Daily reflections - older posts 
Wednesday 24th June 2020 
‘Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her… Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him’ (Luke 1:57-58,65-66). 
Today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist. In the early days of the Christian Church, many of the old festivals were Christianised. So the Midwinter festival was used to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and became Christmas. But what of the Midsummer festival? Since according to the Bible story, John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, and as it’s six months before Christmas – so it was decided that 24th June should be the festival of the Nativity of John the Baptist! 
John is the link between the old and the new covenants. He is a prophet in Israel in the old tradition and was popularly regarded as such in his time. Yet also he is the forerunner of the Christ, the Messiah. We find the story of his birth and upbringing only in St Luke’s gospel. However all four evangelists report his activities, as he proclaims the imminence of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, it is clear that several of our Lord’s disciples had followed John first. Some of them appear even to have gone out to the Jewish communities beyond Palestine on his behalf, to preach John’s message of repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God. 
John baptised Jesus in the river Jordan, despite insisting that he was unworthy to do this. Shortly after this he was imprisoned by the Tetrarch Herod, for rebuking him over his affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias. John was beheaded on Herod’s orders - but shortly before his death John sends a message to Jesus which seems to reveal some nagging doubt in John’s mind about our Lord, despite his earlier witness to him. John said of Jesus, `He must increase, and I must decrease’. And that is what the sun does at the time of their respective festivals. It begins to increase in strength after Midwinter and to decrease after Midsummer. 
‘No greater person has appeared... on the stage of human history than John the Baptist, because he stood on the very threshold of the Kingdom. Yet the least disciple who, through following Jesus, already participates in the reality of the Kingdom... is greater than John. Although this assessment of the Baptist could be attributed to the editor of the Gospel, it could also be understood on the lips of Jesus, for whom the greatness of any person is measured with reference to his participation in the Kingdom of God’ (David Hill). 
The collect for today: 
Almighty God, 
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, 
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour 
by the preaching of repentance: 
lead us to repent according to his preaching 
and, after his example, 
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, 
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those alone and depressed. As we know, some people have been managing this time of lockdown better than others. Not everyone has access to the various electronic and support systems that have been so important to us recently and may have an increased feeling of dislocation. Also, of course, there are those who were already on their own and finding it difficult. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
On 24th June 1497 John Cabot, a Venetian explorer and navigator born Giovanni Caboto, became the first European to set foot in North America since the Vikings. Commissioned by Henry VII, his is the earliest known European exploration of coastal North America since the Norse visits to Vinland in the eleventh century. 
Tuesday 23rd June 2020 
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). 
In the diocese of Bradford (where I was ordained) there was a Retreat House up in the Yorkshire Dales where we gathered for our ordination retreat. It was a wonderful place for reflection and refreshment. In the house was a nineteenth century depiction of the wide and narrow ways. I remember it because on the wide way that leads to destruction were deaconesses - and we had five ladies preparing for ordination as deaconesses in our group (this was before the Church of England ordained women as deacons and priests)! 
What this illustrates, I think, is that we have to be careful that we don’t copy our own prejudices and cultural assumptions back on to God. When we do well in life and the world is good to us, it can seem natural to assume that this is how God intends things to be. Sometimes, though, we need to look beyond our own situation to see those for whom life is not so good. Then we can challenge ourselves with the deeper questions of whether this is what God intends for them - and for us. What marks the narrow road that leads to life - and are we looking for God’s way markers? 
There is a tendency today that ‘we can be so concerned not to do what is wrong that we neglect to do what is right. We can be so committed not to be tainted by the sins of others that we remain untouched by the pain and struggles of others - or indeed their joys… what opportunities to love and act justly have been lost because, through pride or anxiety, we fear making mistakes or getting tangled in the mess of the world? Does your faith enable others to find God or do we, however unintentionally, end up being a barrier to others seeing and discovering the liberating love of God?’ (Reflections for Daily Prayer, 13 June 2020). 
‘Eastern Orthodox leaders have urged the Turkish government to abandon plans to turn the ancient basilica Hagia Sophia, now a museum, in Istanbul, into a mosque, if approved by the country’s highest court in early July. “This is a masterpiece of architectural genius, globally renowned as a pre-eminent Christian cultural monument whose value remains universal,” the Greek Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod said in a statement. “Any change will provoke strong protest and frustration among Christians worldwide, as well as harming Turkey itself.” The Synod was reacting to calls by the President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and senior government officials, to change the landmark’s status. Meanwhile, a senior Russian Orthodox official also spoke out against the move, and called on Turkey to maintain “open access to everyone”. “For millions of Christians around the world, especially Orthodox Christians, this temple is a symbol of Byzantium and Orthodoxy,” the Russian Church’s foreign- relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, told Rossija-24 TV. “Any attempt to change the current status of Hagia Sophia will violate a fragile interfaith and interreligious balance.” The basilica, founded by Emperor Justinian (527-565), became the world’s largest at its dedication in 537, but was used as a mosque after the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, and was turned into a museum in 1935 by the secularising founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’ (Church Times 19 June 2020). 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Faithful Creator, 
whose mercy never fails: 
deepen our faithfulness to you 
and to your living Word, 
Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for young people, especially those worried by the cancellation of their exams. There has been a lot in the papers this past week about how and when school will be going back fully. We pray for them all and their families in this time of uncertainty. 
‘The more seriously we take the future promise of God’s Kingdom, the more unbearable will be the contradictions of that promise which we meet in the present’ (Jurgen Moltmann). 
Monday 22nd June 2020 
‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour’ (John 12:24,26). 
Today the Church remembers St Alban - whose fruit continues to flourish many centuries after his death. Having grown up in the city dedicated to his name and attended the Abbey that contains his shrine, I have always had a special interest in St Alban. 
Alban was a citizen of Verulamium, the first city of Roman Britain. Legend has it that he was a soldier, possibly during the early fourth century - although some scholars would place him fifty, or even a hundred, years earlier. Whichever date we choose, this was one of those times of sporadic persecution for the church. In this case the persecution was instigated directly by the Emperor himself (Diocletian, if we accept the 4th century date). Alban gave shelter to a fugitive priest, traditionally named Amphibalus. While this man stayed with him, Alban was converted and baptized. When soldiers were sent by the governor to search the house, Alban disguised himself in the priest’s cloak, enabling Amphibalus to escape. So he was arrested, and after refusing to offer sacrifice to pagan gods, was condemned to death. He was executed on the hillside outside the city - on the site of his present-day shrine in the Abbey which was founded on that spot. 
Amphibalus is said to have been captured a few days later in Redbourn and have been stoned to death. So it might be said that Alban’s martyrdom was in vain. However he is a fine example for us that once we have found Christ, and received new life in him, then all else in worthless by comparison - even our own lives if it comes to that. Alban was the first recorded Christian martyr in Britain. As such, you could say he has a very good claim to be our national patron saint. ‘So among the roses of the martyrs, brightly shines St Alban’ (acclamation at the St Alban’s Rose Service). 
‘Leaders from three international NGOs - the United Nations, the World Health Organization and WWF International - teamed up to issue a stark warning that pandemics like the coronavirus are a direct result of the destruction of nature caused by humans.. Top figures from each organization argued that the wildlife trade, coupled with the destruction of forests and other habitats for wildlife, is causing a large number of animal diseases to migrate to human hosts... In their call to action ahead of the UN biodiversity summit in September, the three senior representatives cited examples from prior incidents of environmental destruction that triggered new viruses in humans. "We have seen many diseases emerge over the years — such as Zika, AIDS, SARS and Ebola — and although they are quite different at first glance, they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures," they wrote, adding those examples "all illustrate that our destructive behavior toward nature is endangering our own health."’ (www.ecowatch.com/) 
The collect for today: 
Eternal Father, 
when the gospel of Christ first came to our land 
you gloriously confirmed the faith of Alban 
by making him the first to win a martyr’s crown: 
grant that, following his example, 
in the fellowship of the saints 
we may worship you, the living God, 
and give true witness to Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Charities struggling to continue their work and fundraising. Nearly all of them have been very badly hit, and that can make a big difference especially to the smaller ones. 
‘For a man of faith no meeting is accidental’ (Henri J.M. Nouwen). 
Sunday 21st June 2020 
‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10:29-31). 
Jesus tells us we are of far more worth and value to God than sparrows. Sparrows were the cheapest commodity sold in the markets (as food for the poor); the penny here is one-sixteenth of a denarius, thus equivalent to less than an hour's wage. Yet as worthless as sparrows were to people, God cares for and watches over them. God knows us so well that he knows each hair on our head. Who truly cares about every hair on our head? But if God knows even about our hair then how much more does he know of our thoughts, feelings, trials, fears, hopes, dreams, desires and all the rest. All this intimate knowledge our Heavenly Father has for us is just one of the many demonstrations of height and depth and breadth of God’s love and care for us. We are greatly blessed. 
Today is the Second Sunday after Trinity - and also, of course, Father’s Day. This is the day that the Lord has made - another beautiful God-given day, filled with his grace. I hope it is a good and blessed day for you. For those who wish to pray in Church, it will be open from 11:00am to 12:30pm for private prayer. 
Will we be able to sing together when services return to church? ‘As the latest Government guidance set out steps for reopening of church buildings for individual private prayer, and also for organ practice which is now permitted, the Church of England together with the Royal School of Church Music has encouraged the Government to be proactive in ensuring music-making can resume in church buildings, once it is safe to do so. 
The latest guidance shows that the Government is still reviewing scientific evidence on how music and particularly singing can be resumed safely. Royal School of Church Music Director, Hugh Morris said: "This news will be of great encouragement to organists. We know from the work we have been doing to support church musicians up and down the land that they are longing to express themselves in music making; and we endorse the encouragement to the Government to be alert to the importance of allowing a safe return of choirs and singing to all our churches. The ministry of music is such a vital part of the life of the church, and choral music is a rich part of the tapestry of worship."’ (Diocese of Salisbury Grapevine, 19 June 2020). 
The collect for this week: 
Lord, you have taught us 
that all our doings without love are nothing worth: 
send your Holy Spirit 
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, 
the true bond of peace and of all virtues, 
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. 
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all medical staff: those in hospitals, GP surgeries, Care Homes, research laboratories and wherever they may be. 
There is a service for today and a service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. Do listen out for the bell at half past ten when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. We also have another contribution from Ron Hart, who was due to take our service in St Laurence today. Thank you Ron. 
‘For the first time since 1985, when women were first ordained to the diaconate, more women than men are being ordained in the Church of England. But the Church is a long way off from reaching its ethnic-diversity goals, new figures suggest. The latest mission statistics, published on Wednesday, show that more than half (51 per cent) of the 570 people who were ordained deacons in 2019 were women (290); this was compared with 47 per cent of the 500 people who were ordained in 2018 (235 women). Of the 550 people who began ordination training in 2019, more than half (54 per cent) were women - similar to the past two years’ (Church Times 17 June 2020). 
Saturday 20th June 2020 
‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:28-29,33). 
‘These oft-quoted words invite me to remember God’s generous, faithful provision. When all seems well, it is natural to notice the intricacy of flowers or the extraordinary colour of wings. I glory in the sun catching the plumage of a buzzard from below or an unexpected butterfly in December sunshine. Simple, earthly reminders of creativity and care evoke trust and thanks. Yet … life is not straightforward and sometimes our worries are very real. Anxiety can be all-consuming and make us feel isolated and frightened. In the midst of fears, whether real or imaginary, telling ourselves we ‘should’ be able to trust does not always help much… The invitation of Jesus is to be with the lilies, to gaze upon them, to be captivated by them with all my senses of sight and sense and shape and fragrance. To consider the lilies is to pray, simply by being present to creation.’ (Reflections for Daily Prayer, 17 June 2020). 
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, marking the beginning of summer - helping us to rejoice in God’s good creation. After some of the weather that we’ve been having recently, we might be forgiven for thinking that summer has been with us for a while - and the birds in our garden were out celebrating from a very early hour this morning. The summer solstice falls between the traditional times for the planting and harvesting of crops, which enabled those who work the land time to relax. So traditionally June became the month for weddings. Indeed we should have had a number in Church this year, and we remember those couples in prayer. Today signals the moment the sun reaches its highest and northernmost points in the sky - and so this is the start of days becoming steadily shorter as the slow march towards winter begins. 
Jesus always asks us to examine ourselves rather than judge another. This is challenging, yet also hopeful, because Jesus is always inviting us to see things differently. ‘The dust of old hurts and resentments accumulates and clings to my feet like a solid layer of mud, until it finally prevents me from moving on at all. To shake it off is to set myself free, as well as those who caused the hurting’ (Margaret Silf). 
From the Prayer of St Patrick: 
I bind unto myself today 
the strong Name of the Trinity, 
by invocation of the same, 
the Three in One and One in Three. 
Christ be with me, Christ within me, 
Christ behind me, Christ before me, 
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me. 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all school governors. Schools have been asked to make some difficult decisions over the past few weeks, which have also involved them in a great deal of additional work. Governors provide strategic direction but also support, encourage and help the staff and whole school community. 
‘The Government asked schools to open for more pupils at the start of June, but without issuing any statutory guidance for schools to rely on. Statutory guidance would have provided greater clarity for schools about their legal responsibilities… It is uncertainty about where the liabilities rest in these challenging times which will also be worrying school leaders, governors, and trustees. They are the bodies with overall responsibility for running schools as educational institutions, and, for voluntary aided and foundation schools and academies, they also employ the staff. Neither the Department for Education guidance nor any legislation relieves them from full liability (corporately, and perhaps, in some circumstances, individually) for all the consequences of their decisions’ (Church Times 19 June 2020). 
Friday 19th June 2020 
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:19-21). 
These past few months have helped us to focus more on what is important in our lives. It is not in the things we store up, that we are encouraged to go out and buy - and then hang on to until either we throw it away or pass it on to a charity shop. What matters more is our relationships with others and with God. These are our real, lasting treasures. Jesus asks us to examine ourselves and to see things differently, ‘so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power’ (Ephesians 1:18-19). 
In the cycle of the Church’s year, we are now in ‘Ordinary Time’. This is our opportunity to explore those aspects of our faith that do not fall neatly into one of the particular seasons. As we do this, it is a good time to open up questions about God, faith and the Christian life that we don’t always get around to discussing. 
So: if there are such questions that you would like to look at further, please send them to me. Then either I could include them in one of these daily reflections, or I could use them as the basis for one of my Sunday talks in the recorded service. However this should not just be me giving answers to your questions - rather it would be part of a continuing dialogue as we work through things together. I await your responses with interest. 
The Downton and Woodfalls Mask Tree group are planning to hold their last Pop-Up tree this Sunday (21st) from 11am. They are a small group of volunteers sewing cloth masks (non-medical) to raise money for Naomi House and Jacksplace. They write: 
‘Thanks to The Borough Dental Practice offering to house our mask tree, we are popping up for the last time in Downton this Sunday morning from 11am (We will be there for at least an hour and a half). We will have a good selection of homemade masks (please see the additional information on cloth mask coverings). However, it is being completely run by volunteers using their own or donated supplies so if we run out or don't have your size please don't be upset. There is also the possibility that you may need to queue as it is essential, we keep to social distancing guidelines. You will also be asked to use your own/our hand sanitiser before touching the tree. All donations will go to Naomi House and Jacksplace. Please note, we are only accepting cash donations (no change). 
As a result of having a limited number of masks, we have had to impose one per person in order for us to reach as many people as possible. However, we are aware that some are shielding and we are happy to let carers, family members or neighbours to attend the tree on your behalf and pick up a mask for those who are unable to attend. 
Unfortunately, we are unable to take individual orders due to the time this takes and you might be interested to know that other mask trees can be found on the Community Mask Tree Map (which may help you get a mask earlier). 
We pray: 
Spirit of Peace, 
you know the things 
which unnecessarily disturb us 
because we have not yet learned 
to put ourselves into the hands of God; 
stay with us we pray, 
that the little space which we have made for you may grow, 
until we are fully possessed of that peace 
which passes human understanding. 
(Pentecostal Prayers, All Year Round 1998) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our witness as a Church. In these difficult times this is as, if not more, important as ever. 
Thursday 18th June 2020 
‘I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favour to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love’ (Isaiah 63:7). 
As with yesterday’s passage, this verse from Isaiah reminds us of God’s goodness to us and all his blessings poured out upon us. As with the ancient Israelites, we know that life does not always go smoothly. We have our ups and downs, our crosses to carry and pains to endure. For many at the moment this includes the effects of the lockdown on our mental wellbeing. Yet throughout it all, God has our backs. He is there with us; he is there for us - watching over us and helping to bear the load. 
Many of us have been fortunate enough to spend time in our gardens over these past three months. Indeed the little yellow flowers in what is supposed to be our lawn are flourishing at the moment! The Chaplain of Queens’ College, Cambridge writes: ‘In the fury of a Twitter storm, or amid the anger and angst stirred by the sharing of another inflammatory article on Facebook, I like to leave my laptop and phone in the flat and head out into the garden in search of peace and stability. The college gardens have, for me, been a place of great refuge and solace during the past few months. I take exercise in them, rest, read, chat to the gardeners, and pray. I know that I am deeply fortunate to have such a haven. I feel for people who do not have access to gardens, and I fear for a world in which their value is commodified. 
I’m blessed to live in a community which values its gardens. I have long associated this sanctuary with our other holy places. The vaulted ceilings of bark and lichen are breathtaking, canopies of leaves like stained glass stream green light on to the nave below, as a chorus of birds chant in their elevated quire. Gardens are places where I feel like I can commune with God in a natural, easy way… Anyone who wants a garden to be “oven-ready” has missed the point of gardening. Only a fool expects a new garden to be instantly mature. Perhaps that is why God started with a garden: to be patient with it, to let it grow in its own time, and to watch it happen. Just because you have to work at something, doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect. When Adam ate of that forbidden fruit, he lacked trust and humility, but he also lacked that quality of keen patience, which any gardener must know’’ (Max Bayliss, Church Times 15 June 2020). 
‘Nature makes us aware of the preciousness of life. Nature tells us that life is precious not only because it is, but also because it does not have to be’ (Henri J.M. Nouwen). 
We pray: 
We thank you, Lord of all creation 
for the wonder of the world in which we live: 
for the earth and all that springs from it; 
and for the mystery of life and growth. 
We pray that our gratitude may be shown by our care 
to conserve the powers of the soil, 
by our readiness to learn from scientific research, 
and by our concern 
for a fair distribution of the earth’s resources. 
We ask these things in the name of Christ our Lord. 
(Basil Naylor) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those who produce our Parish magazine. They continue to do a great job, working hard to keep us all in touch –- both online and now with a few printed copies. 
June 18th marks two significant days in our history. In 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo British forces under Wellington and Prussian troops under von Blücher defeated Napoleon; and in 1940 Winston Churchill made his “this was their finest hour” speech to the House of Commons. Today thankfully we no longer fear war with our European neighbours. Rather we recognise the richness of diversity among our different peoples and seek new ways to share and grow together. 
Wednesday 17th June 2020 
‘Love the Lord, all you his saints. The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord’ (Psalm 31:23-24). 
The psalmist knows that loving God is the best thing we can do and is at the very heart of our relationship with him. Loving God is the focus through which we live our lives. ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.’ (1 John 4:7). When we love God, we will truly love others. When we love God, then we will obey his commandments. God is faithful and does not fail us. ‘Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:9). 
Today, for the first time since the lockdown began, we are opening the Church for private prayer - from 11:00am to 12:30pm. We take this step in faith, to provide this holy space at the heart of our community where we can find the consolation of God’s enduring love for us all. We have no idea who will come or how well it may work: that is in God’s hands. Please hold in your prayers all who seek this opportunity and support today for God’s grace and refreshment. 
How have you been coping in your own prayer life over this time? ‘As Churches report a boom in people joining online services, and search engines record a huge increase in the numbers searching for prayer support online, many retreat houses have been adapting to the lockdown by going online. But, although there are early signs that new audiences are engaging with meditations and retreats, such as the Zoom meditation offered by the Jesuits in Britain, retreat houses and leaders believe that the lockdown experience will also encourage renewed interest in traditional retreats when they become possible again… 
Early evidence is showing that lockdown has encouraged many to look deeper into themselves and embrace some new ways of living. The Revd Barry Preece, who chairs the Association for Promoting Retreats, says: “People have been discovering space and silence and stillness in a way that perhaps they couldn’t before, because these things were crowded out. Some are also discovering nature more: making the most of going out on their exercise each day and [enjoying] nature. When all you can do is experience a walk, then the walk itself becomes the focus, not the destination, and that, in itself, is a kind of pilgrimage, a discipline”’ (Church Times 12 June 2020). 
We pray: 
Spirit of Love 
who seeks and finds that which may be loved 
in each and every one of us, 
help us in our turn 
to recognise lovingly 
the true worth 
and the real needs 
of our family and friends, 
and to behave caringly 
towards all whom we shall meet this day. 
(Pentecostal Prayers, All Year Round 1998) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all who minister to the sick: not only the medical professionals but all care workers, volunteers and family members. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am, together with our Roads to God prayers. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
‘Our relation with God being inescapable, since we draw our very existence from him, it is not something we are free to let alone if we choose. We violate his will if we do not follow it, we are starved of our supreme good if we do not embrace it. Alienation from God is a positive misfunctioning, a frustration of our total aim. If we are not reconciled to God, we are spoiling the music, we are not just letting the music alone’ (Austin Farrer). 
Tuesday 16th June 2020 
‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). 
These verses form part of the canticle for Easter Day: the Easter Anthems. They celebrate that great hope of our faith, the resurrection. Christ is risen - and we, too, will rise with him on the last day. The wonderful future God holds out for us puts all else into perspective. Alleluia! 
Today the Church remembers Richard of Chichester (1197-1253), or Richard de Wych. He wrote the prayer: ‘Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day’. As bishop of Chichester, Richard was seen as a model bishop - travelling around his diocese on foot, visiting and caring for his clergy and people, and being accessible to all who needed him. His private life displayed rigid frugality and temperance. Richard was an ascetic who wore a hair-shirt and refused to eat off silver. He kept his diet simple and rigorously excluded animal flesh, having been a vegetarian since his days at Oxford. While Richard was merciless to usurers, corrupt clergy and priests who mumbled the Mass, he was also a stickler for clerical privilege. 
The PCC met yesterday to discuss the opening of the Church for private prayer, in accordance with the current guidelines. We have agreed that the Church will be open on Wednesdays and Sundays (which gives us 72 hours between openings) from 11:00am to 12:30pm - starting tomorrow. A member of the Church will be present at all times as a steward, and everyone will be asked to maintain physical distancing and to leave their contact details, should they be necessary. I attach a poster which - if you are able to do so - I ask you to print and display. Thank you. 
As the Black Lives Matter protests continue, let me share this from a comment piece in the Church Times. ‘I know that some white people sometimes clench at talk of white privilege. They just don’t see themselves as privileged, and feel that they are being unfairly got at. But privilege is not only having obvious advantages: it is also not having to put up with being seen as different, whether that difference is construed as amusing or threatening. It is the constant micro-aggressions, as they are tellingly called, which wear people down. At least, today, we are a bit more aware of the problem’ (Angela Tilby, Church Times 12 June 2020). 
The collect for today: 
Most merciful redeemer, 
who gave to your bishop Richard a love of learning, 
a zeal for souls and a devotion to the poor: 
grant that, encouraged by his example, 
we may know you more clearly, 
love you more dearly, 
and follow you more nearly, 
day by day, 
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit are alive and reign, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those at work worried about social distancing. As more are encouraged to return to work and with conflicting advice on what is safe, those who have to work alongside others are particularly vulnerable. 
Tomorrow is the third Wednesday of the month, so we will be praying for our Roads to God concerns during Morning Prayer - when I will be in Church and will ring the bell at 10:30am. Although we are unable to deliver our prayer cards, we are still holding our village in prayer before God. I invite you to join your prayers with ours. If you wish prayer for yourself, or you know of anyone we should be holding in prayer, please do let me know. Your request will be confidential and I shall pray for you - or them - tomorrow. 
Monday 15th June 2020 
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you’ (Matthew 5:38-42). 
We can really struggle with these words of Jesus. They feel unrealistic - too difficult for us. Jesus is inviting us to leave our places of assurance for a remarkable style of life as he shows us how to live in God’s world. It is lifestyle capable of surprising the world. It does not fit in with normal expectations. People usually stand on their rights as a safety net but - Jesus tells us - there is another way, a better way. The invitation to discover this comes from the one who himself showed the power of the unexpected response. He calls us to model a life based on self-giving and loving relationships - whereas the world wants us to be good producers and consumers. ‘What we are in relation to God is to be reflected in what we are in relation to others’ (R.S. Good). 
‘The director of a coalition of 1300 churches in Britain has warned the Government that relaxing the laws on Sunday trading for a year, to stimulate the UK economy in the wake of coronavirus, would “not be good for the spiritual and mental health of the nation”. In response to reports at the weekend that the Government was considering easing Sunday-trading laws, which would also help to meet demand for round-the-clock goods and services, the director of Affinity, an Evangelical network of churches, agencies, and individuals, Graham Nicholls, spoke of “serious concerns”… The Church of England’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, Canon Malcolm Brown, said: “We believe that a day of rest, enjoyed in common by the majority of the population, is essential for well-balanced lives and flourishing communities: extending Sunday trading would deny this to numerous workers in retail and associated occupations’ (Church Times 12 June 2020). 
Looking ahead to when we might gather for worship again: ‘New scientific evidence from Germany has cast doubt on the claim that singing constitutes a high-risk activity in the transmission of Covid-19. This and other evidence suggests that, with adequate risk assessment and social distancing, singing could be restored in some contexts as part of church life in the UK… A professional musician, Ed Ballard, has studied.. the most commonly available scientific material online… “There’s no question that, for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to do things differently,” he said on Tuesday. “But that’s a very different proposition from singing itself occupying some unique status as a dangerous activity.”’ (Church Times 4 June 2020). 
The alternative collect for this week: 
God of truth, 
help us to keep your law of love 
and to walk in ways of wisdom, 
that we may find true life 
in Jesus Christ your Son. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those in Residential and Nursing Homes. Most care homes locally appear to have done a great job in keeping the virus at bay, and we continue to hold them and the residents in our prayers. 
It is with great sadness that I have to let you know of the death of Judy’s mother, Joan Ungar, who came to live here in the village in 2004. She passed away peacefully yesterday morning in Braemar Lodge where she has been living for the last three years. We are all very grateful for your support and prayers at this time. 
On 15th June 1215 Magna Carta (“The Great Charter of the Liberties”) was agreed between King John and a council of 25 leading barons of England. In the 17th century, Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta to challenge Charles I and the doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings”, thus raising Parliamentary rule above that of the monarchy. Magna Carta also influenced the American Constitution of 1789. The best preserved of only four surviving original copies is held in Salisbury Cathedral. Having signed Magna Carta, John then promptly ignored his obligations under the charter and civil war broke out again. Nothing much changes it seems. 
‘The gospel is all about lavishing scarce resources on the uneconomic’ (Roy Williamson). 
Sunday 14th June 2020 
‘God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). 
This is one of the most loved verses in the Bible. God’s love goes beyond anything we might deserve or expect, irrespective of whether we merit it or not. God is supremely willing to demonstrate his love, so much so that he has given Jesus, his Son for us so that all can see it. This is the proof of his amazing love for us. It is patently clear that there is no qualification in God’s love and he leaves no one out of his love. 
So too we are called to respond in love. As St John writes: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us’ (1 John 4:10-12). 
