All donations will support Christian Aid’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.