Pastoral Letter: May 2017

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Where were you when you heard the news?

I was having coffee in a Motorway Service Station, when several people said, ‘there is going to be an election!’ At first I was as little suspicious, but then it was confirmed, having voted for a new Mayor in May, we will all be going back on June 8th, to have our say in who should govern our country.
If ‘Brenda of Bristol’ is to be believed then many people won’t bother – having had enough of politics – thank you very much. But I think that is a dis-service to all who gave their lives just so we could live our lives in a free society, and exercise choice and abide what the majority choose, respecting those whose views differ from our own.
Where I was a curate, the Vicar made a point of praying for each of the main political parties when the turn for their conference came; recognising the good intentions and sincerity of different views. We should pray for all in politics.
We could be cynical, and think our individual vote makes very little difference; sometimes though, it’s the small actions in life which do have an effect, if, we are patient enough to wait. A kind gesture an offer of support, these are the small things that often-separate Christians out, the way they treat others.
So, what should Christians care about over the next two months?
First, we should see through personal attacks on politicians. We may not like their politics, but that’s no excuse to demean them, digging up past mistakes, failures, or their personal appearance. That’s bullying and it is wrong.
Second, I think we must look beyond what will benefit us personally, to what will be the greater good.
• How can scarce resources be used for maximum effect?
• What laws will give people dignity, worth, security and hope?
• Not just in times of plenty, but in life’s lean years, in periods of austerity?

Third, we must be vigilant seeing through promises, impossible targets, and downright dishonesty to uncover true intentions. To say one thing. then do another does not give you credibility and respect; the electorate are not stupid. ‘Fake news’ is the modern way of describing it; I call it something else
Realistically, most of us are creatures of habit, and probably don’t give a great deal of thought to whom we vote for, looking at the party more than the person. No single party can claim the endorsement of Christians, and we shall differ where we put our X on June 8th.
Whatever the outcome, it is the Bible’s belief that all authority, finally comes not just from the ballot box, but from God. Those who emerge as victors bear a huge responsibility, for they will answer to God for their actions, choices, mistakes. As shall we all.
Pray, please, for this moment in our nation’s life; for a fair and honest campaign, truthful statements, intentions, and for humility rather than arrogance in those who seek our support.
Best wishes, Ian

[The inaugural West Midlands mayoral election was held on 4 May 2017 to elect the Mayor of the West Midland The election was won by Conservative Andy Street.]

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Reverend Ian’s Pastoral Letter November 1st 2016

God sent His Son that we might no longer fear the dark


November 1st 2016

Around this time of the year I’m away from Rowley for 3 days – “on retreat” – something every Vicar is expected to do each year, and it doesn’t count as their holiday! It’s a time of stillness and prayer.
Last year I went to the Franciscan Monastery at Glasshampton, near Stourport, I was given a small room in a corridor, with a bed, desk, chair and wash basin. Everything is pretty basic: there’s no TV, Internet or mobile phone signal. The Monastery is up a ¾ mile rough track, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is very isolated, very quiet.
As you might expect the day is regulated by a bell which rings for the services in a simple chapel, and for silent meals in the Refectory (if you want salt or pepper you have to wait silently for someone to notice and pass it down!) And then, afterwards. You wash up!
Last year, on my first night, about 7pm, all the lights went out.
Following a storm the overhead power cable came down and the resulting power cut lasted 8 hours. I can vouch for that; I had forgotten to switch the light off and the bedroom was suddenly very bright at 3am.
Finding the chapel wasn’t very easy that night; I literally felt my way down a very dark corridor to say the church evening office of Compline by candlelight. This was an unforgettable experience and at the end of the service the monks gave us a small candle each to light our way to bed, not a lot of light and certainly not enough to read by, but sufficient not to get lost on the way back.
Candles are very powerful symbols of faith. We give godparents of a child a candle at baptism as we say “Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father.”
A candle is a delicate gentle light, that doesn’t force itself, but guides and reminds us of Jesus, the Light of the world.
In the coming months many candles will be lit. At our Annual Memorial Service as names are read, families wll step forward to light a small candle in memory of their loved ones. Approaching Christmas Candles will be lit around church as we sing carols, and at the end of the Christmas Season comes Candlemas (held in church January 29th) to remind us of Jesus taken to the Temple as a baby by Mary and Joseph, of his being recognised there as a Light to lighten the gentiles.
As we approach the holy season of Advent, you might like to think of lighting as candle at home; to remember a loved one as you say your prayers; as you think at Christmas of those who for whatever reason can’t be with you; and above all, to thank God for giving us His Son that we might not, any longer fear the dark.
With every good wish.
Ian

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Pastoral Letter for March

Primroses are in bloom all over the garden and in the lanes around.’ So writes the Gardening expert in our Saturday paper this week. Here at the Vicarage the primroses certainly arrived early, a foretaste of spring after a long, wet winter.

Some years ago the same ‘Gardening expert’ paid a surprise visit to the Vicarage garden where we were tenants. She had decided to take up a ‘reader’s question’ we had submitted – 3 years before – which we had quite forgotten. I was away on a training course in Hampshire, so Diana had to field the visit, as the expert drove up from Dorset, following a phone call.
Now if this had been Rowley, we’d have had no need to write to a newspaper for advice. In our church are experts on vegetables, roses, lawns, composting. Even I have learned some skills that make a difference!
When I rang home, asking how the visit went, I was relieved, at least until I was told a photographer was coming later that week to take a family photograph in the garden. Sure enough, a week later, our garden – quite a lot of it bog and brambles featured in the Saturday edition.

“How about keeping hens,” was one letter we received.

The visit and the article did have an effect. I hadn’t actually met the ‘Gardening Expert’ first hand, but I sensed she could make a difference: –
First she had ideas. In her mind she could see what out garden could become if we drained it, reclaimed the borders from the brambles, and got on top of the vegetation. Her first effect on us then was a vision of what it might be.

Secondly, her gardening articles always include, ‘This week’s work’-(Jobs to be done). As I write, her advice, with the ground wet to sow anything outside, is to start off and nurture seedlings, such as broad beans, peas, salad crops and herbs.

Thirdly, she gave us the confidence to try new things in our garden; welcoming new trees and plants; clearing spaces, doing things differently (or in our case to stop neglecting them completely!)
As we draw near to Easter, the most important celebration of the Christian Year. I’m struck with the parallels of the Garden Expert and the Risen Christ. Many especially St Paul never actually met, Jesus in the flesh, like me and the garden expert, they heard second hand from others. But there was an effect:

The early Christian Family (probably few, and not wealthy and with little experience of travel, were given a Vision that was global.
“Go and make disciple of all nations, I am with you.” Little did they guess that Christianity would spread as it did, and transform so many places, so many lives
Secondly, the Church at its best has seen the wisdom of preparing for the future. Nurturing the delicate seedlings of faith, of potential ministry, of leadership. (A very good local training scheme is the 3D Course – a year long, weekly group with the aim of helping people grow in faith.

Thirdly, we shouldn’t be frightened. We have the promise of Jesus to be with us – we shouldn’t be frightened of taking risks, and trying new ventures. Especially in our contacts with those under represented in church life; children, young adults, young families. At some point we need the confidence to trust those who might be God’s new gifts to us, now and in the future.

For some, a garden can be a worry (and our churchyard has been for us in years past) Not everyone can give the time and attention to create a beautiful place, that especially in spring, lifts the heart.

God has entrusted us, has given Jesus for us. May Easter bring us vision, encourage us to nurture, and never to be afraid of allowing new things to flourish here at St Giles.
Let’s get to work!

Revd Canon Ian Shelton

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