As I wrote on Monday, soon we will be able to open again for private prayer. ‘Churches in England will be able to open their doors again on Saturday for private prayer and funeral services.. The Government initially announced that places of worship would be permitted to open for private prayer from 15 June. Guidance updated on Friday, however, said that the date was 13 June… The Ministry defined individual prayer in a place of worship “as a person or household entering the venue to pray on their own and not as part of a group, led prayer or communal act. They should be socially distanced from other individuals or households.” Public worship, streamed or otherwise, is not permitted while visitors are in the building. And on Tuesday, the House of Bishops agreed that funerals could take place again inside churches from 15 June. The decision was prompted by the continued reduction in death rates linked to Covid-19 and the pastoral needs of the bereaved… Bishop Mullally said that it “recognises that the buildings themselves are important sacred spaces for people... We look forward to when it is safe for our church buildings once again to become meeting places for worship, prayer, and all they do to serve and bless their communities”’ (Church Times 12 June 2020). 
Tomorrow our PCC will be meeting (via Zoom, of course) to discuss the practicalities of how this might be arranged. Please pray that we might be led by God’s guidance, love and wisdom as we seek the right response to this. 
The collect for this week: 
O God, 
the strength of all those who put their trust in you, 
mercifully accept our prayers 
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature 
we can do no good thing without you, 
grant us the help of your grace, 
that in the keeping of your commandments 
we may please you both in will and deed; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray that we might grow through God’s Word. This is foundational to our understanding of God and our relationship with him. ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 
There is a recorded service for today and a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. Do listen out for the bell at half past ten when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. Ron Hart was due to take our service today - and I attach his notes. Thank you Ron. 
‘What God promises us for the future is great, but what we recall as already done for us is much greater. When Christ died for the wicked, where were they or what were they? Who can doubt that he will give the saints his life, since he has already given them his death? Why is human weakness slow to believe that men will one day live with God? A much more incredible thing has already happened: God died for men’ (St Augustine). 
Saturday 13th June 2020 
‘The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me’ (Psalm 16:5-7). 
We have a loving heavenly Father who keeps us, watches over us and sanctifies us. If we but allow it he will pour out his blessings upon us: ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Luke 11:9-10). If we seek God, we will find him for he is always there; if we open our hearts to him, he will enter - filling us and renewing us with his Spirit. ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!’ (Matthew 7:11). 
God does not promise that life will be easy, or without pain - but that with him it will be a ‘goodly heritage’: his love and joy and strength to bear what we must, knowing he is with us. Then, as we strive to fulfil his commandment to love, so we see that love rebound on us. ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back’ (Luke 6:37-38). 
These past few months have brought into focus the importance of our environment and our effect on it. ‘A coalition of churches and charities has launched a campaign, Climate Sunday, as part of a call for action on climate change. Starting from 6 September, churches will be encouraged to have a Sunday devoted to the theme of climate change at any time during the following 12 months. The scheme was announced last Friday, to mark World Environment Day, by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It supported charities which include CAFOD, Christian Aid, Operation Noah, and Tearfund’ (Church Times 12 June 2020). 
‘Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord’ (Jeremiah 9:23-24). 
We pray: 
Merciful God, 
you have prepared for those who love you 
such good things as pass our understanding: 
pour into our hearts such love toward you 
that we, loving you in all things and above all things, 
may obtain your promises, 
which exceed all that we can desire; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our community life, especially groups unable to meet. There has been a wonderful outpouring of community care and action. However we are all aware of the pressures the lockdown has brought on so many people, in particular the inability to gather together. 
‘The Holy Spirit does not come alone when he makes his dwelling place within us. The Father and the Son are inseparable from Him and together they bestow on the baptised their uncreated energies, their glory and their light. So real is this presence that it cannot remain undisclosed and totally hidden’ (Andrew Ryder SCJ). 
Friday 12th June 2020 
‘I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15:15-16). 
Today the Church celebrates Barnabas the Apostle. Barnabas was one of the very earliest followers of Jesus and a leader of the early church. Originally called Joseph, he was given his new name of Barnabas by those who knew him well. It means ‘son of encouragement’. His new name certainly fits what we know of his character and actions. We first hear of Barnabas in the New Testament due to his simple act of stewardship and sharing. He sold land he owned and donated the proceeds to the church to be used to support the poor. 
When Paul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, most of the Christians there wanted nothing to do with him for they had known him as a persecutor of the Church. But Barnabas, guided by God was willing to take a calculated risk on Paul. He sought Paul out, spoke with him, and having weighed him up, vouched for him. Later, Paul and Barnabas travelled far and wide, sharing the good news of God’s love. On one journey they took Mark with them. Part way, Mark turned back. When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out again, Barnabas suggested taking Mark along again. Paul was against it, saying that Mark was not dependable. Barnabas, though, wanted to give Mark a second chance - and so he and Mark went off on one journey, while Paul took Silas and went on another. 
Apparently Mark responded well to the trust given him by Barnabas, the “son of encouragement,” since we find that Paul recognises the change in Mark and later speaks of him as a valuable assistant. Barnabas was asked to help in the growth of a new congregation in Antioch. He didn’t arrive thinking he would impose his view on them. Instead we read, ‘he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion’ (Acts 11:23). Barnabas called Paul over to help in this work at Antioch and there both he and Paul grew in their faith and ministry. And the Church grew too: a great many people became Christians - indeed it was here at Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called ‘Christians’. Born in Cyprus, Barnabas also died there in AD 61 when he was martyred for his faith. He stayed faithful and willing to give everything right to the end. 
The collect for today: 
Bountiful God, giver of all gifts, 
who poured your Spirit upon your servant Barnabas 
and gave him grace to encourage others: 
help us, by his example, 
to be generous in our judgements 
and unselfish in our service; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those who are ill and their families. This is never an easy time, but it has been made much more difficult by the restrictions of the lockdown, especially where they have been unable to see one another. 
Today we remember another two people who have encouraged many others by their example and writing. On 12th June 1942 Anne Frank received a diary as a present for her 13th birthday. Also, on 12th June 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting to overthrow the government. He served 27 years in jail, initially on Robben Island. 
‘No situation is without hope for those who accept God’s judgements and look for his mercy’ (Leo Stephens-Hodge). 
Thursday 11th June 2020 
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (John 6:51). 
Today (Thursday after Trinity Sunday) is the Day of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion - also known as Corpus Christi. This is a difficult one for us to celebrate at the moment - as we haven’t been able to gather for communion since March. We have missed worshipping together for three of the four great festivals of the Christian year - occasions when communion would have been at the heart of our worship. 
As I was reflecting on this, I returned to the guidance issued by the Church of England on Spiritual Communion shortly before Easter. This was when we realised the lockdown was likely to be in place for a while, and that we would be unable to celebrate Communion for some time: 
‘The term ‘Spiritual Communion’ has been used historically to describe the means of grace by which a person, prevented for some serious reason from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ… The Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves. Making a Spiritual Communion is particularly fitting for those who cannot receive the sacrament at the great feasts of the Church, and it fulfils the duty of receiving Holy Communion ‘regularly, and especially at the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun or Pentecost’ (Canon B 15). The Church of which we are members is not defined by the walls of a building but by the Body of Christ of which we are members. In making our communion spiritually, we are joining with Christians everywhere to be nourished by the one who tells us, ‘I am the Bread of Life’.’ (https://www.churchofengland.org/
The collect for today: 
Lord Jesus Christ, 
we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament 
you have given us the memorial of your passion: 
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries 
of your body and blood 
that we may know within ourselves 
and show forth in our lives 
the fruits of your redemption; 
for you are alive and reign with the Father 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
‘We will never fully understand the meaning of the sacramental signs of bread and wine when they do not make us realize that the whole of nature is a sacrament pointing to a reality far beyond itself. The presence of Christ in the Eucharist becomes a “special problem” only when we have lost our sense of His presence in all that is, grows, lives, and dies. What happens during a Sunday celebration can only be a real celebration when it reminds us in the fullest sense of what continually happens every day in the world which surrounds us. Bread is more than bread; wine is more than wine: it is God with us - not as an isolated event once a week but as the concentration of a mystery about which all of nature speaks day and night’ (Henri J.M. Nouwen). 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all key workers. Of late we have begun to realise the many, often previously un-regarded members of the workforce, who are necessary for our society to function efficiently - or even at all. We give thanks for all their dedication and hard work, and ask God’s blessing upon them. 
On 11th June 1509 Henry VIII married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It was the refusal of Pope Clement VII to annul this marriage that triggered the break between Henry and Rome and precipitated the English Reformation. This led to the Church of England and then the Anglican Communion becoming a distinct expression of what it is to be Church. It is now the third largest Christian denomination in the world. At its best, we affirm the Anglican Church as both Catholic and Reformed - providing a bridge between Catholicism and Protestantism. 
Wednesday 10th June 2020 
'I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:7-11). 
From beginning to end Psalm 16 testifies to a life that finds its ultimate rest and purpose in God’s protective presence. It speaks against the notion that security and satisfaction come from material wealth or human accomplishments. Rather the Lord will ‘show me the path of life’. Indeed, it insists all that is good and all that is needed are found in the presence of God alone, the one whom we can claim as refuge. We too know that all that is worthwhile is to be found in God. ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal’ (Matthew 6:20). Only in him do we find all that is of true lasting value. ‘Truly I tell you.. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’ (Matthew 24:34-35). 
‘First in the global environmental crisis, and now in the events surrounding the spread of Covid-19, there is an important, if obvious message: what happens in one corner of the world affects people in another. There are challenges facing the whole of humanity, which we best address when we work together. Humanity is interconnected. It is easy to say this in theory. In reality, it is not always easy to open our hearts to people from other countries and cultures, let alone to our immediate neighbours. How can we become people who have room in their hearts for the whole world? Many religious figures have talked about the spiritual unity of humanity - this notwithstanding the obvious injustices and conflicts in the world. The idea, originating in the Jewish scriptures, that people are made in God’s image is an example of this. In most religious traditions, people are invited to pray about their personal needs; but they are also called to bring before God all of humanity - indeed, the whole created order. This seems particularly relevant when the world looks so fragile’ (Philip Boobbyer, Church Times 29 May 2020). 
Yesterday I conducted a funeral in the churchyard for Pearl Dorrington, a longstanding resident of our village. Surprisingly this is the first funeral I have taken since the lockdown began, though it was not connected to the pandemic. It went well and we were fortunate with the weather (rain was forecast). Even so it felt very strange - both because this was the first public service I have led in nearly three months, and in the simple act of putting on my robes, also for the first time since then. I was glad that it was cooler than it has been of late. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Almighty and eternal God, 
you have revealed yourself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 
and live and reign in the perfect unity of love: 
hold us firm in this faith, 
that we may know you in all your ways 
and evermore rejoice in your eternal glory, 
who are three Persons yet one God, 
now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for the Trafalgar School at Downton, for those students in school and those distance learning. We remember especially those for whom this should be a significant year in terms of exams and moving on. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
‘There is a mystical encounter with the divine that can only be experienced but not explained. You can make statements about God, but the only way of verifying them is by encounter’ (T.A. Smail). 
Tuesday 9th June 2020 
'The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Isaiah 61:1-2). 
As Christians we also are anointed. John tells us ‘you have been anointed by the Holy One’ (1 John 2:20). In the New Testament sense, such an anointing has the idea of being filled with, and blessed by, the Holy Spirit. This is something that is the common property of all Christians, in order that we might fulfil our calling to live as followers of Jesus. Just as Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, so too we are to bring the good news and God’s love to those in need - proclaiming the Lord’s favour. 
Today the Church remembers Columba (c. 521-597), abbot of Iona and missionary. Columba came of a noble Irish family and after being trained in Irish monasteries by St Finnian and others, himself founded several churches and monasteries in his country. About 563AD, impelled by missionary zeal, Columba left his home and established himself with twelve companions on the island of Iona. There he lived for thirty-four years evangelizing the mainland and establishing monasteries in the neighbouring islands. Although only in priest's orders, he was the chief ecclesiastical authority of the whole of this district. He succeeded in converting Brude, king of the Picts, and in 574AD the new king of the Scots of Dal Riada came to Iona to receive his consecration at Columba's hands. 
I remember many years ago seeing a play about Columba (Columba: A Play with Music). In it Columba confronts King Brude with the accusation that there is ‘a slavegirl at your court. She is the daughter of a King and she is treated cruelly'. When Brude protests he knows of no such girl, Columba tells him ‘This girl was ransomed by her King’s Son. He died for her freedom.. I am talking about a daughter of the High King of Heaven’. I don’t know if this is based on an accredited story, but it illustrates that we are all children of God - of the High King of Heaven. As such each one - however lowly in worldly terms - should be treated with respect and dignity. This is, of course, an issue very much in the news today. 
‘All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ - if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him’ (Romans 8:14-17). In calling ourselves Christian, we identify ourselves as God’s own people, his beloved children. ‘Different men have different names, derived from their ancestors or their own pursuits and deeds. Our great concern, our great name, was to be Christians and be called Christians’ (Gregory Nazianzen). 
The collect for today: 
Almighty God, 
who filled the heart of Columba 
with the joy of the Holy Spirit 
and with deep love for those in his care: 
may your pilgrim people follow him, 
strong in faith, sustained by hope, 
and one in the love that binds us to you; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all who have lost their jobs or are unable to find work. It has been suggested that the UK’s unemployment rate may well exceed 30% as a result of the pandemic. This is not just a statistic; this is countless ordinary people whose individual lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic. 
‘If we love, then we must express such love in specific acts and deeds. If we walk the pathway of love, then it will be costly in all sorts of ways. If we are to be a community of love then we must be a vulnerable people, open to ridicule, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. But God so loved the world that he gave... this generosity of God must be our inspiration as we share in that commitment to caring for the poor, the vulnerable the marginalised and the powerless’ (Bishop Roy Williamson). 
Monday 8th June 2020 
'I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth… The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore’ (Psalm 121:1-2,8). 
This is a fitting psalm to follow on from our reflection yesterday on God who cares for us and holds us safe, while sending us out. This is our God who has called us to be his own and sends us out into his world to proclaim his word and works. Many readers of Psalm 121 have connected it with life’s journey - or at least with life’s journeys. When our world turns dark or our journey turns rugged, where do we turn for help? What is our source for the confidence we need to face the headwinds of life? This psalm encourages us in such times. It reminds us where our help comes from and infuses us with confidence: ‘My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’. 
As we look out into our world, so often the images we see are those of discord and division, of fear and greed. Yet knowing that God is at work, we should ask for the grace to see signs of his kingdom bursting in and breaking through around us. As Jesus tells us, ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 20:21). There are many indications of God’s goodness in the world - indeed there are examples all around us as communities pull together at this time - but they seldom make the news. 
It is good to see that the government has responded to the concerns of the Church, and it appears that places of worship will be able to open for private prayer from next week. However please do be patient as this is not as straightforward as it may sound. It will require some preparation and organising to ensure we can do this safely and within guidelines. At first probably, we will only be able open the Church for a few set hours during the week when someone can be available to welcome those who wish to come in. I will keep you informed. 
‘The Bishops have issued new guidance on how to conduct weddings, funerals, and baptisms safely when churches reopen and the Government eases its restrictions. The draft guidelines were released by the House of Bishops Covid-19 recovery group on Friday, to allow clerics to prepare for when occasional services and individual prayer can resume in church buildings. It is thought that such services will precede ordinary church worship. For all three types of service, the documents state, clergy should keep a safe distance from others, including during planning meetings and pastoral visits to families in their homes. They must observe strict personal hygiene, and avoid the use and exchange of items such as hymn or prayer books. Congregations will need to observe strict social distancing and avoid physical contact. For infant baptisms, the priest is advised not to take the child from its parents at any point. For weddings, it says, the priest does not have to touch the rings to bless them. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, the guidance also advises against singing’ (Church Times 5 June 2020). 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Holy God, 
faithful and unchanging: 
enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth, 
and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love, 
that we may truly worship you, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all those who care for loved ones at home. This is the beginning of Carers Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring. This year many more people have taken on additional caring responsibilities for their relatives and friends who are disabled, ill or older and who need support. 
For those who receive these Reflections by email, I am aware that sometimes - for reasons known only to the gremlins of the internet - they fail to get through to some of you. If you do not receive one, please do let me know as I am not planning to stop them just yet. I send them out and they disappear off into the ether. Modern technology is a wonderful thing, but at times I suspect we all feel towards it like Basil Fawlty and his car - as he gives it a good thrashing! All the Reflections are available here on our Church website. 
Sunday 7th June 2020 - Trinity Sunday 
‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.’ (Isaiah 40:28). 
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday - proclaiming the greatness of God as Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ‘Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure’ (Psalm 147:5). God as Trinity is at the heart of our faith and understanding of him. ‘You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11). We affirm this in many of our prayers which conclude with: ‘through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever’. 
In our Bible passage Isaiah describes the God whom both his works and word proclaim - reproving the people of God for their unbelief and distrust. We know from the history of the church; from the experience of faithful people; from our own knowledge and observation; from the Scriptures and the prophets that our God is a great and wonderful God. He is always with us, taking care of his church. We are guided by his hand and there is no searching of his understanding - it is infinite, it reaches to all persons and things, and therefore he cannot be at a loss to provide for his people; nor can our needs be unknown to him. 
As Paul writes to the Church in Rome ‘O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen’ (Romans 11:33-36). This is our God: God whom we know, relate to and serve in his Church. Here is God - the Holy Trinity - who has called us to be his own and sends us out into his world to proclaim his word and works. 
Bishop Nicholas tells us: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Nicholls among others made the case to government last Friday for churches to open for private prayer earlier than the date currently being advised by government, the 4th July. Despite Cardinal Nichols’ excellent intervention in the media last weekend, my feeling is that our church buildings will remain closed other than as presently allowed until at least the 4th July.’ 
The collect for today: 
Almighty and everlasting God, 
you have given us your servants grace, 
by the confession of a true faith, 
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity 
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity: 
keep us steadfast in this faith, 
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Team Rector and family - thank you for your prayers, they are a great support. Please pray also for the other members of our Clergy Team, David and Veronica and their families - together with our retired clergy, especially Ron who lives here in Downton with his wife Creddy. Ron was due to take our early service today - and I attach his notes. 
There is a service for today from the church. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. Do listen out for the bell at half past ten when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. 
This is a day in the history of Downton. On 7th June 1832 the Reform Act came into effect that abolished ‘Rotten Boroughs’ - and so deprived Downton of its two MPs, which the borough had sent since Edward I summoned his first parliament in 1295. 
‘I am a man of hope, not for human reasons nor from any natural optimism, but because I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church and in the World, even when His name remains unheard’ (Leon Joseph Suenens). 
Saturday 6th June 2020 
‘I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths’ (2 Timothy 4:1-4). 
Paul is writing this very intense and personal letter to his protégé Timothy (his “beloved son”), from his second imprisonment in Rome. He is concerned that all too often we would rather hear what we want to hear. Instead, as he has previously written to the Roman Church, he urges us: ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good’ (Romans 12:9). 
We have become increasingly aware in recent years of how much the truth is perverted or even openly denied in public life. Politicians and leaders reject facts as ‘fake news’ and lie unashamedly - from being economical with the truth through to deliberate and blatant falsehood. Of course, sometimes the truth can be difficult to cope with or inconvenient or challenging to our worldview - and we can struggle with that. We are reminded of the line in the 1992 film A Few Good Men: ‘You can't handle the truth!’. Maybe we prefer the words of Michael Flanders: ‘The purpose of Satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth - and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again’. 
In the end it comes down to whether we look for evidence to inform our understanding - or simply to support our already existing views. If we are honest, probably we all do the latter at times, but our calling in Christ is always to strive for the former. God is doing something amazing in us. Left to ourselves, we would rather do it our way, but God is changing our hearts in wonderful ways, giving us a desire for him and his truth. 
The National Geographic magazine reports that ancient DNA offers clues to the physical origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls: ‘It is one of the world’s most daunting jigsaw puzzles: 25,000 pieces of ancient parchment comprising the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Researchers have spent decades trying to laboriously piece together the 2,000-year-old fragments, most of which were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s in 11 caves near a site called Qumran on the shore of the Dead Sea. Now a team of Israeli, Swedish, and American researchers has applied advanced genetic testing to the material, a parchment made from animal skins… They also hint that Judeans of the period were less concerned with the precise wording of ancient religious texts than later Jews and Christians. But what excites scholars the most is the prospect of using ancient DNA to match the bewildering bits and pieces, some of which contain only a few letters. “There are many scrolls fragments that we don’t know how to connect, and if we connect wrong pieces together it can change dramatically the interpretation of any scroll,” said geneticist Oded Rechavi of Tel Aviv University, who led the effort.’ 
We pray: 
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, 
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: 
increase and multiply upon us your mercy; 
that with you as our ruler and guide 
we may so pass through things temporal 
that we lose not our hold on things eternal; 
grant this, heavenly Father, 
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all visitors to our Churches - pausing for a moment outside or joining us through our websites. We hope it will not be long before we can open our buildings again for private prayer and small services. 
Bishop Nicholas writes: ‘On Trinity Sunday we will affirm our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is God’s ordinary time, a gift of relationship in diversity and a strength in our extraordinary times as we bind ourselves to the triune God’. 
Friday 5th June 2020 
‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves’ (Luke 10:2-3). 
Today the Church remembers Saint Boniface (c. 675-754). An English missionary and reformer, he is often called the apostle of Germany for his role in bringing the faith to that country. Born near Crediton, his real name was Wynfrith, but he became known as Boniface (“good deeds”). In his letters and in the writings of his contemporaries, he appears as a man of purpose and dedication, an innovator with a powerful though wilful personality. At thirty, he was ordained and set out to preach in Friesland, from where he was soon expelled because of war between its heathen king and Charles Martel of France. 
Boniface went into Hesse and Bavaria, having secured the support of the Pope and of Charles Martel for his work there. According to legend he was the creator of the very first Christmas tree. In Hesse, in the presence of a large crowd of pagans, he cut down the Sacred Oak of Geismar, a tree of immense age and girth and sacred to the god Thor. It is said that after only a few blows of his axe, the tree tottered and crashed to the ground, breaking into four pieces and revealing itself to be rotted away within. As he did this he called to the pagans to see the power of his God over theirs. Then he either planted a fir tree in its place or one spontaneously grew. 
This was the beginning of a highly successful missionary effort, and the planting of a vigorous Christian church in Germany, where Boniface was eventually consecrated bishop. He asked the Christian Saxons of England to support his work among their kinsmen on the continent, and they responded with money, books, supplies, and above all, with a steady supply of monks to assist him in teaching and preaching. Boniface never forgot his initial failure in Friesland, and in old age he resigned his bishopric and returned to work there. He preached among them with considerable success. On 5th June 754, the eve of Pentecost, as he was preparing a group of Frisians for confirmation they were attacked and killed by heathen warriors. 
‘A Savanta ComRes opinion poll.. suggested that the public backed the early reopening of churches and chapels, provided they could maintain social distancing. Forty-six per cent of the adults polled supported reopening earlier than 4 July: a tentative date mentioned at the start of May. This figure rose to 66 per cent among respondents who attended regularly. The four most important purposes for reopened churches and chapels were listed in the survey responses: providing a place where those who had died as a result of coronavirus could be remembered; providing space for quiet reflection and private prayer; holding occasions such as wedding, funerals, and baptisms; and providing community services’ (Church Times 2 June 2020). 
The collect for today: 
God our redeemer, 
who called your servant Boniface 
to preach the gospel among the German people 
and to build up your Church in holiness: 
grant that we may preserve in our hearts 
that faith which he taught with his words and sealed with his blood, 
and profess it in lives dedicated to your Son 
Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Churches Together in Downton, as we remember that we all belong to God’s kingdom - and that is what matters. 
We can say with Paul: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). 
Thursday 4th June 2020 
He asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:28-31). 
What the scribe is asking here is not which commandment is first of many, but rather which commandment defines the core of Torah law - stands at its centre, summarizes it. Is there one law that is the key to all the laws? A number of prophets and rabbis had tried to summarize the law: “What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). “What you hate for yourself, do not to your neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary” (Hillel). “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Akiba). Jesus says: the first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (v.29). The Jews refer to these words as the “Shema” which means, “to hear” and comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The Shema is regularly recited in synagogue worship and daily prayers. In reciting the Shema, Jesus goes to the Torah - to the core of Jewish faith and practice, using it to introduce the commandment to love God. The Shema is not itself a commandment, but instead establishes the foundation for the commandment to love God. 
“In an open letter sent on Monday to MPs whose constituencies lie in his diocese, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, writes: “I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places [church buildings]... At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace… We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.” 
In a series of tweets after Mr Jenrick’s briefing on Sunday, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested: “I think we should be arguing (a) that it is too soon to open other buildings; or (b) that our churches should be allowed to open alongside them. To suggest that our churches should remain closed while other ‘non-essential’ shops and buildings open is to condone secularism.” The benefits of prayer were “not generally of such direct economic benefit”, but that did not mean that they didn’t matter, he observed. “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?” (Church Times 2 June 2020). 
Reflecting on the news from America this week, Archbishop John Sentamu said ‘Martin Luther King said violence causes as many problems as it solves … darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’ (John Sentamu, Today, BBC Radio 4). We must allow God to open our eyes and see his living presence in all people - those like us and those who are different. ‘As we take the time to see, as we take time to welcome a child, or a stranger, or one another, we begin to learn what it means to welcome God. And as we welcome God, we begin to see differently, not distracted by rivalry or fear but able to see, to love and to act’ (Reflections for Daily Prayer, Wednesday 3 June). 
The alternative collect for Pentecost: 
Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, 
ignite in us your holy fire; 
strengthen your children with the gift of faith, 
revive your Church with the breath of love, 
and renew the face of the earth, 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Church School - both those children now in school and those who are still distance learning - that they may continue to grow in understanding and experience. Also we give thanks for the commitment, dedication and professionalism of the staff, and for all who support and work with them - and bear them in our prayers. 
For those unable to access our magazine through the website, there are now a few printed copies available (free) in the Co-op, Chemist and Woodfalls Post Office. Please let anyone know that you think may want one. 
On 4th June 1783 Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier launched an un-crewed hot-air balloon, the first public demonstration of the discovery that hot air in a large lightweight bag rises. Hot air, of course, is never in short supply. 
Wednesday 3rd June 2020 
‘I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him’ (2 Timothy 1:12). 
We have confidence in Jesus who dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. He is our Saviour, our Redeemer - the one to whom we have committed our lives and eternity. We think of what God has done for us, of all he has entrusted to us - and we entrust ourselves to him. ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives’ (Job 19:25); ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1). Secure in him we can pray (as below) ‘open our lips by your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory’. 
At this time in the Church’s year - following Pentecost - we focus on the first disciples and the early days of the Church. ‘We have different understandings of what it is to be human, and our whole way of thinking about human and divine experience is going to be totally different from the first century. We need to get our mind round that when we imagine the Early Church… The New Testament as a canonical collection emerged during the first three to four centuries; so the Early Church is the context in which this is happening. Fundamental questions were asked in this period, and answers formulated, and we live in the light of these.’ (Judith Lieu, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, Cambridge - Church Times 3 August 2018). 
More on when our churches can open: ‘The Government is continuing to review when it might be safe to ease restrictions on places of worship, the Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick.. said. “I can understand how people of faith would consider it strange that shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants, many other settings might be open in the weeks and months ahead, but not somewhere as important as a place of worship”.. The first logical step was probably to open for individual or private prayer, which would then be “a springboard, hopefully, conditional on the rate of infection, obviously, to small weddings and then, in time, to services.. We certainly don’t want to see what we’ve seen in some countries, where large gatherings in places of worship - particularly because of the demographic in some faiths, because of singing hymns, and so on, which can lead to, sort of, exhalation - can create particular problems.” 
‘The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, is a member of the (places-of-worship) task force. She said, after the Prime Minister’s announcement, that larger groups could gather outside from the start of this week, and that joy at being able to meet with friends and family once more was being tempered by the vital caution contained in the latest scientific advice. There was no doubt that a second wave of the virus could be devastating for our way of life. “Yet with shops reopening and some people appearing to be returning to a degree of normality, it is understandable that questions are being raised as to how and where the lockdown is being relaxed,” she said’ (Church Times 2 June 2020). 
The prayer after communion for Pentecost: 
Faithful God, 
who fulfilled the promises of Easter 
by sending us your Holy Spirit 
and opening to every race and nation 
the way of life eternal: 
open our lips by your Spirit, 
that every tongue may tell of your glory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for the bereaved, remembering especially those who cannot have their loved ones with them in their last hours, and those relatives and friends unable to attend a funeral. The inability to say a proper goodbye or to share together in mourning and remembrance is an added pressure at an already difficult time. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
We have some welcome and much-needed rain this morning, refreshing the ground and the atmosphere. ‘I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit’ (Leviticus 26:4). 
Tuesday 2nd June 2020 
Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Mark 12:17). 
One of the main reasons the Romans had such a problem with Christians was that they refused to worship the Emperor. They had a higher allegiance - to God. ‘In the mid-second-century account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, officials begged Polycarp to say ‘Caesar is Lord’, and to offer incense, to save his life. He refused. Later, in the arena, he was asked by the governor to swear an oath by the ‘luck of Caesar’. He refused’ (BBC History). ‘In a letter to Emperor Trajan, Governor Pliny the Younger described his having executed a number of Christians on the grounds of their “obstinacy,” though he could prove no other crime they might have committed. Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor of the second century who persecuted Christians to promote the Roman gods admired their willingness to suffer death but disdained them for having developed this nature out of “obstinacy” rather than reason’ (owlcation.com). 
Some would say that we face a similar, although more subtle and less overt problem today. Do we accept the norms and mores of contemporary culture, or adhere steadfastly to the Christian ethic: putting the demands and obligations of our faith before all else? This is seldom as clear-cut as we might wish. It is all too easy to make small compromises that can then lead to bigger ones. It is just as well that we have a loving, forgiving God! ‘Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:14-15). 
We must always put God first and make his service our priority. In the Bible we have an example of this in the Book of Acts when Peter and John are before the Jewish Council: Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:19-20). Would we be so bold? 
When will we be allowed to open our churches for prayer and worship again? The government is facing mounting calls that we can reopen as lockdown restrictions ease. Churches, which have been closed for more than two months, are due to open under step three of the government’s recovery plan on 4th July at the earliest - along with hairdressers, cinemas and pubs! Cardinal Vincent Nichols said in his Pentecost homily “This week’s announcements by the prime minister that some indoor sales premises can open tomorrow and that most shops can open on 15 June, questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed. We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?” 
The collect during this week: 
O Lord, from whom all good things come: 
grant to us your humble servants, 
that by your holy inspiration 
we may think those things that are good, 
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same; 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Churchwarden and Deputy Churchwardens. They work hard for our Church and we are most grateful for their ministry for and with us. 
The Met Office tells us that the UK has recorded the sunniest spring since records began in 1929. Also ‘Spring 2020 has been very dry, and May in parts of England has been exceptionally dry. As it stands up to May 27, for England, May 2020 is the driest May on record since 1896, with less than 10mm rain falling across England on average’ (Official blog of the Met Office news team). All this fine weather has certainly made the past couple of months much easier to bear, but what does it say about the climate? 
It was 67 years ago today, on 2nd June 1953, that the 27-year-old Elizabeth II was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. These past nearly 70 years have been a time of great change and we are grateful for her faithful service and steadying presence. May God keep her and bless her. 
Monday 1st June 2020 
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1:46-47). 
Today the Church celebrates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after Gabriel has told her that she is to bear God’s son. This commemoration is usually celebrated on 31st May but has been transferred to today as Pentecost took precedence. 
Why does Mary do it - traveling to a town probably some 80 to 100 miles away? Well, if we think about what has just happened: she’s been told that she is pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She has also learned that her cousin Elizabeth, believed to be too old to conceive, is expecting as well. Mary must have been bursting to talk to the one woman who could personally understand her excitement, her wonder, and probably her nervousness, too. 
One thing seems to unite these two women in the account. The first to speak, Elizabeth, is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries out in a loud voice, uttering words which we could only consider prophetic: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). The other, Mary, responds to this word of prophecy with her own - saying in her song: “All generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). 
Her song, which we call the Magnificat, sees the work of God in history with the eyes of faith. It is radical in its outlook and has inspired great numbers through the centuries. One theme is displacing the proud, mighty, and wealthy from their high estate, and in their place exalting the humble, the hungry, and poor. It sounds much like Jesus’ own mission, “to preach good news to the poor... to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2). The other theme is God’s faithfulness to those who trust him - or, in Old Testament language, “to those who fear him.” God’s salvation is an outworking of remembering and acting on his own promise to Abraham nearly two thousand years before - the faithful God showing mercy and salvation to those who trust him. 
It is a clearly a good visit. Elizabeth, who is about six months pregnant, tells Mary “as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (Luke 1:44). Mary stays for three months, presumably until John the Baptist is born. Upon returning home, Mary would be subject to cruel taunts and slander - here she is safe. Upon returning home, Mary would have to stand on her own spiritual feet, lonely, misunderstood and rejected. Here she is loved and accepted. We all need the opportunity to step back at times - whether that be a holiday, retreat or just a day out. We should remember those unable to do so, especially at this time. 
The collect for today: 
Mighty God, 
by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary 
and greeted her as the mother of the Lord: 
look with favour on your lowly servants 
that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy name 
and rejoice to acclaim her Son our Saviour, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for peace in the world. In many parts of the world, the pandemic appears to have encouraged competing nationalist agendas. We pray that Christ, the Prince of Peace, may guide and encourage us to ‘seek peace, and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14). 
The June issue of Downton Parish News is now available free to view or download on our website. However not everyone has access to the internet, and we are very conscious that some previous subscribers and others may be missing their printed copy of the magazine. So if you know of a friend or neighbour who might like to read the magazine but cannot access it for themselves, perhaps you could consider printing a copy - or part of one - for them so that they can continue to keep in touch. They and we would be most grateful. 
Sunday 31st May 2020 - Pentecost 
‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’ (Acts 2:1-4). 
Today is the Feast of Pentecost - or Whitsun as traditionally it was called here. This probably an abbreviation of White Sunday from the white garments worn by catechumens, or alternatively from the Old English ‘wyt’ because the Holy Spirit brought ‘wyt and wysdome ynto all Cristes dyscyples’ (John Mirk c.1382-1414). In the Bible Pentecost is the Jewish Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. The word is Greek, meaning fifty, and reflects the fifty days since Passover - or for us, Easter. 
Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the church. The day when Jesus fulfils his promise of sending to his followers the Spirit of God to be with them and in them. This coming of God as the Holy Spirit is marked by the sounds and signs of God’s power - a power which enables them to carry out the task of taking the good news to the ends of the earth. God’s Spirit still empowers us today: to share and to show the love of God and bring people into his kingdom. 
When God makes a promise we can always be sure that he keeps it. ‘There comes a moment towards the end of an advert when the voiceover races so quickly through the script that one can barely keep up with what is being said. It’s a script that often ends with the ominous words ‘terms and conditions apply’. The promise of happiness has been made, but freedom is then briskly taken away’ (Reflections for Daily Prayer, Friday 29 May). God is not like that. He has promised; he will deliver; his Spirit has come! 
I remind you about Together in Prayer today. The diocese is inviting us all to join in prayer during the day. “Come, Holy Spirit” is among the best prayers we can pray - and we are asked not simply to pray that friends and family, colleagues and neighbours might encounter the love of God in Christ, but that they would experience that love in action. 
The collect for today: 
God, who as at this time 
taught the hearts of your faithful people 
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: 
grant us by the same Spirit 
to have a right judgement in all things 
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; 
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for volunteers helping others in their community. The numbers of people helping out and engaging with their neighbours, often for the first time, has been a real silver lining to the events of these past months. 
There is a service for today from the church. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. For some reason the sound drops and is rather quiet in the middle, so you may need to turn your volume up at that point. Do listen out for the bell at half past ten when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. 
‘He is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Mind of Christ, the Spirit of Adoption, of Truth, of Liberty, the Creator-Spirit, who by baptism and by resurrection creates anew’ (Gregory Nazianzen). 
Saturday 30th May 2020 
‘This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’ (John 21:24-25). 
We have here what may well have been the original end to the Gospel. They identify the writer with the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was an eyewitness to the events described and the words spoken. We are indebted to him for writing his gospel, for through it he is still testifying to those things of which he wrote. Like him we too are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus. ‘We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life’ (1 John 5:20). 
These verses also underscore our continuing need to learn and grow as the Church in our understanding of the faith. There is so much more about Jesus and his message for us yet to discover. ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16:13). 
All this envisages something far beyond that sought by those who want merely to find their way into the Kingdom of God. The Spirit works in and through us so that we might seek out and extend God’s Kingdom in the hearts and lives of all who might respond - an ever-expanding panorama of God’s renewing grace flowing out into the world. To use an analogy: ‘Gather a throng of people and pour them into a ferry... we may divide all the alert passengers into two classes - those who are interested in crossing the river and those who are merely interested in getting across’ (Max Eastman). 
A prayer for growth: 
God of mission, 
who alone brings growth to your Church: 
send your Holy Spirit 
to give vision to our planning, 
wisdom to our actions, 
and power to our witness. 
Help our church to grow in numbers, 
in spiritual commitment to you, 
and in service to our local community; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
I have been asked by the family of Pauline Turner to tell you that she has passed away at Ashley Grange. She was a long-standing member of our Church and will be much missed. The past few years have been difficult and she is now at peace. The plan is to have a service of Thanksgiving for her life on 5th December. Please bear her and the family (her husband Michael, and children Liz, Abby and Catherine) in your prayers. Donations to the Alzheimer’s Society and Stroke Association can be made via Chris White, funeral directors if people wish to do so. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those in Residential and Nursing Homes. We thank God for the dedication and hard work of all the staff and ask God’s blessing and protection on them and all the residents. 
On 30th May 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen. Having led the French army in a momentous victory over England at Orléans during the Hundred Years' War, she was charged with heresy and witchcraft. Last year we visited the Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen which has a very good - though perhaps overlong - multimedia presentation on the events around her trial. It also makes clear that the fault for what happened to her lies squarely with Les Anglais! 
‘God is alive and abroad in his world. At times his footsteps may appear faint or indistinct, but they are there. Those who have eyes to see him and the curiosity, if not the faith, to follow them, will catch glimpses of his glory and learn to stand in awe at the presence of God in the ordinary’ (Roy Williamson). 
Friday 29th May 2020 
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15). 
Jesus tells Peter to feed and guide his flock. Here Jesus is preparing Peter for his leadership of the nascent Church. Jesus repeats his instruction three times, prefacing it each time with the same question. It is a very important question. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Serving Jesus begins with love for him. As John was to write, ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments’ (1 John 5:1-2). Love of God and loving service is at the very heart and foundation of our faith. It is also an essential part of leadership. 
From the Diocese of Salisbury’s Grapevine: ‘Together in Prayer. As part of Thy Kingdom Come.. we are inviting you to pray together with the rest of the Diocese. We want everyone to be Together in Prayer on Sunday 31st of May, Pentecost Sunday… This global wave of prayer that takes place every year in May is focussing this year on prayer and care in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic… We want to create a virtual Diocese-wide event and invite people to join us in prayer throughout the day. “Come, Holy Spirit” is among the best prayers we can pray - and… we will be encouraging everyone not simply to pray that friends and family, colleagues and neighbours might encounter the love of God in Christ, but that they would experience that love in action.’ 
And what about our worshipping together? ‘Online worship (is) expected to continue during slow reopening of churches. The prospect of having two separate tiers of worshippers - one present, the other remote but connected online - when places of worship reopen is exercising minds in the Church of England and elsewhere. Other faiths face a similar scenario. 
It was voiced by the Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, a former epidemiologist, who said..: “Even when we do get back into our buildings, not everybody is going to be able to be there. This is going to demand that we offer worship both in our buildings and online. “It would be dreadful if there was a sense that those in church were the proper stuff and everyone at home was demoted to being the passive recipients. The big question for us is: how are we going to be one body when we are running a two-track system? And how do people at home contribute into the worshipping life of churches just as much as those who are in the building?”… 
The building constraints arise from the continued need for social distancing and strict hygiene measures. The touching of common objects has to be reduced and potential points of transmission need to be identified. “So much of epidemiology comes down to door handles,” Dr Beasley said; he has worked with Ebola-virus infection control in the Congo. “It’s very tempting to think there’ll be a one-size-fits-all approach to this, and I don’t think that can be the case. So we need to equip everybody with the right understanding so that they can use their common sense to make all the reasonable adjustments to make churches as safe as they can be, while recognising that we can never eliminate all risk.”’ (Church Times 22 May 2020). 
We pray: 
Risen Christ, 
by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples: 
help your Church to obey your command 
and draw the nations to the fire of your love, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we. pray for those at University and College. This is a decisive time in their lives, but many will be studying remotely with only online contact with their course and fellow students. This can bring added pressure at an already anxious time. 
‘Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not’ (St Augustine of Hippo). 
Thursday 28th May 2020 
‘I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:7-9,11). 
The psalmist assures us that God is not only our refuge and Lord, he is also our counsellor. More than that, the psalmist is assured that God will preserve me; I will not be shaken; I will not be moved; I will be kept, guarded and preserved. So he can rejoice because for God’s people there is happiness and a glory from our life commitment to God that we would not have known otherwise. As Jesus says ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). 
I see that a vicar had the chance to ask a question at the daily coronavirus update on Tuesday. Reverend Martin Poole, from Brighton, asked: “Will the Government review all penalty fines imposed on families travelling for childcare purposes during lockdown?” Leaving aside the prevailing thread of national debate, the pandemic lockdown has raised important ethical questions for us all - especially those of us who believe in a God who cares deeply for every one of his children. What is the right balance between what I need - or desire - and the needs and desires of others? Of course, we can say that the simple answer is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, but what does this mean in practice? There is also the tricky question of where needs end and desires begin - on which advertisers play so effectively. 
Can we learn from the experience of others? ‘As Churches around the country look ahead to resuming public services from 4 July, places of worship across the Continent are now open again, subject to safety measures. In Italy, where shops and restaurants reopened on 10 May, public liturgies were allowed from Monday, after bitter exchanges between the country’s Roman Catholic bishops and Giuseppe Conte’s government; holy communion is now being administered by priests wearing face-masks and latex gloves’ (Church Times 22 May 2020). 
‘Ultimately the evidence for the credibility of the gospel in the eyes of the world must be a quality of life which the world cannot find elsewhere’ (Towards the Conversion of England). 
Bird song seems much more in evidence this year. Is there more - or is it simply that we are more aware of it? Yesterday I met a couple of men in Gravel Close doing a bird survey. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a proper opportunity to ask them any details. It would be good to know for whom they were conducting their survey and what the results are. 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Risen, ascended Lord, 
as we rejoice at your triumph, 
fill your Church on earth with power and compassion, 
that all who are estranged by sin 
may find forgiveness and know your peace, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sales of food. On the whole those early supply issues seem to have settled down. However, we have been reminded how vital they are and how fragile they can be. 
Looking at the wider picture: Amnesty International was founded on May 28th 1961. Amnesty seeks to publicize violations by governments and other entities of rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), especially freedom of speech and of conscience and the right against torture. Indications in the news are that this may become a much more pressing issue as the pandemic dies down. 
‘May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you’ (1 Thessalonians 3:12). 
Wednesday 27th May 2020 
‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth’ (John 17:17-19). 
Here we have part of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples on the night before his Passion - at the end of his Upper Room discourse. It is the prayer of Jesus for all of us that are his: that we may be made holy, one with him. We ‘do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world’ (John 17:14). We are set apart for the truth and sent out to proclaim that truth in the world. As someone has said: ‘Like Jesus, and with Jesus, we should live in the opposite direction of the world’. 
Of course, that would be quite impossible if it were simply down to us. We would be unable to do it. We need God to empower this - to be at work in us and through us if we are to live a Christ-like life in the world. As in the prayer below, we ask God to ‘confirm us in this mission, and help us to live the good news we proclaim’. This brings us back to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we will celebrate at Pentecost on Sunday. With him in our lives all things become possible: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). 
So we commit our lives to God: ‘Since God has shown to me a ray of his goodness, I cannot doubt him on the ground that someone has made up some new logical puzzles about him. It is too late in the day to tell me that God does not exist, the God with whom I have so long conversed, and whom I have seen active in several living men of real sanctity, not to mention the canonized saints. But there must be much in our teaching of Christianity and our living of it which is at fault, if good men react in total disbelief of it. So let us open our ears to what they say, and take the implied criticism to heart’ (Austin Farrer). 
With the Government’s decision to open schools where possible to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from June 1st, our schools are working to prepare for this. I know that this will - and has already - involved our headteachers and staff in a great deal of hard work, and we must continue to bear them in our prayers. In a new departure for me, I have been asked to record a worship for the children - which will be a challenge. I know some of my colleagues have been doing this already. Well, this time has certainly been one of learning for all of us as we tackle the challenges of technology and virtual communications. 
Meanwhile: ‘Older people appear to be handling the psychological pressures of the pandemic better than those who are younger. Interim results from the survey launched a fortnight ago by the University of York St John and the Church Times suggest that those aged 50 or older report that they feel less exhausted, calmer, less stressed, and closer to God and the Church than do the people aged under 50 who have completed the questionnaire… One interesting find is that, against expectations, extraverts are coping better with the lockdown than introverts’ (Church Times 22 May 2020). 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Eternal God, giver of love and power, 
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world 
to preach the gospel of his kingdom: 
confirm us in this mission, 
and help us to live the good news we proclaim; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those alone and depressed. As we see above, some people have been managing this time of lockdown better than others. However, not everyone has access to the various electronic and support systems that have been so important to us recently and may have an increased feeling of dislocation. Also, of course, there are those who were already on their own and finding it difficult. 
Tuesday 26th May 2020 
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches’ (Matthew 13:31-32). 
Today the Church remembers Augustine, an early Christian missionary to England and the first Archbishop of Canterbury - the mustard seed, if you like, of the Anglo-Saxon Church. Augustine was sent here by Pope Gregory the Great - following an observation that Gregory supposedly made on being told that some fair-haired boys on sale as slaves in Rome were Angles: “Non Angli, sed angeli” (“They are not Angles, but angels”). This anecdote, which naturally has a prominent place in our English tradition, first appears in Bede's Ecclesiastical History. 
Augustine spent most of his life as a churchman in Italy. He was a monk, probably at the church of St Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome. It was in the late AD 590s that he was sent with a group of about 40 missionaries to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent. ‘The missionaries arrived in Kent in 597 and were greeted by King Æthelberht. Æthelberht’s wife, Bertha, came from the region near Paris and she was already a Christian. In time, Æthelberht and his court were also converted to Christianity. Augustine and his associates may have influenced the creation of Æthelberht’s law-code, especially as related to its protection for churches. Augustine also constructed or adapted buildings to be used as churches, including one on the site of present-day current Canterbury Cathedral… Augustine of Canterbury should not be confused with the earlier, North African bishop, St Augustine of Hippo (died 430), who wrote the Confessions, the City of God and other hugely influential theological works’ (British Library). I must admit that it was many years before I realised that there are two St Augustines - which was very confusing! 
We have had a glorious Bank Holiday and been very blessed with the weather these past couple of months. It has helped, of course, that we live in a beautiful part of the country - for which we thank God. ‘Christian belief in God the creator does not deduce that because the world of nature is beautiful, it must have had an originator. Belief in creation is belief in purpose - a purpose for man in the world now, set in the context of God’s eternity. Man can know of this purpose only when he is enlightened by the Spirit of God, and in worship catches a glimpse of the majesty of the creator’ (J.W. Rogerson). 
The collect for today: 
Almighty God, 
whose servant Augustine was sent as the apostle of the English people: 
grant that as he laboured in the Spirit to preach Christ’s gospel in this land, 
so all who hear the good news 
may strive to make your truth known in all the world; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our community life - especially groups that are unable to meet. We have discovered all sorts of ways to get together online, but it is not the same and many things we are unable to do. 
Let me share with you the prayer from Wilton with Netherhampton and Fugglestone in our Diocesan Cycle of Prayer: 
Please pray for all those due to marry this summer and whose plans have now been thrown into confusion and for those who minister to them and to the bereaved in difficult circumstances. Also for all Church-members attempting to keep a sense of fellowship and those able to assist vulnerable members of the community. 
On this day in 1521, the Edict of Worms banned the writings of Martin Luther - a German cleric whose efforts to change the church led to the Reformation - and declared him an outlaw and a heretic who was to be captured. 
Tomorrow is Wednesday and I will be in Church at 10:30am for a time of prayer. I will ring the bell and ask that you join your prayers with mine. I will attach a simple order of service to the morning reflection. 
Monday 25th May 2020 
‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 
Today the Church remembers the Venerable Bede, monk of Jarrow, scholar and historian. For anyone interested in the early history of our islands, the Venerable Bede is a name to conjure with. His history, though far from impartial, is a most important significant source. ‘St Bede - also known as the Venerable Bede - is widely regarded as the greatest of all the Anglo-Saxon scholars. He wrote around 40 books mainly dealing with theology and history. Bede was probably born in Monkton, Durham. Nothing is known of his family background. At the age of seven he was entrusted to the care of Benedict Biscop, who in 674 AD had founded the monastery of St Peter at Wearmouth. In 682 AD, Bede moved to the monastery at Jarrow, where he spent the rest of his life. By the age of 19 he had become a deacon and was ordained as priest at 30. His scholarship covered a huge range of subjects, including commentaries on the bible, observations of nature, music and poetry. His most famous work, which is a key source for the understanding of early British history and the arrival of Christianity, is 'Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum' or 'The Ecclesiastical History of the English People' which was completed in 731 AD. It is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used. Bede died in his cell at the monastery in May 735 AD’ (BBC History). 
Many argue that religion can’t be true because it cannot be proved. Signs and wonders are not produced to order, nor are there clear and unambiguous philosophical or scientific proofs - ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom’. Of course there are wonders in creation every day, but they are so common that they are called ‘Nature’. While expecting philosophical or scientific proof simply avoids the fact that there is so much more to creation than just philosophy or science. Perhaps it’s like trying to look for 21st Century historical method in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. We proclaim the reality of God present in and with us - ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ - and God is not constrained by our limited understanding. 
Bishop Nicholas has written again to the clergy: ‘Jumping out of the tree of normality was comparatively easy; climbing back into it is a much more complex process. The government is finding it hard to provide the clarity of messaging that was possible when it was a simple ‘Stay at home’. Nevertheless, the dangers of Covid-19, to the over-70s and those with an underlying health condition in particular, are still very apparent. Although the number of deaths has been reducing, the dangers are still considerable… At the meeting of faith groups with the government… it was reported that the government want it to be possible for weddings to take place again, but it will not be before the 1st June and the numbers attending will be very limited… The government also want places of worship to be open for private prayer, but not before the 4th July. There is pressure for these arrangements to be brought forward and it is possible that the government’s position will be revised.’ 
The collect for today: 
God our maker, 
whose Son Jesus Christ gave to your servant Bede 
grace to drink in with joy 
the word that leads us to know you and to love you: 
in your goodness 
grant that we also may come at length to you, 
the source of all wisdom, 
and stand before your face; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all who minister to the sick: not only the medical professionals but all care workers, volunteers and family members. 
It’s strange: today really does not feel like a Bank Holiday. When one day is much like another, lived under the realities of lockdown, for most of us it’s just another day. 
Sunday 24th May 2020 
‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:6-7). 
Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter - or the Sunday after Ascension Day. We continue to reflect on Jesus’ ascension and what that means for us who seek to walk in his ways. He has empowered us, his Church, with the Spirit to continue his work of proclaiming and building the kingdom. Also he leaves us with a great hope that in time we too will ascend to be with him eternally. 
Being a fourth Sunday, we ask God’s blessing on our Roads to God programme. This month we are praying for all those who live or work in our village. In June we will be bringing before God: Barford Lane, Standlynch, West Wick, Clearbury View, Moot Close and Eastman Close. As always, if anyone would like specific prayer they can let me know. It will remain confidential. 
‘There can be few of us who try to pray regularly who have not found our pattern of prayer disturbed by the lockdown. This is partly owing to other changes in our daily rhythms, and partly by the burden of distress and confusion which we are all carrying at the moment. Our lives have been suspended, and, in spite of the cautious changes announced.. there is no “normal” in sight. Meanwhile, we worry - for ourselves, for ageing parents, for school-age children, for the furloughed and those unemployed, for the future.. We should not be too hard on ourselves if we find personal prayer difficult at this time. It is challenging enough to have our health threatened by a mindless microphysical entity. But the virus has also cast a shadow into our souls, creeping into our dreams and our daylight reveries, perhaps causing us to question the love of God. If prayer was once a safe stronghold, it may often now be a battleground. And yet, while my regular pattern sometimes seems meaningless, I find that the urge to pray comes suddenly in the dead of night, or in encountering the multiple, and often unknown, names on intercession lists, or when I watch the news’ (Angela Tilby, Church Times 15 May 2020). 
On 24 May 1738, John Wesley had an experience that changed everything. He described the event in his journal: “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death” (https://www.christianitytoday.com/)
There is a service for today from the church. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. You may hear the wind in the background as it blows around the building and bangs at the windows - moving like the Spirit through the Church. Do listen out for the bell at half past ten when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. 
We also have another contribution from Ron Hart, who was due to take our service in St Laurence today. Thank you Ron. 
The collect for this week: 
O God the king of glory 
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ 
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: 
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, 
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us 
and exalt us to the place 
where our Saviour Christ is gone before, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Lay Pastoral Assistants (LPAs) who play an important role in the pastoral ministry of our Church, especially helping to keep us in touch. 
Also: in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we are asked to pray for all members of the Anglican Communion around the world, for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, and all primates and bishops. We pray for wisdom at this difficult time as they seek to lead the Church in godly ways. 
Saturday 23rd May 2020 
‘Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos.. an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately’ (Acts 18:24-26). 
I like this story about Apollos because he is willing to listen and to learn. He is not the sort who would ‘take a position and staunchly never budge’ or refuse to admit he might have gaps in what he knows. Too often Church history - and indeed that of politics too - has been filled who those who, once they believe they understand what is right, have steadfastly closed their ears to all differing views. Worse still, all too many have sought to impose their version of truth on all around them. 
One such was Savonarola, whom I remember learning about in history at school. ‘Girolamo Savonarola, Dominican friar and puritan fanatic, became moral dictator of the city of Florence when the Medici were temporarily driven out in 1494. Sent to Florence originally a dozen years before, he made a reputation for austerity and learning, and became prior of the convent of St Mark (where his rooms can still be seen). A visionary, prophet and formidably effective hellfire preacher, obsessed with human wickedness and convinced that the wrath of God was about to fall upon the earth, he detested practically every form of pleasure and relaxation… he was executed on 23 May 1498’ (History Today, 5 May 1998). 
One of the big dangers for Church goers is that our thinking, our understanding of God, can become too rigid, ossified like some spiritual hardening of the arteries. God always has something new for us to discover and learn. On the other hand, we have to avoid going to the other extreme of being so open-minded that we lose any sense of rootedness in God. We need to hang on to Jesus’ promise ‘‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32). We must be open to what God is telling us, while measuring that against what he has already revealed to his Church. 
‘The lust for certainty may be a sin.. God is constantly upsetting our certainties.. It is this constant breaking down of the idols.. that enables God to break through’ (Archbishop John Habgood). 
I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, especially the lines ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ and ‘for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory’. When we find it hard to understand what is going on, or why, we need to remind ourselves that this is God’s world and he holds all things together. We may be unable see the bigger picture, but God is here at work within and around us. ‘A few years ago, Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked where God was on 11 September 2001. “Where he always is, always in the centre of things, always in the acts of love and generosity that people give to one another in times of crisis,” said Lord Williams, who had been in New York on the day of the terrorist attacks. “People expect when they ask that question of where was God — they expect sometimes an answer in terms of a God who steps in and solves it all, stops it happening, or mops it up. But the way God works seems to be in the heart of it all, and through people.”’ (Church Times 18 May 2020). 
God is always there, whether we are aware of him or not; he is always at work in our world even if we do not see him - and he wants us to be a part of that. More than that, with the Ascension we know ‘we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 21:1). 
We pray: 
God be in my head, and in my understanding; 
God be in my eyes, and in my looking; 
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking; 
God be in my heart, and in my thinking; 
God be at mine end, and at my departing. Amen. 
(Book of Hours, 1514) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those who produce our Parish magazine. They have been doing a great job, working hard to keep us all in touch. 
Friday 22nd May 2020 
‘Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises’ (Psalm 47:1-2,5-6). 
Yesterday we watched with the disciples as they saw the Lord leave them and ascend into heaven. This is a time of bereavement for them, as they lose Jesus for the second time in six weeks. Afterwards, as they returned to Jerusalem, I wonder what was going on in their minds. Were they perhaps thinking of all those questions they hadn’t asked over the past forty days? If only we had said this.. or perhaps we should have asked that.. 
This is something most of us can empathise with, for who has not wished that we had spent a bit more time with a parent or a grandparent - seeking their guidance and wisdom, or asking about their life or memories or family history while they were still with us. Yet we are told, the disciples ‘returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Luke 24:52-53). Not only that, but soon they got down to the practical business of finding another apostle to replace Judas - trusting that God still had a role for them. 
‘Who has not sometimes thought: If I could see Jesus Christ as he was on this earth; if I could talk with him, if I could have certainty from those divine lips, and read assurance in those steady eyes, then I should lay hold of God. So we think, but not so he teaches. He is in the Supper Room, desiring in that last opportunity to enlighten his disciples’ minds and to assure their faith. But beyond a point he cannot. He cannot teach them as fully, he says, as the Holy Ghost will teach them hereafter. It is not so much the word of Jesus knocking at the mind’s door that secures his admittance; it is the God within drawing the bolts with invisible fingers. When your pride, he says, when your self-sufficiency has been shattered by the experience of my death, the Spirit will secure the admittance of all the truth you need to know. And so it is: after half an hour’s repentance before the cross of Christ, the Spirit shows us what years of study cannot discover, and what Christ present in the flesh might not avail to make us see’ (Austin Farrer). 
How has life under the lockdown been for you so far? How are you doing, and are you bearing up? After some two months, I suspect that for most of us it has been both good and bad - a mixture of positives and negatives, of ups and downs. In a national church survey ‘More than one third of respondents say that they are more exhausted, anxious, stressed, fatigued, or frustrated since the pandemic began. Yet more than 40 per cent feel more creative, more prayerful, more thankful, or closer to God. More than half feel more neighbourly, but more than 40 per cent feel further from church or further from others’ (Church Times 15 May 2020). It has been a strange and disruptive time for us all. When pressures seem to mount up, there is a line from the hymn ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ that I find helpful: ‘Low at his feet lay your burden of carefulness’. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
God our Father, 
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life: 
may we thirst for you, 
the spring of life and source of goodness, 
through him who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for the bereaved, remembering especially those who cannot be with their loved ones in their last hours, or are unable to attend their funeral. The inability to say a proper goodbye or to gather together in mourning and remembrance is an added pressure at an already difficult time. 
On this day in AD 337, Constantine the Great became the first Roman emperor to be baptized in the Christian church - while on his deathbed. Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. He made it the official religion of the Empire and ‘He not only initiated the evolution of the empire into a Christian state but also provided the impulse for a distinctively Christian culture that prepared the way for the growth of Byzantine and Western medieval culture’ (Encyclopædia Britannica). 
Thursday 21st May 2020 
‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (Acts 1:8-9). 
Today is the Feast of the Ascension. It is a lovely morning and would have been ideal for our outside service. The Ascension is one of the four great festivals of the Church’s year - as we celebrate Jesus’ return into heaven. There he reigns now as our exalted Lord and King. ‘God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ (Philippians 2:9-10). As we reflected on Sunday, he says ‘I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (John 16:7). 
As Jesus gathers his disciples together that day, they ask him if he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel at this time. He answers that it is not for them to understand the times and seasons the Father has ordained for such events. He then tells them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit is given them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The message is clear: Jesus has left his followers with a task. ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20). We are to continue to speak and act for him. 
After this he is lifted up and a cloud takes him out of their sight. ‘While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven’ (Luke 24:51). As his followers are gazing upwards, two men in robes ask them why they are doing this and then predict that Jesus will return. ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’ (The Nicene Creed). 
‘I will not leave you comfortless’ Jesus says (John 14:18). ‘The presence that matters is not mine (or ours), but God’s. Poets from the Psalmists onwards have regretted that this presence too often looks like absence. It is, however, all we have; and we might reflect that the root of our longing lies not in God’s having gone, but in God’s having been here… The author of Luke’s Gospel wrote for readers who found it difficult to forgive Jesus, having come, for leaving. The narrative of consolation which I find sustaining just now is the Good Samaritan. He does everything that can be done, but he must depart. So he entrusts the patient to the care of another stranger, one who - essentially - is present’ (Church Times 15 May 2020). 
The collect for today: 
Grant, we pray, almighty God, 
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ 
to have ascended into the heavens, 
so we in heart and mind may also ascend 
and with him continually dwell; 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we remember Christ as our King: 
‘ Look back: see Christ dying for you 
Look upward: see Christ praying for you 
Look inward: see Christ living in you 
Look forward: see Christ coming for you!’ 
(Anglican Cycle of Prayer 1989). 
There a simple service of reflection for today. 
‘Christians should take courage both from the prospect of glory and from the assistance already given them by the Holy Spirit’ (C.K. Barrett). 
Wednesday 20th May 2020 
‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:13-14). 
Jesus makes it clear that the Church is to continue growing in faith and understanding - always learning more of and from God. Scripture is central to our faith. However it is not so much the last word as the foundation on which our understanding is built. That is why we read from the Bible whenever we gather together for worship. In those wonderful words of our Bible Sunday collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life. 
Jesus tells us that there is more, though. For as well as scripture, we have the Holy Spirit who ‘will guide you into all the truth’. We need the Spirit if we are to understand scripture; we need the Spirit to help us to delve deeper into scripture; and we need the Spirit to build on scripture and teach us new things of God. Thus the Church of England has always said that for a fully rounded faith there are three sources of authority, each rising from the other: scripture, tradition, and reason. So over the years amongst other things, the Holy Spirit has led God’s people to abolish slavery, to recognise the equal ministry of women and men, and to pursue respect for the environment. What new things is he trying to tell us today as we experience these strange times? 
‘God always gives us strength for one leg of the journey at a time. At each stage we are promised that he will continue to provide additional and greater strength as needed on our way into the future. The powers we receive each time somehow enable us to do the very things we had been incapable of doing so far. God does not distribute the full ration at once. He apportions it from one day to the next’ (A sermon by Karl Barth). 
As I take my daily walks, often walking alongside or across the A338, I have been aware of how much busier the roads are becoming. At the same time though, perhaps understandably, the buses are all but empty. So I wonder what our priorities will be as we begin to emerge from all this. 
Had you been hoping to visit the Chelsea Flower Show this year? You may like to know that ‘May 20 1913 saw the first show at Chelsea, known as the Great Spring Show. The first shows were three-day events held within a single marquee’ (The history of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show). 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Risen Christ, 
by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples: 
help your Church to obey your command 
and draw the nations to the fire of your love, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all Church groups that are unable to meet and practice. Fellowship plays an important part in our Christian life, whether it is for study, worship, ministry, outreach - or simply socialising. We pray that as God leads us into new ways, we may be able to resume this shortly. 
I shall be using a simple order for Morning Prayer in Church at 10:30am today, together with our Roads to God prayers. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. 
Also: tomorrow is Ascension Day when usually we would have held an early service outside in the churchyard. At 7:30am I will be in Church and will ring the bell - so long as I remember to get up early! There will be a service on the website. 
‘From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens’ Psalm 113:3-4). 
Tuesday 19th May 2020 
‘Keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ (Matthew 24:42,44). 
Today the Church remembers St Dunstan (AD 909-988) who was Archbishop of Canterbury in Anglo-Saxon England. Dunstan was born in Baltonborough, Somerset the son of a West Saxon noble and received his early education from the Irish monks who had settled at Glastonbury. He actively supported the founding and restoration of monasteries in England and was influential with several kings of England. In addition he was a skilled artisan, proficient as a goldsmith and metal-worker particularly making church bells and organs. 
During the Viking invasions of the ninth century, monasteries had been favourite targets of the invaders, and by Dunstan's time English monasticism had been all but wiped out. Dunstan played the leading role in its restoration. Also he laboured with no small success to establish peace amongst the different peoples settled in England, pursuing a far-sighted policy of converting the Danes and drawing them into the life of the English church and nation. He delighted in teaching and encouraged the clergy to acquire knowledge that they might be the teachers of the nation. Dunstan's coronation ceremony for King Edgar in AD 673 still forms the basis for royal coronations today. 
I have been reflecting on the difference between leading worship from The Vicarage and from the Church. We know both intellectually and theologically that worship and prayer is just as valid wherever it happens. We don’t need to go somewhere special in order to encounter God. Indeed there is something profoundly symbolic about worshipping in our homes - where we engage in our ‘everyday’ lives. And yet it has to be said that to worship in the church building touches a deep need in us. There is an emotional difference. This is a holy place (holy means something set aside exclusively). Just as Jesus withdrew to pray, so too we need to move aside from our everyday spaces as we set time apart to spend with God. I have been very privileged to be allowed to do this in Church this past week - and pray for the time when it is open to all once again. 
‘“Justice and dignity” need to be at the centre of society’s attempts at rebuilding after the pandemic, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in an interview on Channel 4... He said that the pain and cost must be borne by those with the broadest shoulders, not with another ten years of austerity. He also spoke of being moved by the time that he has spent as a volunteer chaplain visiting coronavirus patients at St Thomas’ Hospital, in Lambeth’ (Church Times 15 May 2020). 
The collect for today: 
Almighty God, 
who raised up Dunstan to be a true shepherd of the flock, 
a restorer of monastic life 
and a faithful counsellor to those in authority: 
give to all pastors the same gifts of your Holy Spirit 
that they may be true servants of Christ and of all his people; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all medical staff: those in hospitals, GP surgeries, Care Homes, research laboratories and wherever they may be. 
Tomorrow I will be in Church at 10:30am for a time of prayer. I will ring the bell and ask that you join your prayers with mine. I will attach a simple order of service to the morning reflection. As it is the third Wednesday of the month, we are also praying for our Roads to God concerns. Although we are unable to deliver our prayer cards, we are still holding our village in prayer before God. I invite you to join your prayers with ours. If you wish prayer for yourself, or know of anyone we should be holding in prayer, please do let me know. Your request will be confidential and I shall pray for you - or them - tomorrow. 
Monday 18th May 2020 
‘We remained in this city (Philippi) for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there’ (Acts 16:12-13). 
Paul and his companions have travelled to Macedonia following his vision, and on the sabbath they seek out fellow believers so that they might worship together. In much the same way we might go the local church on a Sunday. This is a big part of what we have been missing over the past couple of months, being together on a Sunday morning for worship. Unlike Paul we can at least gather remotely and that is a great blessing - but it is not the same. We look forward to when we all can come together in church again - but realise that it will not be soon. 
This is the season of Rogation, so called from the Latin ‘Rogare’ (to ask). Historically, the Rogation Days (the three days before Ascension Day) were a period of fasting and abstinence, asking for God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest. It follows Easter, the season of resurrection and so renewal and resurrection are underlying themes. Less of us today directly derive our livelihood from the production of food, yet it is good to be reminded of our dependence upon those who do and our responsibility for the environment - especially at this time. 
In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include “beating the bounds”, developed from the old Roman rites of “Robigalia” (“robigo”: Latin for “rust” or “mould”), when prayers would be offered to the deity for crops to be spared from mildew. In the days before Ordnance Survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure that they never forgot the boundaries. The Victorians made it more civilized by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession. 
These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons: 
A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field. 
Justice in the preservation of bounds. 
Charity in loving, walking and neighbourly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any. 
Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used. 
Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remain. In addition contemporary concerns include: 
The enjoyment by all of, and access to, the countryside and the conservation of species not directly offering economic profit to the owner or occupier of the land where they flourish. 
An ecological insight into the inter-relatedness of the created order. 
Reflection on our relationship to the natural order. What does it mean to “have dominion” under God? Are the words ‘stewards’ or ‘managers’ appropriate to describe this role? 
The relief of the poor. Rogation Sunday often precedes Christian Aid week - as George Herbert reminds us there is always room for charity. 
A prayer for Rogationtide: 
Remember, Lord, your mercy and loving-kindness towards us. 
Bless this good earth, and make it fruitful. 
Bless our labour, and give us all things needed for our daily lives. 
Bless the homes of our parish and all who live within them. 
Bless our common life and our care for our neighbour. 
Hear us, good Lord. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our school governors who not only provide important strategic oversight for our schools but also support and encouragement to the whole school community - which is particularly needed at this time. 
‘When we take the fruits of our labor in our hands and stretch our arms to God in the deep belief that He hears us and accepts our gifts, then we know that all of our life is given, given to celebrate’ (Henri J.M. Nouwen). 
Sunday 17th May 2020 
‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you’ (John 14:16-17). 
This is the Sixth Sunday of Easter which means that in just a fortnight’s time we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Here in Jesus’ words to his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, we have a prediction of this as he prepares to leave them. He promises that ‘I will not leave you comfortless’ (John 14:18) and ‘I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (John 16:7). 
Our collect today reminds us that just as it is “by his death he has recalled us to life,” so his “continual presence in us” will “raise us to eternal joy”. This is the theme of our Gospel, where Jesus promises that his ascension into glory will not leave the disciples “orphaned”. In the coming of the Spirit, they will experience the presence of both the Son and the Father - and be caught up in the flow of love and delight within the heart of God. This promise is for us as much as it is for them. 
‘The Archbishop-designate of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell.. said in a piece for The Daily Telegraph on Monday that the Church would come out of the coronavirus “even stronger.” He defended the Church of England’s policy of closing churches, saying that it was “following government guidance”, but that the Church had not been absent. He drew attention to how the Church had been running foodbanks, working with asylum-seekers, and streaming virtual services; it would emerge from the crisis with an ever stronger spirit of service to the country’ (Church Times 15 May 2020). 
Looking forward: ‘There was a guarded response this week to the news that, under government guidelines for Step Three of the phased return to normal life, churches could open for worship as early as 4 July. The document that followed the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday linked places of worship with pubs, hairdressers, hospitality providers, and leisure facilities as free to open from that date, assuming that infection rates have not risen again and provided that they can meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines. The document concedes: “Some venues which are, by design, crowded . . . may still not be able to reopen safely at this point.” On Wednesday afternoon, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, at the Downing Street briefing, went further. “I’ve been speaking to faith leaders, and will convene later this week a task force to establish when and how places of worship can open safely, for some of the practices where social distancing can take place, such as private prayer, potentially private prayer being able to be carried out earlier than July 4th.”’ (Church Times 15 May 2020). 
There is a recorded service for today. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. For the first time in nearly two months our service is from the church and we have a chance to sing a hymn together. Do listen out for the bell at 10 o’clock when I ask that you join me in a time of worship and prayer. 
Also we have another reflection for this Sunday from Ron Hart which I have attached. Thank you, Ron. 
The collect for this week: 
God our redeemer, 
you have delivered us from the power of darkness 
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: 
grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life, 
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us 
to eternal joy; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for young people, especially those worried by the cancellation of exams. There has been a lot in the papers this past week about schools going back - or possibly not. We pray for them all and their families in this time of uncertainty. 
Saturday 16th May 2020 
‘During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them’ (Acts 16:9-10). 
Most of us may not have visions like Paul. Even so, are we open to God’s promptings and direction - and willing to respond to them? This is a question both for each one of us individually and together as his church. We must constantly ask ourselves if what we are doing, or what we plan to do, is in fact guided by our own ideas or God’s instigation. We can find it too easy to follow the path of our own assumptions or ‘common sense’ when God seems to be asking something new or different of us. As Billy Graham said: ‘The first step in seeking God’s guidance is to be sure we actually want it. All too often we want God to bless our plans, instead of asking him what his plans are.’ 
The bottom line is: as the Church we are here to serve God. This returns us to St Peter’s declaration that we are ‘a royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9). What does that actually mean, though? How are we to be a priesthood? Let’s not get caught up in those theological differences and tangles with which the Church has long grappled. In essence a priesthood is about ministering and mediating God as his representatives in the community - being the channels of his grace and love; acting as his agents in and on behalf of his world. 
The truly wonderful and amazing thing about God at work in the world is that he wants to do it in and through us. He doesn’t simply tell us to stand back and admire his great and marvellous acts. He uses us as his partners and agents in his redeeming work. As St Theresa puts it: ‘“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” 
This may seem to be all but impossible, but we are not expected to do this in and of ourselves. Indeed if we try to do so we are bound to fail. God himself provides the strength and the gifts we need - and we are as much recipients of his grace as its conduits. That’s what the upcoming feast of Pentecost (31st May) is all about. For God’s grace precedes our response, and before we are ministers or even disciples we are simply human beings who experience the kindness of our Lord through others. 
We pray: 
Heavenly Father, we come to you today asking for wisdom and support. 
May everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your help. 
We ask for guidance that all of our thoughts and actions would reflect your holy will. 
We ask you to grant us the grace to love you and our neighbours more perfectly, 
and to remind us that all we do is for the pursuit of truth for your greater glory. 
We ask all these things in your name. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for politicians and their advisors. As they make decisions that affect us all to a degree that we have never experienced before, we pray for true wisdom and a willingness to put the good of all before any personal benefit or ambition. 
‘Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit’ (Jeremiah 17:7-8). 
In a week when we remembered Florence Nightingale, today is noteworthy for two other significant women of history: in 1770 Marie-Antoinette married the future King Louis XVI of France, and just a century ago in 1920 Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XV. 
Friday 15th May 2020 
‘You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15:16). 
Here we come back to Jesus’ injunction that we should bear fruit. So what are we talking about here? What is the fruit that we are called to bear? Primarily this fruit is the working out of the love of Christ in our lives for the nourishment and refreshment of others - that is to say we are to love God and others, as in Jesus’ summary of the law. As we know this is at the very heart of our Christian calling: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35). This is expanded upon in the letter to the Galatians: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things’ (Galatians 5:22-23). 
‘The tree is known by its fruit’ Jesus tells us (Matthew 12:33). ‘Similarly, those who profess to be Christ's will be recognized by their actions. For what matters is not a momentary act of professing, but being persistently motivated by faith’ (Ignatius of Antioch). So Paul can write: ‘We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God’ (Colossians 1:9-10). 
We have been given more detail on how the church is affected in the current state of the lockdown: 
‘The Government has lumped churches with pubs, cinemas, and hairdressers as premises that must stay closed at least until 4 July. A detailed document released on Monday, after the Prime Minister’s broadcast statement on Sunday night, speaks of churches as part of “Step Three” in the journey back to normal life while the coronavirus remains a threat… The document states that no change will be made to the instructions for funerals, which allow a few family members and friends to attend services in crematoria or at outdoor burials. There is, however, a hint that weddings might be allowed in three weeks’ time. The document states: “We understand the frustration couples planning a wedding must be feeling, so we have set out our intention to enable small wedding ceremonies from 1 June. As with all coronavirus restrictions on places of worship, venues and social distancing, we will look to ease them as soon as it is safe to do so.”… The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who has been leading the C of E’s response to the crisis, responded to the statement by recognising that it was still right to restrict public worship. “We note from the Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings. “We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation”’ (Church Times 11 May 2020). 
We pray: 
Almighty and everlasting God, 
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church 
is governed and sanctified: 
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, 
that in their vocation and ministry 
they may serve you in holiness and truth 
to the glory of your name; 
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those who are ill and for their families. We remember both those affected by Corvid-19 and all who are ill of other conditions. We pray for those unable to be with their loved one in hospital or elsewhere - and who must watch and wait from afar. We bring before God the worry, the fear and the love. 
Thursday 14th May 2020 
They prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:24-26). 
Today is the feast of St Matthias the Apostle. Following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples realise that all is not lost. Indeed our Lord now has a new and greater mission for them. As such they feel the need to fill the gap left by Judas Iscariot, by finding a new apostle to bring the number back up to twelve. 
Two possible candidates are produced from among the hundred and twenty members of the nascent church. The qualifications required of them are that they ‘bore us company all the while we had the Lord Jesus with us', and that they were ‘a witness to his resurrection' (Acts 1:21-22). These two candidates are Matthias and Joseph, called Barsabbas. Both are qualified to bear witness to the life of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. The decision, though, is not to be the disciples' but the Lord's - and it is made by the drawing of lots. I wonder what this says about decision making in today’s church, and what we should learn from it? 
The lot falls on Matthias, and so he joins the company of the apostles, and is with them in receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Otherwise very little is known for sure about him. Tradition has it that the first part of his ministry was spent in Judea, and that there he was arrested and tried for being a Christian. When the judge wished to give him time to consider renouncing his faith, he vehemently declared his adherence to Christ alone. ‘God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found and become an apostate' (The Golden Legend Lives of the Saints, Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa 1275). After this he was stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem. However, an alternative account holds that he preached in Cappadocia and along the coast of the Caspian Sea, suffering great hardship and ill-usage, and was finally crucified at Colchis. 
Yesterday it was a joy for me to be praying in Church again. I had a real sense of our Church community praying with me, as we shared our time together in a place hallowed by centuries of faithful worship. I lit the candle in the Votive Candle Stand and then said Morning Prayer in the sanctuary. The Church was as it always has been - and yet at the same time fresh and new in the morning light. The birds were singing outside and the sun shining through the windows. 
The collect for today: 
Almighty God, 
who in the place of the traitor Judas 
chose your faithful servant Matthias 
to be of the number of the Twelve: 
preserve your Church from false apostles 
and, by the ministry of faithful pastors and teachers, 
keep us steadfast in your truth; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray that we may grow through God’s Word. We have a God-given opportunity at the moment to spend more time with the scriptures. Let us pray that we will use it well. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105). 
In the light of the present search to find a vaccine for Covid-19, it’s worth noting that today in 1796 Edward Jenner administered the first vaccination against smallpox. 
Wednesday 13th May 2020 
‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). 
Of the many pictures of the relationship between God and his people, the vine and branch picture emphasises our complete dependence on Jesus and the need for constant connection. Together we form the one tree and possess one common life. Only in and from him can we derive the living power for bearing fruit. The branch depends on the vine even more than the sheep depends on the shepherd or the child depends on the father. Jesus is there for us, our source of life and nourishment - and here as he is about to depart from his disciples, he gives this is important word of encouragement. He would remain united to them and they to him, just as truly as branches are connected to the main vine. 
As branches of his vine, so we work with him in God’s re-creation of the world. Jesus did not come to make us better people or to give us a better life. He came so that we could become new and live a new life in close relationship with him, bearing his fruit, empowered by his Spirit! ‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). 
Yesterday I took advantage of the new permission to go for a longer ramble. The sun was shining and it was good to be out. Again I marvel at all the blessings we enjoy here. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lamentations 3:22-23). 
I followed the Avon Valley Path out of the village and then turned on up into Woodfalls, emerging by Hale Newsagents - before taking a roundabout route along the roads west of The Ridge as I headed back. I enjoy walking through the streets. It is an opportunity to meet (at a properly observed distance, of course) and talk with a number of people I’ve not seen for some time, while silently bearing the wider community in prayer. 
We are coming to the end of the spring bulbs. Spring is definitely one of the best times in our garden. Now, though, all the snowdrops and tête-à-tête are long gone; the rest of the daffodils are over; and the bluebells are finally fading. We are left simply with swathes of green leaves turning yellow across the grass as they gather the goodness back into their bulbs ready to burst forth again next year. 
We pray together: 
Eternal God, 
who longs for us to know all good things 
and to walk along a peaceful path, 
open the eyes of our hearts that we may see the way to life, 
open our ears that we may hear the truth, 
and open our lips that we may praise you, 
this day and all our days, 
in Jesus’ name. 
(United Reformed Church) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Bishop Nicholas - that God may strengthen and sustain him, and give him the wisdom he needs at this time. 
I attach a simple order for Morning Prayer that I shall be using in Church at 10 o’clock. I shall ring the bell and ask you to join me in prayer from your homes. Our prayer and praises are not restricted to Sunday worship! In the words of George Herbert ‘Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee’. 
‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long’ (Psalm 25:4-5). 
Tuesday 12th May 2020 
‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’ (John 14:27)
The immediate context for this verse is Jesus’ leave-taking of his disciples. It is natural therefore to understand these words in the tradition of the common Oriental formulas of leave-taking. In his day they said to each other when they met and parted, ‘Shalom! Shalom!’ (Peace! Peace!) - just as you might hear ‘Salaam! Salaam!’ across the Middle East today. 
What Jesus is doing, though, is to leave his disciples the gift of peace - Shalom - as a legacy. This peace is more than just a ritual parting. He repeats it with the emphatic ‘My,’ and speaks of it as an actual possession which he imparts to them. ‘Peace on earth’ is the angels’ message when they announce his birth; ‘peace to you’ is his own greeting when he returns victorious from the grave. ‘He is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14), and this peace is his farewell gift to the disciples as he sends them out. 
‘Shalom’ for Jesus refers to the aim of his work on earth: to restore the equilibrium and richness of humanity’s relationship with God. ‘Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). Nothing in the world can offer such a gift. Jesus’ shalom not only brings an end to the brokenness caused by sin, but it is the fruit of the Spirit given when he departs. Thus when Jesus meets the disciples following his resurrection and gives them the Spirit, shalom is what he brings. ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21). 
As St Paul writes: ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7). 
Today is international Nurses Day, marking the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth - in Florence. At this time when we are celebrating the work of the NHS, it is especially fitting to remember the lady who founded trained nursing as a profession for women. 
Prayer after communion for this week: 
Eternal God, 
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: 
grant us to walk in his way, 
to rejoice in his truth, 
and to share his risen life; 
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those made redundant or unable to find work. As the debate between public safety and wellbeing and restarting the economy intensifies, many people have already lost their jobs or are unable to return to their workplace. The Bank of England has warned that the British economy could shrink by 14% this year and unemployment more than double as the coronavirus causes the deepest recession in modern history. 
On a lighter note: today is also the birthday of Edward Lear, a landscape painter whose true genius is apparent in his nonsense poems. He wrote of himself: 
How pleasant to know Mr. Lear, 
Who has written such volumes of stuff. 
Some think him ill-tempered and queer, 
But a few find him pleasant enough. 
Tomorrow I will be in Church at 10 o’clock for a time of prayer. I will ring the bell and ask that you join your prayers with mine.  
Monday 11th May 2020 
‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them’ (John 14:21). 
Jesus links love and obedience. It is tempting to talk about God’s love without mentioning our duty to obey. However Jesus makes it clear that our obedience is a sign of our love. In John’s Gospel, faithfulness to Jesus’ words is a defining mark of discipleship. ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:31-32). His commandments for us to love and to believe are open-ended, in contrast to most religious laws which are very specific. It is easy to judge whether we have been faithful to the commandment prohibiting stealing, but how can we know whether we have fulfilled the demands of love or the demands of faith? In a fundamental way Jesus’ commandments require us to allow him to reshape our lives. 
The agape love that Jesus commands is not a sentimental feeling, which cannot be commanded - but loving action, which can be. ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us’ (1 John 3:23). 
Yesterday’s service was, I trust, the last one to be recorded from The Vicarage. It was especially good to have two members of our School staff reading for us on this occasion, and we are most grateful to them. This emphasises for us the close links between St Laurence Church and Downton CE Primary School. Next week we have two more of our staff lined up for the readings. Of course we do not know what the next few months will bring, but being able to record services in Church is a sign of hope. It is also an opportunity to reflect on what it has meant for us to be worshipping together in this way. 
Many of us having been reading more over these past couple of months. So this may strike a chord for you: ‘One of my greatest sources of consolation and inspiration has always has been stories. Stories offer us another world to inhabit - a world in which we can immerse ourselves, see things from a different perspective, or through another’s eyes, and, in doing so, untangle knots of anxiety or uncertainty within us. Stories - both long and short - offer us a brief respite from the present. In the company of their characters, they help us to lift our vision, offer comfort for our souls, and the strength to return to our own lives once more, renewed and refreshed. At times like this, when we can’t travel bodily to a new place, we can travel in our imagination to new places, with new people, and new worlds’ (Church Times 8 May 2020). 
Let me share with you the prayer for Stonehenge Deanery in the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer last week: 
In an ever changing landscape, that we remain centred in our journey with Christ, in prayerful obedience, and joyful service. That we may continue to engage with new ways of being church and sharing ministry. 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Risen Christ, 
your wounds declare your love for the world 
and the wonder of your risen life: 
give us compassion and courage 
to risk ourselves for those we serve, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Charities struggling to continue their work and fundraising. Nearly all of them have been badly hit, and that can make a big difference especially to the smaller ones. 
Sunday 10th May 2020 
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). 
This statement by Jesus is a promise, a word of comfort to his disciples. Jesus himself is all that they require; there is no need to panic; all is in hand. This is from of Jesus’ farewell discourse at his last supper with his disciples. It contains promises which many have found profoundly comforting in the face of the death of a loved one. However the main point of this passage is very much to do with life here and now – because Jesus is entrusting his mission to his disciples. 
We need to look beyond this verse’s association with funerals. The challenge is to understand that this text is not only about life after death but has everything to do with our calling to live as disciples in the world. Jesus is not merely the way to the Father, he is also our example for holy living. He is not merely a prophet, pointing us to the way of salvation, but he is the way of salvation itself by his obedience and sacrifice. He is not only true, but he is truth itself and a guiding light to be followed in our daily lives. He is the giver of life: not just of life eternal but the way of abundant life now. ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). 
Also in our readings today we remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr. His story can seem far removed from us who are far more likely to meet indifference or ridicule for our faith rather than outright opposition or violence. It is worth asking though: what does that say about the clarity and energy of the message we proclaim and the impact of that abundant life we are called to live? 
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. There is a recorded service for today from here in The Vicarage. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. Next Sunday, God willing, our service will be from the Church. Regrettably it will still be some time yet before we can have public services again, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. 
I have been reflecting on the impact that the pandemic has had on our life together as the Church. There is an observable pattern in Christian life of God using difficult times - wilderness times, if you like - to prepare his people for a fresh task; a new ministry. Is this such a time? Is God using this period of lockdown, of solitude and exile from our buildings, to prepare us for something new - a new focus to our ministry, a fresh vision of his will and purpose for us? Are we taking advantage of this time to draw closer to him in prayer and openness - listening to his Word and meditating on it; waiting on him; asking for insight and guidance? 
Recently I have found myself pondering some words from the hymn ‘God of grace and God of glory’ in particular the lines ‘Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour’ (Harry Emerson Fosdick). They have resonated for me as I have been contemplating what we can learn living through and from these strange times. 
The collect for this week: 
Almighty God, 
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ 
have overcome death and opened to us 
the gate of everlasting life: 
grant that, as by your grace going before us 
you put into our minds good desires, 
so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; 
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all key workers. We are all aware how important they are to us both in keeping us healthy and enabling our society to function properly - and the price many of them have and are paying to do this. 
Saturday 9th May 2020 
‘Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations’ (Psalm 100). 
We do not know who wrote Psalm 100 or when. Perhaps it was when they built the Temple again 80 years after the Babylonians destroyed it. The psalm is simply titled A Psalm of Thanksgiving, and it is the only one to bear this title. It speaks of an invitation to the whole earth to know and to worship God. “It is jubilant with confidence for the whole earth, as it contemplates the glory of that earth, when all its people are submitted to the reign of Jehovah.” (G. Campbell Morgan). 
The sixteenth century hymn writer William Kethe prepared twenty-five psalm versifications for the Anglo-Genevan Psalter of 1561, which were also adopted into the Scottish Psalter of 1565. His version of Psalm 100 remains popular to this day and is the only one that found its way into modern psalmody. It is sung to the tune Old Hundredth: 
All people that on earth do dwell, 
sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. 
Serve him with joy, his praises tell, 
come now before him and rejoice! 
We have something for which to give thanks. Following the news earlier this week from the House of Bishops, regarding how we may use our Church, Bishop Nicholas has written to all the clergy. He informs us that clergy will be able to pray in church again starting next week and we can announce this by ringing a bell. However ‘We are not yet open to a wider range of people entering our church buildings… In other parts of the world, some church buildings and places of worship have been epicentres of infection. As we prepare to open up, the regular cleaning of church buildings and hygiene arrangements will be very important. Guidance will be provided when we get to that stage’. 
So, from next week I will be going into St Laurence for prayer. In particular I shall do this on Wednesdays and Sundays at 10am, when I shall ring the bell. Do listen out and I ask you to share your prayers with mine at that time. It is a great joy for me to be able to pray in Church again and, with you all, I look forward to that day when we can fling open the doors again and invite everyone in. 
According to the Met Office ‘It was the sunniest April on record for the UK, according to a provisional analysis of the month’s climate statistics.. beating the previous record set in 2015’. I’m sure that has helped us cope with the lockdown, but I wonder what this means for the environment. 
We pray: 
Almighty God, 
who sent your Holy Spirit 
to be the life and light of your Church: 
open our hearts to the riches of your grace, 
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit 
in love and joy and peace; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Team Rector and family. Please pray also for the other members of our Clergy Team, David and Veronica and their families. 
Friday 8th May 2020 
‘Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end... now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love’ (1 Corinthians 13:8-10,13). 
Today the Church remembers Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century anchoress. It is also the anniversary of my installation here at Downton - which means I’ve been your Vicar now for 18 years! 
In addition, as we know, today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, marking the end of the war in Europe. How are we to commemorate today? We remember the sacrifice of so many; and we give thanks for the end of the violence and destruction; for peace (more or less) in Europe; for a growing understanding and openness to difference and diversity; and for the realisation that we are a community of nations that need to work together to preserve peace. As we observe the two minutes silence at 11am, we pray that we may seek true peace, reconciliation and a breaking down of barriers - recognising that all are God’s beloved children. 
So what about Dame Julian? At least four people are known to have left money in their wills for the support of an anchoress - one who lived the solitary life, though cared for by a servant - at the Church of St Julian in Cornisford at Norwich. She inhabited a cell which adjoined the parish church opposite a house of Augustinian Friars. Apart from that, almost all that is known of Julian (a name by which she has become known - her own is not recorded) comes from what she wrote about her various visions. She refers to these as revelations, and she received them on 8 May 1373. In bed and believing that she was dying, Julian experienced a series of visions whilst in a state of ecstasy. When she recovered she knew she had to write down her "Revelations of Divine Love". 
She finally compiled them into a book some twenty years later, incorporating the fruits of her meditations on the original experience - which chiefly comprised visions of the Passion and the Holy Trinity. The account of these visions is embedded in her reflections on the mysteries of the faith, on prayer - and most especially on the love of God, wherein lies the clue to all problems of existence. Julian saw a hand holding a walnut and she likens this to God and his world. She draws these conclusions: ‘God made it, God loves it, God keeps it'. Perhaps the most famous phrase from her "Revelations" is that which now hangs as a tapestry in St Paul's Cathedral: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well'. 
During her lifetime (she was still alive in 1416) many people, including Margery Kempe, came to Julian for spiritual advice. Since then her book has become widely known and many thousands have gained much help from her. She remains an inspiration for us all. 
I remember Bishop Peter’s sermon at my installation was based on those words of Dame Julian ‘All shall be well’ - and my experience overall is that it has been true. 
The collect for Dame Julian: 
Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching, 
who through your servant Julian 
revealed the wonders of your love: 
grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace, 
our wills may be so made one with yours 
that we may come to see you face to face 
and gaze on you for ever; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Parochial Church Council (PCC). The members are the trustees of our Church. ‘St Laurence’s Parochial Church Council (PCC) has the responsibility of co-operating with the Team Rector, the Revd Frank Gimson, in promoting the whole mission of the Church - pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical - in the ecclesiastical parish’ (Annual Report). 
Thursday 7th May 2020 
'I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens’ (Psalm 89:1-2). 
This is a psalm written in a time of great trouble. The lectionary selection focuses solely on the celebratory portion of the psalm - but the celebration turns into anguish and despair, as the psalmist laments a stunning defeat and pleads for God to remember his faithfulness and promises. However the presence of trouble doesn’t silence the psalmist’s praise. He sings of God’s mercies. “We have not one, but many mercies to rejoice in, and should therefore multiply the expressions of our thankfulness… We think when we are in trouble we get ease by complaining; but we do more, we get joy, by praising. Let our complaints therefore be turned into thanksgiving.” (Charles Spurgeon). We know something of how good God is, so it is fitting that others also know, and the psalmist was determined to tell them - particularly how God’s mercy was manifested in his promises. 
We have some hopeful news from the Church Times: ‘The House of Bishops decided on Tuesday that the guidance banning clergy from entering their churches may be modified by individual dioceses. On Tuesday evening, each diocesan bishop received a note advising him or her to consult within the diocese about whether it would be safe to allow clergy to return to church for private prayer and to live-stream worship. It is expected that different policies will be pursued around the country, depending on the prevalence of the coronavirus in each region. 
The guidance that churches “must” close completely was given on 23 March in response to the coronavirus outbreak (News, 24 March). It has been reviewed “on an ongoing basis”, a church spokeswoman said on Monday, as the Bishops acted “within government advice and in line with best public-health practice”. The policy has attracted continued protests, including in a letter to The Times on Monday, signed by more than 600 clergy and laity. 
The House of Bishops, meeting via Zoom on Tuesday, concluded that the trajectory of infection encouraged them to modify their guidance. The drop in confirmed Covid-19 deaths in the UK - 288 deaths were reported on Monday - seems to indicate a sustained pattern. There is still evidence of coronavirus hotspots, however, and these are expected to influence what individual bishops advise their diocesan clergy. 
There is still no question of lifting the suspension of public services any time soon, as was seen in Germany last weekend. The government ban on large gatherings is still in force. But the Government never ordered the closure of churches, and many clergy have argued that they could live-stream from within their church without putting anyone at risk’ (Church Times 5 May 2020). 
As has frequently been said over the past few weeks, during this period of lockdown one of the great boons we have - which wouldn’t have been available had it happened just ten or twenty years ago - is our range of electronic devices. From smartphones to tablets, laptops and computers we have a whole host of ways to keep in touch with one another both socially and for work – and have been using them to keep in touch, to share together, and to worship together. These devices do have their downsides though. This past week I have had my computer rebuilt, after it was getting forever slower and more frustrating to use. It is now much better but the process of restoring everything has been a challenging one. Anyway, from now on hopefully I will be ‘ahead of the curve’. 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Risen Christ, 
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep: 
teach us to hear your voice 
and to follow your command, 
that all your people may be gathered into one flock, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Peace in the World. At this time more than ever we need to work together across our world both in fighting the pandemic and seeking to minimise, or even better reverse, the conditions that have caused it. 
Wednesday 6th May 2020 
Jesus cried aloud: ‘I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12:44,46-47). 
Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. He shows us the way, a clear way so we need not stumble. He is our light revealing the path to God. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105). As he does this ‘I do not judge’. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:17). Like that image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is our constant guide and companion. ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me’ (Psalm 23:4). This brings us back those ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus: ‘‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). 
All this assures us of God’s loving purposes for us. He calls us to be his: his children, his servants and fellow workers in the world. ‘Thus says the Lord.. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ (Isaiah 43:1). 
‘New archaeological evidence from Nazareth suggests that the town in which Jesus grew up was very conservative religiously, and probably very anti-Roman. An archaeological investigation, directed by a British archaeologist, Dr Ken Dark, of the University of Reading, and funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund, indicates that Nazareth was substantially bigger than previously thought, with up to 1000 inhabitants… Dr Dark’s investigation shed light on Jesus’s home town and the influences that might have helped shape his religious outlook. The Gospels suggest that his views were not accepted in Nazareth. It is conceivable, then, that the ultra-strict character of the town pushed Jesus towards a less strict and more liberal observance of his faith’ Church Times, 1 May 2020). 
Bishop Nicholas writes: People keep saying that, when we go back, we will not be the same but it is not yet obvious how we will be. Our questions are beginning to form and we need to be working with them. At recent meetings online of Rural Deans and Lay Chairs and at.. Bishop’s Council a few people were asked to address these: 
• What aspects of our Churches’ future have been brought into the present by the current crisis? 
• Will ‘normal’ have changed? What might remain and what might default back afterwards? 
• While normal service is suspended and we are viewing things differently, what do you foresee for the Church of 2030? 
• Should we ‘seize the day’ and make any changes now to prepare ourselves for this? 
If those questions help you, please use them in your own context and see what we are learning in this strange time in which we need to go deeper and to be curious with one another in the presence of God. 
A prayer from St Teresa of Avila: 
Let nothing disturb you, 
let nothing frighten you, 
all things are passing away: 
God never changes. 
Patience obtains all things, 
whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Churchwarden and Deputy Churchwardens. They have had their term of office extended because of the lockdown. They work hard for our Church and we are most grateful for their ministry for and with us. 
For the philatelists among us, today marks the 180th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp going into circulation. Sending messages has certainly come a long way since then. 
Tuesday 5th May 2020 
‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one’ (John 10:27-30). 
Today we continue to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. As he says ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me’ (John 10:14). We belong to him; we know his voice and follow him; he protects us and keeps us safe. Our home, our support, our purpose are now in him. ‘Come to him, a living stone.. and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:4-5). We are to trust him fully as our sure foundation and only way. There may be pain in that but there is also great blessing. 
Bishop Nicholas writes: ‘In this period of exile from our church buildings it has made me think about what we are missing from them, about what they are and do for us.  Not having access is a real deprivation for us and our communities. Being unable to allow the bells to be rung to show our community’s support for key workers on Thursday evenings or to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day affects those beyond our worshipping communities.  lt is uncomfortable but it is in line with the national Church’s guidance’. 
Are you wondering how we should mark VE Day on Friday? How about the Big Picnic for Hope? ‘Besides remembering the events of VE Day, the theme of the Big Picnic for Hope will be the efforts of key workers during the coronavirus pandemic, including NHS workers, carers, those delivering groceries, and public-transport workers. Using the hashtag #feed5000 on social media, the event is also designed to raise £5000 for the Trussell Trust, which organises foodbanks. The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said:.. “It seems really appropriate to use the date to remember the experience of World War II, and to think about the humanity and care we have seen right now. The aim of the Big Picnic for Hope is to have a shared occasion when, whether sitting at home or in your garden, by sharing a meal and a conversation we can swap our stories, memories, and experiences. We hope people right across the country will be taking part, talking about what’s moved them, inspired them, made them grateful, or got them thinking new kinds of things. People from the past and people in the present spark our hope for the future. It will be good to name those people and hopes on 8 May.”.. Participants in the Big Picnic for Hope are encouraged to show others photos of food that they have made for their picnics and to discuss memories of their loved ones, using the hashtag #bigpicnicforhope. People will also be encouraged to donate online on the Just Giving page for the event’ (Church Times, 1 May 2020). 
Yesterday I had to drive into Salisbury to get my computer repaired. As I did so, I realised that I have not driven a car for several weeks - and it felt extremely odd, indeed rather unsettling. Something that has been so normal that I barely thought about it, was now strange and unusual. I was also aware of how curiously quiet the city centre is - although with long queues for the supermarkets. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Merciful Father, 
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd, 
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again: 
keep us always under his protection, 
and give us grace to follow in his steps; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Archbishop Justin Welby as he seeks to offer godly and wise advice and leadership to the Church at this time. May he know God’s strength and direction. ‘God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.’ (Psalm 62:2). 
Also today in the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer we pray for our own Forest & Avon Team: 
Pray as we seek to adjust our patterns of ministry both to the strange new circumstances and to the gifts and resources we have available - ensuring that we focus on outreach and spreading the good news within our communities. 
Morgan's Vale and Woodfalls Academy 
The New Forest CE VA Primary School at Landford Nomansland & Hamptworth 
Downton CE VA Primary School 
Monday 4th May 2020 
‘As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?’ (Psalm 42:1-2). 
God renews us, he refreshes us. He is always there, with us, guiding us, sustaining us. After six weeks of lockdown, we need to hold on to this. There are times when we can feel cut off and adrift, that we are no longer in control of our lives. ‘The Revd Hilary Ison, who has just completed a three-year study on the effects of trauma and tragedy on Christian congregations, said: “One of the key elements of trauma is being rendered helpless or powerless and not being able to fight or flee”’ (Church Times, 1 May 2020). Whatever happens, though, we know that God holds us in his loving hand. ‘Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’ (Jeremiah 29:11). As we remembered yesterday, Jesus is the Good Shepherd - and he tells us ‘to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life’ (Revelation 21:6). 
So for some good news: ‘One in 20 adults have started to pray during the lockdown, despite not praying before, a new survey published by the charity Tearfund suggests… Five per cent of respondents said that they had started to pray during the lockdown, having not prayed before. The survey also found that five per cent of respondents who said that they had watched or listened to a religious service since the lockdown began had never attended a church service before’ (Church Times, 1 May 2020). 
Also we have had a thank you from the Trussell Trust: ‘The outpouring of support food banks have seen during the current crisis has been incredible - thank you! Together, we're making a real impact. Your support has never been more vital as food banks report their busiest ever fortnight. That’s over 6,250 emergency food parcels provided to people in crisis each day, with close to 3,000 for children every single day during that fortnight! We're hugely proud that food banks are continuing to meet this need despite some of the most challenging circumstances, and this would not been possible without your support. You have helped us achieve a great deal in the last few weeks, and we're incredibly grateful that you are standing alongside us, food banks, and people in financial crisis.’ 
As we reflect on all that is happening, we are aware that the mystery of God’s much deeper agenda is rooted in God’s saving works. As we pray ‘thy kingdom come; thy will be done... For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory’. It is a challenge for us not to be too focused on ourselves so that we fail to see God’s bigger picture. ‘Sometimes it seems as if the Christian community is so busy with its projects and plans that there is neither the time nor the mood to pray’ (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out). 
This prayer was submitted to the diocesan Cycle of Prayer by St Francis Salisbury: 
Heavenly Father, 
we thank you for the breadth of worship we enjoy 
as your people meet in such different places and encounter you in different ways. 
May your Spirit rest on every time of praise, 
every space for prayer, 
every opening of your word, 
each sharing of faith in our community, 
and every act of random kindness done in the name of Jesus. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our witness to the faith. In these difficult times this is as, if not more, important as ever. 
Also this week in the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer, we are praying for our Alderbury Deanery: 
Please pray for the congregations across the deanery as we seek to "be church" in a very different way. We rejoice in the outpouring of community spirit and in the new ways that we are discovering of being the Body of Christ in these difficult and isolating times. 
And finally, for Star Wars aficionados: May the fourth be with you. 
Sunday 3rd May 2020 
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9). 
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter when we focus on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He tells us ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). There are seven of these “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. Earlier he has said ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:58) and clearly he is taking the Divine name for himself. He is the Good Shepherd. He knows each one of us by name, caring for us, watching out for us and keeping us safe - even when we doggedly go our own way, ignore him and insist on getting lost. ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’ (Psalm 23:1). 
So we have another Sunday of worship in our homes, physically apart. Not only does this mean that we are unable to gather together in our Church building, but we cannot receive communion. ‘Not receiving communion is hard to bear at this difficult time, but perhaps we are learning afresh what a sacrament is. The pandemic has questioned our understanding of the space between and around us. The pollution of air and water, our travel habits, and our disregard for other creatures have all produced conditions that have enabled the virus to take hold. Now that we are unable to be close to one another, we are all potential betrayers of one another’s well-being. Spiritually, this means that we need to recognise anew that our human freedom has limits. At the same time, we are more than ever cast on the presence of God, who is unconfined and everywhere’ (Angela Tilby, Church Times 24 April 2020). 
In recent weeks, as a society we have grown closer to understanding the impact of sickness and suffering in our lives, families and communities. We know that each person who is ill or lost to the Covid-19 virus is not a statistic but an individual person, much loved and missed by family and friends. In addition, we may well have had our own experiences of sickness and sadness other than the tragedy of the virus. As Christians, we know with assurance that Jesus brings resurrection despite our despair. It is natural to experience struggle in our human fragility through terrible affliction, and it is important to acknowledge our own grief and pain. 
We need each other’s encouragement. When we pray with others, we bring our authentic selves, the strong and fragile, faithful and lacking sides together - fixing our eyes on Jesus who is our Good Shepherd. We are used by him for the restoration of health and wholeness. Paradoxically our human weakness qualifies us to be used as channels for God’s healing. The cost of coming alongside others, even at a distance, can ‘take it out of us’. We therefore have a serious responsibility to look after our health - physically, psychologically and spiritually - and to set aside time for God’s Spirit to renew and replenish us. ‘Where the Church is, there is the Spirit; where the Spirit is, there is the Church’ (Andrew Ryder SCJ). 
The collect for this week: 
Almighty God, 
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: 
raise us, who trust in him, 
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, 
that we may seek those things which are above, 
where he reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we continue pray for our Church School: for children distance learning that they may continue to grow in understanding and experience; for the commitment, dedication and professionalism of the staff; and for all who support and work with them them. 
We have a service for today. There is also service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. 
Saturday 2nd May 2020 
‘May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light’ (Colossians 1:11-12). 
Today the Church remembers Athanasius, a fourth century bishop of Alexandria. Athanasius was a champion of Christian orthodoxy and had plenty of enemies. Indeed, he was exiled five times by four Roman emperors, spending 17 of the 45 years he served as bishop in exile. The cause of all this was his struggle against Arianism which was popular among a number of influential people at the time. Arius argued that the Father alone was truly God and that the Son was the first and greatest creature made by the Father. The Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was intended to settle the matter, dismissing the idea that the Son was a creature, and stating that the Son was ‘begotten, not made, of one being with the Father’ (giving us the Nicene Creed). In the end, Athanasius’ theological enemies were "exiled" from the church's teaching, and it is his writings that shaped the future of orthodox church teaching. 
When I was at Theological College - a while ago now - we were joined by an Egyptian lecturer who made a big impact on us all. Amongst many other things, he ensured that we all knew about Athanasius - and how his name should be pronounced. Our Church History lecturer then complained: it used to be that when I mentioned Athanasius students would look blank. Now when I say Athanasius, they all reply Ath-an-ar-sius! 
In the Book of Common Prayer we have the Creed of St Athanasius, known here as the Quicunque Vult, which was supposed to be said at Morning Prayer at various times. It’s quite long and if you would like to read it, you can find it at: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/creed-s-athanasius 
As we know, today should have been the Cuckoo Fair. This has long been a most important day for the village. For us it is an opportunity to meet a great number of people and raise the profile of the Church. It has also meant a very long and extremely busy day, starting early. Also it has been for us, as for so many charities in the village, by far our biggest fund raiser of the year. Without St Laurence’s Larder today and the Church Fete at the end of June there is going to be a big hole in our finances which will be very difficult to fill. 
That said, as always we know that we are in God’s hands and he will provide what is required for what he is asking us to do. ‘The power of God is capable of finding hope where hope no longer exists, and a way where the way is impossible’ (Gregory of Nyssa). 
This week marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the new cathedral in Salisbury. Bishop Nicholas tells us ‘This Sunday‘s Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10am will mark the 800th anniversary. It has been beautifully prepared by our colleagues at the cathedral, so do listen either live or when you can’. 
This is an extract from a letter by the bishop to all the clergy, and I will share more from it during the coming week. 
The collect for today: 
Ever-living God, 
whose servant Athanasius testified to the mystery of the Word made flesh for our salvation: 
help us, with all your saints, 
to contend for the truth 
and to grow into the likeness of your Son, 
Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those affected by the cancellation of the Cuckoo Fair and all the consequences of that. 
Friday 1st May 2020 
‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it’ (John 14:12-14). 
Today is traditionally a celebration of the return of spring and is marked by dancing around a Maypole, as we would have seen tomorrow if the Cuckoo Fair had been going ahead (the earliest records of maypole celebrations date to the 14th century). It is also the feast of Saint Philip and Saint James. 
These two apostles, Philip and James the son of Alphaeus, share a day in the calendar possibly because so little is known for sure about either of them. Philip is one of the very earliest disciples of Jesus. In fact he probably joined him after first following John the Baptist. Having done so, his commitment is whole-hearted, for he promptly persuades Nathanael also to follow Jesus. He is not afraid to say what he feels. At the feeding of the 5,000 it is Philip who remarks that two hundred pennyworth of bread would not be sufficient for each person to have even a little. Later, when some Greeks want to meet Jesus, they approach Philip first. And at the Last Supper, Philip’s request to Jesus to show them the Father elicits the reply ‘He that sees me, sees the Father’ (John 14:9). 
About James we know very little. He is referred to as “the Less”, to distinguish him from James the brother of John. He is often, but not certainly, identified with the James whose mother stood by Jesus on the cross. Also he may be James, the ‘brother of the Lord’, who saw the risen Christ and is often called the first bishop of Jerusalem. In addition, he is sometimes equated with the author of the Epistle of James. If none of these identifications is correct, then we know practically nothing about him. He is believed to have been stoned after being sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin in 62 AD. 
So what are we to learn from that? ‘Christians have always stressed the need for holy living. When it comes to the problem of expressing what that means, Christian teachers have always resorted to stories of saintly people whose example is to be followed. Supremely the imitation of Christ is commended to us’ (P.H. Vaughan). 
As well as both the above, today is International Workers’ Day. First observed as a labour holiday on this day in 1889, May Day was designated as such by the International Socialist Congress. Celebrated as a national holiday in many countries, the United Kingdom has taken the more pragmatic step of moving it to the first Monday in May - although this year it has been replaced by the VE remembrance next Friday. 1st May 1707 was the day the Act of Union came into effect, joining England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Of course it is a matter of conjecture as to how long that will last. 
The collect for today: 
Almighty Father, 
whom truly to know is eternal life: 
teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ 
as the way, the truth and the life; 
that we may follow the steps 
of your holy apostles Philip and James, 
and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all hoping to get married this year. Their plans are on hold, which is extremely difficult for them and their families both emotionally and in terms of the resources they have already committed. At this point we do not know if it will be possible to have large gatherings, or even when we will be allowed to hold any services. 
Thursday 30th April 2020 
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (John 6:51). 
This passage comes shortly after the feeding of the five thousand. Naturally, of course, we link this verse with the Eucharist, but also with his death on the Cross. it goes beyond that, though. We have life in Jesus because we believe in him. He feeds us; he sustains us; he is our living bread assimilated in faith - not just in the Eucharist but in our prayer and praise and in the presence of his Spirit within us. Jesus tells the crowd ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35). So we are brought to eternal life, abundant life, a life of sanctification - which is begun here, and will be perfected hereafter in a life of glory which will never end. 
Once again Jesus reminds us that our destiny, our purpose and our goal lie beyond the material things of this world. We are called to fulness of life in and with him. That is not to say that this world doesn’t matter. It matters greatly - because this is God’s world where we are created; where he is at work to perfect and renew; and where he calls us to work with and for him. However we are assured that this is not all that there is. Our true home lies beyond this and is far more than we can imagine. So we are called to set aside anything that would impede us or hold us back in our service to him - with his promise that he will sustain and feed us along the way. 
‘Jesus knows the price of his life in his Father’s eyes. He knows better than anyone how precious it is. That is why he can lead his life in thankfulness, even through violence, exclusion, and injustice - things which would normally lead to defensiveness... Let us see and sing out this gift. It is up to us to let our own lives be nourished by it and to communicate it to others. The Risen Christ continually opens doors for us to give ourselves, calling us: “Let whoever wants to find their life, give their life following my example"’ (Bible Meditation from Taizé, Sunday 6th April). 
‘The only limit to God’s power to give is our willingness to receive. That is why the hungry are blessed, and the rich (those with no sense of need) sent empty away’ (Canon Masterman). 
The May issue of Downton Parish News is now available free to view or download on our website. However not everyone has access to the internet, and we are very conscious that some previous subscribers and others may be missing their printed copy of the magazine. So if you know of a friend or neighbour who might like to read the magazine but cannot access it themselves, perhaps you could consider printing a copy - or part of one - for them so that they can continue to keep in touch. They and we would be most grateful. 
A prayer by Brother Alois of Taizé: 
God of love, look upon your family. 
Come to the help of our humanity stricken by so much suffering. 
Comfort those who are weeping, 
support those who are boldly taking up the challenge of solidarity. 
Through the resurrection of Christ, you open up for us a horizon as yet uncharted, where a new light is appearing. 
And so, just like on Easter morning, we can find hope again and say with our lives: “Christ is risen!” - “Yes, he is risen indeed!” 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Lay Pastoral Assistants (LPAs) as they continue to exercise their ministry at this time, and we give thanks for their dedication. 
‘The Lord could do without our intercession and our praise. Yet it is the mystery of God, that he should require us, his co-workers, to keep on praying and never lose heart’ (The Rule of Taizé). 
Wednesday 29th April 2020 
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (John 17:1,20-21). 
Today the Church remembers Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, Catherine was the youngest of twenty-five children born to a prosperous Sienese dyer. A forceful young lady, despite strong but intermittent parental opposition she refused to consider marriage. Instead at the age of 16 she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, giving herself over to contemplation and the service of the sick and poor and the conversion of sinners. 
Catherine’s great sanctity won her a large band of followers, from all walks of life and including many of noble rank. They accompanied Catherine on her journeys calling for repentance and reform, in a renewal of total love of God. Her influence was not confined to spiritual affairs. In 1376 Catherine travelled to Avignon, where the Papal Court then resided. She went both in order to intercede with Gregory XI on behalf of Florence (in alliance against the Holy See), and also to persuade the Pope to return to Rome. Gregory's death in 1378 resulted in the Great Schism. Urban VI was elected pope in Rome and a rival in Avignon. Catherine became most active in support of Urban, urging cardinals and monarchs to return to his obedience. 
Catherine tried to express her ideals in her Dialogue and her letters, which were dictated by her, as she never learnt to write. Her personal holiness, enhanced rather than diminished by frequent and strong criticism, together with these writings, made her a very influential spiritual leader of the late Middle Ages. Catherine suffered a stroke on 21 April 1380 and died eight days later. She was canonized in 1461. 
Probably St Catherine’s most famous saying is from one of her letters: ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire’; and from another letter ‘God alone is worthy of himself, and he can render us worthy by his own worthiness, which never diminishes'. 
Yesterday I was passing the Esso Garage on the main road where they have started construction work again. I was aware of just how intrusive the noise is. We have become used to a quieter world recently and appreciate it. So are we simply going to revert to how it all was when this is over? 
As it happens, I was due to have a haircut yesterday. Of course, that never happened. I’m alright, for the while at least - not actually shaggy yet. This is another sign, though, of how things have changed. It is an inconvenience for me - but vital to those, like our village hairdressers, who depend on small businesses or piecework - many of whom are not covered by any government scheme. We remember those who have been unable to work or have been laid off and have no income at this time. 
The collect for St Catherine: 
God of compassion, 
who gave your servant Catherine of Siena 
a wondrous love of the passion of Christ: 
grant that your people may be united to him in his majesty 
and rejoice for ever in the revelation of his glory; 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all visitors to our Churches, both those who stop for a while in the churchyard and all who visit us online. 
For jazz lovers, Duke Ellington - the American composer, bandleader, pianist and among the most significant figures in jazz history - was born on this day in 1899. 
Tuesday 28th April 2020 
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’’ (John 6:35). 
This morning at 11am we have a minute’s silence to commemorate those many key workers who have died from coronavirus through their working in and for the community. We also continue to bear in our prayers all those who continue to serve in this way even when they are without adequate protection. 
I hope you feel reinvigorated after last night’s restoring rain - due to last for most of today! Certainly the garden is looking happier for it and we can all do with refreshment. Over the weekend I was thinking about how much my Sundays have changed since the lockdown began. With us no longer able to worship in Church, I have been recording and producing a service each week online. So for me Saturday is in effect now my Sunday, which means that Sunday has become more of a sabbath for me - a day of holy refreshment. 
From last week’s Church Times: ‘Those old enough to remember Sundays when shops, restaurants, and cinemas were closed, pubs’ opening hours were curtailed, and sport was frowned on will sympathise with those who are now complaining of boredom. Compulsory restrictions are never as agreeable as voluntary restraint, and a well-stocked mind is almost as important for survival as a well-stocked supermarket. The purpose of the Lord’s Day, though, is to stop long enough to appreciate the goodness of the gifts that God has given us - gifts that, people now realise, have far less to do with material possessions than they had come to believe. Amid all the speculation about life after the lockdown, this is the chief lesson that needs to be learned. Then those who have borne the heaviest cost will know that something, at least, has been gained’ (Church Times, 24 April 2020). 
As you may have seen in the news: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has launched a free national phone line as a simple new way to bring worship and prayer into people’s homes while church buildings are closed because of the coronavirus. Daily Hope.. offers music, prayers and reflections as well as full worship services from the Church of England at the end of a telephone line. The line – which is available 24 hours a day on 0800 804 8044 – has been set up particularly with those unable to join online church services during the period of restrictions in mind’ (https://www.churchofengland.org/). Please do pass this on to anyone you think might benefit or like to know. 
In other Church news: The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has joined other faith leaders in the city in a statement released on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. It says: “We urge governments and businesses to promote radical yet just change to decrease carbon emissions, restore ecosystems and promote healthy environments on a universal scale. At the same time, we recognise that each and every one of us has the opportunity and the duty to make small but significant adjustments to our daily lives.” (Church Times, 24 April 2020). 
Also: in a sign of how the lockdown is affecting Church finances, as with so many other organisations, some curates from across the diocese of Liverpool are starting a four-week period of furlough - and in our own diocese the budgeted clergy stipend increase has been postponed. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Living God, 
your Son made himself known to his disciples 
in the breaking of bread: 
open the eyes of our faith, 
that we may see him in all his redeeming work; 
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Bishops: Bishop Nicholas, our diocesan bishop, and Bishops Andrew and Karen, our suffragan bishops. They continue to work hard to hold everything together, supporting and encouraging the wider Church and us in the parishes. 
It has been suggested that some of us might appreciate a virtual get together. I know that many of us have Zoom, so if you wish I will set up a gathering that way. 
Monday 27th April 2020 
Jesus said ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (John 6:27-29). 
On the board behind my desk I have a quotation from Corrie Ten Boom (an amazing Dutch lady who survived the concentration camps): ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God’. Perhaps one thing that has become clearer for many over these past weeks is that so much of what we have taken for granted, of what we thought of as normal life, lacks true permanence. Who would have thought only a couple of months ago that we would be where we are now? So we are rediscovering that real life is not in what we do but in what and who we are - in being more fully ourselves, the person we were created to be, one made in the image of God. 
The future is by definition unknown, but we are in God’s hands. We are children of God, each one set on the path that leads inexorably to him. We are on a journey from birth to our eternal destination with him. As the writer of the letter to the Ephesians puts it: ‘I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power’ (Ephesians 1:17-19). 
Of late things that we have been told are important, vital even, have been put more clearly into perspective. It reminds me rather of something from the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: ‘This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy’ (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (John 6:29). 
The things of this world are transitory. ‘For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ (1 Corinthians 8:6). Everything we have here is only ours for a while, but everything we will be is eternal. As Paul tells Timothy ‘I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him’ (2 Timothy 1:12). 
As this hiatus continues, there is a definite sense of more traffic on the roads. Is this a sign that the lockdown beginning to fray or being eased perhaps; that people are beginning to get fed up or cannot cope with it; or simply that more feel they simply must get out to work to pay the rent and put food on the table? 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Risen Christ, 
you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope: 
strengthen us to proclaim your risen life 
and fill us with your peace, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Forest and Avon Team as we seek to continue serving God in mission and ministry across our six parishes. 
Let us leave the last word with St Paul: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). 
Sunday 26th April 2020 
Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him’ (Acts 2:38-39). 
This is the Third Sunday of Easter as we continue to reflect on the resurrection of Jesus and Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost and how it affects us today. We celebrate another Sunday of virtual Church, knowing that what truly matters is that we are being Church no matter our circumstances. Physically apart, perhaps we may be, but we are together as one in Christ. The important thing is that the mission and ministry of the Church continues. 
The use of virtual services, email and other forms of electronic communication has seen numbers engaging with our worship, reflection and prayers increasing dramatically. ‘These virtual services, prayers and daily reflections are attracting not just regular church goers, but the occasional church goers, the curious and those simply seeking spirituality and meaning at this unprecedented time. The Church threshold that has proved a barrier for some is not a problem, and clergy and services are now being streamed into living rooms, kitchens and gardens. Church has become relevant and relational on a different level’ (www.salisbury.anglican.org/news/). 
This is good news and we give thanks to God as he blesses us and uses us in new ways at this time. We must not forget, though, that not everyone has access to, or is able to use, all these new forms of communication. So together we must ensure that those who are not connected in this manner do not miss out. 
Being a fourth Sunday, usually we would ask God’s blessing on our Roads to God programme in our service. In May we will be praying for the whole of our parish, bringing before God all those who live or work in our village. As always, if anyone would like specific prayer they can let me know. It will remain confidential. 
After our main service today we were due to have our Annual Meeting. Obviously this has had to be postponed. In fact the deadline has been moved now to 31st October. So our Church Officers and PCC remain in post until then. Let us continue to hold each one of them in prayer. I know that the reports for the meeting have been written, and give a big thank you to those who have done so. 
Generally we are doing well in the circumstances, although challenges remain. There are two important matters we were going to discuss, though. One is our service pattern - which will have to be adjusted to take account of the ministry resources we have now in the Team. The other is that we have no one standing to be Churchwarden. Ken Parsons made it quite clear last April that he was standing again just for the one more year. He has done a great job, for which we are extremely grateful, and will be standing down. In the absence of a Churchwarden the responsibilities devolve on me as your incumbent - and frankly I have neither the time nor the resources to take this on. I ask you to give this matter your most prayerful consideration. God is giving us an opportunity here to grow as his Church, but we need to function properly if we are to take full advantage of that. 
The collect for today: 
Almighty Father, 
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples 
with the sight of the risen Lord: 
give us such knowledge of his presence with us, 
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life 
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Church life and mission. ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1Peter 2:9). 
We have a service for today and there is a service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. 
Saturday 25th April 2020 
Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. (Mark 13:5-7). 
Today is the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist, the writer of the shortest of the four Gospels, which today is generally considered to be the earliest. There is a freshness to Mark’s Gospel and he uses a vivid present, while Matthew and Luke use a more literary style. Mark also retains various Aramaic words of Jesus: ‘He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”)’ (Mark 5:41); ‘He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”)’ (Mark 7:34); ‘And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” - which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”‘ (Mark 15:34). 
So who is this Saint Mark? Some believe Mark is probably speaking of himself when he writes of Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane. ‘A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked’ (Mark 14:51-52). He is believed also to be the 'John Mark' referred to in the Acts of the Apostles who travelled with Barnabas and Paul on many missionary journeys, during which he is reputed to have founded the Church of Alexandria. 
Mark was the cause of a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas - and Paul refused to take Mark on their second journey. ‘Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out’ (Acts 15:37-40). So in the end there were two missionary journeys! 
Paul later asks Mark to visit him in prison, ‘Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry’ (2 Timothy 4:11). So presumably the trouble did not last long. ‘Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas’ (Colossians 4:10). 
According to tradition, Mark had a close relationship with St Peter, who referred to him has 'his son' in his letter addressed to churches in Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:13). Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Papias all indicate that Mark was an interpreter for Peter. So it is reasonable to assume that Peter was one of Mark’s primary sources. Indeed a first century figure called John the Presbyter wrote ‘Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ’. 
Venice, famous for the Piazza San Marco, claims Mark as its patron saint. The large basilica there is believed to contain his remains which were stolen from Alexandria in 828 AD by Venetian merchants who snuck them past the (Muslim) guards by hiding them under layers of pork in barrels! 
As we reflect on Mark today, then, we have a picture of God using fallible human beings who are fearful, get things wrong and fall out with one another. That is surely a real encouragement for us all as we seek to hold true to God’s word and his will for us. 
The collect for St Mark; 
Almighty God, who enlightened your holy Church 
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark: 
grant that we, being firmly grounded 
in the truth of the gospel, 
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for School Governors who have a very important role to play supporting the school, especially at this time. 
Friday 24th April 2020 
'A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and said… ‘ I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’ (Acts 5:34,38-39). 
What are we to make of Gamaliel’s words? They hold an important truth for us - that we are called to work with God in his way, not simply expect him to support us in ours! ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). 
Gamaliel here also reminds us that the Pharisees, for all the bad press they receive in the Gospels, include many people who were honourable, reflective and genuinely anxious to further the will of God. Perhaps there is a message here for us: we need to look beyond our immediate reaction to the public image given or deliberately portrayed by those in the news to the real person behind that. We are all children of God, even though we may sometimes allow baser motives to obscure his work. 
Gamaliel came from a great rabbinic family, ‘the House of Hillel’, who were leaders in the Jewish community over several centuries. He counsels caution, patience rather than premature judgement. He reminds us that true religion often contains ambiguities. We need to be open to what God is doing now. We need discernment, acknowledging that we are often unsure of God’s will for us - especially in these strange times. When we are uncertain the advice always is to pray, to be patient, to seek the wisdom of others, and to test. ‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:25). 
The little that is known of Gamaliel seems to indicate just such a man as would be likely to have given the advice here. His was a character which, on its good side and by its admirers, would be described as prudent, wise, cautious and calm, tolerant, opposed to fanaticism and violence. His position as president of the Sanhedrin, his long experience, his Rabbinical training, his old age, and his knowledge that the national liberty depended on keeping things quiet, would be very likely to exaggerate such tendencies into what his enemies would describe as worldly shrewdness without a trace of enthusiasm, indifference to truth, and the like. 
We are called on to combine faith and trust in God with wisdom in how we apply that in the world. As Jesus tells us we should ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). 
We pray: 
O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining 
and whose power we cannot comprehend: 
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it, 
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear 
until we may look upon you without fear; 
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Church School and for those children who are distance learning. As the novelty of this wears off, we remember them and their families as they seek to maintain a proper rhythm of study. We pray also for the whole school staff in all they are doing to support them at this time. 
It was heartening yesterday evening to see so many outside our homes clapping. There is a real sense here of a growing community caring and togetherness. May we ‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen’ (2 Peter 3:18). 
You may like to know that it was on 24th April 1792 that a French army officer, Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composed La Marseillaise - the French national anthem. 
Thursday 23rd April 2020 
‘When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced’ (Psalm 126:1-3). 
Today is St George’s Day, the patron saint of England - although quite why this should be is a bit of a mystery. There are plenty of more likely candidates - such as Alban, the first British martyr; or Augustine of Canterbury; to say nothing of the Celtic saints of northern England. There have even been doubts as to whether George really existed. Although generally now he is accepted as having lived in the Middle East, some time in the early fourth century. Even so, very little is known about either his life or his death. He was probably a soldier, and it seems most likely that he suffered martyrdom near Lydda in Palestine at the time of persecutions by the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian. 
The circumstances by which he became linked with England are obscure. We owe him probably to knights returning from the Crusades - Richard I (“the Lion-heart”) placed himself and his army under George’s protection. In 1222, St George’s Day was made a lesser holiday at the Synod of Oxford - and from the fourteenth century, the red cross on a white background (“St George’s Arms”) developed into a kind of uniform for soldiers and sailors. 
His rank as patron of England (replacing Edward the Confessor) probably dates from the reign of Edward III (1327-1377), who founded the Order of the Garter under George’s patronage. In 1415 his feast day was made one of the chief holy days of the year - after the Battle of Agincourt, when Henry V’s famous speech invoked St George as England’s patron ‘Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ (Henry V, Act III). George is the patron saint of many other countries and organizations, including the Scout Movement - who have celebrated St George’s Day on April 23rd since its inception. 
So what does it mean for us to have a patron saint on whose protection and intercession we can call? A saint has been described as one through whom God’s light shines. Perhaps then he is an example for us, revealing something of God to us or embodying Christian virtues or ideals? In practice, today George is more often equated with national pride or patriotism. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as we bear in mind ‘The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does’ (Sydney J. Harris). We have a proud history - but are far from perfect! 
The collect for St George: 
God of hosts, 
who so kindled the flame of love 
in the heart of your servant George 
that he bore witness to the risen Lord 
by his life and by his death: 
give us the same faith and power of love 
that we who rejoice in his triumphs 
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for young people worried by the cancellation of their exams. Our society requires us to have qualifications and without them often we cannot progress. There are fears that some year groups may have to repeat this year’s learning. 
Wednesday 22nd April 2020 
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:16-17). 
This is probably one of the best-known verses of scripture, and with good reason. Here is the core of the Good News: God loves us and was willing even to suffer and die for us - ‘being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:7-8). 
John’s Gospel is one that reveals God’s abundance. He gives us the miracle at the wedding in Cana and the feeding of the five thousand. There is no limit to God’s love. ‘God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him’ (1 John 4:9). The whole truth is in Jesus; he is light and life; he is God’s supreme revelation and gift. ‘God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). 
God’s purpose in sending his Son was not judgement but our salvation, our redemption. That is the great Good News. Now we are people of the light - we have found the truth of Jesus and are to live by it. The light shines through God’s people as a revelation of God, his witness in the world. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14-16). 
As we walk around the village chatting to those we pass, from a safe distance of course, we have been reflecting once again on how fortunate we are to be living here. We can get out and into the countryside if we wish, and we are part of a true, caring community. More than that, we see nature restoring itself as our activity is reduced: the skies are clear, the air is fresh, as spring bursts out around us. We rejoice in the wonders and abundance of God’s creation. It is Earth Day today, so we hope and pray that the reduction in pollution brought about by this pandemic is not simply reversed when all this is over. 
‘What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’ (Romans 8:31-32). 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Lord God our Father, 
through our Saviour Jesus Christ 
you have assured your children of eternal life 
and in baptism have made us one with him: 
deliver us from the death of sin 
and raise us to new life in your love, 
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, 
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for volunteers helping people in their community. One of the real positives that has come out of our present situation is an increase in concern and care for our neighbours, for those among whom and with whom we live. ‘Mutual aid is an old idea whose time has come’ as someone has written recently. 
To return to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, ‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Philippians 4:8). 
Tuesday 21st April 2020 
‘Who can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills? Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you, and were saved by wisdom’ (Wisdom 9:13,17-18). 
Today we remember Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He was an Italian Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher and teacher of the faith. In fact he played a key role in the development of western theology. Anselm's motto was “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). This is a worthy aim for us all, I think. Ours is not a blind faith. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. For the basis of Anglican theology is Scripture, reason, and tradition. We need to understand, to explore the riches of God’s created order and his purpose for us, to work things out. This contrasts with the caricature of our faith, the White Queen from Alice in Wonderland who says “sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast". 
Anselm had an original mind which he employed with intellectual rigour. ‘Come on now little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, "I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek"’ (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/anselm.asp)
A Song of Anselm (used as a canticle in Common Worship Daily Prayer): 
Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you; 
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children. 
Often you weep over our sins and our pride, 
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement. 
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds, 
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. 
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life; 
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy. 
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness; 
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. 
Your warmth gives life to the dead, 
your touch makes sinners righteous. 
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us; 
in your love and tenderness remake us. 
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness, 
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us. 
(copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2005 and published by Church House Publishing) 
The collect for St Anselm: 
Eternal God, 
who gave great gifts to your servant Anselm 
as a pastor and teacher: 
grant that we, like him, may desire you with our whole heart 
and, so desiring, may seek you 
and, seeking, may find you; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In medieval days this time was known as Hocktide. Hock tide or Hoke Day was the term used to denote the Monday and Tuesday in the second week after Easter, possibly from the German Hoch, and means "a high day". Together with Whitsuntide and the twelve days of Yuletide, this week marked the only holidays of the villein’s (feudal tenant of a lord) year when, during slack times he could cease work on his lord's land, and probably his own as well. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those involved in manufacture, distribution, and sales of food. We have become increasing aware recently how important it is that enough food reaches us. We pray as Jesus taught us, ‘give us this day our daily bread’. 
Monday 20th April 2020 
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above” (John 3:5-7). 
To be a Christian means living an entirely new life: moving from being self-centred to God-centred. In Jesus’ words, it’s as if we are reborn. For some this was a sudden moment of insight; for most of us I suspect it has been a much more gradual process. Either way, as Jesus says ‘whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also’ (John 12:26); ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). This is not a one-off action, it is a journey of faith. Life in Jesus is one of active participation, walking with him and joining in the work of the Kingdom. 
I was walking along Moot Lane in the rain a few days ago and was reminded of Good Friday a couple of years ago. Our Procession of Witness, starting at the southern end, was through a veritable downpour. What mattered, though, was the taking part. As the Chinese proverb has it: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ (Dao De Jing, ascribed to Laozi). That said, after the rather colder wet weather of last week, the return of sunshine and warmth raises our spirits – even as we recognise that we do need the rain. 
It is the direction of travel that matters, and a willingness to stick with it. I know for myself that I have a long way to go yet, but am confident that God will see me safely along the way. In the words of St Paul ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own’ (Philippians 3:12). 
This is the pearl of great price, that true treasure ‘in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal’ (Matthew 6:20). There are many things advertised that promise the earth, but only the earth - and yield only dust and ashes. We are promised spiritual freedom that is both more subtle and infinitely more precious. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘I pray each day. I talk to Jesus, I live with Jesus, I walk with Jesus, I want to be like Jesus, I want to learn from Jesus. Jesus and me are always together’. 
So we look forward in faith and hope. As we do, I share this from anonymous religious in Milan writing on La Speranza (the Hope) looking to when all this is over: ‘Then we will say, as St Francis did: “Blessed are you, O Lord, for Brother Coronavirus who has taught us to be humble once again and to value life and fellowship.” Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16.33)’ (Translated by Bobbie Ann Cole – courtesy of the Church Times). 
The alternative prayer for this week: 
Risen Christ, 
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: 
open the doors of our hearts, 
that we may seek the good of others 
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, 
to the praise of God the Father. 
The new school term starts today and we remember the hard work, professionalism and dedication of our teachers and all school staff. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those who produce our Parish magazine. They have been learning new skills to ensure we are still able to publish even without a print edition. 
Sunday 19th April 2020 
‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:30-31). 
Here John encapsulates what the Resurrection is all about, what Easter is all about! Jesus is risen; in him is eternal life; we confess him as our Lord and our God - and he sends us out to proclaim his Kingdom. 
If we had been able to have an 8am service in St Laurence, Ron Hart would have led it. I attach his prepared words. So this morning we have two for the price of one! 
Our main service today would have been our café-style Church for Everyone. We were planning to look at the story of the Road to Emmaus where, on the day of the Resurrection, two disciples walk unknowingly with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). They are going along the road deep in solemn and serious discussion, when Jesus joins them. They do not recognize Jesus and he lets them tell of their anxieties and fears following the crucifixion, after which ‘he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’. When the three travellers reach Emmaus, they share a meal. During the blessing, the two disciples realise that this is none other than Jesus whom God has raised from the dead. In that moment of recognition, Jesus disappears from their presence. 
As we ponder this story, perhaps the question for us is how would we recognise Jesus if we met him? Do we need to look with fresh eyes at familiar passages of Scripture? What is Jesus trying to tell us now, to help us understand what we see in a new light? 
This is the Second Sunday of Easter. The cycle of the year and celebrating the seasons is important to us. This has made the current restrictions on us difficult to bear at times, both in our private lives and as a Church. Last week Archbishop Justin was asked whether closing churches for public worship had been a step too far. 
The Archbishop emphasised that the decision had been taken by all the bishops “with much pain and much thought and much prayer, and after much discussion; so it’s not just a single person making up their mind on the spur of the moment.” He continued: “There are some people who are very unhappy — I’m unhappy with it. I would love to be in Canterbury Cathedral, with the great congregation as we usually have on Easter Sunday. It would be much better… But the reality is we’re here to set an example, to share in the deprivation of the things we like doing, to care for others. It’s not about us; it’s about being the Church for England, not just the Church of England… The church buildings are closed, and I love the church buildings, but the Church is emphatically not closed - it’s probably busier than it’s ever been” (Archbishop Justin Welby on Andrew Marr Show, Easter Day). 
The collect for this week: 
Almighty Father, 
you have given your only Son to die for our sins 
and to rise again for our justification: 
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness 
that we may always serve you 
in pureness of living and truth; 
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those with financial worries: business owners who have had to close, workers who have been laid off, all having trouble making ends meet at this time. 
We have a service for today. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. 
Saturday 18th April 2020 
Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:19-20). 
Peter and John’s words remind me of my Theological College motto ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Corinthians 9:16). Actually it was in Greek, but then languages have never been my strong point. Our resurrection faith impels us to share the good news of God’s love and our salvation. The question is always, of course, how we do that. We live in a restless world when actively doing something is a virtue - encouraging busyness - and where silence is a threat. Yet busyness can shut God out and obscure his message, while silence helps us to listen to what he wants us to do. We are to be his Church and reflect the light of his living presence. 
God wants us to be his witnesses, but he is already at work. We join in with his Spirit moving in the world. Let me share this story from the York Courses, which we sometimes follow in Lent: 
‘It was the 1960s and the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, was in Moscow over the Easter season. He went to the hair salon of his hotel for a shave because his electric razor had broken. The hairdresser saw his episcopal cross and ring and asked him if he was a bishop. He agreed that he was. The hairdresser took his cross and kissed it and did the same with his ring. She then held the razor aloft with the bishop’s beard still on it, and called out, ‘Christ is risen!’ whereupon the other customers joyfully responded, ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ Mervyn Stockwood thought to himself, ‘Poor old Brezhnev [then Soviet President]: 60 years of atheism and still the Galilean conquers!’ Such is the effect of the resurrection. Its implications are extraordinary and the resurrection continues to ricochet around the world’ (York Courses). 
I have been sending out these Reflections now for a month. There seems to be little more clarity to our situation now than there was when I started. With no general testing going on in the community, we don’t know if any of us have been affected. It is as if life has been put on hold, simply marking time. It can be frustrating. 
Nevertheless, as I have mentioned before, one area that does remain active and is very much in need of our help is the Trussell Trust. Donations of food are down and so any support for the food bank that you are able to give would be very grateful received. 
Donations can be made in the following ways: 
there is a basket in the porch here at The Vicarage in Barford Lane (please ring the bell just to alert us that you have left a donation so that it can be brought inside promptly). 
there are food collection points at various supermarkets including The Co-op in Downton. 
if you are self-isolating or cannot get to the collection points but would still like to make a food donation please contact The Vicarage (01725 510326) as we may be able to arrange to collect this from you, in an appropriate social-distancing way. 
if you prefer, you can make a financial donation through the Salisbury Foodbank website or by putting it in a clearly labelled envelope and posting it through The Vicarage door (please don’t leave any money in the collection basket). 
Thank you for your support in these challenging times for everyone. 
We pray: 
God of glory, the end of our searching, 
help us to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom, 
and to give all that we have 
to gain the pearl beyond all price, 
through our Saviour Jesus Christ. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all ministers in the village. 
Friday 17th April 2020 
‘This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:11-12). 
Salvation in Jesus: this is the truth that sets us free, the very cornerstone of our faith. In the words of Martin Luther King ‘Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ 
The fact that Jesus is raised into new life stands forever at the height of the Easter story, waiting for us to respond, giving us a chance to say something. And one way or another, we are always saying something, whether we’re compelled to embrace the gospel or disregard it. Even the refusal to comment is, of course, a kind of comment nonetheless. ‘There was that essential belief that my soul lay in the hands of God and couldn’t be taken by others’ (Terry Waite, talking about his years in captivity). 
The early leaders of the church grasped this implication. The sincere fears that made them cower behind closed doors on Friday and Saturday began to disappear when they realized Jesus was alive. His living presence revitalised them. Easter proclaims Jesus alive in the world, calling us to follow him, to be his people, to work for him in the world. 
‘Christian faith is a personal trust in Jesus Christ. But for what do we trust him? We do not trust him, as men have trusted human sages, to show them the way round a stable and enduring universe. We trust him to draw us into a new creation, and therein to renew and immortalize our being’ (Austin Farrer, The Brink of Mystery). 
As life adjusts to a different rhythm, so we have the opportunity to rejoice in this new creation; to rediscover God in the world, to appreciate and value his creation. The other day I took advantage of the quieter roads to go out on my bicycle. To be honest, I was somewhat nervous as I haven’t cycled very far for several years, as the traffic has grown so busy of late. However I set myself a simple goal, to go as far as Woodgreen, and actually had a very pleasant round trip. There was some traffic on the A338 as I headed south but not a lot. While for my return along the back road I was able to marvel at how very quiet it was. I could hear the insects around me and the birds in the distance, all the while enjoying the sun on my back. In the scramble and hectic pace that life requires in our modern world, too often we have lost God’s greater gifts and blessings. 
We pray: 
Almighty God, 
who called your Church to bear witness 
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: 
help us to proclaim the good news of your love, 
that all who hear it may be drawn to you; 
through him who was lifted up on the cross, 
and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those in need in our village: those confined in their homes, especially those living alone. Loneliness and isolation are by their very nature hidden. With them we remember the vulnerable and elderly members of our society. In particular we pray for those in Care and Nursing Homes and those who staff them. Also we think of those unable to isolate because of the close proximity in which they live. 
Thursday 16th April 2020 
‘He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’ (Luke 24:45-48). 
The scriptures are important to us. They are a vital record of God’s teaching and dealings with his people. As St Paul tells his protégé Timothy: ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16). The scriptures reveal God’s consistent message to his people while retaining the flavour of the many authors that spoke and wrote the words. They are our witness to the events of Holy Week, Easter and all that followed. That is why they are always central to our worship. 
We are now the witnesses, passing on the message of scripture. ‘Your life may be the only Bible someone reads. You are the Fifth Gospel’ (Mark Russell, Chief Executive of the Church Army). We share it with those around us, so each can respond in their own way. Individual response matters - not because one is better than another but because God loves each one of us individually and wants us all to know him for ourselves. It is how we relate to God and how we want others to recognise him. It’s not about being part of a crowd, somewhere at the back, but each one of us face to face with our loving Saviour. When we see others just as an amorphous mass it is hard to care, but we can relate to individuals and those in need touch us to the heart. That is how God made us. 
We continue in our service to God even in our present circumstances. As the Archbishop has said: ‘I think we’re learning a huge number of lessons, and we’re learning that the Church is, at its heart, the people. We’re relearning that, which was the lesson of the first three centuries. . . It’s [the Church is] not a building. The buildings are a gift, a treasure, but they are not the Church’ (Archbishop Justin Welby on Andrew Marr Show, Easter Day). 
Whilst so many of us are confined to our homes, we know there are many who carry on working tirelessly on our behalf. We continue give thanks for the dedication, skill and care of all our NHS and other caring staff, holding in our prayers most especially those who have to choose between looking after others and their own personal protection. There are also those key workers in the often overlooked mundane tasks that keep our society functioning and healthy. We are grateful, for instance, that our rubbish and recycling is still being collected. 
The collect for Bible Sunday: 
Blessed Lord, 
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: 
help us so to hear them, 
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them 
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, 
we may embrace and for ever hold fast 
the hope of everlasting life, 
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those at University and College. They are facing an uncertain time, and many will have important deadlines and exams coming up. 
Wednesday 15th April 2020 
‘O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works’ (Psalm 105:1-2). 
We know that God is the author and giver of all that is good and wonderful, all the joy and marvellous things around and within us. So it is natural that we should give him thanks and praise. As we wonder at the magnificent craftsmanship he has lavished on creation, his miracles of subtlety and beauty and all the glorious complexity of the world that surrounds us, we give him the glory. ‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever’ (Psalm 107:1). 
Now at Easter he gives us life in all its fulness and his unstinting love. Jesus says ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). It is our mission to share that, to declare his blessings and proclaim him in the world. ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19) Jesus tells us. While St Paul asks ‘How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?’ (Romans 10:14). 
You might think that this would be more difficult to achieve at the moment as we maintain our lockdown and social distancing. However we have so many ways to communicate today and the evidence seems to be that more people are attending our virtual services – national and local – than were coming before. When life is uncertain and we lose our sense of security and stability, then the deeper issues come more to the fore, become more important. We recall that in Matthew, Jesus goes on to say ‘teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). 
With no sign of the end of the lockdown in sight, here as a rural community we are aware that our farmers are in a very difficult situation at the moment. We rely on them for the absolute basics. We need to support them and hold them in our prayers. 
As I mentioned yesterday, our Roads to God group will be praying (from our homes) at 10am. I ask you to spend some time with us at 10 o’clock in prayer for the village, especially for those in our Roads to God schedule and of course any in particular need. I attach the form of prayers that we use. 
We pray: 
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Way, the Truth and the Life. 
Through the prayer and loving service of your Church, 
may we and all in this community draw closer to you, 
and so find Roads to God in this place. 
We ask this in your name and for your sake. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for young people in the Church. We may not always see much of them but they are very much part of our Church family. 
We continue to pray for our schools. It may be technically the school holidays, but our teachers are still working hard for our children. With no apparent end yet to the lockdown, they are preparing for another term of distance learning. This forthcoming term is a very important one for many as they prepare for transition from one stage to the next. 
Tuesday 14th April 2020 
‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’ (Acts 2:36). 
Here we have the core of the Christian message and of our life together: Jesus is Lord. What we celebrate at this time is a life-changing, world-changing event. Whatever our response, we cannot avoid its impact. This goes far beyond our own private life of prayer. It challenges us in all aspects of our life and being: in our attitudes; in who we are and how we see the world; in how we respond to whatever comes our way. Properly used these strange days of Easter lockdown can be for us a time of growth, renewal and recommitment in our faith. 
I was particularly struck by the Archbishop’s sermon and Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing on Easter Sunday. The Archbishop said ‘This was a vision of the Kingdom of God come on earth, where death would not be the end. Which brings us back to ambitious imagination and unreasonable hope. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a hope that is surer than stone; than any architecture. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful’. While Pope Francis said ‘For many, remaining at home has been an opportunity to reflect, to withdraw from the frenetic pace of life, stay with loved ones and enjoy their company. For many, though, this is also a time of worry about an uncertain future, about jobs that are at risk and about other consequences of the current crisis’. 
As the lockdown continues we become more aware of its effects both on our national life and our own daily lives. it is getting harder to keep track of what day it is or develop a sense of rhythm or pattern. We need to retain our sense of purpose as God’s people. While I’m certainly busy, I have no appointments or meetings as such, no regular places where I ought to be. For me this was not helped last week when I spent half a day when I had planned to do something else arranging to get a problem fixed on my computer. 
This week we are thinking particularly about our Roads to God programme. While we may have been unable to deliver our prayer cards, we are still holding our village in prayer before God. Indeed, I think this is more important than ever. This month we are praying for all those who live or work in Downton Business Centre & Industrial Estate, Long Close, Elizabeth Close and Hyde Lane. 
The Roads to God group will be praying (from our homes) tomorrow at 10am. I invite you to join your prayers with ours. If you wish prayer for yourself, or know of anyone we should be holding in prayer, please let me know. Your request will be confidential and I shall pray for you - or them - tomorrow. 
The alternative prayer for this week: 
God of glory, 
by the raising of your Son 
you have broken the chains of death and hell: 
fill your Church with faith and hope; 
for a new day has dawned 
and the way to life stands open 
in our Saviour Jesus Christ. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all medical staff: those in hospitals, GP surgeries, Care homes, research labs, working from home or wherever they are. 
Monday 13th April 2020 
‘After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble’ (Matthew 28:12-14). 
One recurring aspect of the Easter story is the tendency of those in authority to insist that what they want to be the truth must indeed be true. Jesus cannot have been who he said he was - therefore he cannot have risen from the dead. This is the counterpoint to the crowds on Palm Sunday insisting that Jesus is the kind of Messiah they want. 
I am reminded of the logic used in the opera The Mikado: ‘It's like this: when your Majesty says, "Let a thing be done", it's as good as done. Practically, it is done because your Majesty's will is law. Your Majesty says "Kill a gentleman", and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead. Practically he is dead and if he is dead, why not say so?’ 
We are seeing this sort of thing clearly in the reaction of some leaders and celebrities to the current pandemic. What they say must be true - even if it is wishful thinking rather than anything supported by the facts. However Jesus says ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:31-32). 
Today is Easter Monday. In more usual times on this day, weather permitting, there would be the Easter egg hunt in the Moot. It is always a joyful occasion with hundreds of children searching through the grass for the tiny eggs. They are celebrating new life, though they may not be aware of it, with the glories of our world all around us - the magnificent craftsmanship God has lavished on creation. 
The resurrection is evidence of the one certainty we have: that God is at work in the world for our good. What we have been promised at the end of time is already ours. In everyday life, this realised promise makes itself known in a sense that we are living fully in the present, now, but live also with a strong sense of ‘not yet’; that there is more, more than we can imagine or explain. We are taking part actively in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future. We are “already” in the kingdom, but we do “not yet” see it in its glory. 
This is new life in Christ. God, despite being somehow reachable and recognizable in Jesus of Nazareth, is at the same time utterly other from us, strange and awesome. Yet Easter tells us how much he loves us; in Jesus he has lived and died for us; we belong to him as his children. In the words of the Archbishop yesterday ‘In the new life of the resurrection of Jesus, we dare to have faith in life before death. We hope, because of the resurrection’. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
God of Life, 
who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, 
and by his glorious resurrection 
have delivered us from the power of our enemy: 
grant us so to die daily to sin, 
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for Churches Together in Downton, as we remember that we all belong to God’s kingdom - and that is what matters. 
Sunday 12th April 2020 - EASTER DAY 
‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said’ (Matthew 28:5-6). 
Alleluia. Christ is risen. 
He is risen indeed. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 
‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’  
(1 Corinthians 15:20-22). 
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, his victory over death. His resurrection symbolises God’s gift of eternal life to his people. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). 
Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with complex Christian theology. Resurrection is our gift from God. Easter is a new life feast – that’s where the eggs fit in (in the second century Christians began using eggs as a symbol of Christ's resurrection). Everybody can enjoy the spring without understanding climate patterns. Resurrection is for all. Life is for all. 
This year Easter comes as we are confined to our homes. However the hope we have in our risen Saviour doesn’t falter or fade in the midst of the pandemic. Easter promises that what God does in the resurrection of Jesus is God's intention for the entire creation - “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). ‘Jesus did not come to make God's love possible, but to make God's love visible’ (Author Unknown). 
The collect for today: 
Lord of all life and power, 
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son 
overcame the old order of sin and death 
to make all things new in him: 
grant that we, being dead to sin 
and alive to you in Jesus Christ, 
may reign with him in glory; 
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit 
be praise and honour, glory and might, 
now and in all eternity. 
Thank you to Janet who created this Easter Garden and sent us a picture. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we give thanks for the resurrection, and the new eternal life Jesus has won for us. 
We have an Easter Day service on our services page. There is also a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. 
I wish you all a very joyous Easter, even if it is a rather different one from what we would have expected. 
‘Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen’ (Hebrews 13:20-21). 
Saturday 11th April 2020 
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first’ (Matthew 27:62-64) 
This is Holy Saturday: we approach the end of a difficult week of faith. If we find it difficult, how much more did the disciples, who were to become apostles? Holy Week poses more questions than answers, and even the answer we will soon celebrate comes as much with the Ascension as it does with Easter. His followers feel abandoned and bereft. Where is God in all of this? What does he wants of us? 
So today reflects uncertainty. What is God doing; what does Jesus on the Cross mean for us? Jesus has, it appears, been made a scapegoat for the people of Jerusalem ‘Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness’ (Leviticus 16:21). God, though, has a more perfect plan. As St Paul tells us ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13:10). 
In St Albans Abbey, which I attended when I was young, there is a medieval wall painting of Jesus on the Cross with the words: 
I am on the cross for thee 
Thou that sinnest cease for me 
Cease I pardon 
Fight I help 
Conquer I crown 
Traditionally this is a day of quiet and meditation. We wait in anticipation. The tumultuous events of the past few days are past, but Easter is not yet upon us. As St Paul charges us ‘Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer’ (Romans 12:12). 
At the same time, the sun is shining and the weather is glorious. We have been out walking through the Millennium Green or beyond the village into the farmland. Families are enjoying themselves together and the birds are busy singing. There is less background noise, so they haven’t got so much competition this year. At this time families are together more than usual. So we must remember those unable to see their families because of the lockdown, especially those whose children are with their other parent or a loved one is in a care home. 
The collect for today: 
Grant, Lord, 
that we who are baptized into the death of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ 
may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with him; 
and that through the grave and gate of death 
we may pass to our joyful resurrection; 
through his merits, 
who died and was buried and rose again for us, 
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 
We may not have an Easter Garden in Church this year, but here is one from a previous year. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for the bereaved, remembering especially those who cannot be with their loved ones in their last hours, or are unable to attend their funeral. 
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13). 
God bless. 
Easter garden
Friday 10th April 2020 - Good Friday 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest’ (Psalm 22:1-2). 
Today is Good Friday. This is the day when we remember Jesus on the Cross and his death at Calvary. The 'Good' in Good Friday comes from old English when Good meant Holy. So you could call today 'Holy Friday'. 
Our focus today is very much upon Jesus on the Cross. ‘They took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha’ (John 19:16-17). It is a time for prayerful meditation, as in our hearts and imaginations we seek to walk with him in his Passion. 
Traditionally it would be a busy day for us, starting with the Stations of the Cross and afterwards the workshop where the children make an Easter Garden. Of course, we shouldn’t forget those hot cross buns that are brought for us to share! 
Bishop Nicholas has shared this prayer by Alan Amos, a retired priest in the diocese: 
Ah my dear Lord, the church is locked 
but let my heart be open to your presence: 
there let us make, you and I, 
your Easter garden; 
plant it with flowers, 
and let the heavy stone be rolled away. 
In the afternoon we would move on to the Procession of Witness, carrying the cross through the village. Then we have a service in one of the churches remembering the Last Hour, watching and waiting with Jesus in readings and prayer. These all help us to centre us on the story of our Lord’s Passion. For me the most evocative words here are those from the Book of Lamentations, especially when set to Stainer’s music ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?’ (Lamentations 1:12). 
Silence is a significant part of our observance of Good Friday. Just as Jesus stands silent at the heart of today’s events, so we are called to wait silently with him – as we walk with him in the way of the Cross, secure in the love and purpose of the Father. 
The collect for today: 
Almighty Father, 
look with mercy on this your family 
for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed 
and given up into the hands of sinners 
and to suffer death upon the cross; 
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all who deny God. This is not in judgement but in the prayerful hope that their eyes might be opened to love of Jesus, on the Cross for us. ‘God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). 
Let me finish today with the Acclamation that comes towards the end of the service for the Celebration of our Lord’s Passion: 
We glory in your cross, O Lord, 
and praise you for your mighty resurrection; 
for by virtue of your cross joy has come into our world. 
God be gracious to us and bless us: 
and make his face shine upon us, 
Let your ways be made known on earth: 
your liberating power among all nations. 
Let the peoples praise you, O God: 
let all the peoples praise you. 
Thursday 9th April 2020 - Maundy Thursday 
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 22:14-16) 
This is Maundy Thursday, when we remember Jesus in the upper room with his disciples as they share the Passover meal. He knows what is coming ‘Father, if this cup may not pass from me, but I must drink it, your will be done’ (Matthew 26:42). The joy with which he had been received just days earlier has evaporated and the darkness is closing in. What Jesus wants most of all at this time is to gather his friends together around him. 
Here we see the love of Jesus in the humility with which he washes his disciples’ feet, even washing the feet of Judas whom he knew was about to betray him. What love is this? Amazing love! Sacrificial love! Selfless love! Redeeming love! This is the love for which we give thanks this week, the love that surpasses all knowledge, the love that never falters, the love that pays the price, the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice. 
Here we see also the inauguration of our community celebration as God’s people: Holy Communion. ‘For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). 
We are so used to these words they are in danger of becoming almost commonplace. If we pause, though, and reflect, they are of immense moment. Here we celebrate our oneness with Jesus, with God; our faith is fed; our life is renewed. As the Church we too are a community gathering around Jesus, with Communion at our heart. In more usual times we would gather together around the table to celebrate this tonight, while this morning the bishop would gather all the clergy and those lay ministers who can make it in the cathedral for our Renewal of Ordination vows. Both these are symbolic sacramental acts that underpin our common life together. 
I have put a Maundy Thursday Service of Reflection on the website. There is no order of service for this. I invite you simply to join me in reflecting on the events of the day. There is also a reading of the Gospel of the Watch, which traditionally we read before a time of silent prayer in the evening. In addition there is a Passion reading for Good Friday and a copy of our Stations of the Cross service. 
The collect for today: 
God our Father, 
you have invited us to share in the supper 
which your Son gave to his Church 
to proclaim his death until he comes: 
may he nourish us by his presence, 
and unite us in his love; 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for those alone and depressed. This is of particular importance at this difficult time. As many are finding, it is one thing to choose solitude, it is quite another to have it thrust upon you. 
Thank you to all who have been donating to our Trussell Trust collection here at The Vicarage. We took another consignment to them yesterday. Please do keep them coming. 
Wednesday 8th April 2020 
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’ (John 13:31-33). 
This is a particularly confusing time for Jesus’ friends. They have been following him for years, listening to him, watching him, living with him. They believe in him; they have put their trust in him. When others find Jesus too challenging and leave, Peter speaks for the twelve when he says: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ John 6:68). Later he goes even further, declaring ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). 
With Palm Sunday they think they know what Jesus is up to, where everything is headed. Jesus has made a great and unequivocal statement of his kingship. In first-century Palestine expectations were of a Messiah who would be a political revolutionary. They are looking for a king who will come in and release the nation from Roman domination. Indeed the demand for the release of Barabbas, a political zealot, on Friday instead of Jesus shows they want a political saviour (Matthew 27:15–23). 
Yet it seems that the disciples are mistaken once again. Indeed, they are forever getting it wrong or missing the point. This is one of the recurring themes of the gospels. 
It is easy for us, from our perspective. We know what is going to happen. Would we have done any better, though, knowing what they knew? It is only after the resurrection that the penny finally drops and, as we said last week, it is the resurrection that makes the point. 
For one of them it’s too much, as Judas betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin. There are many theories as to why he does this. Could it be that he thinks that Jesus needs just that little extra nudge to proclaim himself as king and lead the uprising? 
As for Jesus’ other friends, they find that when the chips are down their courage fails them. When he is arrested ‘all the disciples deserted him and fled’ (Matthew 26:56); Peter denies him; and only ‘the beloved disciple’ is present at the crucifixion (John 19:26). 
Throughout it all, though, what matters is that despite their failings and weaknesses they remain Jesus’ friends. They are the ones he will, in due time, call to be the Church, his people - to live for him, to proclaim him and serve him in the world. 
Today we are Jesus’ friends, called out to be his. Like those first disciples we too are often confused, especially perhaps now - unsure of our way, inclined to get it wrong or simply uncertain about what he is doing or what he wants of us. What matters is that we hold fast to him, listen to his word, and wait on him. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Lord Jesus Christ, 
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant, 
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation: 
give us the mind to follow you 
and to proclaim you as Lord and King, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all politicians and their advisors - for integrity, for wisdom and a willingness to put the good of all before personal desire or ambition. We pray particularly for the Prime Minister and all those who are ill or in isolation at this time. 
Tuesday 7th April 2020 
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:7). 
Following his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus faces the combined religious and political leadership ranged against him, given encouragement by the whipped-up fickleness of the crowd. These authorities have an important role in Jerusalem, of course, ensuring that Temple worship continues efficiently and everything works smoothly. However they fail to see the bigger picture. They are too busy dealing with what they see as an immediate threat to understand that there are greater issues here. 
‘When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ (Matthew 21:23). The authorities are jealous of the risk Jesus poses to their power and influence and are concerned about how his actions might be seen by the Romans. There is a delicate balancing act here that they know can be upset all too easily at any moment with terrible consequences. 
‘Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard; (Luke 19:47-48). They are searching for an opportunity and one will soon present itself. 
At the same time, Jesus is also preparing himself for what is to come. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27-28). The pieces are falling into place as God’s great act of salvation moves to a head. 
We continue to remember those most in need of our prayers at this difficult time. Rev Ron Hart has passed on this message he received last week from Bishop Bernard in Torit, South Sudan (Salisbury Diocese is linked with the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan): 
Dear brother Rev Canon John Wood. 
I hope all of you are fine as the worries of the Corona Virus spread around. 
WE are fine but are living in fear of the spread of the virus from Uganda to South Sudan. 
We have no medical facilities here and only rely on God. Borders are closed and our only source of food is Uganda. Cost of Food items have risen to the extent that only God can save us should the situation continue for another one month 
Pray for us as we also pray for you. 
A Prayer for Sudan (a copy of this prayer is kept in every church in the Diocese): 
God our Father, whose son Jesus Christ wept over your people who knew not the way of peace, and were as sheep without a shepherd, hear our prayer for the people of the Sudan. 
Turn the hearts of their leaders to reconciliation and peace. 
Bless their Archbishop and clergy, that they may be true shepherds of your flock. 
Strengthen those who heal the wounded and feed the hungry. 
Hasten the time when all nations will own your just and gentle rule and receive your gift of peace 
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for all those who are ill and their families, together with the bereaved. They are very much on our hearts and minds at this time, and we lift them up before God. 
Monday 6th April 2020 
‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:1) 
This is Holy Week. As we walk with Jesus on the path to Calvary over these days, so we reflect on all that is happening; what has brought Jesus here to this point; and the actions and motives of those around him who are caught up in this story. We can also bring ourselves before Jesus asking for renewed guidance and a deepening of faith. I’m sure we can all identify with the man in the gospels who cried ‘‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24). 
Let us start today with the people of Jerusalem. Yesterday they welcomed Jesus joyfully. What were they looking for - excitement? something new and different? a charismatic leader? a simple answer to the problems of their world? We can infer but do not know. What is clear is that by the end of the week they have lost faith in Jesus. He has failed to live up to their expectations and has gone from hero to villain overnight. 
For now all the excitement of yesterday is past. It is the time to move on from promises to action. What is Jesus going to do? How is he going to capitalise on the fervour he has whipped up? Apparently he is doing nothing except sit in the Temple and teach. The crowd soon loses patience and turns against him. 
We need to ask ourselves: are we looking for Jesus to lead us where we want to go, or are we truly open to being led where he wants to take us? This week is a good time for us to read the Bible and engage with it. We have not only the story of the Passion in the four gospels, but the epistles that refer back to it, and the Old Testament prophecies that prefigure it. 
For the first time for most of us, we will be observing Holy Week at home. Perhaps this is an opportunity to look beyond the ‘doing’ of Holy Week to its deeper meaning; to immerse ourselves in it through prayer and reading and waiting on God. As the Queen said last night, we ‘are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation’. 
Alongside that, these days are bringing with them a renewed appreciation of the world around us, as we take our daily exercise and spend more time in our gardens – those of us who have them. Over the weekend I dug my bean trenches. It is one of those jobs you want to get done, but not necessarily to do. The fresh air and exercise was good of course, but so was the chance to be part of the rhythm of a nature quite unperturbed by our concerns and worries. 
The alternative collect prayer for this week: 
True and humble king, 
hailed by the crowd as Messiah: 
grant us the faith to know you and love you, 
that we may be found beside you 
on the way of the cross, 
which is the path of glory. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray our Bellringers. They are accustomed to ringing out in moments of celebration and solemn remembrance. We look forward to the time when their peals across the village can gladden our hearts again. 
There is now a service of Compline (Night Prayer) available, together with an order of service. You may like to use this during this week. 
Sunday 5th April 2020 - Palm Sunday 
The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21:9) 
Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. ‘They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!’ (John 12:13). Whatever may happen in the days to come, here the crowds proclaim an important truth. Jesus is indeed King and Son of David. ‘Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Revelation 1:5). 
So he enters the city, dismissing the concerns of the authorities and heading straight for the Temple. ‘Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21:12-13). 
We can imagine the scene. The crowd is going wild, greeting Jesus as their king and liberator. There’s a party atmosphere; the air is filled with excitement and expectation. The revolution has begun; freedom from the Romans is in their grasp; he is going to fulfil all their dreams. What a strange paradox: the King is coming, the people rejoice, singing ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ Yet they fail to understand that this King whom they welcome is the Servant King; the King who washes his disciples’ feet; the King who comes not with an army but a weapon so powerful that not even death can resist, the sacrificial love of God laid out upon a Cross. 
What about us? What do we expect of Jesus; what do we want from him; what do we want him to do? Is it what he has come to offer and to give? Do we need to raise our eyes and expectations to the greater glory he brings? For ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). 
There is a service for today on our website. It is in three parts: the first part leads up to the Passion Gospel. As this is extremely long I have recorded it separately, or you may prefer to read it by yourself (Matthew 26:14 – 27:end). Finally there is the concluding part of the service. Also the website has a copy of the service sheet you can download or view online in order to join in. 
The collect for Palm Sunday: 
Almighty and everlasting God 
who in your tender love towards the human race 
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ 
to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: 
grant that we may follow the example 
of his patience and humility, 
and also be made partakers of his resurrection; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
I remind you that there are also virtual services streamed each Sunday on the Church of England website
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our witness to the faith. We are the people of God, called to live for him and proclaim him in our lives: ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’. We ask God’s grace to be and do that ever more effectively. 
Saturday 4th April 2020 
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ (John 11:55-56). 
It is the run-up to the Passover in Jerusalem. Everyone is excited, hoping Jesus will turn up and no doubt relishing the chance for a bit of excitement. The trouble is they can’t see him anywhere. That’s because he is at Bethany, moving at his own pace, to be ready at the right time. Sometimes we talk about not finding God or that he’s not there for us. Yet God is always there ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1), but he won’t adhere to our agenda or timetable. He moves in his own way, telling us ‘Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them’ (Psalm 91:14-15). 
In much the same way, we can talk of God not answering prayer. The truth is that he is always there; he always answers our prayers, showing us the way. Perhaps the problem can be that we are not ready to hear him; he is not giving us the answer we would like. We have to learn to listen and to accept that he will act in the right way and at the right time. ‘But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer’ (Psalm 38:15). 
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, when Jesus does finally appear in Jerusalem in a very clear and dramatic way. This marks the beginning of Holy Week. There are a number of resources available to help us observe this week. The Church of England website has services of Daily Prayer. Here at St Laurence we will put more pieces on our website over the next few days. 
Palm Sunday is a day when normally we would gather together in celebration and worship. Tomorrow we will be doing this as a Church from our own homes. In preparation here are details of how to make a palm cross at home. There will also be a Palm Sunday service with a service sheet you can download. I will record the Passion Gospel separately as it is extremely long. 
Especially on a day such as Palm Sunday we miss gathering together for the Eucharist. I share this prayer, which comes from the Oxford Movement Centenary Prayer Book (Church Literature Association, 1933) courtesy of the Church Times: 
O Lord Jesus Christ, since I cannot now 
receive Thee sacramentally, I humbly pray 
Thee that Thou wouldest come spiritually to my soul. 
Come, Lord Jesus, come and cleanse me, 
heal me, strengthen me, and unite me to 
Thyself, now and for evermore. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today I ask you to pray for myself as Team Rector and my family. I greatly appreciate your prayers at this time. Thank you. 
Friday 3rd April 2020 
‘Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’ (Hebrews 13:14-16). 
The most fundamental aspect of Jesus’s ministry is that it only makes full sense in the context of resurrection hope. Everything flows from that. At this time, more than ever, it is crucial to get our theology the right way around. “Resurrection life” is not an edifying spiritual metaphor for the way Christians should live in the “here and now”. Christian life in the “here and now” is a Spirit-filled anticipation of a Kingdom yet to come. 
As we approach Holy Week and the story of Jesus’ Passion, we can face the darkness because we know the far greater light that lies beyond. We can walk the way of the Cross with him because of the hope we have. We know ‘for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’ (Malachi 4:2). The hope of resurrection beckons as we hold fast to our faith and our God. ‘The promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 18:30). As St Peter tells us, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7). 
So ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:1-2). 
My diary tells me that today in St Laurence we should be holding an end of term service for the school. Like the Church the school is a community. Although it has been scattered physically over these past two weeks, it is kept together through the wonder of modern communications. We continue to pray for their safety and growth. 
Let me share with you something from the Bible reading notes I follow: ‘Learning more about God, about ourselves, about the depth of love and forgiveness of which we are capable, is most acutely open to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, whose true character.. is the cosmic Christ in whom we place our faith and trust’ (Church of England Reflections for Daily Prayer, Wednesday 01 April 2020). 
We pray: 
God of Promise and God of Hope, 
who through your great mercy 
have granted us new birth 
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 
we praise your wonderful name! 
God of Glory and God of Might 
who through your great power 
have granted us new strength 
to endure all things through faith in Christ our risen King, 
we praise your wonderful name! 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our Churchwarden and Deputy Churchwardens. They have an important role in ensuring the Church works well and are a great support to me as Team Rector. 
Bishop Nicholas tells us: ‘You might already have discovered that Salisbury Cathedral are posting 10 minute reflections every day at 5.00pm… The cathedral is preparing worship to go online for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday’. 
Thursday 2nd April 2020 
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). 
Jesus is making an extraordinary claim here. He is claiming divinity. ‘I am’ is the name God calls himself when talking with Moses. ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). Is it any wonder that those around him felt challenged? It can be challenging for us sometimes to realise that this man of whom we read in the gospels is none other than God himself. It is also a great source of strength and comfort – especially at this time – to know that God became one of us and even died for us. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4). 
As we approach the time of Jesus’ Passion, this is a reminder of just who he is and what is at stake. In the words of that iconic Christmas gospel reading: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1:1-5). It goes on to say: ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:12). 
‘I am the light of the world,’ says Jesus. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12). We are called to be this light in a dark and uncertain world: ‘‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14). 
In the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, we look ‘to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2). 
The prayer for Advent Sunday: 
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness 
and to put on the armour of light, 
now in the time of this mortal life, 
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; 
that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty 
to judge the living and the dead, 
we may rise to the life immortal; 
through him who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for family life - especially for children at home, distance learning. I have met some of them in my walks around the village and they appear to be doing well and relishing the novelty of it all. I enjoy my daily walks and the conversations I have. Yesterday on my way back along The Borough, I stopped to buy food in the Co-Op. There was no queue and not many shoppers. Is this a sign that at least the panic buying is past? I hope and pray so. 
In preparation for Sunday, we have a link to some instructions for making your own palm cross at home. In place of a palm leaf, you can do this using either a long strip of paper (2 strips of A4 stuck together works well) or a perhaps long leaf from the garden. There is also a video of me making one. Arts and crafts were never my strong point, so if I can do it anyone can! My apologies for the dark glasses, sunny days do that to them. 
Wednesday 1st April 2020 
‘Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and glorious is your name for ever! For you are just in all you have done; all your works are true and your ways right, and all your judgements are true’ (Prayer of Azariah 3-4). 
This passage is from the canticle that is set for today. It is called the Benedicite in the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer of Azariah is an apocryphal insertion of 22 verses into the biblical book of Daniel in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament). There are no Hebrew manuscripts that contain the prayer. 
Azariah is one of those three friends of Daniel most commonly known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, names they were given in Babylon. However, their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Thus, Azariah is Abednego, one of the three who were thrown into the fiery furnace. This hymn of thanksgiving is said by all three of the men after God has saved them. 
These times of uncertainty bring home to us that we are not as in control of our lives as we may have thought. Forces and events beyond our influence dictate what we can do. The world is not as subject to our command as perhaps we had imagined. In Robert Burns’ famous words: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…’ 
Our response as the people of God is one of praise as well as prayer. Our great hope is in God alone, who holds all things in his hands. When things are difficult, that is the time when we hold more closely to God, acknowledging his presence and proclaiming his power. We praise him for his greatness, his authority, his glory and his majesty. As the psalmist declares ‘You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’ (Psalm 91:1-2). While in the great vision of Revelation we have ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory’ (Revelation 19:6-7). 
In just over a week we will be celebrating God’s great act of salvation. He has a wonderful future for us. ‘What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?’ (Romans 8:31). 
The alternative collect for this week: 
Gracious Father, 
you gave up your Son 
out of love for the world: 
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion, 
that we may know eternal peace 
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood, 
Jesus Christ our Lord. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray that we may continue to grow through God’s Word. In the spirit of Paul’s words to his protégé Timothy ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 
Thank you to all those who brought donations to The Vicarage for the Trussell Trust. We took them to the warehouse yesterday morning, and they were greatly appreciated. Please keep them coming, and we will continue take them in when we have enough. 
I mentioned yesterday that the magazine is now available online. This is not intended to be in place of a printed version, although we are unable to produce that while the present situation continues. However, we do intend to distribute printed copies again as soon as we can. 
Tuesday 31st March 2020 
Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him’ (John 8:28-29). 
Today the Church remembers John Donne. ‘John Donne was the greatest non-dramatic poet of his time, and its most admired preacher. He was born in 1571, a Londoner and the son of Catholic parents… In 1615 he joined the Anglican Church, and in 1621 became Dean of St Paul’s’ (https://poetryarchive.org/poet/john-donne/). He died on this day in 1631. 
Possibly John Donne’s best-known poem is the one that begins ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’ (John Donne, MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). This is something that has become very clear for us recently. With so much of the world in shock or denial about the coronavirus, and barriers going up and recriminations flying, we must remember that we are a global community. We also remember our local neighbours around us. We are all in this together and we depend upon one another. 
It was only a week ago that I was walking around the village taking down posters saying that the Church is open, and replacing them with ones saying the Church is now locked but we are continuing to pray. Yet already it feels as if we have been in lockdown for much longer than that. The new normal is already developing its own natural rhythms. What hasn’t changed is the need for that to be lived in the presence of God and undergirded with prayer. We can continue to pray for and with one another in our homes. We are not alone: ‘fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10). 
Prayer after John Donne (1631): 
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening 
into the house and gate of heaven, 
to enter that gate and dwell in that house, 
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, 
but one equal light; 
no noise nor silence, but one equal music; 
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; 
no ends or beginnings, but one equal eternity; 
in the habitations of your glory and dominion, 
world without end. 
(Eric Milner-White (1963) - https://www.churchofengland.org/) 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we pray for our local traders. We give thanks for all they are doing to bring us what we need, but also remember those unable to trade because of the lockdown. 
The April edition of our parish magazine, Downton Parish News, is now available on the Parish News page of the website It is free to view or download. Please do let others know. 
Coincidentally we had intended already to make it free to all, as a service to the village. As so often there is a sense that God was already leading us where we needed to go. ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23:3). 
Monday 30th March 2020 
‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23:1-3). 
The words of this wonderful psalm are among the best known in the Bible. They tell of God’s care for us. Here we have imagery of comfort, vigilance and protection, of loving renewal and right guidance. God is in control; he knows what he is doing; and he will bring us to safe lodging in and with him. 
We are also reminded that Jesus is himself the Good Shepherd. ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:14-15). Here we have not only the promise of protection and guidance we find in Psalm 23, but also reference to the Cross on which we will be reflecting next week. 
It is now a week since the schools were closed. Let us remember all our teachers and the wonderful work they are doing with distance learning and teaching the children of key workers. They are doing a truly wonderful job, working harder than ever and putting our children before all else. 
We don’t know when this will end and there is even talk of more stringent restrictions. We must continue to bear in our prayers those who are doing so much for us in so many ways to keep going. This includes charities whose work for the vulnerable is under threat at this time. They are really struggling to make ends meet, with their shops shut and no one out to collect contributions. We may be in lockdown, but we can continue to support them. 
Tomorrow we are planning to take donated food to the Trussell Trust. So if you have anything donate, please could you bring it to the Vicarage today. There is a collection basket in the front porch. Alternatively they would always welcome a financial gift. 
The prayer after communion for this week: 
Lord Jesus Christ, 
you have taught us 
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters 
we do also for you: 
give us the will to be the servant of others 
as you were the servant of all, 
and gave up your life and died for us, 
but are alive and reign, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we remember all who minister to the sick. As we know, they are particularly important at this time and need our prayers. 
Sunday 29th March 2020 
‘I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord’ (Ezekiel 37:14). 
Jesus is the embodiment of that great promise to Ezekiel, God the Word actively at work in the world. Now he calls on us to follow him and to work with him: ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12). As St Paul writes: ‘Jesus died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them (2 Corinthians 5:15). 
Today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, is known as Passion Sunday. It is also the day our clocks go forward, encouraging us onward into Spring (from the Old English of which we get our word Lent) and its promise of abundant new life. The longer, brighter days speak of hope and a sense of exuberant vitality – God’s promise of better days to come. 
Sunday is the day for us to gather together as God’s people in worship. We may not be able to do this physically in our Church building, but we can certainly do it spiritually as the Church. I have posted a service of Morning Worship recorded for today on our website - see our Latest News page - together with a separate recording of the gospel reading. In addition, the website has a copy of the service sheet so you can join in. 
Nationally the Archbishop of York has recorded a 'front room' service at Bishopthorpe Palace which you can find at https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-online from 9am. 
Our Bible readings start now to focus on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem – his path to the cross and beyond: God’s great act of salvation. This is preceded by today’s Gospel reading, the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). Paradoxically, Lazarus’ death and his return to life, a fore-shadowing of his master’s future and a witness to his power, sets in motion the determined plot to destroy both men. Plans are being laid in Jerusalem which will lead inexorably to Calvary and to a death which gives us all life. The High Priest Caiaphas, that astute politician and advocate of expediency, will shortly utter those sardonic yet prophetic words ‘it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ (John 11:50). 
The prayer for this Sunday: 
Most merciful God 
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ 
delivered and saved the world: 
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross 
we may triumph in the power of his victory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we also remember those getting married this year. This has been a very difficult time for many of them with some very hard decisions to be made. 
Saturday 28th March 2020 
Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:25-26). 
Jesus follows his statement with a question: “Do you believe this?” He asks this question of each of us. Life can be hard and sometimes we need reminders of the assurance we have in Christ, and that with God all things are possible. We hear Jesus calling us to believe in him and to trust him, as he tells us personally “I am the resurrection and the life”. 
Life seems quite topsy-turvy just now. Every morning my diary tells me of my appointments and commitments for the day – each one an important notice. They are not real, though, because they have all had to be cancelled. Instead my life now is a pattern of email and telephone communication, recording services to post on the St Laurence website and preparing these reflections and other material. Then there is my daily constitutional, a delight in this fine weather – giving me the opportunity to walk around the village, greeting those I pass and perhaps having a chat with them. 
We have been rediscovering the traditional British art of queuing, all at a polite two metres apart. Yesterday I waited my turn outside the Co-Op – not for too long, I have to say – and when I got inside there was more available than I found a week ago. The atmosphere was calm and friendly and afterwards I got some of the 60%-proof hand sanitizer which Downton Distillery are producing and offering us all for a donation. 
It is amazing how quickly we are settling into the new realities of life. For the Christian this comes from that security and trust we have in God. From God comes all that is – he who is the very source of all creation and of life itself. ‘Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand (Psalm 37:23-24). 
The Archbishops wrote yesterday: Not being able to use our church buildings is, of course, a huge loss to us all… it shows that we are facing up to the same restrictions… and doing all that we can to take a lead in encouraging people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Moreover, to pray from and in the home may help us to show that the church is, as we all know, us, the people of God, not our buildings. 
So let us hold fast to God’s words through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ (Isaiah 43:1). 
We pray: 
Almighty God, 
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: 
raise us, who trust in him, 
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, 
that we may seek those things which are above, 
where he reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we also remember those at University and College whose studies have been made so much more difficult suddenly. 
Friday 27th March 2020 
‘Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised’ (Hebrews 10:35-36). 
At this time of enforced isolation, we could be tempted to turn our back on the world around us, to try and lose ourselves in books or television or our gardens. These all help, of course. They are a great comfort and support and we are very fortunate to have them. Indeed I have always found gardening a good way to be restored and at peace, and was digging my vegetable patch yesterday. It brings to mind the poem ‘One is nearer God's Heart in a garden Than anywhere else on earth’ (Dorothy Frances Gurney). I don’t think that’s true but it certainly does come close. 
So what should be our own response as followers of Christ? The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is clear. He reminds us that we need endurance and that we do not abandon our confidence in the will of God. As St Paul tells us: ‘endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’ (Romans 5:4-5). In the words of the prayer after communion this week, we ask God to ‘give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed’ (https://www.churchofengland.org/). 
We know that God holds us in his heart and guides us in his way. ‘It is by God’s will that we have been sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:10). He has chosen something very special for each one of us. He has called us out to a particular service, but it is up to us to carry it out. God has assured us that we will receive what he has promised us, even in the midst of painful trials. He wants us to share that with those around us, bringing his life and hope - like yeast in the world. The clapping last night for the NHS was a sign of this and of our community coming together. 
On Wednesday I was privileged to assist in an act of great generosity. I met Richard who had a very large amount of milk and bread from a Greggs distribution centre that has had to close under the new government directives. Rather than throw it away, he wanted to find someone who could make good use of it. I was able to direct him to Alabare in Salisbury who were very glad to take it. Our thanks to Richard, and for all other acts of generosity this week. 
St. Ignatius’ wonderful prayer for generosity: 
Lord, teach me to be generous, 
to serve you as you deserve, 
to give and not to count the cost, 
to fight and not to heed the wounds, 
to toil and not to seek for rest, 
to labour and not to look for any reward, 
save that of knowing that I do your holy will. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we also remember our Bishops and all Church Leaders. Theirs is an unenviable task as they seek to lead and encourage us all in the Church at this time. 
Thursday 26th March 2020 
‘The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf’ (John 5:36-37). 
Actions speak louder than words, and at the heart of our faith is a God that acts. God came and lived among us as one of us in Jesus. As we hear (especially at Christmas) Jesus is Emmanuel – ‘God with us’. We have a God who identifies with us and is not afraid to ‘get his hands dirty’. This is not about some high philosophical principle, but effective action summed up in a life of practical love. God knows what it is like to live as one of us. He has himself experienced the joys, the trials and temptations, the highs and the lows. We can trust that he is working for our good, even when we may not understand how. 
We may be restricted to our homes, but thankfully the weather is glorious and we can rejoice in the beauty of the earth and of all God’s creation – and we can at least get outside and enjoy it. That said, as I went for my one-allowed constitutional yesterday the streets were oddly quiet and empty. I did have some conversations (at a distance, of course) but there were really very few people about. 
This idea of keeping our distance sits uncomfortably with us. We are social beings, designed to interact with one another. I was struck by a letter to a newspaper last week from a Vicar in the Midlands: ‘A new phrase has come into our vocabulary, “social distancing”. This is inappropriate. What is required is physical distancing. Let us strive to maintain social togetherness and support through the myriad methods of electronic communication we have. Let’s start talking to each other on the phone again, and use social media and emails to encourage each other, keep our spirits up and maintain levels of mental health. For those who are physically isolated, such connections may be life-saving’ (Rev C Mary Austin, Tibberton, Worcestershire). 
Today we are asked to remember especially all who work in the NHS who are doing a most amazing job. The organisers of Clap for our Carers are urging us to applaud NHS staff this evening in a mass display of support and solidarity for frontline medical workers tackling the coronavirus pandemic. We are encouraged to clap from our front doors, gardens, balconies or windows at 8pm on Thursday 26 March (while maintaining a safe distance from our neighbours) to show our appreciation for all the doctors, nurses, GPs, emergency workers and pharmacists involved in helping care for those affected by Covid-19 and other sick patients “during these unprecedented times”. 
We pray: 
Gracious God, 
give skill, sympathy and resilience 
to all who are caring for the sick, 
and your wisdom to those searching for a cure. 
Strengthen them with your Spirit, 
that through their work many will be restored to health; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we also remember our Lay Pastoral Assistants, who give valuable support to those who need it – especially the lonely and vulnerable. 
God bless. 
Wednesday 25th March 2020 
Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:38). 
Today we remember the visit of the angel to Mary, nine months before Christmas. Whatever our perspective, Mary was a quite extraordinary young lady. Her response and willingness to offer herself in service is an example for us all, and a sign that God works out his great plan for us by working with and through his people. Her song of praise ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,’ (Luke 1:46-47) has inspired generations; and she knew the pain that such self-offering could bring ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Luke 2:35). 
Yesterday I, along with all the clergy in the Church of England, received a letter from the Archbishops confirming the new guidelines and instructing us that all churches were to be closed. They say ‘Our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest or lay person offering prayer in church on their own’. It was a sad moment and felt very poignant as I went over to St Laurence to put up the notice. A place that has known and sustained countless generations of prayer is now shut up and locked. 
It can be hard to know what God intends for us in this increasing strange and difficult time. What we do know, though, is that he wants us always to be a loving, prayerful community. Bishop Nicholas tells us, ‘We are now a Church that says our prayers at home. The Pope has asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to join him and other Christian leaders in saying the Lord’s Prayer at 11.00am (12 noon in Rome) tomorrow, the Feast of the Annunciation. Let’s all do it!’. 
Although we can no longer have our building open, even so as the Church our prayer and service for our community continues across the village. There are a number of national online resources we can use to help us in this (https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/church-online) including weekly streamed services and daily audio. Also there is additional worship provision on the BBC, and more is on its way. 
We should also continue to remember the Trussell Trust, where the need is greater than ever. The Archbishops write ‘Foodbanks should continue where possible.. If you can do consider making a financial contribution to your nearest foodbank’. If you have food you want to donate, there will be a box in The Vicarage porch where it can be left. 
The collect for The Annunciation of Our Lord: 
We beseech you, O Lord, 
pour your grace into our hearts, 
that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ 
by the message of an angel, 
so by his cross and passion 
we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
In our Parish Prayer Diary for today we also pray for our Flower Arrangers. They are a reminder of the glories of Spring bursting up around us at this time. 
Tuesday 24th March 2020 
‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult’ (Psalm 46:1-3). 
It is just a week since all Church services and gatherings were suspended and we were advised to keep our distance from one another. Now we are told that we can no longer even open the Church for private prayer. It can seem rather as if the world is indeed shaking as we come to terms with a whole new pattern of daily life. it is very unsettling for us all. However we are the Church; we remain a people of prayer, and the Archbishops have called on us to “continue to pray, to love, to care for the vulnerable”. 
I am reminded of the words of the hymn: 
the voice of prayer is never silent 
nor dies the strain of praise away. 
At this difficult time, we are extremely grateful for all those working so hard to keep our public services – most especially the NHS - functioning as effectively as possible, those distributing vital supplies and all who are trying to maintain our common life in as normal a way as possible. 
All this is particularly hard for the vulnerable and alone in our midst who rely on the services and care of others. It has been most encouraging to see the many acts of thoughtfulness and kindness that have sprung up across our village. 
This is a time when community in its truest sense has come to the fore. As the Archbishop reminded us in the service broadcast on Sunday, place is a most important part of who we are. This is that special place we think of as home, gives us our sense of belonging, of identity, safety and security. The current situation has caught many people far from home, adding a particular layer of anxiety for them and their loved ones. We remember and pray for them and reach out to the those in our midst who find themselves in this predicament. 
So it is perhaps particularly relevant that our Parish Prayer Diary for today (Downton Parish News, page 4) suggests that today we pray for new residents in our village. 
We pray (from the Archbishop’s broadcast service): 
God of love and kindness, 
you taught us to love our neighbour, 
and to care for those in need as if we were caring for you. 
In this time of anxiety, give us strength 
to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick, 
and to assure the isolated of our love, and your love. Amen. 
Monday 23rd March 2020 
‘For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight’ (Isaiah 65:17-18). 
Yesterday evening candles were lit in windows all across the village. Here in The Vicarage, as we lit our own candle we used the words from yesterday: 
We light this candle to remind us 
that Jesus is the light of the world, 
and is always with us 
to show us the way. 
And the Lord’s Prayer: 
Our Father, who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy name; 
thy kingdom come; 
thy will be done; 
on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those who trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation; 
but deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, 
for ever and ever. Amen. 
We lit these candles as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished. Also, though, they declare our faith that there is something - someone who is far greater than anything this world can do. God’s plans for us are good. Whatever may be our present experience. 
Jesus tell us ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12), and ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house’ (Matthew 5:15). As we say in the Baptism Service, we are called to ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’. 
We pray: 
Lord, true light and source of all light, 
listen to our prayer. 
Turn our thoughts to what is holy 
and may we ever live in the light of your love. 
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Sunday 22nd March 2020 
‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Colossians 3:14-17). 
Today we celebrate Mothering Sunday, a day when we express our love for mothers. We give thanks for all those who have been responsible for looking after us, and those we ourselves have nurtured and cared for. 
We also think of our ‘mother’ church. Always remember we are each one of us beloved children of God; and the Church is the Bride of Christ. This means he will not forsake us. We are not adrift and alone. God is with us; he watching over us; he cares for us. 
When we hold our Mothering Sunday service each year, we always light our Paschal Candle with the words: 
We light this candle to remind us 
that Jesus is the light of the world, 
and is always with us 
to show us the way. 
Whatever else may have changed God’s presence with us and his deep love for us remain always constant. In the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews: ‘he has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?.. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:5-8). 
Yesterday we recorded a service of Holy Communion in St Laurence for today. If you wish to view it/join in with it, you can find it by clicking here
If you hear the bell being rung in church this is a reminder that the prayerful and sacramental life of the church continues and that even though public worship is not taking place the whole community is being prayed for. 
A Prayer for Mothering Sunday: 
God of love, 
passionate and strong, 
tender and careful: 
watch over us and hold us 
all the days of our life; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
A reminder that there are services today: from 8.00am - 8.30am the Archbishop of Canterbury will be taking a service in Lambeth Palace chapel broadcast across the country on BBC local radio; BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship from 8.10am - 8.45am; and Songs of Praise at 1:15pm on BBC1. 
Please also remember to light a candle at 7.00pm and put it in your window as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished. 
Saturday 21st March 2020 
‘Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth’ (Hosea 6:3). 
We are called to trust, to love and to serve in Christ. The Archbishops write: ‘by our service, and by our love, Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the gospel – a hope that will counter fear and isolation - will spread across our land.’ 
Today I will be meeting with the couples whose weddings are planned in St Laurence for this year. This is a worrying time for them, as for so many of our community whose lives and plans have been put on hold. 
Bishop Nicholas tells us: tomorrow (Sunday) the Archbishops have called for a National Day of Prayer and Action. From 8.00am - 8.30am the Archbishop of Canterbury will be taking a service in Lambeth Palace chapel broadcast across the country on local radio. Do join him, though there is a small conflict in that BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship from 8.10am - 8.45am is themed on the Archbishop’s Lent book, Saying Yes to Life, and the speaker there will be Ruth Valerio. 
Please also light a candle at 7.00pm and put it in your window as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished. 
If we can get the technology right, then later today or tomorrow we will be posting on our website (https://www.stlaurencedownton.co.uk/) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/stlaurencedownton) a service recorded for Mothering Sunday in St Laurence. 
We pray for our common life in Christ: 
We are not people of fear: 
we are people of courage. 
We are not people who protect our own safety: 
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety. 
We are not people of greed: 
we are people of generosity. 
We are your people God, 
giving and loving, 
wherever we are, 
whatever it costs 
For as long as it takes 
wherever you call us. 
Friday 20th March 2020 
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Mark12:28-31) 
Today Jesus reminds us that at the very heart of our relationship with God is to love him, to love our neighbours and love ourselves. 
We remember those on their own at this time - working from home, those self-isolating for whatever reason, and those who live alone. Let us bear them in our prayers but also, more practically, keep in regular contact by telephone. 
The Archbishops write: ‘We have called, along with our fellow church leaders, for a day of prayer and action this coming Sunday - Mothering Sunday (22nd March). Mothering Sunday has always been both a day of celebration for many and a sensitive and emotional day for some. Wherever you are this Sunday please do join in this day of prayer and action and remember especially those who are sick or anxious, and all involved in our Health Service. As one action, we are calling on everyone to place a lighted candle in their window at 7.00 p.m. as a sign of solidarity and hope in the light of Christ that can never be extinguished.’ 
We pray: 
Lord Jesus Christ, 
you taught us to love our neighbour, 
and to care for those in need 
as if we were caring for you. 
In this time of anxiety, give us strength 
to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick, 
and to assure the isolated 
of our love, and your love, 
for your name’s sake. Amen. 
Thursday 19th March 2020 
‘Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments. 
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures for ever; their horn is exalted in honour’ (Psalm 112:1,9). 
Today we remember St Joseph, a man who listened to God and quietly got on with what God asked of him. He is an example for us of unassuming service and trust that God would work out all things. 
The Archbishops, in their letter to the clergy this week, write ‘We, the Church of Jesus Christ, with our sisters and brothers from other Christian churches, must be in the forefront of providing practical care and support for the most poor and the most vulnerable, and we offer our services to all those who are beginning to think through how best to provide for those in need.’ 
With the news that schools are to close from tomorrow, we especially hold in our prayers all teachers and parents as they organise distance learning. 
God our Father, 
who from the family of your servant David 
raised up Joseph the carpenter 
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son 
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 
give us grace to follow him 
in faithful obedience to your commands; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is alive and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and for ever. 
Wednesday 18th March 2020 
From today’s readings: ‘Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation’ (Psalm 38:21-22). 
At this time of quite unprecedented disruption to our normal pattern of life, it would be easy to feel that we are forgotten by God. However we know that this is not so. He loves us far more deeply than we can ever know - and asks us to share that love with all those around us. 
As you may have heard, the Archbishops have advised that all public services be suspended until further notice. While our services are suspended I intend to share Bible passages and some thoughts with you by email. If you wish to receive these please let me know. If you know anyone else who would like to receive them, please ask them to pass on their email address. 
From the Church of England website: 
Keep us, good Lord, 
under the shadow of your mercy. 
Sustain and support the anxious, 
be with those who care for the sick, 
and lift up all who are brought low; 
that we may find comfort 
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love 
in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
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